Sunday retrospective

timemachine_1Did I really do a post a day for the first week of November 2014? Maybe it was because I was editing, and practicing avoidance. I even posted about that in a post called Procrastibaking.

It was all about the editing for me that week, with three posts on the topic:

The day I finished the edit, I linked to some random thoughts about writing from Christina Dodd.

Another post that week was a brief glossary of terms for budding romance novelists.

And the last post I want to direct your attention to today was called Is that a rooster in your pocket? Yes, it’s a brief and cheeky discussion of historically accurate inappropriate language, with some links to some superb resources.



Sunday retrospective

time-machineToday’s Sunday retrospective reaches back to the second half of October 2014, when I was writing the last third of Farewell to Kindness. I was reporting progress—and hiccups—as I went. I finished the month with a photo of the printed first draft of Farewell to Kindness and the heading #amediting. A couple of days before that, I posted a list called ‘Editing the book’ — everything I needed to do between finishing the first draft and sending the book for beta reading.

Criminal injustice was the post I wrote when I found out about the sea change in the British criminal justice system, and how this affected my plot. In 1807,  the old system was no longer working and the new system had not been invented.

Our modern view is that one law should apply to all. It doesn’t always work. Money buys better lawyers, for a start. But the basic principle is that we have laws that lay down the crime and the range of punishments, and judges who look at the circumstances and apply penalties without fear or favour.

The pre-19th century situation in England was far, far different.

I also posted on why I changed the name of my heroine in Farewell to Kindness in a blog post with the longest titleI have ever written: Ewww, just ewww: or the cautionary tale of the perils of naming characters in a whole lot of books at once and then starting one without reference to the real world.

I waxed philosophical about romance writing as a genre in a couple of posts that largely picked up what other people were saying:

  • Fear of vulnerability reports on research that suggests fear of vulnerability underpins the common dismissal of the romance genre by readers of other types of fiction
  • Romance novels are feminist novels has excerpts from a much longer article that directly confronts the view that all romance novels are trivial, and turns it on its head.

The first review I published on my website was for the wonderful Lady Beauchamp’s Proposal. Four months later, I was thrilled to find author Amy Rose Bennett as another potential Bluestocking Belle, and we’ve been colleagues and allies ever since.

And I also published a review of Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt. In less than a fortnight, I’m hosting a Belles’ Book Club discussing another of the Maiden Lane series, Scandalous Desires. Elizabeth has agreed to pop in for an hour, so don’t miss it. You can join the event here:


A necessary sacrifice

ackermann_mourningdress1819On the train today, I decided to kill one of my favourite characters. I’m sad, but I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do.

I completed the third draft edit on page 135 of 506 pages, so he has around 340 more pages to live. At the current rate, he’ll be dead by next weekend.

I’ve lost over 2000 words in the edit so far, but it’s still a bit of an epic (127,000).


#amediting part 2

I’ve always agreed with the aphorism that good books are not written, they’re rewritten. All power to the elbows of those who can write once and publish. I’m not one of those writers. So how am I editing?

First I went through the draft as I did it, each day checking what I wrote the day before.

Then, after attending the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference in September, I completely rewrote the 30,000 words I had up to that point.

Then, as I came up with new ideas, I went back and planted seeds in earlier chapters.

So by the time I finished Farewell to Kindness, I was calling what I had the second draft.

As I approached the end of the writing, I read up on editing, and I posted what I found.

Next, I worked out my own process, which was a kind of an amalgam of everyone else’s with a few of my own ideas thrown in.

I took a long weekend, and – in a marathon 35-40 hour sprint – went through the whole book in hardcopy, page by page, writing character names, plotpoints, story outline, and any ideas or discrepancies in a spiral-bound notebook.


Then I decided that I needed to put some of this into a spreadsheet.

So I’ve spent every evening for the last week (and a few midnight hours) creating a three-tab spreadsheet. Tab one has all the plots across the top (four strands to the major plot, and 16 subplots), and all the scenes down the left hand side. I’ve marked where plots start, where they end, and where I’ve got lost somewhere in the middle.

This let me work out that I need to drop a couple of the minor plots because they aren’t needed, I need to work in a bit more about the Revenge strand of the major plot, because I pretty much forget about it in the middle of the book, and I need to close off some minor plots that I left hanging.

On tab two, I’ve listed all the characters in each scene. I’ve found (and fixed) some name changes by doing this. I’ve also put descriptions of characters when they appear in the book, so I could check that I didn’t change a person’s eye colour, height, or other personal characteristics.

Tab three is a calendar. I’ve added the phases of the moon, and moonset, moonrise, sunset and sunrise where they’re significant to the plot, and I’ve put the scenes in day by day. This allowed me to find out that Rede had an extra day up his sleeve, and could have been back in time to save Anne, so I’ve worked out something to delay him (which, not just incidentally, also allows me to close off my dangling plot lines before we get to the grand finale).

So here’s the spreadsheet. You’ll see it goes right from the left of my desktop screen to the right of my laptop screen.


