Editing, My point of view, Tips, Writing

Write the Novel — Fifth (and Final) Edit

This is it. We’re so close to finishing the  novel we can taste it. Remember that books are never finished, they are only abandoned at interesting places, and it’s time we abandon this one.

The fifth edit has only one task and one question

  • The Task: have a commercial printer print the updated copy and bind it. Sit down and read for enjoyment, as if this was a book we’d bought, been given, or checked out of the library.
  • The Question: Was this a good read?

The hardest thing at this point is to not tinker. Yes, tidy up any glaring errors, but resist the urge to tinker. We are finished with this book until we get it out there, find it a home, and talk to our new editor.

Do we have a publisher waiting for this manuscript?

  • If we do, contact the publisher. Are there any changes since the most recent guidelines were distributed? Do our final format changes to match the publisher’s requirements.
  • If we don’t have a publisher yet, find a recent standard formatting guide and stick to it. On the Style Sheet indicate which formatting guide was used as a reference.

Final Formatting

  • Make sure that the Style Sheet is complete and correct.
  • Make sure we have all needed permissions in writing.
  • Go over all supplemental material like dedication, introduction, acknowledgment, and synopsis one more time. Make sure our submission package is complete.
  • Format all material consistent with the publishers requirements or any other guide we are using.
  • Do a final grammar check. Pay attention to punctuation marks, especially commas, semi-colons and quotation marks. Here’s Nick Stockton’s recent WIRED blog that explains why our brain misses errors in material we’ve already looked at over and over and over. Unfortunately, it only tells us why it happens, not what to do about it. One step at a time.
  • Do a final spelling check.
  • Do a final word count.
  • Have a final hard copy commercially printed, single-side only for our archives
  • Copy the final, complete, and formatted draft to our back-up discs. Again make 3 discs, one to keep, one to have someone locally keep, and one to have someone who lives at least 500 miles way keep.


  • Write a cover letter.
  • Go looking for a publisher.

Archive all material

  • Go through all electronic and print material. Decide what can be deleted and what should be archived.
  • Cull unnecessary archival material.
  • If this is a series, determine what needs to be brought forward into the files for the next book.

This is a good place to take a vacation.

And, that’s what I’m doing. This concludes my 2014 series on Writing a Novel. Thanks for hanging in for the entire year. Next week, Tuesday, December 30, I’m taking a break. See you back for 2015 on Tuesday, January 6th for the start of a new topic. Still working on what that topic will be.

Happy New Year everyone.

Editing, My point of view, Nuts and bolts, Writing

Write the Novel – Fourth Edit – All Those Pesky Words

I’ve just finished writing a 88,000 word novel. There are probably an equal number of spaces and punctuation marks. That makes roughly 176,000 potential mistakes. One human brains simply cannot find that many mistakes. We need computer help.

Word Frequency

I write in Scrivener and, eventually, compile the entire book into Word. Scrivener does both a total word frequency count, and a word frequency count. Thanks to Astrid at Literature and Latte, who showed me how to do the frequency word count. The trick is to select all of the chapters in the book and wait for the total word count to finish. Then click on text stats, go down to the frequency word count and click on the triangle.

This is better than Word, which gives me a total count, but no word frequency. I’ve also looked at some word frequency applications, but they all appear to be done by small companies that I don’t know and am not particularly interested in risking a virus by downloading.

Start small

Small, common words — the, a, to, and, in, of, her, she, was, I, that, we, had, he, etc. — will show up tons of times in any book-length manuscript. How much is too much? Anything over 9%. Several years ago, my husband commented that the showed up an awful lot in my writing. Turned out to be over 15% of my total word count. That means for that 88,000 word manuscript, roughly 13,000 of those words would be the. Fortunately, I’ve gotten my the quotient way down. In the book I’ve just finished the appears 4,243 times. That 4.8% of the total word count.

Common Prepositions such as, above, after, as, at, by, for, in, of, on, onto, over, to toward, up, and others should be looked at as a group. Our use of an individual preposition may be under the 9% guideline, but taken together they may far exceed, usually because we are in love with preposition-rich sentences: After lunch, she stopped by the library in the park on Main Street as a way of introducing herself to Mary James. (7 prepositions in one sentence).

