|Photo credit: Wiertz Sébastien on Flickr|
Regardless of where your feelings stand on the matter, after you've given your first draft sufficient time to cool, there does inevitably come the first read through that is necessary if you ever hope to turn that first draft into a polished novel. But what exactly should you be looking for in your first read through?
I know for me, the system of my first reading has changed drastically over time: with my very first draft I fell into the trap of doing line-edits (which I don't recommend unless your first draft is very tight to begin with), with later drafts I started developing a system of marking future edits as I progressed through the reading, and finally, with this latest read through, I made color-coded notes.
The difference between this first read through and many of my previous first readings was that this time, I had a pretty good idea of what needed fixing ahead of time. I already knew I had to pay special attention to the timeline, and that there would be many scenes and tidbits of information that would need expanding. Knowing this ahead of time allowed me to create a color coding system that would emphasize those notes as well as other edit notes in an organized way that was catered to this WIPs needs.
To give you guys an idea, here was my color coding system:
Note: I work primarily with Microsoft Word, and while I have in the past printed out my first draft (which is helpful, if you can afford the ink and paper), this time I made notes directly into Microsoft Word.
Any mention of time, I highlighted in green.
Anything that needed expanding, I highlighted in orange.
Anything that I really liked, I circled in purple (and added hearts and smiley faces).
Any emotional indicators I needed to fix, I highlighted in blue.
Any time I came across a sentence that could work as a chapter title, I underlined in light blue.
This, combined with Word's commenting feature allowed me to make some basic notes throughout the story and get a pretty good idea as to what I'll need to focus on during my edits, which is largely the goal of the first read through—you don't want to try to fix everything in your first reading, you just want to get a good idea as to what will need fixing.
While I'll soon be going through chapter by chapter and making more detailed edit notes, I've found that the first reading can really help you grasp the story as a whole—it's not about the line edits or the awkward sentences yet—it's about what you can do to improve your WIP, to take it out of the depths of the first draft and start to push it towards a polished work.
I know, however, that many people view the first reading differently, so I'm curious— what do you focus on during your first reading? Do you have a system that you use every time, or does it depend on the WIP? I'd love to hear your tips and techniques.