Writing The Final Draft: What To Check

You know that meme where writers name their files “Final Draft”, “Final Draft 2”, “Final Draft 3”, “Really Final Draft”, “Really, Really Final Draft”, “Seriously Final Draft” etc.

I get that. I’m currently working on the sixth draft of an MS I literally named “Final Draft” three drafts ago.

Past-Me probably thought it would be. Present-Me just spent eight months rewriting the whole thing and knows Future-Me still has at least one more draft to go.

Did I plan to rewrite for eight months? No. Did I want it to take eight months? Double no. Do I want the next draft to take that long? Hell no.

To get to the real “Final Draft” I’ve decided to get a little organized, a little crafty, a little planner-like, and tackle this next draft efficiently and quickly. And this is what I’ll be checking to achieve that.

Writing The Final Draft: What To Check

Check The Outline

By the time you’re a few drafts deep, you should definitely know your story. I use the reverse outline method after the first draft to come up with my plot and don’t really change things after that (my recent rewrites were for the writing style, not the actual story). Still, when you’ve been tinkering with sentences, cutting darlings, and adding to your word count, it’s possible you’ve changed something or added a plot hole and not noticed.

Take your outline (or write one if needed) and check to make sure your current draft follows it. It’s also a good refresher of the story and it’ll help you plan your synopsis, which you know is coming because you’re almost at the final draft (probably).

Check The Chapter Lengths

Now you’ve got your plot set in stone, check the foundations. Do you have enough chapters? Do you have too many? Are they the length you want them to be?

When working through my rewrite draft, I realized chapter one was way too long and needed to be split up so the action moved faster. Chapter twenty-six was the longest chapter I’d ever written and took three whole weeks to rewrite. In the final draft, I will split those two chapters up, re-number everything, and make sure the chapters are the right length and in the right order for the story.

Check The Openings And Endings

Once your chapters are sorted, read the first and last sentence of each one.

Reading the first is to check that you haven’t used an opening line you’ve used before. Trust me, it happens. When you’re at chapter thirty and you wrote chapter fifteen six months ago, you will not remember that you used nearly the same phrasing (much in the same way I forget I’ve started countless blogs with “When you’re a writer…” and continue to do so).

For the last sentence, you’re looking to see that it ends with a bit of drama, such as a cliffhanger, a line of dialogue with some sting in it, or a shocking reveal. Whatever will get the reader to turn the page, and again, an ending that isn’t a repeat/remixed version of another chapter.

Check For Notes

I don’t know how you like to leave yourself notes in your MS, but I have this habit of putting notes in brackets where I need to make the changes and highlighting them in yellow. I also have a habit of forgetting I’ve done this. That means one of my checks is to look for such notes, make the changes if I haven’t already, and delete out the highlighted part.

Check The Checklists

Okay, now that I’ve got my plot set, my chapters numbered, the openings, endings, and lengths right, and removed all of my notes, it’s time for the hard work to begin. It’s checklist time. This is when I’ll spend my days getting cozy with my search function and working through my checklists for words that can be deleted or rewritten for better prose.

This is the task that will take the most time to complete and where you learn you use the word “that” way too much.

These are the checklists I’ll be using, paired with some chocolate to fuel me through.

Check With A Program

After I’ve used the checklists to nitpick my sentences, I’ll read the MS from start to finish through ProWritingAid, using its filters to check for typos, double words (I also have a habit of typing things like “the the” and not noticing), readability, and the other reports the program offers.

I find these type of editing programs helpful in terms of another set of “eyes”, but don’t rely on them completely. Skip this step if it’s not your thing.

Check With Your Ears

By now I’m sure you’re sick of reading your words. You know this MS forward, backward, and sideways. You can’t trust your eyes to read what’s on the page versus what your brain thinks is on the page. When you get to this point, it’s time to switch to either reading out loud yourself or having a program read the words to you.

During this run-through, you should find awkward sentences, typos (because they’re always there, lurking in your perfectly crafted sentences), and mistakes your eyes will gloss over at this point.

Check With Someone Else

The final check is having someone else read your MS. Rope in a friend, family member, or beta reader to help you out, preferably someone who hasn’t read the MS before. They will have the freshest eyes and should be able to pick up on anything that’s been missed.

Once they’ve given their feedback and you implement any changes, fix typos they found etc, that’s it!

