Finishing touches: Getting your novel in top condition
This post isn’t about that final-final review when your manuscript has already gone through professional editing and proofreading. This is about getting your manuscript ready for the next step, whether that’s beta readers or your editor.
Getting to the end of the first draft and typing “The end” is a fantastic feeling and nothing should diminish that sense of accomplishment. But you’re not done yet. At least I’m not. Because I’m the kind of writer that appreciates momentum over all. If I’m writing a scene, I don’t like to stop and look up a fact, ponder a new character name, or go back through my story to verify a date or time. I type XXXXXXX and I move along.
So, once I’ve written my final scene, and after some celebration, I need to go back and fill in those blanks.
Since I use the multiple X convention, all I have to do is search for it in my document and there’s a list of all my unfinished business. I can methodically go through and replace X’s with the good stuff. (Here are some tips on character names, btw).
Next up–and this is especially important in the mystery genre–is making sure all my dates and times match. Ensuring that the Time of Death pronounced by the medical examiner in the beginning of the book is the same window in which my suspects must account for their whereabouts. In short, if the victim was killed between midnight and four a.m., my sleuth doesn’t need to check alibis for noon to three p.m. To that end, I created two calenders: one shows all the action in the book by chapter and the second shows the details of the crime. What happened when, where each suspect was, and when evidence is revealed.
Sometimes the facts that need checking are of the real world and not the fictional world I’ve built. For my upcoming book, Glitched, I’ve verified quotes from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Supertroopers, names of Pokemon characters, the color of Top Pot Doughnuts carry out boxes, tracks on Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours album, the number of city blocks between Pioneer Square and the Seattle Police Department headquarters and whether one says “on Maui” or “in Maui.”
And, of course, as I go through this process (printing out chapters, making edits in pencil, and then doing corrections in the Word doc), I find stuff that bugs me. Awkward phrasing, or unnecessary sentences. Other times I make additions that clarify the action or make it more powerful.
This is the part of the creative process that feels most like work, but in the end will make my book better. And may even save me money! The less time my editor has to spend checking my facts and cleaning up sloppy shit, the fewer hours she’s going to bill me.
The most important part of this phase is to stay focused. Here are my top three techniques for the finishing touches:
- Bite-sized chunks. I do three chapters and then take a break.
- Block out the real world. Noise cancelling headphones, isolation booth, hotel room.
- Be extra nice to your spouse/housemates/friends. When you’re not hunkered down, nose to the grindstone with music blaring in your private headspace you’re probably thinking about the book and not really engaging with your humans. You are kind of an asshole right now. Once you hand off to your editor, please cook your people a nice meal, take them to the movies or otherwise reward their patience and understanding.