Tackling the Second Draft (Novel Writing)

The first draft is done! Whew. But now the real work begins. For many authors, the first draft is just where they jot down the story. Maybe they had an outline to guide them, or maybe they simply wrote whatever came to mind. In either case, there will be a lot of rewriting and cutting coming up.

My first drafts take a long time because I spend time both writing and editing at the same time. I am constantly rewriting and refining as I write my initial draft. This means I don’t have as much to cut out or change as some authors might have.

Now every author approaches their second draft different. For me, this is a time to check the consistency and where I can amend the story either by trimming it, fleshing it out or developing subplots.

To do this, I cannot stop on every page to fix and worry over every word. That will come later. To begin, I need to read through the first draft without stopping to correct every flaw. Yes, I may add a missing word or fix a spelling error, but I try not to get into re-writing at this stage. I want to read it straight through first. As I read, I am making notes of areas that need work, whether it be adding something, deleting the scene or polishing. I am checking the timeline and looking for consistency in travel time or character behavior.

Now once I have read through and made my notes, my second draft isn’t done until I go back and make all those changes. For me, the second draft is about re-writing, expanding and cutting scenes. Descriptions are added to bring the story and characters to life. Scenes that don’t advance the story are deleted – even if they are well-written or your favorite.

Sometimes you will re-work an area once or twice. And sometimes it will take many more tries until you get it right. This part of editing where you take away and add to the story can be very messy, and you may need to be ruthless but it will make your story better, stronger.

It may take many read-throughs to finish this stage. (Which depending on how you count them could be considered additional drafts.) If you do multiple readings, you should take a break between each one. This will allow you to view your novel with “fresh eyes” and will help you catch more things that need to be changed.

And when you are done perfecting the story, the timeline, the characters, it is time for the third draft where you will further tighten your writing, perfect word choices and descriptions, cut unnecessary words and fix punctuation. (For help on the third draft, check out my revision outline).

Ah but at least we have the basics down and ready to turn into a well-written novel!

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