The First Draft Read Through : Crafting Your Second Draft, Step One
Category : On Writing
So. The good news first. Writing a second draft will have different problems than writing the first.
The bad news is that it can take as long, or longer, as your first draft, and all those different problems may not be ones you’ve dealt with before. You might have a learning curve on how to craft draft two.
How much revision you need to do will depend on your particular skills, how well you planned your original outline and stuck with it – if you used one – or simply, in general, the overall quality of your first draft.
The goal of your next draft, and any subsequent drafts, is to make it as good a story as you are able. This obviously varies from author to author because it is dependent on your current skill set in this particular stage in your life as a writer. Keep in mind, too – especially for novels – that no matter how high your skill set, an editor, either at a publishing house or one you hire in preparation for self-publishing, will require even more edits. In the first case, the better the draft you shop around, the more likely an agent and then publisher will pick it up (sometimes agents themselves will offer you edits since they know they are a fresh set of eyes). If the latter – hiring an editor yourself – you’re paying them out of pocket, so you better hand them the version you can’t do anything more with yourself or it won’t receive the full worth of the money you invest.
When do you begin a second draft?
After you’ve let the story sit. This is the most common piece of advice given in regards to second drafts.
Because you need to be prepared to let go and look at your story as a reader.
The second draft should, at least in part, be about building a novel blueprint, or modifying the blueprint you started with. First drafts, in some sense, are about laying out the building materials you’d like to use. Draft two is about figuring out which of those materials is worth keeping. – If you got moldy wood, even if it was your favorite kind of wood compared to all the other kinds, you wouldn’t use it in a house.
How you determine if it’s moldy comes after step one.
So, what is step one?
Step one is your read through. The first time you go through your story, or novel, start to finish, cover to cover, doing nothing but taking notes while looking at it through the eyes of a reader.
This can be harder said then done. You’ve poured hours of work into a first draft. You wrestled with characters, and the almost never ending question of “what happens next?” and have gotten through draft one only to be staring at it, now, and knowing you’ll need to make some very difficult decisions to ‘kill your darlings’.
Brace yourself. The first time you attempt a second draft it is going to be hard to let go. For some authors, it might never be easy, but you’ll build up callouses.
But, this first read through is all yours.
So, to help look at it with the eyes of a reader, there are a few methods that I’ve seen suggested over the years. One is to print the whole thing out – which, if you do, make sure you do it with page numbers. Some authors prefer taking their draft to Kinkos or Staples and ordering a spiral bound version. Others read it in as different a format as possible – like on an Ereader – to achieve that extra distance to really feel like a ‘reader’ versus the writer who strung those words together. Whichever method you end up using – and don’t be afraid to try all of them, or to come up with your own – the whole point is to be able to be as distant as you’re able to be before moving forward.
Step 0.5, since I haven’t mentioned it yet, comes before the actual step 1 and is gathering your tools after figuring out how you’ll be taking notes. This can be on sticky notes with pens or pencils, maybe paper clips or highlighters to use on the printed out version, or in a special notebook dedicated to your novel.
After you sort all that out and settle on an approach, there’s nothing left to do but read the whole thing. Don’t be afraid to go crazy with the notes, or to be as sparring as possible. Be on the lookout for what jumps out at you as a reader.
To that end, you’re looking for three things.
- confusing or not-consistent – where you’ve accidentally changed a character name, or the name of their school, or even that they picked up a machete two pages ago but have suddenly forgotten about it with a horde of zombies breaking down the door. It can also be about your author voice, or if you change perspectives between characters.
- boring – where do you loose yourself to the desire to skip through your book. It could be dialogue, or description, or something else entirely. But write the note even if it’s just a giant ‘B’ with a circle.
- dis-believable – when something happens that just could not happen, either in the context of your novel or because its just flat out not possible. If you have your hero on an adrenaline rush, sure, they might be able to move that collapsed piece of ceiling, but maybe their scrawny book-worm friend couldn’t. Barricading a glass door won’t keep zombies out like if it was a wooden door, but the way you first wrote it there might as well be a forcefield in place (unless there really are forcefields, then it’s all good).
While you’re doing all that, though, and picking apart your writing, wondering just how many cups of coffee you’d had or how many hours you’d been awake when you wrote it, don’t just highlight the stuff that needs to be fixed. That can get daunting, and discouraging if all your notes are full of problems. So do yourself the favor and be your own cheerleader – highlight the good stuff! Every writer has moments of sheer brilliance that can be looked back on in wonder. “I wrote this? Wow. I can be pretty awesome at this writing thing.” Star it. Put a sticker on it. Whatever you want to do. That way, when you’re looking through your notes, you can find them and see all the things you did right that mean this is a story worth telling.
And that’s pretty much how you do a read through. The next step is figuring out what to do with all the notes you came up with, which is another thing that will vary writer to writer, project to project. But you’ll want that novel blueprint before you make any hasty decisions, which means organizing the notes you just came up with and evaluating what they say about the story as a whole.
In the next post, we’ll talk about some of the ways you can weigh your first draft’s cast, setting, and even story flow regarding the narrative plot arc and the character emotional arc. In the meanwhile, practice step one. Find something you wrote a while ago (that’s at least fifteen-thousand words long) and see if your note system serves its purpose. Tweak, rinse, repeat. It’ll get easier and more intuitive the more you do it.
For homework: Are there any other labels you might use on your notes besides just Confusing, Boring, and Dis-believable? How many is too many?
As always, thanks for reading.
2/5/2015 at the Green Line Cafe in Philadelphia, N.J. Beausoleil hosts an edit-in in the style of a NaNoWriMo write-in. Check it out o the Caldendar