The DuplicatesAnatomy of a Novel – Installment 6

The Editing Process


Let’s get right to it.

Editing is not everyone’s favorite thing to do.

And a lot of authors dread it.

But it’s right up there with the outline process in importance.

Please don’t think it’s your editor’s job to handle most of the editing.

It’s not.

Their job is to help with it and make your book better; not write it for you.

Early on, I didn’t enjoy the process; then I figured out why.

I didn’t have an editing process.

I’d go back to page 1 and start working my way through the book, fixing typos, cleaning up awkward passages, working on cosmetics, or snippets of dialogue.

In short, I was trying to do everything at once.

And I was burning a lot of time without making the progress and improvements I needed to make.

It was the Shotgun Approach to Editing.

Four books ago, halfway through the editing process, I said to myself, “There has to be a better way to do this.”

Actually, what I said was;

“Fuck this. This ain’t working.”

So I put the book away and spent a couple of days coming up with the highly structured Four Round Editing Process I now diligently use.

My books are a lot better for it.

And I now actually look forward to the editing process.

I’m not kidding.

The Four Round Editing Process

* Round 1 – The Four Cardinal Rules
* Round 2 – POV, Pace, & Place
* Round 3 – The Hunt for LY
* Round 4 – Cutdown Day

Round 1 – 4 Cardinal Rules

I grab my outline, read the respective chapter, and compare it with the outline. Using the 4 Cardinal Rules’ lens, I put a check mark on my outline when I’m happy with each element.

Chapter 1 of The Duplicates hit the mark on the first three Cardinal Rules.

Here’s the sort of things I’m thinking during Round 1. (And before I forget to mention it, as I come across easy Fixables such as missing words, typos, etc…during any Round, I clean them up as I work my way through the book.)

Advance Story

The story certainly advanced in the first chapter and set up a lot of sub-plots I was planning. I reviewed the chapter against the outline and gave myself a checkmark. From a storyline perspective, I’m really happy with Chapter 1.

Reveal Character

From a Reveal Character perspective, I’m satisfied with how both Eve and Jeremy are introduced. Eve deals with her frustration with the sort of clinical analysis we might expect from a shrink. She doesn’t rant and rave, or scream and wave her arms in the air. She’s smart, a bit detached, and longing for a better life.

But maybe not for the right reasons.

And when she hits her breaking point, her action is swift and direct. Eve isn’t to be trifled with.

Jeremy, although primarily revealed from Eve’s POV, works for me. And his behavior, although brief, reflects and confirms Eve’s take.

Generate Emotion

Again, I’m satisfied with how I handled it. The elements of anger, frustration, and greed seem to work well.

Those of you familiar with my books know I use humor a lot, often in unusual situations. And Jeremy puts his few lines of dialogue in the book to good use by not only revealing his character but also by injecting a touch of humor into his pending murder.

When Eve holds the wine bottle over her head, preparing to crush his skull with it, Jeremy catches a glimpse of the label, a bottle of his prized, ten-grand a case Penfolds, and asks;

“Hey, is that one of my Bin 95’s?”

Develop Theme

As I pointed out in the previous installment, Chapter 1 doesn’t deal with the book’s overall themes. They begin to emerge a few chapters later. And while the human foibles of infidelity, greed, and self-absorption are on full display in Chapter 1, they serve as character traits, not as larger themes in the overall book.

Okay, I’m pretty much done with the Round 1 review of the first chapter.

Next up, Chapter 2.

Then I lather, rinse, and repeat my way through the entire book using the lens of the 4 Cardinal Rules against my outline and the first draft.

The first round went well, a couple of substantial rewrites on two chapters, a couple of other nasty bits, but, overall, my outline came to life with the flesh and bones it needed.

Round 1 was completed over a six day period and a total of about 27 hours.

Total word count went from my completed first draft total of 91,842 to 91,011; a reduction of 831 words.

Round 2 – POV, Pace, & Place

Round 2 began with me adding the day and place to the beginning of each chapter. I added them primarily to make it easier on the reader to keep track of time and location, but it also helped me out with my analysis of pace.

Pace deals with the ebb and flow of the book.

Since the The Duplicates is a thriller, I want readers to be turning pages. But, at the same time, I thought some quieter moments were also required. So I reviewed the general tone of each chapter on this pass through the book to make sure I was comfortable with how the story was moving forward. And how fast it was happening.

There’s a lot going on in the book with multiple players doing a wide variety of activities in different locales and time zones. During this round, I did another pass through the book making sure things like those pesky time zones didn’t raise their ugly head. If someone is having breakfast in Washington and they call someone in Europe, that person probably isn’t also eating breakfast.

