Monday, 13 August 2012

The red pen

I went to the Olympic Park the other day, my friend having scored himself some free tickets. Apart from watching the gymnastics and the opening ceremony, that was my sole contribution to the Games, but I think altogether we did a great job at hosting. Well done Team GB!

I thought I'd save my post for today so I could talk about the feedback for the first edit. I went up to Bloomsbury today and sat down with Alexa and Alexandra over sandwiches to talk it over. 

A couple of things about the first edit. The book ended up longer than it was before. The original MS of The Bone Season was 122,199 words. The first edit ended up at 127,928. Not so much of a slimming down as a bulking up! The reason this happened was because [a] because I added several more scenes and [b] I'd added a lot of small details to the world. All three of my editors suggested that there should be more detail at the beginning, and my US editor felt that I needed to make the history and depth of Scion a little clearer. I tossed in a lot of dates and explanations to remedy this.

Alexa and Alexandra strongly agreed on one thing: the first three chapters had suffered during the edit. The punchy pace had been lost because of the detail I'd added, which weighed down the narrative and made the 'hook' less effective. I felt the same. I'd preferred the in media res feel of the original, but after reading the editorial notes, I'd tried to add more detail to help the reader understand the world. Once we hit Chapter 4, however, the problem was resolved, and the MS was much better for the new scenes I'd added. The novel had a much greater emotional impact and was darker than before. So overall, a successful edit – but the first chapters need to go back to square one. I can copy and paste the original chapters over the edit, then bring in any additional parts, so nothing too strenuous there. I've got until 29th September, more than enough time to get the pace of the beginning back to how it was before. 

I also conceded to dropping a character from the storyline, which I'd fought against in the first edit. I was really attached. I did my best to fit him in more neatly, but he didn't work out. Fortunately he was very minor and I'm able to rework him. 

A problem I've been having is that The Bone Season deals with a lot of complex ideas. It's difficult to convey these to the reader without having to sit them down and force them to read paragraph after paragraph of information. You don't want them to feel as if they're at school. So how do you let the reader know what's going on? The timespan of The Bone Season, for example, stretches from 1859 to 2059, a period of two hundred years. Although the story takes place wholly in 2059, I still have to give the reader a sense of the events leading up to that year. This first edit proved that long explanations don't work. They detract from the plot and slow the pace. 

We all know the golden rule of writing: "show don't tell". I think the best way for me to talk to the reader without talking at them will be through dialogue, which works well where I use it.   

Another golden rule is that you need to establish a confident writing style. You can get away with not explaining things as long as the reader trusts that you, the writer, know what you're doing. They don't need to hold your hand every step of the way. They need tidbits of information that remind them where they are, and that the author has control of the world they've stepped inside, but they also need to deduce and discover things for themselves. I don't think it's much fun reading a novel when the author interjects every two minutes to guide you. There's a fine line between clarifying things to your reader and patronising them. 

In other news, Bloomsbury USA and UK are currently debating the font on the cover, so it won't be released to the public for a while yet. But I promise it's worth the wait.

10 comments:

  1. Margaret Attwood does a wonderful job of setting you somewhere you've never been but making it understandable (The Handmaid's Tale/Oryx & Crake). It seems to be about giving you points to recognise, whilst ensuring you know they are something completely different.
    Audrey Niffenegger is very adept at this too, swinging you back and forth but always keeping control of both the reader and the characters.
    You are so right about the reader having faith in the writer to keep it all together, it's when they don't that the reader feels lost and stops joining in!

    I am a friend of Laura's and have heard about your wonderful expedition into the literary world. Bloody good for you - go girly.

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    1. Hi Jane, thanks for reading!

      Margaret Atwood is one of my biggest influences. I haven't read 'Oryx and Crake' (it's on my list) but yes, 'The Handmaid's Tale' does a great job of introducing you to the world. I'll check out Audrey Niffenegger.

      Hope Laura is well, send her my love!

      x

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  2. No questions this time, just want to say again how much I enjoy reading this blog. Thanks for taking the time to do this!

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  3. Hi. I've been following ur blog, and i can't wait for the book to come out. I'm at university as well, and I'll be graduating, hopefully, by the time the first book of the series is out. I was wondering if you would be posting sample chapters and deleted scenes (scenes that were cut during the editing process) sometime in the future. Please reply. Thanks!

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    1. Hi - thanks for following the blog!

      I'll have to ask my publishers about sample chapters and so on. I'm reluctant to put them out too early, as I think they'll spoil the plot, so we'll see. I'll let you know if I get any updates on that.

      Best of luck in your next year of uni x

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  4. Congratulations on the successful edit! That must be a huge weight off. I hadn't consider before how difficult or confusing it might be to work with more than one editor at a time. Or perhaps it's not much different from working with one? Hmm food for thought... and excuse me while I pout about having to wait for the cover.

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    1. It's an interesting experience. I've been very fortunate in that my three editors agree on most things (extra fortunate as one is American and consequently from a different publishing world). When they do disagree, it's usually on minor points.

      And I'm sorry about the cover! I really can't wait for the release. They want to make sure the covers are the same in all territories, or at least very similar.

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  5. Welcome to the machine. Where the artists struggle to maintain integrity whilst the marketers struggle to feed the market. May you have many years ahead of these distasteful, necessary, meetings.

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    1. Haha. It's OK, I understand the need for them.

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