Creative Writing Tip: Going Deeper in Your Fiction

1341529_shoreline_rocks_2We authors–at least, authors who are like me–are always aware of a need to take a first draft deeper. To connect with the characters more, make them more alive.

This is particularly true in my case, as I have a simple, precise style and my first drafts are rather minimalist. (Are you that way, a fellow Hemingway? Or are you a Faulkner?)

But what does “going deeper” mean? What’s the difference between going deeper and adding fluff?

Writing is never easy, and it’s not something you can do alone: you will always need beta readers and editors to help you fill in holes and iron out the excess.

Still, there are general ways I find myself taking a draft “deeper” before I ever send it off to beta readers.

  • I CUT DOWN ON WHAT FEELS SUPERFLUOUS. A book can only have so many words, after all, and you want all of them to count. Cutting things you don’t necessarily need puts more emphasis on things you want to draw attention to, as well as creates word space for you to “go deeper” where you need to add depth. Editing, for me as a pantser, is always a balance between adding and deleting.
  • I CONCENTRATE ON BRINGING CHARACTER EMOTION AND MOTIVATION TO THE FOREFRONT. My first drafts usually consist of me getting to know who my characters are. Figuring out what makes them tick. Finally fully armed with that  information when I begin editing, I can make those elements stand out clearer, especially in beginning scenes.
  • I CONCENTRATE ON SETTING. I never give much description of setting in a first draft. Even my final drafts don’t have a crazy amount of setting description, but what is there serves a purpose: setting creates tone, it affects the action of the scene somehow, or it reveals traits of the characters responsible for the setting arrangement.
  • I ADD SENTENCES HERE AND THERE TO NARRATION, EXPLAINING WHAT CHARACTERS ARE DOING/THINKING/FEELING, NOT JUST WHAT THEY’RE SAYING. What’s happening around my characters? How do they feel about what’s happening around them? I tend to lean toward lots of dialogue in fiction, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But realizing there are other things going on when some characters are talking, and giving more information about the background to my readers, is a great way to add layers to a scene and make it seem more real. The characters aren’t as much in the “bubble” of their conversation anymore.
  • I ASK MYSELF: DOES THIS MAKE SENSE? Every plot has its background information as well as its ins and outs. Every piece of the story relates to other pieces and other events in a complex way. I try to ensure that I’ve given enough information so that those connections are clear to my readers. They need to be able to follow the story. If connections aren’t clear, then I know I need to provide a greater depth of explanation, whether through dialogue, a character’s thought process, or a narrated explanation.

So, that’s how I “go deeper.” Is adding depth to early drafts something you have to focus on too? How do you go about it? Do you have tactics and strategies I’ve missed? Please feel free to comment. This is a great topic, I think, for a discussion among writers for us all to pick up tips!

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31 responses to “Creative Writing Tip: Going Deeper in Your Fiction

  1. One thing I like to do is, after I’ve gotten the basic information in place, I take a break and read a book by an author I like. That way, I recharge the creative part of my brain. Then I go back through my first draft and throw in “poetic sparkles.” (In other words, creative wordplay/descriptive stuff.) And then I e-mail it to my editor and try to put the stupid thing out of my mind.

    • that’s a great strategy!!! while I always make sure to distance myself from the draft before an edit, I’ve never considered reading something in particular to recharge creativity. That’s a wonderful tip. Thanks for sharing!!!

  2. Great post, Victoria. I look for themes that I didn’t even know where there as I wrote the first draft. I also work in those touch points back to the characters actions, thoughts, etc. during dialogue. And I agree, it’s a balance of adding and deleting.

    • Ah, yes, themes. That’s the perfect way to go about themes and symbolism; you don’t insert them on purpose but you notice them after the fact when they come about organically and then tweak them. I agree with your 100%: with what you describe it won’t feel forced or preachy. Thanks for the tip, Francis!

