As Camp NaNo 2018 draws to a close and I wrap up the first draft of my project, I am thinking towards that Second Draft Diagnosis. You know, getting ready for the first read-through of the first draft where you cut every other paragraph. I both hate and love this part of writing. I hate the anxiety of starting the read-through. The read-through is where my low self-esteem shines through. But I like it in that I can begin to polish (more like clear-cutting) the draft and create the novel I intended at the beginning. Something I could visualize in print.
I think like most writers; I am my harshest critic. So, getting through this part of the writing process is make or break for a lot of people. Getting through this part successfully separates the published authors from the unpublished and aspiring.
Second Draft Diagnosis
If you are a plotter, you may not have much in the way of substantial cleanup. I am not a plotter. I have notes, but they are not substantive enough to keep me entirely on track. My first read through will require listing all the characters introduced, their purpose to the plot, whether they should be axed or expanded to have a more significant role (I have one character who will have a more substantial role in the final draft and book two). I will also need to create a way to track any subplots because I had no idea what those were going to be starting out. I only had a general idea of my main plot.
However, that is on top of the need to correct grammatical and other semantic issues like repetitive usage of favorite words, cutting excess adverbs, fixing run-on sentences, comma splices, blah blah blah. This type of editing will carry on into third drafts and beyond but I know while reading through I will be noting the apparent grammar issues and correcting them as well.
What I hope to accomplish above all else is to determine whether or not this is a story on which I feel compelled to work. Is this something worth salvaging and pursuing publishing? For as many exciting writing moments I had throughout the process of writing the first draft, I had as many sluggish, just hit the daily word count moments. Those will need to be axed. If it turns out that is the majority of the story, I may decide the story itself is not compelling enough to finish. In that case, it gets shoved in a drawer, and it’s on to the next project in hopes of creating something I want to share with the world.
My number one concern, focus, and favorite aspect of a novel are the characters in a story. So the questions I need to ask myself the following the questions about each person I introduce in my story:
- What is their purpose in the story?
- Is my main character prominent or has anyone else eclipsed them?
- Is the way they are portrayed consistent throughout the story?
- If the characters change, is the change appropriate to the experiences they encounter or melodramatic?
The setting is almost a character in many ways. An appropriate setting will set the atmosphere of your story, establish the genre of your novel, present challenges to and aid your characters along their journey.
- Is the setting appropriate to your genre?
- Does the setting provide any obstacles to your characters’ intentions?
- Is the setting consistent (plants appropriate to the climate, etc.)?
The plot, of course, is kind of important. A plot is the series of events that keep people turning pages. If it doesn’t make sense, if it meanders unintentionally, people will toss the book and tell their friends it stinks. Which it will.
- Does each scene propel the reader to the next or establish some valuable information?
- Is the plot compelling?
- Do the actions of the characters in each scene correspond logically to the circumstance?
As important, in my opinion, as the main plot, subplots take your story from linear to complex. This could be a romance unless your genre is romance or any other element that is not necessarily vital to the progression of the plot.
- Do the subplots make sense when combined with the main plot?
- Are the subplots too big/distract from the main plot?
- Does every subplot have a conclusion or are they addressed in some way?
As you conduct the first complete reading of your first draft you should pay attention to these elements and notate your manuscript. Using different colored highlighters for Character, Setting, Plot, and Subplot is useful for assessing these individual areas after the initial read-through. You can change the highlight in your word processing software, print your manuscript and do it by hand (my preferred method), or use editing software like Scrivener (linked below).
Best case scenario you are left with a heavily colored, scribbled, notated manuscript and you can begin the second draft. Unlike the first draft, you know what the problems are and with a surgical precision you can remove and suture your story to create something worth saving.
Though if you carry on with that metaphor, the third, fourth, fifth, etc. drafts are recovery and rehab. It takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work and study to create a finished book and I hope to see all of your stories in print.
Cost is $45 to purchase a full, unrestricted version of the software. Scrivener is available for Mac and Windows. Scrivener comes with a very useful template for a novel including sections for characters, setting, notecards. You can split the screens inside the software’s window so you can edit your manuscript while viewing your notes like scene cards or research.
A year’s digital subscription to Writer’s Digest is $9.96 and well worth the investment. Writer’s Digest provides online resources, webinar’s (some are free but some come at an additional cost), contests, forums, and so much more.
Books on Writing (My Read, Currently Reading, and TBR Titles)
- Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft Into a Finished Novel
- Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish
- How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript
- Troubleshooting Your Novel: 100 Incredibly Practical Ways to Fix Your Fiction
- Writing the Breakout Novel