Tag Archives: editing

Is it worth revamping an old book?

TDADD-ebook-webHave you ever gazed forlornly at your first ever publication and wondered whether you could have done a better job? I know some of you have. I guess that’s one of the wonderful things about the ease of electronic publishing – fixing errors and typos is so easy. So when the rights to my one and only historical fiction book, To Die a Dry Death, were returned to me, I decided to give it my best.

TDaDD has had a chequered history, moving from one publisher to another three times, each without much sales success, despite a number of excellent reviews. During the years since I first wrote the book, I’ve been able to visit the Abrolhos Islands, and I described that visit in a post. At that time I wondered whether my descriptions of the landscape matched the reality, so when my rights were returned I wanted to check. Accuracy in details are so important when describing something that really happened.

Bear in mind that each time the book changed house it was edited and copy edited before it was re-released. Even so, I’ve written quite a few other books since TDaDD was first launched, and practice in writing might not make perfect, but it sure does help. I started reading from page one (as you do) and soon found myself thinking I could have expressed a few parts a little better. I soon built up a head of steam and ended up adding over a thousand words to the MS.

I thought it was worth pointing out the main faults I found – especially bearing in mind this book has been edited at least six times. It’s a useful lesson in self-editing.

‘Said’ isn’t as invisible as you might think

Sometimes it’s just plain unnecessary

Here’s an example:

“I believe it,” said Pelsaert. “It’s just the sort of thing Adriaen was capable of. Fancy offering a woman like Lucretia gold to submit to his will.” He jerked his head at Cornelisz. “Go on.”

This could just as easily be:

“I believe it. It’s just the sort of thing Adriaen was capable of. Fancy offering a woman like Lucretia gold to submit to his will.” Pelsaert jerked his head at Cornelisz. “Go on.”

Telling instead of showing

It takes more words to paint a picture, but it’s usually worthwhile.

This:

A soldier approached with a canvas collar, brought from the Sardam. It sat tight around Cornelisz’s neck, a funnel all the way around his head to above the level of his nose. That done, they strapped him to a frame built for the purpose so he could not move or tilt his head

Became this:

The men approached with a canvas collar, brought from the Sardam. They fastened it tightly around Cornelisz’s neck, forming a funnel all the way around his head to above the level of his nose. That done, they strapped his arms and legs to a wooden frame built for the purpose so he could not move, then fastened the funnel to the frame so he couldn’t tilt his head.

Poor scene transition

By that I mean from one sentence to the next we’re suddenly somewhere else, forcing the reader to work it out. No-one ever mentioned that as an issue, but I noticed it, so I’ve fixed it.

Not enough in the character’s head

This was interesting, because at the time I thought I was doing that, revealing the character’s thoughts to the reader. Sometimes I did, but sometimes I didn’t. This isn’t a fault per se; not everyone writes like that. But I do, and I felt it would add to the reading experience.

In the end, I’ve added about one thousand words. Which means I added rather more than that, since I took out a lot of ‘said’s. But I have not changed the plot, or the characters in any way. The cake was baked. I just added a bit of icing.

Was it worth doing? I think so. I believe I’ve made an already good book a little bit better. I hope readers will agree. And I really, really LOVE the new cover. Thanks to Rebecca Poole of Dreams2Media for her patience and skill in realising my vision. I also rewrote the blurb, which I believe reflects this incredible true story much better than the previous versions.

So here it is, for better or for worse. Any bets on whether it’ll now be a best seller? Let’s just say I ain’t holding my breath.

To Die a Dry Death

TDADD-ebook-webSurviving the shipwreck was the easy part

1629. Shipwrecked on an uncharted reef thirty miles off the coast of Australia, two hundred men, women and children scramble ashore on tiny, hostile islands. There is no fresh water and the only food is what they can salvage from the wreck, or harvest from the sea.

The ship’s officers set out in an open boat on a two-thousand-mile journey across uncharted ocean to seek help. But there’s not enough food and water for everyone on the islands to last until a rescue ship arrives. One man will stop at nothing to ensure that he is among the survivors.

