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In case the New Year brings that dastardly task of editing your novel: Kathryn’s Guide to Editing Fiction

Knowing what to do after you’ve *finally* finished the first draft of your manuscript and have mopped up all the blood, sweat and tears that went into it can be a bit of a mystery if you’re new to the game. You know editing comes into it, and you may have heard about beta readers, but what comes first, and more importantly, how do you go get started?

To help with the cacophony of questions littering your head, I’ve made a general guide to help you get going. This is very much based off my own experience, and is not an exhaustive list:

  1. After you’ve written that last word on your manuscript, put the whole thing away somewhere and leave it for a good amount of time (I personally leave it for about three months, but others leave it for longer) and get on with other things. Start a new project; finish any others lurking around; if you’re thinking about publication, research which avenue might be best for you and what that entails; basically, anything to keep your mind stimulated but doesn’t involve that first draft. This is to make sure that when you do eventually go back to it, you can view it with fresh eyes – meaning that plot holes, weak characters or lack of world building will jump out at you and therefore be easier to fix.

 

  1. Don’t focus on spelling or wording on this initial edit. Look at the big picture instead. Are there any holes in your plot? Do your characters feel flat or serve no purpose? Does the story start in the right place, or are the first few chapters unnecessary? What scenes work, and what don’t? If you’re finding it hard to tell if certain points of the story are unnecessary, try removing them and see if it affects the overall plot. If the plot still flows, then those scenes (however beautifully written they are/despite how much you personally love them) have to go. Nothing ruins a good book more that scenes that jar the pacing by adding nothing.

 

  1. Once you’ve fixed the big issues with your manuscript, you can either put it away again, or continue on to the next stage. Again, I personally leave it for a bit because I know I get far too close to my work.

 

  1. Now it’s time to really focus on your characters and world building. Your characters need to feel like real people – give goals and dreams, flaws and bad habits, and don’t hole them up into stereotypes. If they’re from very different backgrounds/circumstances to you, make sure you do your research – not only to make them realistic, but to avoid being insensitive to readers. (If you’re worried about your representation of people from different walks of life to you, you can always hire a sensitivity reader at a later stage.) When working on world building, think about the social structure of each place, use all five senses to describe things and make sure you don’t fall into the pit of info dumping. Also, in dialogues scenes, look out for ‘white room syndrome’, when no description about where or when the scene takes place is included.

 

  1. Next, we get in to the more technical aspects of writing. Tense, point of view and grammar. (If you feel your manuscript is shaping up nicely, you can start looking at spelling, over-use of words and continuity, but I would leave that until last.) It doesn’t matter what point of view you use, or what tense, as long as you keep them consistent throughout the manuscript – unless you have a very good reason not to, like an intentional stylistic change to illustrate a certain point. If you struggle with grammar, there are a lot of helpful books and forums, as well as YouTube guides. (I have a book on grammar that’s actually written for kids, but the language and examples are so clear that it’s the one I go to most.)

 

  1. The stages of editing can get a bit murky here – some writers have to repeat steps until they’re happy and end up with a good number of drafts, others breeze right through and end up with relatively few. However, whether you’ve done a lot of back and forth on your work or not, this part is important. Read your work aloud. I’ll say it again: READ YOUR WORK ALOUD. From start to finish, until you’re sick of the sound of your own voice. This is so you can clearly see problems with sentence structure, missing words, typos, continuity, repetitive description and all that jazz (as readers we’re always pleased to spot others’ mistakes, but are far less pleased as writers if someone kindly points them out in our own work).

 

  1. Finally, when you are happy with your manuscript and can’t find anything else to work on, it’s time to send your work to beta readers. These can be other writers, friends, family or simply people you know love to read. What is important to note, however, is that it’s far more helpful to send your work to readers who readily consume books in that genre than ones who have never read/rarely read within your genre, as the feedback you receive will be more relevant. When you do receive feedback, look for trends in what people are saying. If eight people say a scene isn’t working, then it’s probably wise to take another look and see if it truly does need revising. If one beta reader hates a character but the others love them/make no comment, then perhaps that’s just their personal taste. Consider all feedback, but remember that it is still your work, so you have the final decision on what to change.

