On Saturday just after 3 PM, I typed THE END—another book finished! Or was it? It rather begs the question, when is the work finished? A book is most certainly not finished when the author types “THE END.”
First of all, let me explain that I’m what writers call a pantser, someone who writes by the seat of her pants without a detailed outline. I always have a route in mind, and I always know where it ends. I’ve learned to plan several key turning points. I do not, however, outline scene by scene. As I write, the characters frequently surprise me with the twists and turns they present, and sometimes they get very quiet, causing me to stare at a blank screen in panic with no idea how to get from point A to point B. There is an old question, “What do pantsers call the rough draft?” The answer is “the outline.”
When I typed THE END the other day it was the end of the rough draft of THE UNEXPECTED WIFE. I have a story, I have created drafts of all the pieces, and I’m ready to put the book together. It is a bit like a quilt when all the squares are finished, two-thirds of them are loosely stitched together, there are knots and tangles in the back, and no border holding it all together.
Now begins the work of making the book.
- I am already deep into the first rewriting pass. I’m filling in blanks, adding names where the draft says things like xxxnameofschool and researching where the text says ???true.
- As I go, I encounter passages that are straight up narrative voice telling the reader what happened. I have to turn those into opportunities for the characters to show their reality instead.
- I find scenes that are just “naked people in empty rooms talking.” That is, the dialog is there, but there is no visual or textual context to the mood, the emotions, or the conflict. To feel a story readers want to see it. Details of setting have to be folded in gently.
- There is at least one hole where a scene belongs right next to a subplot I later decided against. That will have to be fixed.
- I make final formatting decisions about chapter breaks and hooks.
- At this point, if I’m blessed, it will be in good enough shape for beta readers to take a look. (I’m still recruiting!) I ask them to help me make sure the plot hangs together, I don’t contradict myself too often, and everything is clear. I also hope they’ll identify slow down points in the pacing.
- While that is going on, I do a search for “filter words,” lazy language used as cheap short cuts: look, begin, start, realize, thought, seem, was, notice and so on. These word almost always signal a passage that should be written in stronger language to, as Hemingway said, get the words right.
- I follow that by attempting a thorough line edit. This is not my strength, but I look for typos, punctuation and sentence structure errors, the small detailed errors that would derail the story for an eagle eyed reader.
- At some point in that process the beta comments return and I can fold them in to the prose.
- Then and only then I send it to my editor at Soul Mate.
So is the book finished when I send it off? Heck no. I am blessed with a superior editor! We will do at least two rounds of editorial changes and one final acceptance pass and then it is off to formatters. Hopefully that will be done so that I can have an extended pre-order period before the go-live date in May.
Is the book finally the book when it goes live on on-line retailers? I would argue not. When someone buys the book and the characters come alive in her head then, and only then, the book is a book. Without readers, it is just a work in progress.
For more about the story, check here.