There are those who think that they can edit their own writing. I know of a few self-published authors who don’t bother with professional edits for their work. Personally, I think that the cards are stacked against self-published authors as it is. There are those in the book trade who don’t like us and what we do, why give them another chance to dismiss our work as poorly prepared?
As far as I’m concerned, my physical products must be as good as or better than any mainstream publication. Along with the importance of good cover design that means that the words have been properly edited and formatted, by experts.
I’m lucky to have a wonderful editor. She has just sent me the results of her first look at my latest manuscript, the first time that anyone apart from me has seen it, together with extensive notes and a list of comments.
Now it’s up to me to try and sort it all out and turn it into a document that is ready for beta readers. Hopefully, by the time that I’ve finished, it will resemble more of a completed novel than it does at the moment.
So I thought that you might like to see how I go about that.
The first thing that hits you when you look at your edited manuscript is how little you really knew of it.
It’s easy to say, “I’ve been working on it for months, I know every word and comma,” and naturally you’re in love with what you’ve written. The trouble is, your familiarity has blinded you to its faults, and if it’s anything like one of my first drafts, it has a whole load of faults.
Just as an example, here’re the editor’s comments on the proposed blurb, as you can see it’s only a few lines of text but I thought that my version was pretty good at summing up the stories themes without giving too much away.
And the rest of the 254 pages go in a very similar vein. The remarks are all concise, detailed and pertinent.
When I got the first edit that I ever submitted back and saw all the red and blue and yellow, it looked like some demented spider with inky feet had crawled all over my beautiful prose. I thought that I had failed in some way. I wondered if or even why my superb creation deserved such a savaging.
It took me right back to school and all the feelings of fear, which was often helped by the psychological warfare waged by teachers.
Mine mistakenly thought that by telling me I was lazy, it would make me work harder. In fact, it just made me think, ‘if you can’t be bothered to be constructive and help me, then I can’t be bothered to try.’
But now I embrace the spiders because they mean that I can get closer to perfection, or at least to create a better version of the tale I want to tell. They point out the things that my familiarity didn’t let me see.
Basically, they are a reader’s view.
My editor might not like my genre, in fact in some ways it may be better if they don’t. They also refrain from being anything other than neutral in their comments. That’s great; I don’t want praise, just the errors pointed out and an unbiased view of the document as a whole.
Once it has been honed, that will be the time for the beta readers to have a look. They’re not editors, just people that I trust, the ones who are part of my target audience.
I went off on a bit of a tangent there, to get back to where I was, I’m faced with this document and I have to start correcting it.
I tend to concentrate on the comments, they’re the important bit at this stage, the formatting and such are sort of beyond my level of expertise so I just skim through them. Unless I can see that a comma, for instance, has been put in the wrong place and messes up the sense of what I want to say. But that’s pretty rare; my editor knows what they’re doing with the presentation of my work correctly on the page. I can leave that to them, I want to get into the comments.
The comments are more important because they show me what the editor thinks I’m trying to say. They show me what a reader will think, such as “?” or “but didn’t you say…x…?” And they point out things like repeated words and other bits and pieces that slow the action down.
This is what I couldn’t see because I was too close, they are the first things that my editor saw, so they must be the first things that a reader will notice.
And that’s valuable information. That’s what it’s all about.
So, I will address each comment and see the sense of it. Then I will amend it, or not, all depending on what I think it does to the progression of the narrative. It might be that the comment will stay and it’s the surrounding text that gets altered.
In fact, the act of re-reading the comments often changes my mind; it gives me a starting point for changes or amplification. The whole direction of a scene or of a plot line can hinge on a comment such as “why did they say/do that?” In fact, I have written whole sequels based on the comments of an editor.
So far from being the destroyer of your work, the edit can often bring out the best in your writing.
and here’s the new version of the blurb, after revision.
“What has happened to Horis Strongman since we saw him last? The events in Aserol and beyond have changed him and given him adventures that he could never have imagined. His life is now completely different in every respect. He had travelled far and wide and seen things that he would never have thought were possible.
But those who were against him have recovered and can still do him harm. Before he and those he cares for can be truly safe, he must face his foes again, and this time, the stakes are raised. Before his journey ends, he will find that he has allies in the strangest places for the final confrontation that he hopes will secure his future.
The story takes in foreign lands and new dangers as Horis fights for the freedom to live in peace.
A new Life in Ventis is the sequel to The Rocks of Aserol.”
Is that better? What do you think? Let me know via a comment below.
And if you want my advice, get a good editor; they’re worth their weight in Gold!
