Things I think about when I think about redrafting

Several lists of things I think about when I think about redrafting. The editing process, I suppose….

I’ve been a little quiet of late. I’m trying hard not to distract myself. *SQUIRREL*


I’ve been editing away, trying to make the redraft a better book. I’m about half way through, I’d estimate – a little shy of 48,000 words. For the most part these are new, or at least tweaked. I’m breaking several agents’ rules – writing first person, present tense – but it’s the way I can most comfortably tell this story. It is, after all, the story of me. Or a not-too-far-from-me me, at any rate.

The story has a new title, and a new narrative arc. It still (probably) has too many characters, sub-plots, symbols and grammatical faux pas. But it feels like a better story. I think the motivation of the lead character is a lot more obvious; his eccentricities are more human, and there’s more of a thread to keep people’s attention. I’m tempted to structure it as a ‘write your own adventure’ book, but I suspect this will ultimately fall into the ‘nice idea, but for another day’ category.

The lists of things I think about when I think about redrafting

As I edit, or add new text,I’m trying to make more of an effort to be aware of what has just come before, for the reader’s sake. The process is analogous to mixing paint, but I will usually retreat a few paragraphs from where I want to start, and start editing there instead. The theory is that this will iron out inconsistencies in mood and tempo, as I mix one day’s words with another’s – or, crucially, at least I am more aware of the effect of a change – especially if it’s necessary (eg after an emotional scene I like to put in a descriptive section, which partly shows the character’s state of mind in terms of what he says and how he responds, but also gives the reader a break from too much dialogue).

It’s a theory, anyway.

When I get to the writing proper, I am trying to keep this in mind as I tweak, edit or slash:

  • How does this scene fit into the overall plot? Focus on the main plot – sacrifice micro-plots or things that seemed funny the first time round. Audition each scene. Does it deserve its place in the story? Will it hold me back?
  • How does this scene relate to what the main characters want?
  • Do I need to speed up or slow down? Have I done too many similar-paced scenes on the spin? (I’m using coloured-index cards in Scrivener to give me an instant view of this)
  • Am I using dialogue where reported speech would be more efficient?
  • Am I using character actions enough, or too much? I’m probably overfond of stage directions to indicate mood.
  • Do I need to break up time with a descriptive thought, or sentence. Or use another character to interrupt, or impede?
  • Is what I’m writing credible?
  • Is it natural? No-one’s walked in with the bag marked ‘McGuffin’ too obviously, have they?
  • Have I written this before? I am really rather good at having the same idea several times over several days. Often in neighbouring paragraphs. Have these characters met already – initial descriptions being one of the worst culprits.
  • Lastly, am I writing to amuse myself – ie does the reader really need to know?

There’s another list, which is to do with linguistic tics:

  • Remember that people rarely call each other by name in two-person dialogue.
  • Don’t ‘just’ do things, ‘actually’, ‘really’, or ‘you know’.
  • Watch for slang. I’ve thought long and hard about this, but the American reader will just have to work out what bloody, bollocks and the tube are.  Because obviously that’s the least of their worries.
  • Don’t ‘obviously’. Although I know I have, and it hurts.
  • Check the number of smiles.
  • Check the number of stares, hard or otherwise.
  • Check the units of booze or caffeine.
  • If Tom must stare out of windows and generally be a bit of a moper, help the reader be on his side. Or give them the opportunity to laugh at him. Farce is quite satisfying to write.

I’ve made a couple of colourful mind-maps to try and keep myself on track. I have all my plot points, and decisions to make as to what to keep in or throw out, but the mind map is helping me to focus on what Tom (lead character):

  1. wants – I have four boxes here, these lead to:
  2. what would success look like  – each box has several offshoots, leading to at least one:
  3. what stands in his way – either characters, or situations, or backstory, leading to:
  4. resolutions – how these obstacles are overcome.

Each level is a different colour.  I already have a timeline document of sorts, and I can map most of the 3s and 4s to this timeline. Things that don’t fit either need to go, or I need to resolve them differently, or I need to write into the timeline.

I also did a relationship diagram of all my characters, and used different colours to indicate different things- type of relationship, are they a helper/hinderer, are they incidental or do they advance the plot etc. The colours help to draw people together across the page.

Combined, these drawings have really helped me to boil down the main questions I think that my story needs to answer, in order to make a ‘satisfying’ plot. This is different from ‘what the novel’s about’ as without the eggs, there’s no erm, egg-nog. Not that my book is about egg-nog. Although it is about noggins. And good eggs. And bad eggs.

And lots, and lots, of onions.

I’d welcome any comments….

