Almost Done Doing Mischief

WiP Report # 19

This morning—I’m very pleased to say—I finished the current draft of Mischief in March, the third in my Calendar Mystery series featuring mystery and romance in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. January Jinx, Fatal February, Mischief in March, nine other novels and possibly some short stories to follow, tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond. (We authors must practice our elevator speeches as much as possible.) Tomorrow I’ll start the final edit.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with this book. It’s very much the favorite among the ten or so novels I’ve at least drafted so far. The characters still surprise me and make me laugh or sometimes cry.

But I did have a  thorny problem to resolve in this draft. I went way too far in naming my characters.

At this point, I must thank those who read the first half of the previous draft of MiM, as I call it, and gave me helpful feedback: Ann F, Barbara O, Denise G, Joyce B, Peg N, and Valerie B.

Special thanks to Valerie for the effort she went to in creating the charts shown here. Whew! What a lot of work for her to do for another writer’s book, but what a help these charts were to me. As the first one shows, I introduced two-dozen characters in Chapter One. That’s a lot! As the second chart shows, I used names that started with the letter M thirteen times in the first half of the book! Yikes!

Once Valerie pointed out the errors of my ways, I addressed the problem.

1) I cut a number of characters from MiM altogether including characters who appeared in previous books, but didn’t in MiM.

2) I limited the number of characters appearing in any one chapter and tried to introduce them one or two at a time instead of all at once.

3) I only named the characters when they physically appeared instead of referring to them by name earlier.

4) I didn’t name minor characters like an elevator attendant.

5) By studying Valerie’s second chart, I identified the letters of the alphabet I used too often and the ones I hadn’t used much if at all. And so, the Sullenbergers in the earlier draft now are the Quillens and the book now has a Zappa and a Ziegenhorn.

Mischief in March will be out soon. If you haven’t read January Jinx, you can buy it for $3.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4. You can also buy Fatal February for $4.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. Please note, British friends, that Fatal February will be available for only £0.99 at www.amazon.co.uk/B017081JHM from February 27, 2017, until March 4, 2017.

Best, Juliet

Kansas City’s New England Building

Looking for Old K. C., Part 1

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Checking out sites for my calendar mysteries, set in Kansas City around 1900, can involve quite a bit of sleuthing. Take the New England Building at 9th Street and Wyandotte in Kansas City, MO, for instance.

While working on January Jinx, the first in the series, I decided to put Price Investigations in the New England Building instead of the New York Life Insurance Building, mostly because the upper floors of the latter were closed to visitors. (Indeed, when my friend Sally O and I sneaked down to the basement to scope out the placement for the café that appears in January Jinx, the building guard stood on the steps and called plaintively, “Ladies, ladies.” Giggling, we did come back upstairs and out of the building.) But on a later junket, I was able to get inside the New England Building and go up the steps to the second floor though not inside any of the offices.

The New England Building continues to serve as the site for Price Investigations in Fatal February, the second in the series, but now that I’m working on Mischief in March, I have some questions about the offices that I didn’t answer in my initial site visit. In particular, I’d like to actually see the inside of the New England Building’s most famous architectural feature, the oriel on the southwest corner, to figure out what George Mathison, the manager of my fictional detective agency, might have put in it, or indeed if it’s actually available to put anything inside it.

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I’d tried to figure out its size from the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps and tentatively decided, given the 60’ by 118’ overall size of the building, that the oriel is about five feet across at its widest. But the map gives no details about the floors above the first.

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An exquisite poster of the building made from an article in the American Architect and Building News that I found online shows the basic layouts of four of the floors. But the text isn’t distinct enough for me to find out details about the offices. Besides, now that I’m revising Mischief in March, I’m finding that Minty Wilcox, the heroine of the series, needs to navigate around more of the building than just up the stairs or elevator to the third floor.

So, recently I set off to the Kansas City site of the State Historical Society of Missouri, located in 302 Newcomb Hall on the University of Missouri-Kansas City to look at their collection of architectural drawings that included the New England Building.

An aside: doing historical research is so much easier these days than it was when I started the project in 2004. (Yikes!) Now you can scan documents to a flash drive instead of printing them out on a library machine. Also so much has been digitized and made available online, like the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, that you can download and print for free.

