Editing Happily Ever After

Writing the novel is always the easiest bit.

Having finished Happily Ever After about a month ago now, I’m beginning the next stretch – editing. This is probably the most grueling part of the process. Not necessarily the hardest, as I think querying probably wins that prize, but it’s definitely a hard slog.

I’m waiting for most of my beta readers to get back to me. If you’d like to be involved, do drop me a message as I could always use more opinions. I’ll make a start on making large changes to the plot, pacing and so one once I have a consensus on the issues that need addressing, and then the process will have to begin all over again.

In the mean time, though, I’m familiarizing myself with the plot and characters again by rereading and making changes to the sentence structure to improve flow, clarity, and remove redundancy. I’ve been removing up to a hundred words a chapter of unnecessary stuff. Some of the things I’ve been on the look out for –

  • Extra words – just is my bugbear. I use it far to frequently in ways that don’t really add anything to the story. Not every instance will be removed, but I’m doing my best to be ruthless. I’m also on the look out for is -ing structures that can be changed to a simple verb, and has / have used unnecessarily

Before:
“But you agree with me, right? We can’t just let him off for all he did.”
“I don’t think that was Brendan’s plan. He’ll just throw him in the dungeon for the rest of his life. I think that might possibly be worse than killing him.”
Just as long as I can poke him with a stick until we’re both old and grey.”

After:
But you agree with me, right? We can’t let him off for all he did.”
“I don’t think that was Brendan’s plan. He’ll probably throw him in the dungeon for the rest of his life. I think that might possibly be worse than killing him.”
“Just as long as I can poke him with a stick until we’re both old and grey.”

  • Contractions – for some reason, when I first wrote this, Lavie didn’t seem to use many contractions until about chapter seven. This means her earlier narration is quite stiff. I’ve been going through and adding them where needed to improve this

Before:
Harry’s voice brings me back to reality. I am not in some cave or dingy tavern. I am in the castle. I am home.
“I’m awake,” I call back. Pushing the blankets aside, I get to my feet. It is dark and I have no candle or lantern. I cannot even see my toes.

After:
Harry’s voice brings me back to reality. I’m not in some cave or dingy tavern. I’m in the castle. I’m home.
“I’m awake,” I call back. It’s dark and I have no candle or lantern. I can’t even see my toes.

  • Redundancy – sometimes I’ll say effectively the same thing twice. Maybe I thought the emphasis was needed, maybe I didn’t have enough faith in my readers to get what I meant the first time. Either case is lazy writing and needs to be dealt with.

Before:
It’s Harry who says it, though I’m sure we were all thinking it. We’ve been standing in the throne room in silence since the Usurper was led away. Brendan is staring at the throne, Harry is staring at Brendan, and I am trying to resist the urge to just curl up and go to sleep right here on the floor.

After:
It’s Harry who says it, though I’m sure we were all thinking it. We’ve been standing in silence since the Usurper was led away. Brendan is staring at the throne, Harry is staring at Brendan, and I am trying to resist the urge to curl up and go to sleep right here on the floor.

  • Character consistency – it’s natural for characters to develop through the story, but sometimes they change just because I get to know them better. Then I have to go back and make sure that knowledge is transferred to the earlier chapters. For example, about half-way through, Brendan notes that Harry is the only one who uses his name anymore. But the early chapters are littered with examples of Harry using titles instead

Before:
“I’d advise you not to mention that to His Highness. He’s proper sore about the dressing down his uncle gave him.”

After:
“You better not say that to him. He’s proper sore about the dressing down his uncle gave him.”

  • Nice phrases that don’t add anything – one of the harder tasks. There will be phrases, sentences, even whole paragraphs which have nothing wrong with them, but don’t add enough to be kept in the story. Chopping these out always feels like ripping off a plaster, but the book will be better when they’re gone.

Before:
I put on my helmet, mount up and move my horse towards the front. The banners are raised and Brendan gives the order to move out. We ride at a good pace through the darkness. The horizon ahead must be lighter, but we cannot see it behind the hills.

After:
I put on my helmet, mount up and move my horse towards the front. The banners are raised and Brendan gives the order to move out. We ride at a good pace through the darkness

I’m utterly indebted to the lovely Samantha Cook who edited The Mortician’s Boy for me and helped me to develop the tools needed to look more objectively at later works. If you’re after a free-lance editor, I can highly recommend her services.

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