Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Polishing a Book, Part I - Unity of Voice

Now that I've sent my 47th book to my editor, I thought I'd talk about what I do when I "polish" a book.

One thing I aim for is "unity of voice."  It takes me months to write a book, months where things happen in my life, planned and unplanned, good and bad.  Sometimes when I write, I'm in a great mood.  Other times, not so much.  I move scenes around.  I add and change things, including characters.  I decide something that sounded great in the synopsis simply won't work and have to come up with something else.  Yet when the book is finished, I want it to sound as if I simply sat down one morning and decided to write a several thousand word story that same day.  I don't want the seams to show, or the book to sound as if written by a committee, different members writing different scenes. 
So how do I get that "unity of voice?"

I write at least three drafts.  With each one, I'm able to read and work on more of the book at a time, so I'm able to edit and revise for longer stretches.  That means I'm in the same state when working on larger portions of the book.  

I do my final revisions and edits on hard copy.  This puts me in reader mode and gives me a bit more distance from the work, so it's easier to spot the parts that seem too different from the rest.  Then I take out or change anything that sounds too different. 

How do I know if recognize something like that?   I don't have a critique group or partner, so basically, I rely on instinct.   A little niggling doubt that something's not quite right. That tells me to look more closely at that scene. 

What I often discover is a character issue.  In particular, a character acting out of character.  For instance, a genial secondary character is suddenly talking like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Maybe I was in a bad mood when I wrote that scene.  Maybe I wasn't sure at that time if that character was ultimately going to be a friend or foe, but have since decided friend.  Maybe I had a great line of snark  and simply couldn't resist using it.

Whatever was going on at the time I originally wrote the scene, that character's actions and reactions are now "off" and must be changed, even if I lose that great line of snark.  If it doesn't fit, if it's violating that unity, it has to go.  I've cut some of my favorite lines of dialogue because they simply didn't work in a scene. 

Sometimes changes to maintain unity of voice are easy - fix a bit of dialogue, change a few reactions.   Other times it's not.  Sometimes a whole scene simply has to go. 

Because when all is written and done, I want the reader to be immersed in my story.  Anything that interrupts that experience, that makes the reader pause and get a little niggling doubt that something's "not quite right", has got to be fixed.  It's not always easy, but it's necessary. 

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