Most of us do free writing on the first draft. This is when we let our imagination go wild, and we let our 'muse' do its best. Many writers use NaNoWriMo for this first draft, and it helps to keep focused on result. You can do this yourself anytime, by setting up word count objectives each day.
After we finish the first draft we have a mess of jumbled up ideas. You can at this point go to an editor to make sure your story thread rings true, but you still have to do the rework yourself.
Now pull up your sleeves and work through your draft. If you went to an editor consider all their points as you rewrite. Don't be afraid to delete where appropriate, and add where more information is needed.
Here are some steps I try to follow:
- Read your entire manuscript through once without stopping, and then set aside for it to incubate a day or so.
- Go back and make a complete outline of each character - know who they are and how they react, what they like, dislike, do and say. If you did this already with the draft's outline, revisit to make sure you caught everything. Some things may have developed as you wrote the draft, and need to be added.
- Go back to manuscript and read it out loud, one chapter at a time, to make sure it sounds correct, especially when it comes to dialog, and fix wherever needed so your true character rings through. Make notes where you need to change things.
- Go back again, and make sure each chapter has the correct tension, using a set goal with actions that lead to a disaster or some form of hook to keep the reader wanting more.
- If you do not use Scrivener or some form of software with outline capabilities, use the board approach for this part. If not, then consider creating an excel sheet to track each scene, and list the main idea for each scene - by doing this you can see how the entire piece works and flows.
- When you have the scenes outlined by goal - reactions - disaster/hook, look it over and see where you might need to add tension or details to keep the flow smooth, and the tension correct.
- Watch out for head hopping (jumping from one person's thoughts to another) and make sure the POV for each scene is only one person.
- Correct verb tenses, make sure everything is consistent. This gets tricky if you are using flashbacks etc.
- If you have used a spell checker in your document, go through again manually. Sometimes a word is spelled correct but its the wrong word, (like of instead of off). Some say this works best if you go backwards and start at end - I think you just need to proceed slowly and don't read, just look.
YOU GUESSED IT - go back and read your manuscript again, this time with a highlighter and pencil, if you have it printed. I like to do a quick conversion to an eBook format, and then I read in my reader and use the highlight feature of my kindle or Ipad. (anyone can do this with Calibre or similar software) Highlight anything that sounds out of sorts, make notes (you won't remember). Then go back to your manuscript and make the changes. For this part I like to do it chapter by chapter...
By the time you have finished editing you should have gone through the story at least half a dozen times, but most likely closer to over a dozen. The last part, I actually repeat many times over. Maybe some can get this all done in one sweep, but I know for myself, I read my manuscript at least fifty times (I lost count).
The thing is, as you set your work aside and incubate, you may come up with some new ideas to add. If you do - go for it. This is how we get the extra twists and turns, the symbolism, the ideas that are threaded throughout. These writing techniques don't just happen with our original idea, they take time to turn over.
One more suggestion I very strongly believe you should use - Beta readers. Get feedback from others, even if you use an editor. The feedback will be enlightening. When someone else who is objective reads your work, they will see things you missed. Listen with an open ear, and consider their points. This will make for a better story overall.
So you say "This is a lot of work!" Yes it is. This is the meat that makes up writing. These steps are crucial to any manuscript. Bottom line, it takes a lot of time, patience, and reworking, to have a manuscript turn into a novel. Don't get overwhelmed - but instead take it step by step, one section at a time. Your work will reveal a well written story for others to enjoy, and that is the goal.
Keep reading - Keep writing!