So you worked hard, made sacrifices, and turned out a successful National Novel Writing Month project. Congratulations! You’ve accomplished something extraordinary. Just finishing a novel is a difficult thing to do.
But if you’re harboring dreams of publishing your masterpiece, you’re far from done. You probably know that already, having said to yourself, “Okay, I’ve finished the book. Now what?”
Now comes the painful yet fun part of editing. I really enjoy shaping the book once it’s written. I’m not sure which I prefer more, actually — writing or rewriting.
They’re both an important part of the process, though, and, if you want your novel to be more than a project you take on in November, you need to become familiar with the latter.
Over the next several blogs, I’ll outline my process. Everybody has their own way of doing things, but this is what works for me, and I think it gets me to press with a pretty solid manuscript. So hear goes: Step 1: Getting from the first draft to the second.
I never let anyone read my first draft. It’s not so much that I’m trying to be secretive or even that I’m ashamed. It’s really that I haven’t had a chance to work with the material yet. I’m a big believer in editing, and I don’t want people to see my work until I’ve had a chance to check it first.
My first drafts almost always have plot holes and other inconsistencies in them. Partly this is because I write the book over a period of several months, so, as I go along, I forget little details. Partly it’s because, even though I write from an outline, the story and characters evolve and change as I write. The novel I finish is never the one I conceived.
When I was writing Red Dragon Five, for instance, I changed the name of a character midway through the writing process. I initially named a Freyalan priest Mother Gladsong, but somewhere along the way, I changed it to Mother Gladheart without even realizing what I’d done. I discovered this in the editing phase and had to think about which one I liked better. I decided I liked the sound of Gladheart better, plus there was a minor character named Glorysong, and I didn’t want the names to be too close.
To edit the novel, I print a hard copy of it and then read it with a pen in hand, making notes as I go along. I find I can see errors a lot easier on the page than I can on the computer screen.
The first draft into the second is where I usually make my most significant changes to the novel. It’s here where I really question whether something works and how things are arranged structurally.
Red Dragon Five has two major plot lines that take place separately before coming together at the end. The book alternates between the two. While editing the first draft, I decided I needed to move some chapters around to make the story flow better. Thus, events in the final draft happen in a slightly different order than I originally wrote, and I believe that makes the novel stronger and a better read.
Once you’ve made your notes and have an idea what you need to change, you sit down and write your second draft. The good news is it doesn’t take as long (and really isn’t as hard) as writing the first draft. You’ve got something to work with, and you just need to make changes to it.
I save each draft I write. It’s very rare that I revert to an older draft. Generally, once I make a change, I move forward. But I like to be able to go back if I need to. I recommend you do the same. That way you don’t lose anything.
Once you’ve got that second draft finished, it’s time to get someone else’s opinion. I’ll cover that step tomorrow.