Thinking About Editing

August 28, 2013 The Plains of Kallanash 0

When I finished the first draft of ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ (Work #2) back in May, I followed my standard policy of letting work simmer for a while before doing anything with it. For a blog post or book review, that might be a day or two. For an essay, maybe a week or two. For a book, I decided that three months was the minimum allowable. Ideally, a year would be better, but I wasn’t sure I could wait that long! So I created a new page in Scrivener, and typed in giant letters: ‘EDITING SCHEDULE: DO NOT OPEN UNTIL AUGUST 2013!’. Then I got on with ‘The Fire Mages’ (Work #3).

I was pretty good about not looking at it. Once or twice I wanted to look something up, briefly. A few times I came across one of those blog posts about opening lines, you know the sort of thing: ‘You MUST hook the reader within 10 words… or 3 lines… or whatever’. The only one I really liked was the Hitler one, that goes: ‘You MUST have a CHARACTER performing an ACTION in a SETTING.’ As in: Hitler Invaded Poland. (Sorry about the capitals; why do these blog posts have so many words in capitals? I suppose it’s the rule for writing blog posts which goes: ‘You MUST add EMPHASIS to be NOTICED!’) So I went in and tinkered round with the opening couple of paragraphs. But that was all I did.

I’m still not quite ready to start editing, as I’d like to get ‘The Fire Mages’ finished in first draft before I dive in, and I probably have another month or so to go, but I have been mulling over ideas. I found some good advice about how to tackle the editing process: start with story structure, then look at individual scenes, then (and only then) go in and do a line edit. I’ve never had to edit anything on this scale before, but that seems like a good procedure, to me. Not that I’ll be able to resist correcting typos or changing words and sentences as I go; I’m a pedant, it’s unavoidable. But job number one is to look at the overall structure.

One thing that’s been bothering me is that the current draft is 220,000 words. That’s like 900 pages in print format, a total monster, well into ‘Dance With Dragons’ territory. It’s not completely out of order for fantasy, and I don’t ever intend to trouble a traditional publisher with my scribblings, but it’s still on the large side. Since this is likely to be the first book I publish (if I ever get to that stage), I’d rather aim for a more manageable 120,00-150,000 size. I’m not confident that editing will remove quite that much so I’ve been looking at splitting it into two separate volumes. I’m not a big fan of taking one long story and selling it as two or three separate volumes; I believe every individual book sold should be a story in its own right. But if the first half could be made rounded enough to have its own story arc, that might work.

As it turns out, there is a natural split point at almost exactly the half-way point. The first half sets the two protagonists, Mia and Hurst, in their normal environment, their Karninghold (sort of like a castle), where they are highborn rulers, with servants to run round after them and guards to protect them. Gradually, stuff happens and they both end up (separately) across the border beyond the safe, domesticated, civilised world of the Karningers, living amongst the Barbarians. Mia is forced to become the mistress of one of the Barbarians, a situation which she resists but is ultimately powerless to do anything about (which was quite distressing for me to write about). Hurst finds himself recruited into the ranks of the Barbarians, and forced to go into battle against his own people. After this low point, the second half shows them reunited and beginning to fight back against the forces controlling them. So part 1 would be ‘The Karningers’, and part 2 would be ‘The Barbarians’. I may find a different word for the Barbarians later, it’s a bit non-specific. That would give me two parts of around 100,000-120,000 words each, which would be much more acceptable.

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