Revisions, Revisions, Revisions

I am swimming in revisions right now.

I received the latest draft of Knight of Valor back, and it looked like a field of poppies with the amount of red comments on it.

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Amount right.

Sad, really, for an eighteenth draft, though most of the comments revolve around letting the hero’s personality shine through and maybe showing a bit more of the broken side of his character.

He, of course, wants no part of that. He wants to be the strong silent type that you can rely on. Which he is, but he’s also been through hell and back and survived. He’s not the naïve and idealistic youth he once was. And that’s okay. Both he and I need to be more comfortable letting some of those broken pieces show through, at least for the reader.

So, yeah, this has been an exhausting rewrite.

But, I will say, the story is better for it. I feel like the changes I am making help better convey Sir Marcus’s character and explain why he is my favorite of all the heroes I have written to date.

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Or the eighteenth

It will probably take me at least the rest of the month, maybe longer, to finish the rewrite. Then, I need to walk away for at least two weeks.

Four would be better so that I can look at the manuscript with fresh eyes.

Okay, all right, sort of fresh eyes. After nineteen revisions, I’m not sure I’ll ever have truly fresh eyes for this piece again.

I have updated my goals in Wunderlist to track the extra revisions I need to put in.

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Not exactly what I wanted to show you, but it’s real.

Yeah.

It’s basically two more months’ worth of work.

And yes, my OCD would really like to call February finished, except it isn’t. There were things in that month to accomplish to launch Knight of Valor in April. Just as there are things in March I was supposed to do to get ready for a book launch as well.

But, you can see if you add the progress of February, March and April together, I am a little father ahead than where I had planned to be this time in mid-March.

I am not sure I can do the extra things needed for Knight of Valor and stay on track with my other writing goals this year. Plus, I still don’t know what else will throw me off schedule.

And that’s okay.

I am making progress. I can see that.

There may be unforeseen things along the journey, but I am still traveling it.

Goal Update: A Bit of a Delay

My beta reader was taking a bit longer than normal on this particular piece of work, and while I was a bit worried about it, they have a very busy life.

Yeah, that wasn’t it (though they do). Nice try on my part.

She gave me some high level feedback explaining why it was taking a bit longer.

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The look she gave me was very similar.

There will be a bit of a delay in releasing Knight of Valor.

She noted I needed to tighten my beginning. Doable within my original release date timeline.

More than that, I needed to flesh out my hero in the beginning. She thought he felt flat. I cringed a little, knowing why she was saying it and where it came from.

I wrote this book over four years ago. It was one of three books I completed when I first got back into writing, and the only one I loved the characters enough to try to salvage. The other two are now buried on my hard drive and are not fit for human eyes.

But I loved Sir Marcus. I wanted to do him justice. And through him and his story, and I pushed myself to do better as a writer. His story helped me learn a lot about finding my voice, plot and character development, and even trusting myself as a writer.

So, I’d set Knight of Valor aside for a while and work on other things, become a better writer, and tackle this story again.

During the process, I read a whole bunch of craft books. And you can see their influence on the story. One of them was how to write a romance hero…and I did Sir Marcus a lot of disservice. Granted, he overcomes the bad writing advice towards the middle on the book, but it takes him a while.

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I may be shabby from time to time, but his faith in me in strong.

At the time, they were telling romance authors that romance readers wanted alpha heroes. Don’t even bother writing anything else as it won’t sell and an agent won’t want it. So I changed him.

And he was no longer Sir Marcus.

Don’t misunderstand me. He is neither meek nor mild. He was not the “chosen one” and forced to do anything. He saw evil, and if there was a chance he could destroy that evil, he had to try. He dedicated most of his life training to do just that.

But he’s still a genuinely nice guy. The kind of person who’d come over and help you fix your roof because he heard you were having trouble without being asked. You’d share an ale afterwards, and that would be all the thanks he’d need or want.

Punch a kid or kick or dog? You don’t want him to see you do that.

Kill a village to fuel a evil spell?

Time to run. Fast.

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So, I need to let his true personality shine through the first half of the book as well as the second. No easy task, that.

Oh, and I need to fix a plot hole, tighten up my pacing, and remove a few loose ends from earlier drafts I missed. And this is before I get back the full list of revisions.

