I’ve had a number of beta readers report back to me, and I’m now running through ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ one more time, incorporating final edits. I had a weekend away recently, which allowed me to read the whole book through from beginning to end, so I have my own notes on changes I want to make, as well. Some of them are easy: typos, repetition, adding in a little foreshadowing, tightening descriptions. But some are less easy. Here are a few problems that have come up:
1) Your main character is too passive. Well, yes, she is a timid, meek character, who does what she’s told and doesn’t exhibit much agency initially. That is very much in her nature, and, to be honest, if she had even an ounce of assertiveness in her, she’d have put her foot down in chapter 3 or 4, told her two men how things were going to be, and there would have been no story. So it’s difficult to make her more assertive without destroying the entire plot. If I’d wanted to write about a spirited heroine, the book would have been about Tella, not Mia. Personally, I don’t see meekness and acceptance as a weakness anyway, and I get tired of feisty, selfish heroines, but I take the point. One beta reader suggested using her POV to show her inner strength, and that’s great advice. Plus, although Mia never turns into a feisty warrior babe, she does find her own way to assert herself over the course of the book.
2) Pacing – the story is too slow to get going and reveal its central conflict. I’ve always known that the pacing was slightly odd. The first third of the book focuses on the adjustments within the marriage after the death that occurs in chapter 1, but then the story transitions to more of an adventure. So that is a fair point, one of the disadvantages of allowing the characters themselves to uncover the story by their actions. But the central conflict is right there from the very first page – what went on with Tella at the Ring, how did she die and why? Finding out who was behind her death and what actually happened to her (and more to the point, what kind of society is this, to handle a problem that way?) is one of the main struts of the story, which runs through the entire book. I could, perhaps, have skipped most of those opening chapters and got right down to the action, but that would have been a very different story. Personally, I quite like the slow build-up to that whoa moment where things just fall off a cliff.
3) Too many scenes fail to accomplish more than one thing. OK, you got me bang to rights there. The curse of the newbie writer: it’s all too easy to focus on what’s actually happening right here and now, and forget about the subtext, or increasing the tension, or dropping in a little backstory, or developing characters. And I confess, once Mia discovered the delights of the bedroom, she wanted plenty of sexy times, not all of which advanced the plot much (or at all). Although they were fun to write. But I’m not trying to write erotica, so some scenes will get tightened or possibly yanked altogether in this round of editing.
It’s not easy to review the beta reports and my own notes, and decide just what has to be changed and what can be left alone. Some people say: if only one beta reader points out a problem, ignore it, but if several mention it, then it has to be changed. That’s not how I work. I look at every single comment, and consider each one carefully. It may be that only one beta reader has spotted the fatal flaw in the plot logic, or the weak aspect of my writing that drags everything down. And sometimes, even if several readers have a criticism, I might choose to leave well alone because it’s an integral part of the story (like Mia’s meek character, in point 1 above).
So I’m spending vast amounts of time just mulling over all these comments, deciding which ones I have to take notice of and which I can set aside. Even if I decide in the end not to change something, I may spend hours considering the options first, and weighing up what various readers have said, balancing one comment against another, and against my own ideas of how the story should go. After all, a beta reader is just one person, and they can only report what they feel as a reader – it’s just an opinion.
I have to admit that I find editing extraordinarily hard. The writing itself, the first draft where you just make stuff up and go sailing onwards, is (relatively) easy, but the polishing and tightening afterwards – well, I’d rather have root canal work, frankly. Actually, no wouldn’t, I hate dentists, but you get the point. I totally see the necessity for it, but boy, is it tedious.
And Kallanash is such a l-o-n-g book – whatever was I thinking? It weighs in at 58 chapters, 220k words, and every last one of them has to be looked at, considered, tweaked and (hopefully) improved. And every character, every plot aspect, every subplot and use of magic – every last one of them has to be reviewed. I’m so sick of this book.
I’ve given myself a month to produce my final version, and then it goes off to the proofreader. That gives me a deadline, which is great for my sanity, because there is an absolute date at which I will say: right, that’s it, I’m done with it. After the proofreading, there will be minor typos to clear up but (unless I’ve totally messed up) nothing major. And then – publish!