Thursday, 7 April 2011

From First Draft to Final Manuscript

Phew, you got there!  Hero and heroine have overcome all the obstacles you threw at them and they’ve reached their ‘Happy Ever After’ ending.  Triumphantly you write (or type) ‘The End’ and get ready to send off your MS. to the publisher of your choice. 

Whoa, hold on a minute!  This is the First Draft – and there’s still a lot of work to do. 

One good piece of advice I’ve read is to do nothing for a week or so.  Catch up on all the housework you’ve been ignoring, go pull up some weeds from the garden, treat yourself to a lunch or dinner with friends – whatever will keep you away from your novel for a while.  You’re never going to be completely objective about it, but after a break from the intensity of creating it, you can come back to it with fresh eyes.

What Next?  The first step is to read through the whole story.  Reading it out loud can often highlight awkward sentences and show where your word flow can be improved.

Look for obvious mistakes, such as spelling and punctuation.  Some people advocate printing it out, chapter by chapter, since the ‘technical’ errors and typos are often easier to spot on a printed page, rather than on your computer screen.

Watch out for inconsistencies and continuity errors.  Have the hero’s eyes changed from blue to brown?  Did the heroine arrive at work in the morning and half an hour later go off for dinner with the hero?  One error, from a best-selling author, made my eyebrows lift:  A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars.  Fifteen feet away is chillingly close?  

Check for clichés and find a different way to express them.  Look at your sentence structure.  Do you have a series of sentences starting with ‘She’ or ‘He’?  Re-write them and vary the start of each sentence.  Delete unnecessary dialogue tags and/or too many synonyms for ‘said’.  The word ‘said’ is hardly noticed by a reader, whereas a plethora of synonyms like retorted, exclaimed, gasped, muttered, ordered etc etc can distract reader from what the characters are actually saying.  Find action verbs instead of using adverbs.  ‘She said nervously’ can be replaced with some action like lacing and unlacing her fingers.   

Look for over-used words and phrases.  You may already be aware of some of them.  I knew that my heroine’s heart jerked, jumped, thumped, pounded, quickened, thudded, leapt and did so many other things that the poor girl was in danger of an imminent heart-attack.  In Word you can use ‘edit’ and then ‘find’ to hunt out your over-used words. 

What about those you never realised you over-used?  Sometimes, on reading through your work, you can spot them but is a useful tool for highlighting these words.  You can copy and paste a chapter into a panel and wordle will create a word-picture.  The words you have used most will appear in much larger print in the picture.  I guarantee you’ll be surprised, if not shocked.  I know I was!  
Wordle: blog 2
This is the wordle word-picture of this blog

The editing process can be time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort.  There is plenty of other advice in books and on websites about editing, so I’ll end with one last point.  Don’t over-edit!  Know when to stop ‘tweaking’ otherwise you’ll never have that Final Manuscript ready to send off!  


  1. Good advice, Paula. You can visit for editing help as well. I've used that one. I'll have to try the one you mentioned. Thanks for the tip!

  2. I've done the print out chapter by chapter way many times, plus I read it out loud. But even with that, I doubt I find it all.

  3. Thanks for the wordle tip! The whole post is useful, but that was a piece I wasn't aware of. :)

  4. Congratulations on your story! This is fantastic advice, thank you!

  5. Thank you all, I'm so pleased you found it useful.

  6. Great advice, Paula! Whenever I complete a piece of writing on my computer I have to print it out and read in a quiet corner. I get a much better feel of the story and as you say, it's sometimes easier to spot typo and spelling errors..