Thursday, 12 April 2007

Novel Progress - Editing

Ooooh editing is so not fun. I thought it would be as I love tweaking my short stories but, because my novel opening will be going off to a competition to be judged and I'm feeling the pressure, I'm finding editing a whole bundle of not fun.

Questions that ran through my mind as I was reading my opening:

  • Should there be more of an introduction to my characters before I plunge them into conflict so I can build up the reader's sympathy for them? [Answer: I don't know. Probably not if I want to hook the reader straight away]

  • Will the reader like my main character (even though the novel opens with her arguing with someone)? [Answer: Hopefully she'll gain their sympathy by what she goes through after the initial argument]

  • Is the hook strong enough to pull a reader in? [Answer: It's certainly an usual hook so yes, hopefully]

  • Is there too little description? [Answer: I don't know. I don't like reading reams of description and I don't like writing it either. Hopefully there's enough.]

  • Are my funny bits actually funny? [Answer: One bit made me grin. Does that mean it's funny?]

  • Is the language good or is it bland? [Answer: The language definitely needs some work to sparkle]

So, I've done a bit of work on the first 1,000 or so words. I'm still not 100% happy but I'm happier so that's something. I even digitally recorded myself reading the first 3,000 words as sometimes you can more easily spot the glaring mistakes when you listen to what you've written rather than reading it. It sounded okay, I have to say.

What I've written is okay, it may even be good. The trouble is I want it to be great!


Quillers said...

It is hard with characters, isn't it? But I think it's important not to tell your reader too much about them at the beginning of the novel and for their 'character' to come out throughout whatever they're experiencing.

In short stories we have to get a quick insight into a character, but in a novel I think there's more time to develop a character and it can be a bit tell-y if we do it all at the beginning.

One of the things I've done while editing is to go back and make the dialogue a bit sparkier (I hope). Sometimes it helps just to get the story down as you want to tell it, then go back and redo any weaker elements.

But I speak as someone who's only just finishing up her first proper full length novel (I've written a few novella length stories aimed at the M&B market) so what do I know? ;-)

Cally said...

Oohh thanks for that Sally. You receive so much conflicting advice that sometimes you don't know what to do. Yesterday, for example, I was reading James N Frey's "How to Write a Damned Good Novel" and he said you should let your reader get to know your character before you plunge them into crisis so that the character has their sympathies. Then again, in my opinion, if you're going to start with an introductory scene rather than conflict it's going to be a hell of a lot harder to get the reader hooked.

Because I'm writing what is (probably) fundamentally a chick lit novel I had a look through some of the chick lit books I own and nearly all of them started with the conflict (e.g. Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner starts with the revelation that her ex has written a column about loving a larger woman).

I know what you mean about trying to make dialogue a bit sparkier. It's tough though. What kind of techniques are you using to try and make it sparkier? To quote James N Frey again he suggests you ask the following questions about each line of dialogue:

1) Is it in conflict?
2) Is it trite?
3) Can it be better said indirectly?
4) Is the line as clever and colorful as it can be?

Easier said than done!

Quillers said...

I'm no expert as I've said, Cally, but how I introduced my main character was to tell (or have her tell as it's 1st person) she's a recovering alcoholic, but she makes light of it. It's only later that I let her reveal that her alcoholism completely ruined her daughter's wedding and that's the reason she's estranged from her family. I hope this sets her up as a rather more complex character and explains why she's on a course of redemption. I have another character acting quite descriminatory towards someone she believes is a terrorist, then I show a softer, kinder side to her. So she's not very sympathetic to begin with, and continues the novel as quite a chippy person, but readers (I hope) will begin to like her.

Re the dialogue, I went back and was horrified to see how many times I'd started someone's dialogue with 'Oh' or 'Well' or 'Look' or 'er(m)'. I got rid of all that to give the speech a much pithier pattern. I also got rid of any lines of speech that weren't really necessary, for example someone saying 'Thanks, bye' at the end of a conversation. My aim is to make sure all the dialogue really says something and isn't just filler. Another thing I've tried to do is give the most important characters different speech patterns. My MC is middle-class Welsh/English (ahem...), but one of her friends is Middle Eastern and the other black, but London born, so I've tried to write their dialogue accordingly so that I don't have all characters sounding alike.

You're right, there is so much conflicting advice. I think, dare I say it, that sometimes it helps to switch off all that advice and just do what you feel is right for your novel. Trust yourself to do the right thing.

Cally said...

Thanks for the advice, Sally. I've noticed that I overuse a few words - namely "sighed" "simply" and "really". Chop, chop, chop!

One thing I AM done with is my synopsis. I'm finally happy with it (well, happy'ish) so that's good.

Now if I could just be happy'ish with the actual text of the novel that would be great!

Quillers said...

Oh I hate synopsis writing! Well done for getting it done. I did write mine the other week and got some novelist friends to give me some advice on it. For the Daily Mail comp it can't be more than 600 words, so there's not much room to sell the novel.

Cally said...

They don't say how long the synopsis should be for the Miss Write competition but I've got it down to about 626 words which, I hope, is short enough!

It's so hard deciding what to put in and what to leave out whilst also managing to get across the tone and style of your book. Not convinced I've done a brilliant job but it's not bad - it certainly makes for a more interesting read than my first 3,000 words (at least that's how I feel at the moment).