But adversity throws up heroes. Soon there’s war between two groups, both determined to be there to greet that rescue ship when it arrives. If it arrives.

The terrifying true story of the Batavia shipwreck. Contains graphic violence.

 

 

 

Is the extended edition of The Hobbit a better movie?

Hobbit posterFinally! My very own copy of the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey arrived! I spent a happy afternoon watching the movie and I’ve had some time to think about it. These things are all about editing, are they not? And we writers can learn from what the pros do. So this is my opinion on the extras. Pretty obviously there will be ‘spoilers’ if you don’t wish to know what the additions are.

Right, so they’ve left the room, we can continue.

The process of editing is all about driving the story forward, making the whole a satisfying experience. Of course, my favourites will be other people’s blerghs, and vice versa.

Jackson had actually edited back the very long prelude, where the background to the story is laid out. In this version, we see Bilbo going out to buy the fish which he never gets to eat, we see a few more pretty pictures of hobbit boys and girls doing hobbity things. Yes, I reckon I would have edited out those scenes, too. They really didn’t add anything.

However, there is a sequence in Thranduil’s visit to Thror which I felt added a lot. Thror effectively taunts Thranduil with a box of jewels and Thranduil and his people march out in a huff. Not quite the same message as came out in the original movie.

Not much changes until we reach Rivendell. There, we see more scenes of the Dwarves behaving disgracefully, a repetition of their behaviour at Bilbo’s house, complete with food fights and bathing in the fountains. Yes, I could live with that being cut. We also got to see Bilbo really enjoying Rivendell, pretty much on his own. He comes across the shards of Narcil, and the painting of Isildur facing Sauron. There is also a brief conversation between Elrond and Bilbo, where Elrond says Bilbo can stay as long as he likes. These scenes add to the gap between the Dwarves, Bilbo and the Elves, and also show the passage of time. The Dwarves don’t just stay overnight at Rivendell, an impression you’d be forgiven for in the first release. Yes, much of it didn’t add to the story. In fact, when I saw the footage of a bunch of naked Dwarves cavorting in the fountains, I wondered why Gandalf was never shown in a change of clothes, with at least clean hands. Did you notice his fingernails? However, while I thought the scenes of Bilbo really enjoying Rivendell explained a few things, it would have been hard to leave them in if the food fights etc were taken out.

One other scene added information – an overheard conversation between Elrond and Gandalf where Thorin’s parentage is discussed with references to mental instability. Bilbo and Thorin both hear what is said, and the words had this watcher’s brain ticking. I’m betting we get to meet Thrain in the next movie, and (having read the Hobbit many times) I know that strand of insanity is important.

Let’s move on to the Misty Mountains. It seems Jackson had more of the fight between the rock giants to entertain us with. Ho hum. Then down we go to Goblin Town. I’ll bet Barry Humphries had a ball playing the Goblin King. The extended version treats us to a rap rendition of the song Tolkien wrote in his book for this section, performed by the Goblin King and his band. Mistake. The Goblin King comes across already as a figure of fun without making it worse.

And that’s about it. Unlike the extended version of LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, I don’t think this extended version added a great deal. So overall, the extended edition isn’t a better movie. It’s a pity that Jackson reduced the confrontation between Thranduil and Thror to an almost king/vassal situation. The hints of other happenings in the overheard talks at Rivendell would have helped. But for the rest (most especially the Goblin King and his band) the red pen was right.

These things are always a matter of opinion, though. I’d love to know what you thought.

 

Can you call yourself a writer before you’ve written one million words? #amwriting

IMG_7874Okay, it’s rant time again. I regularly pop around the blogoverse to see what’s what and I’ll often read a writing-related post. I did that yesterday (sorry, can’t find the post in question) and read the whole damn thing even though I started rolling my eyes pretty early in the piece.

I just wish people would STOP INSISTING ON RULES CHIPPED INTO F***ING GRANITE.

