Authentic writing: don’t be afraid to drop the hammer in your first draft

I’m working on writing my second dark fantasy novel right now, and I ran into a bit of a snag: I realized I got everything wrong.

I started this manuscript last August and then put it aside when life threw me a couple lemons to deal with - a lay-off from my longtime day job and then extended unemployment. I came back to it a couple of months ago and started plugging away from where I left off last year.

Fast-forward to last week, and I realize I’m having trouble with the book. Something just doesn’t feel right, but I’m not sure what. Then, the answer hits me. It’s missing that “deep and dark” factor that Into the Darkness had. I needed that again.

No problem, right? I just need to tweak things a little…

I go back to the beginning of the book to flesh out the descriptions, and add in a little more foreboding and darkness to the story. That’s when I start noticing details that don’t quite make sense or ring a little hollow. Before I know it, a little tweaking turns into a full-scale re-write. I’ve now cut out over 60 pages that I wrote, and the story has taken a whole new, but much more authentic turn.

Now, I’m cooking with fire!

So, what happened to all the work I had done before? Put simply, I wasn’t true to my own writing style when I started. Because I hadn’t written anything very in-depth in a while, I hesitated when I started, and frankly, I let my main character off way too easy. Once I started noticing one thing that didn’t seem right, it was like pulling a bottom block out of the Jenga tower - the whole plot collapsed.

The good news is that after I corrected the things I knew were wrong, and I flat dropped the hammer on the plot and my characters, the story is now self-perpetuating. One plot element builds the next and the next and the next. The Jenga tower rebuilds itself. This is how writing a novel should be.

So, if you find yourself feeling a little lost about where to go with your plot, take a step back and give your manuscript a squinty-eyed look. Ask yourself: are you being authentic to your writing? Are you letting your characters off easy?

If you find you’ve failed to drop the hammer and go full-throttle in your first draft, you’re not alone in having made that mistake. Take a deep breath and dive back in. Few plots are so broken that they can never be rebuilt.