Thursday, December 27, 2012

Writing a novel diary: Part 6

It's almost finished!

The final task for me is the line edit. This is the final read-through of the novel, ideally done after leaving it alone for at least a month. I originally did not believe that I would be able to do this due to a looming delivery deadline, but a glance at the contract revealed that I actually had four more weeks than I'd thought. This break away from the manuscript is as an essential task as the edit itself. No matter how good I may ( or may not ) become at writing, I always miss things or make mistakes when trying to perform a final read-through and edit the moment I finish the structural editing. Like most people, I just can't help but skim lines with which I've become over-familiar, or not think deeply enough about dialogue that already seems to "do the job". A month spent working on something else is not time wasted, and allows me to read the novel with fresher eyes.

So, simple tip: Forget about your novel for a month before attempting the final edit.

For this job I sit at my desk, coffee at the ready and with a series of Post-It notes for each character's personalities attached to the desk in front of me. I also have a paper and pen in case any major errors in plot or narrative should appear. Then, I read the novel. Simple as that. I try to enjoy it while just keeping an eye open for any dialogue that sounds out of character; prose that could be shortened or polished a little; actions that maybe seem designed to push the plot rather than portray character, and so on. And of course I look out for typos and grammatical mistakes.

Generally, this final task takes me about a week or so as I make little adjustments. Virtually every page gets something done, even if it's just a simple word swap. Incidentally, this is the time that I use to look out for opportunities for descriptive passages, the chance to take a basic portrayal of a scene and make it something special. Eg, early in Apocalypse  I described a "set of towering cumulonimbus soaring above the horizon glowing in the light of the setting sun." After my line edit this became: "...the sun was sinking between towering cumulonimbus clouds that soared like angel's wings.."  Simple, but effective.

The line edit usually shaves a couple of thousand words off the novel as contractions and better use of words reduce excessive narrative and dialogue becomes smoother, sharper and more dynamic. When I reach the end of the edit, I'll save the completed novel in at least three different places for safe keeping and then send it to my agent and editor. And that's it.

Except that finishing the novel is only the beginning. Two or three months later my editor will send me her own general edit, where she will begin to help me shape the novel into an even tighter product. This edit takes several weeks to work through, and is followed a few weeks later by her line-edit, which takes a few weeks more. Then there's the copy-edit a month or two after that, and then the page-proofs before the novel goes to print, usually a couple of months before publication.

And then the whole process is done again for the novel's publication in the USA.

This is how modern novels are created and the editorial process ( after the author has delivered their manuscript ) is much the same for all authors writing for mainstream publishers. If being a novelist is your plan for the future, then perhaps the best final piece of advice I could give is to become a great self-editor and willingly accept all constructive criticism, because editing a novel ready for the crowded market takes far longer than writing the novel itself.

This is the final part of my writing diary, as all the stages after this have been detailed in prior posts concerning the publication of earlier novels. I hope that it has been of help to any aspiring authors reading my blog, and if it helps any of you achieve publication then it will have been worth it.
And you owe me a drink.


Rebecca Alexander said...

I'm pretty sure I owe you a drink...thank you for such a comprehensive journey through the process.

Dean Crawford said...

I'll look forward to that drink, Rebecca :)