So you’ve accomplished that word-vomit of a first draft and it’s time to whip your manuscript into shape – here are some tips I use to get my second draft reader-ready.
Get amnesia. Put down your work and walk away. Leave enough time for you to forget about the finer points so you can re-read with fresh eyes.
Create a timeline. Literally. If the book starts on a Monday and covers three months make sure you account for the passing of time sequentially. Weekdays, nights, weekends. It will help keep you accountable and aid in continuity.
Track continuity. It has to make sense. Not only the plot points, but little facts you mention, names, places, character traits – track everything so it follows a logical pattern. Readers need to make sense of the universe you are creating.
Look at each character. Are they interesting? Are they relevant to the story? Do they have their own arc? What is their reason for being a part of your novel?
Micro-edit. Read each paragraph and seriously ask yourself ‘is this important? Is it relevant to the story?’ If the answer in ‘no’ on either count, cut it and move it to an outtakes folder. (Keep all your writing – it may be useful later in another project or sequel.)
Identify key points you want to shine in the tone of your narrative. Is it meant to be funny, scary, angsty? Decide on these elements and make sure each chapter drags this emotion from you.
Read your dialogue aloud. If you sound silly saying it – imagine what your characters will look like to a new reader.
In the first few chapters did you introduce all of the characters in the novel? Did you state the main characters quest, dreams, and desires? Did you put an obstacle in their way to achieve it? Did you paint a picture of who the characters are? The landscape they are in (world building)? All these things set the scene for the story/plot and is essential for a reader to get invested in your novel.
In the middle of the book have you raised the level of difficulty/challenges your protagonist faces?
At the end of the book have you pulled out all the stops for your protagonist? Have they grown and been shaped by their experiences? Did they achieve what they had set out to at the beginning of the novel?
If there were any parts you had to re-read. Re-write them. You need the writing style to flow. If your interest wavered at any point, you may consider cutting that part or re-writing it with more punch. If your re-reading a sentence to make sense of it, that’s a waving red flag for your attention.
Mostly its mechanics and big picture stuff – you can worry about spelling and grammar later in a line-edit when you fine tune everything. Get your story engaging and paced effectively. Have it making sense and elements of unpredictability.
Although having said all that, everyone has a different style of writing, different concepts and their own methods of crafting words on paper. But the points above have helped me get from that initial frenzy of typing out chapter after chapter, to a point when I feel comfortable-ish to let someone read it to give me feedback. Because, by then, most of the time if I need to make changes, they are only small and nothing that results in major re-writes.
And as always – happy writing!
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