Not even William Gibson saw this nightmare coming. So stay safe and stay home. Read a book, or better still, learn how to write your own by reading my previous articles How To Write The First Draft Of Your Novel and How To (Re)Write The Second Draft Of Your Novel.
Then read this latest installment, How To (Re)Write The Third Draft Of Your Novel below…
How can I help you (re)write the Third Draft of your novel? Well, I’m going to offer you some practical advice and explain the creative processes which have helped me over the years. I’ve been honing my craft writing short stories for the past ten years and although I may not yet be a published author, I have just completed my debut novel. So, to reiterate, this article isn’t about becoming the next Stephen King or Ernest Hemingway. Far from it. This article is simply about the craft and breaking down the mystique behind the novel writing process so that you, too, might find some encouragement and believe it is obtainable.
Have A Cigar
“The first step – especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money – the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.”Chuck Palahniuk
Congratulations on reaching the end of your Second Draft. Hopefully you still have your sanity, marriage and job intact after navigating the perilous world of creative writing, while also juggling the many demands and pitfalls of modern life. Now reward yourself and your supportive partner, friends or family. Then have a cigar and dust down that bottle of vintage Port from your cellar (no, I don’t have one either!) that you’ve been saving for the end of the world, and admire your manuscript. Yes, you really did write those eloquent words and somehow made it to the end; unlike thousands of others. Hold on to that feeling of contentment and relief.
Savour the moment. It won’t last long.
Now you’ll be tempted to show your shiny new manuscript to a friend, a partner, or family member. You might even possibly be tempted to post it somewhere on the internet for the whole world to read. Stop. Take a breath.
The work isn’t finished.
There is still the Third Draft to revise, but the good news is this won’t take long.
What Is The Purpose Of The Third Draft?
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”– Stephen King
The main purpose of the Third Draft is to correct GRAMMAR.
Now is the time to take a moment and re-read your manuscript and appraise the grammar, looking for errors. This draft also concerns spelling, the overall novel structure, approaching Beta readers, and a few other issues. But we’ll get to those later.
So what is your Achilles heel? For most people it’s grammar. So pay attention to grammatical errors throughout your story and correct your mistakes. If there’s something you don’t understand you can simply consult Google, check the Oxford Dictionary, or like most people on a Game Show, ask a friend.
It’s okay to admit you have a blind spot in your understanding. Everybody does.
Most authors have poor grammar, but you’d never know it because they have an experienced editor that helps them to correct it at this stage. For everyone else though, now is the time to research, learn and correct. If you want a confession, then here it is : I’ve never understood the difference in language usage between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’. God knows why, maybe I skipped class that day, but for as long as I can remember I’ve always mixed the two up. So you know what? When it came to revising the Third Draft of my debut novel, Consider Him Human, I knew I had to face this embarrassing flaw. Despite feeling stupid for not knowing, and being somewhat afraid to admit it, I learnt something new. And I taught myself the difference in less than ten minutes using Google. Because of this I never have to worry about a glaring gap in my grammatical knowledge, which will save me a hell of a lot of time when correcting the third draft of my next novel.
So don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and get good at grammar.
Getting The Most Out Of Microsoft Word When You’re Broke
“Be your own editor / critic. Sympathetic but merciless!”– Joyce Carol Oates
Now for some practical advice. If you’re revising your manuscript and using Word or Windows, then your new best friend is the Find and Replace tool. You can activate this simply by pressing CTRL and F simultaneously on the keyboard, then selecting the second Tab option, Replace, from the dialogue box. Word will now instantly Find your chosen erroneous words and Replace consistent mistakes with this simple correction tool – amending the whole document in seconds. When I revised my novel I quickly realised that using my old broken computer keyboard to write a novel might not have been the best idea. For some reason the quotation mark button never worked so I used the apostrophe symbol instead. Big mistake. This meant the whole manuscript was inappropriately formatted with thousands of grammatical errors and every single character quotation was wrong! But by using the Find and Replace function I was able to correct the problem in a matter of minutes, instead of days of grinding manual labour.
How is your spelling? Use Word’s Review Tab on the main navigation bar and select the Spelling and Grammar function to comb through your manuscript. But remember it’s not perfect. It won’t find everything but it will help highlight an abundance of obvious typos. After I spellchecked my Third Draft in Word I assumed it had found everything, until I ran it for a third time, and to my surprise, it found more errors. So the lesson here is to remember to run it more than once, for peace of mind.
In the words of the Commodores, once, twice, three times a lady.
I should also mention here that if you’re also a penniless writer using Word, then you need to observe the unsuspecting green line beneath your text. Pay attention to the green lines and you may spot that evil little gremlin, the blank unnecessary space, between words. It’s very satisfying to delete them. The green line will also appear beneath bad sentence structures, identifying them as incorrect, usually during Spellcheck. But you don’t have to agree with everything Word features. In fact, you can ignore most of these warnings because Word is limited in its understanding usage of the English language. If you don’t agree with me, then imagine what it would make of James Joyce’s literary output.
Remember you are the writer. You have artistic licence.
How Can You Improve The Narrative Structure?