Small mistakes like these are easy to make, and they happen. Fortunately, they’re easy to fix. You just need to be on the lookout for them.

Point of View (POV) consistency is important. Overall, The Duplicates uses the 3rd Person Multiple narrative with different characters at various times taking the lead on POV.

However, in many chapters, I used 3rd Person Limited; limiting the narration only to what that character knows.

Other times, I used 3rd Person Omniscient inside a chapter, which pretty much opens things up to an all-knowing, all-seeing narration style.

During Round 2, I’m paying close attention to POV to make I’m consistent with whatever I’ve chosen for that chapter or section. And when I make a POV switch, I need to make sure the reader knows when I’m doing it.

Round 2 was completed in three days and a total of 14 hours.

Total word count went from my Round 1 edit total of 91,011 to 90, 397, a reduction of 614 words.

Round 3 – The Hunt for LY

I strive to write tight.

In fact, if I have a tendency, it’s underwriting, not the other way around.

During Round 3, I try to kill as many adverbs as I can. I also try to use adjectives only when needed.

My goal is to use the fewest words required to achieve the Four Cardinal Rules.

This approach is a total preference on my part.

And it’s directly related to the voice I’m continuing to develop.

Other authors, many of whom I enjoy reading, are much more expansive in their writing.

Sparse and tight just works better for me.

But I’ve still got a long way to go.

Let me try that again.

I’ve got a long way to go.

Much better.

Elmore Leonard, one of my favorites, once talked about how it took him a million words before he found his voice. When I read it, I calculated I was about 200,000 words in and thought I’d never get there. Now I’ve crossed the million word mark myself, and I have to say that Elmore wasn’t kidding.

During Round 3, as I’m lovingly, meticulously, killing off adverbs, I’m also paying close attention to voice. Part of that deals with being on the lookout for words and phrases I tend to overuse and are still weaknesses in my writing. Things like; that, be sure to, anyway, etc… you probably have your own list.

If you don’t, congratulations.

Email me and tell me how you did it.

In the third round, I’m also reviewing the amount of adult language I’ve used in the first draft, and where and how I’m using it. My books are for adults, and that’s the way adults often talk. But I try to make sure that when I drop an F-bomb, it’s there for a reason and works for the story, the character, and is generating the right emotion.

I do a full pass through the book using the Find function and review each occurrence. I usually end up deleting about half of the swear words during Round 3.

In one of the chapters, I spent twenty minutes finding one word to describe the water off the coast of Maui. The water was deep, the wind low by Maui standards, and the sun high and hot. I’ve been to Maui several times and I knew exactly what the water looked like on those days. I tried a host of adjectives, but hated all of them. In the end, I searched for an online color chart before settling on the word: Cobalt.

I cite the above example to demonstrate the level of detail I’m getting at during Round 3.

Round 3 was completed in three days and a total of 19 hours.

Total word count went from my Round 2 edit total of 90,397 to 89,501, a reduction of 896 words.

Round Four – Cutdown Day

I compare this last round to the NFL’s final roster cutdown day.

And Round 4 is filled with tough choices.

I try to attack the book the same way an editor unfamiliar with the book might approach it.

If you’re redundant, repetitive, awkward, overworked, overused, you better be there for a good reason, or you’re gone.

This round is always where I have to delete a couple of my favorite sentences or lines of dialogue. You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re usually clever and snappy, but don’t do anything except take up space.

Some of these cuts were very hard to make.

But out they go.

(I always save them off in another file because you never know when I might be able to slip them into another book.)

Yeah, I know. Favorite lines and scenes are a hard habit to kick.

Line by line, page by page, multiple passes.

Then back again until I’m sure I can’t make the book any better.

Then I spend the last couple of days doing a meticulous line edit.

I usually do 2-3 passes through the whole book.

And it really pisses me off when I find a typo or the wrong modifier after I’ve already been through the book multiple times looking for them.

And I always find some.

And then so do my advance readers and my editor.

It drives me frigging nuts.

Round 4 was completed over an eight-day period and a total of 33 hours.

Total word count went from my Round 3 total of 89,501 to a final word count of 87,778, a reduction of 1,723 words.

Summary of Editing Process

The editing process for The Duplicates was completed over a period of 20 days and a total of 85 hours.

Word count from the completed first draft of 91,842 went to a final version of 87,778; a reduction of 4,064 words.

Summary Metrics – Writing & Editing Process

* 68 consecutive days
* 290 hours
* 17,400 minutes
* 87,778 final word count
* 1,290 average words per day
* 303 average words per hour

That’s five words a minute.

Yeah, I know, it’s a marathon.

Don’t worry; you’ll get there.

You just need to trust your process.

And I hope you enjoy reading The Duplicates half as much as I did writing it.

Be well, my friends.