Tag Archives: rough draft

Researching Your Story – A Four-Step Strategy

30 Jun

by Julie Eshbaugh


Unless you’re writing a book about your own life, chances are you’ll have to do some sort of research before you can say your novel is finished. (Even if your book IS about your own life, you’ll probably have to refer to your family albums, at the very least!) Historical settings, legal proceedings, and medical conditions are just a few examples of story components that would require research. The object of this post is to suggest a strategy for research that will provide the authentic details you need without bogging you down in the process.

Step 1 – Make notes about the factual issues that you will need to research.

What will you need to learn to ensure that your story is authentic and appropriate for its genre? (I mention genre here because some genres have higher standards for accuracy than others. A “police procedural” mystery will require far more exacting details than would a contemporary fiction that includes an arrest in the plot.)

Once you’ve made a list of topics and facts you will need to research, divide it into two categories – “big picture” and “important details.”

“Big picture” knowledge is the information you need as you create the over-arching idea behind your novel and start your first draft. Examples would be:

  • In pre-Columbus North America, were horses a part of daily life?
  • Would a heart transplant be an option for a pregnant woman?
  • How long does DNA evidence last at a crime scene?

What qualifies an issue to be in the “big picture” category is the fact that it is at the heart of your story and essential for your concept to make sense. For instance, if your novel is about a crime that was committed aboard the Titanic, and how it is solved in the present day by the use of DNA evidence, you need to take the time to research these facts at the outset. What you learn about DNA evidence will have a huge impact on the course of your novel.

Step 2 – Attack the “big picture” issues and gain knowledge about the facts that will help form the spine of your story.

If you know that there is an area of study that is a major component to your plot, investigate that area as you form the seed of your story. If your story is set in Vietnam during the war, study up on the geography and the people. If your story is about an astronaut who makes an error that threatens to kill his entire crew, get an understanding of space missions and how they are structured and staffed.

Step 3 – Firm up your concept and dive into your first draft.

This is why you divided that list from Step 1 into two categories. The second category – “important details” – can be put aside for now. I’m not saying that you won’t have to look up those questions and answers eventually.  What I am saying is that you don’t need to know every detail of life in revolutionary France before getting started writing your rough draft. Authentic details will be required before you turn in your final draft, but you shouldn’t let research prevent you from getting started. If one of your characters lights a candle to read by, and you find out later that gas lamps had replaced candles ten years before your story takes place, that detail can be fixed in the revisions stage.

Step 4 – Firm up the details and make your revisions.

This step is where you need to add accuracy. What kind of gun would a pirate have used? Did matches exist or would the main character light a wick from the fireplace? How long did it take to travel from Glasgow to London by carriage in 1814?  Now that you have your first draft down, you can take the time to get the facts straight without interrupting the flow of your writing.

Do you do a lot of research for your writing? What process do you use? Do you have any ideas to add to the above? I look forward to reading your comments!


Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Bradford Literary Agency. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.


Dictate Your Story – An Unconventional Method of Completing A First Draft

13 Jun

by Julie Eshbaugh


Each of us has a personal writing style when it comes to getting that first, rough draft down on paper. Some writers type rapidly and let their words pour onto the page in a stream of consciousness. These writers test their ideas easily, and tend to complete NaNoWriMo in two weeks or less. These writers are confident in their ability to revise, and aren’t afraid to put bad writing on paper in the quest to get that all important first draft down.

Alas, I am not one of these writers.

I am one of those other writers. The kind that types a sentence, reads it over, revises it, reads it again, deletes it, and starts the whole process over again. My ideas go down on paper slowly. I agonize over word choice, even when writing a scene I know will likely be cut when I revise. I go back and re-read constantly, interrupting the flow of my thoughts.

Maybe my first draft will need less revision because of my edit-while-I-write style. Maybe. But first I have to finish it. And truthfully, that first draft takes me a very long time.

Frustrated with my stagnating word count, I recently took a radical step to reduce my self-editing. I forced myself to dictate my first draft into a hand-held digital recorder.

Since beginning this experiment about a week ago, two things have happened. First, my writing has become much more rough and ugly. Second, my daily word count has more than tripled.

Both of these results are exactly what I needed. Yes, this first draft is full of messy transitions, horrible prose, and cringe-worthy dialogue, but isn’t that what a first draft is meant to be? This draft isn’t the book that will one day sit on a bookstore shelf. This draft is the idea that will be polished into that book. And at this rate, I’ll be polishing before I know it.

