Transitioning into a Second Draft

I discovered the short story I had a sneaking suspicion was actually a novel last fall is, in fact, a novel. And I’m 90% done drafting it. I have the last section roughly outlined, and should finish up the first draft by the end of the month if not sooner.

And it needs to get done by then. So I can revise it, and expand it, and send it to my CPs, all in time before Taos Toolbox come June when I plan on sharing the novel with the other participants. It’s overwhelming when I look at all those goals smooshed into a single sentence, but the terror is keeping me going, keeping me productive, as I pound out ~2k a day to get there.

But even though the first draft isn’t completed yet, I’m already thinking about what I’ll need to do to prepare for the second pass. I don’t have the time to set the story aside for a couple of months – even though I am planning on a break here and there for writing short stories.

So I need to be focused and smart in terms of how I proceed.


I’ve been doing a lot of research on an as-needed basis as I’ve been drafting, but there’s still a lot more to be done to really make the story come alive. Aspects of the world I’ve created need to be fleshed out and tied more firmly to plot elements. Parts of the story take place where I live currently, so field trips to area attractions and museums and the like are good too for getting at those concrete sensory details to anchor the story action and make it as authentic as possible. Geography, language, history, science, politics…I’m drawing on it all and want it represented as accurately as I’m capable of doing in this second draft.


This is one of those things I have to consciously incorporate when I write. I usually get so caught up in action and dialogue that description usually falls by the wayside. So in my second draft, I know I’ll need to really pay attention for opportunities to describe my world and my characters. I’ll be drawing on my research for one, but now that I’ll have a completed draft, it’ll be easier for me to go back and accurately depict my characters as well. Usually, I don’t really have a good sense of my characters until I finish the first draft, where I can then chart their character arc over the whole story. So on this second pass, I’ll be taking a hard look at how I describe and characterize the story players throughout the book.


Partly because of the way I’ve chosen to structure this book (for now) and partly because I’ve been so focused on getting to the end of the first draft, stakes aren’t as fully explored as they’ll need to be if I want to attempt to publish this story. In my second draft, I’ll be taking a hard look at each chapter, each section of the story, to determine ways to consistently raise the stakes and ratchet up the tension as the story progresses. It’s close now, but it needs to be even more pronounced to achieve that page-turning quality in what’s turned out to be a more character-driven sci-fi adventure (I know, I’m still wondering how that happened too).

Plot Expansion

Because I’ve been flying through my initial draft (for me at least), there are some huge gaps where I’ve left out entire scenes or have only provided the barest skeleton of story action. All of those areas will need to be fleshed out and expanded. There’s a good chance what I discover in writing these new scenes will need to be incorporated elsewhere in the story as well so everything fits together naturally – I don’t want things shoehorned or appended onto the story at this stage. Things should hang together at this point. And if they don’t, I know I have more work to do.


This probably goes without saying, but when I’m drafting I don’t always have my most beautiful prose flowing. I’m trying to get from point A to point Z as fast as possible, and if the right word or phrase isn’t readily available, I skip it and move on. On the second pass, I need to root out every instance of lazy writing, cut clichés and awkward phrasing, and instead create laser-sharp prose chock full of precise details. Intentional writing, made a heck of a lot easier once I have my first draft done and understand the shape of the story.

Keep your fingers crossed for me as I finish up my first draft and decide what to do with it.

What do you look for improving on a second pass? How do you prepare to revise a first draft?
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The Story behind the Story – Fat Girl in a Strange Land Edition

When I saw the call for the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology for Crossed Genres Publications, I knew I wanted to submit a story. When I see specific calls for anthologies or special issues of magazines, it can take me a while to warm up to the occasionally bizarre ideas editors are looking for. But not this time.

So the next question became, how to do this call justice? There were two required elements: a fat, female protagonist and some sort of journey to a strange land (however conceived). The fat part I had no problem with. Though I am not considered overweight myself, many members in my extended family have dealt with obesity and other weight-related issues. So my familiarity the situations they’ve faced along with my experiences with the societal pressures any woman feels, I felt reasonably confident I could create a fat character and treat her with respect.

The “strange land” part was trickier. What kind of story could I tell? It was going to be science fiction, I knew that much. Which means future. And when I think future, I honestly don’t think of fat. Because in the shiny future, we will have figured out all the nutritional and emotional and genetic triggers that make us fat and everyone will be healthy and beautiful and live forever… Well, at least I hope that’s how it goes. So the question then for me was why would people need to be fat the future? There had to be some benefit to being fat.

Fat is essentially stored energy. What if the people in my story needed an abundance of stored energy to do something? That became: what if they needed it for a mission they were going on? And of course, it had to be a mission to a “strange land.” A-ha. My character would be leading a terraforming mission to an icy, uninhabited planet, and the fat was necessary to not only keep her team warm but to also give them the energy they needed to work near constantly to keep the mission on schedule.

