Lessons Learned During the Edit of a Novel
Paws on the Ground Update:
Many have asked about the status of my first novel, Paws on the Ground.
Thank you. I really appreciate your interest.
The novel is currently with my agent being prepared for submission. Fiction is very hard to sell right now. The book has to be perfect in order to achieve my goal of commercial publication.
I have a terrific literary agent in a well-respected Literary Agency. I’m letting them do their part by preparing the novel for submission to publishing houses while I focus on writing. Don’t worry though……..I’m being kept very well informed.
You all will be the first to hear any news!
So back to my writing journey………….
A little while ago I took a break from my journey to becoming a published author in order to debate with the delightful Barbara Longley about the merit of critique groups and why an editor is better. (Still my position)
Then we went a second round on that debate because neither of seemed to want to back down. Barbara is a feisty one and I believed some great points and perspective were shared both by us and by commenters.
Of course I had to tell you about the fantastic James River Writer’s Conference (Where I finally realized I belonged with a group of writers).
Then I pondered “When Do you Become a Professional Writer?” after my wife’s friend told her my writing was just a hobby. Yes, that still annoys me, but I am over it.
Really I am.
So, let me see where that all led me? O yes, in “Tough Love and Top Level Editors,” my new and shiny editor, John Paine, destroyed my hopes of a quick edit. (You may remember by this time I had submitted a full or partial manuscript to over ten agents at their request. I was subsequently rejected by those ten agents.)
I detailed in that post what John directed me to work on.
I expected us to cut the first half of the book, tweak the pacing, maybe slap a prologue in there and be done with it. Boy, was I wrong. He didn’t want me to include anything before the main characters got to Afghanistan. Here is the short of what he told me:
1. Lose the back story.
2. Sammy (a dog) needs to be a true character.
3. Stop skimming the surface of scenes.
4. Stop shuffling so quickly among plot lines.
So I went through the manuscript line by line and added descriptors and character’s reactions to actions. I studied every scene, every line, and began inserting the richness that the book was missing.
You see, every action in your life has a reaction. What happens if you stub your toe? Do you scream out in agony, dance around on one leg holding your foot?
What does your wife or son do when they hear you screaming out in pain? (My wife would laugh at me!)
If you want your reader to be in the head of your characters, then characters need a reaction to actions in your novel. The reader needs to feel that action, smell that action and relate to that action. This part of the revision took me more hours than I want to think about. (Secretly I reveled in the task.)
Next up: Sammy. Originally I used Sammy (a dog)’s italicized storyline for a break for the reader. These insertions ranged from a paragraph to a few pages. The use of italics was something I had seen used in various books. Sometimes an author will use italics for a villain point of view, a memory, etc.
John felt it prevented Sammy from being a real character. John actually wrote a nice post in his blog about this topic. But his main point was that if you make the reader shift from one character to another, it better be worth it for the reader to change gears. I pulled out all of my Sammy snippets and placed them into one document, then combined, tweaked and revised his part, and placed it back into appropriate sections of the book.
This leads me to my final focus on this revision—plot-line shuffling. Here is a direct quote from the editorial report John wrote:
“Although combining a number of scenes within a single chapter can be an effective storytelling technique, at times it also became a vehicle for inserting little micro scenes that didn’t really advance the character’s plot line.”
Advancing the characters plot line. Now that is awesome guidance and caused me to look at my writing through a new lens.
So I went back into every chapter (except the pre-Afghanistan ones) and committed chapters to one main character. Now many of my chapters switch from Caleb (hero) to Megan (heroine) or Caleb to Sammy but very rarely shift more than once. I essentially eliminated all micro scenes in my novel.
One more issue I resolved was inserting a character earlier who become a significant character later in the book. He initially enters the novel in cameos, but introducing him fully allows the reader to understand who he is and what he is about. The readers are already familiar and interested in him when he becomes a major player in the book.
The last issue I handled was simple. My ending was too drawn out. Here is exactly what John said, “Once the climax of the book is reached, the reader is just waiting for you to let him out of the book.”
So I hacked the heck out of the ending and sent it back to John for review. By now it was the end of January 2011 and we were 30 days behind the time I thought we could get the book back in the hands of the agents.
Lesson learned here—you can’t put a timeline on creativity. It will get there when it is ready.
John went back through the book as I waited anxiously for him to tell me we were ready to send it back out to the agents.
Unfortunately that was not the news he gave me in a detailed email and follow up conversation.
I had more work to do!
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