Lessons From Editing

We finished the final edit on my debut novel The Worker Prince today. And while there’s still a road to publication, from sending out ARCS for reviews and blurbs, to racheting up marketing, to copyedits, artwork, etc., it’s a good feeling. This was my first time working through this process with an editor. And I put on hold writing the second book in the series to do it. Am I glad I did.

Amongst things my editors did, besides grammatical corrections and questioning passages for clarity, was to help me bring out nuances and aspects of the characters and story which I had glossed over or failed to exploit fully. This will make the novel richer and more meaningful overall, and it also had the bonus of helping me identify strains which can be exploited in the sequel. Their insights also went to worldbuilding, allowing me to exploit things like terraforming which are appropriate to my world but which I had not specifically touched on. Overall, I know the finished book is a lot stronger than it would have been without their help and I will be forever grateful to Randy Streu, Jen Ambrose and earlier editors Paul Conant and Darlene Oakley for their insights.

I continue to evolve in not just my craft but my approach to writing, and experiences like this only push me to self-examination and discovery of new ways to approach my work. For example, The Worker Prince being only my second novel, I have done more drafts of this book than I will of future novels, I suspect. In this case, my first draft was a basic concept of plot, characters and scenes. A lot of the gritty nuances and details came out in later drafts, where I sought ways to lend not only balance but connectivity throughout using various elements. For example, my protagonist has two names: his birth name, Davi (Dah-vee) Rhii, and his adopted legal name Xander Rhii. For much of his life, he goes by Davi, a name his adoptive mother liked because it was unique and non-stereotypical in their culture. But many of his colleagues and his uncle refer to him as Xander. As Davi seeks to come of age and discover who he is as a man, he really comes to own one name over the other. But the nuances of having some characters refer to him by one name over the other were important aspects of characterization and development of story I missed–which we discovered during editing.

There were also times I overstated things, either by repeating them too much or telling too much, which I could do better in showing or hinting at and letting the readers sort it out. Those are areas where my editors’ voices helped me find a wiser path for which I am grateful.

There were also little details, such as using more military-style language in battle and fight scenes, and setting up even minor characters as potential catalysts for action in the sequels, which came out in the editing. These things helped point me to a more focused understanding of what Book 2, The Returning, needs to be, and even to discover the arc of that story in a clear way I had failed to even as I’d started writing it. I typically write with a let the story unfold as it comes approach. But writing a three book series where the story has to flow from one to the next and the overall arc has to be well considered, this editing process on The Worker Prince helped me come to clearer understandings of the books to follow in ways that still allow some “letting the story come as it will” while also writing with a clearer plan. That will, no doubt, make those books stronger and better, and I am indebted to my editors for their assistance with that.

I don’t always get as detail oriented as I should in drafting stories. I tend to go back and add those things later, but learning to note little details and how they can be used throughout a story to bring out themes and deepen the world has been a great lesson for me.

So how does this help you?

1) Names/Language Matter–not only in the origins and meanings they may imply but in how they are employed by characters. How can you utilize the formality and informality with which characters address each other to not only reveal their relationships but deepen tension and characterization? How can you use terminology better in your story? Adding military language or creating formal language for various settings enriches the realism of your world for readers and adds a richness in texture to your story.

2) There Are No Little Things–little things like the necklace a character always wears, a notebook he/she always stops to write in, etc. can be employed to develop not only character but deepen the symbolism of the story. Do you employ any off these and are you using them to their fullest? Every little detail you include has the potential to be exploited for stronger nuance in the story. A few throwaways may exist but be careful to examine what you include and why and how they can be used to provide stronger meaning for readers.

3) Don’t overtell–We’ve all hear the warnings about Showing v. Telling but sometimes we feel the need to revisit plot aspects or character details we’ve already introduced because we fear the reader might not remember them. It’s a fine line to know when to do this and when not to but seeking specific feedback from betas and others on it can be of great help because this is one area where you can end up talking down to readers and nothing turns them off more than that.

4) Consider Future Stories–if you go in knowing you will be writing multiple books, spend time looking for ways you can exploit characters, props, and other details in the first book to set up things which will complicate or be expanded upon in later books. You may not be able to see it in the first draft or two, but as you move further in, you need to really look for this and develop those things well enough that readers will remember them by the time the sequels roll around.

Just a few lessons which I hope can help you on your writing path as they have helped me.

For what it’s worth…