The Second Draft: Revision Tips with Tracey Kathryn

It’s coming. Revision of my finished manuscript is approaching like warm weather—and mud and bugs. Writing the second draft of my novel will occupy my summer. I’m looking forward to the process like a new season; it promises new life and fresh ideas. But with every silver lining, there’s a cloud. Revising book chapters that have been ingrained in my mind for a year will be a challenge.

The subject of this blog post is in response to a survey that Valerie Biel conducted among her readers. How does a writer approach the second draft of a novel?

I’m offering advice for revision: First, consult (or create!) your book’s outline to highlight the scenes or beats in your novel. Use that knowledge to fix plot holes. Second, use online resources and fresh eyes to improve your work, including the first page.

Write Scene Titles or “Beats” to Find, Fix Plot HolesEditing Advice - Your Second Draft

As a reformed pantser, I embrace outlines. The more I create them, the better I get at it. There’s something about plotting each scene on a horizontal line, with higher “bumps” for more intense beats, that provides clarity.

You can get quite detailed with outlines and beat-plotting. I keep it basic. I begin with the four points of a story as a super-structure: Inciting incident, point-of-no-return one, point-of-no-return two, and climax. Within that structure, I mark each scene or beat, noting chapter numbers. I do it by hand on graph paper. Putting it on paper instead of a computer is something I need to do; it helps me see things I otherwise would not.

In the mystery series I’m creating, I was not as careful with the outline for the first novel as I should have been; I was so excited to get words on the page that I rushed. Now, revision means I have to go backward and fix holes. Had I created a more detailed outline, revision would be easier.

(I’m writing the second book now, and the super-structure and beats are carefully plotted. As I tell my students, writing is a process; learning on-the-job is part of it.)

Once beats are plotted with scene names, I can spot problems. I may find clues I inserted but failed to trigger. Red herrings that are, or are not, obvious. Some sub-plots may not be sufficiently developed.

And—this step is vital—I will review each scene for two things, its goal, and its value to moving the plot forward. If a scene goal isn’t clear, it will be cut or combined with another one. If it’s not moving the action forward, it will be sliced.

Kill your darlin’s, as William Faulkner says. Write what your reader needs, not what you fancy.

Other Tips: Writing Apps, Reader Software, and Getting Flogged

It’s exhilarating to finish a novel. But completing a book opens the door to editing it. Besides creating a beat outline to fix plot holes, there are other helpful tools. I’ve embraced programs like Grammarly and Hemingway editor. Both of those clean up my paragraphs; it’s like having an editing assistant in my computer. It takes time to use them, however. Putzing with editing can be a drag. But it’s a necessary one. Agents don’t want amateur errors. Readers don’t, either. I remove pesky words like “all” and “just.” I strike phrases like “going to” and “trying to.” I track adverbs, and I cut descriptions that slow momentum.

As an example, I’ll show the previous sentence with strike-through corrections: I try to monitor adverbs carefully, and I work on finding and cutting descriptions that seem to slow momentum.

Thanks to a student’s suggestion, I use the read-out-loud feature in software such as Pages or Word. There are free online readers, too. I’m a Mac user, so I use Pages; I’ve programmed it so a Brit named Daniel reads my work. There’s something about hearing my book narrated in a snazzy British accent that keeps me on my toes. I pay more attention to it. It helps me find problems I’ve overlooked.

Finally, I revisit my first page. I’ve been away from the book for several months, so I have fresh eyes to check the start of my novel. I also know the book’s ending. Knowing how the story ends impacts its beginning. It may need tweaks or an entire rewrite. Is the action clear? Is the main character in peril? Does it raise the story question? Read more about what a first page should do, as outlined by Ray Rhamey.

First pages are notoriously difficult to write. Shorter is better. If you’re interested in expert, free feedback—also known as being flogged—submit your first page to Flogging the Quill, a writing site operated by Rhamey. Your first page will be read and voted on by readers. It will be flogged—or not. The feedback you’ll receive is an eye-opener. You’ll know if your first page works. It’s like a stand-up comic getting tomatoes or laughs. You should get that feedback; you should know how an audience responds to your book’s first lines.

So, as summer approaches and you’re embracing revision, I suggest a few strategies. Review beats as they exist in the plotline. Use the editor in your computer. Or find an online source that helps with finding problems. Have your work read by software; there’s nothing like a British narrator. It’s like being reminded by the queen that an editing task is at hand, and you’d better get on with it. And, finally, consider having your first page reviewed by an expert.

Happy March, everyone. Daylight Savings Time (DST) is here; hot weather is around the corner. I wish you happy writing—and editing. ~ Tracey Kathryn, MA

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