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Phase 3B: In The Darkroom

In the olden days of photography, you set up your equipment and took careful pictures.

Yet it wasn't until you developed the negatives that you knew exactly what you got.

Your first draft was you shooting pictures. That was fun, right?

Now you're in the darkroom getting your first glimpse at what you've got.

Still fun?

Tough Questions

Does the plot play out the way you'd hoped?

Are your characters as dynamic as they can be?

Does the rising action rise?

Do the surprises surprise?

Do the twists twist?


Part of rewriting is discovering the gems you unearthed during the writing stage, some of which you may not have been aware of at the time.

Don't ignore them. Don't throw those gems away. With a little bit of polish, they could end up proving quite delightful.

Things to keep in mind while checking your first draft include proportion, structure, stakes, character consistency, credible dialogue, etc.

There are books galore on these vital editing aspects.

Character + Setting = Plot

At this stage, focus on three things: character and setting and plot.

  1. Do your characters drive your plot?

  2. Do your situations squeeze your characters sufficiently?

  3. Do your plot points connect?

If your plot drags your characters along - instead of the characters' choices and actions forging the plot - then you may want to hit the pause button to see what can be done about that.

No amount of clever dialogue or amusing imagery can glue together a broken plot.

Are you bringing to bear upon your characters all the forces necessary to drive change?

Are you utilizing all Three Levels of Conflict to ratchet up the tension and force the reader to see this through, barn aflame?



You've reworked your story into the proper proportions, clipped the chapters to make them more aerodynamic, and got your action to rise.

Now stop.

Feed Me

Solicit feedback from 2 or 3 trusted readers before you go any further.

No point pouring all your juices into the container only to find out later there are a dozen holes in it.

Other Writers

You are a writer. Talk with other writers. Read other writers.

Join a writers group. Bring your whole "self" to these things, because you get out of it what you put into it.

And spoiler alert: trustworthy readers give you solid feedback, plus you may also receive from them credible, final reviews that can dress up your finished book jacket!

Collect your feedback. Review it. Dismiss what you need to, but pay attention to recurring comments. Aspects of your story that are questioned by more than 1 of your reviewers.

Work It Out

Writing is rewriting.

You put a lot into that first draft. Time to pull pieces out of it to see what it needs to stand up.

Kill Your Darlings

If you can take out an action sequence, a clever exchange of masked insults, a whole character even, and the story does not collapse, then you should probably do that.

Be methodical. Be deliberate. Be diligent.

Lester Bangs said it best in Almost Famous: "Be honest and unmerciful."

You will not be there when your readers read your final version. It has to stand for itself. Work on it until you have a self-standing story.


Only when your characters are driving the plot toward its surprising yet logical conclusion - and you know you are finished with the crafting - that you are ready to graduate to the polish draft.

Eagle Eyes

Get a friendly, detail-driven editor to read over your manuscript to find all those nasty little spelling and grammar mistakes.

Good editors will find recurring phrases you didn't intend. Right-spelled words that are just wrong (though vs. thought). Missing punctuation.

Invaluable, these people are.


Sick of your story yet?

You might be, but only because you've been working on it so hard for so long, and there is yet to be any sort of pay-off.

Finishing it is the pay-off!

No true work of art is ever finished, be it a painting, a photograph or a novel.

It is only ever Abandoned.

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