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Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Second Draft

Most of us in the writing community have a way we like to go about our craft. Some writers like to map out their entire story before they even start to write, while others like to let the characters and the story emerge organically, growing almost of their own volition.

But what about the second draft?

While I am not saying that this is the only way to go about revising your work, it is a great place to start. Believe me, I don't care if you're Hemingway, your first draft needs work. We've all heard that most of writing is re-writing, and I am a subscriber to that theory. The first draft is all about blasting out those words and getting the story down. Once that's done, the real work begins.

A story is like a gemstone. I'm sure no one has ever heard that comparison before, but it is a really good way to visualize the process. In the first draft, you have unearthed this rock. It is big and blocky and very organic-looking. The first thing you're going to do is look at the whole thing and see where the heart of the gem lies. You cut away the roughest material until you can see its true form. Once that is done, you rough it into the general shape you want it to take, and finally you polish it and facet it until it glitters like a star. These are the same steps you can take when you begin the revision process.

Step one: Story If you are not an outliner, then once the first draft is finished you should go back and re-read your story and create an outline along the way. Some people suggest putting the manuscript away for anywhere from a week to a month, but that is up to you. The idea is to give yourself "fresh eyes" for your manuscript. This is important because we are so close to our work and know it so intimately that we can't look at it objectively. You need objectivity to honestly evaluate your work, so if you need time away, take it, and when you're ready, pull it back out and get to reading. Once you have a feel for your story as a whole, go back and look over your outline and make sure that everything in the story fits. Ensure that the subplots and characters are there for a reason. A major rewrite may be necessary at this step, and if it is, don't let it intimidate you. Rewriting is good if it is making the story better. Conflict, character, tension and obstacles for your main character to overcome must all be there and must all be necessary to resolve the story. Once you have the story set and you are sure that all the elements fit together you can move on to the next step.

Step Two: Scene Now that you have the story set, it is time to go back through and look at each scene you have created. Look at them with an eye toward cutting. If a scene doesn't need to be there and the story still flows nicely without it, cut it. Sometimes this step will lead you to a major plot revision. If this is the case, then go back to Step One and start all over again. I know that sounds like the worst thing in the world, but it is better than having a bad story. Scenes should begin and end naturally and dialog should be clean and realistic.

Step Three: Sentence Now your are ready to facet and polish your gem. Go through each and every sentence of your book, watching for anything that makes you stop and go back to reread. Watch for excessive adjectives and adverbs, and make sure you have strong verbs. Word conservation is what you should be focusing on here. There should be no unnecessary words in your sentences. Sentence lengths should be varied and provide an easy rhythm. It is a good idea to read your book out loud so that you can hear how it sounds. You will catch a lot of flow and rhythm problems here.

It is at this point that you should feel confident to present your work to a critique group or your beta readers, but don't be surprised if they still find things that you missed. Beta readers are especially valuable in the sense that if several readers point out the same issue, then you can be fairly sure that you have a real problem. Beta readers are going to want to give you input, but remember that it is your story, and if you don't feel like a suggested change then don't make it. Ultimately it is up to you.

This approach is logical to me, as it moves from general down to specific, from the broad stroke of the story to the microscopic sentence structure. Though it is in no way the only method for revision, it's one that many people can use and is easy to keep in your head during the process. There are definite steps and goals to be reached in each step. If you have methods that you prefer, leave a comment and let us know! Keep writing!

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