A Humble Editor’s Opinion of What Your Final Draft Should Look Like


We’re up to “final draft” for today’s writing Definition of the Week, as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page... which means we’re down to the editorial wire here.

When a creative writer, non-fiction writer, short story writer or any other kind of writer starts talking about a final draft, that means he or she is almost ready to leap into the publishing process.

They’re either working on the last draft they’ll ever edit before they publish their piece, or they’ve completed the last draft they’ll ever edit before they publish their piece.

Either way, regardless of the verb tense being used, there are no drafts after the final one.

That’s why they’re called “final.”

As such, they should be as clean and tidy as possible. So if you’re a non-fiction writer, you should make sure that:

  • Your opening lines are intriguing enough to capture readers’ attention.

  • The facts you use are in place in a logical and coherent manner.

  • Your sentence structure is understandable, audience-appropriate and engaging.

  • Each paragraph flows well from one point to the next so that readers aren’t left confused or distracted.

  • There are no spelling or grammar errors lousing up your presentation.

  • The ending sums up your argument with a thought-provoking statement, final overarching point or ingenuous restatement of the thesis as introduced in the beginning.

  • Any and every source that needs to be cited has indeed been cited so that you’re not at risk of being sued into editorial oblivion.

If you’re a fiction writer, you should make sure that:

  • Your opening lines are intriguing enough to capture readers’ attention.

  • Your sentence structure is understandable, audience-appropriate and engaging.

  • Each paragraph flows well from one point to the next so that readers aren’t left confused or distracted.

  • There are no spelling or grammar errors lousing up your presentation.

  • The story’s characters are vivid and believable, with dialogue that fits each one’s age, gender, occupation, etc.

  • The plot is convincing and keeps readers turning the pages, wanting to know what happens next.

  • Whenever setting is introduced or re-established, it’s done so in a way that draws readers further into the story rather than bores them with unnecessary details.

  • The ending ties up everything that needs to be tied up so that your audience doesn’t want to throttle you after they’re finished reading over what you wrote.

There are other editorial checks to keep in mind, of course. But the ones above are the biggies.

Normally, in order to properly look out for so many facets of a 70,000- to 120,000-word manuscript, whether fiction or non-fiction, that’s going to take some time and effort, not to mention commitment.

That’s why you never want to stop editing and revising after the first draft, as I mentioned two weeks ago.

You also never want to stop editing and revising after the second draft.

In fact, I would advise a solid six or seven editorial rounds per manuscript before you’re ready to call it a final draft. Normally, this includes a point where you hand it over to a friend, family member or beta reader to review. And then, if at all possible, you’ll also want to hand it over to a professional editor or at least someone who edits like a professional.

Believe it or not, I’m not saying that last part to take your money. That’s why I mentioned the “someone who edits like a professional” clause. Because just as long as this trusted authority of yours has a firm grasp of what a fictional story or non-fiction narrative should and should not do – plus a good grasp of spelling and grammar – you should be fine.

Then, once you get it back from that source, you incorporate any necessary edits before you read it over hopefully one last time.

If you’re able to tick off all of those editorial statements above, then you’ve got a final draft on your hands and your manuscript is ready to proceed on to the publishing process.

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