Monday 9 January 2017

The Final Draft: Looking for Satisfactions

By Candy Gourlay

Happy 2017, Slushpilers!

I am happy to report that I think (fingers crossed) I am about to write my current novel for the LAST time.

I wrote the first draft to find my story.

I wrote a second draft to get to know my characters.

I wrote a third draft to lay down everything I thought had to be in my novel.  All the scenes I wanted, All the meaningful things I wanted to say. All the who does what where and how.

So. Final Draft. What do I want from it?


Not satisfaction for me. I've already had three drafts to do that. Satisfaction for the READER.

What can I do to this draft that will make the experience of reading it a satisfying one for the random reader?
I want my reader to be immediately drawn into my story, his curiosity whetted, his attention hooked so that he desperately needs to keep reading to find out what happens next. I want my reader to identify with my hero's predicament, see his own flaws in my hero's imperfections. I want my reader to commit to a long journey in the company of my hero, to rejoice when my hero rejoices and suffer when my hero suffers. And when all is lost, I want my reader to despair ... only to be born again when my hero finds his way out of his predicament.
I've spent the Christmas holidays endlessly re-reading my favourite books about writing, literally listing the faults of my manuscript and searching for solutions.

Here are Five Satisfactions that we owe our readers:

1. Dramatic tension

Alfred Hitchcock was once asked if he had a formula for creating dramatic tension. He replied by calling on his interviewer to imagine a bomb under a table. When the bomb explodes, the public will be surprised, but until it does, they will be oblivious. But if the public knows that the bomb is under the table, then they are complicit - they're part of the scene, longing to warn the characters that the bomb is about to explode. Boy, won't they just love that!

So, in revision, pay attention to whether your reader knows about ticking bombs in your plot. Can you rearrange scenes so that the reader is dreading someone's arrival or something happening? Is that bomb ticking loudly enough, is the reader feeling the pressure of time running out?  What your reader knows and what doesn't know is what makes him read on.

2. Delayed gratification

At some point last Christmas, the family watched Shakespeare in Love, the Tom Stoppard film starring Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare and Gwyneth Paltrow as his inspiration for Juliet. Afterwards, I found myself listing all the  delicious satisfactions that the film had delivered at the very end, including :

• After all the cross dressing, boys playing girls and girls playing boys, Shakespeare and Viola at last end up playing Romeo and Juliet

• At the end of the play the holier-than-thou guy who was preaching that theatre was the devil's work is seen weeping and applauding the play

• Mean old Colin Firth, Earl of Wessex is humiliated royally

• we get to see Queen Judy Dench again!


3. Fun and Games

Over Christmas, I re-read Save the Cat by the late Blake Snyder, in which he demonstrated how to plot a story using a 'Beat Sheet' - if you haven't got the book, here's a blog post about how to plot using Snyder's beat sheet and here are sample beat sheets of films. Snyder says that at about page 30 of every 55 page script, there should be fun and games. Fun and games, he explained, "is where all the trailer moments of a movie are found."

Trailer moments??? Gah! I rushed to re-read my manuscript. Were there any moments that would make it to a film trailer if my book were a film?

Snyder wrote:
The fun and games section answers the question: Why did I come to see this movie? What about this premise, this poster, this movie idea, is cool?
When they plan set pieces for a movie, apparently this is where they put them. Snyder said realising this 'leapfrogged me ahead 10 places'. Snyder also called it the Promise of the Premise. What is the cool premise of your book? That high concept that you promised would make it stand above the rest?Have you kept your promise?

4. Mirroring

Reading about structure, you see a lot of stuff about mirroring. John Yorke in his book on story structure Into the Woods spent a chapter examining the patterns defined by eggheads from Shakespeare to Robert McKee (author of Story). Yorke ultimately concludes that a story in five acts reveals an extraordinary, underlying symmetry -- elements mirror each other in opposite and equal actions. Somehow there's something extra satisfying in creating such symmetries. Here are some mirrorings and symmetries to look out for:

Journey into the woods • journey back - It was from Yorke that I first heard of the Midpoint - which is exactly at a story's halfway point, a concept first identified by Syd Field who said it was "an important scene in the middle of the script, often a reversal of fortune or revelation that changes the direction of the story." Yorke calls the first half the hero's journey "into the woods". The second half, is the hero's journey back. The midpoint, smack dab in the middle, is a moment in the story when "something profoundly significant occurs". James Scott Bell, author of Plot and Structure, has helpfully written an ebook devoted to the Midpoint, Write Your Novel From the Middle. Imma gonna try that next time.

Opening scene • final scene - Blake Snyder writes: "The very first impression of what a movie is -- its tone, its mood, the type and scope of the film -- are all found in the opening image" while "the final image is the opposite of the opening image. It is proof that change has occurred." It sure would be a nice touch to have mirroring opening and final chapters.

Hero • Villain - Just before New Year someone posted a link on Facebook to David Villalva's infographic Three Ways to Create a Villain.

Number one way is: The villain functions as a reflection of the hero. Woops, I thought. Have I done enough work on my hero and my villain? I sat down and drew a two-column chart, comparing my hero and my villain. I discovered that I had done this without realising it. But having it articulated to me meant that I could get in there and make things even better.

