Getting From First Draft to Second Draft With Adding Scenes

Even though I write 100K for my first drafts, I add scenes in the second draft, and sometimes entire subplots need to be woven in. Since Barry is a discovery writer, we usually need to add significant portions of the novel in the second draft to his first drafts. This is the way I do it.

1) Run spell-check. Seriously, it doesn’t take that long to fix basic spelling errors, and you may learn that you don’t know how to spell certain words. I find errors distracting, so I fix them as I encounter them. This is easier to do up front, and it gets me in the habit of changing things in the novel.

2) Download the novel to a Kindle, and read through it to get a general feel for the novel. I don’t usually do this for novels I’ve recently written since I usually remember what I wrote. But I do this for Barry’s novels, or if it’s been a few years since I looked at a novel. Take just a few notes of things that worked, things that didn’t, and if the ending is satisfying.

There’s something about seeing it without the ability to edit that makes structural issues easier to spot which is why I use the Kindle. You can also print it out, or just read it fast online. Up to you.

3) If the ending doesn’t work, figure it out. This may take time to get right, but it’s worth it. By the second draft, you need to have an ending that works or you don’t have a complete novel. It can be good to take a walk and think about it. Or you might want to talk it through with someone, or sketch it out and think about it. Work on getting an ending that you’re satisfied with–and jot down any issues that brings up with earlier chapters.

You will probably revise the details of your ending several times, but if you don’t know how your book ends, you’re really not going to be able to tell what scenes are missing.

4) Because of the pressure to finish during November, you may have an ending that you like, but you rushed significant portions of the book. No problem. If you know you need scenes and where they’re needed, take your spell-checked version and where you need them write ADD SCENE — a line or two about what the scene should cover. I don’t recommend writing the entire scene quite yet. Just write a little about the scene–maybe a few paragraphs, a bit of dialogue or description, whatever you think the book needs. For some books, you can do this easily. If not, don’t panic.

5) If you know your book needs scenes, plot work, character development, etc, but you’re not sure where or how to write them, I recommend going through it a chapter a day. (Or ten pages if your chapters are significantly longer than 3,000 words.) You can take the occasional day off, but if you try to do this work once a week, you’re going to spend too much time trying to get back into the novel, and you won’t be as productive. You don’t have to rewrite the entire chapter, but you do need to identify if it needs more scenes, or scenes moved, or scenes cut. This is the time to be ruthless.

I do this by first reading the chapter on my Kindle, so I’m clear what it covers without being tempted to tweak little things, and because I can read it while taking a walk, blow-drying my hair, or eating breakfast. Once a chapter is fresh in my mind, I go to the computer version and start editing, line by line, paragraph by paragraph. Anything I can cut, I cut. I’ve already saved an earlier version of the novel, so I don’t save things that I can’t think of an immediate place to put it. Yes, I might be able to use it ‘some day’ but right now I don’t want to think about scenes that don’t belong in the novel. I want to work on making this novel coherent. So I cut things that don’t belong.

I don’t write whole scenes at this point, but I often add a paragraph or two, especially if two scenes need a transition, or it needs a better introduction or ending to the scene. I add beats to the dialogue. (Little actions that the characters do to avoid the ‘talking heads’ issue.) I add description, cut excessive words. But for longer scenes, I write ADD SCENE — a bit about it. END ADD and move on. The idea is to ensure I can get through the chapter in an hour or two.

If I find an over-used phrase, I go through the entire novel and delete almost all of them. (Sometimes I delete them all–I have a ‘bad word list’ at the end of Some of those words are almost never needed, so I just delete them all. (I do this for the words: really, very, just, still.) If I used still as in ‘still water’, I’ll notice and can put it back. It’s quicker, I find than wasting the time looking at each use of still. You don’t have to do it that way. I’m rather ruthless about cutting things.

I work on a chapter a day (or more) until I’m done. As I progress through the novel, I find stuff in later chapters that would work better in the first third of the book. I move it, and may add a transition to the earlier chapter. Sometimes I luck out and it fits perfectly with an ADD SCENE that I wrote earlier. Because I’m working on the novel daily, I’m familiar with the novel. I don’t have it all in my head, but enough that I can quickly find where something goes.

While going through each chapter, I tighten the language. I cut sentences, paragraphs, words, and add sentences and paragraphs. I don’t worry about making it perfect, just better than it was in the first draft.

6) What if it just doesn’t work? It’s possible that as you go through your novel, you realize that you’re making it worse, not better.

If this happens near the end, do you best to ignore your inner critic and finish. If you’ve never finished a novel before, it may just be your fear of success, or fear of failure. Ignore this and push on if you can.
If this happens early on, and you’re pretty sure it’s not a fear, just a realistic appraisal of your novel, you need to make a choice. Do you want to keep working on this story? If you have a better project, you might want to work on that instead.

If you love your novel, but need help, try to get feedback.
a) One way is to polish your first three chapters and giving them to people who read the type of story this is, and ask them for ideas for what should happen, especially the ending.
b) You can bring it to a Writing Group where you lay out what you have, and ask people questions..
c) Polish a chapter or two and post on Critique Circle–be sure to ask people what they liked and where they got bored. From the feedback, you may be able to think of what to do next.

Note: a and c both require polishing the chapters. Putting out a chapter with typos, grammar problems, etc makes it too difficult for your readers to focus on the structural issues you want addressed. It’s also possible that you’re just feeling lazy, and once you polish it, you might realize what is needed next. There’s no point in asking other people for advice if you haven’t put some work into making the beginning as good as you can.

7) Assuming your revision pass worked, you now have a second draft with a number of scenes identified to write. Decide if you want to work on them now, or save them for next November. (You’d be a NaNo rebel, but many people are after they’ve done it a few times.)

8) When writing the scenes, be sure to read the scenes before and after them. I recommend going through the novel again, improving the existing scenes, and writing the new ones. Then go back the next day and revise the scene you wrote before moving onto the next scene.

9) Once you have all the scenes written, you’re ready for the third draft. Don’t be shocked if you find out you need another scene, or still need to move things around. I’ve changed things around on the sixth or seventh draft.

10) Have fun.
The last one is important. If you’re not having fun doing this, chances are you won’t get it done. I am thinking of offering an editing service. For a few thousand dollars, I’ll take someone’s first draft to a reasonable third draft.

About Katherine Lato

Writer, thinker, observer and participant in life.
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