You’ve done it! Finished that first draft. Now what?
I recommend giving yourself some space before looking at it again, if time permits. A couple of weeks’ worth, at least. Clear your head. Read a novel. Write something else, or plan your next book. Then, when it’s time to work through the edits, here are three elements you won’t want to leave unaddressed:
Unanswered questions: If you ask a story-related question anywhere in the story (a question for readers to ponder, not a question in dialogue), make sure you answer it by story’s end. Of course, this includes the story question.
Unresolved threads: Whether you plot everything ahead or your write as you go, you’ll have various threads that weave through your story. As you’re editing your rough draft, be sure you tie up those threads. Writing is all about the reader, so one of an author’s goals is to satisfy the reader. They’ve invested in your characters and your story, satisfy them by tying up loose threads. That’s not to say you have to “dot every i,” but be sure that if you leave an unanswered question/unresolved thread in the reader’s mind, it was intentional, (i.e. for readers to ponder once they’ve finished the novel), and that the story is better for that choice to leave that thread unresolved. Here’s what I do: make notes as you’re reading the rough draft to follow (focus on) your threads all the way through the story. You might even go through the manuscript and specifically highlight every line, paragraph, or scene that relates with each thread so you can follow their individual arcs.
Unechoed themes: Recently, I was working on my own project and discovered a theme in chapter one that I didn’t recall echoing enough later in the story. Books are more satisfying when the themes echo throughout. What do I mean by “echoing themes?” Writers can revisit themes in many different ways, including symbolism, via repetition and/or contrast in other characters, etc. The key is to ensure your themes reappear and therefore have greater impact.
Your turn: what other areas need to be answered, resolved, or echoed in your final draft?