It’s been a little tedious, but I’m finding it a remarkably efficient way to work. My mind goes off on flights of fancy while my fingers are filling in character names, and all of a sudden a difficulty resolves itself.

Next step (already started) is to rewrite to bring all the ideas into the third draft. I’m pretty happy with the preface and first three chapters, and I’m excited about the changes and new scenes coming up.

The plan is to get the third draft done then prepare a copy for beta readers within the next fortnight. I’ll let you know how I get on.


Pulling all the threads together

I’ve been through all 506 pages of the first draft, and I have a head (and a notebook) full of ideas.

image Now I’ve opened my plotline spreadsheet, and created two new tabs.

Here’s what I’m planning to do.

I’ll update the plotline spreadsheet (plots for the columns, scenes for the rows) from my notebook, and note when a plot starts, progresses, or is concluded.  Then I can see what gets resolved and what gets forgotten about. I’ve added a column to note things I need to do.

I’ve added a tab for characters. I’ll put all the names and titles in scene by scene, and check that they don’t change.

I’ve added a tab for a calendar, so I can plot the scenes against dates, sunrise and sunset times, and the phases of the moon.

I’ll let you know how it works out, but in theory, by the end of the day (6 or 7 hours from now), I should have a marked up draft that I can split to work on on the train.

UPDATE, Monday evening: The answer is that it is taking longer than I thought. I’m up to page 200, but I have the plot threads mapped for the first two-fifths of the draft (and have found some holes, which I’ve now noted on the draft, the character names recorded for two-fifths of the draft, and all of the scenes laid into the calendar – and I’ve found a whole extra day, which I’m going to have to account for, somehow.

By taking this analytical approach, I’m avoiding the temptation to drop back into creative mode. When I finish the analysis, I’ll have all the thinking done that I need to do, and I’ll be able to deal with the draft one page at a time, content that the logistics have been dealt with.

So it’s working.


The real work is all in the edit

vonnegutI’m on page 92 of 506 of my first hard-copy edit, and I’m loving the experience. This bit is all about continuity, pace, and plot. I’ve marked where the hero’s housekeeper changes her name, and his land agent goes from weedy to buff in a matter of days. I’ve noted the change in the heroine’s eye-colour (green flecks turned into gold flecks). I’ve found two scenes I can cut dramatically and another that I think I can get rid of altogether, thus removing several peripheral characters entirely.

And, for inspiration, I’ve been reading some quotes from an article entitled 20 Great Writers on the Art of Revision.

Here’s one of the 20 quotes:

“Your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.” — Kurt Vonnegut, How to Use the Power of the Printed Word


Editing the book

editing novelSo here’s my to-do list for the next three weeks. All going according to plan, I’ll have a draft ready for beta readers by mid-November. Of course, it’s a bit heavy to lug on the train with me. 🙂


Update the outline as it is

Update the plot spreadsheet as it is

Hand edit

Need: single subject spiral bound notebook, 3 to 4 colours of pen, printed draft, Outline Notebook, maps.


Write down:

  • Chapter numbers
  • POVs
  • Name of each character as that character is introduced
  • Plot lines as they begin
  • Events in each chapter


  • Writing that needs work
  • Writing that works


  • Does this character have a place in this book?
  • Has a character changed appearance?
  • Has a character changed in other ways? If so, do I explain why?
  • Are all plotlines carried through?
  • Are all plotlines resolved?
  • Have all conflicts been resolved
  • Does this scene matter?
  • Have I followed the rule of 3? (If it appears twice, it should appear three times)

Talk things out

Discuss my proposed solutions with my PRH and my lovely sister

Plan and plot

  • Rewrite the outline
  • Rewrite the plot spreadsheet

Rewrite, reorganise

Now fix all the things I thought were wrong, rewriting and reorganising as needed.

ADDED: Check that every chapter ends in a way that keeps people reading, and that every chapter begins with a hook.

Edit for spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice

  • Check capitalisation
  • Eliminate qualifiers
  • Evaluate adverbs
  • Remove superfluous movement
  • Tune dialogue attribution
  • Check whether ‘that’ is needed
  • Remove filter words

To See (See, Sees, Saw, Seeing, Seen)
To Hear (Hear, Hears, Heard, Hearing)
To Feel (Feel, Feels, Felt, Feeling)
To Look (Look, Looks, Looked, Looking)
To Know (Know, Knows, Knew, Knowing)
To Think (Think, Thinks, Thought, Thinking)
To Wonder (Wonder, Wonders, Wondered, Wondering)
To Realize (Realize, Realizes, Realized, Realizing)
To Watch (Watch, Watches, Watched, Watching)
To Notice (Notice, Notices, Noticed, Noticing)
To Seem (Seem, Seems, Seemed, Seeming)
To Decide (Decide, Decides, Decided, Deciding)
To Sound (Sound, Sounds, Sounded, Sounding)

Read out loud, marking anything that doesn’t work

Fix, and let it go to beta readers