Draft 5: I have to cut how much?
You’re halfway done, almost there – now CUT. Cut, cut, cut. I tell all my writing students that each piece they finish should be the shortest version of itself possible. Sometimes the shortest version of something is three pages and sometimes it’s 1,000, but this is where you take everything, every detail, every scene, sometimes even every character, and put them on trial. Does this scene really need to be here? Did you write a very similar scene a few chapters back? Yes? Well, which one is better? Then the other has to go.
Does this character add to the story or are they just a placeholder? Consider tweaking the character or letting them go. In addition to repetition, look at your long paragraphs: Are they a little too expository? Maybe even long-winded? Really look at those words, those phrases, even those beautiful descriptions, and decide whether they truly help or hurt your reader’s experience. William Faulkner didn’t say “kill your darlings” for nothing. Look at everything that does not add to your story and cut. Then cut some more.
Warning: This draft is painful.
Draft 6: Does this sound right?
Sometimes I call this “the poetry draft” because what you’re looking at here is the use of language and how it flows in the novel. This is where you painstakingly mine every sentence. Is each sentence perfect, not just as a sentence but also as a sentence in your unique novel? How are your word choices? Did you overuse adverbs? (A friend of mine searches for all words ending in –ly and cuts about two-thirds of them). Is there a clear narrative voice? Really craft your writing here, your words and the flow, just as a poet might. Reread each sentence a few times to make sure it all works. This draft takes time, but it’s worth it.