How To Write a Historical Novel in Seven Easy Steps: Step Five
5. Edit, Edit, Edit
I tend to edit as I write. (This may be why I'm the slowest writer in the universe.) I started each day of writing by looking over the previous day's work and making whatever changes were necessary. Sometimes, this meant going back even further, to previous chapters. My months of planning, plus my rewrite-as-I-go strategy, meant that by the time I finished the 'first draft' of The FitzOsbornes at War, the manuscript looked okay. It was nowhere near perfect, but it was pretty close to the final shape of the novel. I checked my facts and corrected any spelling and grammar errors I could find. Then I sent the whole thing off to my two editors, one in Sydney and one in New York, and told them to be ruthless with it.
But they were also very tactful. The editors I've worked with have all been super nice and very good at their jobs. They tend to use the sandwich method when they give feedback – that is, they sandwich their harshest criticisms in thick slabs of praise, so it's easy to digest.
When I get an editing letter from them, it usually says something like this:
"This is your BEST BOOK EVER. I love it! Here are some of the things I loved about it [insert half a page of examples of clever/funny things that they found in manuscript].
Now, there are just a few tiny things we think you could change to make this book even more perfect [insert five pages of things that didn't work so well, with suggestions for fixing them]
Overall, though, you are a genius writer! This book is going to be brilliant!!!"
Don't you wish teachers would give that sort of feedback on assignments? (Maybe your teachers do. Mine didn't.)
Here are examples of things my editors said about The FitzOsbornes at War manuscript:
"Could you explain in more detail about Toby’s plan to [do mysterious thing]?"
"It would be good if there was a scene that actually SHOWED Sophie [doing important thing], instead of her merely talking about it, three months later."
"It’s great that Toby tells Sophie all about [shockingly awful thing], but how come she never mentions it in her journal ever again?"
I tend to agree wholeheartedly with about 90% of my editors' suggestions. A further 5% has me going, "Mmm, you've got a point about that, but if I change it, then this part won't make sense . . ." In those cases, I usually come up with some sort of compromise solution. Then there's another 5% where I put my foot down and say, "NO WAY am I changing that!" (I say this in my head. My editors aren't actually there when I'm rewriting the manuscript. Thank goodness.)
The sort of editing I've talked about so far is usually called the structural edit. It's about fixing the plot so that the story makes sense. The next stage is the copy edit, which looks at individual words and sentences, checks facts, ensures spellings are consistent throughout the series, that sort of thing. (We tend to argue about commas A LOT at this stage.) In practice, the structural and copy editing blurred together a bit for The FitzOsbornes at War. Finally, the editing was done and the whole thing was sent off to the typesetters.
Tomorrow: Book design and typesetting