editing

Happily Ever After, chapter one rewrite

The old, sea-warped gate in the bailey opens with a bitter squeal, dusting me in flakes of rust. I cringe at the sound, hoping the keening seagulls cover it. Sea-salt on the wind mixes with the smell of blood and anticipation in the air. I slip into the narrow space between the inner and outer bailey and signal my team to follow me.

Today, I take back my home. Today, I kill a man and end the reign of a tyrant. The idea of it makes my body tingle. Everything ends today. Either we defeat the Usurper and set the prince on the throne where he belongs, or we fail and nothing matters anymore.

“…Lavie.”

The voice makes me start and I curse under my breath. I’m getting ahead of myself and it will get me killed if I’m not careful. One of the soldiers accompanying me points up ahead and I hear something else. Footsteps.

“Sir,” I correct the man sharply as I draw my sword. “Wait here.”

I slip into the inner bailey and press my back against the wall by the steps. The unseen figure is almost at the bottom and my fingers twitch on my hilt. As he emerges, I step out and drive my sword into his belly.

Our eyes meet in the gloom. He’s not a soldier, just a runner, carrying messages and equipment where they’re needed. He’s also barely more than a boy, fifteen at most. His pale hands clutch at his stomach, trying to push the blood back, and a gurgling cry spills from his lips. I put my sword through his heart. He doesn’t even make a sigh as he falls, eyes now glassy, to the floor.

I choke down nauseous fury. Another life destroyed by the Usurper. There’s no time to mourn or rage though, and all we can do with the body is stuff it out the way by the sea-gate. Our mission is too important to jeopardise for the dignity of a corpse. I add the nameless boy to the list of those I will avenge as I wipe his blood from my sword.

In the shadow of the bailey wall, I split my team. Half make their way to the gatehouse to let in the prince’s army. The rest follow me to the keep. I can hear the battle on the wall raging, steel on steel echoing off the dark stones. Every shout and scream ignites my blood until I’m sure I must be glowing.

The killing ground between the wall and the keep is empty. Maybe the gods favour us, but a wash of dread douses my battle lust. It shouldn’t be this easy.

“Don’t stop until you’re in the keep,” I tell my men. “If anyone falls, even me, keep going. It doesn’t matter who kills the Usurper, as long as someone does.”

I want it to be me. The idea of someone else doing it disturbs me more than any thoughts of swords or arrows. Even still, I run as if every creature from the pits is after me to the heavy oak doors of the keep. They’re not barred, which sends another icy shudder through me.

I remember the way to the throne room with ease. I know that’s where he’ll be. Since our army drew up outside the castle, we haven’t seen the Usurper once. It doesn’t surprise me. He took the castle through cowardice – posing as an envoy of peace and trade, then poisoning King Reynald at a feast in his honour. He’ll be clinging to the throne as long as he can.

The steps to the throne room rise up like a mountain. For a moment, I cannot even contemplate the idea of reaching the top. My legs shake. Sweat soaks the hair under my helmet, spreading through the padding beneath my armour.

“This isn’t right,” one of the soldiers mutters. “Where is everyone?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “It ends, now.” I put one foot on the first step, then the next, and the next until I am standing at the throne room door.

There is a hastily erected barricade across the door that seems to be made mostly of the couriers’ benches. It does nothing to stop us and we tear into it like it was a suckling pig. As enough is dismantled for me to push through, I see him.

As I suspected, he’s sitting on the throne. The Usurper, the man who killed my king and plunged my home into three years of chaos, watches me with a smile. I tighten the grip on my sword and stride towards him.

“In the name of Prince Brendan, prepare to die.” My voice is too high, sharpened by my emotions. His smile grows.

Something gleams in my peripheral vision. I stagger back and catch sight of a bull of a man charging towards me.  I duck as an axe grazes the edge of my helmet.  Deafened and dazed, I bring up my sword, head ringing too much to think beyond that. He swings the axe round and the impact judders up and down my arm. My grip on the weapon falters and my heart starts to beat faster. I bite my lip, forcing myself to focus.