My combine preposition count for this latest book is 4,949 prepositions, or 5.6%, well below where I have to worry about it.

The Special Case of as

Give special attention to the preposition as. If it’s being used judiciously in similes (a comparison using as or like – Jake’s reaction made her as mad as a hornet), it’s probably okay. If it’s being used to indicates two actions happen at the same time — As I got out of the cab, I remembered why I didn’t trust Harold, it’s not okay. Try substituting whileWhile I got out of the cab, I remembered why I didn’t trust Harold. If while doesn’t make the sentence better, as it doesn’t here, rewrite the sentence.

Check ten overused words at a time

After getting through small words and prepositions, make a list of the next 10 most frequent words.  Scan the entire manuscript for one word at a time. Delete or rewrite as many as possible. Yes, this is tedious and it takes time. It’s also one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of novel writing. Like kneading bread dough, as we rework these overused words, we should feel our book tighten and hold its shape.

When searching one word at a time, whole words should be off. Instead use common roots for the search.

  • If we look for smile and have whole words on, the search will miss smiles, smiled, smiling and any other words that aren’t exactly smile.
  • If we look for smil (the root common to all of these words), and have whole words off, the machine will pick up all of the word forms. It may also pick up a few non-smile words, but that usually isn’t a hassle, unless one of our characters is named Smiley.

Words most often overused are

  • likely to add no additional information (yes, yeah, no, not)
  • equivocators (might, still, just, any, only, should, would, can, could, likely)
  • repeaters (Her eyes were blue in color replaced by Her eyes were blue because there’s nothing else blue can be but a color.)
  • pseudo-action verbs (make, thought, think, tell, told, turn, take, took, put, look, stood)
  • distancing words (Patricia wondered if she could trust Melvin puts Patricia between the reader and the action. Was Melvin trustworthy? is a much better way of phrasing the same thing. )

The author is the only one who can decide how many sets of 10 words are enough. At the point when we find ourselves making smaller and smaller edits, it’s time to move on to the fifth and final edit.

But before we go to the fifth edit, use the grammar checker. Use the spell checker. At least twice, all the way through the book.


Spelling differs from country to country. In my case, I’m a Canadian, likely writing for an American publisher. Do I use American or Canadian spelling? I’ve chosen to use American because spell checkers, for the most part, are made in America and are likely to be more accurate for their spelling, even if they happen to offer alternative dictionaries. If I happen to sell to a Canadian publisher who wants Canadian spelling used, at least I’m faced with only having to go back and edit a small amount of words. We need to mention in our Style Sheet which country’s spelling we used and why.

Should we add character, place, and business names to our dictionary? For me, it depends on how easy it is to add new words and to later remove them. The argument for adding them is that those names will be checked along with all the other words. The argument against adding them is that they will all carry over to future documents. Suppose I have a character named Carl Ramsy, so I add Ramsy to my dictionary. A few books down the line, I have a character named Stephanie Ramsey. My dictionary will want to substitute the Ramsy for Ramsey. This can get quite annoying. In any case, a list of all proper nouns — names, places, businesses, etc. should always be in the Style Sheet.

Be sure Allow Hyphenation is turned off when we start to work on the book. Hyphenated words drive proof-setters crazy. In fiction, no hyphens is the way to go.


Writing software usually includes a grammar checking. It really, really helps to remember that these programs are based on algorithms, not on absolute rules. Frequently, suggestions for changing sentences range from mildly annoying to outrageously funny (having a dark sense of humor helps). It has to be our human brains that says yes or no to the changes and know why we are saying yes or no.

That means learning grammar. I love books like Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s The Transitive Vampire (grammar) and The Well-Tempered Sentence (punctuation) and Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves a whole lot better than, say, The Chicago Manual of Style. I have nothing against CMS, in fact, it provides a HUGE amount of help, which is the problem. Sometimes I need a quick reference. For those of us who might like to learn grammar in small bits, like one rule a day, I recommend Daily Writing Tips.