Apparently you have to write a million words before you can call yourself a writer. It’s one of those bits of advice that does the rounds from time to time. This article went even further and said you should write ten one hundred thousand word novels and only try to sell the last one. Oh, I have to be fair. After you’d done that you could go back and re-hash the first nine because then you’d know how to do it. And the analogies were trotted out. It takes one million name-your-poison to achieve whatever. One million hours of practice to be a great violinist/pianist/guitar player. One million dabs with a paint brush to make a great painter etc etc.

So what makes a ‘good writer’?

Everybody knows Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling can’t write for toffee. But James Joyce, Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway can. Uh-huh. I’m a Philistine. Classifying something as ‘literature’ is enough to have me headed for the hills. I have not and will not read any more of Ulysses than the couple of pages I tried years ago. I never liked Dickens, despite having the books inflicted on me at high school and the one year of English Lit I should never have taken at university. No, I don’t think much of Dan Brown’s books, or Stephenie Meyers’. I wonder if they care? On the other hand, I loved Harry Potter and still do. My taste is for ‘genre’ fiction – science fiction, crime and fantasy. I love Tolkien, Asimov, Agatha Christie, Peter Robinson.

I’m quite willing to believe many of those writers I just listed wrote more than one million words. But not before they published their first work. And if you think you can’t sell your first novel, have a look at this list of ‘first novels’. I can add a few more, writers I know who have done exceedingly well out of their first novels. Toby Neal, whose Lei crime series has become a best seller and Elspeth Cooper, whose first two books were both nominated for the David Gemmell award. And yes, I know that Tolkien virtually rewrote The Lord of the Rings many times. I believe we refer to that process as ‘editing’.

Have I written one million words? Probably. A bunch of essays and a dissertation for my honours degree in history, a few short stories that disappeared somewhere, some fan fiction, numerous shopping lists, analysis reports for clients. Do they count? I had to learn to spell and use grammar correctly for some of those. Though I can’t vouch for the shopping lists. Few people are likely to realise that ‘ums’ in our house actually stands for ‘what are we going to have for dinner tonight?’

By now you’ve probably realised that I don’t think you need to have written a million words before you try to be published. Which does not mean that I don’t think it’s a good idea to hone your skills. Of course it is. However, you can be technically the best writer in the world but if you write a lousy story – you’ve lost the plot. Pardon the pun. In fact let me give you some examples. Asimov’s Foundation series is a classic of science fiction. However, I believe he took the series one or two books too far. I loved The Lord of the Rings but gave up on The Silmarillion. I’m sure we can all name examples where that’s happened.

Which simply illustrates the ONLY Rule of Writing that has any real credibility.

WRITE A GOOD STORY.

Ends rant. Got anything you’d like to add?

 

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as over-editing

I’m in the middle of editing a new book and my experience with editing The Iron Admiral came to mind. I learned some valuable lessons then and I think it’s worth repeating them. If you have any views, I’d love to know your experience.

Murder your darlings? Maybe…

Picture of hand with knifeLast night for some reason known only to my brain I woke up thinking about self-editing and how one goes about this rather onerous chore. Some parts are relatively simple and here I mean looking for over-use of adjectives and adverbs, typos, lousy sentence construction and the like. The hard part is deciding what is part of your story and what is not.

We’re often told that if it doesn’t advance the story, cut it out. Which is fine and makes sense. Of course it does. But what does that really mean? I started to consider my Iron Admiral books. I’ve written a post before about how I nearly killed the story through over-editing (click here to read it). After that, I split the very long novel into two shorter ones and set about reconstructing. In that process I had to decide what was in and what was not, given I’d thrown out whole chapters as well as smaller scenes. And I have found that some of the scenes I judged initially to be extraneous to requirements and added back with some misgivings, were stand-outs in revealing character and adding depth to the story.

