Ed. Note — I sure wish I’d read this advice for authors when I was writing my own first novel. Alas, Lily hadn’t written it yet. Here it is now, though — some hardheaded writing advice from fellow author Lily Bishop, author of No Strings Attached. I, for one, am paying attention.
Revise it First
by Lily Bishop
These days, everyone wants new content. Indie authors are pushed to get more titles out there, and to follow up on those sequels. But how can you produce novel-length works faster without sacrificing quality?
My big tip: Don’t Edit Until you Revise
You’ve finished the first draft of your book. Congratulations! Now put it away. Yes, I’m serious. Put it away for a few weeks. Ruminate on the ending. Think about your character’s goals. Give it to your spouse to read.
After at least a week (some people say longer), sit down and read it cover to end without doing any edits. If you must, highlight parts that you stumbled over, but don’t rewrite them yet. Try to read it in as uninterrupted stretch as possible, over one or two days.
Ask yourself these questions:
• Are you starting at the beginning of the action?
• If you have flashbacks, are they short and absolutely important?
• Are your character’s goals clear?
• If you are writing a romance, does your male character have his own story arc?
• Did you raise the stakes enough?
• If you are writing in the romance genre, is your ending happy or at least happy for now? If it’s not, and you’re committed to that ending, please don’t classify it as romance – you’ll have some very dissatisfied readers.
• Does the ending resonate with you now that you’ve read the book straight through?
• If the ending is a twist, were the seeds planted early in the story? Or is an unknown god or character rushing in to save the day (Deus ex machina)?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, it’s not time to edit. You need to look for key scenes where you can flesh out the characters’ goals or elevate the stakes. If you still feel it’s done, now you can tackle editing.
Edit for flow:
Where do your chapters end? Does each chapter end with a question, something to keep the reader turning the (virtual) page?
Are your chapters roughly the same word count? Sometimes during the revision process, chapters expand and shrink as words are added or deleted.
Do you balance heavy action scenes with times for the characters to reflect? You don’t have to, but sometimes that can help with the pacing if the story feels rushed. Make sure each scene moves the story.
If it doesn’t, cut it.
Do you have pages with long strings of one-line dialog that is unbroken with any narrative? This type of dialog can look a bit like a tennis match. Break it up with dialog beats, little actions that let the reader picture the speakers.
Do you have buried dialog? Buried dialog is spoken words in the middle of a large paragraph. Try to start or end the paragraph with dialog, or have it stand alone. Don’t stick it in the middle of exposition.
Strengthen your verbs:
Search for “was” and “is”, and gerunds (walking, running, speaking, etc). These are weaker verbs. See what you can do to strengthen them.
Do you have huge paragraphs consisting of nothing but description? Look for ways to break it up or focus on only a few key details.
Show don’t tell, and don’t do both. (A character can have an angry reaction (slamming a door) but you don’t need to add angrily. The same is true for restating dialog in the narrative.
Don’t start editing (working on language) until you are completely happy with the story (revisions).
A Hard Lesson
I learned this lesson the hard way. No Strings Attached took four years to write, with massive time breaks in between because I couldn’t decide what to do with it.
I wrote a version for the Golden Heart Competition for Romance Writers’ Association (RWA) that I was fairly satisfied with, but I never liked the ending. There was also a really long flashback that completely disrupted the flow. The flashback was almost a third of the book. When I rewrote it, I moved the flashback to flow sequentially, and I completely changed the ending. Again, I was fairly happy with it, and I edited and polished to my hearts’ content.
But then, when I read it again, the ending still didn’t resonate. My main character had slipped into a passive rut, and she was sitting around not advancing her goals or her story. She was letting everything happen to her, and a good bit of the final action was “off camera,” meaning she found out what had happened third-hand.
The last rewrite had her in the thick of the action, and read much stronger. I was finally satisfied with the ending, but I wasted a ton of time in the process.
How I fixed the process with my current book, Under His Protection, the sequel to No Strings:
When I finished the first draft, I wasn’t satisfied with the ending. My husband read it, and he wasn’t either. So I rewrote the last chapter, but he still wasn’t satisfied.
Now I’m on the third attempt at an ending, and this one resonates, but my editor in her initial read-through said that it felt rushed. So I’m in the process of slowing down the last chapter, pacing it out, making sure I’m not introducing new elements that haven’t been explained before.
The difference? I didn’t edit the entire book three times. I’m focusing on the part that was giving me trouble, and once it’s set, I will go through the editing steps above. So I’ve intentionally stayed away from style issues until I’m done with the story.
The end result? Under His Protection will take about a year, instead of four. I’m also not taking six months off while I try to figure out what to do.
Revising and editing are hard work, and you can also edit the life out of a story. My hope is to go through one edit cycle with this one, and then send it to my editor for her polish. She did a quick read-through and already told me areas that I can work on to strengthen the story.
With those notes in hand, I’m moving forward.
The hardest thing to do is to push those baby birds out of the nest.
About Lily and No Strings Attached
Lily Bishop published her first novel No Strings Attached, in May 2013.
It’s a contemporary romantic suspense set in exotic locations like Vegas, Miami, and then the Bahamas.
Laura Todd travels to Las Vegas to do a presentation for her company in the hopes of gaining a promised promotion from administrative assistant to consultant. While she’s in Vegas, she meets a consultant for the hotel industry, and they hit it off.
Fox Thornton is impressed by Laura’s presentation, and she’s not bad at the blackjack table either. They feel a connection, and the heat between them increases.
Unfortunately, like all weekend romances, everything ends too quickly and they both return to separate cities. Then Laura learns that the owner of her company has hired Fox to investigate why profits are down for their office, and unknown to her, she’s the primary suspect.
Can Fox trust the connection he feels for her, or has Laura been playing him like for a fool? Can Laura get past his suspicions and still move her career ahead? Or is her career, and her love life, dead in the water?
Available at Amazon
You can view the book trailer on YouTube
Here’s an excerpt
Lily can also be found at GoodReads. Add No Strings Attached to your To-Be-Read list today.
She is currently polishing the sequel to No Strings Attached, Under His Protection.