It’s the final post in the giveaway, so today I’ll let you in on one of the biggest secrets in the writing business. It’s something authors don’t often talk about…
The amount of times we go over a manuscript.
For me, the first draft is written in a heady mix of euphoria at this amazing idea I’ve had, and fear that I’ve actually forgotten how to write a novel and will never make it to the end. After months of torture, plotting problems, and literally dreaming about the story, it’s done. Hurray! Time to celebrate with an eggnog and a couple of mince pies, before quickly going over the book and neatening it up. Right?
Wrong. The editing process is a long and winding road to reaching the final destination of a perfectly polished novel. Albert Einstein (or Benjamin Franklin, there seems to be a debate over this) once said that the definition of madness was to keep on doing the same thing and hoping for a different outcome. In some ways, that’s what we authors do over and over and over.
First, I write the draft, a rough and ready affair, but at least the plot is down, I know it mostly works, and there’s now an ending (always handy). Once done, I go straight back up to the top of the manuscript, looking solely at the character threads on their own, to make sure their strands of the story make sense and are strong enough. I add in more sights, sounds, smells, and atmosphere. I check scenes are fully fleshed out, and that others are pared down. Characters are still revealing little secrets and traits about themselves, all of which are added. This is the magical moment when the novel moves from something flat to something rounded and real, which leaps from the page. This is when it comes to life.
Once done, I go straight back to the top and weave the strands together again, making sure it comes together as a whole. I find it really helpful at this stage to colour-code character sections. That way I can scroll through the entire document really quickly, looking purely at the colours and seeing if they are evenly distributed. Is there too much concentration of one character, for example, or has it been too long since one made an appearance. It sounds a bit bizarre, but I swear it helps, because it’s a way of ‘stepping back’ from the detail and being able to see at a glance the bigger picture of the book as a whole.
Once done, I go straight back to the top and add in chapters. I know, I know; this is weird. Most authors have the chapters from the beginning. Not me. When I’m writing the story I want to give it a chance to breath and flow, and don’t want to get bogged down. Picking out the chapters makes me really look hard at the pacing of the story as a whole. Is it moving fast enough? If I’m having trouble finding an interesting bit to place a break then it means the whole section may need reworking. After I’ve picked out the chapters, I rewrite the ending of each one slightly to tease the reader so that they keep on turning those pages rather than putting the books down.
Once done, I go straight to the top and go through every sentence, making sure I haven’t over-used a word or phrase throughout the book. I try to make the sentences tight but flowing. Some are there for action, short and punchy; some long and lyrical to add atmosphere. I am polishing my words, checking for mistakes, and getting everything just right so that the finished product is as close to perfect as it can be. The ex-journalist in me is obsessive about making sure timelines work, so this is also the stage I check and double-check that. Some authors use spreadsheets for this, but I’m an old-fashioned gal who simply writes everything down in a notebook, with dates at the top of the pages, and the storyline bullet-pointed in chronological order.
Once done, I go straight to the top and do a spell check of the document.
Once done, I go..oh, no, hang on, it’s finished! Thank goodness for that! Well, until I get structural changes from my editor, that is.
Having finished structural edits, the manuscript gets sent to my editor again. And returned to me in the form of line edits. After that are the copy edits, the proofreaders checks, and finals…
It may be maddeningly repetitious, but going over and over and over (and over) the novel is necessary. Each pass improves it. Think of a sculptor faced with a lump of wood. First, they might use a chisel to hew the rough shape, then a finer tool to pick out details, and then a coarse sandpaper to smooth the surface, before choosing a finer-grained sandpaper to go over it again, then an even finer sandpaper, until eventually the wood is glass-smooth to touch. That is what we are aiming for as writers – a novel so smooth that the reader has no idea of the effort that’s gone into it.
GIVEAWAY! How to enter
From 19 November until 30 November inclusive, my posts on this blog will contain a festive reference. Find it, and then either comment on the post or email InvisibleAuthor@outlook.com Every person who answers correctly will be entered into a prize draw. The competition closes on Thursday 7 December. The winners will be chosen at random and announced on Friday 8 December.
So, can you find today’s Christmas reference in this post? Let me know!
What am I giving away?
ONE lucky winner will receive a SIGNED COPY of Her Last Secret and some chocolate to indulge in while reading.
THREE lucky winners will receive a SIGNED COPY of The Darkest Lies and some chocolate to indulge in while reading.
ONE lucky winner will receive a SIGNED COPY of Flowers For The Dead and some chocolate to indulge in while reading.
TWO lucky winners will receive an audio book of Her Last Secret and some chocolate to indulge in while listening.
ONE very lucky winner will have a CHARACTER NAMED AFTER THEM in my next book. *
WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
* Please note that the character will have your name but will not be based in any way upon you or any person living or dead. They may be a good person or a bad person – they could even be a killer. So be prepared! The part they play may be large or small. Entry into the competition is taken as agreement to these conditions. Thank you.