After the First Draft

Advice from one of our members on the Editing process


So you have finally finished a first draft. What do you do next?

Firstly, congratulate yourself. Many people who begin writing never complete a full draft. So in all seriousness, have a drink/chocolate/whatever you enjoy.

Secondly, step away from the computer/notebook. To properly approach editing, you will need a break. It can vary, but most writers try to leave at least two weeks before tackling a first draft.

While you are taking this break, it’s a good time to think about reading articles like this one online, or reading books on writing. There are a wide variety of the latter rated highly by writers, so it’s worth a look online. Check out reviews and associated websites.

Two Weeks Later…

Methods of writing, rewriting and editing vary a lot. Everyone has a preferred method, so I’ll try and describe what I do, and you can pick and choose what works for you.

Read Throughs

I view the first draft as a very rough version that has yet to be finessed. To begin with I need to tackle the big picture, before honing in on the details. Some writers approach it all at the same time. I however do several read throughs, focusing on a different aspect each time. These are listed below:

1) Plot and Structure    

  • various structures can be used, eg. 3 act structure
  • each scene should have a purpose
  • each unit of action should earn its keep
  • subplots should link to or echo the main plot

2) Characters            

  • should have an internal (emotional) and external arc
  • need to change between start and end of each chapter
  • if they’re flawed then how and why
  • main character should have a goal and obstacle; focus on this in each scene
  • consistent decisions and actions

3) Point of View/Tense  

  • ensure these remain consistent throughout

4) Dialogue               

  • consistency for each character
  • each character should be distinctive, eg. language, slang, stutter, tics
  • every exchange should have a reason
  • consider the subtext

5) Timeline                 

  • check timescale (days, months) and is weather appropriate
  • can be linear, parallel or circular

6) Passive Voice        

  • if you can add “by zombies” after the verb and the sentence makes sense, it’s passive
  • use sparingly

7) Pacing and Tension  

  • avoid showing characters planning, instead show live events
  • increase tension with shorter sentences; slow pace with longer ones
  • ensure stakes are high enough
  • allow for quieter periods
  • don’t resolve tension or reveal secrets too quickly
  • have a plausible pace with peaks and troughs
  • keep the story moving forward
  • don’t ‘info dump’ the backstory, weave it in

8) ‘Show Don’t Tell’     

  • watch out for this, but don’t cut altogether
  • often useful at start of chapters
  • show characters in action

9) Layering                

  • add description using all five senses
  • use era, location, weather, other people, etc
  • use interaction between plot and setting

10) Cutting              

  • check for any overused expressions or actions, eg. shrugging, rolling eyes
  • cut many if not all ‘filler’ words – see below

11) Starts and Ends   

  • if you ask questions, make sure you answer them
  • opening should be intrinsic to story
  • the most jeopardy should be at climax
  • feeling at conclusion is what reader remembers
  • can be happy, sad, open ended, satisfying, bittersweet
  • should resolve story somehow, although not necessarily all aspects


If you too like a good spreadsheet, they can be handy to identify issues, eg. a character disappears for ten chapters, or too much tension all in one go. These are some suggestions for column headings, if you fancy a go:

  • Chapter number
  • Scene number
  • Timeline
  • Check against 3 act structure (for example)
  • Word count
  • Cumulative word count
  • Character goal and obstacle
  • Scene purpose, eg. action
  • Conflict
  • Outcome
  • Protagonist traits
  • Antagonist traits
  • Subplot(s)
  • Backstory
  • Information
  • Consistency issues
  • Other character names
  • Research (to do)
  • Questions/issues

Trick Your Brain!

Once you’ve tackled all the different aspects, there are a few alternative ways of reading the whole version that often highlight anything else. These are:

  • Read backward (by chapter)
  • Change the font
  • Read out loud
  • Print it out

These methods all trick your brain into seeing/hearing it differently, and it’s worth trying them to see what works for you.

Filler Words

We all use these, but on most occasions they can be removed with no change to sentence meaning. I am more forgiving when they pop into dialogue though. Here are some of the most common:

























After all this hard work, it’s a good time to look for beta readers. Good luck!

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