HOW TO WRITE A COMPELLING FIRST DRAFT OF A NOVEL

HOW TO WRITE A COMPELLING FIRST DRAFT OF A NOVEL

The truth of the matter is if you don’t have your reader’s attention, or if they don’t find your characters believable, and if they can’t figure out the setting all within the first ten pages of your novel, chances are they won’t finish reading it. The trouble for authors begins here for them. Once you publish your novel on Kindle or other seller sites, readers option to look inside your book before they read it. If they are not interested, they don’t purchase it. Therefore, it is imperative that your opening chapter is compelling, error-free and engages your readers.

MAKE SURE YOUR FIRST TEN PAGES CAPTURES THE ATTENTION OF YOUR READERS

With permission of my best friend and colleague Dr. Melissa Caudle, she has allowed me to use her opening paragraphs as examples from her novel THE KEYSTROKE KILLER: TRANSCENDENCE.

Fortunately, she archived every version of her novels. I will use her opening paragraphs and then use same paragraphs once edited. Now by editing, I am not only implying spelling, grammar, subject-verb agreement etc., but I am also implying after the removal of pesky dialogue tags, replacing weak verbs with strong ones, and rid the first draft of the wordy, wordy, telly, telly stuff and have it written in a show rather than tell style.

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THE KEYSTROKE KILLER: TRANSCENDENCE

FIRST DRAFT OF CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER 1

The Day of Reckoning

Sunrise

The golden sun peaked above the city that care forgot. In tight formation, five fighter jets flew in a disciplined and synchronized predetermined manner typically seen at an air show. Less than three feet apart, they flew in duck formation providing the aerodynamic advantage as they approached the city known for Mardi Gras and the birthplace of jazz. One inch off the maneuver would be disastrous. The right wingman spotted the Greater New Orleans Bridge and the murky brown Mississippi River below.“We’re making our approach,” Hipshot, the ruggedly handsome said.

“Roger that,” Skeeter said, the equally attractive second lieutenant to his left replied grinning.

“Doesn’t look like the bridge is too backed up,” the wingman firmly stated like thunder.

The striking commander, James Dylan Taylor, in the leader position, said, “Cut the chatter.” He flew over the Crescent City hundreds of times and didn’t need any reminder of his location and certainly did not want to listen to a morning traffic report. The non-approved test flight flew over the Mississippi River Bridge exactly at sunrise – 6:38 AM to commemorate the death of Livia Lynn Raymond.

As the combat air squadron past the bridge, an old green Ford Taurus on the bridge below merged into the flow of the morning commute heading west. The sonic jets caught the attention of the driver.

The driver’s green eyes reflected into the rearview mirror and revealed the anguish behind them.

His weariness and grief not only showed in his eyes but also in his third-day unshaven face and his tossed brown hair. He had gone to Hell and back to be amongst the living. His wrinkled shirt faded Levi jeans and his name-brand soiled tennis shoes acknowledged his unkept and carefree style. Looking ahead at the traffic he had a glazed somber expression. He thought, “Today is the day I dread the most. And it’s going to happen again and again. It can’t be stopped until I die. I can’t help but to think I could have stopped this in the first place. I knew the danger.”

His sister’s last words haunted him. “Matthew, I am scared,” echoed in his head. “Somebody is after me.”

He tried to shake the disturbing message he remembered; but the echoes wouldn’t stop.

“Somebody is after me. Do something.”

Matthew continued his westerly journey west on Interstate Ten toward Kenner, a suburb twelve miles from the French Quarter. A billboard on his right caught his attention. “Shit!” he exclaimed frustrated as he slammed his fist onto the steering wheel. “A Dimension Conference. Just what I need is a bunch of conspiracy theorists,” he mumbled. “They need to find a way to get off this planet already. Oh, they did.”

The road traffic faded to a suburban quietness as the old Ford Taurus continued the journey through upper-class suburbia.

The sun illuminated the dew on the grass in the suburban neighborhood as the old Ford Taurus continued the path on Loyola Parkway, a four-lane boulevard. The neighborhood did not change over the years. The fast-food chains remained for the working-class morning vultures. The hospital had expanded to three new wings on the left and a large D-Mart chain store on the right was still in business. The only things that changed were the many subdivisions and apartment complexes that sprouted up over the years.

Mr. Reggie Smith, a middle-aged professional, in a designer suit, retrieved the morning paper from his perfectly landscaped yard. He barely noticed the old Ford Taurus as it passed. In return, Matthew remained focused on his own thoughts and failed to notice that Mr. Smith tripped over a pile of rocks that were carefully placed for a design upgrade to the manicured yard. Matthew had seen the sculpture for many years as a child.

