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The Second Draft (or NaNoWriMo Next Steps) by Sam Blake

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Getting Started | Plotting and Planning
sam blake

Sam Blake

Whether you’ve arrived at the end of your first draft as a result of NaNoWriMo, or  you’ve been working on your own project, the next stage, chopping and developing and adding, will begin to get your draft novel into shape.

Whatever your genre, rewriting is the part of the process that makes the difference, and will ultimately take you from first draft to published. NaNoWriMo is a great discipline for getting a first draft done – there’s no time to look back so you just keep going to the end. If you’re starting writing now, or in the middle of a first draft, getting it all on the page means that you can find the story – the next stage is working with it and shaping it. A first draft will (should) be horribly rough, there may be gaps where you know something happens but weren’t sure what, where you’ve left a note for yourself and ploughed on (I’ve got ‘add Alex chapter here’, in this one). No first draft will ever meet the public, so this is your ‘me’ draft, the bones of the story.

If you sat down and just started writing at the start of Nano without a clear plan (not everyone is a planner), now’s the time to look back and see what you’ve got. This may mean going over the full manuscript and making notes on what’s actually in each chapter (as opposed to what you think is there) – using post-its or squares of paper will help you lay everything out so you can see where new chapters need adding, or some may need switching around or stitching together. Don’t be frightened of this process, it’s fundemental and it is a lot of work, but it will pay off. Get your scaffolding right and you can build a strong house – if a bit of it is wobbly…well you can imagine what happens later.

The revision process is vitally important as every pass enriches the text and adds detail. With Keep Your Eyes on Me in shops now, and The Dark Room out in January, I’ve just finished the first draft of book 6, tentatively entitled Remember My Name. The next step is the second draft, and I think I enjoy this the most – the first draft is always like an uphill sprint, trying to get to the end and find the story – despite the fact that I’m a plotter and I’ve already created a grid of 30 chapters to make sure I’ve actually got a story, the first draft will always take off on its own, and I usually end up with 50+ chapters.

After that first uphill sprint – not unlike a Nano book – in this second draft I get to slow down and wander through the flowers and pick out the weeds. It’s about making the writing better and looking at the story as a whole, seeing how different parts impact other parts and developing the surprises.

I’m at about 93k words at the end of the first draft, and I’m going back over it all from beginning to end for this second draft, reading through the document on the screen and fixing clunky sentences and badly phrased bits. Quite a lot of chapters need the first paragraph deleting or moving somewhere else – it can take me a few sentences to write myself into a chapter if I’m starting a new one on a new writing day, and that shows! By the end of the redrafting process, which will probably involve at least two more passes, I’m aiming to hit 100k. 

I’m doing several things as I read through this draft:

* Adding location description so we can see the picture – for me location is almost a character in the story – it certainly is in The Dark Room where Hare’s Landing, a country house hotel in West Cork, plays a vital part in the events that unfold.
* I’m making sure the timeline makes sense – I make a note of the time and day at the top of each chapter as part of the ‘scaffolding’. This is vital if I need to add chapters at the end or move them around. It’s VERY easy to lose track of time.
* I’m adding character description and detail – can we see what everyone looks like/ is wearing? Is it needed?  The reader needs some detail or they can’t see the picture, so I’m making sure I’ve brought enough of the image in my head to the page, in order to form an image in the reader’s head.
* I’m also looking at everyone’s dialogue – does it sound real, is it needed, is it ‘saying’ the right thing? Does someone say something they couldn’t know because it hasn’t happened yet, or do they speculate about what’s happening too early, planting ideas in the reader’s head? (This can be a good thing!)
* I’m looking at character development – what is their individual journey? How are they changed as a result of the story? (What’s going on with Alex and what will make his lost chapter work?!) For me it’s the characters that resonate with the reader when they’ve finished the book – I want them to feel like they know Vittoria and Lily (in Keep Your Eyes on Me) or Rachel and Caroline (in The Dark Room), that each book is a window on those characters’ lives, lives that continue after the book has ended. For anyone who has read the Cat Connolly trilogy, I plant little nods in my standalone books that you will recognise – I want to create an interconnected world in all the Sam Blake books that feels real.
* I’m looking at everyone’s names and making sure they are different and memorable – I’ve just changed a Marc to Pierce as I had a Marcus in KYEOM, I’ve changed the name of a company and several other names so they resonate better.