Where to start learning grammar?

How about by mastering the top 10 mistakes that writers make

  • Agreement (subjects and verbs, pronouns and antecedents)
  • Comma splices (place where semi-colon is the proper punctuation)
  • Misplaced/dangling modifiers
  • Passive voice
  • Possessive case
  • Pronoun reference
  • Punctuation using commas, semi-colons, or colons incorrectly
  • Sentence fragments
  • Word choice (wrong word(s) used)
  • Wordiness

Source: TheRobert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre Resources for English Language Learners

Next Tuesday, December 23, we conclude not only with the Fifth and Final Edit — The Fine Tooth Comb, but also a year’s worth of blogs on Writing the Novel. Thanks for staying with me for 52 weeks, all the way from the first blog on the Theme Statement.

Happy holidays.

Editing, My point of view, Nuts and bolts, Writing

Write the Novel — Third Edit — Last Chance to Remove Book Killers

Even if you’re going great guns, I doubt you’ve finished the second edit, which involves printing an entire copy and reading it all the way through, marking and making notes as you go.

So this week’s blog is about what to do when you have finished. What comes next — the third edit — is the last chance to get rid of book killers. Some book killers don’t show up until we have a chance to read the entire story, in sequence, in a concentrated time period; in other words, while we’re doing the second edit.

To do the next part, it helps to draw a bar graph. I’ve posted one on my web site. Feel free to print a copy and use it. Or make your own. The blank chart looks like this.

Third Edit Blank Chart

Third Edit Blank Chart

We each have to decide where our condition of enoughess falls. For me it’s always over 80%, up to 90% if I can get there. Books rarely meet 100% of our expectations, so we shouldn’t drive ourselves crazy trying to get there. It’s likely that at least one category will have a higher condition of enoughness, one a lower, and three fall somewhere in the middle. The chart above has a mechanical limitation because I could color in blanks in 10% increments. If you feel your goal is 83% or 92%, feel free to draw a line at those estimated values.

Go through questions a section at a time; for example, all the questions under Flow. Looking at the book as a whole, what percentage of the book met all of the criteria under Flow? Color that percentage with your first color; in my case, green. What remaining percentage absolutely, positively must be fixed? Color that with your second color; I use red. What remaining percentage, up to 100% would be nice if I could fix, but frankly, I think I’ve done that section as well as I’m going to on this book. Color that with your third color; my third color is yellow.

The one exception to the 100% rule is if there is a small bit of material that is highly important and must be fixed. That’s the case with my character Lorenzo in the chart below.

Repeat for each line in the chart. At the bottom of the chart, describe what absolutely has to be fixed. A completed chart might look like this.

What a completed chart looks like

What a completed chart looks like


  • Does each situation result in the point of view character(s) making a decision, which leads to consequences and a new situation?
  • Are there plot highs and lows throughout the book?
  • Do they come closer together and become higher/lower as the book’s end approaches?
  • If there is violence and/or sex, does it always advance the plot?
  • Did we feel impatient or antsy at any point? (All right, all ready, we know she missed her senior prom. Get over it.)
  • Are details absolutely consistent throughout the book?


  • Is each major character a rich, fully-developed human being, with likeable and unlikeable qualities?
  • Does each major character have clear goals, and motivations?
  • Is each character’s dialog unique enough that the reader can probably tell who’s speaking even without dialog tags?
  • Were there parts of the book where the villain’s world view made sense?
  • Were any physical actions or sensory inputs used too often? (I had one book where chills ran up or down everyone’s spine far too often.)


  • Was what we put our characters’ through worth it? Did they get enough bang for the cost they had to pay?
  • What plot element satisfied the story, but left the character unsatisfied? (She caught the killer, but by doing so she lost custody of her niece.)


  • Is the language lyrical? (Lyrical doesn’t necessarily mean nice or pretty. If we’re writing about a prostitute in downtown Boston, does the language convey what it’s like to live on the street, in winter, in Boston?)


