Archive for the 'Edits/Copyedits' Category

06
Mar
10

Is that supposed to happen? or How I fixed my first novel

So I am neck deep in untangling the final mess of my third book for its April 1 deadline (so very tempted to send a 1 page manuscript ending with “Rocks fall, everybody dies.” but I don’t think my editor would see the April Fools day humor in that), and I’ve been thinking about revelations. This book has me bringing out a lot of my big guns: world secrets, power players, secret histories, truths that could break up the primary relationships of the series, all that sort of good stuff! But revealing all of this to the reader in a way they can understand and care about has been something of a challenge.

The author is in a unique, omnipotent position when it comes to their work. They literally know everything. If they haven’t thought about it, then it doesn’t exist. If they made something one way and later change their minds, then the thing changes to suit whatever the author needs it to. It’s tempting to see this limitless power as limitless fun, but really it’s a constant liability. I have to think of literally everything, and not just what I care about, but stuff other people will notice is missing if I leave it out (like how my characters never seem to eat, which I mentioned in an earlier post and have taken steps to correct by adding 200% more food to book 3). But more important than crass details like daily caloric intake or the fact that no one poops in fantasy (don’t think about that one too hard) is the information you actually want your reader to know.

At a very simple level, books are the revelation of information over time. Stuff happens which causes other stuff to happen, and you keep reading to find out what. Revealing what happens next in a way that keeps the reader reading is the hallmark of good writing, and there are as many ways to do it as there are books. Great writers make it look so simple, but as with all things worth doing, it’s way harder than it looks. For example, in my first book I had these huge, deep world secrets that were SOO COOOL (to me), and I didn’t want to tip my hand too soon. I wanted the mystery to peek out of the background, tempting people to keep reading. So I dropped subtle hints, so subtle, in fact, that no one got them.  My editor/agent/readers kept telling me to make the book bigger, deeper. I was indignant! I was deep! Didn’t they see all this amazing stuff I was doing in the background? Well, no. I saw it, because I knew it was there. If other people were going to see it, I was going to have to make the writing on the wall a little larger.

Continue reading ‘Is that supposed to happen? or How I fixed my first novel’

13
Feb
10

getting it right vs. getting it done

/* Special note! I just got my copy of Nora’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and it is awesome! The book is beautiful and the story is fantastic so far. If you aren’t reading it already, do yourself a favor and check it out! You won’t be sorry, promise! */

I just recently turned in edits for the second book in my series for Orbit. When I first got the manuscript back from my editor, I estimated it would take about 2 weeks to go through and get the book into publishable shape. Boy, was I wrong. The deeper I got into the text, the more I realized the text had problems. Nothing huge, but there were lots of small discrepancies, little matters of timing, congruency, and continuity that had to be adjusted. As I worked I was very aware of my approaching deadlines. I had a third book to get out, after all. I couldn’t afford to be sitting here nitpicking timelines on a book that was otherwise completely fine.

And yet… I couldn’t just be sloppy. This was my book. This was going to be purchased by my fans (I’d assume, since they would have had to have read the first book and liked it to care about the second), they deserved a good story, the best I could give them. So these two needs go back and forth, getting the book right vs. getting it done, finally coming to a head in a scene towards the end of the book.

First off, it was a pivotal scene for one of my favorite characters, one that I’d been thinking of for a long, long time. I could not afford for this scene to suck. I’d thought I’d gotten it good enough, but rereading it, I realized it wasn’t what it needed to be. And yet, it was just one scene, a thousand words, and I was so close to finished and pushing my deadlines already. So I sat there, going one way, then the other until, finally I gave in and rewrote the stupid thing. It took me 2 days to get it right. Two days! For a thousand words! But I got it right this time, or as close to right as I could get.

This constant tug-of-war between getting the book finished and getting it right is actually good for both book and writer. If it was all about getting it done, my books would be sloppy and dull. If it was all about getting it right, I’d never finish anything. Between the constant pulling I end up with a book that’s good, not perfect (let’s face it, there will always be things I’d wish I’d done differently), but good enough that I’m proud to put my name on it and delivered to the publisher in a timely fashion so people can actually read the sucker, because that’s what this is all about.

Now that I’m finished editing and the novel is turned in, I can sit back and revel in the feeling that I’ve written the best book I could have written. Not the best book I’ll ever write (because how depressing would that be? Peaking this early in my life), but a book that I’m proud of and that was delivered within the appropriate amount of time. I feel I’ve created something worth reading, and even if it isn’t perfect, I couldn’t be happier. This time I won on all fronts, I got it done and got it right, and that’s good enough for me.

