The red pen
I went to the Olympic Park the other day, my friend having scored himself some free tickets. Apart from watching the gymnastics and the opening ceremony, that was my sole contribution to the Games, but I think altogether we did a great job at hosting. Well done Team GB!
I thought I'd save my post for today so I could talk about the feedback for the first edit. I went up to Bloomsbury today and sat down with Alexa and Alexandra over sandwiches to talk it over.
A couple of things about the first edit. The book ended up longer than it was before. The original MS of The Bone Season was 122,199 words. The first edit ended up at 127,928. Not so much of a slimming down as a bulking up! The reason this happened was because [a] because I added several more scenes and [b] I'd added a lot of small details to the world. All three of my editors suggested that there should be more detail at the beginning, and my US editor felt that I needed to make the history and depth of Scion a little clearer.
Alexa and Alexandra strongly agreed on one thing: the first three chapters had suffered during the edit. The punchy pace had been lost because of the detail I'd added, which weighed down the narrative and made the 'hook' less effective. I felt the same. I'd preferred the in media res feel of the original, but after reading the editorial notes, I'd tried to add more detail to help the reader understand the world. Once we hit Chapter 4, however, the problem was resolved, and the MS was much better for the new scenes I'd added. The novel had a much greater emotional impact and was darker than before. So overall, a successful edit – but the first chapters need to go back to square one. I can copy and paste the original chapters over the edit, then bring in any additional parts, so nothing too strenuous there. I've got until 29th September, more than enough time to get the pace of the beginning back to how it was before.
I also conceded to dropping a character from the storyline, which I'd fought against in the first edit. I was really attached. I did my best to fit him in more neatly, but he didn't work out. Fortunately he was very minor and I'm able to rework him.
A problem I've been having is that The Bone Season deals with a lot of complex ideas. It's difficult to convey these to the reader without having to sit them down and force them to read paragraph after paragraph of information. You don't want them to feel as if they're at school. So how do you let the reader know what's going on? The timespan of The Bone Season, for example, stretches from 1859 to 2059, a period of two hundred years. Although the story takes place wholly in 2059, I still have to give the reader a sense of the events leading up to that year. This first edit proved that long explanations don't work. They detract from the plot and slow the pace.
We all know the golden rule of writing: "show don't tell". I think the best way for me to talk to the reader without talking at them will be through dialogue, which works well where I use it.
Another golden rule is that you need to establish a confident writing style. You can get away with not explaining things as long as the reader trusts that you, the writer, know what you're doing. They don't need to hold your hand every step of the way. They need tidbits of information that remind them where they are, and that the author has control of the world they've stepped inside, but they also need to deduce and discover things for themselves. I don't think it's much fun reading a novel when the author interjects every two minutes to guide you. There's a fine line between clarifying things to your reader and patronising them.
In other news, Bloomsbury USA and UK are currently debating the font on the cover, so it won't be released to the public for a while yet. But I promise it's worth the wait.