  • How often did we mirror the characters’ emotions? (If the character was supposed to be afraid, were we afraid? If they were sad, were we sad? If they were furious, were we furious? If we maintained an emotional equilibrium all the way through, we haven’t written nearly close enough to the character’s bone.)
  • How often did we manage a characters’ emotional reaction that was unique, neither cliché, nor inappropriate?
  • By the time we finished the book, were we at least tired, and preferably emotionally exhausted?

A copy of changes we make should be attached to our Second Edit printed copy, just to keep everything up to date. Small changes can be noted directly on the page. Long changes, for example sorting out the problem of Lorenzo breaking parole, can be printed on separate pages and added. I like to tip in mine because it allows the new page to function like all the other pages and turn easily. Here’s how to tip in a page.

  • Fold the left edge of the new page under about 1/2 inch.
  • Snuggle the fold near the binding.
  • Either tape or glue the folded edge to the next page.

I’m posting the Fourth Edit — All Those Pesky Words Tuesday, December 16, and the fifth, and final edit — The Fine Tooth Comb — the week after on Tuesday, December 23. We’re all busy with the holidays, but that’s the nice thing about blogs. If you don’t get back until after New Years, those two blogs will be waiting for your return.

Have a wonderful holiday season.

Editing, My point of view, Writing

Write the Novel – Second Edit Pass – The Big One

Last week, I wrote about making a first editing pass to format our final manuscript. Now it’s time for the second edit, and it’s a big one.

Our brains process information differently from a page and from a computer screen. This edit is the place that, even if we’ve managed to be paperless so far, we need a written copy for editing. Mistakes we’ve missed on the computer screen are more likely to come to our attention on paper.

For editing, it is really, really helpful to have absolutely everything in one binding.  What I do is build two files. The first file contains the material that will not appear in the book, though it will be submitted to the editor. This file includes

  • Blurb: the book in 100 words.
  • Synopsis: a short summary of the book
  • Style sheet : Editors and typesetters can not read our minds. We must give them a guide book. Style sheets include correct spelling of character and place names, abbreviations, correct spellings of foreign words, places where a different font is used for emphasis, and specialized vocabulary, such as military, legal, or medical terms.
  • Permissions for use: if we’ve had to get permissions to use any material, include a copy of that permission in this file.

The second file is material that will appear in the book.

  • Cover page: Title; author information (and if writing under a pseudonym, that too); contact information; agent and contact information; if we have one.
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgment: Who contributed to this book?
  • Introduction: Set the context for the book.
  • Manuscript, beginning with Chapter 1, page 1 and going to the end of the story
  • Background information
  • Glossary

Books almost always have a dedication and acknowledgement. Introductions, background information, and glossaries are sometimes included.  These last three are needed if a major plot element is likely to be unfamiliar to our general readers. Suppose we’ve written a book where cactus theft is a major plot device.

Introductions and background information may contain similar material, but with a different focus.

  • An introduction would contain my personal connection to the topic: the shock and sadness I felt when I came out of my house one morning, and realized that my neighbor’s 125-year old Saguaro cactus had been stolen.
  •  The background information would present facts, figures, history, etc. I wanted the reader to know about cactus theft; why it is such an ecological disaster; and what the reader can do to help. By combining this real life information into a background section, we avoid interrupting the story line so that characters can discuss this information for the benefit (or lack of it) for the reader.

Glossaries contain words that might not be familiar to the reader such as Cacti Horticulturist Specialist, Saguaro cactus, and the Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Since I don’t have a high-volume printer, I put my two files on a thumb drive and have my local office supply store print them, and put them together with a coil binder. That way I’m sure no pages will go astray.

I use a black pen and a yellow highlighter. Some writers prefer multiple highlighters to differentiate different kinds of editing. That works as well. With pen and markers nearby, sit down and read the entire book, as we would a book we purchased or checked out of the library.

Marathon reading is not the way to go here. Try to take in no more than 20 to 25 pages in a session. For a 325-page book, this means we’ll need between 13 and 17 sessions. Yes, we can do two or three sessions in one day, but allow at least a couple of hours to pass between each session.