14
Jan
10

Bringing it

Hello there, allow me to introduce myself. I’m M.K. Hobson and I’m one of these new Magic District bloggers you’ve been hearing all about. I was supposed to start blogging all the way back in December 2009 but I was in the midst of being attacked by book edits. This can be likened to death by a thousand paper cuts with copious quantities of Rockstar and other stimulants poured over them. But luckily, once the battle is over (assuming you’ve won) the wounds heal quickly and, even though your ears are ringing from lack of sleep and overcaffienation, there’s a delicious feeling of victory.

The book edits in question are for my forthcoming duology with Bantam Spectra. The first book, THE NATIVE STAR, is coming out later this year. It’s set in a magical America circa 1876, and features stones of power expelled by the consciousness of the earth, biomechanical flying machines, the transcontinental railroad, blood-sorcery, huge slavering slimy beasts called aberrancies, and, of course, young love.

When I’m not writing about biomechanical flying machines, slavering beasts, and young love, I enjoy walking my dog, debating anarchocapitalist political theory with my pinko pal Doug Lain, doing intros and readings for Podcastle (of which I am, apparently, a co-host), and participating in pie-eating contests. (I only added that last one so I could tick the “pie” ticky-box under “Categories.”)

Anyway, I’m excited about blogging here at The Magic District, and am looking forward to, as the kids say, “bringing it.”

14
Jan
10

I am the Lorax who speaks for the trees . . .

For the last two days I have been absorbed in reading the galleys (aka author alterations) for TWICE DEAD, my February release. This is the very last time I will read over these words and be able to make changes before the book goes to print. The changes I can make at this stage are small, mostly just errors in spelling and punctuation, and this is the point in the publishing game where it always seems to finally sink in that my words are going to be in print. Mostly this realization strikes because at this point, the words are starting to look like a book.

Two nights ago my publisher sent me a PDF file to proof. The title page, dedication, and all extra materials are in the file at this point, and the text is formatted like a book. The only thing that can make it more real will be holding a bound copy with my name on the cover in my hands (which will happen in a little over a month!)

I decided to print a hard copy of the galley. In my experience it is easier to read over mistakes on the computer screen, especially since I have been staring at these word intermittently for nearly a year, and I want to eliminate as many mistakes in the manuscript as my sore eyes can catch. As I was scrounging around my office for enough paper to print the manuscript, I realized that this would be the very first time I saw these words on paper. When I was younger (particularly when I was in school) I used to write everything long hand before entering it in the computer. Then I always printed my drafts to edit long hand, entering my changes in the file after the fact.

The reason for all this printing was that I hated (who am I kidding, I still hate) to read off my computer screen. But as I grew older, and as I started actually finishing novels, printing out 100k words of text became quite an ordeal. Printing was not only costly, but I started feeling rather guilty about all the trees I was killing so I could scribble changes on paper that I had to then put in the computer anyway. So I forced myself to start editing on the screen.

The end result of this effort is that I am now holding in my hands the only printed copy of my story that I’ll see before it is an actual book. Wow. That’s kind of . . . cool. And woot for saving trees!

(Post title is a quote from THE LORAX by Dr. Suess. Am I the only one who tears up when the Lorax is finally forced to leave?)

26
Oct
09

Clarity, continuity, and how many days has it been?

by Diana

Every writer has been there. You write something–whether it’s a scene, a short story, or a whole frickin novel–then pass it off to a first reader/critique group/editor, and they come back to you and say, “But this doesn’t make sense!” And you fight the urge (sometimes quite unsuccessfully) to scowl and point to the page and respond with, “What are you talking about? It’s right there! See?” At which time they will sometimes give you a withering look and reply, “Um, no, it’s not. You merely think it’s there because the story is in your head and it makes perfect sense to you. Now stop whining and fix it!”

And, likewise, every reader has been there. You’re merrily reading along, caught up wonderfully in a delightful story when suddenly you read something that doesn’t work, or is just plain wrong, and you’re completely and utterly yanked out of the story. You stop and frown and say, “What the [expletive]? Why the [expletive] would the character need to call a locksmith to get out of handcuffs? Doesn’t the author know that handcuff keys are universal? Why wouldn’t the character own a handcuff key if she owns handcuffs?” (Okay, you might say something else, but the aforementioned handcuff key issue is the reason why I stopped reading a certain popular series. I couldn’t get past this very basic research error.) Or perhaps it’s an issue where you’re not quite sure how something happened, and you find yourself flipping back through pages to see if you missed a crucial detail. Either way, you’re not in the story anymore.

Writing sometimes becomes an optical illusion. The writer knows that something is supposed to work or make sense, and so our little writer brain magically fills in what’s missing, or glosses over parts that don’t work, or ignores the fact that we’ve used the same word seventy-jillion times. I’ll say it now: Thank all the powers that be for editors and copyeditors! 