Kicking out, my boot connects with his knee and I push my sword forward, driving his arm back. My opponent grunts with surprise. He wasn’t expecting my strength. They never do. I thrust, out and up, catching him at the point where his gorget meets the neck of his breast plate. The sword squeals over the steel and grates on his collar bone. It does not penetrate far into his flesh, but it’s enough.  As he falls, the blood spilling from his neck in ever more feeble jets, two of my men take down another of the Usurper’s lieutenants. A third man hangs back, injured, but not fatally. I’ve gotten good at telling what’s fatal these last few years.

The Usurper stands up from the throne, King Reynald’s crown perched on his head at a disrespectfully jaunty angle. My hatred seethes like boiling oil. I signal for the others with me to stop. This is my moment. This is what I have been waiting for. His jet-black armour clanks and creaks as he steps down towards me and I examine it carefully, looking for weaknesses.

He sweeps a low bow. He wears no helmet and there are blue veins running under the skin of his hairless scalp. His eyes seem to change colour as I watch.

“I have been waiting for you,” he says in a soft voice that carries through the carnage of the throne room. I can feel the eyes of all my men on me. It makes me feel strangely naked.

“Draw your sword.” My grip tightens on my own weapon. “Or must I cut you down like a toothless dog?”

“My, the young prince did well in finding such a ferocious champion.”

Hah, shows what you know. I found him.

“Your sword,” I say again. My cheeks burn as they flush with anger.

“No need.” His voice is so smooth, like honey on a warm day. There is something equally sickly about it, and my stomach turns in a way that blood and broken bones have not managed. “No need, my dear. I surrender.”

I draw back my sword, ready to swing, ready to take his head from his shoulders. Ready to end it. And then I realise what he has said.

“I…what?”

It is not, on reflection, the best reaction. Brendan would have said something noble, and Harry would have made a quip that shattered dignity like a weapon, but I can only trip over my tongue.

The Usurper kneels at my feet, neck bent in supplication as he offers me the hilt of his sword.

“I surrender.”

 

 

Things to Look Out for When Editing

On the back of the previous post, here are some things to watch out for when you are editing your own work. You don’t have to take out every adverb or cut just entirely from your manuscript. I don’t believe in blanket rules for writing, other than the grammatical ones, but they’re definitely things you should be aware of in your work. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

Adverbs:

These are often a sign that you’re using the wrong verb and could pick something stronger. If your character is currently walking slowly, perhaps instead they could be dawdling, plodding, limping, trudging etc.

Imprecision:

Words like slightly, almost, seeming all detract from presenting a strong image by introducing imprecision. There are times when you want this, but mostly you should be firm in the image you are offering to the reader.

Too many adjectives:

Focus on the important thing in a sentence. If you enhance everything with adjectives, you end up losing the strength of all of them. If the black horse thunders down the wide road towards the towering castle in the middle of the dense forest, the reader can’t determine what the focus of the sentence is and it becomes harder to picture because there is too much at once.

Pronoun confusion:

If you have more than one character of a particular gender in a scene, make sure it is always clear which one you are referring to. Does she mean the succubus or the night-hag?

Superfluous words:

Little words like just, that, is, like don’t always add anything to a sentence. If you can cut them out without changing the meaning or emphasis of sentence, then it’s probably best to do so.

Sentence structure:

Do you find you are starting your sentences the same way (using I frequently when in first person perspective for example)? Are you sentences varied or do they all run to a similar length? Try reading your work out loud to catch these sorts of issues.

Repetition

It’s very easy in the first draft to find yourself using the same word twice or more in short succession. Again, reading out loud will help to make this more obvious.

Missing words:

It’s very easy miss out words in a sentence when you are writing quickly. Go back and check you haven’t missed any like that pesky to that slipped out of the previous sentence.

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.

Wordle of Happily Ever After

Someone pointed out that Wordle is a great way to look at your word usage in a visual manner and see if there any of the basic words like just or very that you are over-using. This is the result of my first draft of Happily Ever After (Can you guess the character names?)

HEA wordle

Bigger version here:

It looks like just is still an issue for me. Something to be aware of when I go back and edit.