*deep breath*

I see why this is taking a bit of time to get back the beta read. I also know I sent this out for just this reason.

I am literally on my eighteenth revision of this story. Yeah. Eighteenth. That I’ve counted. The first draft and several subsequent ones (no idea how how many four, maybe five?), I didn’t number and track. I am really close to this story, and I’ve put a lot of work into it. I can sometimes lose the forest through the trees. So I need more help on this than most.

It means a lot to me. I really want to get it right.

So, this is going to be a large revision, not a small tighten-things-up late game revision.

And that’s okay. Sir Marcus deserves the best story I can give him.

Yes, it means my entire plan for the year needs to change.

Yes, it means I will not make that April publishing deadline.

Both are okay.

I want to give you the best story I can.

Delaying the release date until June or July gives me the time to make it the best that I can right now.

You deserve that, and so does Sir Marcus.

My Eleven Steps to Writing a Romance Novel

So, when I mentioned that I’m working on a romance novel, or several of them, I also said that editing them consumes much of my writing time.

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Editing is about like this for me.

Beth Turnage had a question on what I do to revise my novels, but it’s so integral to how I write, that I thought I’d share my process.

I’m not saying this is good or bad as every writer is different. As with most creative endeavors, what works for one artist won’t work for another. But here’s my:

My Eleven Steps to Writing a Romance Novel

1. Spend Some Time Thinking about the Characters

You’ll notice I didn’t say plotting. And I don’t. I wish I did, oh, how I wish I did! You may have noticed that I tend to be an organized person with a spreadsheet for most things. But I can’t do it with writing. Yet.

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But the plot will resolve itself if I’m mean enough to the characters.

But I didn’t say plotting, I said thinking about the characters. Who are they? What motivates them? Why do I care about them? If I’m really lucky, I can toss the characters around with my husband. Talk about them, about what they’d do in different situations. This is my sandbox time with them. Nothing is off the table. Sometimes, I’ll come up with characters and situations that lead to two stories. Sometimes, they bore me and I table them until later.

Honestly? This is one of the most fun parts of writing.

2. Write the Skeletal First Draft

I’m not kidding about it being skeletal. My first draft of the romance novel is very bare bones. Usually around 40k-45k words for a book that will end up being around 70k-80k words. I’m not sure why I write this way, but I’m not one of the authors that needs to cut a lot. Usually, I need to add more. A whole lot more. But that’s for the second draft. This first draft gets down the characters and what’s happening in the story. Mostly.

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Yeah, my first draft looks about like this

3. Take 6 Weeks Away from the First Draft

Yep. I now spend at least six weeks away from the first draft. I have plenty of other editing to do, or another first draft to write.

4. Go Back and Make the First Draft Coherent

At this stage, I read the first draft again so I have a clue what I’m facing. Then, I try to weave any themes I see later in the book into the earlier sections as I focus on adding all the stuff I skipped in the first draft. This tends to include, but is not limited to:

  • Writing better transitions
  • Adding details such as taste, sounds and smell
  • Giving a better insight into characters’ thoughts and feelings.

Many times, this draft will include adding entirely new scenes. In one story I wrote, it involved moving when the hero and heroine are married from the end of the book to the beginning. Yeah, huge change. But as I was reading the draft, I realized there was a huge plot hole, and to fix it, the hero and heroine required an earlier wedding. It meant using other things to “keep them apart”, but the novel was much better for the change. It was still a lot of rewriting.

5. Tidy Up the Second Draft

At this point, most of the stuff is in the right places. This revision has me looking more at are characters being true to themselves in dialogue tags and mannerisms. Tidying up word choices, particularly word repetition. I add more description, and I smooth over as many rough edges as I can find.

6. Send It to My Alpha Reader

I then send the romance novel to my Alpha reader. They are not a detailed reviewer. Rather, they tell me if they liked the story. If they liked the characters. If they wanted to see the hero and heroine get together in the end, and if the obstacles in the story were believable. They also tell me if there is anything unclear. If I have to explain a part to my alpha reader, then I need to go in and fix it to make it clear as I won’t have that option with a final reader.