The Heart of this Edit

  • Does the story capture and hold our interest from page 1?
  • Does it flow smoothly?
  • Does tension build?
  • Are there timely and satisfying resolutions to the main plot and all sub-plots?
  • Does the material touch our hearts?
  • Do we find ourselves thinking about what we’ve read?
  • As we go from session to session, do we have to back track to remember what we read previously, or does our place in the story come naturally to us as we resume reading?

As we discover places where the answer to any of those questions is no, resist the urge to stop editing and do a rewrite. The purpose of this edit is to see the story as a whole.

As we read, here are some nitty-gritty details to check.

Chapter beginnings

  • Start by flipping through the pages, looking for the beginning of each chapter.
  • Are all of the chapters there?
  • Are they numbered sequentially, without gaps or duplications?
  • Is there a forced page break at the end of each chapter?
  • Does the Chapter heading start at the same place on the page?
  • Is each first paragraph in a chapter formatted consistently?

Header and footer

Unless my publisher requests something different, I put only the book’s name, right justified, in the same font as the rest of the manuscript, in the header. My reason is that contests will usually disqualify an entry if the writer’s name appears anywhere in the manuscript. By not including my name in the header, I remove the possibility this disqualifier slips in unnoticed. Later, if my publisher wants my name in the header, it’s simple to insert it.

The footer should contain a page number, centred, in the same font as the rest of the manuscript. The cover page isn’t usually numbered, but the rest of the pages are numbered sequentially. As I go through the manuscript, I check that there is a page number on each page. Gremlins happen.


Because we work piecemeal, it’s easy to lose continuity. Blue eyes become green eyes fifty pages later. James is in two places at the same time. Phyllis talks about being in college, and then later says she never went to college. Highlight, write margin notes, and keep going.

Proper names

Highlight the first time a character’s full name appears. Do the same for the first time any proper noun (places, company names, etc.) appears.

Missing research

Note any places we meant to check facts or verify something, and haven’t done that yet.

When we’ve finished the entire manuscript, go back to the computer. Make copies of the two files, and edit on the copies, using the highlighted manuscript as a guide to clean the manuscript.

  • Complete the research and change details if needed.
  • Correct chapter, header, and footer omissions or inconsistencies.
  • Iron out continuity issues.
  • Transfer all of the proper names to the Style Sheet.
  • Grammar check the entire manuscript.
  • Spell check the entire manuscript – twice.

Next week, on Tuesday, December 9th, The Third Editing Pass — our last chance to get rid of book killers. Hope to see you back.

Editing, My point of view, Tips, Writing

Write the Novel – First Editing Pass – Backup & Format

This week I begin a five-part blog on editing with likely the dullest things, backups and formatting. Best to get the dull things out of the way first.


Whether we’ve been doing backups or not on a regular basis; whether we’ve stored material in the cloud, thumb drives, DVDs, or other options, the gap between finishing content and beginning editing is the absolutely essential backup point.

Editing can muck up or even irretrievably erase everything we’ve worked on so far. We need a copy we can easily get our hands on; a copy that we can use when the computer has eaten everything, including our ability to read the copy we can easily get our hands on; and a worst-case copy that we can use when we had to flee for our lives from some natural or man-made disaster. One of the top three reasons small businesses fail is that they don’t have duplicate business records in multiple, widely scattered locations.

Collect everything — research, notes, every saved version, the final working version — everything in one folder.

  • Use as many DVDs as needed to make 3 complete copies.
  • Copy #1 is our at-home backup copy. Put it in a place we can find it. This is for when the computer eats our files.
  • Copy #2 is our local backup copy. Give it to a family member or friend who lives nearby.
  • Copy #3 is our flee-for-our-life copy. Give it to a family member or friend who lives at least 500 miles away.

Now that our files are in one place anyway, sort them into three categories: absolutely need for editing, likely need for editing; and not likely to need for editing.

  • Absolutely need for editing: a complete copy of the last rewrite.
  • Likely need for editing: some notes and background information and our style sheet and glossary. If we’ve put off starting a style sheet and glossary because we really don’t need those silly things, start them now. Yes, we’ve reached the point that we absolutely need them. To brush up on what a style sheet and glossary are, go here.
  • Not likely needed for editing: everything else.
  • It helps to make three folders and divide material into those folders. Why have a lot of things we aren’t going to look at get in the way when editing?

