Richard Buxton is studying for an M.A. is Creative Writing at Chichester University. He has recently completed a novel set in the American Civil War and also writes historical, contemporary and experimental short stories. He dabbles in poetry but really shouldn’t. He is a member of the West Sussex Writers and lives in Worthing.
Check out Richard's website
1 - Start with a reduction draft
Chances are you’re going to work through many drafts, each concentrating on a different aspect: plot, character, drama. I’d recommend you start with a draft where you look to reduce the word count. You can nip out sentences, paragraphs and sometimes whole scenes that you won’t have to sweat over later. If you have thoughts on character or plot, put them in a log for later drafts.
2 - Get someone to read it
But don’t, while drunk on the euphoria of finishing the first draft, send it out to all your friends and relations. I guarantee you’ll regret it. There are only two possible outcomes. Either they shower you with praise – this is actually useless in terms of developing the book – or they’ll say something that you’ll want to punch them for every time you see them. It has to be someone who understands writing. Above all, someone who’s opinion you respect, but who won’t be bringing up your plot flaws down the pub or over Christmas dinner. But remember, it’s your baby; no one else’s.
3 - Handling of time
How is time handled in your novel? A strong, forward moving narrative is often best supported by the simplest handling of time. Has your character had to dip into their childhood more times than you are comfortable with? Do you beautifully paint a place and time at the beginning of a chapter only to go into flashback from the second paragraph? Could a flashback be softened to a simpler memory? Does the reader need to know all this, or are you really writing character notes to yourself?
4 - Visualise your plot
Get an A1 pad, or better yet a whiteboard, and draw time along the vertical axis. Then sketch in your plot as it’s presented in the book. Put in the key events as milestones, draw arcs for the main story line and the sub-plots. Then stand back and see what you’ve created. Are there sufficient subplots and payoffs to keep a reader happy? Is there a satisfactory convergence of plot lines towards the climax? Maybe one plot line doesn’t sufficiently relate to the others. Do you need it?
5 - Be precise about emotion
It’s really easy to write a good, well-choreographed, visual scene without ever having asked yourself what are the emotions in play. Identify the emotional highpoint of the scene. Have you built up to this? Do your characters' emotions change or intensify? Often, just by getting the emotions clear you’ll draw out the drama.
All good tips. Thank you, Richard!
(Now as I'm currently reading the finished version of Richard's novel I'm a little nervous about his right hook ...)