The Holes in the Plot: or Every Writer Needs an Editor

Ten years ago I wrote the world’s best Regency romance. I wrote it, read it, edited it, read it again, sent it off and waited for the praise to come back.

It didn’t, of course; the whole thing was returned with a definite ‘no thanks’ letter. Hurt beyond measure, I thrust the manuscript into a file and shelved it, thinking up any number of reasons why they could have rejected my wonderful novel apart from the obvious.

Last year, while writing a modern novel which has grown out of a 200 word flash fiction story, I found the Regency romance again. It seemed like such a simple idea to take that one, edit it, refresh it, and get it out there to earn its shelf space while I concentrated on the other.

Ten years of writing and using my brain for what it was intended have wrought many changes in my outlook. As I read through the novel, I could see all the flaws. The time scale was all wrong – the whole thing took place within what must have been the longest four days ever recorded. The main character was not, as that publisher desired, the female – in fact she came a definite second; and the secondary characters were all having a better time than she was. In short, she was someone for whom everyone else acted.

So that quick edit and turn it round idea died a death, and a rewrite was required. There were some excellent parts, and they will remain; but it’s been a case of bringing the rest up to match.

In the intervening years I’ve honed my editor’s skills. I have learned to keep a calendar of the storyline, and to make sure that the plot contains everything it has to contain. That changes as it goes along – novel writing is never a static process, and characters will insist on going where I hadn’t thought they would, or planned that they should.

I’ve grown stale with the projectImage, and stopped for a breather – worth doing for the refreshed vision it can bring. I read the start of it again yesterday and thought, yes, this is good and should be completed.

Writing is about more than just putting down the words on paper. It’s about structure, and geography. It’s knowing the setting, seeing the place, putting the characters into that place and watching them move and interact. It’s remembering that two characters should not have similar names, and that a man who arrives in a carriage should not leave on a horse unless he has a very good reason to do so.

Occasionally it feels like trying to herd soup; but I’m getting there, and the greatest Regency romance novel ever written** will make it into the public domain.

My mistake, and it’s not an unusual one among writers, was in refusing to let anyone else read it before I sent it off. Writing is such a private affair, and handing a piece of work over to someone else and asking them to pick holes in it is like asking someone to stick pins in you. It’s painful, it’s embarrassing, and it doesn’t make any sense at all when the whole point is to get your work out there for hundreds, if not thousands (may as well be positive) of total strangers to read.

So my advice today is, hand the thing over and let someone see it through their own eyes. It may well hurt if they find fault, but that’s a lot better done before you publish it or submit it, and could save you a lot more grief.

(**by me, on a wet Friday, without my specs on.)


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About Lorraine Swoboda

Author of Mrs Calcott's Army. I write about the creation of a novel. It's a complete mystery, but I've done it. I also write about the basic building blocks of writing - grammar, punctuation, and those niggling things that you know don't sound quite right but you can't work out why. Writing is 20% inspiration, 40% perspiration, and 40% staring at the screen wondering what I pressed to make it do that.

4 responses to “The Holes in the Plot: or Every Writer Needs an Editor”

  1. Liz Young says :

    Lorraine – once again you’ve managed to put into perfect words my own thoughts. I wish you as much luck with your work of genius as I wish myself with mine.


  2. Patsy says :

    Honest feedback can be very useful. Just leaving the story for a while and looking at it again ourselves once the initial gloss has worn off can also help a lot.


  3. Jenny says :

    I always had a vision of the solitary author, working away in a room of her own. Largely through contact with other writers on the internet and listening to writers talk at literary festivals, it has slowly dawned on me that writing a novel, like most things in life, is a team effort. Can’t wait to read yours!


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