Hemingway once said
The first draft of anything is sh*t
Perhaps another description would be
The first draft is the blueprint, the second is construction, and the third is all about decoration.
Meaning the first draft is the fundamental foundation of the whole story; its where everything is fleshed out. The second draft is where the foundational material is strengthened, rearranged, changed, or eliminated: The third is where the last of the jetsam and flotsam is eradicated. I say three drafts, because as a bare minimum it gives you room to improve your story/poem or script in increments. For drafting is a combination of proofreading, editing, and re-writing.
They say the hardest part of writing is the re-writing, and in essence this is true because you have to be tough, ridding the whole of any unnecessary weight that is slowing down or killing the story. This is easily done with poetry, and short prose, but with the novel it can be torturous. However the first draft can be just as difficult; especially if you have two or so great ideas, a couple of interesting characters, but you’re struggling to figure out how to make them come together? In other words, each story, script or poem is uniquely challenging.
Anyhoo… Once you’ve got the first draft completed, you need to create space. Therefore after you’ve printed off your double-spaced copy, put it into a folder, then a drawer, and then forget all about it for two to four weeks, two months even. Work on something else, work on nothing. Enjoy your leisure, do DIY, some yoga. Live.
Then onto the second draft… where the building begins; fixing all the things you didn’t notice the first time round. You can add during this stage, but the whole idea behind the second draft is to tighten your writing, improve the narrative flow, fix any inconsistencies in the POV, tenses, eliminating the excess baggage and so on.
Then another break, before finally working on the third draft. Where you cull all the superfluous frills, double-check your spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Kiss the adverbs and darlings goodbye. In other words tighten, compress and condense your paragraphs, sentences and dialogue.
Now, its time to get feedback. To give a copy or three to beta readers. For most writers, you’ll be asking people with no experience of reading a book to specifically give feedback, so here are a few questions to point your beta readers in the direction of constructive criticism rather than generalise statements that leave you none the wiser to what needs fixing!
- Is there any repetition?
- Is the narrative consistence?
- Are there any sudden shifts in tenses or POV?
- Is there any references to the senses?
- Does the tension sizzle?
- Does the conflict feel real?
- Are the characters believable?
- Are they consistence in their behaviour and responses to events and situations?
- Are they easily recognisable?
- Do they feel indistinguishable?
- Are their emotional/physical responses shown?
- Any cliched caricatures?
- Is the action shown?
- How much is told rather than shown?
- Is there any descriptive exposition masquerading as dialogue?
- Does it feel stilted?
- Does it feel tired?
- How many unnecessary adverbs follow?
For any fantasy or science fiction writers these following questions are also important;
- Is the world building clear and concise?
If you’re playing with any traditional rules;
- Do these rules make sense within the story’s world?
- Are they consistence?
These questions may seem sweeping, and to be asking a lot of your beta readers, but these questions will help them understand to some extent what you are asking them to do as beta readers. Tell them to keeps some notes and to be as honest as possible that you won’t jump down their throat. Its true they are doing you a favour, and you do need to be appreciative of this, but you also need the feedback to be constructive.
If you can, consider a professional reading service. For a small nominal fee you will have someone with the skills and knowledge of reading specifically for constructive feedback. Of course, much like any friends who volunteers to read your book/script/poems, their personal tastes and preferences can show, but as they are professionals they’ll be better at being objective.
Now, I’m not suggesting you should ignore any critiques or suggestions for improvement, but with experience, you should be able to recognise what will work against your story. All advice can and should be taken with a pinch of salt, but be aware, most suggestions for improvement will be grounded in the need to tighten your writing, improve the quality of dialogue, strengthening your characters; avoiding cliches, and tired old plots: Ridding your story of any unnecessary backstory, etc.