How I’m organizing my second draft

A few weeks ago, I talked a little bit about my drafting process and my goals for each draft. Today, I want to get more into the actual mechanics of my second draft.

I’m not a planner, but…

Once I get out of the first draft, some organization is inevitable. I’ve touched on macro edits before, and that’s basically what a second draft is–a massive macro edit. I like to go into these with a strategy, although the specific strategy is different for every book because it’s tailored to what the book needs.

As far as this novel is concerned, I’m content with most of my setting details. What’s left can wait for another draft. Right now I’m concentrating on working a new character into the existing plot. I also need to trim my word count down, so I’m looking for things I can cut.

Most novels contain more than one story, or at least more than one conflict your characters have to navigate to satisfying conclusions. Coming up with my second draft strategy involves tracing those storylines and making sure they have all the parts they need to work effectively.

I’m making some major changes

One of those changes was switching to a new writing software. I tried QuollWriter for a while and, although it had its good points, it wasn’t quite right for me. I was a little salty about trying Scrivener, but I decided to give it a go anyway, and now I’m hooked.

Scrivener is where it’s at when you need help organizing a novel. It’s got everything. You can keep character profiles, setting notes, and other references right there. It makes it very easy to organize scenes and chapters. It’ll even help you create an outline for your story as you go. There are loads and loads of options, which you can access if you need or ignore if you don’t. Also, they don’t require a credit card or email address for their free trial. You just download, install, and go. It’s hard to get more convenient than that.

I imported my entire rough draft into Scrivener as a reference, and I have my writing screen split so both the rough draft and the second draft are visible at once. It makes it SO easy because I can refer to my rough draft without having to switch between applications.

I’m making changes to my draft, too, of course

In fact, I’m making so many changes that my second draft is practically another rough draft. A lot of this is due to the new character, but I also have some info dumps and some scenes that just drag.

There’s a lot to do, and I have a list of things I’m trying to keep up with. These are the things I’m looking for:

Inciting incidents

How did the character end up in this situation? Usually you want an inciting incident to be big enough that the reader recognizes it as an issue, but small enough that you can escalate it and build tension as you go.

Your novel will probably have one major inciting incident that introduces the main conflict or plot, but it will have minor ones for each minor conflict or subplot as well. Generally speaking, when I’m talking about the inciting incident, I mean the major one; but for organization purposes, I need to consider all of the minor ones as well.

Try/Fail Cycles

You’ll probably have three or four of these per conflict. Again, start small and escalate as the story goes. Your final try/fail cycle is your novel’s climax.

Basically, a character realizes there’s a problem. They try to solve the problem and fail. Then they do a little research, maybe bring other characters into the situation, and then try to solve the problem again. They fail again. Repeat and continue to raise the stakes until the character is giving this problem everything they’ve got, and they stand to lose everything if they fail the final time.

Some characters who enter the story at different points in time may not see the earlier parts of this cycle, so their inciting incident will be where they’re dragged into this conflict.


Yes, this is another try/fail, but it’s the big one. I want to keep track of this because it has a massive impact on the story.


How does each conflict end? Some of them will wrap up in a nice little bow, happily ever after. Others won’t end the way the character wants them to end, but the character will realize it’s for the best. A few will end in tragedy. You might even leave a few conflicts with open or ambiguous endings, but make it clear to readers that the character saw the conflict through to this point. They shouldn’t just disappear.

It’s important to keep track of resolutions so you don’t leave readers hanging.

I hope the second draft goes faster than the first

I’m a few thousand words in, and I think it’s going well so far. I’ve made some big changes. How do you set up your second draft? Do you take time to map it out, or do you just jump right in? Do you even bother with a second draft?

I hope I’ve given you some information you can work with. If you’re confused about any of this, please leave me a comment and I’ll try to clarify things for you. Feel free to use those social media buttons to share this post if you thought it was helpful. Thanks!

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  1. I’ve never tried to write a book, but I wrote a lot of articles for my blog and I really hate proofreading and finishing the final draft, but then I am dyslexic as well

    1. You’re doing a great job on your blog! You put a lot of thought and research into that ARFID article, and it looked fantastic. When I get some time, I’m going to go back and read the one about Star Trek and PTSD because it looks really interesting. Do you use anything like Grammarly or ProWritingAid to help spot errors when you proofread, or do you just do it on your own?

  2. I had no ideas that was specific writing software for authors, I assumed you’d just use something like Word. Is there writing software for writing autobiographies as well?

    1. I feel like Scrivener would also work for an autobiography. It’s writing software, but it’s also an organization tool. You can use it to divide your autobiography into sections or chapters, create an outline for it, and so on. You can also add any notes or research, even sound files or photos, and have it all in one place.

      There is a bit of a learning curve, but I think some people have put tutorials on YouTube. It also comes with a tutorial document that walks you through all of the features.

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