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.
- The Delete Checklist – It will help make your sentences less wordy.
- The Weak Word Checklist – Removes words that weaken your sentences.
- The Active Word Checklist – Keeps your prose active.
- The Basic Scene Checklist – A checklist for what to include in each scene.
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!
— K.M. Allan