I’ve just completed the next draft of a novel. Following re-writes, I think (think!) I have largely ‘cut off the fat’, got events into the order I want. But it’s not at the final version, you understand. That last proof-reading feels a way off, as my original (self-imposed) deadlines recede through the rear-view mirror. Only it’s getting to the end of the weekend, which is the only chance I have to carve out a decent chunk of writing time. I’m going out for an early evening family meal later, plus it’s a ‘school night.’
No one will give me more time, I’ll have to make. My train commute is almost an hour from our village into the city where I work – then back. Whilst it’s nice to sit and read the paper or a book, whilst working sometimes intrudes, and although a seat on the early part of the return trip is not guaranteed, it is time I could use better.
To that end, I have compiled myself an editing to-do list, before I start the next re-write. First I will take the advice of putting the current draft in pdf. The point of this stage is to take a step back, to read and see, not pick at re-writing, nor get distracted by proof reading. Instead, I’ll make notes on what to change as I go along. So here’s my (ever-increasing) list so far:
- Check on the flow and transitioning from one chapter to the next. Is this coherent?
Or if there is a deliberate switch in time, location, mood, character point of view, voice, etc., is that clear?
- Timeline: I worked one out before starting the first draft. Refer back to that to make sure the action is still following it logically, the right number of days, months and so on passing with the appropriate references. Where there is ‘elapsed time’, is that made clear – without dumping a lot of ‘what you’ve missed’ summary onto the reader?
- Take one main character at a time and follow their ‘journey’ or development through the story. Again, each main character has a timeline and backstory written outside the book – referring to this, is the character behaving and responding authentically, true to themselves?
- Take one character and follow their dialogue through, focusing only on that character’s speech. Do they have a distinctive voice – does the way they speak distinguish that character from the others?
- My characters are different ages, backgrounds, different nationalities, professions, and so on. Is there any more fact checking to be done? (Without shoe-horning in “interesting facts” just because I’ve done the research and am damned well going to use it…
- Are my opening sentence and then earliest paragraphs ‘hooky’ enough to get the reader’s attention, or is more work needed (yet again!)?
- Is my ‘conflict’ coming out clearly enough? In other words the tension or disruption that the story will need to resolve? Or indeed is it over-signalled? Are there any logical holes in the conflict or its resolution?
- Is my ending how I want it to be, not only in resolution or outcome, but in its effect?
Okay, I can see this to-do list is going to take more than a week’s commute time – especially if I don’t get that coveted seat, in addition to some quiet time at home. And I do appreciate there are a load of other elements to check over during editing. However, setting these goals will hopefully help make the most of the limited writing time I can find.