Strengthen Your Novel by Distancing Yourself

We've heard the advice:  let your first draft sit so you can be objective when you come back to it.  Trust me when I say that's wise advice.  Maybe we think we can prove it wrong - I know I did.

Looking at your work soon after the first
draft is like critiquing it under a blurred
magnifying glass - you're going to miss something
For example, we might think that we'll know what to leave in the manuscript from subtle clues to personality characteristics if we look at it right after finishing the first draft.  But, that's not the truth (at least in my experience).  What we end up missing are the important things such as redundancies, phrasing, scenes that we could lose but are attached to.

I more recently started major edits on my first thriller Assassination of a Dignitary, and found this to be true.  I've since crossed out supporting scenes that really didn't advance the story, and found areas that had me going what did I mean there?  These things never even stuck out to me the first time through which was a pass I made a couple weeks after writing it.

Another way to distance yourself from your novel...

Ask yourself, who are your characters modeled after?

More advice comes in the form of:  if you recognize yourself in your characters root it out.  Again, practical advice.  To allow yourself to be one of the characters, you jeopardize becoming lazy, and your character coming across flat.

You might ask:  how can it flatten a character when I know myself better than anyone else?  That question is rhetorical because within it lies the answer - you know yourself.  Other people don't.  If you model your characters after yourself, you may overlook key pieces of background information because they may seem too obvious.  But they're only "obvious" to you.  Due to this, character-fleshing can be overlooked.

My suggestion is that if you decide to base a character upon yourself, base it loosely.  On top of this make sure that your character differentiates enough to stand out as unique.  Conduct a character interview to get to know them as individuals.

So what about you?  What advice have you come across that applies to the topic of distancing yourself from your novel to benefit it?


  1. I never thought that about putting yourself into a character, but it makes complete sense now that I think about it.

  2. I agree--and sometimes I even have to distance myself to finish a project or get back into it. For the past fifteen months, I had been working on a novel, but at the beginning of this year I was so stuck on how to write the last chapter and get it to tie into the beginning of the second book I was going to write. I was so frustrated and exasperated after trying about a dozen different endings that I finally took a deep breath, stepped back, and went on a reading hiatus for a month. I knew when my brain was ready to approach it again, it would--and last week, it did, and I finished the book. (Finally!) We get so close to our books that it can be easy to miss things.

    And I always seem to find plenty of things I missed when I go back weeks/months later and look at a manuscript with fresh eyes.

  3. thank you for your comments ladies. And, Laura, that's a very good point about another way to distance yourself. And congrats on finishing! :D

  4. You hit the nail on the head, Carolyn. I had similar problems with my first book and just couldn't stop editing. It was as if the thing had a grip on me, wouldn't let go. I did finally manage to let it sit for a month or so, and after some great suggestions from my beloved betas, finished it.

  5. I like to lose myself in music when I'm stepping back. Often I'll hear a phrase in a song that will open a door to my writing snags. "Ah ha" musical moments.

  6. Great post and very informative. When I published my book "Victory Lane: The Chronicles - Pursuit of a Dream" I didn't do what you wisely suggest in this post. I'm currently revising the manuscript to convert it to an e-book, and in my case, it has been years since I've read through my book. It's amazing what you catch when you haven't laid eyes on your work for awhile. Hopefully this round of editing will polish the story enough to where the story flows well and is trimmed of unnecessary fluff. The print edition was published mainly for friends and family.

  7. Good job Ken.

    Leslie that's awesome that music has struck you like that. I'm not sure if I've experienced that yet.

    And sharkbaitwrites, I bet you found a lot to edit after waiting years to come back to the MS, especially if you kept up the writing. We grow so much with everything we write. All the best success with the e-book edition :)


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