So, you’re writing a novel, eh? Well that’s a humdinger. Quite the doozy you’ve got there. But think about it – by this point you’ve scrawled out your soul during the first draft, you’ve fallen into a brief convalescence-coma, and then you bravely set out to write and edit the second draft of your novel.
What next? Writing and editing the third draft of your novel, of course. You’ve come this far, you can do it! The end is in sight (though admittedly still a way off). But the point is, whereas with the first draft you sprinted a stretch, and then ran a marathon with the second, this draft can gambol along at a gentler jog. Gentle for those old creaking knees, though your brain still has to be in gear.
At this stage, different manuscripts will be at different stages. One writer will feel pretty darn good, having completed a much better story than the first draft. But some writers will have encountered new issues, and might feel even worse. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY FINE. If you’re feeling like you’re aware of a lot more holes, all it means is that you understand your story fantastically enough to see the gaps in the web. Don’t forget that this is a great achievement!
So, I’m going to approach the writing and editing of the third draft of your novel from different viewpoints, so however you feel at the end of draft 2 – there’s a next step for you.
“Draft 2 is in a far better shape than draft 1… I feel great!”
Woohoo! This is where we’d all like to be at the end of writing the second draft. It’s not only about planning either, sometimes it also depends on the time you’ve spent, how complex your project is, or how experimental you’re being. But anyway – it’s great news!
So what next? By now you’ve most likely created the framework for your novel (unless any curveballs get thrown later), and now you’re looking at tying up loose ends, adding colour, tone, deepening meaning.
- Like all novel-writing stages, start with a thorough read through. As you’re reading, write notes on each chapter in a notebook. How does it make you feel, what’s missing, is there a disconnect between the chapter behind and ahead? Are you missing any motifs you want to repeat? Are there any remaining inconsistencies? Do you need to move chapters around, or rearrange any events?
- Create a new outline. Use big paper! This time, make the outline a timeline, stretching from the start of the book to the end. If your novel flicks back and forward in time, you might instead create a timeline for your protagonist’s life, making sure everything happens in the right order.
- … And leading on from this, create a timeline for each character. At this point you really need to start fleshing them out with backstory, motivations, a voice. Writing out a timeline will help you to see where they’re going and what they want. I actually use Google Images to find a picture of someone who looks like the character I’ve imagined and attach it to the timeline. Having a physical person looking back at me helps a lot!
- From your read through and notes, make a list of repeating motifs, symbols, metaphors, and make sure you’re happy with where they appear and why. Do they reappear enough? Are they too frequent?
- Work on your beginning chapter and your ending chapter. At this point you should really have a good idea of how your timeline plays out and what you want your story to say. Your first and last chapter are your frame, and they have to be perfect. PERFECT. Not only that, but your first chapter has to immediately grab a reader’s attention either by action or (my preference) by intrigue. Your last chapter has to be one that stays with a reader even after they’ve closed the book. Does your ending need to tie everything up? It doesn’t have to tie up your action, but it DOES need to tie up your character arc. What have they learnt, and how have they changed since the beginning?
- Get crafty with words. This is point where you can go to town with language. Don’t just stop at correcting typos and clunky lingo, add your own personal flourish, similes, oxymorons. Get creative!
“I’m happyish with draft 2, but I’m bored of it. I’m worried that my story is too dull…”
This is perhaps the most common way to feel by the end of draft 2. You can see how far you’ve come, but you’ve pored over the details so much that the story doesn’t shine as much anymore.
Firstly, DO NOT WORRY. Of course you’re bored! You wrote this massive story from cover to cover, second guessing every character move, scenic description, or full stop. You’re not looking at it like a reader, you’re looking at it like a writer, like an architect. A new reader will be mystified by the skin your story wears, whereas you’re looking at the pipes and brickwork. Never fear, this is normal.
If you’re happy with the progress you’ve made, follow the same steps as the ‘I feel great!” persona above. But if you’re reeeeaaaalllly worried that your story lacks action, plot down the scenes or chapters of your story on a timeline (use big paper. Big paper helps with big ideas). Grab some coloured pencils and (depending on the tone of your novel) shade in each scene with a different colour according to whether the scene is:
- Character-driven or action-driven. I don’t want to say what the perfect balance is here, because I don’t think there should be one. Be experimental. But I would say that there does need to be both aspects there in some proportion, or a reader will either have no-one to care about or will be constantly waiting for something to happen.
- Is a scene is driven by your protagonist’s actions or is it stuff ‘happening to him/her’? Too much stuff just happening to him/her might well mean that there isn’t enough drive carrying your story forwards. Think about those scenes and how your character might enact little acts of resilience. No-one is ever truly passive. We all rebel, even in little microscopic ways.
- Shade according to tension levels. Which scenes are tense, full of drama, or ominously waiting for something to happen? Can you see arcs emerge, or emotional swoops? Hopefully! Otherwise, maybe add a few scenes to mix it up.
“Urgh, it’s all crap. I’ve destroyed everything. I’ve lost the plot!”
Firstly, it might just be that your plot is fine, and maybe you’re just bored of it all. And frankly if you were reading any book over and over again like this you’d hate it too!
Your story might still have problems though. If you really think this might be the case, if might be worthwhile going back to my post on writing and editing of second draft of your novel. Don’t see it as a step back – it’s really not. Every book has its own number of drafts, and some need to go through this stage a couple of times before an author can see the light.
But if you’re still struggling, stick the manuscript in a drawer and forget about it. Go out and get a margarita. Eat a huge slice of cake. Stroke a cat. Paint a portrait of your dog. It might just be that you need time away so you can come back and ruthlessly tear that story apart, rebuilding it into something remarkable.
So that’s it! By the end of this stage you should have something that looks quite like the final result. If you’re looking for some further advice, take a look at my top 5 free resources for writers. You might repeat this ‘third draft’ scenario again, or you might not. Who knows. The only way to find out is to do it.
I’m hoping that one of these stages will suit your frame of mind on the cusp of embarking on writing and editing the third draft of your novel. At this point all authors leave the flock and go their own way and work at their own pace, and that’s a good thing. After all, you want your novel to sound like you, so you should write like you too.