So you’ve gone through and tightened your plot, strengthened your characters, confirmed that the dialogue is realistic, and shaped your world until it was so tangible you forgot you didn’t live there. Congratulations! You have a solid second draft! Feels good, doesn’t it?
Now it’s time… to create the (drum roll) THIRD DRAFT. We know what you’re thinking: wait, shouldn’t I be taking a break? Reconnecting with Netflix and friends? Or just Netflix?
Sorry, but no. You’re on a roll and you need to keep rolling.
Editing requires discipline and momentum. Whether you’re working on it eight hours a day every day, or during your forty-five minute lunch break Monday through Friday, or grabbing 20 minutes before your commute every day, you’re doing some serious work. Don’t stop now.
Serendipitously, your third draft will be all about momentum. Does your story have it? Is there a pace and/or structure that’s keeping the reader turning the page?
This is where you have to make some hard decisions about the structure of your story. Are you going to follow the classic formats (three act structure, eight point arc, etc.) or follow your own? Are you going to have a change in narration or setting with each chapter/break? Are you going to have one chapter flow into the next, or end each break on a cliffhanger, so when your reader says they’re just going to read one more chapter before bed, they wind up finishing the book at three in the morning — loving and kind of hating you when their alarm goes off the next morning?
While it’s tempting to fall back on classic structures and forcing your story into a mold, we recommend reading through what you have so far first. Chances are you’ll see some kind of structure already peeking through. It may be close to a classic format or it might be something completely new. Do what feels right for the story. The key is that it’s consistent throughout. Once you decide on your structure, make sure the work follows the shape from beginning to end. You shouldn’t ask your readers to fight to stay in your story — especially at three in the morning.
Once your story has a firm shape, like everything in life, it’s all about the details. You’ll need to go into every arc, scene, act and/or chapter and make sure they each achieve something that furthers the plot — whether it establishes an aspect of the setting, a facet of your character(s) or moves the action forward. Break down your story into smaller stories and make sure that they are essential.
If they aren’t essential, you have to either give them more depth, or cut them loose.
Just remember, if you really love a scene and desperately want to keep it, chances are it’s trying to say something but isn’t quiet there yet. Work on it, find its meaning and let it shine through.
Your number one task is to be brutally honest with yourself, though; if you can’t make it work, no matter how much you love it and how good it is on its own, it will only hurt the whole piece. Chocolate is amazing, but not on a steak. So if a scene doesn’t fit, even if the writing is impeccable, cut it. But paste it to a new document.
Who knows, it could be the pivotal ingredient to the second course/sequel!*
*Finish what you’re working on now first though!