There are two ways to edit: by chapters or some other divisions of the author’s choosing, or the entire document in one file. Some writing assist programs, like Scrivener, make it possible to edit in smaller units, and then combine the edited work into one document. Yes, we can do this in Word, but we run the very real risk of leaving out one or more chapters when compiling and submitting the completed work. This is personal experience speaking, and it was hugely embarrassing.

My preference is to edit chapter by chapter. I simply can’t find things in a 300+ page manuscript. I also live in fear of losing everything all at once. Other people are quite comfortable working in the entire manuscript. Go for it. Whatever we choose, we need to be consistent throughout the editing process.


Before twirly ball Selectric typewriters came along in the summer of 1961, there was one font: courier. Words could be in all caps, all lowercase or a mixture; they could be underlined, or not. Line spacing could be set for a limited number of options, but unless the setting was changed manually, it was the same for each line in a document. Because of the machine’s limitations, formatting rules were universal and sacrosanct.

If we only get one thing out of this blog, make it this. The computer is not a typewriter.

Formatting Rule #1

If we are writing for a particular publisher, we must use the formatting that publisher wants. Go to their website and look for formatting guidelines. If there are none, or they seem to have been posted more than 6 months ago, send e-mail to the publisher and ask for a copy of their current guidelines.

Formatting Rule #2

In all likelihood, we have no idea who our publisher will be. We need to write a list of the rules we plan to use, or pick someone else’s list and stick to those. Yes, our formatting rules need to be written because we won’t remember on page 68 or 249 what we did on page 12. Here’s a link to the format I use, and why I use it.  Feel free to use it if it meets your needs. If it doesn’t meet your needs, use it as an outline to develop your own style.

Formatting Rule #3

What drives me absolutely crazy critiquing or editing other writers is that they use their word processing program for tons of other stuff. Either they have never set up personal styles or they have dozens of different styles that they’ve used for other fiction and non-fiction documents. As a rule, the first thing I do when editing is spend a half a day deleting unnecessary styles and setting up clean styles for their document.

Do ourselves and our editors a favor and set up a limited number of simple styles. Delete everything else we can from the styles palette. And yes, the less than helpful people who put word processing software together, won’t let us delete everything. They’ve done us a favor by protecting a whole raft of useless formats from deletion.

These are the essential styles needed for a work of fiction

  • Normal – for 99.9% of the words in the novel.
  • First paragraph normal – some publishers require that the first paragraph in a chapter not be indented, while the rest of the chapters are indented.
  • Chapter Title – used for the first line in each chapter.
  • Quote – for material that the characters are reading, such as notes, newspaper articles, etc. All quotes should be double spaced, just like text.
  • Heading – for headers
  • Footer – for footers

That’s it, the only styles needed.

To those of you in the States, Happy Thanksgiving.

Next week, Tuesday, December 2, I’ll be doing Editing – Second Pass – The General Clean-Up. Remember all those things we were going to do later. Later has arrived.

My point of view, second draft, Writing

Write the Novel — How many drafts are enough?

Since January, I’ve blogged about writing a novel, starting with a global theme and working through the zero draft (an unfinished manuscript), which becomes the first draft when we finish it. And the second draft, which serves completely different functions from the first.

How many drafts are enough? Because we each write differently, and because for any writer finishing a entire first draft is an enormous accomplishment, my standard for the zero/first draft is, simply, finish it. I don’t care how, but get all the way to the end of the story.

My standard for beginning the second draft is one question, “Am I writing this for publication?”

There are only two answers: yes or no. I don’t think I’m a good enough writer, but maybe a miracle will happen and someone will want to publish it is not an answer. It is a daydream. The reason that the answer needs to be a firm yes or no is that the beginning of the second draft is a major crossroad. Say yes to publication and we go in one direction; say no and we go in a completely different direction.