That’s the good news. The bad news about the scans of the drawings is they don’t have keys and most of the written info is too blurry to read when I blow the images up.

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Still, I was able to see inside the offices to figure out where the lights were and that most had little closets and sinks. Some suites had ladies and gents powder rooms. And after a quick referral back to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, I found that the building had steam heat. Comparing the office layout with the roof layout, which included chimneys, I figured out where the radiators were, so I now can appropriately arrange the furniture inside Price Investigations.

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See? I told you researching historical fiction requires sleuthing.

Unfortunately, there are two parallel dotted lines across the narrow entrance to the oriel that I don’t understand. I’m tentatively thinking there would be room maybe for the ever-popular Boston fern. But I don’t know for sure.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that historical fiction writers obsess over the smallest details. That’s because some expert out there might make a fuss online about a tiny error. And that mistake could destroy the old Kansas City I’m trying to bring to life in my calendar mysteries. So I worry about the tiny details.

And so if at all possible, I’d like to get inside the New England Building. This might not be easy because recently it was purchased for redevelopment as loft apartments. I’ll keep you posted on what I find out.

Best, Juliet

If you haven’t read the first two calendar mysteries featuring Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City where living could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago, you can buy them as trade paperbacks from Amazon or as Kindle eBooks:  January Jinx at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 and Fatal February at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM

Making Progress

WiP Report # 17: Mischief in March

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Shown here is the working cover for the third book in my Calendar Mystery Series. (I’m keeping what the actual cover will look like as a secret for now since it’s a spoiler.) I’m happy to report that I recently completed the draft of Mischief in March, well sort of anyway.

The “sort of” comes from my ending the current draft with an outline for the last twenty pages instead of writing those scenes. I’m not beating myself up about it though. I’ve been at this point with at least one previous book and it turned out fine.

What happened was recently I found myself making excuses to do other things (like mowing the lawn, which you know has to be desperation) instead of working on MiM, dear MiM, such a fun project it’s been to work on. I do this pretty often as I write, in fact, whenever my subconscious mind is trying to tell me something about what I’ve just written. But one morning recently I woke up realizing what the problem with the current WiP is. I won’t actually know which characters I need to put in the climactic parts of the book until I’ve revised the book from the start and found out who they are. Also, I need to do some on-site research on the settings before I can move my characters around in those places.

So I’m happy with my decision to stop work on MiM temporarily. It has freed me up to knock off some of the smaller projects on my master plan. For example, I’ve almost finished editing a large print edition of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories.

But now Minty Wilcox, the heroine of the Calendar mysteries, is calling to me from the wings of my mind and tapping her foot impatiently. “Come back,” she says. “How could you leave me and Daniel in the lurch on our . . .” Well, that’s all you get, dear reader except the assurance that I’ll get back to work on Mischief in March soon.

Best, Juliet

P. S. Check out this trailer for the new audio book of Cinderella, P. I. Around the World narrated by the very talented Alyx Morgan.

 

 

Marching On

WiP Report # 17

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Sorry, but I couldn’t resist the pun in my title. You see, the current Work in Progress, the third in my Calendar Mysteries, takes place in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago, in March 1900 and it’s called Mischief in March.

One of the most fun things about this WiP is working on it in springtime. Now I realize that probably daffodils and other flowers are blooming in 2016 three to four weeks earlier than they did in March 1900. Still, my heroine Minty Wilcox might very well see crocus like those pictured above blooming in a sheltered spot in front of her house.

Now, I must admit that I’m pretty far behind schedule on this book from where I’d hoped to be. My original concept for the series was to bring out a book a year during the month in the title. I managed to bring the eBook version of January Jinx out in January 2014 and the print version in January 2015. But I didn’t get Fatal February out until November 2015. (Sigh.)

Here are some reasons why I’m behind schedule.

1) If you’ve kept up with my periodic WiP Reports, you know that I wrote a 54,000 draft of Mischief in March during National Novel Writing Month 2015. But due to one thing and another, I didn’t get back to it until February 18.

2) And even then, it took me quite a while to regain my momentum. Tip to all you other writers out there: do it every day, so you don’t lose your momentum. So far my progress has been slow with an average production of 835 words per day. This is about half of the NaNoWriMo goal of 1,667 words a day.

