When writing a novel, the amount of rough drafts created during the process can feel endless. Two rough drafts can quickly turn into three, four, or even twenty drafts, and by the time you’re on that twenty-fifth draft it can begin to feel like the final draft is only just a myth. Luckily, the five draft method is one answer to the endless draft problem that many writers face.
This method gives each draft a clear purpose and dictates some characteristics for each draft. Through this method you get the chance to experiment, be messy, and be a perfectionist all by the fifth draft. If you need help turning your hundreds of drafts into a few more manageable projects, the “Five Draft Method” may be the perfect method for you.
Draft 1: The Mess
The first draft in this process is the roughest, most disastrous draft of them all, but don’t worry, it is meant to be that way!
When you begin this first draft, don’t allow yourself to filter your thoughts too much just yet. Throw every thought that comes into your mind down on to the page and just let it exist. In this draft, you aren’t trying to weave an intricate plot just yet. Instead you are simply looking to construct the bare bones of your novel.
Once you have the main things like a general plot, a resolution, and a few main characters, keep tossing anything else on to the pile that you think you may want. Extra characters, side plots, different settings, toss it all! Shuffle that pile around until it is in some sort of order, then shape it into something resembling a plot. Your plot at this stage will have hundreds of holes, both large and small, and that is okay at this stage. Those holes will get sewn up eventually.
With your skeleton plot, begin exploring any ideas that come to mind. Even if one of your ideas seems wild, now is the time to test it while your draft is still in its early stages. Better to waste a few pages trying out a new setting or character than forgoing an idea that has the potential to be an incredible plot point.
You’ll know this draft is finished when you have a basic, coherent timeline of events, no matter how simple or cluttered it is. Now that the skeleton of your book is in place, time to move on to the second draft.
Draft 2: The Connections
You’ve made yourself a lovely mess. Now comes time to make sense of it and further develop small nuggets of plot gold. Your first draft should have been dedicated to finding the “what” of your plot, and now is the time to figure out the “why” behind those events.
There will be a lot of questions to ask yourself during this stage. Does the plot flow and the resolution of the book make sense? What are your characters’ goals and desires? Why are you writing this book? Answer as many of these questions now so that you don’t write yourself into a corner later down the line.
This stage may be made easier by the implementation of your favorite outline method, whether you love charts, pages of questions and answers, or just loads of character sketches. It can be much easier to make sense out of your messy first draft when you can drag and drop your favorite sentences into a character sketch or plot outline. A few charts may also come in handy in the coming drafts.
If you feel yourself getting stuck at this stage, try writing out the book jacket for your story. Sometimes summarizing your story in a succinct paragraph can help you figure out many of the big questions you’re facing right now. It can tell you what information you need the audience to know up front as well as what you want them to discover when reading your book.
You’ll know your draft is finished when it answers many of those big questions and provides a connected sequence of events. Once you’ve met these requirements, on to the next draft!
Draft 3: The True Rough Draft
Up until now, the drafts you’ve written have been more along the lines of lengthy brainstorm sessions, only focused on the most important elements of a plot. This draft is finally your comprehensive rough draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect by any means, but unlike a brainstorm session or outline, this draft should have smoothly flowing prose, a clear conflict, developed characters, and even literary devices.
In the past drafts, smaller ideas have been afterthoughts compared to the larger plot, but now is the time to begin weaving in all those little details and side quests. Develop minor plot points, make those side characters more three dimensional, and inject a good amount of emotion into your tale.
This draft may be the first one to truly resemble a full novel, yet still remember that this is only the third draft of five, so no need to spend hours agonizing over every little feature. Write down what you see fit, and if something is out of place, you can make sure to catch it later down the line.
If you started a chart to guide your second draft, keep using it to categorize the new minor details that are being added in this stage. When you eventually revise those details in the coming stages, having quick access to them in a chart can help the revision process move more smoothly.
Draft 4: The Cuts
Because you have now developed your first full rough draft, it is time to go through that draft with your first full round of edits.
The first thing you should develop for this stage is a checklist to guide your round of edits. As you make changes you can use this list to see what is working well and what needs an overhaul. Your checklist should include a variety of aspects of your story including big things like plot lines as well as small things like overused words and tiny inconsistencies.
In this stage, try a variety of different editing techniques to keep yourself from getting bored with such a thorough edit. Grab a few friends and act out the dialogue of your most important scenes to see if the writing feels natural. Try color coding your edits depending on the content being revised. Brainstorm as many synonyms for your overused words that you can, and keep trying to beat your own record! There are a multitude of things you can do at this stage to keep editing exciting, and now would be the time to try them all!
A big part of this draft is going to be cuts. While you may love nearly everything your story has to offer, there will likely still be a few sections that could stand to be removed, especially if your novel is on the lengthy side. Think back to your first draft where everything went on the page. That was a great place to start, but if every sentence from that first brainstorm made it into the final draft, your novel would be quite long.
Draft 5: The Test Drive
After four drafts, you probably need a break from your own story. Now is the time to test your piece with your readers.
Depending on your amount of readers and how thorough they are, you may be provided with pages upon pages of feedback, which can be hard to filter through, especially if each reader has conflicting opinions on one element of your book. Don’t go crazy trying to take every suggestion. Instead, use your reader’s feedback as clues to which draft you should circle back to.
If your readers are at all confused about your main plot, you may need to hop on back to draft one. However, if there are just a few small plot holes, revert to your fourth draft and give your novel another check-up. This stage of edits can be pretty fun as its almost like a mystery, trying to use the clues from your test readers to figure out how to best improve your masterpiece.
While your draft is in this stage, prevent yourself from repeatedly reading your draft thinking up hundreds of things that could have been better. Your readers are there to test the manuscript for you, so don’t go making tons of changes while they are still making their way through your draft. Make the changes after getting feedback and test them again, it is that simple.
When you and your readers finally feel your draft is the best it can be, your book may finally be in its final draft. If something still feels missing, let your draft sit and decide what to do with it at a later date. You may not ever feel that your novel is finished, and that is okay, but giving yourself a solid five drafts to find the perfect final draft is a great start.