You’ve now checked the outline, chapters, editing notes, checklists, and used your ears, writing programs, and betas. All of that should be more than enough to officially name the file your “Final Draft” and mean it.

After that you’re allowed one “Final Draft 2”, maybe a “Final Draft 3”, but then a “Seriously Final Draft” should be where you draw the line.

Okay, maybe a “Seriously, Seriously, Seriously Final Draft” after that—but that’s it!

Seriously.

— K.M. Allan

You can find me posting about my seriously, seriously, seriously final draft on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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46 thoughts on “Writing The Final Draft: What To Check

  1. I love the idea of checking the beginning and endings of chapters. – I must go back and do that. Also, I’ve used the computer to read my work back to me and it’s really helps to check readability and picking up silly errors. Thanks for another great post K.M. – great advice as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Removing notes will be a pain for me when this draft is done – I am juggling four betas so my MS is currently a mix of the old text, notes what to fix (red), passages to-be-cut (crossed through) and new passages (green) so I can readjust before something is truly added or deleted.
    As for the file naming… that was never my issue as I number my backup files by date (adding _YYYYMMDD after the name, because this is best for sorting) and full draft PDF backups by draft number.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. All really great points in move toward that final manuscripot. Each novel has its pecularities. In one the storyline just flows and needs chapter correction and another can need wholesale chapter re- schedule. Agree that a check with someone else can be helpful, for factual or appropriate references, but be careful that they’re not re – crafting your viewpoint ! When you’ve decided on a theme and plot and particular character play you could be at variance with another’s view. They will seek to “correct” you. Writers have individual character and style and this is how an editor with very little experience of the “real” world can destroy a novel’s integrity. Basically it’s the old adage – take everything stated by an editor with a pinch of salt. They, he or she, might be re-writing your story, but your reader will not be pleased with the saccharine version portrayed, through inapproriate edit. Many non fiction books are very difficult to follow because an author lacks narrative and an engaging way of presenting facts. As a fiction writer you aim for good narrative and acceptance, at times, that there needs to be radical alteration and chapter movement to bring coherence. This might not happen with all writers, but certainly has been experienced by this author on at least two near final manuscript occasions. That is, root and branch sort of chapters, plus areas of dialogue re -write!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My problem is not stopping when I’m tired (I’ll just finish this chapter…) Probably why I’ve been known to add typos during the editing process (a serious and frequent boo-boo. It does mean you need that final check).
    I’ve also been known to edit something back to where it was before I started (but that’s OK. I’ve tried it and come upon it unexpectedly next read-through and decided against it.)
    A program that reads the story is good for me because I’m a scanner. Something like Natural Reader (free! That’s if you don’t have Read Aloud on Word) slows everything down to reading pace and I notice more edits.
    I also find it helpful to send the document to my Kindle and read it there – you notice more without the expense of printing it all out (although a printout is easiest to edit). Just email the document to your Kindle’s email address with the word CONVERT in the subject field. (Caps not required.)
    On the whole, I think I prefer editing (polishing and shining my creation) to the actual writing.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This entire post has one message: Be organized.

    By being organized you are giving your book the best work you can offer. You’ve done it all. You wrote it, you rewrote it and you listened to others.

    There is no guarantee a publisher or an agent will want our book but if we do not give it everything we can are chances of being a published is zero.

    Excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bryan! Yep, being organised is a big part of it too. I find setting things up in steps/goals like this helps me not feel so overwhelmed by the task. Now I’m excited to work on the final draft because I have some direction/idea about what to tackle. Thanks for reading 😊.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for all your wonderful ideas on how you get to your “final draft”. My question is:- What do you do with all the other final drafts, once you have your “seriously, seriously, seriously final draft”? Do you keep them locked away or delete them?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing. Though I’m nowhere near the final draft, bookmarking this page for future reference and checking out you post on reverse outlining 🙂 Althought I plotted before writing, I’m sure I’ll still pick up some more helpful tips. Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your article is great and to the point! I love your style of writing very much! This article helps me to learn many new things too. You have an amazing philosophy to share. I hope and wish to read more of your articles in future.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Awesome post! I totally know the “seriously this is the last draft” feeling. I thought I’d be querying back in May but boy did I still have some work to do. Even now, when I thought I’d be polishing up my plot, I’m adding entirely new scenes in to fill in gaps. But this was such a great checklist! For me, I think there will be a fine line between making my MS shine and working it to death before submitting to an agent.

    Liked by 1 person

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