3) As you might be able to tell from the photo of a corner store around 1900 below, I’m doing research as I go along. (In Mischief in March, Minty Wilcox, two of her country cousins, and the series villain visit a neighborhood grocery store similar to this one. Researching as I write also has slowed me down.

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But let’s shift to the upside here.

I’m telling myself that doing research as I go along might save me time in the long run since I’ll probably write fewer drafts than the ten or twelve January Jinx required. In fact, even though I did some research as I went along, Fatal February required only four drafts plus an overall line-by-line edit.

Some good news: last week my process sped up, and without even noticing, I blew through plot point 1, that is, the moment at which the hero (or heroes) begin the journey or the detective (or detectives) actively take on the case. That happened at 19,418 words on page 70. Multiply those stats by four and you get 77,672 words and 280 pages, a very nice size for a first draft. If I keep up the pace of 835 words a day, I should finish the current draft around the end of May.

If you haven’t read the first two in the series, January Jinx is available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 and Fatal February is available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. Both are available as trade paperbacks through Amazon.com.

If you have read the first two Calendar Mysteries that tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond, please review them on Amazon and Goodreads. As the old wisdom goes, word of mouth sells. (Of course sex sells, too. I’m working on getting some sex into Mischief in March. Minty and Daniel are definitely up for it.) And online reviews are the 21st Century version of word of mouth, one kind at least. Just a few sentences of positive comments help and I would appreciate it very much. All the best, Juliet

Encouraging Feedback on Fatal February

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My dear friend and fellow writer Anne Bauman recently wrote me this letter of praise for Fatal February, the second calendar mystery. (I’ve omitted or rephrased here and there to avoid spoilers.)

Dear Juliet,

 Congratulations on Fatal February, another terrific read. Yes, I enjoyed it immensely, both as a reader and a writer. Between the lines, it reveals lots of work, thought, skill and care.

It seems to me that your characters were even better developed than in January Jinx, though the characters were well-done in [it], too. In the second novel I enjoyed the actions and especially the dialogue. Each character is distinctly developed as his own person.

Minty seems to be maturing and improving as a character. I like the way you played off [Daniel Price, the love interest] to help develop the personality of each. It helps the reader to see Minty more clearly as she interacts with the other characters.

Of course, I always enjoy reading about Kansas City around the turn of the century. Since my grandmother was a young woman at the time of your books, it’s pleasant to imagine what K. C. was like at that time and how it helped her develop her independence and self-assurance. I like the details you use to develop Kansas City as a character, too.

All in all, Juliet, you’ve created a masterpiece and I’m now looking forward to March.

Thank you so much, Anne. And I’m happy to tell you and other readers that I’m working on Mischief in March, the third Calendar Mystery featuring Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price in Kansas City, a downright dangerous place a hundred years or so ago.

If, dear reader, you haven’t read the first two in the series, January Jinx is available on Kindle at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 and Fatal February at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. Both are also available as trade paperbacks through Amazon.com.

And if you like these books, please review them on Amazon and Goodreads. Just a few sentences help. I would appreciate it very much. All the best, Juliet

P. S. Didn’t my daughter do lovely work on the cover of Fatal February?

Phenomenal Flavia

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A Guest Post by Diann Markley

On Saturday January 16, 2016, at the meeting of the Mystery Writing Group of the Border Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime, my friend Diann Markley presented a thorough and very insightful analysis of Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Here are highlights of her presentation.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is the story of a precocious eleven-year-old girl living in England in the 1950’s. Bradley has several problems to overcome in making Flavia de Luce believable as an amateur investigator.

The police are neither incompetent nor comical, yet as with any main character, Flavia must be the one to solve the mystery. The author carefully sets up this outcome by having Flavia’s mother vanish in the wilds of Tibet while her father, suffering from wartime PTSD, is only peripherally involved with his child, leaving her free to come and go with little to no supervision.

And she does have transportation–an ancient bike she has named Gladys.

Having lived her entire life in the town of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia has contacts and inside knowledge of the residents not readily available to Inspector Lewis. Flavia is quite willing to flip her braids and flash her braces to convince witnesses she is only a sweet little girl they can spill any secrets to. Then there is her understanding of chemistry and a lab in which to do experiments. These confirm her suspicions on how the murder occurred. It doesn’t hurt a bit that Flavia is the one to find the dying man but conveniently forgets to mention his last words to the police.

