Writing the Fourth Draft

A series looking at drafting novels and long-form fiction. This essay deals with the fourth and final draft.

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Follows: Third Draft

Upon completing the third draft, and getting it to the best possible version of itself, the writer will need some help. This is a prime opportunity to pass the piece to others—trusted confidants, other writers, beta readers—to critique.

By taking the manuscript out of their own hands, the writer can detach themselves from it and, upon its return, revise it as required to reach an even better version that would not be possible as a solo effort. This is where the collaborative element of creativity comes into play.

It is worth waiting until all the readers and critiquers have returned their copies before reading through and comparing comments on a line-by-line basis. Some sections will be loved by some and loathed by others, whereas others will be universally praised or derided. This gives the writer the chance to view a collective response and adjust accordingly, but only where they either agree or feel it is necessary. A writer should not pander to their audience, but instead should use the feedback wisely.

It can be difficult to take criticism, but the writer must remember that it is not personal, nor a slight on their character or talent. Constructive feedback is for improvement of the work, and ego must be removed from the equation.

Inevitably there will be areas which require rewrites, and these should be redrafted and edited according to the steps of the third draft. Once they have been, the piece as a whole can then be re-evaluated.

A final polish will be needed to ensure consistency of voice and style, along with maintaining accuracy of facts, dates and times, locations, characters, speech and dialogue, and all other aspects of the story proper. Once this is done, the piece is, in effect, finished.

Next, the manuscript will then need to be passed to proof-readers. These are the last stop before submission or an editor, and will ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors or minor inconsistencies or missing words that have been overlooked. Whilst one proof is better than none, more are preferable to less. Any issues raised can then be dealt with promptly, and the piece is complete.

The next step is querying agents (for traditional publishing), submitting to publishers (for independent publishing), or hiring an editor (for self-publishing) to work on the manuscript and bring it to a publishable level. At that point, someone else will be assisting the writer, so they no longer need to manage their redrafting quite so minutely. Even so, repeating the third and fourth drafts with each round of changes is desirable once edits have been suggested, to maintain quality and ensure the manuscript is as good as perfect before, eventually, it is published.

Writing is a long and tiring process and, contrary to the belief of some, hard work. It takes determination and commitment, yet the more a writer does it, the better at it they become. By taking each draft as a separate step and working through each in full, a writer can be absolutely sure their final work will be the best possible version.

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Originally from Thanet, J A DuMairier enjoys writing and long walks in the country.

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