This was a hot topic when I asked on Twitter what people wanted me to blog about next, and since I'm in the process of editing 1st draft of ROSEHEAD (or, in other words, writing 2nd draft), it fit perfectly. Plus, of course, people saw me blasting a picture of my board with sticky notes and were wondering what's written on them (gibberish, mostly, I tell you, and maybe some nuggets of sense here and there). Anyway... here you are, sitting, all happy with yourself for having finished 1st draft of your novel. Woohoo! You drank the wine, you ate the chocolate, your friends patted you on the back, you took the required (Stephen King says you should, and I believe him) 2 to 4 week break, occupying your genius self with other things, and now the day has come. You opened your 1st draft, you poured yourself a fresh cup of coffee (okay, okay, for some people it's tea), and now you stare at the screen, wondering what in the blazes you ought to do with it. Well, here is what I do with my 1st drafts. Take it for what it is, it's only my second time doing it, or... maybe fourth, if you count SIREN SUICIDES as three books.
Read the entire draft in one sitting, if possible. This is very important. Along with the fact that you should take a break (read Stephen King's ON WRITING, if you don't believe me) between drafts, before you do any writing, you have to get a sense of the overall story, and for that you have to cram it into your head in the shortest amount of time possible. Here are my numbers. It takes me about 6-8 weeks to write 1st draft (roughly 80-100K words), it takes me about 6-8 hours to read it. I turn everything off, so I have no distractions, and read it without editing. Do not be tempted to edit! Once you start, you will get sucked into it, and it will slow you down. Just read the damn thing, and take notes. That is what you see on those sticky notes in the picture. I have a pad of sticky notes and every time I stumble on something, have a question or an idea, I jot down the page number, maybe a chapter number, and one line about what bothered. For example, I discovered that I mention 30 people in the Bloom manor at dinner on one page, and on another I say 21. That's a continuity issue, so I wrote it down. Or, a character pulls out a bird feather from the pocket, without me previously having stated how that feather got into her pocket. I go like this until I'm done reading the entire thing.
Your opening sentence is your novel; your opening paragraphs set tone for your chapters. I take special care about editing the very 1st sentence of the 1st chapter, as well as the whole paragraph. I try to summarize the entire novel in that 1st sentence. In 2nd draft of ROSEHEAD I edited it to this: "Lilith Bloom had a peculiar feeling that once she
steps into the rose garden, it won’t let her out alive." To compare, here is the 1st draft version: "The garden reeked of rotten sweetness as if the roses
were not blooming, but rather decomposing in the heat." You see the problem here? It doesn't state who the main character is, nor what her issue is. We are left with some garden that stinks. Who cares? It's my general rule now to mention the name of the main character and the problem she or he is facing in the opening line. In SIREN SUICIDES it's: "I chose to die in the bathroom because it's the only room in the house I can lock." It's written in 1st person, so I don't mention the name right away, but I squeeze it into the 1st paragraph nonetheless, which I try to make as a setup for the entire chapter. My favorite 1st line is from Stephen King's GUNSLINGER: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." If you read the entire Dark Tower series, you will know that it pretty much summarizes everything. In that 1 sentence. Amazing, right? Well, that's what you need to do too. For example, IRKADURA is my next novel, and I already have the opening line. It might change later, but it sets the tone: "Irka stopped talking the moment she learned how to talk."
Get rid of over-explanations, repetitions, and excessive descriptions. My personal weakness is describing things extensively, so this is what I do next. You might have something different, but all rookie writers seem to have the problem of obvious repetitions or over-descriptions, for example: "She bent her legs and sat down on the couch by the ornate glass window." I do this a lot, to those of you laughing right now. Let's peel this apart. Do you know anyone who can sit down on the couch without bending legs? No? Exactly. You're overstating the obvious. Let's see how this will look. "She sat down on the couch by the ornate glass window." All right, can you sit up on the couch? No. There is only one direction, down, so this word is redundant. Also, is a window typically made of glass? Yes, unless it's some special window. Let's cut that too. Here is what we have: "She sat on the couch by the ornate window." Bam. Much cleaner, right? (By the way, as a non-native speaker, I still stumble on the use of the, please don't kill me if I used it wrong here.) Your 1st draft will be probably littered with sentences like this one, I know mine is. It's okay, that's what 2nd draft is for, to clean it up. In essence, you write a lot in your 1st draft and you cut a lot out in the 2nd.
Clean up the dialogue so it flows with the story. I have this problem of creating disconnected pockets of dialogue that make sense when I write them, but when I read the whole thing later, seem to be disjointed, because in reality a lot of time has passed between the instances when I wrote them, but when I read the whole draft, I perceive them very close to each other, and sometimes they make absolutely no sense in the fabric of the story in terms of its flow. For example, if two characters had an argument and 10 pages later they talk nicely to each other, you have to at least hint at what made them forget their disagreements, or edit and make them angry. Also, if your dialogue is very lengthy or clean or self-explanatory, in the 2nd draft break it up, make it sound more human. Cut sentences short, insert silences, unspoken words, things like "umm..." or "look..." or "listen...". Best, read your dialogue aloud in front of the mirror so you can your facial expressions, and where you see a puzzled face, you have to edit it.
Get rid of continuity issues. I'm borrowing a screenwriting term here, since I used to write screenplays. I suppose the same applies to novels. These problems are very simple. I already mentioned above how on one page I mentioned the number or guests as 30, and on another as 21. That's a continuity issue. If at the beginning of the chapter your character wears a blue polka-dot sweater, and at the end a purple striped sweater, that's a continuity issue. There are many more, like character's names and their correct spelling, places, specific terms, etc. Basically, the facts of your novel.
Indulge in research and fill in specific details. And, at last, instead of cutting, cutting, cutting, there is one thing that I do here which constitutes adding. While I write 1st draft by the seat of my pants, flying through it and not giving much thought to research at all, in the 2nd draft I take my time to go and look up all those things I'm talking about, to add just enough facts that will make my story sound authentic. For example, for ROSEHEAD I had to research the types of roses, the methods of growing and fertilizing them, the terms rosarians typically use and more stuff like that. This is the fun part, but be careful not to be carried away into spending hours and hours on this. Your story is the most important thing here. If you have a weak story, no amount of research will make it stronger.
Let's see... I think I covered all major things I do. No, I lied, I didn't. There is one big component that I forgot to talk about. Your novel's ending. That's because in SIREN SUICIDES I didn't know how it would end until draft 4, and in ROSEHEAD I knew how it would end in draft 1, so it doesn't apply to draft 2. I suppose you might know how it ends by the end of draft 1, or you might not. Don't focus on it, keep editing. The ending will come. There. I think this is it. Anything I missed? Please, chime in.