  3. Reblogged this on Author Unpublished and commented:
    This is a great and informative article about the process of turning your first draft into something more through editing and elaborating. Give it a read 🙂

  4. Very helpful insights, thanks Victoria. I personally use the the next stages to start showing, removing some of the telling. It’s easier, I suspect, to do this at the outset but there you go, for me I am concentrating on developing the story at first. When I read a first draft it’s very ‘telly’, lots of then he did that, then she tried this, then he thought that etc. etc. I try to remove anything where I state that a character feels a certain way, thinks a certain thing, and work out if I can show the author without telling them. I suspect as my writing develops I’ll do this more from the very beginning, but right now I am painstakingly editing my first draft and having to stop after every paragraph to think about a better way of presenting it.

    • I love what you say here and I agree with your strategy 100%: your goal in a first draft is to get the story down. It’s the bones, the foundation. For many people worrying about showing versus telling would interfere with that primary goal. Editing is definitely the time to focus on that, and showing versus telling is a fabulous way to add depth and subtlety to a story.

  5. *show the reader – sorry not woken up yet!

  6. Great tips, especially the part about character thoughts and feelings during conversations. People seem to forget about the use of actions while talking or physical reactions. For present tense third person writing, those are very important because it’s really awkward to do the traditional ‘thinking’ dialogue.

    • Ooh, I’ll bet “thinking” dialogue is tough in present tense. I avoid present tense myself in my writing but for those who use it…. that’s a concern for sure! Thanks for the insight into a form a writing I’m not familiar with.

      • You’re welcome. Another challenge with present tense (since we’re on the topic) is the history/back story that you can do in deep narration. For example, a character remembering a time in their childhood that relates to a current situation. The ‘thinking’ dialogue doesn’t work and you would have to write in past tense narration. The only way to do it is to have the character openly mention the memory, which can divert a conversation. So, as a present tense author, I’ve had to accept the fact that some of the deep, humorous stories of characters’ backgrounds have to get cut.

  7. This is helpful. Thanks, Victoria, for all of your great tips. 🙂

  8. As my writing style is the opposite of yours, for me only the first and last points are relevant. The rest is already right there in my first draft 🙂

  9. I don’t know how you manage to do this, but every time I read your posts, they’re JUST what I needed to read for my WIP. Amazing! My first drafts are as you described: my getting acquainted with the characters. In the first revision, I’m now “dating” the characters, and we’re working toward marriage. In the second revision, we’re married (and I guess that makes me a polygamist), but I’m ready to divorce some, because our marriage isn’t really going anywhere. I’m also ready to kill off some, which makes me a murderess. But here, I have to thin the herd (to mix metaphors) because I can’t go deeper with a cast of thousands. Some writers are able to do that, but I can’t.

    • I’m so glad my posts are timely for you!!! I love the way you break things down in this reflection. I would never have thought to consider my drafts in that manner but it really is true in a lot of ways. Every time the relationship deepens and grows more “serious.”

  10. Great post, Victoria. Reading through, I realized that I do many of these things– especially cutting out the superfluous. Trimming the fat can be difficult business, but it’s imperative… I tend to think of the story as a body. First drafts are skeletons with a lot of fat. Rewriting/Editing is trimming the fat, and packing on muscle.

  11. Great post! I’m on a first draft now, and some days have to stop myself from going back and ‘getting deeper’ too soon. Inevitably, if I do it before the first draft is entirely complete, then I waste time. By the end, I’ll have to change it again.

    Then again, there are always those days that are so much fun just to write and write that I love being in the first draft! Thanks for the motivation to keep writing, and I’ll keep this in my tool box for later use!

    • That’s a great point, about having to change things you change/perfect during a first draft. That’s one of the major reasons editing while writing is counterproductive.

      it not only makes you feel like you’re not making progress, but they editing you do isn’t going to make a final cut, probably.

  12. Pingback: How to read on a deeper level by comparing your favorite works of art: all authors need this skill | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  13. Pingback: Creative Writing Tip: Going Deeper in Your Fiction | kineticmoleculartheory

  14. Pingback: One Simple Way To Resolve Plot Issues In Your Novel | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  15. Reblogged this on Your Storybird Updater and commented:
    One last one… =D
    All aspiring authors must visit this blog (crimsonleague.com) by Victoria Grefer, the author of the Herezoth Trilogy.

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