The best example was that Admiral Saahren sent Allysha, the love of his life, flowers. He sent them anonymously, but he sent her love lilies, flowers which in the Confederacy Fleet had a particular significance. Originally, I’d asked myself that question – if I leave this bit out, will the story still stand? Will anybody notice? Let’s face it, the answer was ‘yes’. By rights, the flowers didn’t add to the plot and certainly the historical background to the origin of the love lilies story was extraneous. Yet more than one person loved this side of Saahren’s character. You could say the same thing about his visit to a market with Allysha, where she admires a bolt of cloth. Or for the flashback where Saahren relives his sister’s death. Or for the discussion between Allysha and a senior officer on Saahren’s flagship, who reveals information about the Fleet’s officer corps.

So take care when you ‘murder your darlings’. Sometimes it has to be done, but there is more to a novel than a plot. Characters must be believable, the setting in which they operate must be three-dimensional. These days, if I read some of my own work and find myself wondering why this chapter is there, I’ll consider a cut but I think carefully about eliminating a scene which adds depth or character. I always find myself coming back to The Lord of the Rings and Frodo’s sojourn with Tom Bombadil. Sure, the story stood without it but I loved that section, regardless.

What about you? Have you had second thoughts about eliminating scenes? Or some advice on what to cut?

Editing is full of doubt

#amediting #amstruggling

Yes, I’m struggling as I edit this story, the one that needs more romance. I sit here at the laptop and gaze at the words on the page and wonder if I’m trying to do something I shouldn’t be doing. So then I go out in the garden and hope a butterfly will slow down long enough for me to take a good picture. Or I go shopping and – gosh, where has the morning gone and I don’t feel like it any more.

Sit down, concentrate, this has to happen. Why is it so hard? Get into her head. She’s smitten but she’s wary. Get into his head. He’s besotted but he can’t. She’s not the right one. She can’t be the right one. How does that feel? Hot, sweaty, horny, uncomfortable. And her? Tight nipples, wetness, heat, all tingly, all aware of scents.

Write more words.

Can I do this? Should I do this?

Yes, I should and yes, I can. Remember when I had to add a lot more romance to ‘The Iron Admiral’? It was hard, as hard as this. Maybe not quite so hard because I wasn’t writing a romance. Not really. Was I? But I rewrote and rewrote and I must have got it fairly right because people said things like “Chaka Saahran is one sexy dude: a military man (imagine him in uniform) fully capable of killing when necessary, commanding an enormous battleship, and presiding over thousands of soldiers, while behind the scenes arranging for a bolt of exquisite green material shot with details of gold to be crafted into a magical dress for the woman he loves. Made me sigh more than once.”

Okay, that worked. I know I can I know I can I know I can… A caterpillar turns into a butterfly.

But even so, I’m open to suggestions. Anyone?

Do ‘autocritters’ help?

Picture of glasses on open bookI’m on the final hurdle of the editing marathon for my latest novel, “Starheart”, the copy edit. I’m not a great adherent of the “Rules of Writing” as I’m sure some of you know. But on a whim I decided to test my MS against an ‘autocritter’. They come under various names and are easy enough to find. Software which sucks in your manuscript, breaks out every word, and comes back with a list of how many times you used what.

The software I used is available at Savvy Authors, an energetic and helpful web-based writers’ site.  Basic membership is free for those interested. Anyway, this package prepares a report after it has done its thing. The user is told that “All percentages are based upon industry averages for mass market fiction.”

These are my initial results for Starheart

The software also listed the number of times every word occurred, but I haven’t shown those results. This table is worth considering because it purports to give a comparison against ‘industry standards’. So what does it tell me?

I don’t use exclamation marks (yay me!) and I’m okay on a few others, according to whoever came up with the recommended maxima. But overall, I guess you’d have to call it a fail. 🙁 Let’s see, now.

All

I overused ‘all’. I checked by using ‘find’ to read each one in context. And yes, I agree I had many instances of ‘nothing’ expressions such as ‘after all’ and ‘at all’.