Altogether a great read on a winter’s day! Diann Markley

The Mystery Writing Group of the Border Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime meets on the third Saturday of the month. All SinC members are welcome. Here’s our schedule for the next two months.

February 20: Ann Friedman will lead a discussion of Ellis Peters’ The Raven in the Foregate.

March 19: Juliet Kincaid will lead a discussion of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

If you’re a mystery fan, please share this blog with your friends and sign up through RSS to receive notifications for more blogs.

Best, Juliet

The No. 1 Lady Detective

A J K Writer Favorite

Among my recent emails I found one from Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency located in Gaborone, Botswana, Africa. In the fashion typical of the messages we write and receive during the holiday season, the letter begins by telling the momentous events in Mma Ramotswe’s life. She ended her letter by wishing me, her dear friend and sister, “the love that we feel for those with whom we make our journey through life.”

The only thing that kept me from busting out of the house and over to Mysteryscape to buy Alexander McCall Smith’s latest, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, in which Mma Ramotswe recounts her adventures on vacation, was the fact Mysteryscape closed this year. (All who patronized that wonderful bookstore miss it terribly.)

Oddly enough, I was slow to come around to the charms of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. A decade or so ago, a librarian friend of mine who reviews books recommended it to me. But when I tried to read the first book in the series, I put it down again right away. The book didn’t start in the proper way for a mystery. Instead of a crime scene and a dead body, it began with a bio of the detective. What’s up with that? I thought. I returned it, unread, to the library.

After a few years, after the first book had become an international best seller and the series very popular, I told myself, “You’d better check this out, J.” But I couldn’t find any of the books at the closest Borders, another late and lamented bookstore. And I tried more than once. Surely such a popular series should be here somewhere, I thought. But still I couldn’t find it. Then one day as I zipped past the mystery section at Borders, I spotted the distinctive and charming cover of the first in the series in the M’s. For months I’d looked for it under S. There’s no hyphen in there. How was I to know they alphabetized it under M?

This time I bought the book, read it, and loved it. And it changed my life. Really? you ask. Well, yes, because it showed me a fresh and different way to structure a mystery novel and, even more important, it brought me out of a funk during which I wrote no fiction for going on three years. Me, the long time fiction fan? That was a really serious depression I was in. So I thank Precious Ramotswe and Alexander McCall Smith for getting me back to writing fiction, my life-long passion, the thing I do primarily because it makes me happy.

So what did I learn from reading The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

1) I saw that in that book Mma Ramotswe had several cases presented very much like individual short stories. This structure encouraged me to go back to a series of twenty-nine short stories I’d written with Cinderella as a detective twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball to see if I could make a novel out of some of them.

2) Another lesson I learned was how McCall Smith used Mma Ramotswe’s life, her loves, and her friends, to tie the book together from start to finish.

3) And the best lesson of all, especially for a writer who wants to write a mystery series? I saw how important it is for a series to have a strong detective that readers willingly identify with to carry them through each book and on to the next and the ones after that.

The season’s joy and blessings to you, Precious Ramotswe, and to your creator Alexander McCall Smith, and to you, my readers.

Best, Juliet

The No. 1 Lady Detective inspired me to write Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, and Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, both now available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon. Twelve of my original stories appear in Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories and eight more appear in Cinderella, P. I. Around the World. Both collections are also available from Amazon as eBooks and paperbacks. The third and final book in the series, Cinderella’s Last Case and Other Stories, will appear in 2016. And look for the audiobook of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories coming soon from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

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Better Busy Than Bored

WiP Report # 15

Hi, All!

“Better busy than bored” has become my motto in life, maybe even more after retirement than before. Here’s what has kept me busy (and certainly not bored) lately.

FATAL FEBRUARY

The fourth draft of Fatal February, the second Calendar Mystery is done. (Way late. I’d planned–foolish me–on having it out in February 2015.) Still I revised 100,000 words in 26 days. That means I booked along at the pace of 3,846 words a day. (Yeah, that pun was intended. They usually are, you know, especially when people claim, “no pun intended.”)

