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…
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.
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