When the rain isn’t just the rain: Crafting Your Second Draft, Step Two

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When the rain isn’t just the rain: Crafting Your Second Draft, Step Two

In this post, we’ll talk about some of the ways you can evaluate your first draft’s cast, setting, and even story flow regarding the narrative plot arc and the character emotional arc. Step one is all about gathering key information on the story you wrote. Step two and onward, until rewrites begin, is the analytical part of building your blueprint.

Keeping that in mind, in all of your notes from step one, there are three major parts of your story that absolutely need to be identified. These are the inciting incident, the turning-point, and the climax. All three need to be linked both in terms of plot and in regard to the emotional arc of the story.

A keen example of this is the 2012 Avengers movie. (Although cinema is vastly different in terms of how to tell the audience a story, the core concepts of beginning, middle, and end are universal and relatively easy to spot in that particular movie. Some spoilers ahead, but it seems that most people have already seen the movie which is another thing that makes it an easy choice to reference.) The inciting incident is, of course, the opening scene. Loki steals the tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D., establishing himself as the villain. This leads to the gathering of the Avengers, and their struggles as they try to thwart Loki’s plans. The turning-point is when Phil Coulson dies. It pushes the characters toward an internal resolution of self (IE, their emotional arcs) as to how they are going to behave for the rest of the story. It’s also very much a plot point, in that Loki wins, temporarily, and shows the lengths he is willing to go to achieve his plans, making the need for the Avengers to win against him that much more dire. The climax is when the portal closes. It is the ultimate sign of Loki’s defeat, followed by the capture and imprisonment of the god himself. The heroes save the day, and each of them has a sense of a job well done, as shown in the final moments of the movie. There is also a reinforcement of their resolution as a team. This rounds out both the narrative arc and the various emotional arcs in a neat, tidy bundle.

One of the reasons why Avengers was such a widely well received movie is because of the intertwined nature of the internal (emotional) and external (narrative) conflicts. Viewers were invested equally in the story and the characters. The character struggles were of a dual nature, against themselves as a group and against an enemy that was cunning, and knew their largest weakness as a group. Additionally, each character individually hit highs and lows as the movie progressed, coordinated to the progression of the narrative, and that is very much something worth striving for in any story.

Moments have to come together. The three points that are key to that progression are the exact ones already under discussion – beginning, middle, and end. Writers should also keep their eyes open for any other opportunities where both arcs can be tied together in places other than those three points, but they absolutely must be tied together during those three.

Moving on to discuss the main character.

Although many stories have more than one character, there should still be one that comes to mind as a clear-cut protagonist.


Some basic questions you should ask of your protagonist are:

  • who are they?
  • is the pronunciation of their name confusing?
    • what is the meaning of their name?
  • what is their internal conflict?
    • is it easily identifiable?
  • what is their external conflict?
    • is it easily identifiable?

To give examples of the ideas of internal and external conflict, we can look back on the Avengers again. Internally, each of them has to decide if they want to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. and with each other. Externally it’s about building themselves as a team, which reflects portions of their inner conflict as well as the plot of the story.

Some ways to get to know your characters better:

  • external (outside) POV description
  • internal (self) POV description

Such things can include:

  • occupational or trained skills
  • symbolic elements (preferably that define the character or help enhance/contrast a plot concept)

Descriptions can offer insight into how your reader can see and relate to a character. Such as:

  • character traits or mannerisms
    • used frequently
    • give extra information about the character to the reader

When it comes to secondary characters, here are some helpful guidelines to go over:

  • Does this character contribute to the conflict and resolution?
    • Enhancement/Contrast – whatever you want a character to be known for, for the reader to have a chance to know, create a character / give another character something to contrast that thing
  • What is the character’s role in the story?
  • What is the character’s function in the story?
    • cut – what would happen if you did?
    • combine – can you put two (or more) together to create a more interesting character?

Ultimately, what you want are characters who count, that help reflect and enhance either the plot or important elements about the main character.

Lastly, we’ll briefly talk about the setting, and what it can mean for your story.

  • setting is an emotion
  • can the reader “see” it?
    • if Alaska, it better be cold
    • if in the back of a fast-food restaurant, better be able to smell the grease

Setting done correctly is another tool in a writer’s box to draw the reader into the story. Making the best use out of setting will depend on each scene, but it can be almost as important as a secondary character – sometimes moreso, such as in the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks.

When you begin arranging your notes from step one, and evaluating your story arcs as well as the characters and setting from step two, look to find moments that tie both the narrative and emotional arcs together. Identify the inciting incident, the turning-point, and the climax, and make certain they are linked. If they aren’t, that will be your goal for the first rewrite. If they are, that means focusing on the other elements that contribute to how the reader is shown those story components. If you find it useful, think about the Avengers movie and identify those same story parts for each character, then apply the exercise to your own work. (It would not have to be the Avengers movie, but it is a very readily available example.)

Our next update may be a bit more informational than exercise, and will either be focused on elements of stories or terminology of the publishing world.

As always, thanks for reading.

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The First Draft Read Through : Crafting Your Second Draft, Step One

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



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