But I didn’t have a lot new to add or too much to change this time through, just mostly tweaks. Somehow, though, I managed to add 7,000 more words. If I cut 10 percent–as Stephen King claims he always tries for in revising his books–that would bring the total down to 90,000 words. But we’ll see.

Here’s a picture of Draft 4 on top of Draft 3. Please notice that the new draft only has chapter tabs, not a whole bunch of tabs for corrections that create a hula skirt effect.

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I hope the fifth and final draft of the book won’t require much so I can get it done fast and out soon. It’s feeling about right to me except for the last few pages. Still, I’ve had lots of fun with Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price in their second outing. Sparks and repartee just seem to fly when they’re together.

Of course, there’s always something that slips by even the most cautious editor. For instance, recently, I pulled a sentence or two out of the book to use as an example in a writers’ group. And I discovered I’d left out the verb, unintentionally. Yikes. My early readers will tell me what else I messed up, I’m sure.

CINDERELLA, P. I. STORY COLLECTION AUDIOBOOK

This is really exciting news!

Several weeks ago I posted a request for auditions for Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories through Amazon’s ACX. Just about when I’d decided no one would bite, a wonderful lady named Alyx Morgan sent me a reading of the first five minutes of the first story in the collection. And hearing it, I found myself smiling even though I know that story very well. So we signed an agreement through ACX and she’s working on the audiobook. I’m really loving what Alyx is doing, making all my characters coming alive and all so different from each other.

Meanwhile, for assorted reasons, I decided to design a completely new cover for the audiobook instead of modifying the existing cover. That means this self-publisher has to climb yet another learning curve, this time in Photoshop. Huff, puff, get on up that hill. But practice makes perfect and all that stuff.

Here’s a peek at the audiobook cover. Yeah, I know the title isn’t quite centered. (I’ll fix it.) What do you think about it otherwise?

CPIaud81815I thought that a path through  woods would work since this collection contains stories in which Cinderella goes into forests. (I took the photo in an old Osage orange hedge row near my house.)

Best, Juliet–definitely busy instead of bored

Just a Few Little Things Left to Tweak

 WiP Report # 14

 Hi, All!

 On July the Fourth I entered the following in my daily journal/log. [I’ve added a few things here and there.]

I’ve been checking some stats for Fatal February, which I completed yesterday morning [the third draft, that is, on July 3]. At least I finished the current draft and rewarded myself by going to see Mad Max: Fury Road. It was terrific. What a trip.

I’ve been beating myself up about being so late on it. [It’s called Fatal February after all and I’d planned all along to get it out in February 2015. Drafting a completely different novel during NaNoWriMo, that is, National Novel Writing Month, and taking off the entire month of December threw me off.]

But when I look at the stats, I’ve concluded I didn’t do so badly after all. It’s 93,000 words long for one thing  [about 50 pages longer than Draft 2] and I started it on April 22. How many days? Let me count. 55 days. Well, that’s a hoot. It’s 1,691 a day, which is just about the NaNoWriMo 1,667 a day goal. I’m not counting the abundant brainstorms I did throughout the draft. I only had one brief log entry in the month of June, but I did put at least a few words down in my handwritten journal every day.

 I wish I could say I’m totally happy with the book, but I’m not. [I have a few little things to do on it here and there. Yeah, I know, I know. All the tabs that mark places that need fixing make the manuscript look like it’s wearing a brightly colored hula skirt.]

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Still, I think the next draft should just involve tweaks of what’s there instead of writing lots of new scenes as I did with this draft. I guess it was draft number 3. I need to break and do other things before I start through the book again to do Draft 4.

 I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

 Best, Juliet

The Art of Rewriting a Novel

Congratulations! You’ve completed the first draft of your novel and the joy of creation still surges through your veins. But don’t rest on your laurels too long, for now you have to rewrite. No, I don’t, you say. I just run the spell checker and shoot it off to an agent, right? Besides, did Shakespeare rewrite? Apparently not, but his contemporary and friend Ben Jonson said, “Would that he had blotted a thousand lines.”

