Thursday, June 26, 2014

Attack on Novel

Yesterday I wrote "the end" on the new book!  Woohoo!

This does not, however, mean it is finished.  Far from it.  But it is a nifty milestone, especially for me, because pounding out the first draft is the part of this job that feels the most like work.  It's not especially fun.  For me, the real joy comes in the editing process.

Have you ever left a conversation only to later think of something brilliant you should have said?  Well, editing is like that, except you get to go back and say it.  Every stinkin' time!  It's your chance to look at every moment in your novel and ask yourself "is this the coolest goddamn thing that could have happened here?  Is there a better way to do this?"  You get to meticulously review every line of dialog your characters say and ask yourself, "what would be smarter here?  what would have more punch, or more humor, or more heart?  What would reveal more about this person?"

I've talked about all this before.  Suffice to say, editing is very rewarding to me.  And now that I'm about to embark on the process again, I thought I'd share my plan of attack.  I have 5 weeks until the manuscript is due, so I've lumped my various tasks into 1-week buckets, each requiring a full pass through the novel.

Week 1: Timeline & Detail capture

  • Timeline issues - The first task is to go through the whole novel and map it out on a timeline.  Without spoiling anything, time is rather critical in this new novel, and I want to make sure every last hour is accounted for.  Also, when I'm writing a first draft I will occasionally "forget" what time of day it was supposed to be.  I may start a chapter with the sun having just set, but later (remember, it could be days later in terms of my writing) I'll mention they've just eaten lunch and sun is high in the sky.  A simplified example, but you get the idea.  The more common scenario is that I start a chapter at one time of day, but half-way through writing it I realize it would work better if it occurred at another time.  I never derail myself with these decisions.  I simply leave a note to go back and fix the previous portion, and move ahead.  Read my Scrivener tutorial to get an idea of how I use notes and comments.
  • Glossary - I'll also do a quick pass through the novel this first week and make a list of all my invented words.
  • Character list - Similarly, I want to make a note of every single character, with a quick sketch or bio.
  • Atlas - Again, every place that's mentioned needs to be captured.  The point of these last three?  Well, it's a good exercise, and will help later when the audiobook narrator has pronunciation questions, but for various reasons this novel is going to require a "world bible". I need to catalog all this stuff, so this is a good time to do it.  Plus I can make sure everything is consistent and decide if I want to tweak things (I will).
Week 2: Plot & Consistency
  • During the second week I'll go through all my notes looking for issues with plot or consistency, and work on fixing all of them. Basically, I want to get the story straight before I move on.  This is the part where major rewrites occur.  It'll probably take more than a week, but that should be okay.
Week 3: Character building
  • Now that the plot is all fixed up, I'll go back through again with a focus on the characters.  Some I'm happier with than others.  Those that need love will get a makeover here, with each line of dialog, each introspective thought, and their body language reviewed and improved.  I'll also make sure the characters have a solid arc, and ensure their motivations are as clear as is required.  One thing I learned when I started working with my editor on THE DARWIN ELEVATOR is that I often breeze past moments of significant emotional impact.  "This is a major event, and he just shrugs and moves on?" my editor would comment.  So I make sure to look for these sorts of problems now.
Week 4: World building
  • At this point the major issues are resolved, and this pass is basically just an additional layering of world detail.  Anything that feels ill-defined or simply lacks visual oomph, I'll be plugging in more details.  Colors, sounds, smells.  Cultural detail.  Fashion.  All of it.  This is not to say these things are absent in the first draft.  They just tend to be overly terse or, in many cases, simply lacking in imagination.
Week 5:  Read-aloud, final proof
  • During the last week I'll read the entire book aloud and fix any phrasings that trip me up, as well as correct any errors I find.  One trick that helps me during this phase: Using my computer's built-in text to speech function.  I often find mistakes or weird phrasings that my own brain corrects subconsciously while I read, or the types of things a spelling/grammar checker would miss.
So there's my plan for attacking this draft.  I think it'll come out roughly equal to its current word count (I'll cut as much as I add, in other words), which puts the final product at around 115k words. A bit shorter than DARWIN.

Right then! Into the breach!

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