All right, you’ve written your story, getting it all down from start to finish. If you approached it the way I suggested in last week’s tutorial, you have something of a mess on your hands. Bad sentence structure, typos, ideas that ended up going nowhere, an abrupt change (or two) in the storyline … yeah, you have some work to do. Fortunately, whipping this thing into shape is easier than it looks.
This is where you will bring your book into focus. Welcome to the second draft.
Hopefully you took some time away between the two drafts to give your brain a chance to re-set. The more unfamiliar your first draft looks, the better you’ll pick up on what doesn’t work. This is where you fix everything that’s wrong with your story.
There are two ways to get started on your second draft. The first involves reading your first draft through before making changes and taking notes on what alterations are required; what, if any, additional scenes need to be added, what needs clarifying, etc. The second option is to dive right in, reading and making those changes as you go. Whatever works best for you is your call.
Where’s the Beef?
You’ll notice spots where the book reads ‘thin’. You glossed over a few important points, or perhaps you didn’t explain everything as well as it should have been. The story jumps and jerks from point A to point C, skipping over point B entirely. Maybe there are even gaping holes in the storyline. It’s time to fill all that in. And once you get those pieces in, you might have to go over and over them several times to make them flow with the rest of the story. That’s fine. Take all the time you need to build your creation.
Even where there’s plenty of meat on this dish, double check to make sure you’ve got everything you need. Do you have enough description to put the reader in the story? Did you miss key points of dialogue? Would a lengthy flashback better explain how the characters got to the point where they are? Pile the flesh on that skeleton at where needed. Fill it out.
Burn Off the Fat
You may also find you have to cut here and there. If you’ve already explained once in your story how Jack and Jill were bosom pals from nursery school, you don’t have to tell your readers that ever again. I know, you’re thinking, “But I want to make sure the readers really GOT that. Maybe they missed it the first time.” Trust me, you can scuttle all but one passage of explanation. Your readers are smart enough to get it the first time. As a reader, if I’m told something that belabors the same point over and over, I feel like the writer is insulting my intelligence. I get pissed and stop reading.
Now there’s no problem in telling readers several different specific instances related to Jack and Jill’s journey through life together, so long as it furthers the story. Just don’t repeat the same exact blurb of information over and over.
Also cut out any decorous flab. Just because a passage is pretty doesn’t mean it should remain in your book. If it doesn’t further the story, it needs to go. You don’t want a blob of a book any more than you want a skeleton. You want a lean, muscular novel that reads strong and powerful without an ounce of fat.
Bring the Story Together
Did your story suddenly veer off in another direction from the one you initially planned? If so, you may have to rework the beginning of your book. Foreshadowing, a little backstory to set later events up properly, re-casting characters; all this has to be done now to turn it into a harmonious whole.
While you may have worried about having to completely re-write the beginning of the book to match it to the end, I think you’ll find this is usually not the case. A hint here or there, maybe a new scene or two, changing a bit of dialogue and refocusing the action to zero in on the new ending is usually all that’s required. It’s kind of like dying a pair of generic white shoes you already have to match a specific dress. You’ll probably get to keep your foundation; just a little change in the architecture will be required in most instances.
Aiming for Perfection
Now is also the time to spend effort on getting the words just right. Think about the scene you’re working on, the mood you want to impart. You want words, phrases, and imagery that precisely denote that tone.
An example: are the circumstances in your scene dangerous? You can let the weather flavor some of that. Have the sun beat down mercilessly. Have rain lash against the window as if intent on coming in and beating senseless those huddled within. Have snow send daggers of ice against vulnerable skin. Also use action words like brutalize, rend, savage, shred. Have people wail, rage, and drip venom with their dialogue. Make every word count in building the ambiance of the scene.
And please don’t try to impress everyone with your immense vocabulary. If your readers need a dictionary on hand to decipher your work, guess what? They won’t read it. If you write fiction, you’re looking to entertain, not instruct. Don’t make it laborious on your readers.
This is the time to write the book you’d want to read. As you tame this beast, keep firmly in mind that this is how your readers will remember you. Hone your story to a precision point. And once you’ve finished doing this, take another week or so off to let it settle again.
You’re almost there. The worst is over, and the finish line is in sight. You can breathe a sigh of relief as you ready for the final push to complete your novel.