Beautiful Books this month is looking at the third segment of writing – that is, editing the prose and first drafts we’ve written.
So, let’s talk editing. I’m editing right this minute, actually. (Well, not right this minute; right now, I’m writing this sentence and about to head into the kitchen to make lunch, but I digress.) But it’s not UTC, the book I’ve talked about in my other Beautiful Books posts. Frankly, I’ve not had the time or the energy to craft this contemporary, and it stays at less than 20K at the moment. I still want to write it, certainly, but it will be a slower process than the way I go about writing Fantasy or Sci-Fi. Instead, let me quickly introduce you to my first straight Steampunk novel, Horology. It aptly fits with the prompts as it started life as a NaNo achievement – July’s CampNaNo in fact. I had Cathy as one of my Beautiful People posts earlier in the year and shortly before that, I posted a title reveal post. ‘Cause I’m awesome like that. 😉
In 1880’s New York, The Passing is a daily occurrence, revered by all – except Cathy, who’s deathly afraid of the phantasms. In her beloved England, the only ‘cold spot’ is in London, and that might do to explain her betrothed’s strict tolerance to the creatures. When he fails to turn up as per their arrangement, Cathy suspects the worst. With the help of his best friend, Cathy discovers that he was working on decoding the probability of cold spots. And now he’s gone and lost himself on the continent. But braving her fears and scurrying after him might just cost Cathy her own life. Somebody doesn’t want her to discover the truth.
- On a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (best) how well do you think this book turned out?
8 out of 10. I’m not sure I’m convinced about the overall plot arc or the villain’s greater-world motivations, but I love the style of the writing and tone, as florid as probably is. I’ve come across a few sentences where I’ve had to take it word for word, to know what Past!Alex meant, but most sentences I know what I meant. There are still a few bits – new ideas – that I want to include, but I will have to work around my academic timetable to add these after I’ve send the 1.5th draft to my Alpha reader(s).
- Have you ever rewritten or editing one of your books before? If so, what do you do to prepare yourself? If not, what’s your plan?
Yup, my main novel has been edited and edited and edited. To prepare myself, I first read through the novel and tweak sentences that don’t work. I also have a very rigid colour scheme when I do simple and big edits: red for ‘could delete’, blue for ‘should edit wording but content needs to remain’, yellow for the overlap between the two, and purple for new inserts.
- What’s your final wordcount? Do you plan to lengthen or trim your book?
It’s now 75643 words. I was hoping to write 80K, so I will be lengthening it a little, but not by scenes or characters.
- What’s are you most proud of? Plot, characters, or pacing?
Characters. I love the world I’ve created, but it’s made all the more real by the way these characters interact with each other. Cathy is feeble at times, but she also has a petulant side; Charles is merry most of the time, but he can get angry when questioned and also when trying to protect his charge; Jonathon falls into exaggeration, but he has a kindly, serious side.
- What’s a favourite bit of prose or line from this novel?
(From what I’ve edited/read through of the first chapters.) From chapter eight, Cathy meets the crew of The Cloud-Chaser:
Cathy scratched her ear. Most of her didn’t mind this. She watched the brief procession of three civil servants. A middle-aged gentleman with a quiff and the spare screwdriver lodged behind his ear was introduced as engineer Whyte. A lean man with a merry gaze and henna-stained designs up his arms was said to be the helmsman, Eddard. Next filed forward the elegant light-haired woman—
Woman? A lady crewman?
“This is Amelia West. She is our cartographer, trained at the royal institute of science, no less.”
“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss West,” Jonathon said with his best alluring smile.
Cathy rolled her eyes, refused the sickening sense growing in her throat – though she was sure it was simply disgust at the man’s antics – and curtsied as best as possible.
“A lady cartographer,” she said. “Rare.”
Miss West laughed, her voice a merry mimicry of the higher registers of a harpsichord. “That is a comment levelled at me many a time.”
She was not an unhandsome fellow, with intelligent brown eyes and green tinted goggles nestled in the midst of her loose hair. Cathy didn’t know whether to be impressed that the lady knew how to pull off loose hair and leather slacks or concerned that she was betraying her sex in more than simply fashion.
