The Edits Begin

Editing a novel, for me anyway, is a process that I enjoy and dread.

Dread first. This is a huge pile of paper, somewhere around six hundred fifty manuscript pages. And I know, from many years’ experience that the front end of it will be the worst. In starting a novel I tend to toss out a lot of things with ideas for where they might lead. Some of them lead absolutely nowhere, so they have to be cut. Some of them got radically shifted, so I have to bring everything into alignment.

For example, one of the emotional through-lines involves one character’s relationship with his wife. I thought it was going to be a strained relationship because he thought she was running around on him. That casts things, rather certainly, in a particular light. As I came to the end of the book, things worked out much better if he didn’t think that. She still gets to be the person she is, and have her faults and foibles that put pressure on him, just without the creepy sexual innuendo. Taking that layer out turns around and makes things a lot cleaner and poignant as the story unfolds.

The other thing that happens as a novel gets going is a lot of little fact debris that gets tossed out and forgotten, or shifted. I’ve got one character who goes by the name Ira or Ian, depending on what day I was writing. I have to go through and standardize that, as well as place names and chronology.

Sure, it’s a valid thing to ask why that wasn’t done before I started. The basic answer is simple: because it didn’t matter. It wasn’t until I was writing that I realized I needed, for example, a battle fought on the Continent three years previous in which Mystrian soldiers, far from home, were broken by an enemy force and suffered severe casualties. Once I’d established the battle as an event, I should have locked it in as to how long ago it was, but I didn’t know when I’d need it to be. Three to five years was fine and, in the final analysis, three years it shall be.

All too often writers—especially of speculative fiction—can become paralyzed by worry over little details like that. Worse yet, and I do this sometimes, they’ll stop and figure a bunch of things out, all to glean one tiny little fact. While that fact would have to be determined at some point, doing it right then means the writing stops and the project can lose momentum.

This is why I make a note and fix thing later.

What I really enjoy about doing edits is discovering all the cool stuff in the book that I’ve forgotten. I find hints about stories that I can write in the future. I find throw-away lines that link up perfectly with things later in the book. I also find a few cryptic notes that I can’t figure out, but just trying to figure them out gives me something else to look at.

I have roughly a week for hand edits, then I’ll make the changes on the machine and send them off to my editor. After that, I’ll launch immediately into the next book in the series and keep the saga going.

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