Monday, 3 January 2011

This editing year - 1

It seems like a long time ago I last wrote about editing. OK, it was a long time ago. Must have been June last year. Then I advised myself and you, constant readers, to make a spreadsheet of beta-readers' comments.

'OK, did that, now what?' you cry.

I went through the book in question, adding notes to the manuscript (Word: Insert: Comment) in all the places my readers had found something to remark on. Plus, I added my own comments here and there - pithy little notes to myself like 'Move this bit six months forward' or 'Add some action here - perhaps flashback'. Most of the time I read the book with great pleasure, often remarking 'Oh! Great writing here.' Then, with regret, I added a note: 'Flowery - rewrite.'

The entire process took about four hours - remember, this is a standard-sized novel. (Well, actually it's currently some 57K words, so needs fleshing out here and there.)

Next comes the tricky bit. Going through the manuscript a second time, when I come to a note (highlighted in yellow on my system), I read it.

Then I do it.

For example, the words 'Chapter One' had a note attached. It read 'Add prologue'. When I'd got over the shock of having to make a change so early in the book, I got on with it.

The tricky bit is writing a prologue in the same style and tone as the rest of the book. Remember, I wrote this manuscript about ten months ago. The person writing this prologue (me) is not the same person who wrote Chapter One (me-in-the-past).

Having written the prologue, I deleted the note and moved on the the next one. Read-do-delete note.  And so on...

Some of changes require great attention to detail. Moving chunks around in time has a knock-on effect on many other sections of the book. It may also require additional research. What time is sunrise in mid-April in Mid-Wales? What is the weather like generally? Then there are questions like 'If this happens in April and not October, what effect does that have on characters X, Y and Z?'

With flashbacks, it's the same. What was my protagonist supposed to have been doing three years ago? If I have him in action in East Africa, do I say somewhere else that he was in Afghanistan at the time?

This has pointed out some useful tips to bear in mind for future novels. One is the importance of a detailed timeline and back-story for all the characters. I thought I'd done that with this manuscript, but I was wrong. Yes, I'd itemised significant events - date, time, place, summary - but what about the rest? What about that vast collection of apparently insignificant events and activities that form the great bulk of everyones' lives? I didn't have them.

I'm not saying write a day-by-day diary for each character:

Fred, January 3rd, 1989. Got up 06:00, had toast for breakfast. Still staying at 2437 Pacific Heights Boulevard. Broke a vase this morning. Good bowel movement at 0746. The Presidential assassination was postponed again. It's raining. 

That would be ridiculous. But a note like 'Jan 89, Fred in California. Did not assassinate the President. Pete in East Africa, killing Chinese sponsored guerrillas. Feb 89 Fred and Pete back at base. Training. Mar 89...' would have been helpful.

When I've finished the big - the macroscopic if you like - edits, I'll be reading and re-reading the manuscript looking for inconsistencies. Then I'll be delving into the minutiae of the language itself. I'll cover these topics later. 

Until then - enjoy!

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