I’m about to start the final draft of a mid-grade novel. I say final with a wry smile, because I’m well aware that if it finds a publisher there will be many more. So this is the final one before I send it to my agent. The previous draft involved a lot of rewriting, where I focussed on story pacing, structure, plot and developing the characters. This draft I’ll focus on polishing and tightening.
The next week or so will be spent doing some final planning and research before the hard work starts. I approach final drafts by going through the story chapter by chapter, focussing on a specific list of things I need to develop (as a dedicated Virgo, I love a good list). Lay people often think that many things on my list just naturally arrive in a story, and sometimes they do, but for me they’re not consistently there in early drafts. Early on I’m so caught up in plot, tension and the delivery, that the small elements that ground a story in reality and make it visceral often get overlooked. It’s the later drafts where I make sure EVERY chapter and scene works as hard as it needs to.
Some of the specifics on the list are the same for each novel:
- Characterisation: ensuring each character is described consistently and that every interaction reveals their unique personality (quirks, strengths and weaknesses)
- Dialogue: making sure it rings true and that each character sounds unique
- Weather: weather rarely features until my later drafts – I have to make myself think about seasonal change and its impact on clothing choices, events and character mood
- 5 senses: ensuring I use the different senses to describe any event (instead of simply relying on visual clues)
- Poetry of Language: this is what I call making your words sing. I try to focus on each sentence, then each paragraph, making sure they read in a way that rolls off the tongue
Then there are things on the list that are individual to each story. These are some things specific to my current novel:
- Humour: this story’s voice is quirky, so I need to make sure the tone is consistent throughout and that I’m exploiting every opportunity for humour
- Time Pressure: the characters only have several days to solve their core problem, and the time pressure is vital to convey in order to maintain the tension
- Flora / Fauna: the story is set in the Andes, so I need to convey a realistic sense of the wildlife present
- Reveals: there are several ‘reveals’ in the story which lead to the climax and ultimate twist ending, so I need to make sure I’m building up to these and explaining them adequately (without info dumping)
While doing this draft I’ll also try to tighten the writing, cutting back the words like a weed wacker. In my humble opinion nearly every final draft could be bettered by decreasing the word count. I’m obviously not suited to writing massive, rambling tomes: I love a good concise tale, with room for the reader to bring their own ideas to the table.
So, what have I missed? What do others focus on in that “final” draft?