7. Alpha Reader Revision

I go through the story again and make most of the changes my alpha reader recommended (usually all). I do another clean-up revision while doing this.

8. Send it to My Beta Reader

At this point, I feel like the story is pretty clean, so I send it to my beta reader. I only have one at this point, but she’s awesome. She gives me constructive criticism where I need it, but she also points out what I’m doing well. She does a much more detailed review, marking areas that feel rushed, transitions that need work, or spots that aren’t clear. She also makes sure my characters stay in character. If I get cheesy or whiny (which, I’ve gotten MUCH better about), she’ll tell me that, too.

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And she’ll tell me those doubts, too.

9. Beta Reader Revision

I go through the story again and make most of the changes my beta reader recommended. This sometimes has a few larger things to address, and as I do them, I do another revision of my own.

10. Detail Revision

This is the revision where I go through the work and look for word choice, punctuation, grammar, all the important things so that the writing itself is understandable and errors don’t pull you out of the work. I purchase Pro Writing Aid this year, and I am going to try that as well.

11. Final Polishing Edit

One last look through before I release my book baby into the wild.

I’d love to afford a real editor, but at $2 per page, I’d be looking at almost $700 to have a book edited. and that’s on the cheaper side. I’m sure they’d make my work better, but I just can’t afford them yet.

So, there it is. I will say that this is my most recent pattern. The first book I wrote after taking up the keyboard again is sitting mothballed, and that doesn’t include all the other ones I wrote ages ago that are also forgotten electrons.

The first romance novel I wrote that I actually plan to publish took a far more circuitous route to finish. But as I now have six novels in progress, not including the ones I started and kicked aside along the way, I’m starting to find my rhythm. It might not be perfect, but it’s mostly working for me.

If you’re a writer, what’s your process? Even if you’re not a writer, any tips or pointers on editing? Maybe you do something else creative? If so, what’s your process?

66% Done

I cleared 40,000 words on my latest WIP.

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And yes, this is approximately 66% for me. As a romance writer, I like my works to come in around 70-80k words. I write a very bare bone first draft, so I leave myself space to go back and add in more during revisions. Things like scents and sounds to help the reader feel closer to the action. More description…or description at all.

My beta reader has nailed me for the number of sensory deprivation rooms I have in my early drafts. I’m much better about finding it and correcting it myself now, but that still means more words.

So, why am I celebrating the 66% mark? Am I that desperate for recognition? Maybe a little, but that’s not the point.

Why is the 66% mark important to me? Because at this point, I’ve conquered the dreaded middle.

I’m a pantser when I write. Yes, I’ve tried outlines.

outlining

Outlines simply don’t work for me. I’ve given up trying for the moment, and I’ve given myself over to letting the characters show me what’s going to happen.

I know where the story starts. I know how it ends. What I don’t know is the middle. How are they going to get there? It’s this middle part that teaches me a lot about the characters, what deeper internal motivators they have, their hopes, fears, etc.

The beginning, that’s really their face to the world. Their mask. To get them to reveal more, I have to throw some things at them. See how they react.

By the end of the story, well, you know me. There is going to be a happily-ever-after (HEA). That’s a given.

Sometimes, getting the characters to come clean in the middle is really hard. Either they have a lot to hide, or I am trying to author-plot and not let things evolve on their own. Me not stepping back and giving the characters agency is usually the issue, but sometimes the obstacles I throw at them are not significant to get them to come clean on their real internal struggles.

Does this mean a lot of revision later? You betcha.

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Now that you know the characters better, you have to push all you’ve learned back to the beginning of the story. Let who they are peek around the corners of who they want you to believe they are. It requires changes to the beginning, and as I rewrite and delve deeper, it frequently requires a change in the ending as well. And lots more tinkering throughout.

But that’s revision. That’s later. Right now, it’s all about getting the electrons on the screen in a pattern that resembles words. Most of which will change later.

But if I can get through the middle, I have a really good shot of finishing the book. The end usually writes faster than any other part as we barrel towards the climactic resolution and our happily-ever-after.

Of course, I will probably have to rewrite the ending. The one novel I’ve polished and am querying had four different endings before I was happy.

Still, here’s hoping I can get that last 20,000 words and have another first draft waiting to be revised.