Novel Writing: Heading into the Third Inning

I have to say that the third draft is probably my favorite when hammering out a book. “Shouldn’t the final draft be your favorite?” I hear you ask. Well, no. The final draft is a bit anti-climatic. It’s thrilling to be done, but then I have to face the daunting tasks of marketing, publishing and turning a stack of blank pages into the next book.

threeFor me, the third draft is exciting. I’ve conquered the blank-page phobia of the first draft. I’ve sorted out most of the major plot problems in the second draft. By the third draft, I’ve thrown up a super sturdy framework for my building and now it’s time to do a little rearranging, decorating and shoring up of the structure. You know, the fun stuff!

At the Top of Third Inning

As with any draft (besides Draft #1), the third draft starts with a read through. In On Writing, Stephen King recommends doing your read through in a single day. Maybe I’m a slow reader, but this sounds completely impossible especially when I’m paying close attention to any inconsistencies and having to make notes of changes I want to make. Still, to keep the story as fresh in my mind as possible (important for picking up on those inconsistencies), I try to complete the read through within seven to ten days.

Before writing this post, I never knew I was so familiar with baseball jargon!

I never knew I was so familiar with baseball jargon !

I have to admit, as I headed into the read through of my second draft of The Voyage: Book Two of The Osteria Chronicles, I was scared. Draft #2 felt like a complete bungle. In my super critical mind my characters had no motivation or depth, my plot was all over the place, my settings bland. The trepidation over how horrible I’d imagined the draft to be had me on the verge of abandoning the Osteria project altogether.

But then I did the read through and had a “Holy Crap!” moment. Yes, I still have a few issues to work out and a handful of new chapters to write, but for the most part, the draft told a great story and the characters did not seem like cardboard cutouts of hero and villain. After the read through, a huge dose of motivation and excitement for the project hit my system. I was ready for Draft #3 in a big way!

Stepping Up to Bat

As with the first read through in preparation for Draft #2 (see my post “The Terrible Twos of Drafting” for details), I make notes as I’m reading both on the page and in a notebook. In the notebook, each chapter receives comments about the major areas of work to be done and a star rating based on how much work needs to be done (one for “almost perfect,” five for “this is a horrendous piece of writing”).

If you’ve adopted my star rating system, you should notice a huge shift in the number of high-star and low-star ratings. For example, in The Voyage, Draft #1 had 31 four- or five-star chapters; Draft #2 only earned 16. Draft #1 had only 15 two- or three-star chapters; Draft #2 received 26. Tracking these shifts is a great way to see how you’re progressing and to stay motivated.

Finding the Sweet Spot

In Draft #3 my main goals are to finalize any plot issues (which should have grown pretty small by now), to continue to develop and deepen the characters, and to rearrange chapters/scenes, if needed. This is also the draft where I sit down and truly focus on using my words to create the mood, enhance the setting, add interest to dialogue, and to describe the characters’ appearances and behavior. Other word craft work includes weeding out passive verbs, enhancing lazy adjectives, cutting out repetitive words, and developing descriptive phrases that truly paint a picture – in other words, this is the Thesaurus Draft.

YAY! I'm on Draft Three!

YAY! I’m on Draft Three!

Some writers may dwell on word crafting in Draft #1, but I prefer to wait until Draft #3 because the stress of creating a story is over, the worry over if the story makes sense is behind me and I can allow my brain to relax, conjure up the images I want my readers to “see” as they read, and turn those images into words. Watching the story truly morph into a well-developed tale is what makes Draft #3 so exciting.

Running the Bases

So once the read through is done, once I’ve organized what I need to tackle in Draft #3, how do I organize my work? Unlike Draft #2 where I tackle the chapters by star rating, I tackle the chapters of Draft #3 by character. This may not work for everyone especially if you have a book where only one character is the narrator. In this case, you may want to work by star-rating once more or by plot line. Again, working the chapters out of order prevents the repetitive boredom of working your novel from beginning to end over and over.

In The Osteria Chronicles series, each chapter is told through the viewpoint of one character. To ensure the character’s arc and actions flow well, I use Draft #3 to revise by character. For example, Hermes has five chapters in The Voyage. When I work on Hermes, I work all those chapters in order before continuing on to another character. Typically, I prefer to work the minor characters (those with fewer chapters) before working the major characters.

Other than to track my progress, I don’t use the star ratings too much in Draft #3, but the ratings do help me judge how much work I’m facing each day as I sit down to revise and try to turn all those two- three- four- and five-star ratings into ones.

Bottom of the Third

By the end of the third draft, I typically have something very close to how the final version of the novel will look. The story will be mostly set (perhaps with some minor timeline issues to fix), the characters will seem like real people, and the world the characters move through will feel mostly tangible. Of course, there will still be some minor decorating, some embellishing of language, some further removal of passive verbs and lazy adjectives, but that’s what Draft #4 is for.

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