Making Tea…

Adventures in editing. 

I have another opportunity to share a blunder in my writing. I have mentioned before about how meticulous I am about research, yet I’ve made an error in something so simple I never considered looking into it.

In the recent reposting of my installment of Here Lies a Soldier: The Letters and the Locket, I describe my characater Meredith making a cup of tea. I am a tea drinker, have a pot, a strainer and a collection of loose tea, therefore I had Meredith make the tea the way I would … in the United States. *buzzer sound* 

One of my dear friends, who is English, pointed out to me that in England, everyone uses an electric kettle not a stove top kettle. Additionally, it would be far more realistic for Meredith to use a tea bag for a quick ‘cuppa’ not the loose tea that I described.

This might not seem like a big deal, it’s a little detail not even important to the plot. So why make a fuss? Because it is one of those tiny brush strokes on the larger canvas that can add to or detract from the larger picture. I will be returning to that section and editing accordingly. 

This is the kind of thing that makes blogging and its community of writers so absolutely priceless –getting feedback like that. I for one, am eternally grateful!

What happens next…

The first draft of Breaking Bread is done. Finally… Now begins the re-reading, re-writing, editing, correcting and proof reading part of novel writing. Why list all those tasks separately? Don’t they all fall under the umbrella of editing? Yes, but… Mind you, this is my own process –it’s nothing official. Most of what I do to write and edit a piece is entirely instinctual. Occasionally, there is an academic name for it and if I am lucky, my approach is valid!

Re-reading: It’s just what it says. I read the whole thing through non-stop to see how it sounds/feels as a complete work. I read it the way a reader who purchased a copy would read it. This shows up sections that drag, over-explain, or alternatively, move too quickly and need to be expanded upon. I don’t usually make changes at this stage, but I make notes on what to do.

Re-writing: Now I make the adjustments based on my notes. There will inevitably be parts that need major overhauling. Besides the parts that are awkward, boring, or somehow don’t make sense with the flow of the narrative, sometimes you simply change your mind. As was the case in this novel, I changed my mind about the villain. I dropped some clues along the way that need to be swept out of the story. (Actually I have a really horrifying alternate ending that I might share with you at some point. And no it was never the mom… it was Caitlyn). I also am taking into consideration some of the feedback I received here on my blog. As many of you expressed, the idea of a sister doing such terrible things is just unbelievable. I softened that aspect of the story accordingly. (My alternative was even worse… now you really want to hear it, don’t you?)

Editing: After sections have been rewritten, there is an extreme likelihood of error. What I mean is, you may have started with scenario A, rewritten it as scenario B and forgotten to change all or parts of a conversation, for example. Your rewrites will have an impact on later sections of the story and they will need to be altered accordingly. The timeline might be a bit off. A different character might have to speak words you intended for another, and so forth. So this is like rewriting redux but not as exhaustive.

Correcting: This is another re-read but this time out loud. (Actually I do that on all the previous trips through, but….) I read the book as if I were recording it for audio-book. This shows up awkward sentence structure and repetitive sounds. Sometimes, things look great on paper but when you read them aloud they sound terrible. I’ve crafted what I thought were lovely paragraphs describing a scene that when read aloud sounded pompous and overblown. Here’s the chance to fix those before you hit publish. Finally, I check that dialogue is natural sounding and not stiff or too formal.

Proof reading: At this stage you are checking for correct punctuation, grammar and spelling. And yes of course, the spell checker on your word processing program has been doing that all along, however… it cannot tell you when a correctly spelled word is being used the wrong way: it’s as opposed to its, their, they’re and there, from versus than, a/an, etc. I know there are programs out there that are designed to do that and frankly, I don’t trust them enough not to have a look for myself. I check all my proper names to make sure I’ve spelled them consistently.

After all this, I may read one final time. I have set the limit on my self-editing process at five times. Sometimes you just have to walk away. The next step is to pass off the manuscript to beta readers – people who will read and give not just praise but constructive criticism so that you can make changes based on their honest feedback. I have greatly appreciated all of your wonderful input on the story this time around. You are my alpha readers – reading the raw first draft as I wrote it, and for that I am very thankful. Nevertheless, my team of betas is standing by for further analysis. When they have finished, and given me their opinions, I will make further modifications and then it goes onto my professional editor for a final analysis before prepping it to publish. Whew….

Now… what to do next?

Novel Writing Mistakes

In proof reading your work, I always recommend reading out loud. This exposes awkward sounding sentences and the overuse of the same or similar words. Well, in my last novel excerpt I was in such a hurry to finish and post it, I neglected to follow my own advice. Nevertheless, it gives me an opportunity to demonstrate what NOT to do.

Here is the section in question:

“All right. Stay back and we’ll take a look,” the officer said.

He waved over one of the other officers and together they approached the shattered shop window. The other officer swept his Maglite around the darkened interior and focused it on something toward the front of the room. He spoke to the first officer who nodded and came back to where Brad and I were standing. “It looks like a large rock, or maybe a piece of concrete block, it’s hard to tell from here. Do you mind opening the place up so we can take a closer look?”

Officer, officer, officer… I only discovered just how bad that sounded after reading it out loud. Here is the edited version of that same section:

“All right. Stay back and we’ll take a look,” he said.

He waved to his partner and together they approached the shattered front window. The second officer swept his Maglite around the darkened interior and focused it on something toward the front of the room. He spoke to the first officer who nodded and came back to where Brad and I were standing. “It looks like a large rock, or maybe a piece of concrete block, it’s hard to tell from here. Do you mind opening the place up so we can take a closer look?”

Better, but not perfect. However, technically this whole thing is a first draft so some extensive editing will be done before it ever goes to print. I hope this shows you how helpful it is to read your work out loud. I have learned my lesson!