I remember going through revisions with my editor on Mark of the Demon, and reaching one particular scene where we kept going back and forth over the continuity of one character sitting down and standing up. Seems like a silly trivial thing, but if a character is sitting on the floor, and then picks a book up off a table, it’s one of those little details that could jar a reader out of the book.  There was also an issue with whether a demon could travel a certain distance, which turned out to be more of a clarity issue than one of continuity. I ended up adding several lines and adjusting some timing so that it was clearer that the characters were talking about two different demons.

Timing has been a big pain in the ass factor as well. Since the phase of the moon is very important to my main character’s ability to summon demons, I had to create moon calendars and pace out the action very carefully–sometimes running several days off to get to the moon phase that I needed. My copyeditor was fantastic here, and I can only imagine what sort of charts she had to make out to keep track of it all. And, despite the fact that I kept  meticulous track (or so I thought), she still caught a couple of timing issues where I was off by a day or two.

And then there are timing issues that have nothing to do with the phase of the moon. In Blood of the Demon, my editor pointed out that I had a victim’s funeral set for a day and a half after he was found dead. This seemed a bit speedy to her, unless the victim was Jewish and had to have a timely funeral? (I ended up adding a couple of days into the timeline instead of making the victim Jewish.)

And speaking of things Jewish, also in Blood of the Demon I had a character making a blithe comment about being Jewish, which was why she hadn’t been to Sunday School. My editor jumped on that one and said, “She’s Jewish, with a last name like [very non-Jewish name]?” (And here is where I must confess to heaping quantities of ignorance of Jewish tradition! Shame on me!) Since the character was a single female, my editor wanted me to either explain why she would have such a non-Jewish last name, or change it so that it wasn’t so jarring to people who Had A Clue. This seemed like a very minor thing at first and I was all set to take out the whole reference to being Jewish,  but then I had a little thought about the character being previously married…a very short and tragic marriage… which suddenly gave me all sorts of seriously nifty backstory to the character, all from a line that I thought was a brief little funny.

There have also been a few issues that slipped by everyone until we reached the page proof stage. A blouse in one scene turned into a scarf in another. Within the span of a dozen chapters, a manual garage door somehow became an automatic garage door that required a remote. (Scribble scribble scratch… change “he pulled the garage door up” to “he hit the button on the remote.”) One error that made me laugh out loud (and I still can’t believe none of us caught it before page proofs!) was a scene where the overhead sun cast patterns through the leaves… and then two whole paragraphs later a character makes a comment about the rising sun. *facepalm*

And then there are the issues that seem at first be matters of continuity, but are instead matters of clarity. During copyedits, my copyeditor pointed out a place where a character got into her car and drove away. “How could she get into her car? Didn’t [other character] drive her over there?” Ah, yes, I thought, but she’d left her car there earlier. Don’t you remember? But, I went ahead and inserted a couple of words on the order of “he parked next to her car” and figured that would be sufficient to remind the reader that she’d left her car there earlier.

But apparently not, because after I returned the page proofs I received an email from my editor’s assistant, telling me that Production was concerned because I had a scene where the character gets into her car and drives off, and how could that happen if she’d been riding around with [other character.]

Grr. Snarl. Stomp. Why couldn’t the readers frickin’ remember this? But, I forced myself to admit that even though it was blindingly obvious to me, this was obviously NOT CLEAR at all if it was being pointed out by more than one person. So, I went back and added another line on the order of: They went to do crime-scene stuff, but left her car at the house since it was such a piece of crap. (And if that doesn’t work, I’ll make an FAQ that explains exactly how she could get in her car and drive off, ‘kay?)

Needless to say, good editors and copyeditors are worth their weight in gold. A good editor (and I’ve been gifted with a fabulous one!) takes your book and helps you make it better. (I’m going to save What An Editor Does for another post, because that’s going to be a long post. 🙂 ) A copyeditor takes that revised and edited book and (aside from fixing grammar/spelling punctuation errors)  makes sure that all of the details fit together, makes sure that what you’re trying to say is what has actually been said, makes sure that what you’re trying to say actually makes sense and is feasible, makes sure that you don’t actually use the same word seventeen times in the same page… (Actually, my most-overused word is “just.” It’s a bit horrifying just how often I use that word!) Also, a good copyeditor makes sure that you don’t make stupid research-related mistakes. (In the first book my CE caught an error regarding the make and model of a gun.I was horrified that I’d screwed that up, and deeply grateful that she’d saved me from looking like a bonehead.)

 

As you might imagine, I was thrilled to pieces when I managed to score the same CE for both books. Even though a new CE would have been given the previous CE’s stylesheet, my CE caught a continuity error between the two books that I doubt would have been referenced on a style sheet. (And I’m keeping fingers crossed that I’ll be able to keep her for subsequent books as well!) 

Finally, for a terrific insight into what a copyeditor does, you absolutely need to read Deanna Hoak’s blog, especially this entry here.