I wanted to write a blog post about the passes I make when I’m finished with a novel. By all means, these things are good to work on WHILE you’re writing it as well, but concentrating on too many things at once during the initial drafting process can be overwhelming and sometimes bring you to a halt. That’s why I came up with a handy list of elements to go back and focus on after the first draft was written, in order to make my world feel as full and rich as possible. With each item on this list, I go through focusing on only ONE at a time.
· DIVERSITY. This should be something you’ve thought about already, before you even started writing, and seen what you could do with your main characters to pull them out of the same roles we usually see for protagonists. I’m talking, of course, about race, sexuality, gender orientation, mental or physical health issues, emotional imbalances, age, body type, etc. Operating under the assumption that you’ve already focused on this for your MC’s, I am referring to taking an after-draft look at the side and background characters you made up as you went. Did you automatically revert to the same sort of character you usually see in a certain role? This is also a fantastic opportunity to teach us more about your world or time period simply by showing how a background character of a marginalized group acts or is treated. Without even turning into a huge plot point, it will automatically make your world deeper and more realistic to show us little windows into your cultures by diversifying characters you’ve already included.
· ADDING PEOPLE IN GENERAL. I don’t know if everyone has this issue, but when I write my first drafts, I hone in on the characters in the scene and forget about the people around them. So what I do during this pass is find the scenes that take place outside or in public places and add some extras in. Just little moments, like my MCs having to step aside for a bicycler while they’re talking, or accidentally bumping someone’s shoulder. They’re only short blips in the manuscript, but once you show a reader a couple of those, they’re already picturing the rest on their own, and have a good idea how busy the space is. It’s also good character-building, since you can show how your MC reacts to these small encounters.
· CHARACTER HABITS. This sort of goes hand-in-hand with the last one. What little things is your character likely to do during these informative conversations? Think outside of simple facial expressions and show us your character’s habits. Do they pull out a cigarette as they talk? Pick at a scab? Lick their lips and not hold eye contact? You don’t want to overdo these things too much, but picking a character habit and sprinkling it in sparingly will make your character more realistic.
· CULTURAL IDIOMS. Think of a few choice idioms from your character’s culture or home. Then look for places you’ve used clichés, and replace them. It will teach us a lot about your character’s background, and is much more fun to read!
· WOUNDS AND INJURIES. Did your character get wounded at some point in an awesome and emotional scene? That’s great fun when it happens. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget during a fantastic scene three chapters later that they’d still be feeling the effects of that wound. During this pass, I jot down all the places my characters got wounded—even the little things—and go through the rest of the novel to see what would be harder for them and find ways to remind the reader that injury didn’t just disappear. If it’s too big of an injury for what they’re doing later on, I either go back and tone down what happened or I crank them up on pain meds if I need to. Either way, it ups the stakes to know those wounds will affect your characters down the line.
· SMELLS. I add a minimum of one smell per scene, preferably more.
· ANIMALS. Look for places to add glimpses of animals. Dogs scrounging in a city, birds flying overhead, a deer in the forest. It’s amazing what those flashes can teach about your world and characters.
· SURROUNDINGS. I’m talking specifically about your world’s daily and monthly rotations. Depending on what time period your novel encompasses, some of these things will change and some won’t. Change them up where you can, so your characters aren’t going out every day in the same sunny warm summer weather. And these may seem like small details, but again, it goes far in making your world richer and more realistic.
o TIME OF DAY
· CLOTHING. Makes things easier to picture, teaches us about your different cultures. Make items specific to certain cultures, and down the line, it will be easier to picture where certain characters are from by just mentioning a piece of apparel.
· FOOD. All cultures have favorites. What makes yours different? What do visiting foreigners think of it, compared to their usual fare? It’s also a great opportunity to teach individual character preferences.
· LANDSCAPE/HORIZON. Mountains? Ocean? Desert? Faraway glimpses beyond the city or during a journey ignite the mental possibilities, even in readers.
I THINK that’s all I have for now, but I’m always looking for ways to expand my list and my worlds. Drop in a comment if you have thoughts on any of this, or other things to add. I’d be happy to hear from you. Thanks for reading!