As

I was astounded at how many times I’d used the ‘as…as’ construction, such as ‘as fast as’, ‘as soon as’ and so on. I managed to replace quite a few of those with words like ‘immediately’. But here we hit a problem. If I use ‘immediately’, I introduce an adverb, something this software does not detect and which (according to the Rules of Writing) should be used sparingly (sic). I found that quite often, ‘as’ occured in a construction such as ‘“where are we going?” she asked as they walked down the corridor.’ Now, I could replace that fragment with ‘Walking down the corridor, she asked, “where are we going?”’ Having been guilty of overusing ‘…ing’ words in the past, I’m careful with them. Besides, to me the meaning isn’t quite the same.

Could

I suspect the main reason for the objection to ‘could’ is that it is often used in constructions like ‘could see’ when one is in a character’s POV, for instance, ‘in the distance she could see a train’. It’s not needed. Just tell the reader what the character saw. ‘A train meandered through the valley far below.’ But ‘could’ is a perfectly legitimate word in many other cases. For instance ‘Even her security couldn’t beat one of those.’

Just/then

These can often be ‘nothing’ words. Eg ‘Let’s go, then’. ‘I don’t want to air the whole ship up just for a quick visit.’ I did go through and eliminate many instances of these two words.

Key/major/meaningful/important/significant

I can never use those words? Never? Oh, bummer. I have keys to locks, keypads. Jess only wants calls directed if they’re important. ‘He didn’t think it important, but Longford clearly did.’ I think I’ll ignore that one.

So/very/really

I was fascinated to read that the count for ‘so/very/really’ was zero. Certainly I checked for ‘very’ and often I could eliminate the word. But I did not remove it from dialogue, because that’s how people talk. And ‘so’? The word is not always used in the context of ‘so fast’, or ‘so slow’, it can be in context such as ‘So that’s what you meant?’ Why would you eliminate the word there?

The word ‘really’ isn’t always used as a nothing adverb, as in ‘really quickly’. Take this example; “So you believe what she’s saying? Really?”

Knew/know/think/thought

The implication here is that these words are unnecessary if you’re in a character’s POV. For example, ‘What the hell am I doing here, she thought.’ This is true and I take care not to use such constructions. However, I do use lines like this. “By the way, I thought the strip search was foolishness. But it’s not my command.” It’s in dialogue. Another example – ‘it would be interesting to find out what everybody else thought.’

See/saw/look

Here again, I suspect this is mainly aimed at cases where the narrator intrudes, as in ‘she could see the train in the distance’. But what about “See what you can find out.” Or ‘Nothing to see.’ And dare I say, ‘saw’ might just be a crosscut saw (though not in this story).

Taste/smell

I passed this one with flying colours. Here again, I think it’s about POV, the ‘could smell’ or ‘could taste’ construction. ‘She could smell something rotten.’ So much better to write ‘the stench of decay invaded her nostrils’.

That

It’s always wise to check for ‘that’. It can be used as a ‘nothing’ word as in ‘so that‘. The word isn’t needed in this context. You might also be able to appease the software by replacing that with which.

There/it

My favourites in this category are ‘there was/were’. You can almost always find a better way of expressing this. For example ‘There were thirty levels on this thing.’ ‘This thing had thirty levels.’ Well worth a check.

Was/were/am/is/are/be/had/has

I seem to have overused these rather a lot. I’ll read through the MS and see what I think as I go. Again, I suspect this is a warning about POV and of using passive language. Why say ‘was walking’ when you can say ‘walked’? But while I’m checking, I’ll bear in mind that passive voice is perfectly legitimate in some circumstances, it’s preferable since it slows the action. And then there’s dialogue. It’s how people talk.

So there you have it. Is this type of software worthwhile? Yes it is. Anything that makes a writer think about his/her MS in a different way is useful. However, it is just one snapshot, a two-dimensional view of a complex object. I feel if you take these ‘rules’ too far, you’ll lose your own, distinctive voice. So take what is of value to you, and ignore the rest. I’m re-reading Terry Pratchett’s ‘Going Postal’ at the moment. It occurred to me, as I read, this award-winning, hugely popular author would fail the Autocritter, every time.

