The Rule of Three

A while back, I wrote about editing your drafts so you can submit your most polished work. But sometimes it’s hard to look at your rough draft and make changes. How do you go about making it better?

Making this face doesn’t help.
Image courtesy of MorgueFile.

I commit all my sins during my first draft, which includes TV and film references, telling more than showing, and ambiguity. After that, I have to let it sit for a few weeks while I work on other things, and then go back to make my edits. That’s if I’m working alone. Sometimes, though, I have friends interested in taking a look and making suggestions and edits. That’s when I’m really happy.

But I always like more than one person to look at my work, and have discovered that the magic number is three.

If you have three people interested in reading your work and can trust their feedback, you’re in a lot of luck.

The Rule of Three for editing has become really important to me and it’s helped me improve my writing. Oh, sure, I still commit all my egregious sins in my rough draft (because why not, it’s just a rough draft and my main goal for a rough is to just get the story out of my head an onto the computer), but my final draft is a winner.

When you employ the Rule of Three, try it this way and see if it works for you:

  • Send your rough to your three friends/beta readers/editors. Ask them for their honest feedback.
  • Wait for their advice.
  • If you find something that all three agree on for feedback, change it without question.
  • If only one pipes up about something that should be changed, but you really like it, you might be able to keep it. But if two of them are piping up, you may want to seriously consider revising.
  • If they disagree on certain changes, go with the one you prefer.
  • Don’t be sensitive. Take their critique seriously, but not personally.
I’ve found that taking their advice makes for a better story altogether. 
For example, I had written a passage about a character that was completely irrelevant to the story, but I really liked it and wanted the reader to have the background on his family. All three of my readers told me to take it out, and I refused because I was attached to it. Finally, it went to a publisher who picked it up (the anthology that features the short story is coming out in October), and the editor strongly suggested it be removed. I agreed to the changes.
To be honest, it’s really a much better story with improved pacing since I removed it. Now I’m not so stubborn or attached.
Consider using the Rule of Three for your next manuscript. Remember, it’s all about making your story better.
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