 

So there you have it. Where you take your work from there is completely up to you. Whether you opt for traditional publishing, self-publishing or somewhere in-between (be absolutely sure you don’t head down the path of vanity publishing – an old but good rule on how to tell a vanity publisher from a real one is that money should always flow to the author, not away) make sure you do your research.

Extracts/ Flash Fiction

Extract from my latest MG, ‘Wings in a Wounded Sky’

Her parents had never uttered even the hint of a roar in her lifetime, even when another Ogg came by to demand why they were missing from that year’s summer gathering. They’d simply explained their reasons and invited him into their nest hole, which, as most Oggs thought they could go anywhere, invited or not, only served to enrage him more.  He’d roared at them, spouting about disrespecting Ogg etiquette, and raged off.

It hadn’t been that long ago, really. Only a few weeks before her parents had fallen ill. She rested her head against the mottled bark of an extremely old Okke tree, wishing more than ever that they hadn’t gone, when Silver popped up in front of her, orange eyes ablaze.

‘Why are you hiding, stupid? The sisters are worried sick,’ she snapped, letting curls of smoke trail from the corners of her mouth. Rae could see scratches on her arms and face, which was surprising, because she’d been sure the Fae boy hadn’t fought back.

‘They’re scared of me. I can’t face them knowing that,’ Rae replied, avoiding her gaze and picking at a piece of loose bark.

‘You are an idiot. Yes, they were scared of you, the same as I was when you roared, but it was only because we didn’t know you could do that. You took us by surprise, that’s all. We know you’re far too soft to actually hurt anyone…and if you hadn’t stopped me, I might have broken that boy’s wings off.’ There was reluctance in her voice, but also shame. ‘Come back with us. Then we can find out together why that blue-eyed slime is here, and why his people took my parents.’

Rae took a deep breath, and stepped out from behind the trees so that the Rosycheeks could see her. They cried out and ran up to her, embracing her warmly, before heading back to the cottage. There, they found the Fae boy by the pond with Nymphy, in deep conversation. As they approached, Nymphy gave a nod and disappeared into the water, warping out of sight.

‘Where’s she going?’ Silver asked, rushing forwards. ‘What have you sent her to do, slime?’ she said, pressing her face close to his so that he coughed on the lingering coils of smoke escaping her mouth.

‘I didn’t send her anywhere,’ the boy said quietly, stepping back. ‘I told her about something, and she went to see if she could have a look at it.’

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Exciting news! (And some background before I get there)

When I was about seven, I came up with a simple story idea about strange creatures living in the woods. My dad took this little snippet and made it into something much more – the beginnings of a book.

Unfortunately, due to his mental health, he struggled with finding the motivation to keep going with it, and was always undecided about how old the main character should be. You see, his idea was to have the main characters based on our family, but as the years passed, my brother and I got older, so the main characters had to age too. Finally, his work on it came to a stand still, despite the fact that we all loved the chapters he’d written so far.

Skip forwards ten or so years, to when I started thinking about properly writing my first book. (I always wanted to write, I just hadn’t really had time with school and college, and I kind of had my dream stomped on a bit by an older relative who said there was no point in writing as there was no money in it.) Dad approached me and asked if I wanted to try writing his story, but in my own style. I didn’t really have my own story yet, so I thought about it, and once I’d finished college, decided that I’d do it.

My progress was slow, as I was in to many different things at the time and writing was only one of them, but after a year I had a completed first draft. And boy, was it bad. I was pleased to have finally finished, but I knew it was a very poor adaptation.

It took me a long time to realise why: it was still too much his story. I hadn’t made it my own yet, and using his characters was hard for me, because where he’d based them on us, I was too close to them.

So, being my usual stubborn self, I overhauled the whole thing. I changed the characters completely, making them very individual and unlike my own family (okay, one or two traits might have stuck, but there will always be a bit of those you know in any character), and I dived deep into their history to find out what made them tick. I also added characters, and removed others, until finally I had a cast that I could work with. A cast that I liked.

And it was hard. Hard to disregard so much of what I’d enjoyed of my dad’s story, but just wouldn’t work for me. Hard to knit the plot back together and make it strong, solid, enjoyable.

There were times when I was so stuck on a scene or frustrated with it in general that I wanted to throw the whole thing away and just give up. But I didn’t. I made it work, and at the end I had my story. Inspired by my dad’s, definitely, but truly, distinctly mine.

