Another very important part of writing a novel (or any other thing, really) is editing. Editing is actually just as important as the story itself, and it tends to take more time than writing. The first draft of Russian Dolls was finished in a little over three months. Edits on it took me about another three months, and then some.
The common assumption is that the editorial phase should fix things such spelling and grammar. Yes, that’s true … but there’s a whole lot more work that needs to be done. Firstly, you should fix your syntax, verb tenses, punctuation, and sentence structure — in a nutshell, your text needs to be press-ready perfect! (And it’s the same job, whether you want to self-publish or plan to use the professional expertise of agents to traditional publish; your manuscript needs to be perfect.)
And that’s not all. Another thing that you need to edit (and that actually comes before spelling and grammar) is the story itself. There is a world of possibilities between a first and a final draft. Your story changes, evolves — parts of it get trimmed, parts of it get lengthened, and some parts disappear completely.
My best advice would be to ask for outside help, once you reach this point. Technically, it is possible to do it yourself, but I sincerely think having two or three (or more) outsiders’ points-of-view on your story is priceless. Why? Because you are too close to your text. There are mistakes, gaps, plot-holes that you won’t even notice. How the story goes may be clear in your head, and you may be certain that it translates well onto the page — well, you may be wrong. Having a third party — an impartial professional — help you with this is golden (and yes, you should employ professionals, not your mum or your aunt Lucie who thinks everything you do is wonderful).
These people, these beta-readers, can suggest ideas for sub-plots, or alternates to what exists if they feel it isn’t good enough. They can point at parts of your story that need to be strengthened, or scenes that are sooo long they become boring. They will let you know if something doesn’t add up, if a character is not fully realised, if some action doesn’t feel believable, and much more. They will provide you with pages filled with comments of what works and what doesn’t work with your story.
Armed with those analyses, you can start revising your manuscript.
You will go through draft two, three, four, and more. And then, only then, when you’re completely satisfied with your story, will it be time to address verb tenses and comma placement.
Russian Dolls went through many changes during the editorial period. I’ve added several flashback scenes with Irina because one of my beta-reader felt that he didn’t care enough about her (and therefore didn’t give a damn about what had happened to her). Lexa’s mum also gained more screen-time because another reader felt she was too superficial. Some of the emotional scenes were cut shorter (because too much pointless talking can slow the pace of your story to a crawl). But mostly, it was the ending that underwent the more severe changes.
And that leads me to the crux of this post … my beloved chapter 22. If you still have Russian Dolls’ table of contents in mind, you know that there’s only 21 chapters — then why, pray tell, am I babbling about chapter 22? Because, for a long time, it existed — and then I cut it off, entirely. And boy, did I love that chapter! It’s a funny one, and almost everyone’s in it, dressed in their Sunday’s best.
I still love that chapter, but, as all my beta-readers pointed out, it’s bloody useless. By the end of chapter 21, the story’s finished; the mystery’s been solved, the bad guys are behind bars, Neve & Egan are friends and they know they make a good pair — cue to the epilogue which finishes the story and starts the ball rolling for the next book. So why in the hell would the story need another lengthy chapter snuck in between the two? The answer: it doesn’t.
It was a hard call. I hate having to delete stuff I wrote because I know I spent a long time writing it. But there comes a time when you have to be honest with yourself, put your story’s interest before your ego, and look at things objectively. But despair not, dear writer. Just like films and series have their bonus DVDs, the writer has blogs and the Internet.
For the fun of it, and because I enjoyed writing that scene tremendously, here’s the latest version of chapter 22: “Mansion House”.