All posts in editing

52 blogs of 2015 | #5 | MADE TO KILL v2.0 complete!

No blog last week on account of being busy a certain deadline for a certain book. That deadline being today, and that book being Made to Kill.

Made to Kill

And here it is. Version 2.0, ready to head back to Tor. 65,000 words of hot 1960s robot action across 35 sizzling chapters.

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Wow, that’s a lot of red. But, by hokey, this book is fighting fit and ready to rumble…

Made to Kill is out from Tor in November 2015.

And I think I’ve earned a cup of tea…

The problem of the white fedora

Bit quiet around here as I plough through the copy edits on Empire State. These have a tight deadline, which means everything else – y’know, sleeping, seeing daylight, updating the blog – have to take second place.

The copy edits are both complex and fascinating, and as I mentioned on Twitter when I first saw them, I was rather impressed. There are fixes, big and small, as I expected, but the level of detail is, quite frankly, astounding. The tiniest little continuity flub is picked up… and these are often the most brain-twisting to fix.

So here’s an example – it’s not spoilery as such… or if it is, you really won’t know what the heck it’s referring to until you read the book. Rad’s hat, a nice white fedora, makes repeated appearances and disappearances throughout the story, some of which I didn’t even realise. Here’s the copyeditor’s report:

Rad filches Rex’s white hat, p. 197; loses that one (probably in boardroom); “wondered where his hat was”, p. 224. Can’t lose the borrowed hat again on p. 234.

“He missed his hat, badly.” p. 242.

Doesn’t know where hat is: pp. 34-35, 224, etc.

Leaves own hat when drinking at Jerry’s, p. 25, finds there, p. 42; left in lab, p. 140, returned by Byron, p. 143; drops fedora, p. 146, given gas mask, p. 149; realized his hat’s in NYC, p. 166 – is hatless until p. 197. Gets own hat back from Grieves, p. 266.

Rex lost his own, p. 9: “wondering where his hat was”; finds hat, p. 15: “damp but intact”; but no hat in ES, just “his bald head”, p. 83. Given white hat by Crater, p. 176.

Simple, right? On the basis of the above report, I’ve spent an entire hour tracing the passage of the hats and making the required fixes.

A writer’s life, eh?

The clay on the wheel

I’ve mentioned this before, possibly several times, but one of the best bits of writing advice I’ve ever heard is this: you have to get the clay on the wheel. This means that you have to get the words down before you can start carving out your masterpiece.  This is the concept of draft 0, the vomit draft, the first run where you write down your story so you don’t forget it. Once you’ve done that, you can get to work, pulling the novel out. Draft 1, draft 2, draft 3… with each successive edit, you get the manuscript closer to the actual novel.

This brings to mind another piece of writing advice, this time from Andrew Stanton, producer, director and screenwriter for Pixar: “The first draft is nothing more than a starting point, so be wrong as fast as you can.”

I’ve been thinking about these two concepts as I progress throught the final edit of Seven Wonders. To complete the manuscript – to get it closer to the novel – there are a bunch of new chapters that have to be written. I’m spending this week working on them.

The difference here is that these new chapters are being inserted into a whole manuscript – specifically, a whole manuscript that (new sections aside) has been edited several times. The new chapters are going right between pre-existing chapters that have, on the whole, been polished and refined several times over. Some of them are even pretty good.

So when it comes to writing the new stuff, I’m right back at square one again. These news chapters all start as draft 0 – I know what the purpose of the chapters are and I know what has to go in them, but it’s a case of writing it all down and working it out.

But the slightly disconcerting thing is that at the moment these new chapters – in the draft 0/vomit draft stage – kinda suck. They’re rough as hell. They’re too long or too short, there is lame dialogue and crappy writing.

Not all of it, of course. Draft 0 may be draft 0 but that doesn’t mean I’m not trying as hard as I can to write something awesome. But, on the whole, they are draft 0 for a reason. Reading the sections of the manuscript back in the right sequence to check the flow means I’m going from a good chapter to a faceache of a chapter then back to a good one. It’s a strange feeling, because boy, those new chapters need work.

And of course that’s what they’ll get. But in the meantime I need to grit my teeth and keep typing until something intelligble comes out. As soon as I get the new stuff in, I can think about fixing it. Counting today, I have 11 days to go on Seven Wonders before it must – must – be sent to my beta-readers.

Better get back to it then!

Superman and the Seven Wonders

A busy, interruption-free Monday. I’m pleased to report a solid chunk of editing was done on Seven Wonders – all but two of the new chapters are written and in place, and the next step is to finalise the order of the first half of the book, which consists of flashbacks and the “present” timeline. Balancing the two and making sure everything happens in the right order is actually the most difficult thing about this edit. I somehow doubt I’m going to be so free and easy with timelines in future books

Speaking of superheroes, today saw the actual cover to the new Action Comics #1 revealed, along with solicitation information for October’s Superman titles, and a few other bits and pieces about the new Superman and how his story is a] different to the old one and b] how it fits into the DCnU.

