Your Second Draft and Beyond

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 aboutImage result for delete key 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.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

Tightening Dialogue in your story

I have written several times about dialogue, including why it is important and how to craft the dialogue in your story.

Dialogue can be great at bringing the reader into the story and sharing information about a character. We can learn a lot about a character in how they speak and what they say. It can help set the mood for the story. But most of all you need to make sure that the dialogue advances the story.

You do not want to fill your pages with meaningless drivel. Such as two characters greeting each other.

“Hi, Bob. How are you doing?”

“OK. I guess.”

“Nice weather, huh?”

This exchange could easily be deleted from the scene and replaced with Sally greeted Bob. Now if you want this scene to share something about the characters, you would need to make some changes.

“Hi, Bobby. How are you doing?”

Bob continued to stare at his shoes. When he spoke it was more to them than her. “Ok. I guess.”

“Nice weather, huh?”

All she got in response was a nod. Sally shot a glance at the doctor. She didn’t know what to do. All she knew is she wanted her brother back and the boy who stood before her wasn’t him.

In this case, the dialogue is being used to show the strained relationship between Bob and Sally, which is better than just telling the reader. (Sally worried about her strained relationship with Bob. He rarely said more than a word or two to her when they saw each other.) Actually both ways (a summary or a short dialogue) would work in the story depending on how you want to portray it.

cut-wordsThough people actually talk with a lot of fillers (ums and pauses), most often you will want your dialogue to be crisp and filled with tension. You want to compress your dialogue, cutting fluffy words or whole lines from the exchange.

Here is an example from another website.


“Mary, are you angry with me?” John asked.

“You’re damn straight I’m mad at you,” Mary said.

“But why? You’ve got absolutely no reason to be!”

“Oh but I do, I do. And you can see it in my face, can’t you?”


“You angry with me?” John asked.

“Damn straight,” Mary said.

“You got no reason to be!”

Mary felt her hands curling into fists.

As you can see the second rendition is much tighter and increases the conflict. So go through your dialogue and compress it as much as you can. Take out the adverbs. Use sentence fragments. Cut words out ruthlessly. The dialogue will improve as will your story.