And now a link to some late 1970’s music, still sounding good!
“♪♯You didn’t know what you were looking for, ’till you heard the voices in your ear♯♫.”
“Voices,” by Cheap Trick (Dream Police, 1979)
Ok, so I admit it, I hear voices in my head. In fact not only do I hear voices they tell me their life stories and I write them down.
But whereas in the past, I might have expected a visit from some white-coated gentlemen and one of those nice jackets that do all the way up the back, I can get away with it by saying “I’m a writer.”
It’s a strange sensation when the voices first appear, I never expected to be a writer.
To give you a bit of background, I couldn’t be bothered at school, failed English and went to sea. There I struggled with writing letters home, even after all that I saw on my travels. I found it hard to put more than a few lines on paper, talking about the weather, or where we had been in and effort to say something; anything.
Later, it all changed, I think the catalyst was moving back to Devon; some sort of creative dam was broken and I started to write.
I’d had ideas before then, once I decided that I would write a book of short stories and I even made a few notes. They were based mainly on dreams that I could remember so vividly that it was almost as if I had lived them. They were all futuristic and I thought that one day, I might actually turn them into something more. But it never happened, until I came home to Devon.
I started putting the thoughts down, and I found that the more I wrote, the more the thoughts came into my head. I realised that the short stories I had planned and saved could be joined together. They made one longer tale and Freefall was born. Looking back at it now, I can see all of its flaws but I’m still proud of it as it is.
And the strange thing was, as I wrote it, I saw places where I could write other things, stories based on it that expanded the characters and situations.
A hotel I stayed in gave me the idea from which Ribbonworld was born, that gave me an idea for a sequel and so on.
I had a dream with a factory, and pipes snaking across a yard, there was steam in the air and water dripping. From that my Steampunk world of Norlandia grew into being.
Someone challenged me to write a “café on the beach” style sci-fi story, Andorra Pett was the response and has now grown into two finished books and two more ideas.
Once the voices get into your head and realise that they are being heard, they seem to invite their mates around. I can imagine them nudging each other, wherever it is that they are, “Hey lads, let’s get into Richards’ head, he’s listening.”
And now, when people ask me what happens when I write, I tell them that I see a video in my head, like watching a DVD of a film that you’ve never seen before and know nothing about. That’s my novel playing out for me in real-time; all I do is write down what I see happen, as it happens. But unlike watching a DVD, there are a few subtle differences.
When you press play, you see the film and don’t really know what will happen; it’s all a surprise to you. If you miss a bit, you can go back and have another look, you can slow the speed down to make sure that you don’t miss anything. Or if you really want you can skip on, even get a look at the ending.
Well, I can do all that with my novel, but there’s one crucial difference. I can’t fast forward. If I wanted to know how it all works out, well that’s tough! I have to wait and see.
So my endings are as much of a surprise to me as they are (I hope) to you.
That’s the way the story progresses, I can’t touch type so I watch the keys and not the screen. It comes as a surprise to me sometimes to find that my characters have said and done things that I never realised while I was typing. Sometimes I’ll read it back and find that the plot has moved off in another direction from where I thought it was heading.
I found it quite scary to begin with but once I got used to the idea that my mind worked in this way, I began to look forward to being able to shut myself away. Now I observe other worlds and write it all down. I could get as excited as any reader because it was as new to me as it would be to them.
The really deep question must be; where do these stories and characters come from? Part of me wonders if they aren’t just figments of my imagination; if somehow they’re some sort of future echoes that have slipped through the cracks from another place and time. Now there’s an idea for another novel!
So what do you think? Why not share your thoughts below.
I’ve got several new posts to put up on the theme of my writing but I thought it was time for a bit of publicity.
Andorra Pett is released onto the unsuspecting world on Thursday, June 1st. I’m sure that all you loyal readers have ordered your advance copies, if not, well there’s still time to take advantage of the HALF PRICE offer on the eBook, making it £1.49.
Also, I have a few paperbacks to offer at the special price of £5.99 signed and delivered. I accept credit cards and PayPal payments. If you’re interested in a copy, please email me at email@example.com and I’ll explain the process, don’t worry, it’s easy!!
And if you’re still wondering what it’s all about, CLICK HERE for Chapter 1.
I thought that writing Science Fiction would be easy, after all, how can you research the future? And who can tell you that you’ve got your facts wrong?
After all, you can have anything you want in the Sci-fi world that you create, right?
Well, that was my first mistake, over time I’ve found that there is just as much background work needed as there is for any genre. In fact, I might go further and say that you actually need to do more research if you’re talking about the future.
