Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Polishing your novel

Polishing a novel is extremely important – more important for those who are using an independant publisher or who are self-publishing. Readers should be confident that even if they are only paying a pittance, they will receive a professional book. Those who release books riddled with errors are not doing any of us a favour as it is likely to discourage potential buyers.

Two of my books are due for release in November, 2012. These are two Penwinnard stories – ‘Angel No More’  and ‘You Gotta Have Manners.’
I am currently in the final polishing stages, going again and again through the stories, trying to ensure they are is as good as I can possibly make them before publishing.

I started writing around ten years ago, early books which will never be published. This is when I discovered the necessity for a separate reference file to note the things that need checking.

These are examples of those things that I’ve recently checked. (The parts in inverted commas are direct quotes from my books)

1.  ‘a member of  parliament, who had also committed suicide. Bob had known him as ‘Buck’ though his real name was Clive Kilpatrick.’ 
When referring to a fictional person who happens to be a lord or MP or someone high up in the church, for instance, it is prudent to ensure there is no real person of that name in that position – especially if you’ve made him a baddie. In this instance, ‘Clive Kilpatrick’  started out as ‘Lord ****’   but when checked there was a real lord of that name, who certainly would not have appreciated being named in this fashion.   
We know more than we think we do sometimes, and when a name pops up for a fictional character, it could be something that you ‘knew’  long ago and had not remembered.
For instance, in the second of my Shuki novels, I based a fictional country on Oman, a country I knew almost nothing about. In my story, it was required that King Feroz assumed the throne at the age of just sixteen, which meant that his father had to be dead. I didn’t want any brothers, so I made it that the old king had had syphilis. In my subsequent research, it turned out that it was very close to the real situation had been in Oman. So at some stage, had I read about this?  Or maybe seen a documentary that left a trace in my mind? The king of Oman is not called a ‘king,’ but is nevertheless, an absolute monarch.  For the purposes of my story,  I chose to use the term, ‘king.’ It is a fictional country, not really Oman, and that’s the beauty of being an author – you do what you want to do.

2. *Ofsted,  its full name ‘Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.’ 
I noticed that what I assumed were initials (Ofsted)  did not match,  so that was checked and is correct. 

3. Make sure that the geography fits – at least as near as possible.
Ch 14:  “Hitchhiked from Penzance, the train from London.”  Changed to Truro
Penzance was further west than Penwinnard, so I changed it to a more appropriate stop.  The internet is wonderful.  Fancy being able to check the times and the stops of a train on the other side of the world! 

4. Duplication: This is another of those things that need to be picked up in the polishing process.
From my notes:
*Check for duplication
Not long after nine, Ian rang Ruth, who straightaway asked how Brian Nash’s potential placement was going, confirming that either the adoption agency or the Reillys had been in touch, but then he spoke to her about Lachlan Dewhurst. Were there any past problems with him victimising particular boys, maybe in a sexual fashion? Was there any hint that he’d been sexually abused himself aside from his allegations about the man he’d killed?
‘Ian was pleased to have the opportunity to meet Lachlan’s father, but regretfully decided that he could not ask for details of the act that had led to the term in Vinney Green and Ruth had been unable to tell him any more.
Ch 15 ‘On Monday, Ian phoned Ruth, asking again if she could possibly get more details of the killing that Lachlan had been involved in, but all she could say was that they were not available.’
It is very easy to repeat bits of information, often using the exact same phrasing. Best avoided. 

5. Continuity:
I first came to realise the importance of these sorts of notes when I found that someone was dead in one chapter, and merely retired in the next. It tends to happen in the editing and is one reason why an author needs to read and re-read, polish and re-polish, wait three months to clear it from the brain and then start again.
Ch 14:  'Cameron had found Dallas, and said, “A visit with the Castlereighs tomorrow. The boss said to choose someone well-behaved, and I thought you might like it. They pick us up at ten and bring us back Thursday afternoon, so we’ll miss the Thursday cliff walk. They’ve got a holiday house at St. Ives.” Conan was close. Cameron ignored him.'
If this is the first reference to the cliff-walk, something will need to be changed. A reference added at end of Ch 13

6. Checking the facts:
I’ve researched things from the use of stun guns to the sequence of checks for AIDS to the sort of hunting one would find in Morocco (the fictional country that I based Shuki’s home on in ‘Not a Man.’)
Examples from the Penwinnard novels:
*Check Bristol – when did that Vinney Green open? 1995,  Vinney Green, not Greene.  Was checked
*Invention of facebook. Year? Ok around ’94.

* One cannot always get the facts right. Prominent authors have the benefit of research assistants. Others of us have to do as much research as we can, and occasionally, we need to take refuge in vagueness – just not be specific enough to be wrong.

7. You will have spell-checked earlier, but ensure that you do yet another one at the very last. You may have removed a comma, for instance, and carelessly removed the word before at the same time.  It has happened, (not by me.)  A spell check right at the last should find a last minute slip like this.

The story as I write it doesn’t look quite as it will when published.

A misty day at Penwinnard
 There are writing notes, such as ‘check this’  and ‘what town?’ and there are very frequent dates. I prefer to keep a time-line as exact as possible. And further, I like the days of the week to be the correct days for the year, even when I never mention the year. So a calendar for the appropriate year is required. When writing about Penwinnard which is on the beach, while I do not go as far as making sure the tides are correct for the dates, I do ensure that if it’s low tide at 4.00pm on Monday, it is not high tide at the same time on Tuesday.

Also, an aid in the editing process is to use different colours, a different colour when writing from the point of view of a different character. Bob is green, Ian is black, and various Penwinnard boys are red.

 A sample of the story as I write it.  

 “Aren’t they the ones you were swearing about?”
“Yes. But now the boss says they’ve asked if they could have the ‘honour of my company’ for a week.” He’d put on a posh voice, but reverted to a laugh. “Maybe being rude is a way of getting noticed.”
Dallas grinned, “Well, at least I get to go with people sometimes.”
Tuesday, 24th August.
 Bazinet was at the ‘Auxiliary,’ as Franz had referred to it, a piece of land around five miles from the farm. He was regarding the incinerator. With him was a man in a white coat, who said, “The cremations appear to have been thorough, but I’ll sift through the ashes, and maybe there’ll be a few fragments of bone, possibly enough to get DNA readings from. We might be able to identify one or two, maybe.”
Bazinet said, “Nineteen boys killed, and no record of their real names.”
“Well, I’ll do my best, but it’s not likely to be useful.”
“The oldest one might be able to identify some from pictures of kidnap victims. We know the characteristics he looked for, intelligence and languages - they all knew at least two languages, plus, of course, looks.”
“You still have them tucked away?”
“Hidden away as effectively as could be managed. It’s going to be very hard to protect them once it’s known who they are.”
Bob had been more and more reluctant to come for counselling, so when he failed to arrive that Tuesday, Donna was not surprised. She told Ian that she didn’t think she’d ever been of any real use to him.
Ian said, “He’s healed anyway, I think. Not just that his friends are rescued, but I have a feeling he might have talked to Gerry. Maybe that helped.”
“Are you going to punish him for not turning up?”

Penwinnard - some of the boys are scrambling on the cliff.

Look for my Penwinnard Stories coming out soon, the ebooks on Smashwords first, then Amazon once I have approved the paperback.

1 comment:

  1. I always find it interesting to see the 'nuts & bolts' behind a story, especially as every writer develops their own way of putting the nuts and bolts together. The editing and polishing is sometimes drudgery, but also vital, and I'm impressed by your clear and logical approach!