This post is the thirtieth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.
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. Don’t worry about cutting words. It isn’t about how long your story is. It is about writing a good, compelling story.
Sometimes you will re-work an area once or twice. And sometimes it will take many more tries until you get it right. (Ernest Hemingway admitted to rewriting the final words A Farewell to Arms, his wartime masterpiece, 39 times before he was satisfied.)
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. That break can be a few days or even a week or more.
When done with this draft, you may be ready to send your story to a beta reader. But they will undoubtedly have their opinions which you may feel the need to heed. That will mean more editing and adjusting of your story.
And when you are done perfecting the story, the timeline, and the characters, it is time for the third draft. This one is about polishing. It is about perfecting word choices, deleting words, tightening scenes even more and of course proofreading. I have a revision outline that I use at this stage and will share that in the upcoming weeks. But before I get to that, I spend time removing unnecessary words (next week’s topic) and removing or changing words that I use too often. (This is where the “Find” feature of Microsoft Word comes in handy.)
This is also where you can look at dialogue tags or to see if you use your character’s name too often. (I have the habit of using their names a lot in my first draft.)
You could send it to a beta reader (possibly again) at this point or you can simply step back from your work. Take a break. Work on something else or do some pre-release publicity. Then come back and do one final (or we hope final) read-through where you will can deem it ready for publishing. I also suggest reading your book aloud (either yourself or by having the computer do it for you.) You can catch missing words and make sure dialogue flows and is natural.
Now this is just a sample of how my work typically goes. Depending on the author, it can take many more drafts based on how much work needs to be done and what you consider a “draft.” Just as there is no “right” way to write a novel, each of us will have a different number of “drafts.” All that matters is that you take the time to polish and perfect your work BEFORE you publish it.