Personally I preferred the original promo image for Action Comics #1, but I do think this new one is more reader-friendly. And, it is pretty cool. I’m a huge fan of Superman, as I may have mentioned, and September is shaping up to be one heck of an interesting month.

It was also announced today that the 52 new first issues are being collected in a gargantuan 1,216-page hardcover book.

And yes, my pre-order is in.


Character point of view and breaking writing rules

One thing I’m trying to be careful of when editing Seven Wonders is to keep clear character points of view. This probably sounds like a very obvious and necessary part of writing, but I only really started consciously thinking about while I was writing Empire State. One early reader did a critique of a couple of chapters of that book, and while he enjoyed them, he found the changing POV so infuriating he almost stopped reading. It was, he said, breaking one of the cardinal rules of writing – don’t change the POV within a scene/sequence without a very clear break. He also said that he’d recently seen it in a novel by Peter F. Hamilton, and while Hamilton was one of his favourite writers ever, he very nearly stopped reading that as well, for the same reason as that chapter of Empire State.

I found this observation interesting – the scene in question in Empire State did (and still does) switch from detective Rad Bradley to his friend and associate, Kane Fortuna. Almost incidentally, it does this because Rad gets progressively more drunk as the scene progresses and we can no longer see his POV clearly, so it switched to Kane.

However, I seem to recall when I were a lad that POVs shifted all over the show – so long as the change was obvious (so you didn’t suddenly get confused about who was saying or thinking or feeling what) and it worked, it worked. But apparently even this is a major no-no that really annoys some people. I’ve been wondering recently if it’s actually a recent development – most of the stuff I used to read seemed to be all omniscient third person (which means POVs don’t matter so much, because the omniscient narrator can see into everybody’s heads all at once), and I know that omniscient third person is out of favour now.

So… fine. Since then, I’ve tried hard to keep POVs on the straight and narrow, and when they change, the switch only ever occurs after a scene/section/chapter break. A recent scene in Seven Wonders springs to mind – two detectives, shooting the breeze in their office over milkshakes and coffee – in which a POV shift occurs. With the experience of Empire State in mind, I changed it on the edit.

But I’m now reading The Five by Robert McCammon, and the POV roves all over the show. And there’s no confusion at all, and none of the POV changes jar or are even noticeable, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been thinking about them recently anyway.

So does POV “focus”, for want of a better term, matter? Is it something writers need to really think about? And if they’re thinking about it too much, does that limit the writing process artificially and prevent what the writer really wants to get on the page from, well, getting on the page? Is that scene from Seven Wonders now a lesser piece of writing, constrained by adherence to some arbitrary rule of writing?

Because there is only one rule of writing: what works, works.

Something to think about anyway as I head into another week of edits.

Friday night air guitar

Just a quick one as I head into a weekend of… work.


With Seven Wonders at draft X.2, I’m putting it to one side for a week or so as it’s at the point where it really needs my full attention, and it’ll get that in the second half of this month.

In the meantime, I’ve written a short story which is very silly but which should go online shortly, and I’ve been working on the outline for Night Pictures. The last book I wrote was Hang Wire, and while that turned out just fine, I decided to run with only a very loose outline and at times some of the draft was tough to get right. So this time I want a pretty strong foundation, especially as I have a “feeling” about Night Pictures – that sounds both silly and pretentious, but hey, I think this is going to be a good book. I’m excited about it.

So while I pull the plot to pieces and try and get it into some kind of order, for this week I leave you with Lou Reed playing a Velvet Underground classic sometime in the early 80s. Check out the front row air guitar.

Seven Wonders: Draft X.2

Less than a week left of my working week. Hey, it makes sense to me. This week has also been pretty busy writing-wise, with one project going on the back burner and another one springing up. But fortunately, I’ve pretty much managed to keep up with editing on Seven Wonders, which today I officially bumped from Draft X.1 to X.2

The change in version number was prompted by completion of a big phase of editing. As I’ve gone entirely paperless for editing, I made extensive notes on the manuscript (draft X)  as a PDF on my iPad. At the same time, I did an overall note for each chapter, giving myself a little plot summary plus any larger issues that were apparent.

Draft X.1 was then going through and making all the changes marked in the PDF in the MS Word document – and boy, there were a lot of these. They were mainly technical edits – typos, bad writing, other structural adjustments. There were usually several per page, and a few days of making hundreds of tiny corrections and tweaks was enough to make me want to throw my computer out the window.

