Rachel, writing

All things novelling-related as I embark on my self-publishing adventure

Archive for the tag “editing”

How to write a novel: 6 The beta readers

Having completed my novel rewrites and edits to the best of my abilities, it was time to let other people read it for the first time. By this stage, getting feedback on extracts was becoming less useful because they depended on familiarity with other parts of the novel. Did it make sense as a complete story?

The perfect beta reader is someone you trust to give you objective feedback on your book. My beta readers included a writer friend who’d given some fantastic feedback during the editing (I’ve since returned the favour by beta-reading for her), a keen reader who I’d met through a running forum and my parents (who are not inclined towards undeserved praise!).

Before my beta readers read The Syndrome Diaries (links to Amazon are on my homepage), we agreed what they were going to feed back on. I wanted to know whether the book hung together, and whether the characters and their actions made sense and were consistent. My Dad, for whom ambiguities and grammar slip-ups jump off the page, was also asked to note technical mistakes in the writing.

The feedback I received was just what I wanted. Overall, my beta readers were positive about the book while all finding issues that needed further work. Without giving spoilers, my post-beta edit included some character enhancement, adjusting some of the timings of events to make them more believable and sprinkling some extra clues through the text so that one of the later revelations wasn’t quite such a surprise. This is where the beta readers were particularly helpful: I thought the clues were there, but I’d been too subtle.

So, with the final changes made, the novel was almost ready for release. I’ll discuss the final stages of the process and the uploading to Amazon in another blog very soon.

In the meantime, I promised to keep you updated with Syndrome’s progress. The sales are still a trickle rather than a whoosh, but I’m thrilled that it’s selling. As yet, there are no reviews, but it’s still early days and I know of several people who are currently in the process of reading the novel. I haven’t done the marketing activity that I ought to have done, largely due to biting off way more than I could chew over the last couple of weeks and throwing a few personal issues into the mix. My head was permanently sticking over the parapet, and, at the risk of sounding self-indulgent, I needed a little bit of space to be nice to myself. Normal service is now restored.

I know that I need to switch my focus towards producing more books rather than worrying too much about what’s already out there (easier said than done), so I’m currently preparing to produce another draft novel in November with Nanowrimo. In December, I’m going to start editing a draft I already have. Although I wrote it 3 years ago, one of its themes ties in with the recently-published Bad Pharma which I’m just about to start reading. I’m looking forward to spending some time with Ed and Em, my main characters, who are rather less self-absorbed than Becky, Ben and India from The Syndrome Diaries.

And last of all, but by no means least, I must thank Pat for nominating me for Most Helpful Blogger award. This is the first time anything like this has happened, so it was a huge surprise, and fantastic to get positive feedback from someone whose blog I’m very fond of.

Hopefully today’s blog is helpful: please post if there are other things you think I should be covering or if you have any questions.

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How to write a novel: 5 Writers’ Groups

There comes a point where, if you’re serious about getting your writing out into the world, you have to let other people see it. The first time I did this, about 10 years ago, was on a writing course. I wasn’t ready for it. I’d written very little, wanted to learn more, but felt compelled to perform. The class format was to write something in maybe 10 or 20 minutes, read it out, and have it critiqued. After a day at work, an evening of word-churning and being bashed back down wasn’t really for me. And so began an avoidance of writing groups.

At the beginning of this year, I knew that had to change. I was well into the editing process with The Syndrome Diaries, and it was time to see what others made of my writing. I made it my New Year’s resolution to join a group.

My first reading was nerve-wracking. I remember getting to the end of the passage, and being met with silence. I thought that I must have written a pile of rubbish and everyone was wondering how to tell me. But then the comments began: helpful, constructive and largely positive. I went home feeling that my writing was OK, and, more importantly, that I could make it better.

Since then, I found a group much closer to home, so I’ve been able to go more regularly than I was able to with the first group. Over time, I’ve come to recognise different styles of feedback and, when comments conflict, I can select which is most useful (which is not necessarily the most flattering!). That in itself is a writing skill.