Saying no to publication

We’re likely to say no to publication if

  • the material is highly personal or dangerous, and we’re not ready for the rest of the world to see it
  • the story is just the way we like it, and we don’t want to submit our characters and story to the meat grinder of editing and publishing
  • we don’t have the health, time, or finances to participate in the publishing/marketing that the book will need. Keep in mind that neither traditional publishing nor self-publishing is a free ride. Traditional publishing requires that we submit what the publisher wants, when they want it. There are less of those restraints in self-publishing, but a well published/well marketed self-published book (e-book or print) will cost the author $2,000 to $10,000 and take hundreds of hours to accomplish.

If we say no to publication, there are no limits to how many drafts is enough. Keep writing, keep revising as long as the story holds our interest.

Say yes to publication

If we say yes to publication, initially two, maybe three content drafts are enough. A content draft focus on character development, storyline, raising the stakes, maintaining continuity, etc. This is completely different from editing drafts.

After the second or third content draft, the book needs to go to at least five beta readers. Beta readers are people we know well enough to ask them to read our manuscript, but aren’t so close to them that all they’ll do is say how great it is. Finding five good beta readers is tough, but it’s the best way to find out what really needs honing. Beta readers are looking for minor plot tinkering, typos, grammar, and spelling mistakes. Readers have to make a commitment to getting the manuscript read and back to us in a timely fashion.

Taking comments from beta readers into consideration, another one to two content drafts will need to be done. Here are questions to ask ourselves after the beta readers are through.

What is this novel worth to us?

  • How much more work do we plan to do before we submit our book?
  • How will we know when our book is ready to submit?
  • Have we set a personal deadline for when this book is to be finished?

How strong is our voice?

  • Read sections we suspect are problematic aloud to examine our voice.
  • Is it strong and clear?
  • Are there places when it seems to disappear?
  • Are there places when it overshadows the story?

By this time, we will have done a total of three or four content drafts, half before beta readers and half afterwards. Then comes at least five editing passes

  • the first is attention to format, how the work is presented on the page
  • the second is a general clean-up
  • the third gets rid of book killers
  • the fourth gets down to the nitty-gritty of grammar and spelling, word by word
  • the fifth is the final, what-have-I-missed fine tooth combing

So the answer to how many drafts is enough — my personal opinion hat is firmly in place here — is three to four content drafts; at least five beta readers; and five editing drafts.

Then we’re ready to either go looking for a publisher or to take the self-publishing route.

Next week, Tuesday, November 25, we take off our writer’s hat and put on our editor’s had for Editing Pass 1 of 5 — Paying Attention to Format. Hope to see you then.

My point of view

Remembrance Day — In Her Own Words

It’s Remembrance Day north of the border and Veterans Day in the States. ROMVETS is a list for women who have served in the military and are writers. I asked some of my ROMVET sisters to contribute a short quote about what they thinking about on November 11th. Here’s what they said, and links to their sites, in case you’d like to know more about what they are writing.

I thank God for the opportunity to serve, to give my children the freedom of choice. ~Diana, AGC(AW), United States Navy (Retired) www.dianacosby.com

If I could do it all over again, I would without hesitation. ~ Rogenna, United States Navy www.rogennabrewer.com

I will never forget St Peter’s Cave where the U.S. Army prayed on Christmas Eve before the Battle of the Bulge. ~ Kim, United States Air Force, www.sosaloha.blogspot.com.

I was 24 years old when I got to Vietnam. Real cherry. Soon though, I was middle age. And when I left, I was 95 going on dead. Forty years later, I’m back in the world in body…missing in action in spirit and soul, Sharon, American Red Cross (Korea and Viet Nam)

Forty years out I still remember names and faces of the people I served with. Some links are never broken. Some friends are never forgotten, Sharon, U. S. Army www.wildwindauthor.com

And from the male side of the equation:

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity… Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. ~General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Nursing Sisters Memorial Window, Pemberton Memorial Chapel, Victoria, British Columbia

Nursing Sisters’ Memorial, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

Vietnam Women’s Memorial, Washington, DC

Women in Military Service for America Memorial, Washington, DC

Art, I made this, Maker

Art I Love – Knitted Hyperbolic Plane Headband

Years ago, my husband and I attended a panel about living with a writer. One of the participants said he has a writing hat. When he wore the hat, his spouse wasn’t allowed to interrupt him unless she was closely followed by a fireman with an ax and a need to evacuate the building.

