Back in June 2018 I received a contract for a third novel in the Inspector James Given series (it didn’t start out as a series but has just grown that way) and, despite my slackness until I agreed a deadline, I completed the first draft by the last week in November. Hurrah!
I even got as far as devising a working title – it’s been James Given #3 for the last 5 months but now is called A Patient Man for the time being.
Unfortunately this is just the start of the process and there are many hours of work still ahead before it’s ready for a professional editor to take a look. Certainly I could just check it for typos, package it and send it off, there are plenty of novels out there where the author seems to have taken that approach, but then it wouldn’t be the best I could make it would it? And that’s what I want it to be, so the hard hours have to be put in.
I suspect every writer edits their work differently, and there are lots of guides out there to self-editing, so all I can talk about is how I’m attacking it. There are two main issues to address at this stage:
- I’m about 15,000 words short of my target length;
- I need to make sure the narrative of each of the story strands works from beginning to end.
I write using Scrivener on my laptop and on my iPad but prefer to read a hard copy, so the first job is to print a full manuscript, double spaced, punch it and put it in a ring-binder. The general advice seems to be to put it away for 6 months to give distance, but I’m not sure that works for me. Firstly, I’ve an awful memory so would probably forget where I put it. Secondly, I suspect that if I put it away I wouldn’t pick it up again, having moved on to new projects. Thirdly, there’s that deadline.
So, with my hard copy in hand, I skim read it, looking for time/day references or specific real events which provide a date stamp. I then produce what I should probably have produced before I started writing, a timeline. Because I’m that sort of geek, and because it’s easier to amend than a paper version, I tend to produce this as an Excel spreadsheet. Then I find that I need to go over the manuscript several times making margin notes to correct the times/days. This can, of course be very frustrating, and produce problems which seem almost insoluble – in this novel I had the declaration of the Second World War, which I’d have preferred (for other events) not to be on a Sunday, but it was, and nothing I could do about that so just had to make adjustments.
With these timing errors noted and rectified as far as possible I read the hard copy again, trying to avoid looking at typos, bad phrasing, etc, (that’s a later stage), making margin notes where further explanation might be needed, where gaps in the narrative arc have occurred and where opportunities exist to increase the word count. This latter one is really dependent on the others because adding words just for the sake of it isn’t a good idea, the reader simply finds it annoying to read verbiage.
Having read from beginning to end, without making any changes on the digital version, I then begin making the amendments in Scrivener, making sure I tick off each one on the hard copy.
This is the stage I’m at now. When it’s complete I’ll then read again and perhaps ask someone else to read it, still looking for errors in the narrative.
After that I’ll look for opportunities to increase internal and external conflict – the lifeblood of any good story. Then the work will start on phrasing, typos, repeat words, redundancies, excessive adverbs, clichés, pacing, etc. So not much there then.