You’ve written the first draft of a novel. You may have done this as part of NaNoWriMo, or you may have done it on your own over months or years. You may have finished it yesterday or five years ago. Whatever the case, you are now looking for a way to make it better. You want to turn that first draft into something great, or at least something publishable. This series of posts is designed to take you through the editing process.

The first step is to read what you have written. This can be a strange and frightening experience. Your first draft can be pretty rough. You may have ideas that didn’t work, prose that’s too purple, characters that are as flat as cardboard or so complex that even you can’t figure them out. That’s OK. If you were expecting perfection, now is the time to revise those expectations. You’ve created something from scratch, and no matter how good or bad it is, it can be better.

There are three keys to an initial reading:

  • Resist the urge to edit. Editing at this point is a waste of time. Why fix the spelling and grammar of something you may later decide to cut out entirely.
  • Take plenty of notes. Write down your thoughts as you go. Keep track of what you like, what you hate, what you want to change, and what you want to add.
  • Stay focused on the big picture. Your goal is to think of ways to make the novel work better as a whole.

Here are some things you should think about while you read:

  • How does this draft compare to my initial vision? Should I change the story to meet the vision or the vision to meet the story?
  • Does the plot progress the way it should? Are there gaps that need to be filled in? Will a reader be able to follow what is happening?
  • Who are my characters? Are they interesting? Are they complete?
  • Are there any glaring inconsistencies? Do I call characters by the wrong name? Do any events or statements conflict with other events or statements?
  • What should I cut? What should I keep?

Beyond that, everyone thinks differently and everyone has problems unique to their work. Write down whatever comes to mind as you read.

Once you’ve read through your novel, read through your notes. Spend some time thinking about the draft and where you want to go. You may want to come up with your own battle plan at this point. You may decide to write some new scenes or rewrite old ones. That’s fine. Feel free to go your own way.

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