I should point out, however, that this is entirely normal. This phase always feels like that. Business as usual.

Once the technical corrections were made to give a pretty clean draft, I transferred the chapter notes into the manuscript as large comments, expanding on things that I remembered to make the next phase a bit easier. With all that done, I’m now on draft X.2.

The next phase is possibly the hardest. I think I have about five completely new chapters to write. In addition, I have to convert an existing chapter into another setting (from a convenience store to a public park). The book is already fairly long at around 120,000 words, and I expect the new sections will add at least another 10,000 to this. But I’m pretty clear on what needs to go in, and I’ll just need to do a little bit of outlining before cracking on with it. One new chapter in particular is pivotal – given that this is a book about superheroes, I really want this new chapter to feel like a special one-shot issue of something – a complete, self-contained story that would normally sit within 22 comic book pages. Of course, this isn’t a comic, but it’s a useful approach. That also applies to a lot in the book – there are some short, sharp chapters, and a lot of action that wouldn’t look out of place in a two-page spread.

All as intended!

But before that… I have to read it. Again. I’m not sure how many times I’ve been through it from page 1 to page 457, but it’s more than a few.

But that’s all part of the job. And I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Project juggling

Barcelona is meltingly hot. Shame I can’t see any daylight from the hotel meeting room.

Thanks to idle time spent at airports and on planes yesterday, I managed to get two days’ worth of Seven Wonders editing done, which is just as well as I may not get another chance to look at it until Thursday. So it goes.

I’ve also been pondering my schedule for the rest of year – I have two main things to do: rewrite my first novel Dark Heart, and write the next new novel Night Pictures.

I still need to work out how to approach Dark Heart, but really it’s Night Pictures that has me excited. This is the book I think about when I’m not focussed on Seven Wonders. This is that great next project that you can’t get out of your head, that you’re so desperate to start it drives you bananas. This is that kind of project that you have a feeling about. Everything has clicked into place. This is the book you have to write, and you have to write it now.

Or at least once I’ve got Seven Wonders to my beta-readers, which should be by the middle of July.

So Night Pictures it is. I just have to write the first draft of that before I tackle Dark Heart. Although Dark Heart is theoretically less work – being a rewrite rather than a new novel – I haven’t decided what I want to do with it. It needs to go from epistolary pseudo-Victorian first person (I’d ask myself what the hell I was thinking, but hey, it was my first novel, and first novels are like that!) to my regular prose style, it needs to be slightly less steampunk and slightly more magical.

Dark Heart needs more time in the oven. In the meantime, I’ve got a story about lost family, street light interference, television hijacking and Max Headroom impersonators to write.

Roll on July!

You’ll have to forgive him. He’s from Barcelona.

I’m out of town for a few days so updates will be sporadic at best. I’ve heard Barcelona is nice this time of year, but I suspect the most I’m going to see is the inside of a hotel for 72 hours.

But, thanks to switching to totally paperless writing/editing, I’ll have ample opportunity to keep working on Seven Wonders.

See you later this week!

Guilty pleasures

Wa-hey! Empire State, my debut novel, is now listed over at Random House.

Wowsa. That’s pretty cool. Random House are Angry Robot’s US affiliate publisher/distributor, in case you’re wondering what the book is doing there.

Don’t forget, you can pre-order the US version now (out 27th December). All the info you need is here. Clicky click!

It’s also one week to go until Alt Fiction, at which you can hear me read a chapter of Empire State. I’m also on two panels, and I’ve even got my own author page over at the Alt Fiction website. Speaking of Alt Fiction, I’ll be there with fellow writer and co-panellist Jennifer Williams, who talks about Alt Fiction over at her site here.


I’ve come up with a new name for this phase of novel creation – readiting. It’s not the huge big edit that happens when you take a manuscript from draft 0/1 to 2. It’s not the copyediting once you get everything back from whoever you sent it to. This is the middle bit, when you (as I may have mentioned before) read it, and read it, and read it again. Then edit, and re-edit, and re-edit (usually in small chunks, hopefully), then read, and re-read. Just saying you are “editing” doesn’t quite seem to cut it. And “polishing”, or “revising” doesn’t sound right either.

So Seven Wonders is being readited.

While I’ve been readiting, I’ve been watching some old school Sesame Street. I grew up with it, and thanks to the archaic state of New Zealand television in the early to mid 1980s, most of what was screen was 10-15 years old. Which meant the Sesame Street I watched in 1983(ish) was really from the very early says of the series. For this reason, the old school DVD releases are a real trip down memory lane. Surprisingly so – there are sketches and songs that I haven’t seen or heard in more than 25 years came back to mind instantaneously. Which, to be honest, kinda freaks me out.

Here’s something you won’t find in the old school DVD set, however: