First Draft Novels: What Are They Good For?

      There’s a saying, I’d like to think it was Victor Hugo (but if any of you who know better can feel better to correct me), that a writer should devote him/herself to finishing the first draft of a novel, and, once finished, throw it in the garbage and then begin to write the novel as it is supposed to be written.

Well, I think that’s a little harsh. When I was a neophyte I would plow through the first draft of a novel, write THE END, do a few corrections here and there in the manuscript, and fire it off to an agent or publisher. Needless to say my earliest attempts invariably returned rejected or even unread. Some of these manuscripts I held for years and would return to read them when I’d become a little more experienced, and I do say, my good chums, that those works STUNK. I will venture to humbly say that here and there were samples of potential good writing, but all-in-all, they STUNK.

I find many amateur writers and new writers today will do the same thing I did. We feel our writing is great at the outset and fire it off without much ado. I used to think that Mozart never revised and his scores and compositions were brilliant from the get-go when, in fact, the composer was a stickler for revision and correction of all his drafts.

So, what is a first draft novel good for?

First of all, it lays out the battlefield. It helps bring the potential story into focus, as flawed as it is. It’s a daydream for the novelist, a supposition and a rough idea. It is a mantra to help the novelist connect with the world he/she is creating. A portal in time and space. Yet, we must realize that this portal, although important as a schematic, a map, it is not the delivered and artistic piece it needs to be.

So, how should you, the novelist, use the first draft as a tool for the final and how can you use it to help the revisions and subsequent rewrites easier?

  1. Know what you are trying to say; know your story.
  2. Lay out in brief segments the BEGINNING, MIDDLE, END.
  3. Determine high points, milestones in your plot, and when they fall.
  4. Keep your tangents infrequent. Keep your long-winded expositions away.
  5. Focus on character involvement and dialogue.
  6. When beginning a new chapter or scene, think about what it is supposed to deliver; why is it important to the novel.
  7. Consider a chapter-by-chapter outline, made up of no more than 10-25 words in a logline to help you stay on track and not go off on tangents.
  8. Visualize every scene as if it’s a movie.

Above all, complete the First Draft. Once it is done it is now a roadmap, complete with byways and highways and service streets. When you set up to go over it, you will have new ideas, new scenes, new elements, to augment the work and make it good; you will begin to realize those irrelevant parts that need to be taken out. The places where the notes in your composition make a sour sound.

Remember, however, that the First Draft is flawed; no matter how much time you spend on Spellchecker or Grammar correction, the story is flawed and needs revisiting. Don’t lie to yourself and arrogantly and egotistically believe that the work is ready.

M Cid D’Angelo’s novels can be found at ~
Dead Reckoning:
Electric Monkeyland:
A few of his short stories are published by various for print and online literary magazines. Here are a few:
“Thumbs Up” (Midway Journal):
“Don Quixote de Las Vegas” (Moronic Ox):
“In the Garden” (decomP magazinE):
“Chad and Willie Break a Leg (March, 2013 – The Legendary):


About mciddangelo

"I write because I believe in literature; I believe that the art of words is louder than sound, more colorful than paintings. My novels are written not because of the pursuit of money or even success, but in the FAITH that they exalt our experiences; that not only do they give us enjoyment to read them, but they are meant to open worlds that a reader may not ever imagine." M Cid D'Angelo is published in Aiofe's Kiss, Calliope, Eureka Literary Magazine, Third Wednesday, Midway Journal, and many others. He is the author of Dead Reckoning (J Ellington Ashton Press, 2015), available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.
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