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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.

Reviews

Book review: Around the Universe in 10 -43 Second by Manu Breysse

A few weeks ago I was sent a copy of this book by the author as a prize in a draw I’d entered by offering my opinion on which cover he should use for the English edition (which mine is), as the original was written in French. Now, sci-fi isn’t one of my go-to genres, but when I do read it, I quite like it. And I liked this book. A lot.

The basic premise is that Earth (or Terra, as it’s called in the book), mysteriously vanished a loooong time ago, with a few surviving humans still lurking about elsewhere in the Universe. However, on a very small planet, there is a country similar to Ancient Egypt, which is home to a humanoid species. In fact, their King, Sareth, is very much like a Pharaoh, and is not the nicest guy around, due to the fact that he’s very quick to put people to death.

Anyway, just as Sareth’s about to have someone killed, a portal appears and he’s transported to another planet, where the technology is much more advanced – in fact, they have an enormous library which has the history of just about everything, including how his species came to be. But Sareth, knowing nothing of science, simply can’t get his head around the fact that it was a stray food container and not God, that started life on his planet. Then he happens to see a button claiming to take him to the meaning of life. He presses it – and error 404 pops up. Their is a bug in the library database, and all knowledge of the meaning of life has disappeared. Depressed, Sareth stumbles into a bar where he meets Jah, a memory-less alcoholic, who later introduces him to his psychiatrist, Sigmufred. Sigmufred is appalled that the meaning of life has disappeared – after all, most of his clients come to him for help after they’ve learnt what it is. So, to stop himself going out of business, Sigmufred, his daughter Straecia, Jah and Sareth all get on board the Flamboyant, an old ship with an occasionally sassy on-board computer, to travel around the Universe in search of the meaning of life.

As my not-so-brief synopsis might allude, this is a rather crazy book that in no way attempts to take itself seriously. However, it does touch on some quite philosophical questions and there is a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) political and social commentary. What I really enjoyed is that the narrator is treated as a character, and as they directly address you to explain the details of how things work, there is a lot of fourth wall breaking going on. This made all the info dumping (there’s lots of space-time continuum, pandimensional and 5th dimension explanations) actually relevant and interesting, and didn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative (because a narrator can’t really interrupt themselves, I suppose…).

Now, there was one thing that made me stumble a few times while reading, and that was the dialogue tags – in this case, there is a distinct lack of them. And with a big group of characters as Around the Universe boasts, there were times when I had no idea who was saying what. Whether in the French version, it’s made clear who’s talking by the vocabulary and style they use when speaking and that that’s simply been lost in translation, I don’t know, but it was definitely a setback in my enjoyment of the story. There were perhaps one or two characters that could have had a bit more development, but it was such a whirlwind of a story that I’m not sure how that could have been achieved.

Overall, I am glad that I had the opportunity to read this, as I probably would have passed over it otherwise – as I said above, sci-fi is not normally a genre I think about reading. Now I can say that this book has certainly inspired me to widen my scope. The whole thing was fun from beginning to end, and as this is the first book in a trilogy, I am absolutely looking forward to the next book.

Great job, Manu!

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Expectations of the Homo Sapien has a new cover!

Recently, I was introduced to Canva.com by the Facebook page Books Go Social, and discovered that I could make my own ebook covers either for free, if I didn’t use any images, or at a small fee ($10) if I used an image and wanted it for multiple uses. So, after much deliberation (well, not too much, because I knew it needed to be done) I made a new cover for my novelette, Expectations of the Homo Sapien, a story about a young professor attempting to teach the working classes evolution in Victorian England – a task which doesn’t go too well.

I knew my old cover didn’t really give any hints about what genre the story was in, and though I liked it for its simplicity, it didn’t have any intrigue to it at all:512ckcMx6aL

So I decided to make one with an image and font that gave a sense of the time period. Here’s what I ended up with:

A Novelette

The setting of the image is similar to one detailed in the story, and I like how the model appears to be waiting, or indeed, expecting, something, which I thought worked well with my title. I also love how dark the room is, because even though the story isn’t really dark, it does have its moments.

Anyway, I’m quite pleased with the results and find the new cover much more appealing. The Kindle version is live on Amazon now (though for some reason, when posting links on Facebook, the old cover still shows up in the page preview), and the paperback version should be live in a few days.