What about you? Do you use these tools? Do you find them helpful? I’d love to know.

First create your trail (then your hero can follow it)

(© Greta van der Rol)

I’m busy finishing a book. It’s that one about the tigers which I’ve mentioned before and it’s a paranormal romance with some thriller type smuggling elements. So now I’m back to basics. If a substance (in this case tiger parts) is being smuggled, how does the chain work from living tiger to retailer of Chinese medicines or tiger pelts? Because if I don’t know, how is my hero supposed to unearth the trail?

Mind you, I can only find out so much from the net about how these things happen. A search will show you how tigers are killed by poachers. It isn’t pretty. But from there, the skin, bones and organs have to be transported out of the country. I made up my own trail – shonky medical labs, bent airport freight handlers in several countries, dealers, couriers. It’s a money trail; it always is.

Are you wondering about that picture up there? At low tide, water runs down the beach into the sea, creating a myriad of channels. Some go somewhere, others disappear into the sand.

A bit like smuggling, really.

 

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as over-editing

Picture of CosmosThe very first book I ever wrote was called (among other things) The Iron Admiral. I wanted to write a space opera with sex; not erotica, science fiction but with heart. So I did. To start with it wasn’t so very good. No writer’s first efforts are, I don’t think. In my case, the writing was flowery with many words other than ‘said’, much telling and not showing… the usual culprits.

But I went and learnt the craft and I polished and polished and polished. Eventually, I was happy with my work and propositioned literary agents and a few publishers without success. I got desperate and even self-published for Kindle. But then, an agent took an interest. I pulled the book off Amazon and listened to her advice. Rewrite, she said. She pointed out some plot weaknesses and suggested I bring the leading man in earlier. This was all good and I was grateful. But I’d written two books, one following on from the other. I’d been told that in a romance, there has to be a happy ending, nuptials if not confetti. Really, that meant I had to bring the two books together into one. Both of them were 100,00 words. Each.

I chopped and I clicked and I hacked and I snipped. At last, the book was down to 112,000.

But I wasn’t happy. I didn’t send the book back to Ms Agent, telling myself I’d wait until after Christmas. Then I saw an opportunity in a web group I belong to called Savvy Authors. You can join for free and it has some nifty opportunities for any starting writer. For some little while the group advertised the chance to do an editing workshop with a group of six authors, in conjunction with a living, breathing editor. After a lot of navel-gazing and head-scratching, I decided it might help to give my masterpiece a final polish.

After two exercises in the workshop, I was pretty sure I’d made a horrible mistake; after three, I was certain. I’d edited the heart out of my first book. The theme – of betrayal and broken trust – had disappeared in a flurry of jettisoned scenes. I’d cut for length, not for substance. Oh, it still read all right; but this book was supposed to be based on a tag line like ‘anything can be true – from a certain point of view’. (Oh, hey, I like that. *beams*)

The other mistake I’d made was to cut out scenes which the story ‘didn’t need’. One such example was the legend of the love lilies which Saahren has delivered to Allysha. In my edits I took the flowers out altogether, but I put them back in the final version. People loved it because the flowers revealed character and caring, a romantically naive man trying to win his lady in one of the few ways he knows. But let’s face it, the story would have stood without them. It isn’t the only example.

Mind you, many of the changes I’d made were for the better. The story moves faster, with less exposition and more action. But it had lost its heart. So I split back to two books. Both are a little shorter, more like 80,000 than 100,000. But I’m not sure I can call it ‘romance’ any more because the final ‘happy ever after’ isn’t until the end of book 2. I’m not sure I care, though. The most important thing is I’ve learned a valuable lesson; to use a cliché, ‘to thine own self be true’. Write your own story and stick to your guns. I don’t mean ignore advice; Ms Agent’s advice was valuable, but I really don’t think she would have found my MS worthy if I had sent it. I didn’t, so why should she?

By the way, the two books are published. They are The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy and The Iron Admiral: Deception. You’ll find them both here.