Refocus – London Book Fair Masterclass #lbf10masterclass

Brief report from the London Book Fair Masterclass today for aspiring authors – entitled ‘How to get published.’

I attended the London Book Fair Masterclass today for aspiring authors – entitled ‘How to get published.’  In my particular case it should have been called ‘how not to get lost in a two elevator system’, or ‘how to tell two people next to you to STFU if they just came to hiss and tut and make sarcastic comments to each other’.

Anyhoo – an interesting experience – as it usually is when listening to professionals in the industry (the supply side (authors) are always full of doom and gloom, while being pleased as punch to be in front of an audience) and the demand side try hard to keep a straight face in front of the occasionally insane things the authors say, and the absurd things the attendees get bees in their bonnets about).

One of the great things, of course, is the amount of disagreement that there is between them. Which just goes to show what a highly subjective and personal experience-driven occupation publishing is….

Anyhoo, it’s left me re-energised, and more determined than ever to get both the editing and the pitching of Tom or whatever it ends up being called, better.

A good day.

*Update* So the day itself wasn’t earth shattering. The agent, publisher, self-publisher and the two authors all said intelligent, anecdotal – ie not ‘follow this snake-oil formula for succes’ but ‘this is what I’ve found/observed’ –  mostly relevant stuff (there was a brief hiatus for a discussion about book covers which had me reaching for the refund button, but it got back on track soon enough). Interestingly, Carole Blake said she’d already sealed 3 or 4 seven figure deals for established authors, and three first-time writer deals this year, both statements being hugely encouraging. Siobhan Custer, the self-publisher, said all the sort of things I thought she would, and I hope it works out for her. But it’s not for me.

I’ve already got Blake’s book, and while Lionel Shriver and Meg Rosoff were interesting (and perhaps suprisingly, funny) so it was Mark Booth’s talkette that I probably got the most out of – even if it is nothing more than thinking about the title of my novel more carefully.

The quote of the day belonged to Rosoff – ‘just write a fucking great book’ – in response to one of several disappointing questions from the audience (although to be fair, I guess there is no magic bullet question to ask either – I’ve done a lot of research and worried about loads of stuff, so the two questions that came to mind:

(1) What do professionals think is the role or potential usefulness of peer-review sites like authonomy or completelynovel?

(2) The agent I’ve wanted to work with all my adult career has not responded to my query. Two others have rejected it, presumably having failed something basic in the submission package – and partly based on this I want to resubmit to my ‘preferred’ agent. However, I don’t know if I should mention the previous submission, or just pretend the whole thing never happened (as I haven’t had a reply and it was sent on the same date, with the same SAE as the other two – getting on for three months ago now).

But I suspect I know the answer to (1) – as it was staring me in the face looking around the attendees (my heart sank, slightly, but then this is partly because it reminds me how much time I’ve ‘wasted’ trying to get the life experience to have something to say….)

And as for (2) – well, if nothing else comes out of today, I am going to re-edit the novel, refocus on one specific element. Blake said the most impressive query she’d had was one that persuaded her to read outside of a subject area she normally read in, because the author had ‘written a book he wanted to read’. The more I think about my first book, the more I realise it’s a book I wanted to write, and I need to put some more thought into making it something I, and others, would want to read.

And, fortunately for my sanity, I’ve realised since that this isn’t so hard. That sometimes the problem is sitting in this study and staring out my internet window and feeling too scared by all the fireworks and bigger dogs and IP and e-books and self-publishing blither blather to remember that I can write. I just need to focus on the reader more, whether that’s me or you, or whoever.

Have something to say. And say it as best you can. Even if the end result is ‘I wish I’d read this kind of book when I was going through what I’m writing about’. It’s valid, and true – and might just help me write something more… universal.

So, despite the embarassment of attempting to wander round an empty first floor, the neighbours who seemed intent on adding their own soundtrack to what was being said, the annoying sound problems and the cringeworthy questions, I really enjoyed my day – although perversely I don’t think I’d recommend it to others.One attendee stormed out because the panel were being too negative, or not specific enough. Wel… as the whole panel repeated, time and time again – it’s persistence, passion and professionalism. Which means accepting the odds are highly stacked against us first-timers, and you know, it’s not personal.

It’s not us, it’s Rupert Murdoch. Or whoever runs Walmart. Ok, ok. It wasn’t said. But you weren’t there, man – you don’t know how tough it was in bookselling ‘Nam.

I jest. Of course it’s Murdoch’s fault. Without him BA Barracus would never have got on that plane.

Ok, ok. The real advice – follow agents, publishers and authors on twitter – read their blogs and websites. Absorb – without prejudice. And one day you’ll be up there, among the followed, and not just among the followers.

I hope.