The “Final” Draft

Rabbit - climbI’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?

18 Responses to “The “Final” Draft”

  1. 1 Carol Warner November 6, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks, Katherine! I find your blog particularly interesting and very helpful. I love your rabbit illustrations too. So simple and yet they convey so much.

  2. 2 cassandrajade November 6, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Really helpful check list. The one thing I check in every stage of drafting is continuity, and then I still get it wrong with something changing colour or position between descriptions.
    Good luck with your drafting and your novel.

  3. 3 kathleen noud November 6, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Actually, we seem to have the same editing checklist.

    The ‘reveal’ one is especially important for me. If there is a secret that I am slowly unveiling throughout the story, I need to make sure all the evidence is there from the beginning without bashing the reader over the head with it.

  4. 4 Karen November 6, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Another excellent post, Kath. I’m learning so much from you! And this couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve just signed up for the Year of the Edit next year with Kim Wilkins and I can’t wait. Editing freaks me out just a little. I’m alright with PB, can handle a junior novel but a full-length grown-up MS is just plain overwhelming!!

  5. 5 Katherine Battersby November 6, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Thanks for your lovely words, Carol!

    Cassandra, that’s exactly why I’m trying to do some more planning before I start this draft. Last draft I had a jaguar suddenly become a leopard (my writing partner still hasn’t let me live that one down…)

    Kathleen, I’ve really got to work on that in this draft. This story is full of puzzles, so I need to work on foreshadowing.

    Karen, glad this has been useful! I felt exactly the same way about editing a full novel prior to my ASA mentorship. Now I feel more confident, as I know you will after Kim’s brilliant guidance through YoE.

  6. 6 Debbie Johansson November 6, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Hi Katherine. I really enjoy ready your blog. Yet another good post, and I just might have to ‘borrow’ your list myself. I have three YA novels I need to edit and re-write, so clearly I don’t have a clue what a ‘final’ draft is! :)

  7. 7 Debbie Johansson November 6, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Doh! I don’t seem to have a clue how to type either. What I meant to say is I really enjoy READING your blog.

  8. 8 John Warwick Arden November 6, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    I LOVE the Well Read Rabbit! My favourite blog!

  9. 9 Katherine Battersby November 6, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    Debbie, it took me a few novels to figure out the whole editing thing! Seeing the way you’ve beautifully edited your comment, it looks like you’re already well on your way :)

    John, the rabbits are blushing.

  10. 10 Sheryl Gwyther November 7, 2009 at 11:07 am

    This is a good one to send out to all those who think writing books is easy and authors spend all day in their pjs having fun at the keyboard – umm, oops, that’s right we are having fun!!

    Long live stories and the creatives who bring them to life, I say.

  11. 11 Trudie Trewin November 7, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Great post, Kath. Full of good tips – I always try to attack too many things at once in a draft!
    Your blog is always so interesting,

  12. 12 Karen Tyrrell November 7, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Hi Katherine, Thanx for these Amazing Tips. I’ve just finished editing my kids SF and now I’ll be talking a final proof-read with this Checklist beside me. Karen :))

  13. 13 Joanna Gaudry November 7, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    Wonderful, informative post, Katherine. Thanks again for all your writing tips. I’m looking forward to doing ‘Year of the Edit’ with Kim Wilkins at the Queensland Writers Centre next year.
    Joanna :))

  14. 14 Katherine Battersby November 10, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Sheryl, it certainly can be fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also hard work!

    Good luck on that final proof-read Karen. It takes an awful lot of work and commitment to get there.

    Joanna, I’ve heard only wonderful things about Kim’s YoE – I look forward to hearing all about it goes for you.

  15. 15 Lynn Priestley November 10, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Hi Kath,

    This is a great post and so helpful, reminding me what to include. Great overview of a really difficult process.

  16. 16 katswhiskers November 15, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Kath,

    Reading this and seeing it broken into simple(:)) steps makes me think that maybe I could stretch myself and try writing some longer, meatier, ‘stuff’ – currently piled high in the too-hard basket. YOU make it look so easy… Well… okay… not so much easy – but achievable. Love your lists!

  17. 17 deescribewriting November 15, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Great blog post, Kath. Very comprehensive list. I think the only other thing I do is read it out aloud because this reveals to me any repetition or typos. I also look closely at any parts that made me ‘drift’ off while I was reading them. This indicates to me that there are boring bits that need to be livened up.


  18. 18 Trisha Puddle November 15, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    What a great blog, Katherine, and what a great list.

    When I do my final draft, I have to go back and check that I haven’t deleted a whole day from a scene and sent my whole MS out of wack.

    I also check that I haven’t repeated things. I can usually cut the word count down after that check.

    One tip I was given when doing a final edit, was to edit it backwards. You’d be surprised at how many things you can pick up that way, usually punctuation errors.

    Thanks for sharing it, Katherine. I’ll link it to my blog.


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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:


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