Writing a book – or a short story is an incredible achievement. No one should ever underestimate the discipline and sacrifice that has gone into turning an idea into reality. But, something that I, as an editor, come up with time and time again, writer’s often don’t realise that it is the revision and re-writing of the story that makes it a great novel. The harsh reality is that honestly – anyone can write a book – it is just a matter of hitting the computer keys and churning out words. It is the revision and re-writing that turns words into a book that readers will love.
The publishing world has opened up to writers. Getting your book published is no longer an impossible task. Now absolutely anyone can write a book and download it to a self-publishing web site.
Unfortunately this also means that a lot of books that shouldn’t be published are available for anyone to read. Knowledgeable souls in the publishing world continually advise self-publishers to get help with editing, and not just copyediting but story editing too.
While some authors are thrilled to have another eye helping mould their words into a story some writers are horrified and disappointed when their manuscript is returned covered in comments and queries from the editor. Do a little research into the professional lives of any well-known author and you will find that the reality is that they re-write and re-write and sometimes re-write again until the book is good enough.
The first draft of a book is where the ideas just pour out of your imagination, fingers fly over the keyboard and of course everyone who reads the book will tell you that it is utterly brilliant. Except unless you are a literary genius the first draft of your book is undoubtedly just that – a vague impression of the wonderful story that it could become.
An editor will go through your book and identify problems in the plot and with grammar and comprehension, but anyone wanting to write a good novel should revise their work first.
It is hard to go back through a manuscript that you have toiled over – and look at it with an unbiased eye, but this is what you must do. It can help to put the manuscript away for a week or two and then come back to it refreshed and able to look at it objectively.
Re-read and as you do check the following pointers:-
Is the story boring? if you are bored re-reading, it’s not because you’ve read that section so many times, it’s because it’s boring. Good writing is always engaging, even after reading it over and over. We reread favourite books. The worst offense a writer can commit is to be boring.
Cut up your story. Use a note pad and summarise each chapter and scene. Lay these out on the floor or a wall. Check that the order of the information contributes to tension/suspense. Also, think about the length of each piece, check that it is contributing to the pacing and rhythm of the story. This way you should be able to see where a scene is too slow, or where it ends too quickly.
Check what the reader learns in each section. Ideally, they should continue learning things about the characters or action, in order to increase the stakes, desire, conflict, etc. until the story moves toward an ending.
Look at your writing style:- Have you used the same words over and over again? Look at your use of language – check that you are showing the reader the action, not telling them.
In each paragraph, look at opening sentence and last sentence in particular. Important things in the moment should go at the beginning or end. Grab the reader with good opening lines on each paragraph and leave them longing for more at the end of it.
Have you got the tone of speech correct? Indirect speech for voice. Direct speech for drama. Indirect for information. Don’t be blunt with speech, make sure it has bearing on how a real person would talk, intersperse action with dialogue to move things along. ‘The stable is there.’ Would be better written ‘she dismounted from the sweating horse and pointed towards the stable, or she walked towards the stable tangling her hands in the horse’s mane etc.
Consider the backstory: can it fit into the dialogue somewhere, where someone else’s interest in it can bring it out, increasing our own, as well as making it a direct concern in the present of the story rather than ‘telling the reader.
These are minor points that should be considered before you submit your book to an editor. Revision and rewriting is all part of the process.
Just like a parent it is impossible to see the flaws in a book you have spent many hours, even years toiling over. And yet the worst thing a writer can do is to finish their book, check it over for spelling mistakes and unleash it on an unsuspecting world. Unfortunately this can result in your name being linked to a rubbish book which doesn’t show off your talents. Every writer, even the big name writers of well- known bestsellers work with editors who check over their manuscript and hone it until it reaches perfection.
As the author of any book you will find it impossible to see any flaws in it. No matter how hard you try it is impossible to ‘see’ the glaring errors that a reader will quickly point out to you. There could be flaws in the plot, or in your time line, making characters arrive somewhere before they have left. While writing you won’t be able to spot these as in your mind the story is accurate. You may have seen the spelling lists where some of the letters are jumbled up and yet you still read the word which is meant to be there because the eye assumes it knows what is there. Even a spell check on a computer won’t pick this up as there are many words that are incorrect in the context of the manuscript and yet are spelt right. There and their know and now for instance would not be picked up by a spell checker.
The unbiased eye of a good book editor will check that the horse at the centre of the story is chestnut the whole way through the book instead of changing to grey half way through. An editor they will wonder if daffodils should be blooming in September and make sure that all of the threads in your book are followed to a proper conclusion. What has happened to the farrier who was knocked over by a loose horse in chapter three? Has he played his role in the book properly, or will the reader be left wondering what happened to him.
As a writer you have no doubt in your mind the motivation behind your character’s actions. Often though, in writing this is not shown properly to the reader leaving them confused and frustrated. With so many books available it is important that your writing not only keeps readers entertained, but that they also enjoy the experience. You might know, as the writer, why a character is afraid of her horse, but unless the character is properly portrayed the reader might see her as feeble and unlikable and quickly lose patience with the book.
The most enjoyable part of writing a book is actually sitting at the computer and seeing the characters come to life. You have spent time planning, got to know your characters and settings inside out, worked out the plot – the actual writing is the fun part. Once you have typed THE END as your story reaches its conclusion the first thing you want to do is to share what you are sure is a work of genius with the world. But hold on – it’s actually time to get to work now, pruning, revising, perfecting. It is essential to do this work with an editor, the professional, unbiased eye that can take your book and turn it into something truly unforgettable.