After the first draft – PWS Chapter Ten

 

Chapter Ten

First draft – re-writing –  working with an editor

The importance of re-writing

Writing a book – or a short story is an incredible achievement. No one should ever underestimate the discipline and sacrifice that has gone into turning an idea into reality. But, something that  beginner writer’s often don’t realise that it is the revision and re-writing of the story that makes it a great novel. The harsh reality is that honestly – anyone can write a book – it is just a matter of hitting the computer keys and churning out words. It is the revision and re-writing that turns words into a book that readers will love.

The publishing world has opened up to writers. Getting your book published is no longer an impossible task. Now absolutely anyone can write a book and download it to a self-publishing web site.

Unfortunately this also means that a lot of books that shouldn’t be published are available for anyone to read. Knowledgeable souls in the publishing world continually advise self-publishers to get help with editing, and not just copyediting but story editing too.

While some authors are thrilled to have another eye helping mould their words into a story some writers are horrified and disappointed when their manuscript is returned covered in comments and queries from the editor. Do a little research into the professional lives of any well-known author and you will find that the reality is that they re-write and re-write and sometimes re-write again until the book is good enough.

The first draft of a book is where the ideas just pour out of your imagination, fingers fly over the keyboard and of course everyone who reads the book will tell you that it is utterly brilliant. Except unless you are a very rare literary genius the first draft of your book is undoubtedly just that – a vague impression of the wonderful story that it could become.

An editor will go through your book and identify problems in the plot and with grammar and comprehension, but anyone wanting to write a good novel should revise their work first, even before the editor gets their hands on it.

It is hard to go back through a manuscript that you have toiled over – and look at it with an unbiased eye, but this is what you must do. It can help to put the manuscript away for a week or two and then come back to it refreshed and able to look at it objectively.

Re-read and as you do check the following pointers:-

Is the story boring? if you are bored re-reading, it’s not because you’ve read that section so many times, it’s because it’s boring. Good writing is always engaging, even after reading it over and over. We reread favourite books.  The worst offense a writer can commit is to be boring.

Cut up your story. Use a note pad and summarise each chapter and scene. Lay these out on the floor or a wall. Check that the order of the information contributes to tension/suspense. Also, think about the length of each piece, check that it is contributing to the pacing and rhythm of the story. This way you should be able to see where a scene is too slow, or where it ends too quickly.

Check what the reader learns in each section. Ideally, they should continue learning things about the characters or action, in order to increase the stakes, desire, conflict, etc. until the story moves toward an ending.

Look at your writing style:-  Have you used the same words over and over again? Look at your use of language – check that you are showing the reader the action, not telling them.

In each paragraph, look at opening sentence and last sentence in particular. Important things in the moment should go at the beginning or end. Grab the reader with good opening lines on each paragraph and leave them longing for more at the end of it.

Have you got the tone of speech correct? Indirect speech for voice. Direct speech for drama. Indirect for information.  Don’t be blunt with speech, make sure it has bearing on how a real person would talk, intersperse action with dialogue to move things along.

Consider the  backstory: can it fit into the dialogue somewhere, where someone else’s interest in it can bring it out, increasing our own, as well as making it a direct concern in the present of the story rather than ‘telling the reader.

These are minor points that should be considered before you submit your book to an editor. Revision and rewriting is all part of the process.

Just like a parent it is impossible to see the flaws in a book you have spent many hours, even years toiling over. And yet the worst thing a writer can do is to finish their book, check it over for spelling mistakes and unleash it on an unsuspecting world. Unfortunately this can result in your name being linked to a rubbish book which doesn’t show off your talents. Every writer, even the big name writers of well- known bestsellers work with editors who check over their manuscript and hone it until it reaches perfection.

As the author of any book you will find it impossible to see any flaws in it. No matter how hard you try it is impossible to ‘see’ the glaring errors that a reader will quickly point out to you. There could be flaws in the plot, or in your time line, making characters arrive somewhere before they have left. While writing you won’t be able to spot these as in your mind the story is accurate. You may have seen the spelling lists where some of the letters are jumbled up and yet you still read the word which is meant to be there because the eye assumes it knows what is there. Even a spell check on a computer won’t pick this up as there are many words that are incorrect in the context of the manuscript and yet are spelt right. There and their know and now for instance would not be picked up by a spell checker.

The unbiased eye of a good book editor will check that the person at the centre of the story has green eyes the whole way through the book instead of changing to grey half way through. An editor they will wonder if daffodils should be blooming in September and make sure that all of the threads in your book are followed to a proper conclusion. What has happened to the man who was knocked over by a car in chapter three? Has he played his role in the book properly, or will the reader be left wondering what happened to him.

As a writer you have no doubt in your mind the motivation behind your character’s actions. Often though, in writing this is not shown properly to the reader leaving them confused and frustrated. With so many books available it is important that your writing not only keeps readers entertained, but that they also enjoy the experience. You might know, as the writer, why a character is afraid of her horse, but unless the character is properly portrayed the reader might see her as feeble and unlikable and quickly lose patience with the book.

The most enjoyable part of writing a book is actually sitting at the computer and seeing the characters come to life. You have spent time planning, got to know your characters and settings inside out, worked out the plot – the actual writing is the fun part. Once you have typed THE END as your story reaches its conclusion the first thing you want to do is to share what you are sure is a work of genius with the world. But hold on – it’s actually time to get to work now, pruning, revising, perfecting. It is essential to do this work with an editor, the professional, unbiased eye that can take your book and turn it into something truly unforgettable.

