It’s been quite some time since I last gave an update on my editing process. Back in October I was up to 197 hours worth of effort in writing and editing my fourth novel, Troll Life.
This week I hit a major milestone when I finally sent copies to my review team for their critiques so I thought I should provide a new update and an explanation of how I got to this point.
It’s been a busy few months with the writing festival, City of Culture bid, blog writing, freelance work and an annoying foot injury that shouldn’t stop me writing but has caused havoc with my day to day life.
Back in October I spent 5 hours reviewing each individual character’s story arc. Scrivener has a handy little tool called collections where you can search for a key word such as a character name and have all chapters that feature it in a separate folder.
I then spent ten hours rating each chapter (for the sake of this exercise a chapter is 1,000 words) on how funny it was. My books are known for their humour and whilst the readers won’t expect side splitting-laughter on each page, it does have to be funny.
These two processes highlighted to me that the book just wasn’t funny enough, a crucial flaw that needed a remedy. I’m not sure how I got to this point, possibly over planning at the beginning led to a lack of creativity but I needed to sort it out.
The solution came from noticing another crucial flaw. Despite my over planning, the stakes for the characters weren’t high enough. If I raised the stakes, hopefully the humour would follow.
Before I got to that, I spent six hours looking at paragraph lengths. My writing style leads to small, punchy paragraphs but I’ve tried to mix it up a little. The idea for this came from feedback a writing friend got on his work and it highlighted the benefit of critiquing other people’s work as well as your own.
The next step became the most crucial one in the editing process but I now realise I should have done it at the start. I spent an hour ‘brainstorming’ ideas on how I could raise the stakes for each character, coming up with ten to fifteen ideas each. I didn’t know if I would use them all but I had something to work with.
Over the next few months, in between other priorities, I spent twelve hours writing sample chapters based on the ideas I’d jotted down. I didn’t constrain myself by trying to get them to fit in any particular place in the story, they were an exercise in seeing if I could achieve my goal of raising the stakes and making the story funny.
I spent 25 hours weaving these new chapters into the story, adding humour where I could to chapters that were lacking and trying to keep the book at roughly the same length as it was when I completed the first draft (80,000 words) by chopping out any redundant text.
That brought me to last Friday when I compiled it and put it into a Word document. I would be using the Kindle for my final read through but the Word document allowed me to use its much improved spelling and grammar checker so I spent a couple of hours with that before finally compiling it ready to read on my Kindle.
Another ten hours over the weekend (early starts so I didn’t miss any of the World Cup) got me to the ‘finished’ article. It has gained an extra 2,500 words but I have also chopped out nearly 12,000 so I’ve written almost 15,000 words to improve the book since I realised it wasn’t funny enough.
It is now with my team of four reviewers who all have different skills and points of view. I look forward to their feedback and have asked them to be as brutal as possible, it’s much better to know now that it isn’t good enough rather than when the reviews start flooding in on Amazon.
The finishing line is in sight but I know I will have a lot of changes to do once the critiques are in.
Some valuable lessons have been learned and I hope I don’t make the same mistakes again but I’m learning all the time and I’m sure I’ll discover more mistakes with the next one.
I don’t have any extra ‘free time’ as such but I’m using the break from the novel to work on adapting Idle Threats into a screenplay and stage play. I also have my first ever play being performed next week.
At some point I’m going to have to give some thought as to what my next novel is about but I’m switching off from novels for a while.
If my maths is correct, I’m now up to 271 hours of effort for Troll Life. I hope it’s worth it.
I certainly think it is the ‘best written’ novel I have done to date, whether that makes it the best novel remains to be seen.