Revisions, Writing Craft

Revisions. Revisions…

When I told my Mum that my book was going through the “Revision Process” she was rather taken aback.

“But I thought you’d finished it,” she said.

“Yes, Mum. But I have an editor now. A real, proper one. She goes through it and then I get to see what she thought was good or bad and that’s called Revisions.”

I think you can tell from my answer – I really had no idea what to expect! So for those people who have found my blog because they’re doing just what I’m doing… working and writing with that great overhead goal of becoming published, I’m going to share as much of the process as my limited knowledge of WordPress technology allows! If you’re an author who has been through this process, I can already see you nodding and perhaps getting a giggle over some of this!

First: This is the email that accompanied my Revisions. If you read it, I think you’ll see why my Editor “had me at hello.” She could have red-lined the entire book from there and I’d still think she was wonderful!

Please find attached the edited copy of  His Brand of Beautiful. I have used track changes in Word to make all the edits and I have queried anything other than minor changes (spelling etc) so you can see why the change is suggested. Please could you use track changes to make your own revisions? Please accept any changes you are happy with and comment with any that you prefer to leave or that are confusing etc. (Although you can also email me if there’s anything that doesn’t make sense, of course!).

I don’t think there is anything major here – I really loved this story and got completely sucked in! I think the tension and suspense is handled perfectly; all the story strands unravel at just the right pace and I really enjoyed the mix of love/lust and angst, balanced with such snarky quips. I had quite a few laugh out loud moments and I like the fact that none of the characters are perfect but are still likeable.

One thing the publisher has mentioned (as a general point, not specifically re: HBOB) is the use of song lyrics and the concerns re: copyright and legalities. I have marked up all the lyrics quoted throughout as well as the book section as I am not sure whether you have sought permission for any of these already.

Once again, I apologise for the delay in getting this back to you – I know you’re rushed off your feet with moving and getting organised for that. If you could have a  look over the edit and let me know when you think you can get it back to me, I shall plan accordingly.

Along with the edit you’ll also find my notes and style sheet, which just clarify some of the changes made throughout.

All positive right!? By now I had already rung my husband who was at work to read the bit about “I really loved this story and got completely sucked in!” And chucked a couple of cartwheels over the couch. (Figurative ones, you understand).

And then I opened the file and started scrolling down.

AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!! The comments column on the left hand side was filled with blue and yellow. Comments. Deletions. Corrections.

I quickly discovered my use of commas sucks. I also discovered the book that I’d written thinking its best opportunity for publication was with an American audience, now needed Australian English spellings. I also discovered I was being overly descriptive, which slowed the pacing through my first two scenes.

These are some of the first comments and I hadn’t yet made it to page 2:

  1. Since this story is largely told from either the POV of Christina or Tate and we are in their heads during these scenes, direct inner thoughts are rarely necessary and should be avoided. It means when a character does make an aside, it stands out more.
  2. Love this description, too, however, this has become a very long description about the car and it slows the pace and distracts the focus. We’ve been instantly hooked by Christina’s own curiosity and now the reader will want to know who she’s looking at and why.  Creative description is excellent, but if used too much in any one spot can feel heavy handed.
  3. As above, description needs simplifying to tighten flow. Suggested changes have been made. Eg: we don’t really need all the precise details of how characters move from one location to another; readers will fill in blanks and add detail themselves. Simplifying some description allows more poetic lines to resonate better and avoids doubling up – ie: if his jacket is flapping in the wind, we probably don’t need a description of how the wind affects his hair; if he prowls across the road, this is itself a catlike movement and doesn’t need qualifying further.
  4. The banter between Tate and Christina is witty and sexy, but it works better if we can see them bouncing quips back and forth. The sharp back and forth is slowed and lost if it is repeatedly broken up with lengthy asides and descriptions. Sometimes simple is better – keeps the flow clean and lets the more lyrical descriptions pop when they are used.

That famous phrase which I think I first heard in Stephen King’s On Writing, springs to mind. Kill Your Darlings! I actually thought I was reasonable at cutting stuff out, but obviously! No! So like a knight of the realm I leapt boldly forward, sword high, and started an almighty slash, hack through the start of the book.

Once I reached Chapter 2, life got better. Many of the comments about me being overly descriptive stopped. I was into a big stretch of dialogue which seems to be something people feel I do okay, and the yellow boxes at the side of the page stopped turning my computer screen into a banana.

Here are some more gems that I thought I knew, but obviously, was still guilty of including now and then!

  1. Speech tags are best kept simple and to a minimum. Here, for example, we know it’s a greeting. “Said” or “replied” is better, if tagging is even necessary.
  2. Try to keep the flow tight and sharp. Eg: in dialogue sandwich a line of dialogue with a line of action then another line of dialogue (or the other way around). This is done pretty much perfectly throughout but keep an eye out.

These are some of the things that made me laugh:

My book: “Come here.” He reached strong arms for her, tucked her against his hard length. His heartbeat thumped her shoulder-blade and the heat was instant. She felt her body mould itself to his.

Editor’s comment: “hard length” is frequently used as a euphemism  in romance and could be misconstrued here!

Me: Duh!

My book: Leaning her elbows on the rail, she let her fingers dangle. The Acrylic nails shone. They looked ridiculous here.

