When a lot of folks think about the process of writing a novel, what they’re really thinking about is completing the rough draft. They imagine the hours, days, weeks, months, and even years of toiling over a keyboard. And after all that work, you’re done!
Except we writers know that finishing your rough draft is not at all synonymous with finishing the actual book. Though they had trouble finding common ground on much else, brilliant writers Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner agreed that first drafts are often—if not always—terrible. In a lot of ways you’re still figuring out your story as you write, so it’s not that surprising that your rough draft will be far from perfect.
Two of the biggest types of revision I’ve had to do on my novels have been cutting and expansion. Like cooking a good meal, editing your rough draft will help to highlight its best flavors while downplaying others. We’ll get to cutting in a future post, but for now, let’s talk about expansion. This comes after you end up realizing that your characters aren’t quite developed enough, or that a plot point feels unearned since it kind of comes out of nowhere. You may also feel like your worldbuilding could use more detail or that you want to make some additions based on new research you’ve done. So you decide to go back and write more scenes to flesh things out better.
Expanding your rough draft can be very, very difficult. It’s no easy task to just drop yourself into a random part of your story and start writing something new. You’ve probably gotten attached to the flow of your story at this point, and even making a change you know will be for the better is rough. Here are some tips that will hopefully help you along the way to making your novel as rich and detailed as it can be.
1) Think Long and Hard
Before you start writing, give some heavy consideration to whether or not you really need this new scene. Brevity is the soul of wit, so it’s important to always question whether or not a certain scene is essential to your story. Sometimes you may end up figuring out that a short exchange or a bit of added exposition can accomplish the same thing with far fewer words.
So definitely allow yourself some time to brainstorm your additions before you actually try to work them into your story. It’s never fun when you realize you did a bunch of extra writing for nothing (as I have many times myself).
2) Anchor Your Scene with a Song
One of the hardest parts of expanding a rough draft is that you’re no longer in the right headspace. When you’re in the midst of churning out that first draft, you get into a real groove. But once you’ve taken some time away after completing the draft, it will take some effort to get back into that state of mind.
Music has always been very helpful for me in these situations. When writing a new scene for a completed draft, I try to find a song that suits the tone of both the specific scene and the novel overall. The most recent one I used was “Too Bad” by Rival Sons. Listening to this song helped to get me in the mood and made writing a new scene seem less daunting.
3) Make Yourself a Reading Sandwich
Before you start writing, I would recommend that you read over the scenes that will be on either side of your new addition. So what happens immediately before, and what happens immediately after. This process will ground you in this particular part of the story. It will also help you to make sure your scene is able to be inserted neatly.
Once you’ve written the scene and inserted it, you should read all three scenes in sequence a few times to make sure it all flows and makes sense. Reading your new addition in the context of these other scenes will also give you a chance to reflect on whether this new scene is really adding something necessary to the story.
4) Step Back
Any regular readers already know what a big fan I am of taking breaks during the writing process. I know a lot of writers think you need to write every day and it should be go-go-go all the time. But taking time away from your novel can give you distance and a sense of objectivity as a reader that allows you to see the book’s strengths and weaknesses more clearly.
So once you’ve added your new scenes, I would recommend taking at least a week or two—ideally longer—before looking at them or the rest of your novel again. Watch some of your favorite TV shows and movies, have fun with friends, and try not to think about your book at all.
5) Make Sure It All Fits Together
After you’ve taken some refreshing time off and come back to your novel, it’s time to read the whole thing over. It really is great if you can manage to stay away from the book for a few months—the longer the break, the more you’ll feel like a reader of your story and less like the writer. You may even get to the point where you don’t remember specifically what you added and what came from the original draft.
With this reading, you can take note of any details that don’t quite make sense. Or you’ll notice that, thanks to an additional scene, you end up telling the reader the same information twice. I’ve personally found that I introduced the same character in two different scenes, since an added scene brought him into the story earlier.
Inserting new scenes into an already completed draft is a very tricky business. Like a film editor, you have to be on the lookout for repetition and continuity errors. But fleshing out your novel in this way can add so much to the world, characters, and plot that simply didn’t occur to you when you were racing to the finish line of that first draft. I hope these tips will help you to flesh your novels out so that they can reach their full potential.