Danger • Opportunity - writing about crisis, climax and resolution, Robert McKee in Story says the Chinese ideogram for 'Crisis' fittingly describes two things: danger and opportunity.
'Danger' in that the wrong decision at this moment will lose forever what we want; 'Opportunity' in that the right choice will achieve our desire.
So the final draft is a chance to ask, have I made every danger in my story an opportunity for my hero? Well not every danger. But it's an interesting way to examine plot peril and develop conflict. Eg: Crisis is the moment when the hero comes face to face with all the forces of antagonism against him. Luke Skywalker pilots the X Wing Fighter into the Death Star. The Climax is one final action by the protagonist that settles everything. Luke destroys the Death Star. And finally, the Resolution. Luke gets a medal. Danger is Opportunity.

5. Character

The greatest task when writing a final draft, is to switch from your bleary author eyes to the nice fresh eyes of a reader so that you can SEE, nay, get to KNOW your characters as if you'd never met them before.

But it does take a lot of forgetting to set aside, in some cases, years of time spent creating, growing, writing your characters. Can you really see them as your reader will see them? Or are you too close, too emotionally attached, too fed up to identify what it is they need to come to life.

It is interesting though, sometimes as your character deepens and becomes richer in nuance, a magical thing happens. You find yourself changing your story, plugging holes in the plot, turning mere obstacles into turning points, everything suddenly growing in meaning and depth. Don't be surprised if your character's voice changes, perhaps she might even develop a life of her own, suddenly introducing scenes that you had not envisioned before.

In On Film Making - An Introduction to the Craft of the Director, Alexander Mackendrick, who made the film Ladykillers, writes :
A situation that seems promising but lacks the momentum to keep going all the way to the end may be a premise not yet explored to its full potential.  
How do you explore the full potential of your story? Character! If you go to your characters and ask them every question, you will find every answer.

If you liked this post you might enjoy Exposition: It's About Emotion not Information


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How to write your novel for the LAST TIME. #amwriting #amediting #NaNoWriMo #notesfromtheslushpile

Candy Gourlay is the author of Tall Story and Shine. Visit her website


  1. So much in one post! I'm going to have to re-read this before I start the next edit. It shows how much we've had to learn In order to become writers. Awesome advice!

    1. I did a LOT of reading these books over the Christmas holidays. Blogging always helps me to retain ideas.

  2. Candy, this is fantastic! I tried writing from the middle and it worked for me on my most recent manuscript – definitely worth trying. Argh, how much longer can I leave it before I read Save the Cat? Must read that book!

    1. A lot of people dismiss STC as advocating formulaic structure. But it is a great help for getting the right balance to your story once you've got a first draft!

    2. I only heard about Midpoint a couple of years ago, in a graphic novel class, and it's transformational. I will try plotting my next pitch from the Midpoint.

  3. Fabulous, Candy! Will be checking my new ms against these points tonight and will post to the Eggs in the Nest. Thanks for pulling this great advice together. I'm a big fan of Snyder and love the idea of Fun and Games.

    1. Thanks! It's just a list if areas I've been revising, I'm sure other writers will focus on other things.

  4. Thanks Candy - always helpful to remind yourself of this stuff, especially when you've had your head down with the basic story and characters for so long.

    I do think there is some satisfaction for the writer in this final stage though, in terms of tightening everything up, trimming off the fat and shaping the end product. Oh wait, did I just make your novel sound like a doner kebab?

    1. Your comment made me hungry suddenly.

      Yeah, I actually tried to apply my plot to all the different plot structures talked about in these books - so many, the Save the Cat beats, the into the woods structure and other structures outlined by John Yorke, etc. It was a great exercise because it threw up all kinds of interesting things. They really helped me shed the fear of getting it wrong and rewrite my synopsis for my final rewrite.

  5. As usual a really great article and my what information to take away and use. I shall relook at all I have written. Who knows this might be my mid crisis turning point as a writer.

  6. Such a good article with many ideas I'm going to ponder, perhaps try out! I'm on my 3d sweep through a MG ghost story, and it's fun, tough, illuminating, and maddening. In other words: It's writing. At the Florida SCBWI mid-year conference (2016), author Jonathan Maberry offered one of his favorite writing strategies: When beginning a new book, he buys a copy of Donald Maass's WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, fills in all the exercises, and--voilà--has his characters, arcs, and plot neatly laid out. Doesn't mean NO revisions, of course, but he feels this sets him up for the least # and gets him thoroughly grounded in his characters and their story.

    1. I read Donald Maas's book after he was mentioned several times in other books about structure. It's an eye opening read ... I forgot I had it. Thanks for reminding me!

  7. I know when I read an excellent blog... I want to print it out! I don't even write that much! (illustration being my main drive) Thank you Candy.

    1. Thaks, Suzanne. Mind you I was just collating the great teachings of several writing gurus.

  8. Just brilliant. Thanks for distilling all of this. Second mention of Into the Woods I've seen today too. Going to get back to that right now.

    1. It's not just a manual, it's a fascinating insight into story.

  9. Thought food that. Thank you :)

  10. Oooo. Exciting, Candy. Can't wait to read it and thanks for the tips. My middle daughter just got me Save the Cat, for Christmas (she's a canny ten year old)... Happy final revising. x

    1. Wow, how did she know 😉? To be honest I acquired the book and dismissed it at first skim-read because first impression suggests it's advocating formulaic writing. But on a proper reading, that beat sheet articulates very clearly what other books on story structure can express very obtusely. Enjoy!

    2. Yes it came out tops at our SW book review meeting. I had it on my list too but all I got was soap! (Perhaps they are trying to tell me something)

  11. Thanks for another great article. Late reading this as busy with a final edit. Now I want to go and do the whole thing again. Fortunately or unfortunately there isn't time, but much to think about for next book.


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