Editor’s comment: Throughout – watch out for disembodied body parts. (Her Acrylic nails shone).

My book: On a shelf, slivers of multi-coloured soap were mushed into a single larger piece, all cracked and dry, leached of colour and cemented with God-knew how many pubes. The idea of it anywhere near her skin made it crawl.

Editor’s comment – (linked to my multi-coloured, leached of colour soap!)

And yet multi-coloured?

Me: Duh!

There were more – but those might be a bit x-rated to share here!

The good thing for me was, the bulk of these comments were early, and then it was really a case of picking up small inconsistencies and errors (like the multi-coloured soap and the disembodied body parts) and times when my descriptive fingers just got way too over the top.

One thing I found, and I suspect most writers do this: the opportunity to take that one final read of your book (especially as I hadn’t read it for a couple of months since making my successful submission) is that it is hugely tempting to make further changes. I know I did. I also found I didn’t feel I’d nailed the climactic scene in the book, and really went back through that with a fine-tooth comb.

Right now, my revisions are back with the editor. I hope they hold together. I hope I get one more chance to see it before we fly out to the West on Wednesday. (We’re moving from South Australia to West Australia this week and my computer connections won’t be quite so easy.) But I’ve been promised one more look before it gets locked-in and submitted, on the road to being published with Escape Publishing in March.

That thought itself is terrifying me! It’s like presenting your baby to the adoring (or not so adoring) masses… who are all then going to check it has ten fingers and ten toes… and make snide asides about multi-coloured disembodied birthmarks…

Let’s hope this thick skin that I’ve grown during the past two years of submissions, rejections, and now revisions, holds me in good stead!

If you have a LOL revisions comment to share – I’d love to hear it!

Writing Craft

Hooked on a prologue

I had a lightbulb moment with His Brand Of Beautiful today, and I have two things to thank for it. Two people actually. Stephen King and my critique partner, Kathy. I’ll thank Jennifer Crusie too for this phrase I read on her blog on a topic completely unrelated to prologues. She said something like: The character isn’t in the same location, but I want her to be strong on the page.

I love that. Strong on the page.

So I have a villain in His Brand Of Beautiful who is only in teeny segments of the book, but he’s a huge part of the backstory, and I want him to be Strong On The Page.

My CP said that my villain isn’t ‘bad’ enough, that to raise strong emotions in my characters I have to give strong reasons for those emotions. Because she didn’t read my villain as nasty as I wanted him to be, she felt that my hero’s reactions were then all too far-fetched, or over the top. She didn’t think he had enough reason to hate the villain like he did (does).

So I wrote a prologue in about two hours of writing this morning. My three-year-old was blessedly, beautifully behaved during this time and played with his dinosaurs and came across for the occasional cuddle and generally, just let me get on with it while my muse was flowing.

And here’s where Stephen King comes into it for me. I’ve just finished reading The Dead Zone. King starts it with a prologue. He gives both his hero and his villain a segment in the prologue then kicks off into Chapter 1.

I re-read the prologue this morning.

His villain, Greg Stillson, is gradually climbing the political ladder throughout The Dead Zone and towards the end of the book the hero Johnny has a psychic flash that Stillson is going to become President and that as President, he’ll unleash nuclear war.

In the prologue, King shows a scene with a much younger Stillson, working as a door to door salesman. He rocks up to sell someone encylopedias and when they’re not home, the homeowner’s dog objects to a stranger on his turf. Stillson then proceeds to kick the dog to death.

Nice guy huh?

So because we’ve seen this side of Stillson early in the book, no matter what happens through the next pages we’re all convinced Stillson is an arsehole and that come what may, Johnny Hero has to find a way to prevent Stillson becoming President. It’s brilliant.

This afternoon I visited one of my favorite blogs, Nathan Bransford. He has a great piece on the pros and cons of prologues.

Here’s what he says:

The most common question I get about prologues: are prologues necessary? Personally I think the easiest litmus test is to take out the prologue and see if your book still makes sense.

(I would think given I only just put the prologue in, the answer to that is that I kind of fail this litmus test because I’m sure my book made sense yesterday… but is it better now??? Will this prologue resonate for me right through the book, like Stephen King’s does in The Dead Zone? I think that’s a yes, too.)

Bransford then says:

If you can take out a prologue and the entire plot still makes perfect sense, chances are the prologue was written to “set the mood”. But here’s the thing about mood-setting: most of the time you can set the mood when the actual story begins. Do you really need to set the mood with a separate prologue? Really? Really really?

Sometimes the answer to those four reallys is: “yes, really.” Or the prologue is to be used as a framing device around the plot or to introduce a crucial scene in the backstory that will impact the main plot. So okay, prologue time.

(There’s me. A crucial scene in the backstory that will impact the main plot. Got it in one).

Bransford again:

What makes a good one?

Short, self-contained, comprehensible.

The reader knows full well while reading a prologue that the real story is waiting. A prologue makes a reader start a book twice, because it doesn’t always involve the protagonist, and starting a book is hard because it takes mental energy to immerse oneself in a world. You’re asking more of a reader, so they’ll want to make sure it’s worth it.

You can read Nathan Bransford’s entire post on prologues here.

For the moment at least, I’m hooked on my prologue. I wonder what my Crit Partner will say?

What about you? Are you a prologue fan?