I make a lot of mistakes while I’m writing. No, I mean, like, a lot. I’m not talking about little grammar and spelling mistakes – those are just part of the landscape. I’m talking about big, ridiculous mistakes: plot holes you could fly a 747 through, characters who act so inconsistently they might be diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, settings that have tall blue trees in one scene and scrubby orange bushes in the next.
As I’ve been writing my way through novel number one, some of these errors have jumped out at me almost immediately, biting me in the face like angry wolverines. Others have lurked in the text like hungry alligators just below the surface of a pond, waiting until I started working on the rewrite before closing their noissome jaws around my head.
On the one hand, I’m fortunate to have found these errors. It’s so easy to toddle along creating your fiction while remaining completely oblivious of any problems your creation might have. On the other hand, all those stupid mistakes are a pain in my tender portions. They’ve got to be fixed, the little buggers. The trouble is, if I fix the writing mistakes immediately, the pace of my writing goes from slow to sub-glacial and I lose track not only of pace but of where I exactly I was going, beat sheet or not. If I wait to fix them until later, I just flat forget about whatever egregious error it was.
To deal with all these imperfections, I’ve discovered a couple of tools. One is a trick from a science fiction writer whose name I can’t remember, because I picked it up so long ago. The other is something I just started doing out of the desperate need to remember all the stuff that was going wrong with my novel.
The first technique is very simple: brackets. Whenever I am writing along and notice something that will need fixing later, I make a note right there in the text, as I write; for example, “Jackie pulled her pistol and leveled it at the badger. [Jackie never had a pistol. Be sure she gets one earlier.] ‘Don’t shoot!’ cried the badger.” By using the brackets, I can make a quick note of my flub and move on without losing momentum. This works pretty well for smaller mistakes.
For bigger mistakes, such as plot holes, I maintain a fix-it sheet. This is just a separate document in which I have written down things that need fixing, hence the name. Here’s a breakdown of the contents:
- I’m having some issues with character development in novel number one, so in my fix-it sheet I’ve noted things like “Need emotional investment in Colin from the start,” “Colin always needs a goal in mind, at whatever stage his character is,” “Ensure Colin’s quest for the Bough is clear… clear start, reason, etc.”
- Because I’m an organizer (regardless of what my family might tell you), my fix-it sheet is arranged according to sections of the novel. There’s also a separate section for suggestions from my writing group (Thanks, gang!).
- I also have a section titled “Look at during mss work,” which contains things to review each chapter for as I go through the rewrite, things like “Colin’s internal dialog: Try to make it out loud along, in dialog with a character, or skip it,” and “Check for character growth in every scene.”
You can organize your fix-it sheet any way you want, according to your needs and temperament. (Like you needed my permission, right?)
Now that I’ve started my second draft, I’m using these tools in earnest. I am using the bracketed notes as I work with the manuscript itself, tidying up the smaller errors as I go along. I have used the notes from the fix-it sheet to fill out a detailed beat sheet for the second draft, which ensures I work all the big fixes into the correct spots. That’s working well so far. I am also checking every chapter for the look-at-during-mss-work stuff. That’s slow, but it makes me slow down and comb through each chapter, which is what I wanted to do for the second draft.
So, there you have them: the fix-it notes and the fix-it sheet. Use them like crazy! Unless your writing is always defect-free, in which case, go away, I don’t want to hear about it.
If you’ve got a cool way of dealing with mistakes in your fiction, please share it in a comment.
Thanks for reading!