Tuesday, 25 September 2012

How to write a novel: Part three

Well, the best thing about this post is that (in my opinion) the hardest part is done! If you've finished your first draft - hit your word count, got to the end, given your characters their happy ever after, then you get to do my favourite part of the writing process - editing. I'm sure that there are as many ways to edit a novel as there are to write one in the first place, so the usual caveat applies: this isn't the only way to do it, but it is how I do it.
  1. Step away from the novel. Yep. Ignore it completely, for at least a day, longer if you can. If you try and edit what you wrote this morning, chances are you'll make the same decisions and mistakes all over again, or be blinkered about where your writing can be improved. A little time and space will give you the perspective you need to do a good edit.
  2. But not for too long. I am happy to hold my hands up and admit I've made this mistake. More than once. My 2010 NaNoWriMo novel has been sitting in a folder on my hard drive for nearly two years. It had grown so monstrous in my mind that I couldn't bear to even open the file. Well, this week I took the plunge and read it, and I have to say, it's actually pretty good! My point is, if you leave it too long, the doubt crows will start to win out over reason, and it's all too easy to convince yourself that your worst writerly fears are true. The only way to prove to yourself that they're not is to read through what you've written and make a plan for revisions. 
  3. Read your book. All of it, preferably printed out, or on a Kindle, or in some other format that stops you fiddling with it. What you're looking at is the big picture. Does your plot develop realistically? What is the pacing like - too fast? too slow? Do your characters' emotions develop consistently and smoothly? Is there enough intrigue - either about the past, or the future, or both. What do you repeat and fall back on too often: a word, a description, an image, a point of view, a metaphor? You're looking to make a To Do list which will probably require you to make changes throughout the story. I know that what Hollywood needed at this stage was smoothing - there were too many details that hadn't made it from brain to manuscript, resulting in great leaps on the page.
  4. Line edit. Now this really is the best bit. Go through line by line, making sure that every single word of your story is perfect, or at least as close to perfect as you can get. I actually do a little of this between steps two and three, just to make my reading experience more enjoyable, but this is when I really go to town. Play with vocabulary, tweak your syntax, sharpen your dialogue. Chances are, to make your book really sing at this stage, you're going to want to cut cut cut. Any adjective or adverb that doesn't pull it's weight should be deleted instantly. (OK, that's not a law or anything, but I do think it's generally a good idea ...)
  5. Ask someone else to read your book. I know I said that the hardest part of writing a novel was done, but I'd forgotten the sweaty-palmed terror that accompanies sending your novel out into the world for the first time. But if you're hoping to be published, you knew this part was going to come eventually. Make it easier on yourself by picking your reader carefully, and most importantly - listen to what they have to say. More advice here.
So there you have it, the five steps to finishing your novel once you've completed the first draft. Rinse and repeat until you're happy with the result, and then it's time to make the big decision - what to do with it next.

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