6. What aspect of your book needs the most work?
Character motivations. I’ve noticed, as I’ve been editing the first ten chapters so far, that my characters seem to spontaneously decide to go off on their adventure without much thought. I might also change the first chapter. I literally dreamt it – and I’d say it’s a good introduction to the characters, the alt-history fantasy elements and the love interest in peril – but it might condone insta-love, despite the fact that the characters have known each other since childhood – it might provoke the same ambivalence of readers to books which start with a familial death; we never have the chance to emphasise with the character before change hits them.
- What aspect of your book is your favourite?
Probably the travel and the settings. I do exploit some elements of the classic/cliché Steampunk London, but I get to use the little I know of New York (!) and exploit that into some wonderful ideas. I have dirigibles landing on Macy’s Department Store and dirigibles taking off from Ellis Island.
Plus Vesuvius. I’ve been up Vesuvius, yay.
- How are your characters? Well-rounded, or do they still need to be fleshed-out?
Hmm, as I mentioned above, I think most have at least one positive and negative mood aspect, but since they’re still paper men to me, they will still need to be fleshed out further. One of the minor characters, for instance, the inventor who lives with Charles, is pretty happy-go-lucky and I couldn’t tell you what irks him, despite how I could tell you what he drinks and eats for breakfast. It’s odd things like that.
- If you had to do it over again, what would you change about the whole process?
I would perhaps ramble less in the hope that I get to the point of the scenes quicker, which would in turn give me less to worry about in my editing.
10. Did anything happen in your book that completely surprised you? Have any scenes or characters turned out differently to what you planned? Good or bad?
For the most part, those things I didn’t expect turned out to be good. The ending battle was a lot more complex than I thought it would be – Cathy gets captured, escapes, gets captured again into a different place, and then gets set free by the villain with a riddle to solve before I even got to the fun bit of writing the fight scene. In the same way, there was change even in little things like the scene where Cathy’s former governess forbids her from leaving: it occurred in a different place and the outcome was a lot more mature, with an additional character to those I expected.
Suffice to say, I learnt a lot more about my characters through writing than I thought I would. Nothing completely took me off guard, but many scenes unfolded in a different way to what I thought they would.
- What was the theme and message? Do you think it came across? If not, is there anything you could do to bring it out more?
I’m not entirely sure. We all like a good-defeats-evil message or one that promotes the idea that nobody is black or white, but I’m not here to serve that message again. Nor are there as strictly direct themes of the class system in this novel as there have been in others. I think perhaps I have written another with the theme that things are never what they seem. After all, I have red herrings woven throughout, things which might seem important to Cathy, but which are actually not so important to the plot.
- Do you like writing with a deadline (like NaNoWriMo) or do you prefer to write-as-it-comes?
Both. It depends on the book. I’m perfectly happy to write to a deadline if I know what I need to write and can get it down. Not with some genres, though, where I have to write-as-it-comes.
- Comparative title time! What published books, movies, or TV shows are like your book? (Ex: Inkheart meets X-Men, etc.)
😀 Yay, comparison time! I’d say it will appeal to fans of Steampunk like the Bannon and Clare series by Lilith Saintcrow. You’ve got their elements of disappearing people and mystery, but there’s also a large dose of middle-class life, evening phantasms, and Italians. Prepare your dirigibles – you’re in for a lot of travel.
- How do you celebrate a finished novel?
Uh, I relax. Maybe do some planning for other stuff by try not to actually write for a few days. I’m not sure. I don’t have a specific finished-first-draft party.
- When people are done reading your book, what feeling do you want them to come away with?
Triumphant, I guess. Happy, resolved. Pleasant and pleased with the actions of the characters.
Cool, no? Well, I’m really into this project at the moment. I love reading it through as I edit. I love experiencing the characters as new and seeing their ups and downs. I’ve still got a bit to do – as I said, I’m only on chapter 11, so far – but I’m looking forward to reading on and seeing what my Alpha reader will think.
How are your projects going?