6 Draft Checklist Ideas (And Why You Should Create Your Own)

Just as no two writers will write an idea the same way, drafting is a unique process as well.

Some authors may draft their MS in as little as five passes, others (raises hand) might have 20 odd drafts under their belt for certain works in progress.

When drafting is such a mammoth task, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I’m not a planner for writing, but for editing and drafting, I find a plan makes all the difference.

To create such plans, checklists are my go-to, and when I’m close to the final draft stage, these are the six main things I scan for during a draft pass…

1. Repeats

I recommend every writer come up with their own Repeats List because we all have different words we use repeatedly. This advice also goes for phrases (I constantly use “looked as if”) and for movements. If every character is “raising eyebrows”, “pursing lips”, and “meeting gazes” it gets boring pretty quickly. Search for these repeats and eliminate/rewrite what you can.

Repeats also come in the form of passages where descriptions are repeated, such as a detailed layout of the living room furniture every single time a scene takes place in it. It only needs to be described once per book. The same goes for expressing something umpteen times. In early drafts, mentioning that the MC likes cars in various chapters is something that can be fixed. Back then you were trying to find the right place to work in the information. In later drafts, this info should have been streamlined to the right place in the story, but it doesn’t hurt to double check that you haven’t repeated an idea/mention/notion/explanation/quirk too much.

2. Dialogue Grammar

Aside from the usual grammar checks, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to how you’ve finished your dialogue. Check that each tag is followed by the correct grammar, for example…

  • “Are you okay?” He asked. – The capital “H” marks “He asked” is a separate sentence to “Are you okay” which makes them both incomplete sentences.
  • “Are you okay?” he asked. – Now it’s just one correct sentence.

If your dialogue ends in an action, use a full stop. If it ends in a dialogue tag, use a comma.

  • “I just woke up.She yawned.
  • “I just woke up,she said.

Search your document for quote marks (“) so you can find your dialogue easily.

Doing a separate dialogue only check in addition to a regular grammar check allows you to focus solely on your dialogue grammar. After all, you don’t want these things pointed out to you by a professional agent/publisher/editor who is assessing your MS on submission*, do you? (*may or may not have happened to me).

3. Unnecessary Words

The only thing I enjoy about a draft where I check my MS for unnecessary words is that I leave this checklist until last. That means if I’ve reached this point and need to suffer through the painstaking busy work of finding words and deleting/replacing/rewriting them, I’m almost at the end of my editing.

Like your repeats, gather together a list of words that can be eliminated without losing the meaning of the sentence, and use your Find/Search feature to track them down. To get you started, check out my Delete Checklist. Happy hunting!

4. A Summary

After I’ve done my first draft, I usually do a reverse outline where I go through my story, write down everything that happens, and then use the notes to make an outline so I know what to add or cut in the subsequent drafts.

Once your story has been through all the betas and feedback changes and you know for sure you will not change anything major, plot or character-wise, do another summary draft.

Read through the MS taking notes on everything that happens in each chapter. If there’s any lingering plot holes or inconsistencies, this summary should pick them up. As a bonus, the notes will make a great basis for your synopsis.

5. Time

How long do the events of your book take to unfold? Hours? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Make sure to have it worked out and that it’s clear. I like to use a year-at-a-glance calendar document in Word to mark down what month certain events take place in the story so I can see the timeline. I also use the same calendar to mark out the seasons. That way if winter or summer is referred to in the plot, I can check I’ve mentioned the right month, or that I’ve mentioned winter when it actually is a winter month. I then spend a draft making sure it all lines up.

6. Character Quirks

By the time you get to your final draft, you should be so in tune with your characters you know them better than yourself. That still doesn’t mean you haven’t missed anything. Spend one draft searching for each character’s name and make sure that every time they’re on the page, they’re consistent. Check their motives, arcs, dialogue, description, quirks, even the spelling of their name. It’s ensuring these little details add up that makes or breaks your characters.

Please note, I can easily say this as a writer with only a handful of characters across my YA series. If you’ve got an epic story with a cast of hundreds, good luck! I’ll send chocolate.

You might think doing a whole draft pass for these six items is too much (or maybe not enough for some writers). You might be gob-smacked by how much work goes into creating a book, or you could be nodding along as you read because you know this kind of work is the reality of crafting a great story.

