There are many ways to approach manuscript editing, each with its own particular process, and nearly every editor and writing advice site has their or its own method. This post will describe the most common types, explain what they’re for, and provide questions you can ask yourself to ensure that you’re approaching this stage in the best way possible.
Bear in mind that this is my preferred order to do these kinds of editing, but feel free to do whatever works for you.
Draft one of a manuscript is for you. In this draft, you get to tell your story to yourself. You can write as much as you want, go off on tangents or side quests, or infodump and worldbuild to your heart’s content.
Draft two is for your readers. Draft two is where you rework the story you told yourself to ensure that you transmit it to the readers in a way that is entertaining, enjoyable, and understandable. That’s not to say it has to be basic or simplistic—but it must be comprehensible.
As Neil Gaiman is fond of saying: In draft one, write down everything that happens. In draft two, go back and make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.
As you’re developing your secondary plot, you’ll need to start thinking about who is going to carry it. Some subplots continue to feature, or may be told from, the POV of your main character. Other subplots may focus instead on a minor or secondary character, who guides the reader through this second storyline.
It’s tempting to spend all of your energy on developing a really rich main character while going light on secondary characters, but you should consider putting as much initial thought into your main character’s friends, family members, and enemies as you do with them.
(Besides, we all know that really great side-characters are everyone’s favorite in novels, anyway. Sure, we like Frodo Baggins, but Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, Sam, Merry, or Pippin are the ones people name when you ask them who their fave is.)