I’m currently working on the second draft of my WIP The Fair Queen, and I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned along the way about this phase of the writing process.
There’s a lot of advice about rewriting, revising and editing your manuscript online, and some of it is brilliant, but some of it is pretty vague and unhelpful for newbies like myself. So, I’m going to share my method (bear with me, it’s my first novel and my first ever second draft!) and if it works for you, then great, but if your method is a bit different please let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about other ways of tackling it.
First things first, I finished my first draft at the end of January, with just over 69k words. I was aiming for 80k, but with a bit more research into standard genre word counts I found that most initial YA fantasy novels (i.e. first of the series, or standalones) fall under 80k, usually between 50 and 70k. I also have a good few notes about story lines I want to add and remove, scenes I need to write or delete, and ideas that popped into my head towards the end of the book that I would need to go back and weave through from the beginning in draft two. So, who knows how long the second draft will end up? At this rate it could be shorter or longer.
Anywho, on with the show!
Get some perspective
The first thing I did after finishing draft one was take a few weeks off, get some distance from my manuscript and really just recharge my batteries. After five months of writing my story I was pretty drained, and probably not in the most objective position when it comes to rewrites.
By the time I picked my laptop up again and dusted off Word Online, I actually really enjoyed rereading those first few chapters I had written back in September/October, and felt ready to completely rework them. I wasn’t upset about the story lines, characters or sections that had to go in order to streamline the story and bring it back into line with where I wanted it to end up.
I’ve seen a lot of advice that recommends putting your first draft on your Kindle or tablet (cheaper than printing it out!) and sitting down, maybe with a notepad and pen, and reading the whole thing from cover to cover to get a sense of the story, character development, etc. The big picture things that you will want to tackle before getting into the nitty-gritty of phrasing, grammar and fine detail.
I decided not to do this with my second draft. I’m going to do it after, and if a third draft is required before I send it out to beta readers, so be it. I just had too many big changes I wanted to make that I couldn’t face reading it knowing how different I wanted it to be. I just wanted to get stuck into making those changes so that when I finally read it through from start to finish it would be as close to the final story as possible.
Does that make sense? Do you think I should have read it through anyway? I’m not completely sure, but that’s the decision I made and I’m sticking to it!
The one major piece of advice that I did take, and am really glad I did, was the recommendation I came across from elumish on Tumblr to start a new document and completely rewrite your second draft. I cannot recommend this enough, I have reworded almost every line of my first draft and made some important stylistic changes along the way.
This was an essential step for me, mainly because of the aforementioned major plot changes I had decided on, but also because this is my first attempt at writing a novel, I want to make sure it is the best possible piece of writing that I can do, and I don’t want to short change myself by just skim-reading and changing a few words here or there.
If you take anything from this blog, let it be this – open your manuscript, open a blank page and rewrite your first draft!
My WIP is written in third person past tense, there is only one POV, but I felt like this was the tense that best suited the story. I’ve read a few articles about how first person present is the tense preferred by readers, the one used by authors like Suzanne Collins in The Hunger Games, and it’s the best for letting readers get into your characters heads, but I think either tense is fine as long as it suits your story. I think, like with all things, there are trends and first person present is having a bit of a moment.
The most important thing is to be consistent. Having multiple POVs that switch between tenses will only make readers feel disconnected from the characters and the story. A prologue or epilogue in a different tense might be a fun way to switch it up. Just make sure that your manuscript doesn’t accidentally flip from one to the other mid-way through!
The active voice refers to when someone ‘does’ or ‘did’ something, depending on your tense. If somebody ‘was doing’ something, you’ve slipped into passive tense and that can really weaken the action in your book. Need an example?
Passive: “Laura was doing the dishes and the phone was ringing.”
Active: “Laura scrubbed the dishes and stacked them in the drying rack. The phone rang.”
It’s a terrible example, but you get the gist. The first one is boring and plodding, and the second one is much more dynamic.
Go through your manuscript and hunt down any sentences where you’ve used the passive voice, you could search for ‘ing’ and just scroll through these picking out the ones that don’t belong.
I’m calling this one a stylistic change, it might not work for every writer or every story, but I think it is one of the key changes that has improved my story – or at least the telling of it. I read several writers’ opinions on dialogue tags, some believe ‘said’ is the most innocuous and least jarring to the reader, others think using ‘said’ every two lines is too repetitive. Then, I read about a third option, one that I’ve come across while reading but never really noticed. Which says a lot.
Using action to show who is speaking. I’ll give you an example, because I know you love those:
Said: “Hi, Sarah,” said Mark.
Other dialogue tag: “Hi, Sarah,” called Mark from the kitchen.
Action: “Hi, Sarah.” Mark came out of the kitchen to greet her with a hug.
So, in this version, it’s clear that Mark is the one saying hi to Sarah, but instead of interrupting the flow of the story to show who is speaking, the action continues.
This is probably the biggest change I’ve made as I’ve been rewriting, not a MAJOR change, but removing ninety percent of the dialogue tags I had used and amending the following action to show who was speaking has probably had the biggest impact on my story so far. Like I said, this one is more of a stylistic choice, so if you don’t like it, don’t do it, but it’s a simple change that can have a huge effect.
Adverbs are the devil, according to most writers. They are seen as a sign of lazy writing and poor vocabulary. Why use an adverb when you can use a more accurate verb? Instead of said loudly, shouted? Instead of ran quickly, sprinted? Instead of jumped high, leaped?
Getting rid of unnecessary adverbs and strengthening your verbs will tighten up your manuscript, cut your word count and improve your writing. You don’t have to get rid of every single one, just the ones where there’s a stronger verb you could use.
Ultimately, it’s a judgement call, and this is your story, no one else’s, so tell it however you need to. But, the aim of editing is to cut the fluff and help you express yourself in as few words as possible, without losing meaning or effect. Conciseness is key – if you can say it in one word instead of five, do.
So, those are the lessons I have learned on my editing journey so far. I’m only a fifth of the way into my second draft, so I’m sure I’ll learn many more along the way before my novel is ready for querying – or even beta readers!
Pop your tips for editing success in the comments and let me know how your WIP is coming along.
Word count (second draft): 15,990