Michael Edmunds, NFL running back for the New Orleans Saints, seemed to take flight as he ran his morning routine like a young gazelle along the bike path. Matthew recognized him and smiled as if to say, “Good morning.”

Several female tweens, who by every sign left their training bras at home; but, not their make-up, mingled on the corner to the background of chirping birds.

Dr. Frank Franklin, dressed impeccably, quickly escaped his home. He walked toward his red Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse he shelled out $2.6 million because he liked it. It’s one of those cars that only the rich and famous afforded. In his mind, he pictured a busty blond spread eagle across the hood. “Nice piece,” he murmured dryly thinking about his boy toy of a vehicle.

NOW THE REVISED OPENING PARAGRAPHS TO THE KEYSTROKE KILLER

The golden sun peaked from the dark cloudless sky above the city that care forgot. Five fighter jets traveled in a disciplined duck formation usually seen at an air show. Less than three feet apart, the synchronize advance provided the aerodynamic advantage as they approached the city known for Mardi Gras and the birthplace of jazz. One inch off the maneuver equaled disaster for the flight team.

Hipshot, the right wingman spotted the Greater New Orleans Bridge and the murky brown Mississippi River below. “We’re making our approach.”

“Roger that.” Skeeter, the attractive second lieutenant to his left wing flashed a grin of male satisfaction.

“Doesn’t look like the bridge is backed up.”

The striking commander, James Dylan Taylor, tapped his microphone attached to his pilot’s helmet. “Cut the chatter.” He flew over the Crescent City hundreds of times and needed no reminder of his location and didn’t want to listen to a morning traffic report. His expression covered by his pilot’s helmet.

The fly-by non-approved flight over the Mississippi River Bridge to commemorate the death of Livia Lynn Raymond, daughter of the New Orleans Police Commissioner, zoomed close to Mach one. As the air squadron flew over, an old green Ford Taurus driven by Matthew Raymond, Jr. merged into the flow of the morning commute headed west below. As he drove, the song New Orleans by Stevie Nicks drifted from the console.

Matthew’s blistering bloodshot green eyes, his crow’s feet and dark circles reflected into the rearview mirror which revealed the anguish behind them and made the thirty-year-old look older. His third-day unshaven face, his tossed brown hair, his wrinkled shirt and faded Levi jeans acknowledged his unkempt style. He made no excuse for his appearance or his depressed demeanor as his eyes fixated ahead at the traffic. Today is the day I dread the most. It will happen again, and again. It can’t be stopped until I die. I could have stopped this in the first place. Livia told me she was in danger.

His sister’s last words haunted him. “Matthew, I’m scared. Somebody is after me.” He tried to shake the disturbing message, but the echoes wouldn’t stop.

“Somebody is after me. Do something.”

Matthew drove west on Interstate 10 toward Kenner, a suburb, twelve miles from the French Quarter. A LED billboard caught his attention. “Shit!” He slammed his fist onto the steering wheel. “A Dimension Conference. Just what I need is a bunch of conspiracy theorists. They need to get off this planet already.” Oh, they did.

The hustle and bustle of the city where the average murder rate was two a night faded to the quietness through upper-class suburbia. It was in the suburbs where The Co-ed serial killer murdered Livia. Not in the city that care forgot. The Raymond family moved to Kenner, Louisiana when Matthew and Livia were children to escape the violence that spread in the underbelly of N’awlins.

The sun illuminated the morning dew as the old Ford Taurus continued on Loyola Parkway, a four-lane boulevard. Over the years, not much changed. The fast-food chains remained for the working-class morning vultures, Oschner Hospital expanded building three new wings on the left, a D-Mart chain store on the right still thrived and more apartment complexes and housing subdivisions developed.

Several female tweens, who by every sign left their training bras at home, but not their makeup, mingled on the corner to the background of chirping birds.

Dr. Frank Franklin, a distinguished striking man’s man, dressed impeccably, bolted from his home. He strode toward his polished red Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse which he had shelled out over two million dollars because he liked it. It’s one of those cars that only the rich and famous afforded. In his mind, he pictured a busty blonde spread eagled across the hood ready to receive his throbbing flesh. “Nice piece.” His statement meant for his car and not the blonde.