Getting to the final draft takes time, lots of re-reading the same words, tweaking the same sentences, and checking the same details. What works for me as a draft pass might not work for you and that’s why I recommend creating your own draft checklist. Work out what details you need to check to ensure your final draft is the best it can be, and try to remember that you enjoy the process. It will, after all, deliver the book you set out to write during that very first draft—even if it takes more than 20 drafts to get there.

— K.M. Allan

You can find me on Instagram, FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

54 thoughts on “6 Draft Checklist Ideas (And Why You Should Create Your Own)

  1. I love this. I have now created a style guide for how I ‘do things’ as there are actually choices in grammar, etc. as you’ve said. I also have a character and details library now, as I am writing a series and it is easier to look back over a few pages than a few hundred pages to find the name of the flatmate the character had in book one (I’d changed inadvertently) changed it in book three when he became far more important and had to go back to update book one (thanks goodness for ebooks!).

    So, yes, make a checklist, or create a style guide, and definitely do the research you need to do to firm up your decisions. For book two I learned that Champagne is capitalised and prosecco is not. It’s those little things that can be hard to keep track of unless you, well, keep track of them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post was so helpful! I’m going through now and doing line edits, but at the end I still think I’m going to have to go through using the search function and manually looking at every weak word because I know I can’t automatically catch them all. Also, the whole “Are you okay?” he asked always gets me because Scrivener changes the H to uppercase so I’m definitely going to have to look out for those. Thank you for this! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear it’s helpful, Madeline 😊. That’s why I love specific searches, because it’s more reliable than me trying to remember what to look for as I read or edit. I’d miss so much relying on myself to catch everything 😅. Ooh, maybe it was Scriveners fault that I had that incorrect in my submission MS 🤔. That’s now my story/excuse and I’m sticking with it 🤣.

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  3. I am a lazy editor. I don’t want to be. Trust me, that is not a title I am proud of. But I am. Sigh.

    Nevertheless this is a valuable tool. It’s also a good habit to get in to. At my writer’s meeting the other night it was my turn to submit. My gang spotted at least a half dozen identical phrases that I used. My eyes skipped over them until they pointed them out.

    This is the nuts and bolts of writing. This is where it all comes together hoping the pieces fit.

    Thanks, K.M. Good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brilliant post, Kate! I love a checklist, and these are all brilliant ones to have. I use your delete/weak word check lists religiously during the editing stage, as well as my own mini list of repeats. I also have a “five senses” checklist, to find out if I’m incorporating enough, or too many. It can help me decide if a chapter needs more showing through use of the senses/more atmospheric descriptions.
    ❤ Will be sharing this post, as it's gold for writers xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:
    Some great draft checklist ideas from K. M. Allan this morning. I plan to work from this list as I get my next final draft ready to send my editor. I would add, I also use a program called Smart Edit that’s easy & quick and will automatically hunt for a group of issues all at one time, presenting what it finds in individual lists. It seems faster to me, but you can search for these things in Word, too. Check out Allan’s post for super pointers presented in a logical, concise manner. If you enjoy it, be sure to share with the Immediate World. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s been around a long time, so there may be something newer and better, but I’ve always found it to be helpful. 🙂 I can enter the things you suggest & let it search for all of them at once. (It breaks them into separate pages to make it easier to read the results, and you can click on them & be taken straight to the place(s) in your manuscript where the problem occurred.

        Thanks for putting together such a helpful list. I’m going to be using it in a couple more weeks as I finish up my latest book, so I really appreciate it! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on K. D. Dowdall and commented:
    K.M. Allen, this is wonderful, especially for novice writers! I am the worse at doing multiple drafts, and checking for errors. Fortunately, I have improved, with help from more seasoned authors, and that means no more second editions, I hope. Thank you for this simple, but very effective way to redraft a manuscript (as many times as necessary). Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Just read this re-blogged on Marcia Meara’s site. I’m half-a-chapter away from finishing my second novel (grandchildren skipped in at a critical moment…) and so was delighted to see this.
    My first novel I edited on a daily basis. This second one is taking too long and so I made the decision to write it all down and check later.
    All these points apply to me! The repetition is a hard one. My characters like to hug each other and nod in agreement. There aren’t many appropriate synonyms for hugging and nodding, and I shall have to address that issue soon.
    Great advice. I’m going to save it now.
    Many thanks for such a clear guidelines. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  9. The one about time is one I need to incorporate. Most of my stories happen within weeks or months. In my 1st draft, I usually put in a date at the top of the scenes so I can keep everything straight. However, that means I have to go through my scenes when I’m unsure.

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