I really like a couple of clever techniques I read about in Manuscript Makeover the other night. Elizabeth Lyon suggests coming up with one word to describe your novel, and then expanding this concept into a sentence that expresses some universal truth. So here goes ...
The first word that came to my mind was "freedom." Coming up with a sentence is harder. I'm going to try a few on for size ... this is a free write, i.e., impromptu and unedited, so don't judge too harshly!
Freedom can be found where you're least likely to look for it or Some prisons cannot be seen by others or True freedom means embracing your past.
Hmm, I may revisit this little exercise later in my revision process. Now onto something that could directly affect the final draft (and the ultimate salability of my novel) ...
Manuscript Makeover also strongly suggests starting your book with a "hook" - that is to say, a first line that grabs the reader and pulls them into the story right away. I have a tendency to do "soft openings," slowly ramping up to the central drama/through-line during the first chapter. I'm starting to doubt this wisdom, especially considering that I'm an unpublished author who's going to have a lot to prove.
I find this exercise quite exciting, but I think it's something I shouldn't even consider tackling until I begin re-organizing my manuscript. I'm considering switching the order of my first and second chapters, because my second chapter, as it currently stands, is the one that throws you into Lila's world and introduces the reader to the Whitakers. One of my trusted Brilliant Editors said that she wanted to be emersed in this plotline much sooner. So for now, I'm going to mentally "bookmark" this exercise, and I'll start playing around with some first-line free writes when I start actually re-writing.
FIGURING IT OUT AS I GO: Try out various quick "free writes" - themes, mantras, first lines, whatever. They take little time, and might tap into something you've been toying with in the back of your mind, but have yet to put into concrete terms.