Someone asked me recently how long it had taken me to write my latest novel. They were surprised when I told them I had spent about nine months writing the first draft and then ten months rewriting it. The book has altered drastically, characters have shifted personalities, storylines have changed and chapters moved around.

When you’ve got the first draft down and you’ve written ‘The End’, it is actually just the beginning. As Ernest Hemingway said “The only kind of writing is rewriting”.

Writing the first draft is easy, it’s making that become a story that will capture the reader’s imagination which is much more difficult. Ideally  once the first draft is complete you should put it away for a period of time, at least a few months, so you can come back to the story with fresh eyes.

Then, re-read it and check the following points:- Does the story grip the reader from the first sentence?    Is the story and pacing balanced?  Every scene needs to move the story forward and have a reason for being there. Rewriting is ruthless business. If you love scenes but realise they don’t work anymore in the story you can always cut and paste them into a separate document for future use.  Are the characters believable?  Does every chapter end with a hook which will keep the reader wanting to carry on reading? Are there any transitions missing ie reasons for protagonist’s decisions?    Check the dialogue, most readers have a tendency to repeat a certain word. Make sure your characters are likable, even the baddies.  Finally, is the ending satisfactory with all the loose threads safely tied up?

Re-writing is the hardest part of writing, but keep at it. Once you get to the stage where you are only making small tweaks the novel is probably ready to be checked by an editor. It is important not to miss out on this step, no matter how thorough you are a different set of eyes, professional ones really will sort out the story and shine it up.

Earlier on this book explains about the necessary elements of the plot, how to ensure it drives and then rests as necessary to keep the reader’s interest.

 

You’ve written a book – well done, give yourself a huge pat on the back – you are now one of a small number of people who turn their dreams into a reality. If you’ve done the re-writing so many times the very thought of looking at the book once more makes you want to vomit then perhaps its is now time to turn the book over to an editor.

Why do you need a professional to work with you on improving your book?

You’re going to check the book really carefully yourself and of course your best friend has read it and thinks its fabulous.

You don’t need an editor to because:-
1)  It is fine to make up words and smatterize them within the text
2) Readers won’t mind at all if you switch point of view at random throughout the text
3) They won’t mind either if you get the timeline completely wrong, or give a character blue eyes on page one and brown ones ten pages in
4) Readers love dialogue that is stilted. They really love dialogue that bears no resemblance to the way people really talk.
5) No one will throw your book down in disgust if your setting bears no resemblance to the reality. If your book is set in the racing world your book should actually reflect the reality
6) It doesn’t matter at all if all of your characters names sound the same, a reader will be able to differentiate between them all
7) No one minds reading reams of pages of irrelevant non action that does nothing to bring the story forward.
8) Your punctuation doesn’t matter one little bit, those fragmented sentences’, random, commas and incorrectspacing won t matter a t a ll,…

Still think you don’t need an editor?

The publishing world has opened up to writers. Getting your book published is no longer an impossible task. Now absolutely anyone can write a book and download it to a self-publishing web site.
Unfortunately this also means that a lot of books that shouldn’t be published are available for anyone to read. Knowledgeable souls in the publishing world continually advise self-publishers to get help with editing, and not just copyediting but story editing too. Just like a parent it is impossible to see the flaws in a book you have spent many hours, even years toiling over. And yet the worst thing a writer can do is to finish their book, check it over for spelling mistakes and unleash it on an unsuspecting world. Unfortunately this can result in your name being linked to a rubbish book which doesn’t show off your talents. Every writer, even the big name writers of well- known bestsellers work with editors who check over their manuscript and hone it until it reaches perfection.
As the author of any book you will find it impossible to see any flaws in it. No matter how hard you try it is impossible to ‘see’ the glaring errors that a reader will quickly point out to you. There could be flaws in the plot, or in your time line, making characters arrive somewhere before they have left. While writing you won’t be able to spot these as in your mind the story is accurate. You may have seen the spelling lists where some of the letters are jumbled up and yet you still read the word which is meant to be there because the eye assumes it knows what is there. Even a spell check on a computer won’t pick this up as there are many words that are incorrect in the context of the manuscript and yet are spelt right. There and their, know and now for instance would not be picked up by a spell checker.
As a writer you have no doubt in your mind the motivation behind your character’s actions. Often though, in writing this is not shown properly to the reader leaving them confused and frustrated. With so many books available it is important that your writing not only keeps readers entertained, but that they also enjoy the experience. You might know, as the writer, why a character is afraid of something , but unless the character is properly portrayed the reader might see her as feeble and unlikable and quickly lose patience with the book.
The most enjoyable part of writing a book is actually sitting at the computer and seeing the characters come to life. You have spent time planning, got to know your characters and settings inside out, worked out the plot – the actual writing is the fun part. Once you have typed THE END as your story reaches its conclusion the first thing you want to do is to share what you are sure is a work of genius with the world. But hold on – it’s actually time to get to work now, pruning, revising, perfecting. It is essential to do this work with an editor, the professional, unbiased eye that can take your book and turn it into something truly unforgettable.