Read: SYFPE Part 1
I spoke a couple of weeks ago about how to survive the no-man’s land of Editing Season; having your WIP novel removed completely from your control. My novel has since been returned to me, and I’ve started the process of final edits.
The developmental notes were incredibly useful, but it became clear that I had a lot of work ahead of me. Nothing pleased me more than to discover this; it made me realise that my novel was really worth something, and it was in my power to make it shine.
Here are the lessons learned from my first professional edit (including how I handled the edits I didn’t want to make).
The problems I loved to solve
MY CRUTCH WORDS
This is a vocabulary list of over-used words. These words can range from single description, to the habitual way you construct a sentence. Variety is key. Make a list of your crutch words and find a different way to explain yourself.
My Crutch Words are:
- “it was”
- NO DIMINISHING WORDS e.g. ‘Quite’.
- Awkwardly (Show, don’t tell)
That seems like an awful lot, right? After I deleted them or rearranged my sentences without them, there must have been nothing left! Nope. Still lots left to work with; still lots left to improve! Removing my Crutch Words made my novel immediately more streamlined, however, so I’m now keeping that list handy whenever I do my own editing.
Oh, what a nightmare, these many faces of mine.
The Elder Throne is a multi-character novel and each character wants their time in the lime-light. Unfortunately, characters are my weak point. According to my editor, I triumphed with the main cast (which was a pleasant surprise), but my support crew needed work. For instance, their voices on the page weren’t distinctive enough. Nothing differentiated their words from the words of their neighbour, or their enemy. Diction, accent, vocabulary, verbal ticks… these are all things I had to reconsider in my re-draft. Judging from Beta responses, this has worked well. One character, who was, to my mind, the weakest, was loved by several readers and I think it is mostly in part due to giving her a unique voice.
I have a run-away pen. I blame three years of studying Modernism and learning how to write in a ‘train-of-thought’ manner, but that doesn’t excuse me. My target audience for Elder Throne is Children 9-12 (or Middle Grade). A book like that is not really a forum for lengthy sentences riddled with semi-colons.
So I had to change. I had to make things more simple. Occasionally, I’d throw in a lengthy description for variety, but mostly I would stick to clear and concise.
Sounds easy? It really wasn’t. I had to dissect so many sentences, my head was spinning by the end. I think my book was better for it.
The problems I didn’t want to solve
Oh no! The dreaded author-editor disagreements!
My main character. On the whole, she was received really well by my editor, who gushed about her every so often on Twitter. At first, this made me giddy with glee, but then I started thinking that I was going to be found out, that I was clearly a fraud and that Editor would find me out.
It never happened, but during a discussion post-reading, Editor came up with an idea that she absolutely loved. She felt really strongly about this aspect of Anna’s character, and the symbolism it would mean for the book, but I wasn’t convinced. As in, really wasn’t convinced – I had the complete opposite view! I could see the merit in Editor’s words, however, but it flew in the face of the entire message: that Anna wasn’t different or special because of what she looked like, she was a whole, normal, flawed person just like everyone else.
So how did I go about expressing that?
Well, first of all, I didn’t respond immediately. I sat down and gave it some serious thought. I weighed the pros and cons of the proposed change, and tried to make it fit with Anna’s character, and the character of the villain, Janus. I simply couldn’t do it. Oh no, I thought, I was going to have to dismiss it out of hand and Editor would think I was unappreciative and unprofessional.
Instead, what I did was discuss it. I politely voiced my concerns about the change, and explained my point of view in depth. Thankfully, Editor was incredibly receptive, and understood my concerns, but still wholeheartedly believed that an aspect of her idea had real worth. In the end, we reached a compromise that (I hope and pray) pleases us both.
There. That wasn’t so bad!
Anna’s mum, Holly, wears dungarees. On my manuscript was noted ‘Do the kids really call them dungarees these days?’ and suddenly I felt incredibly old. I immediately Google’d ‘Dungarees’ to see what else they could possibly be called. I took my pair (yes, I have a pair) and showed them to my 12 year old nephew.
“What are these?”
“Dungarees,” he said. I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t old.
As it turns out, British people and American people have different words for dungarees. Overalls, etc. As I am British and Editor is American, I chose to ignore that change. Sorry, Editor!
What I learned
- Developmental Editors are wonderful. Seriously, give them a try!
- I also learned that what I’ve always thought to be true, is true: treat your book as a work of art to be improved. It’s so hard to be objective when you’ve spent so long on a novel, but they’re only words. Words can be improved upon, changed for the better. Wouldn’t you rather have your book be the best that it can be? It’s so hard to be offended by proposed changes when you know people are trying their hardest to help you.
- That when you have a wall of changes to make, just get your head down and do it. My method was making line changes in one session, then the big plot changes in another. It helped me break it up and make it manageable, instead of being faced with a wall of red lines.
There are still changes to be made, but these will be suggested by a group of people who are good at reading. Bring on the Betas!