Over the years of visiting and revisiting, I’d worked on other books, including my Half-Wizard Thordric series, but once I’d found my writing voice and adjusted the manuscript once more, I decided to find a publisher.

So, the news I’ve been building too, and am so, so proud to say, is that now I have. The Origin Stone, as the book is now titled, is set to be published by the lovely Nuff Said Publishing in March 2019.

Out of all the books I’ve written, The Origin Stone is definitely the one that’s made me work hardest. It’s so wonderful to announce that it finally has a home!

Kat out.

Extracts/ Flash Fiction

A scene from a new idea

Tia’s arm flinched as Lannah adjusted the mechanism at her wrist, using a red-hot needle to inscribe the Tsa markings needed to reinforce both the spellwork and metalwork holding it together. Unable to stop herself from smirking, Tia analysed her friend’s serious expression despite the Elvis Presley track blaring through the spellcrafted speakers on the walls. Although the song was six hundred years old, she couldn’t deny Lannah had good taste. ‘You always get that same look of severe concentration on your face when you fix me up.’

Lannah finished the Tsa she was working on and sat up, rolling her shoulders back with a sigh. Her eyes were dark with lack of sleep. I probably look just as bad, Tia thought. ‘That’s because you are particularly hard to repair,’ Lannah said. ‘Do you have any idea how many extra enchantments I have to put on your arm just so it can keep up with your raiding antics?’ She stretched her arms up, adjusting herself. ‘Of course, if you didn’t feel the need to keep ripping it off every time you get in the slightest bit of trouble, my job would be much easier.’

Tia made a fist with her metal fingers, testing them out. Satisfied, she sat up, facing Lannah. ‘If I didn’t yank it off, then me and the team would be toast right now. My magic isn’t half as powerful with it on, and the colonists down on that planet aren’t the friendliest of people. And they’ve got two witches of their own. I nearly got spell-speared in the back.’

She jumped off Lannah’s white operating table, nearly hitting her head on the lamp the engineer had been using. She shivered. Now that she wasn’t focused on the pain from her metal arm being fixed, she noticed how cold it was in the room. She grabbed her jacket from the coat rack and zipped it up to her chin, grateful for its cosy warmth.

‘Maybe they felt that a team of raiders suddenly appearing to take all their tech away was a touch uncalled for?’ Lannah suggested, making a quick Tsa in the air with her finger. Immediately, Tia felt the air in the room get warmer. She chewed the inside of her check, quenching down the familiar pang of envy that rose up inside her. If she’d been born with witch gene zero, she would be able to use Tsa marks too. But she hadn’t. She had plain witch gene zero one, like the majority of witches aboard the Merlin.

‘It’s not their tech anyway. It’s Cosmic Witch’s,’ Tia replied, running her fingers through her short hair. Still feels weird to have it this length, but I guess it’s practical. ‘Anyway, we’re only following orders. They want it back as quickly as possible, we had no time to negotiate.’ More like we were told specifically not too. The truth disgusted her just as much as it did Lannah, whose mouth had stilled into a thin line.

The engineer turned away to her desk and began typing up her report, absently flicking the music from ‘Love Me Tender’ to ‘A Little Less Conversation’. ‘If you’re ready, you can sign out on the module. The form should already be on the screen.’ She shot a slight grin over her shoulder. ‘Try to be more careful next time.’

Extracts/ Flash Fiction

A snippet of my WIP

Rae hazarded a look back down, but then wished she hadn’t. The dragon was following them as they’d planned, but it was only seconds away from snapping its jaws around Lady Olande’s rear legs. The dragon-woman made it back out onto the palace grounds, where her kin stood waiting, also transformed, just as the outer structure of the catacombs exploded from within, spraying rubble in every direction. In its place was the dragon, and as it saw how many people faced it, it licked its teeth hungrily.

The Drengin didn’t wait for it to attack; they made for the sky, joining the Ice sparrows still fighting the Fae soldiers. The dragon beat its wings twice in preparation, then flew up after them. Sure that it was following the main formation, Lady Olande discreetly changed direction and headed for the outskirts of the city, where the Grand Lubber would – if all had gone to plan – already be waiting with Silver, Gwind and Max.