In my decade-plus in publishing, I’ve noticed some common first draft problems. In the explosive ecstasy of first draft writing, when your commitment is just to getting your story all out on paper, you’re bound to make some mistakes. That’s what a first draft is for. No worries—you’ll rectify them in the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. drafts.
1. Too Many Characters
In the freedom of a first draft, authors may end up creating a new character every time new information or new action is needed in the story. Readers will get overwhelmed and confused by all the new names and traits to learn. As an editor, I often find myself thinking up ways in which characters can be merged or either cut entirely.
2. Too Many Words
A first draft almost always goes long. Sometimes really long. You will eventually cut whole scenes and paragraphs that don’t advance the action, metaphors that read like brain puzzles, and adverbs that hit the reader like a hammer to the head.
3. Incorrect Formatting
Sometimes with first drafts, especially those by debut authors, there are some formatting flubs such as no page breaks between chapters, no pagination, and the use of single-space instead of double-space line breaks. For your eyes, that's okay, but you’ll definitely want to get your manuscript correctly formatted before it enters the world of book publishing.
4. Main Character Crush
Sometimes authors can fall in love with their main characters. That’s when we see the characters get everything they ever wanted and do no wrong. The beloved main character has the hottest partner, the best clothing, and friends and co-workers who lavish a constant stream of praise upon him or her. You can love your main character, but he or she should be fallible.
5. Unfamiliar With Genre/Category
If you write in a genre or category you’re not familiar with, you might end up breaking its rules. I commonly see this with adult writers turning to YA, who, for example, may use language that is inappropriate for teen readers.
6. Trend Chasing
Sometimes authors chase a trend and end up producing a novel that sounds like yesterday’s bestseller. Of course, pay homage to those who came before you, but as we all learned in kindergarten—don’t be a copycat.
7. Forgettin’ Settin
In the rush of the first draft, authors don’t necessarily have the time to focus on setting. Their worlds might seem a little flat. Subsequent drafts are a chance to work in these details about houses, weather, and landscapes that add depth to your novel.
8. Neglecting Interior Journey
Finally, sometimes in first drafts by debut authors, the interior, emotional journey of the character is forgotten while the focus is on the exterior, physical journey. Readers need interior journeys to identify with characters.