Everything Love Is, my next novel, found its home at Bloomsbury in December of last year. Since then I’ve been working with my editor on getting it into the right shape for publication next year and I’ve just handed back my revised-redrafted manuscript just in time for the school holidays to come surfing in on the back of a heatwave.
This is my second experience of having a novel edited and it has been so different to the first time around that I thought it was time for a new post on the subject.
Unlike when I was submitting The Night Rainbow, I knew when I submitted this book at the end of last year that I wasn’t entirely happy with it, but after literally years of editing it myself and getting it to the point where it was clear what it was GOING to be, what I needed was an editor. So I plucked up the courage, hoping I hadn’t gone off half-cocked, hoping that everyone would see through the not-right bits to the heart of the story, and hit send. This story has a happy ending.
In the new year, my editor re-read the novel, this time with an editor’s eye rather than a reader’s eye and subsequently spent a long time trying to put her finger on the elements that weren’t working for her and find a way of articulating that*. I got her (7 pages of) notes back in mid-February and we chatted through them. I was SO happy to have this input. I think sometimes when you are so deep in writing a book it becomes impossible to drag yourself back out of it to look at it objectively. Beta readers can be a great help, but even if asked for useful feedback they are still reading as readers, primarily, and if you’re hoping for publication I think at some stage you do need the professional eye of a good editor.
The kinds of things we were looking at in this stage were fundamental to the shape of the book, like the way of introducing the two narrative voices in a way that best helps the reader get to know them and understand where the two perspectives are coming from; plot elements that needed moving around, scenes that needed bringing to life more, and scenes where I’d relied on excessive exposition unnecessarily.
Helen asked all the difficult questions – difficult for me to answer because they really challenged my understanding of the characters, forcing me to think deeply and question myself , but also the flow of the storytelling – the timing of foreshadowing and the placing of clues in the narrative at just the right moment to keep a reader engaged without giving too much away.
* I think it’s an amazing skill to be able to read a novel draft and be able to pull out the questions you need to ask the author in order to help them improve and strengthen their book.
The complexities of writing this particular book had started to feel overwhelming to me and all this input was exactly what I needed to get it to the next level. I spent the next two months working on this, looking at different ways of responding to the challenges that Helen had thrown down. I redrafted the whole thing, handing it back in in mid-May, but not before I tweeted this:
Editing sometimes feels like trying to turn minced beef back into steak. Or a cow.
— Claire King (@ckingwriter) May 12, 2015
A month later, Helen came back to me with her feedback on the changes I’d made. Most of them were received very positively, but there were some new changes I’d made that she wasn’t sure about, and on top of that she had now gone on to comment on the manuscript in a much greater level of granularity – 73 specific comments and queries throughout the novel. To deal with these we had switched to commenting and tracking changes in Word. By the time we had both done with it it was a very colourful document. I’d love to show you an example page, but I can’t, because SPOILERS! Thankfully wherever Helen suggested I made a change she had also highlighted the other parts of the story that would need revising if I did (as the implications of the change cascaded throughout the rest of the book).
As I said above, I’ve just handed back my reworking on all these comments so we’ll see what Helen makes of this newest iteration. I have to say that I am feeling really positive now about the way the novel has taken shape. I think with Helen’s help and guidance I’ve got to a stage (copy-edits and last minute changes not withstanding) where I feel happy releasing this story out to the world. So thank heavens for editors, three cheers and more.
One extraordinary realisation I had when I was going through this rigorous process was the overwhelming number of choices we face as authors: the decisions we have to take for the story that turn it into what it will ultimately, irrevocably, become.
It reminded me of the theory in physics that says not only is it possible, but that it makes sense that there are multiple universes like our own, each one just a tiny bit different. So we live in an infinite number of parallel universes, essentially in which all the variations that could have happened in our lives are being played out. Best to let someone like Professor Brian Cox explain this scientifically, but I do think that parallels (no pun intended) can be drawn with writing a novel.
In a 90,000 word novel, there are so many potentially different novels, and all of them could be good. How do you choose your story? How do you know which one is the right one? How do you know which is the best one?
For more of my archived posts on revising/rewriting/editing pre and post submission, see these:
- The Night Rainbow – Structural Edits (2011)
- The Night Rainbow – Copy Edits (2012)
- How my writing process is like Monty Python (2015)
- Editing is turning the pot (2014)
- Bad Nut! (2013).
- Layers Not Lines (2011)
- The Cutting Room Floor (2010)
- If it isn’t David it has to go (2010)
Please do also have a look at Susan’s blog below, as she charts the process of revising her third novel, and do let me know if there are others I should link to here as well:
Susan Elliot Wright: “Yes, fellow writers and esteemed readers, it was crap with a capital ‘C’. Thing is, there were those ‘not entirely hopeless’ bits, and there was five per cent gold (potentially gold, anyway.) I knew that somewhere in that draft was a story I definitely wanted to tell, so I virtually started again.”