Thus began the hat tradition in our house.

  • My writing hat is a purple fedora with a yellow band, saying Police Line Do Not Cross around the crown. The same rules about the fireman apply when I’m wearing this hat.
  • My playwriting hat is a crocheted yellow, orange, and lime green African kufi hat, with crocheted butterflies. Don’t ask why, crochet, butterflies and wild colors seemed appropriate at the time.
  • My maker’s hat is a pink engineer’s cap with Thomas the Engine and Proud to be an Engineer on the front.

Doing the household accounts is my least favorite thing. Going digital has helped, but not much. I decided I needed a hat, or rather a headband a la 1920s style to wear when I was dealing with numbers. A few years ago a mathematician at Cornell University did some work on crocheting hyperbolic planes. Here’s the link. So here’s my hyperbolic headband, designed to concentrate math rays into my brain.

2014-11-07 HyperbolicPlane

My point of view, second draft, Tips, Writing

Write the Novel — Dawdle and Plant Seeds

We’re almost done with the second draft. We’ve looked at how this draft is the place to strengthen our voice, build emotional muscle, knead a story into shape, and let go of things we may love, but which aren’t working. The final thing to do before finishing this draft is to dawdle and plant seeds.

Dawdle? Are you kidding? I’ve been working on this book absolutely forever. I want it done. Now! No way am I dawdling at this point.

Think again.

In the first draft, the focus was on two things

  • Goal, motivation, and disaster: Who wants what? Why do they want it? What’s preventing them from getting what they want, or if they do get it, how is it different than they thought it would be? This is the builder’s equivalent of preparing the lot, digging a basement, pouring concrete, framing, and roofing a house. It’s where the heavy lifting gets done.
  • Satisfying the demands of the genre. For mysteries, this means clues, red herrings, detective work, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Following the building analogy, this is all of those choices to be made. Carpet or hardwood floors? Paint, wallpaper, or paneling? Appliances? Faucets and taps? Lighting?

The second draft is where interior decorating happens

  • Enhance every chapter’s first and last lines.
  • Where can the story’s volume be adjusted up or down? When should the story go over the top? When should the story be a seductive whisper?
  • Sprinkle flash symbols through the book. A little hazy on flash symbols? Check here.
  • Mix and match characters, narrative lines, settings. Elements that serve more than one purpose or function enrich the story’s density. The rest of this list was taken from Chris Roerden’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery. I strongly recommend this book to all mystery writers.

Deepen the context

  • Appeal to the senses
  • Establish a sense of place
  • Evoke mood
  • Provide texture
  • Sketch a description

Humanize the characters

  • Change sexual tension
  • Establish or betray trust between characters
  • Ground or anchor characters (needs to be done periodically, not just once)
  • Increase a character’s insight
  • Increase what is known about a character

Offer a perspective or counter perspective

  • Juice up the plot
  • Change pacing, emotion, or suspense
  • Raise the stakes
  • Use violence as dialog

Embellish with

  • Buried agendas or secrets
  • Foreshadowing
  • Comic relief
  • Irony
  • Surprise!

And, finally, there’s the landscaping: plant seeds for future books. This is especially important if the book is part of a series. We may know what seeds we’re planting, or we may have no idea at all. Knowing isn’t important. The idea is to plant possibilities than can be explored in subsequent books. Seeds may be as simple as a single line of dialog or a short description.

  • “I had a brother, but he died.”
  • Marcy had seen enough of Chicago, thank you very much. As far as she knew, the warrant for her was still outstanding.

That’s the second draft. When it’s done, take a break.

Put the manuscript away for at least a couple of weeks. Like making bread or aging fine wine, the material needs a chance to settle down before we begin the final content revision.

And that’s just what we’re going to do. Next week, November 11, will be a Remembrance Day blog. We’ll resume our writing the novel journey on Tuesday, November 18, with Final Content Revision. See you then.