This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Even if the idea of the three act structure makes you come out in a rash, this is the draft in which to think about the big picture. During this draft, you want to do the heavy lifting. It's the kind of editing which involves moving chapters and scenes around, cutting or adding new characters or POVs, and generally re-jigging the plot so that you are happy with macro level stuff.
Think about it, there's no point spending hours polishing prose that may be cut entirely or perfecting transitions which are going to have to be rewritten when your sequence of events changes.
Don't be afraid to be bold. Go into the book expecting to really take it apart and put it back together in a possibly entirely new way. Don't go in hoping to do the minimum. Trust me, you'll regret it down the line when you realise you have to go back and do it again.
While the first draft (or two or three) were more about telling yourself the story, you now want to look at it through your reader's eyes. Is this the best way for events to unfold? Is this the coolest way to reveal that bit of information? Does the plot make sense?
Some things to bear in mind while you're dong the structural edit:
There will be some big events. Stuff that you know has to happen to make your story work, and they will be told in scenes which are particularly fun or cool or exciting or emotional. Once you've identified these key scenes, you can use them to help you pace your book. Make sure they're spread out evenly throughout the narrative and not bunched up in one place.
Look out for scenes which drag and work out why. Are they just back story that could be dealt with in a paragraph of exposition or cut completely? There may be things that you (as the author) needed to know in order to write the first draft, but which aren't really part of the story.
By the same token, do you have important events described sketchily or in conversation or in flashback. Should these be brought forward and dramatised properly for full emotional impact (the old 'show, not tell' trick)?
Look at time in your novel and make sure it passes in a sensible fashion. Look out for glaring inconsistencies such as three days in a row which are all inexplicably Sunday.
Look at each of the main characters in turn and check that their arc (both internal and external) makes sense and is as interesting and satisfying as possible.
Look at minor characters and make sure they're pulling their weight. If you have a cast of thousands, you may find you can cut (or combine a few) of these bit parts.
If you have different POVs, read through each one and check that they are both necessary and distinct.
Once you've put your book back together again and you feel reasonably happy with the structure, pacing and character arcs, it's time to get into the detail. More on that next time.