You can’t please everyone all the time and that can manifest itself rather energetically in a group; this is another lesson I’ve had to learn. One week, Ben’s behaviour in The Syndrome Diaries sparked a particularly heated debate. I wasn’t expecting it and worried that I’d upset others in the group, and that my plot was ‘wrong.’ This is one of the disadvantages of a group: you read extracts, and without the whole, it can be disorientating or appear that someone’s behaviour lacks motives. That’s where your beta readers come in, and that’s the subject of the next instalment of the ‘How to write a novel’ blogs.

But let’s not forget: while a writing group might be your critics, they’re also your champions. Last night, a group member told me she was part way through The Syndrome Diaries, and that she couldn’t put it down. That was the moment when I first realised that the effort I’d put into my writing was now bringing enjoyment to a reader. It’s a moment I’ll always remember, and it’s a moment that I wouldn’t have had without the writers’ group.

Have you joined a writers’ group? Has it helped your writing?

How to write a novel: 4 The first major rewrite

I promised this blog would be about rewriting, and it is, but first…

…I’ve published! The Syndrome Diaries has been available on Amazon for a couple of days now, and later blogs will describe the various hurdles jumped and glitches overcome to make that happen. In the meantime, if you want to have a nose at the finished product (or peruse the free sample), it’s here if you’re a UK reader and here if you’re in the US or most of the rest of the world. It’s also on the French site (click here ) and the German site (click here ): all versions are in English.

So. Rewriting.

I mentioned in my last blog that my first drafts tend to be full of plot without much description. Although the first rewriting stage should probably be the major changes – adding scenes, removing scenes, switching them around – my initial rewrite also made a lot of changes at the level below that. By the end of this process, my word count had almost doubled from the original 50,000 to just under 100,000.

I’ve included some before-and-after dialogue below to demonstrate the kinds of changes made: the dialogue has been fleshed out to try and tell the story in a more interesting way and to add more character to the people I’m writing about. This means I have to think hard about the individual personalities and motivations, and this might impact on the scenes if it becomes clear that someone is behaving out of character. They may need a new scene to explain some behaviour.

Here’s an extract from the original version. This is a few pages into the book, when my narrator, Becky, who’s a journalist, has just had a phone call from her editor asking her to do an interview with India Irving, a successful rock musician with whom she was once good friends. The two of them fell out at University and haven’t spoken for twenty years. Becky’s at home with her partner, Hugh, discussing the phone call:

“India wants me to interview her.”

“India?”

“Mm. I wonder what’s going on?”

“Maybe she wants to build some bridges.”

“Maybe. Wonder why?”

“Well, you can ask her, can’t you?” He was never interested in speculation, only empirical evidence.

It’s rather sparse, isn’t it? Those few lines were expanded and touches of detail added so that in the final version, the conversation is as follows:

‘India wants to do an interview.’

He looked up, puzzled, and nudged his glasses up his nose. ‘India who?’

‘Irving, of course.’ How many Indias were there?

‘I thought she wasn’t speaking to you.’

‘So did I. What do you think’s going on?’

‘Maybe she’s grown up.’

‘She’s got a new solo record coming out.’  I stood up to move my laptop away from the table before it got splattered with gravy.

He ran a hand through sandy-coloured hair, stopping to scratch the top of his head. ‘Well, that’s why she wants to talk to you, isn’t it? High profile journo, widely read by her target market.’

‘But why now?’

‘Dunno. You can ask her, can’t you?’ He was a scientist and speculation never got far with him. He needed empirical evidence, gold-plated with analyses of variance and linear regressions.

The conversation now provides an opportunity to describe Hugh a little more. The relationship between the two of them is tired, and the scene as a whole is peppered with suggestions of irritation and lack of engagement with each other. Hugh began as a catalogue of ‘boring bloke’ clichés but, as the editing progressed, these were cut back to enable him to emerge as a character with whom it was easier to sympathise. I won’t give away what happens with Hugh towards the end of the book, but hopefully what he does makes sense.  On a technical note, the switch from double quotation marks to single ones came right at the final editing stage, and is to keep the style consistent with British conventions outlined in the Oxford Manual of Style.

Much of the rewriting involved this colouring and pacing of scenes, although there were also bigger changes and new scenes. Many of these came about when I began reading out my work at writers’ groups, and that will be the subject of my next blog on how to write a novel. I’ll also be posting on how The Syndrome Diaries is performing.

What are your thoughts on editing? Do you follow some kind of plan? Or is it a more ad hoc process?

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