Author’s Note: On to the Details!

Holy crap, you guys, editing is going to kill me. (Melodramatic much? Naaaah, not me!) My editing process has changed since the days when I was writing mostly fanfic, simply because the length of my work has changed. While my fanfic was often short-novel length, about 50,000 words, now that I’m writing things that are long-novel length, about 100,000 words, my old editing styles don’t work.

In the last couple of columns I’ve been taking you through my new editing process, and while it works much better than the old one, it’s definitely intensive. Today I spent three hours at my computer, and my spine hurts! Possibly time for one of those fancy chairs…

But let me back up. I’ve spent the last few months doing exactly what I outlined in the last column, which is yanking out and re-writing the end that didn’t work. (I’m much happier with the current ending; tickled pink, in fact!) With various life excitements going on, it’s taken me the entire two months to do that, nearly driving me insane in the process.

Today, I started the next step in the editing process. First I re-read the new ending to make sure it worked, added some notes where it was just a bit awkward and I’ll need to add a scene, then I ran the spellchecker. Oh ho, you might think that’s a minor thing, but it took me forty-five minutes. Spelling is not my friend. I spelled refrigerator ‘refrigdgeorator.’ Your guess as to how I got there is as good as mine. (That particular word is my nemesis. It’s amazing how often it crops up, too.)

After the giant overhaul that was spellcheck, I began phase two of “Polish The Book”: editing for everything. See, earlier I did a quick read to make sure that it flowed. This time, I’m nitpicking it all apart. I tend to do it all at once because I hate reading it yet AGAIN, but I know other people who do many more re-reads than I do.

I got through the first eighteen pages (those are computer pages, mind you — more like 45 novel length pages) today. In addition to the obvious, which is to fix awkward sentences or areas where I used the same word a bunch of times, I’m taking notes and making a timeline.

I have a sketchbook I use for this, and three separate pages where my notes and timeline go. The first page is characters: appearance, facts about them, anything stated. If I say that a minor character, John, has arthritic knuckles in one scene, I want to make sure that’s true all the way through the book. Even though John (an actual  fictional character, with actual fictional arthritic knuckles) only appears about four times in the entire novel, I want to know for sure that I’m not messing up. Obviously, these details get a lot more intensive for my main characters. Already I picked up a mistake: in one scene Matty, who is 96, has bright eyes and a few scenes later they’re cloudy. This is why notes are handy.

The next page is family relations. This is something specific to this novel, but I’ve had variations on it in other books. In this novel, there’s lot of extended family involved, so I have to keep track of who’s a cousin and who’s an aunt, which family members are dead and which have moved away, and so on.

The final page is the timeline, and it looks something like this:

–Scene 1, ch 1:
Day: uncle David. Nana’s side is crazy.
Sc 2:
Day 1 in SD: August. Staying for 2 mos. Nana’s been in SD a long time. 2 hrs to Munroe. “First st” not  “1st st.”
Sc 3:
Day 2: bar
Sc 4:
Day 2: doesn’t ask re: fam.
–Chapter 2, sc 5:
day 3: T-shirt and pants to sleep in.  Carpet: blue-gray faded. Wednesday. Cafe attached to groc, bar, gas. Pop 200.
sc 6: day 3. Mike > 35.

You can see that these are pretty terse, with little rhyme or reason unless you know what’s going on in the book! To translate the first couple of lines, they’d read something like:
Sc 2 (second scene in the novel — so if I need to change or check something, I know where to find it.). Day 1 in SD (The first day in the book, after they arrive in South Dakota. The phases of the moon are important, so I needed to know how many days had passed.) Uncle David. (They have an uncle named David.) Nana’s side is crazy. (They have crazy aunts; those are on Nana’s side of the family.)
SD. (they’ve arrived in South Dakota.) August (that’s the month.) Nana’s been in SD a long time. (I think that’s pretty obvious.) 2 hrs to Munroe. (It takes two hours to get to Munroe from the airport in Sioux Falls.)

Essentially, these are the details that I might need to remember later in the book. I make notes for almost everything, and especially chapter breaks (or possible chapter breaks), where I need chapter breaks, and so on. The scene numbers give me a reference, so that I can go back and find those facts about the characters if I need to change something. Once upon a time I used page numbers, but at the moment I’m working in WordPad which doesn’t have fancy things like page numbers. This is out of sheer laziness: it loads faster than Word or OpenOffice, and my current copy of OpenOffice is doing funny things. I haven’t gotten around to downloading a new version. But man, I like WordPad! It loads fast, it types, it saves, it’s compatible with everything. What more do I need?

This is basically going to continue for the next 189 pages (or 99,000 words, if you want to get specific.) You may be able to see why I do the fast read-through first; with all this stopping to take notes, I don’t get a sense of how the pacing is!

When I get to areas where I left notes saying I needed another scene, or I need to cut a scene, I’ll just write it in, then read it in that moment and move on. Probably not as good as giving it a third re-through… but I’m picky enough that I think it works. At least, it has so far!

Next: Off to an agent!

JB McDonald is a published romance and long-time fanfic author. She likes long walks on the beach — wait, wrong blurb. You can learn more about her at

Posted on May 17, 2011 at 15:38 by JB McDonald · Permalink
In: Books, Columns, Columns, The Written Word, Uncategorized · Tagged with: , , ,