Now I had a story. The only problem was I didn’t know anything about terraforming. So I started with Wikipedia’s article on terraforming and worked my way out to other sources. I spent a lot of time learning about Mars since so many people, scientists and futurists alike, have thought about ways we could transform it into a planet that could support life. And the ideas to do so left me scratching my head. The best science-lite overview came from “How Terraforming Mars Will Work” at HowStuffWorks. Basically there are three methods:

  • Large orbital mirrors that will reflect sunlight and heat the Mars surface.
  • Smashing ammonia-heavy asteroids into the planet to raise the greenhouse gas level.
  • Greenhouse gas-producing factories to trap solar radiation.

The scope of the first two methods was so overwhelming, I was uncomfortable using them. How could I keep this a story about a small team of people when they are building these massive mirrors or flinging asteroids (!) into planets? Plus the level of technical and scientific details made me nervous since I definitely don’t have a degree in astrophysics. The third one was most plausible, but I kept thinking how all three of these methods relied on introducing energy to the planet either via the sun or through asteroidal impact, not using the planet itself as a source of energy. Why not heat the planet up from the inside out instead of outside in?

We all know about the power of greenhouse gasses. But even without our meddling, the earth would still produce CFCs and other gasses that heat up the atmosphere through natural processes like volcanic eruptions. And we get volcanoes and earthquakes along fault lines where tectonic plates rub up against one another.But although this is all well and fine for Earth, what about other planets? Did they have plate tectonics?

Turns out they do (Plate Tectonics Determine Life on Other Planets and Plate tectonics on a planet far, far away), which was enough evidence for me to make my story’s team terraform the planet by inducing seismicity, culminating in volcanic eruptions that would belch greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and ensure eventual warming of the planet. See Climatic Effects of Volcanic Eruptions and Volcanic Gasses and Their Effects for more info. Science in my Fiction also provides a nice overview of volcanoes, tectonics, and other geological considerations when writing about other planets, which would have been really handy if it came out before I submitted my story :). Oh, and how does one induce seismicity? That’s the easy part. Just look at fracking.

The result is my story “The Tradeoff” in the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology that releases this Friday, February 17th.

There’s currently a GoodReads giveaway if you are interested in getting your hands on a copy of the anthology.

And stay tuned for next week, when I bring you an interview with anthology editors Kay T. Holt and Bart R. Leib.

Happy writing!
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When Novel Ideas Masquerade as Short Stories

I’m coming off a summer of insane productivity. For me.

And although I’ve done some work on two of my novel-length projects, the name of the game has been short stories.

Five of them in the 4-6k range, all speculative fiction. Two were written before the summer, and I’ve been revising and soliciting feedback on them. The other three were drafted this summer. One was accepted by an anthology. The remaining two I hope to have submission-ready by next month. Fingers crossed.

I’ve started to workshop the pieces with like-minded members of my local meetup writing group – a breakout group of those who were actively pursuing publication and were already at a certain level with their craft. This group of ladies has provided some hugely helpful feedback (even though we all write very different things).

Something that has been consistent in their comments is that each short story could be so much more. Sometimes that means I have to flesh out the world or the story a bit more. But most of the time it means they think I should be writing a novel instead of a short story. That my short stories are novels in disguise.

I’ve talked before about my difficulties in writing short – and believe me, I’m aware of the irony that my other publishing credits are flash fiction.

What’s a girl to do? Well, I’m not opposed to writing novels, obviously. In fact, my “natural length” is probably more novel than short story (and writer Juliette Wade has a great post on this: Natural Length and the Fractal Nature of Stories). The problem is I’ve got two speculative fiction projects already queued up. So converting any of the stories in this current batch into a longer work won’t be happening any time soon.

Then there’s the advice that writing short can be a great way to jumpstart your career (see Lydia Sharp’s post The Benefits of Writing Short and The Long on the Short post from Magical Words). And that’s what I was trying to do with these stories that I’ve turned out this year.

So, as I revise, I’m working hard to do the following:

1) Streamline story elements as much as possible without compromising my view of the story world

This may mean simplifying plot points or removing certain features of the world – especially if they open up a whole host of questions that my story doesn’t address. I often add in aspects that I think flesh out the worlds in a shorthand way, but oftentimes these are the same things my writing group calls me out on. As Juliette Wade points out in Worldbuilding for Short Stories: “in a short story, you have very little room to explain or explore. Everything you do has to be done in as few words as possible.” So Poe’s assertion that every element of a short story should work in concert to achieve a unity of effect is something I need to keep in mind.

2) Find ways to develop character without developing character

Calm down. I’m not advocating one-dimensional characters. But in SF/F stories, where worldbuilding and story action demand a not insignificant portion of the story, that doesn’t leave you with a whole lot of room to devote to your characters. This is where voice is so important – and it’s no surprise that all the short stories I’m working on are written in first person. I vowed at the beginning of the year to write in first person to help me really sink into my characters and that’s proven doubly helpful in terms of developing character without slowing the story action down.

3) Analyze all the themes/issues/plot points and decide if they are best served by the short story form

This is always tough. I have to decide if I can fit everything into one story. Or, if I remove some elements, will the story be stronger? If not, maybe I should just save it for a novel. I fear this is already the case with one of my short stories, but I will give it the old college try at keeping it short. Besides, more than other genres, lots of SF novels started out as short stories, and I’m just following the trend…

Have you ever been told you have a novel masquerading as short story? Did you end up paring your story down? Or did you turn it into a novel? Happy writing!
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