THE BIG DIFFERENCE

The obvious differences in the draft and the final is Caudle’s use of strong action verbs, she eliminated all dialogue tags to reflect show and not tell, and she eliminated wordiness that seemed to repeated itself. Caudle advised, “I know this may sound strange at first, but dialogue tags are obnoxious to a reader. In fact, they tend to skip over them when they read your book.” What Caudle means by this is that a mediocre writer and often a beginner writer most always use dialogue tags. You know, those he said she said after dialogue. The truth publishers really don’t like them, especially when writers embellish them. My suggestion to you to improve your first draft immediately and to improve your writing, but all dialogue tags from your manuscript. I am a firm believer that every character’s dialogue stands on their own and in their own voice. That means, a character’s dialogue should reflect who and what they are and how they say it. When you master that task, your characters will be stronger and so will your manuscript.

So, how do you eliminate dialogue tags?

Read through your manuscript or use the search and find tool in Microsoft Word and find the word ‘said.’ Then, investigate the actions of your character, his or her feelings, did he or she touch or drink something?

Instead of writing:

“We’re making our approach,” Hipshot, the ruggedly handsome said.

“Roger that,” Skeeter said, the equally attractive second lieutenant to his left replied grinning.

“Doesn’t look like the bridge is too backed up,” the wingman firmly stated like thunder.

Note: All three examples above use dialogue tags. Here is how Caudle revised them to eliminate dialogue tags and strengthen with strong action and action verbs.

Hipshot, the right wingman spotted the Greater New Orleans Bridge and the murky brown Mississippi River below. “We’re making our approach.”

“Roger that.” Skeeter, the attractive second lieutenant to his left wing flashed a grin of male satisfaction.

“Doesn’t look like the bridge is backed up.”

Note: Now compare the dialogue and the action in each of the three examples. In the dialogue where tags are used those are not as strong and don’t provide action. The first three are telling sentence. The edited version shows.

Now that you eliminated the dialogue tags, search your document for your verbs and replace them with strong verbs. Look at the examples below.

Dr. Frank Franklin, dressed impeccably, quickly escaped his home. He walked toward his red Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse he shelled out $2.6 million because he liked it. It’s one of those cars that only the rich and famous afforded. In his mind, he pictured a busty blond spread eagle across the hood. “Nice piece,” he murmured dryly thinking about his boy toy of a vehicle.

Dr. Frank Franklin, a distinguished striking man’s man, dressed impeccably, bolted from his home. He strode toward his polished red Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse which he had shelled out over two million dollars because he liked it. It’s one of those cars that only the rich and famous afforded. In his mind, he pictured a busty blonde spread eagled across the hood ready to receive his throbbing flesh. “Nice piece.” His statement meant for his car and not the blonde.

The big difference in this example, the word escaped was changed to bolted which is a strong action verb. Instead of walked, Dr. Franklin strode; again, the replacement of a strong action verb.

GETTING RID OF WORDINESS AND REDUNANCY

As authors we get carried away with writing and often repeat things are over describe them. Take a look at Caudle’s first draft opening paragraph.

the golden sun peaked above the city that care forgot. In tight formation, five fighter jets flew in a disciplined and synchronized predetermined manner typically seen at an air show. Less than three feet apart, they flew in duck formation providing the aerodynamic advantage as they approached the city known for Mardi Gras and the birthplace of jazz. One inch off the maneuver would be disastrous. The right wingman spotted the Greater New Orleans Bridge and the murky brown Mississippi River below.

Now, here it is again without all the repetitive words that said the same thing over and over removed for a crisper opener.

The golden sun peaked from the dark cloudless sky above the city that care forgot. Five fighter jets traveled in a disciplined duck formation usually seen at an air show. Less than three feet apart, the synchronize advance provided the aerodynamic advantage as they approached the city known for Mardi Gras and the birthplace of jazz. One inch off the maneuver equaled disaster for the flight team.

So, when you write, sometimes less is more. Go through your manuscript and edit out anything that is wordy and not necessary.

Conclusion

If you want to improve your first draft of your novel replace your weak verbs with strong action verbs, remove your dialogue tags and make certain your dialogue reflects your character, and remove anything that is unnecessary. I also implore you to have your manuscript professionally edited after the first draft and after the final draft.

I want to thank Dr. Melissa Caudle for allowing to use her first and final draft of THE KEYSTROKE KILLER: TRANSCENDENCE as an example and I encourage each of you to purchase her book and her new book NEVER STOP RUNNING that launches on January 19, 2019. Caudle is a masterful author who knows how to construct a compelling story with vibrant descriptions, characters and a compelling plot.

Available January 19, 2019 on Amazon

New Novel to be Released by Dr. Melissa Caudle

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