That may sound weird but let me explain.
Every part of your world must make sense, there has to be a justification for the logic in all of it. When you look at the world today, in a natural and physical sense, then it all works. By that, I mean that there is cause and effect, a closed loop system if you like. There are no parts of how this planet works that require you to suspend disbelief, everything can be explained.
In your fictional world, the same must hold true. Everything needs an explanation. Now you can do this by basing it all on things that are true and expanding them in a logical way. But first, you need to know your basics. It’s easier to suspend disbelief in the fantastic if you can appreciate that there is a sound basis for it.
So before I write anything, I look at where we are in the field of science or whatever speciality that I want to invent my future in. I see what the position is now and what people are thinking may be possible in the future. Once you have that, you can weave your story around it. To be even more authentic, you can include the facts as we know them today in your work, so conversations could contain things like,
“Do you realise, people used to think…,” or
“When all this started they could only….”
Descriptions can also incorporate the basic fact and pull it in many ways; once you get started you’ll find that other things creep in, everything is connected and even in the future, stuff that we do today will still be relevant.
Do you get my drift?
To give you an idea of how this works for me, I wrote a story about a city under a huge dome on an airless planet. OK, it’s perhaps not original but it will do to illustrate the thought process involved.
First I had to think about the domes basic needs, it had to be strong, large and airtight.
We can build things like that now, maybe not huge ones on airless planets but certainly on land and probably under the sea. So I looked at the problems and how they had been solved. Obviously, we can do airtight and strong so the suspension of disbelief has to come with the size, I had to fit a city underneath it. I thought of using a lower gravity on my new world to make the dome lighter but that would cause other problems, all my characters would be floating around. Clearly, another way was needed.
Then I remembered a job I once had, I was Dockmaster at Tilbury and knew that the only thing holding the dock walls up was the pressure of the water in the enclosed dock. We had to constantly refill the dock as we used the lock to let ships in and out, there was a level beneath which the water MUST NOT FALL.
This comes back to the connection, we need air in our dome and air exerts pressure. So the pressure of the air could be used to help support the weight of the dome! Suddenly you can build a strong dome without the need for lots of supports, just as long as you keep the atmosphere at pressure. And you will do that because your inhabitants need to breathe.
And this was where I found other connections, little things that made it more believable. For instance, suppose that the dome had a leak? Nothing serious, just imagine an escape due to poor seals. That meant that atmosphere would need to be put in faster than it was leaking out. That was fine; I rather conveniently had a limitless supply of ice that could be turned into air, the side effect of all this movement of the atmosphere was a breeze. I liked it, it gave the place character, and also a plot issue, would they manage to keep the air flowing? Would the leak get bigger? What if the place converting the ice broke down, or was sabotaged?
The point of all that is to show you that you only require a few facts and a bit of lateral thinking to create something that we could do today, yet if you put it in space, it makes it seem futuristic.
Incidentally, if you want to find out more about the dome, and its breeze, the story is Ribbonworld. Click the title for Chapter One.
To take another example, the holy grail of Sci-fi is faster than light travel, it’s needed for just about any story to work and it’s dealt with in many ways. If you stop to consider it for a moment, Einstein tells us that it’s impossible; yet every time we read about it, we are able to suspend disbelief.
Is that because we all secretly want him to be wrong?
My own theory is that we will, one day travel faster than light. How will we do it, well, in the usual way I expect, someone will discover it by accident, while they are looking for something else. It will make sense, be logical and even though it’s not indicated by our current state of thinking, will pass into the mainstream.
In fact, I liked the idea of the invention so much that I wrote a short story about it. And I gave the invention that makes it all possible a name, “The Padget Inverter!” Pretty good eh? I think it sounds authentic, just like any good invention should!
And all the other things associated with moving faster than light, things like time dilation, may be explained away or ignored by the properties of the Padget Inverter without causing problems in the credibility of the story.
So as long as what you write has a sound basis in fact, you can convince your readers. Once you’ve got them believing your version of the future, you can play around with the side issues to your heart’s content, safe in the knowledge that it’s all covered, wherever you go, they will be with you.
This is a brief post, I have a deeper series of articles about my creative process, find them here.
My take on faster than light travel and how I think that it came to be can be read here.
I will be holding a workshop on “Creating a fantasy world” at Credfest on June 17th in Crediton Library.
What do you think, does research matter? I’d love to get your opinion on just how much you’re prepared to accept in the world-building process. Please leave me a reply with your thoughts.