If you’re having difficulty letting go and just getting that rough draft down, consider dictating your story. Here are some tips that will help you get started:

• Don’t play back your dictation until you’re ready to transcribe. Don’t delete anything you say or go back and revise. I don’t even have headphones plugged into my recorder while I’m dictating. After all, the idea is to turn off the self editor while you draft.

•Don’t be afraid to sound silly. Don’t worry if you start every sentence with the words, “And then,” or if you repeat the same pronoun ten times in a paragraph. You’re going to revise later. Just talk. Tell your story. You can work on finding the right words later.

• Whatever you do, don’t give in to the urge to edit while you transcribe. This can be extremely tempting, but it results in a loss of all the benefits that dictating is supposed to provide. It also takes too much time. I tried editing my words as I transcribed one night, and I didn’t get the day’s entire recording down on paper. Then the next day, I was confused about where I’d left off. Dictation allows you to cover a lot of ground in your story quickly. Transcribe just as quickly, or you’ll get bogged down.

• Ignore your voice. Don’t worry about your annoying accent or the nasally way you pronounce your vowels. You can work on your diction another time. Right now you’re writing the first draft of your novel.

• Have an idea of what happens in a scene before you start. You don’t have to have the entire book outlined, but you should know what action you need to describe when you press record. For me, it works best if I watch the scene in my head like a movie, and then dictate the action the way it just played out in my mind.

• Have fun. Do different voices for each character. Laugh when you catch yourself using the word “suddenly” for the third time in a scene. Realize that rough drafts are called “rough” for a reason.

• Let yourself write some horrible prose.

• Trust your ability to revise.

Think dictating might be for you? Tried it before? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!


Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Bradford Literary Agency. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

What Happens After The “!!!” Stage

22 Feb


By Rachel Simon


So somehow, I ended up being the first one to post after the AMAZING two weeks of Query articles. I have to live up to that–great. Just kidding!

Anyway, I’m here to talk about What Happens After The “!!!” Stage.

For starters, its usually known as “OMG! I just finished my rough draft of my novel! OMG! !!!!!!!!!” stage. The writer of said rough draft usually runs around and screams and eats lots of candy and tells all their friends/family.

That was not my case. I finished my rough draft at exactly 10:00 PM on January 19th (not that I was looking at the clock or anything) and I immediately sat there, dumbfounded at what to do next. I checked online to see if any of my buddies were online and there really wasn’t anyone on. It was a Tuesday night, and most of my online buddies are college students, who at the time had just returned to college.

So, I picked myself up and went to the television room, expecting my parents to be just as thrilled as me. Not the case, either. My mom was watching the news and my dad was snoring. In fact, I had to whisper to my mom that I had just finished my novel. Yes, you read correctly… WHISPER.

After taking the time to download Lady Gaga (I had made a promise to a friend that if I finished it before the end of that week I had to download the Lady), I went to bed. Okay, thats a lie. I stayed up until 1 AM in shock that I — Rachel, who never finished any writing piece she wrote and somehow still claimed to want to grow up to be the next J.K. Rowling (What?! I was 10!) — had finished an entire novel.

The next day, I sent the rough draft off to my first reader, Jackie, who immediately read it in two weeks. With the rough draft sent and my Let The Words Flow excitement e-mails sent, I did what anyone would do for the next step.

I began my next novel.

I can’t tell you much about it, except it is a historical YA about Zelda Fitzgerald and F. Scott. (Oh wait…I guess I just told you everything about it. Hmph. I need to get better at keeping secrets.) I threw myself into four hours of research on the internet and then promptly took myself to the library and sat for five to six hours and did book research.

I’m only six pages into my historical YA, but its worth it. I have an outline. I have notes. I am fully prepared to knock the socks off the world with her madness and brilliance. I am, I am!

And besides writing my historical YA, I am editing the first novel. I’m only 58 pages out of 254 into edits, but I blame school. College (to me) is important. So is getting good grades. And writing. And vlogging. And e-mail checking.

So, my advice is after the “!!!” stage is to keep on writing. Get back into the grind of tapping keyboards or scribbling down in your notebook. Don’t take time off. If you want to be published, you’re going to have to write even when you’re too excited to think. Also, read as your reward. For me, it was totally worth it to pick up a YA novel after I’d just finished mine. (And no, it wasn’t fantasy!)


Rachel Simon is hard at work at her sophomore year of college, applying for internships for summer 2010, editing her YA fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, writing her novel about Zelda Fitzgerald, sketching a contemporary YA novel and avoiding having a life at all costs. Her http://seeyouupside.livejournal.com/ is updated frequently and she is often on Twitter.