If you have allowed yourself to write “a shitty first draft,” then that draft is not ready to be edited. You should rewrite it.
That is how my first draft was. I started it during NaNoWriMo, and it has all those typical flaws a first draft may have. It has unfinished scenes where I wasn’t sure where to take the story and just jumped to the next part instead. Halfway through the story, I decided that significant events needed to have happened differently. And so the second half assumes those events occurred in the “new” way, without going back to make those changes. I did want to get to those lovely words The end sometime this century.
I have characters that I introduced being “someone” for many chapters until I’ve got an idea for them. From that point, I write them as a specific character. And some aspects are included in the first chapters, only to suddenly be removed in the next scene where I decided they don’t fit the story anymore.
All of this and more is okay. Just make a note of the changes and continue writing as if you have made the changes to the “past”—without actually writing it.
Find the problems
What I did first after finishing my draft was let it cool off for a few months. (I read a lot of “How to write” books during this time, but you can do anything.) After that period, I read through my story and took note of changes I wanted to make to the plot, which included all the notes about changes I’ve assumed I’ve already made as I wrote.
I also noted which characters where part of each scene, for pinpointing which characters I wanted to keep around. I explain the Analysis sheet in more detail in another post.
As you read through your first draft, write down a summary of each scene you encounter—just one sentence about what happens in that part of the story. Don’t worry about anything else – write one sentence about what the scene is containing. Don’t fret over inconsistency in the details right now, focus on the big picture—plot, scenes, timeline, and main characters.
Finding the problems is the first step to fixing them!
Look for things wrong with the first draft. Are all the significant and recurring characters fully fleshed out throughout the story? Are there characters that need to be written into the beginning, or removed from it? Would it be better if the events happened in a different order? In a different way?
Find the solution
This step is what I call the re-planning step. I take the notes I’ve just created, and re-do all the planning I did before I wrote. Or almost all, or many of the things I did previously. I’ve read people recommending even those that didn’t do an outline before writing to do one now to help with checking the structure and flow.
Outline the plot
What I did was take the scene sentences and put them onto post-its. Then I put them up in order on the wall in my living room and rearranged as necessary. The advantage of post-its is that they are easy to move around, discard and write new ones.
Once I have the basic plot-line down, I look for the logical flow of it. I try to insert “therefore” or “because of this” between every scene. This approach makes it so that I’ll know that one scene is the reason the next one happens. Cause and effect, a logical flow, call it what you want, but it is necessary to have.
Never accept the need for “and then” between two scene summaries.
I rewrite the summaries as necessary to fit with the flow, and add, remove, or rearrange the scenes until I get a red string throughout the plot with cause and effect. No part of the story should happen just because—the character’s decisions should always lead the plot forward.
- Start & Stop pairs
- Two-tier outline
- Scene structure
- Series grid
For more information about what these sheets are, check out the individual posts (more will come in the future).
I might do my timeline in Aeon Timeline software, depending on how much I changed, but I don’t feel like I get much out of it in the planning process. I’ll do it while re-writing instead! Maybe. Probably. Perhaps not.
Getting to know your characters
After getting the plot done, I focus on my characters. There were two kinds of major problems in my first draft.
- New characters that popped up halfway through
- Everyone sounded the same
So I took my new gained knowledge and created a Character sheet to fill in for all my characters. I won’t get into more details about this since that should be a separate post about what the form contains.
Rewrite the story
Remember not to throw the first draft away; never delete your writing. Keep the old version as reference material for writing the next draft. But remember to not copy and paste from the previous to the new, this makes it harder to do the necessary changes you’ve just decided.
Towards the end, the old and new drafts will overlap more since you will have implemented the changes you imagined while writing the end of the first draft. But character’s has developed differently, and there will probably be changes you want to make even here. So do not copy anything from the old draft, rewrite it.
One of the main reasons I decided to rewrite my draft one, apart from the massive plotholes I needed to fix, was because of me and my experience. Or rather, lack of knowledge. After writing my first draft, I’ve written my first 100 000+ words of fiction. I’ve not written anything like it before, no fanfiction and no short stories. And I want to believe that I have developed as a writer after writing 100 000 words.
So I hope that going from 0 to 100 000 words makes a more drastic change in my writing style than going from 100 000 to 200 000 words. If not, then I will write 200 000 words of fiction! So as I see it, it’s a win-win situation.
By re-writing (and re-planing), I feel like I have more freedom to make significant changes such as those I’ve mentioned earlier. It is much easier to remove a character as you write, or have them be there from the start. Modifying your 50 000+ words story, going line by line, makes it a more considerable risk that you will miss some references. It also makes it harder to know where to add the new character to make it feel natural with an already done scene, etc.