Thursday, February 19, 2015


IT HAS BEEN SOME TIME since I last posted. I've been nose deep into the final edits for The Tattooed Queen, the third and last book of my Tattooed Witch trilogy. Months ago, I had been under the impression that I had until April or May to finish the manuscript and turn it over to Lorina Stephens, my publisher at Five Rivers Publishing. Not so. The deadline is March 1st. And yes, I will make it, just. I finished the first draft at the end of January, and I've had all of February to whip the manuscript into shape. I would have liked a bit longer to let it 'cook', but I think the book is fine. If it needs more tweaking, Lorina will tell me.

That said, I thought I'd do a two-part post on the kinds of edits I go through when I'm wrapping up a novel. I'm sure any of you who write novels also go through much the same process. The following points are mostly what second draft editing is all about, because that's where the tightening mostly occurs. I wrapped up the first draft of The Tattooed Queen at 130,111 words. Over the past three weeks, I've trimmed out about 10,000 words, which is about right. As well as tightening the prose, I've considered flow, variety, and nuance. Each of these things is important to the final product.


1). Dialogue tags: I tend to replace 'he said' or 'she replied' etc., with a sentence showing the speaker doing something, making a facial expression, or using body language to convey how they are feeling about what is going on. Variety is important, so I'll still fall back on 'he said' etc., where it sounds better, but condensing the dialogue helps with the flow.

2). Simplify: I tend to overwrite in the first draft, so in the second draft, I simplify. For example: "She caught his right hand with her left one," becomes "She caught his hand." Or "She continued to eye him balefully," becomes "She eyed him balefully."

3). Exposition: I trim out most of it. In the first draft, it may seem important, but by the time it's done, it probably isn't. Any sentence, even any phrase that tends to 'explain', is expository. Some of it may be necessary in the description of a setting, for example. Whenever there's a sense of the writer (narrator) sticking her nose in to tell the reader something, the exposition is probably overdone. The bottom line is - don't overdo it. Treat your readers as if they are intelligent people, and trust they will figure things out. You don't need to explain everything.

4). Redundancy: In The Tattooed Seer, I took out a 10,000 word section that no one will ever see. I wasn't happy with it. The scenes were kind of interesting, but they weren't relevant to what I wanted the book to accomplish, and they headed into directions I didn't want to go (strange, how that happens sometimes, yes?) In The Tattooed Queen , there were only a few paragraphs I thought were redundant. Everything in the plot should either move things along, reflect character or motivation. This is especially pertinent in dialogue. (What I deleted from The Tattooed Queen was extraneous 'chatter'. It accomplished nothing.) Every word, every phrase, every bit of dialogue, and every scene in a book needs to be there for a good reason.

All of us have our bad habits. In first drafts, I tend to describe things twice. If I come across a sentence where I've used the conjunction 'and' in describing a character, behavior, or whatever, I trim by choosing only one of the descriptors. Time phrases are also slice and diced. Phrases like 'At that moment' can usually be cut. For example, "At that moment, the door burst open,' reads better as "The door burst open." It's cleaner and more direct. (You see? I could have trimmed that and said, 'It's more direct.' )

Next post, I'll talk about flow, variety, and nuance.

- Susan.


  1. I try not to use adverbs like "balefully," "plaintively," etc.; I try to show what a baleful look is like. Too much adverbitis leads inevitably to "Tom Swifties" in my opinion. But hey, maybe that's just me. :)

  2. I use adverbs and qualifiers (like mostly, very) but sparingly. You're right about overuse, though. The writing should never get in the way of the story. Less is more. It's also a matter of a writer's style. Thanks for your comment, Steve.