So now comes the time to get busy “blotting a thousand lines” (or more) because rewriting is a vital part of writing, the part that “makes the work come alive,” to quote Nancy Pickard, author of several popular mystery novels including Kansas Book of the Year, The Virgin of Small Plains. During rewriting, you “re-envision” the work and bring it closer to your original intention, obscured or lost in the heat of creating the rough draft.

Though often the writer comes up with new material during the rewriting phase, generally this last stage involves more analysis than creation, less the right side of the brain than the left. While new writers often think they can’t write unless they get it right the first time, most professionals rely on rewriting to bring their work up to par.

Effective, interesting, and vital writing is clear, coherent, concise, concrete, correct, and varied. Rewriting helps you give your work these qualities.

Okay, okay, I’m convinced, you say. So how many revisions should I do? As many as it takes, the mentor answers. If you’ve completed a work that you first drafted largely in your head, such as a flash fiction short story, you might not need many overall revisions. On the other hand, many pros freely admit to doing up to twelve major revisions of their novels. The average romance author does two and a half to three drafts, but Nancy Pickard says that she rewrites virtually up to the day of publication.

To rewrite a piece of fiction, you cut, add, change, move, and combine. But verily I say unto you, the greatest of these is CUT.

In rewriting, concentrate on these areas in this order: content, style, and mechanics. Why this order? you ask. Simple. It makes sense to get the content right before you spend hours polishing a sentence (paragraph, scene, chapter) that you might have to cut later–or worse, refuse to cut (though it no longer fits the work) because you worked so hard on it. Take the advice of Tony Hillerman who used to labor over his first chapters until he discovered that later chapters changed the first ones too much for him to use them. (He claimed to have had a drawer full of discarded but wonderful first chapters.)

On the other hand, if you’re rewriting the content of your novel and notice a sentence you can improve quickly or an error to correct, go ahead. Similarly, if you think of a great new bit of dialogue in a later stage of revision, by all means add it. (But be sure to reread this added section carefully, for often errors abound in such passages.)

ADVICE

1) To keep up your momentum and improve your chances of completing your novel, work on it everyday.

2) To minimize the number of corrections to make later in the process, initially format your manuscript in the correct form for submission later on to an editor or for production as an eBook or POD.

3) Follow the rules of punctuation like putting periods and commas inside quotation marks, etc.

4) For ease in rewriting, make separate files for all the chapters of the work.

5) If you use Microsoft Word, go to the Authoring and Proofing Tools in the Preferences menu, and in the Spelling and Grammar menu, click on “Show readability statistics.” Run your spell checker on each chapter as you complete revising it. The information will be especially valuable to you in later phases of the revising process. This document, for example, has 4% passive voice (much higher than my usual fiction percentage of 0%), 63.1% Flesch Reading Ease (considerably lower than my usual fiction reading ease of 85%), and 8.7 Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. No, I’m not related to that Kincaid, and my fiction averages from 3.5 to 5.2 grade levels.

6) Cultivate good stylistic writing habits like avoiding passive voice and employing showing writing instead of telling writing.

Still, generally, as John Braine advises, it’s best to write the rough draft as fast as you can and take as much time as you need for revision. Danielle Steele, for instance, takes six months to research a novel and six months to rewrite, but she blasts through the rough draft in a month of crippling twenty-hour days.

REWRITING FOR IMPROVED CONTENT

When you’re ready to start rewriting your novel, be patient and don’t just dive into revising. Instead, sit down and read the book through. Then skim it and take notes on what you see and patterns you notice. For instance, does your novel have a clear “Who wants what?” established very early. Does your protagonist clearly “drive the plot car” overall? Is the outcome clear at the end?

Especially pay attention to the big issues of structure. For instance, does your novel have a clear beginning, middle and end? That is, does it have a hook in the opening and a plot point near the end of the beginning part to set up the major story line? Is there some sort of important development in the middle section of the novel, that is, about halfway through? Is there a plot point near the end of the middle part of the book that sets up the end of the book? Do some math to see where these plot points fall in relationship to the overall length.

Consider your narrative line. Once you start your story, do you continue in a straightforward line or do you switch back and forth in time, from past to present to future to past? Think about your audience and this maxim: The larger the market you want for your novel, the easier you want to make your novel to read. That is, employ the K.I.S.S rule especially when you’re writing popular fiction and want lots of people to read your book.

