What Comes After the First Draft?

The First Draft

Finished your first draft of your novel? Congratulations! Getting that story out of your head and onto the page or screen can be the most challenging step of the writing process. If you’ve followed the best advice, you have just written the story, and have not dwelt on language, structure, pacing, or any of the other basics of the craft. But what happens next?  Many more drafts!

Here are a few tips on what to focus on at each stage of your writing process:

The Second Draft

The second draft is where you should concentrate on structure, plot, and pacing. According to Stephen King in On Writing, “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.” King refers to the second draft as the first draft, less ten percent. Consider what is not relevant to the main story—look at sub-plots, backstory, and characters—and think about streamlining. Robert  McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting is an excellent guide to plot, structure, and the art of moving the story forward.

After the completion of this draft, you might consider sharing the manuscript with beta readers, your writing workshop, or a professional editor.

The Third Draft

The next step is to focus on language and polishing your words while, at the same time, incorporating notes from your initial group of readers.

Take a close look at dialogue—read it aloud. Does it sound like something your character would say? Would  you have the same conversation in the course of a day? Is all the dialogue necessary, and actively advancing the plot?

At this stage, you should also be looking for unnecessary adverbs, phrases, and cliches. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White is an invaluable resource.

To make this processed more focussed:

  • Look at anything that comes after “that” or “which”. For example, the main character puts a cup of coffee down on the end table, which was beside the couch. You don’t need to describe exactly where the side table is—the fact that it exists is enough. Remove the unnecessary details.
  • Look for modifiers “too” or “very”—they are often preferably replaced with a more active or compelling adjective. For example, “very exciting” might become “thrilling”. 
  • Look at the verbs you’ve used—are they vague or precise? For example, if someone “walked slowly”, would they more accurately be “strolling”, or “creeping”? Adverbs (look for the “-ly” suffix), could be a clue that a stronger verb may be better.

The Final Draft

Finally, you can get into detailed line edits, copyedits, and polishing of language and dialogue. Keep in mind, it may take a few more drafts to reach this place before embarking on the challenge of getting published.

Enjoy the editing process. It can be overwhelming, but there are innumerable resources out there to help. You’ve already done the hardest part by writing the manuscript!For guidance and editorial advice on your work at any stage, reach out to us, and consider one of our services or workshops.

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