“I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.”– Toni Morrison
It’s important to consider your novel’s structure during the Third Draft. Structure can be very useful in conjuring mystery by omitting pertinent information that will leave your readers desperate to discover more. In fact, one of the standard structure tropes in crime fiction occurs when an unidentified killer mysteriously murders someone during the prologue, leaving the rest of the book driven to solve it.
When I approached the Third Draft of Consider Him Human it quickly became apparent that I had overloaded my prologue with far too much information. I realised it would be far more interesting to divulge less, and provide more details in later chapters, when the protagonist discovered them for himself. The reader didn’t need the author to explain it for them. With this in mind I re-edited my prologue to make it more mysterious and succinct. Then drip fed information during subsequent chapters, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to the explanation, which left readers (hopefully) wanting more.
So what can we learn from this?
Improving the structure by reordering the linear order of your novel can vastly improve the story. If you don’t believe me then try re-reading some of your favourite novels, paying close attention to how they have been constructed. Then consider how you can further dramatise your manuscript’s events by placing them in an alternative order. You’ll be surprised how satisfying this can be.
Are Your Characters’ Names Always Changing?
“You can fix anything but a blank page.”– Nora Roberts
Another minor but important consideration when revising the Third Draft of your manuscript is naming conventions. When I approached this draft I suddenly realised that I had decided on better, more fitting names, half way through novel without letting the characters know. Two of my secondary characters, Hideo Okanami and Miss Matsuda, were originally called Hideo Okinami and Miss Hokasi. Now check back at those names and play spot the difference.
It’s a subtle but important detail when suspending the readers’ disbelief.
But don’t worry if you have made this mistake, too. Simply use the aforementioned Find and Replace Tool in Word, and all is forgiven.
Print Out Your Manuscript And Believe It’s Real
“The hard part about writing a novel is finishing it.”– Ernest Hemingway
I’m not going to get into the specifics of preparing your manuscript because that is a huge topic, which I’m not going to cover here. However, I would suggest a basic course of action : Use standard PC or Mac System fonts like Arial or Times New Roman, apply double spacing, and render your work as a PDF to embed the fonts. These are industry standards that make a manuscript look professional, and will render your formatting correctly on a variety of platforms.
Once you’re happy with your prepared manuscript I would advise finding a local printing company that specialises in small digital runs, then enquire about their rates for printing and binding. They may ask for your technical requirements so make sure to get your manuscript printed single sided for the tactile task of proofing, and Wiro bound (ugly metal spirals) using a minimum of 100 gsm paper weight – which will save hours reordering the manuscript if you accidentally drop the pages. It’s a subjective preference, but in all honesty it’s not important to get your unproofed manuscript Perfect Bound (glued spine like a real book) at this stage, because it will inevitably be laden with mistakes. While Wiro Binding may look ugly, it is an incredibly practical and tactile to flick through and annotate.
Why do you need to print out your unproofed manuscript, you may ask? Because proofing a manuscript physically with a highlighter and a pencil will stop you becoming complacent. Attempting this on a screen will most likely lead to insanity, laziness or blindness.
Save time, not money. Get it printed.
There is no greater feeling than holding your completed manuscript in your hands. I think it was Neil Gaiman who said “a book is a dream that you hold in your hands.” He’s not wrong. Hold it in your hands, caress it, stroke it, leaf through the pages but don’t actively look for mistakes at this stage, just believe it’s real; don’t worry about proofing it just yet. After years of work you can finally show it to another human being.
You may ask yourself, did I really write that exquisite sentence? That’s damn good, but I don’t remember writing those words…
Believe it, baby, you did.
Who Are Your Beta Readers?
“Remember: When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right.”– Neil Gaiman
Now carefully choose two or three trusted readers from your life and send them your shiny new manuscript. Ideally they should be people who will give you an honest, objective opinion and won’t mind offending you ie not a family member. In a best case scenario that person should be someone from your writing group, a close friend who is an avid reader, or someone you trust.
Now wait patiently for them to read your manuscript at their own pace.
During this difficult time it’s best to do something productive, rather than bug them. Try writing a short story to clear your mind of the all-consuming novel monster that has overtaken your brain for the past three years. Once your trusted Beta readers give you their critiques, think about how long it took them to read your work. If they finished it quickly, then it’s a good indication that your manuscript’s heart is alive and beating. If they took a long time reading it then you may need to think about using a manuscript defibrillator, identifying and rewriting the chapters that lost their interest.
Be prepared for criticism and remember Beta readers are on your side.
Always be gracious when listening to your Beta readers’ appraisals – they are trying to help you improve your work. They will undoubtedly spot plot holes, inconsistencies and abstract ideas that are confusing and detract from the narrative. You will naturally be defensive, angry and disagree, at first.
Put down the gun and trust your Beta readers. They are usually right.
You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but always be open minded and prepared to make changes. Now consider your Beta readers’ suggestions, return to your manuscript and apply them at your own discretion. Remember you are the author and the manuscript will ultimately bear your name and no one else’s. So make sure you’re comfortable with any changes you make.
Now let me offer some parting advice and a word of warning : Although the actions mentioned in this article will undoubtedly help improve your manuscript, on no account should you now consider it proofed. The final proof comes much later, in another draft.
Until next time…when we learn How To (Re)Write The Fourth Draft To The Final Draft Of Your Novel, Into Infinity And Beyond.