Friday, November 29, 2013

Post-NaNoWriMo -- Second Drafts

Posted by: Nicole Luiken

Since many of you may have just finished or be almost finished a brand-new first draft for NaNoWriMo , I thought this might be a good time to post about second drafts. I spent this November revising last year’s Nano novel so the process is fairly fresh in my mind. (Of course, every author has their own process; this is merely what works for me.)

I’m a firm believer that second drafts should be all about the big changes: beefing up plot lines, fleshing out character arcs, adding in action scenes to slow sections, etc. There’s no point in spending hours creating beautiful prose when the whole scene may end up scrapped. I call this rewriting and the beautiful prose bit polishing. Polishing is something I do in the 3rd draft. Some writers call one process rewriting and the other revision. Carina Press makes a similar distinction between ‘developmental edits’ and ‘line edits’. Terminology may differ, just know that for me second drafts are when I tackle macro large-scale problems.

Step one: Reread the first draft, stopping occasionally to make notes, but mostly just to read the entire story in one go to see how it holds up. This step is especially important for me because I let my first drafts ‘rest’ for months (or sometimes, shamefully, years) before rewriting them. Actually, some manuscripts get winnowed out entirely and rest forever. Not all ideas are created equal, and while I’m a good enough writer to make a tolerable novel out of any of first draft, I also need to invest my time and energy in only the best prospects.

Step two: Write out a chapter by chapter summary of the novel.  This gives me an index of sorts for the entire novel, so I can see at a glance what order scenes take place--which comes in very handy when I start moving scenes around. Sometimes I color code certain plot threads so I can track them throughout the story. First clue in chapter one, red herring in chapter two, second clue in chapter three, etc.

Step three: Decide what changes need to be made and brainstorm how to accomplish this. At a very simple level, second drafts are a matter of what I liked and disliked when I reread the novel: if I like a scene/character/plot thread, it stays; if I dislike it, it gets changed or ripped out entirely. The first draft of Gate to Kandrith was written in first person, started in what is now chapter three, was missing the entire Esam subplot and had a different ending.  It was also considerably shorter, had no sex scenes and the world-building sucked.  Yeah, there’s a reason why I don’t let anyone read my first drafts anymore.  

Step four: Make the desired changes. This is, of course, where the real work lies. Rewriting can be a long road, and it helps to have a map.

What's your revision process? Do you make a distinction between rewriting and polishing? What's the biggest change you've ever made from draft to draft? Please comment, I love talking craft!


  1. Great post! Your process is very much like mine. I often do my chapter summaries on index cards, then lay them out on the floor with the high-tension/action chapters higher than the rest so I can "see" the flow of the story. It really helps me figure out where the pacing flags.

  2. Good tip! I wonder if I can do something similar with my corkboard in Scrivenir, maybe colour code them...

  3. I've used index cards during the outline stage but never thought of backtracking and doing it again pre-edits. I'm so giving that a try this time around. Thanks, Nicole!
    As far as what helps me with the second draft is focusing on the big things first--noting what needs to be cut or moved, where I need a transitional scene... It's easy to start tweaking details right away when what you really need to do is make sure the core story holds together.

  4. For some reason I can do 2nd draft big changes directly onto my computer, but when I do 3rd draft polishing I have to print it out, work on paper, and then enter the changes.


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