The good news is that I’m spotting new twists as I read through this draft – in the next draft I’ll find ways to develop/foreshadow those with the odd line to make them work better.

When I’ve done all of this on the screen, I print off the whole book so I can read it in on paper – this makes a HUGE difference, I see where there are (more) missing point of view chapters, I spot the repetition much more easily (always lots of that) and I can see where I’ve changed something using find and replace, but it’s been missed because I spelled it wrong the first time (ahem). I make hard copy notes line by line in the script as I’m reading, scribbling over-arching notes for myself on the cover. When I’ve read right the way through this draft, and the story and scenes are clear in my head, I go back to correct the version on the screen, looking to enrich the text, to give it depth and make the characters and locations feel as real and believable as possible, as I go along.

Because, in my case, in reading through the hard copy draft, I’ve spotted some missing point of view chapters, this book will need another printed version before it’s ready for anyone to see. I’ll add them now, change everything that I noted, and then print it again to make sure it’s really sound. Sometimes (often) you can add a chapter and accidentally mention something that hasn’t happened yet, or upset the sequence of events. I find I can only detect those errors when I read from beginning to end in hard copy – on the screen I get too distracted by fixing lines and making the sentences flow to see the bigger picture stuff.

If you’ve just finished NaNoWriMo, or are working on an early draft, everything here is the next stage. Personally I think it’s the best bit, it’s all about making everything in the garden look pretty, making sure there are no dead ends or compost heaps in the reader’s view. It’s the next step towards getting your story ready for its onward journey. Good luck!

(c) Sam Blake

‘Strangers on a Train meets Dial M For Murder’ is out now. The Sunday Independent says:

“Blake’s skill lies in her ability to combine tough and memorable characters with a deliciously complex and fast-moving plot that never wanes.

She takes the simple concept of revenge, but turns it into a riveting tale that criss-crosses the globe and involves smuggled antiques, forged artworks and even the Russian mafia.

The tension never lets up and as we hurtle towards the last few pages, Blake fires in one last plot grenade that makes you question everything you have just read.”


The Dark Room is out in paperback on November 4th and has been shortlisted for Irish Independent Crime Novel of the Year 2021

Hare’s Landing, West Cork. A house full of mystery…

Rachel Lambert leaves London afraid for her personal safety and determined to uncover the truth behind the sudden death of a homeless man with links to a country house hotel called Hare’s Landing.

New York-based crime reporter Caroline Kelly’s career is threatened by a lawsuit and she needs some thinking space away from her job. But almost as soon as she arrives, Hare’s Landing begins to reveal its own stories – a 30-year-old missing person’s case and the mysterious death of the hotel’s former owner.

As Rachel and Caroline join forces, it becomes clear that their investigations are intertwined – and that there is nothing more dangerous than the truth…

Find out more about Sam Blake at www.samblakebooks.com, or follow her on social @samblakebooks – follow her on Facebook and watch out for her Six Minutes on Story videos and fun giveways!

About the author

Sam Blake has been writing fiction since her husband set sail across the Atlantic for eight weeks, and she had an idea for a book. Sam is originally from St. Albans in Hertfordshire but has lived in Ireland, at the foot of the Wicklow mountains, for more years that she lived in the UK. Her debut novel ‘Little Bones’ (Bonnier 2016) was No 1 in Ireland for four weeks, remained in the top 10 for another four, and was shortlisted for Irish Crime Novel of the Year. It launched the bestselling Cat Connolly trilogy.

Moving away from police procedurals Sam is keeping a focus on strong female characters, writing psychological thrillers for Corvus Books. ‘Keep Your Eyes On Me’ went straight to No 1 in January 2020 and ‘The Dark Room’ is due in January 2021. Sam has already signed for two more thrillers with Corvus Atlantic that will keep her busy until 2023.

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