Every writer knows the first draft is only a small part of the work involved in bringing a story to publishable standard. As Ernest Hemingway once famously said, “All first drafts are crap!” (I may be paraphrasing a little :)).
So how do we take a crappy first draft to something publishers are going to fight over? Rewriting! Or if we’re lucky just redrafting – though let’s face it if you’re a pantster like I was, you may have to write whole new sections. Twice I’ve cut back first drafts of 100 000+ words to 30 000 then rewrote the rest!
How do you self-edit?
The first step of any rewrite is the structural edit.
This looks at how the main elements of our story are working: characters, setting, voice, genre-expectations and plot. Mainly plot!
The best place to start is with a scene list – not just chapter headings but a list of every scene within every chapter. Include which characters are involved, where it’s set, what’s happening (clue – if nothing’s happening – cut now!) and the main focus of the scene, plus whether the scene is moving us towards Hope or Fear. Go through the whole manuscript and you’ll come up with a list of potentially hundreds of scenes.
Once you have this list it’s much easier to see any repetition, or worst of all, completely unnecessary scenes that are neither developing or illustrating character or moving the plot forward. This is when we press DELETE. Or, for chickens like me, this is when we cut these scenes and paste them into another document called “Good bits I may use later.” I have a few of these documents now for various projects and mostly they remain unused, but occasionally I’ll go back in and pull out a section that has become relevant again.
Your scene list will show you where your story starts to sink in the middle or if a character who was pivotal in the first half fades away in the second. You’ll be able to tell if a character is suddenly acting completely differently to who they were earlier, of if they have taken up too much page space – this often happens when we just go with the flow and let bossy or forceful characters have their way.
A scene list makes it easier to find any plot holes or if you’re building enough suspense or just having characters repeat themselves over and over without growth or change.
What tricks do you have up your sleeve to help you tackle the dreaded, but actually fun, second draft?
Have you got a project nearing the stage when it needs a proper evaluation and an objective rethink?
If so, come along and join us at Springbrook in the rainforest covered mountains behind the Gold Coast in Queensland for a cosy winter SECOND DRAFT RETREAT – AUGUST 12 – 14.
This special retreat, for women and non-binary writers with a project needing attention, has workshops to help you tackle the second draft, focusing on finding the heart of your story, distilling the themes, the structural edit, and plenty of tips to help with line editing and pitch documents too.
All in a stunning location with cosy single rooms with desks, beauty and peace, like-minded folk to share your story with in feedback groups, fantastic food and lots of fun.
The second draft needn’t be a scary or lonely experience. Come along on retreat, connect with other writers, and get a head start on the next stage of your project.
What tips do you have for tackling the second draft (or third fourth or hundredth for that matter!).
Hope you can make it to retreat – we always have a wonderful time
Lots of love,