In a post on the Raindance site, Stephanie Joalland included a rewriting tip that I also advocate and that most screenwriters and novelists resist: before you start on your second draft, write a new outline of your first draft.
Why do writers not want to do this? Well, it’s extra work and they feel that they’ve gone past this stage. Sure, probably they made changes to their original outline (I’m assuming there was one), but they don’t seem big enough to warrant re-doing the outline.
That's often wrong because some of those changes may have derailed the logic of your storyline, or started strands that you didn’t pay off, or involved incidents that you didn’t set up early enough. By this point you will have been wrapped up in this story long enough that you can’t see the forest for the trees.
An outline forces you to step back and look at the major events of the story. With that in hand you can ask yourself some painful but necessary questions:
- Does every step of this story makes sense?
- Is there a clear cause and effect sequence?
- Are there at least one or two surprises for the reader?
- Are there “orphan” scenes that should either be cut or integrated better?
- Is the overall flow of the conflict escalating?
- Have you chosen actions and settings that reveal character as well as advancing the plot?
The answers to those questions will make rewriting the second draft much easier.
In the next post I’ll suggest some ways you can get the necessary distance from your own work to be able to critique it more objectively.
(Do you want friendly guidance for writing your own book? Get a copy of Your Writing Coach, published by Nicholas Brealey and available from Amazon or your other favorite book seller.)