Writing the Third Draft

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

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Follows: Second Draft

After some time has passed from the second draft, the writer can readdress the story from a more objective viewpoint. The third draft is not another rewrite, but rather it is editing.

The best way to approach a third draft is to change formats. As most stories are written digitally, this is a great opportunity to print out the entire manuscript and go through it with a red pen.

Editing is more than grammar checking, and the third draft gives the writer a chance to look at each sentence to justify its value. Verb confusions can be addressed, incorrect clauses can be corrected, and word choices can be substituted for more effective options.

Using double-spacing when printing gives plenty of room for notes between lines, and wide margins are also an advantage. A detailed line-by-line critique is required of the second draft before any changes are made, and the entire work should be annotated before any actual rewriting occurs.

After completing a full self-critique, the writer can transpose those changes onto the actual manuscript using their medium of choice. By returning to the beginning and working through each page, the writer can take time to ensure each edit is valuable and necessary.

Page count will change, as potentially will chapter structure or even order. Narrative sections may need rewriting, areas might be removed or rewritten, new sections could be added. All this must be carried out as per the annotations made in the critique.

Editing gives the writer a chance to fix character inconsistencies and address clichés and stereotypes. Either by subverting or discarding cliché, the writer can ensure their characters are memorable and will be believable to the reader. Empathy also needs to be addressed, as the reader needs to be able to connect with the protagonist and understand their choices, even if they would not make those same decisions themselves.

The plot may require alterations and major rewrites might be called-for. The temptation to skip or ignore gut instinct should not be paid heed, as the writer should use this opportunity to fix whatever problems they can.

Unlike the first and second, the third draft is not a singular process. Once it has been completed, it needs to be repeated. Only when the manuscript is as good as it possibly can be can the writer move on.

The fourth draft comes after others have read the story. The culmination of repeated third drafts will bring the writer to a point where they cannot improve the manuscript alone, and so must acquire help. This is where other writers, editors, beta readers and confidants come into play, as the manuscript needs to be given to trusted advisors to read and critique. When they are all returned the writer can tackle the fourth draft.


Next: Fourth Draft

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

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