Consider the type of novel you’re writing and reader expectations for that genre. If you’re writing a categorical romance, for instance, do you have at least one love scene? If you’re writing a mystery, is there a body or at least a crime?

On the basis of your observations, prepare an outline or write a narrative synopsis. Advice: Do not consider your outline or synopsis as engraved in stone.

As you write a second draft and concentrate on content, you might want to CUT all or part of ground clutter (action that leads nowhere), sections of dialogue that run on too long, unneeded characters and everything related to them, sections of description that run on too long, scenes that contribute only slightly to the plot, extended sections of background or exposition, unneeded transitions between scenes, sections that tell the reader what to think instead of letting them draw their own conclusions, unneeded or overlong passages of thought, unneeded material between the climax and denouement, and any element that impedes the pace.

On the other hand, you might need to ADD details that explain later action, descriptions to make a character or setting come alive, character development and motivation, background information, more dialogue, significant action, reminders to the reader, foreshadowing, clues and red herrings, symbols and metaphors to highlight theme, and transitions between scenes.

Often you will want to CHANGE from telling writing into showing writing, from indirect to direct speech, from indirect to direct thought, or from one point of view to another.

Sometimes, too, you might find that, in drafting, you got in a rush and tried to do everything at once. So you might need to MOVE introductory exposition to later in the story, exposition closer to the action it relates to, and thematic commentary or epiphanies closer to the end. You might also need to move scenes and plot points.

Finally, you might need to COMBINE one character with another or one scene with another.

GETTING FEEDBACK

Once you have the content about right and can think of nothing much else to do to the work, let gentle, sympathetic, knowledgeable people (preferably not family members) read your novel and give you feedback on what it’s like to experience the work for the first time. When you get your novel back from your readers, look over their comments and rewrite to improve the content at least one more time.

REWRITING FOR IMPROVED STYLE

Now you will complete the PEP phase. That is, you will P(olish the style), E(dit for grammatical correctness), and P(roofread for misspellings and typos). At this point it’s a good idea to put all your chapters into a single file, so that you can spot glitches in formatting your eBook or POD versions as you edit.

Verily, again I say unto you, the greatest of these is CUT. Overall, including cuts for both content and style, try to make your final version at least ten percent shorter than earlier drafts. (Some writers draft very long and cut out nearly half.)

For concision, CUT redundancies; one, two or even three adjectives out of every three; there is/are, which is/are, it is . . . that; excessive or elaborate dialogue tags; and most adverbs.

For clarity and coherence, you might need to ADD transitions and dialogue tags.

 For clarity, vitality and ease of reading, CHANGE long sentences and paragraphs into shorter ones; big, fancy words into smaller ones; uncommon words into more usual ones; over-used words into less common words; passive voice into active voice; states of being verbs into action verbs; progressive verbs into straight present or past tense; general into specific; abstract into concrete; unclear pronouns into nouns; and fuzzy word choices into just the right words.

 For clarity and variety, occasionally MOVE phrases from their usual spot into more unusual ones.

 For coherence and variety, occasionally COMBINE many short sentences into longer ones and many simple sentences into compound or complex ones.

But as Strunk and White say in The Elements of Style, break any of these rules rather than commit a barbarity.

 REWRITING FOR CORRECTNESS

Always edit a completed manuscript with extreme care because mechanical errors and misspellings betray you as an amateur to agents, editor and readers. If you can’t spell, learn! Use a spell checker (but still proofread for homonyms, like “too,” “to,” “two”). If you don’t know how to punctuate, take a review course. And no matter how sharp your editorial skills, always proofread your material several times before you submit it or publish it.

 In the PEP phase, you might find it helpful to read your manuscript aloud. (James Michener and his editor read one of his big novels to each other five times.) Run your spelling/grammar checker and get your overall stats on readability, etc. It’s also good to use “find and replace” to locate your personal trouble spots (one of mine is over-using the word “then”). If you have fellow writers who proofread well, you might ask them to proofread our work. Or you could hire a professional proofreader or copy editor.

 THE IMPORTANCE OF PROOFREADING

As Jack Riley topped the final rise before town, he saw the buzzards circling above him. Not this time, he thought, a half smile on his face. He had just been through eighty miles of the roughest dessert anywhere . . .