So You’ve Finished Your Novel. What Next?
This week on my blog I have special guest J.L. Gribble, author of Steel Victory and its brand new sequel, Steel Magic! J.L.’s going to talk about the revision process, something to keep in mind if you’re doing Camp NaNo this month, and will have a great big mess of words in a file by the end of the month.
Congratulations! You’ve finished a novel. It could be your first novel, or it could be your tenth. Either way, I’d like to share my revision process with you. This doesn’t mean my way is the best way. Just that I hope you get some ideas that work for you, no matter your level of experience.
Write “The End” after the final paragraph. This doesn’t mean it’ll make it into the final print of the book when published. But it feels really good.
Have a celebratory drink and/or snack! Wine, chocolate, potato chips—It’s up to you! You just completed something that very few people do, statistically. Acknowledge that you are a rock star. Call your best friend/spouse/parental unit/biggest supporter so they can cheer for you. Post a picture of that “The End” on social media so everyone else knows how awesome you are, too.
Put that sucker in a drawer (metaphorically speaking) for a minimum of 24 hours. Work on another writing project. Go for a walk. Play a video game. Visit the people you live with who may or may not have seen you for however long the final push of “I’m almost done!” took. Do absolutely anything else except think about the book.
Get back to work!
At this point, I do a complete read-through of the entire novel. This is my basic coherence check. Are the scenes in logical order? Do events in different timelines match up? If it’s noon when the characters get into a car, it shouldn’t be dusk when they get out if they only drove across town. Even though I’m a complete “plotter” who writes from a detailed outline, things may still jump out at me that I need to tweak because I changed a subplot later. Feel free to take extensive notes as you write, so that it’s easier to return to issues or check behind yourself. Was the hero wearing a coat in the previous scene? Did the villain have short hair or a braid?
This is also where I catch a lot of my more glaring grammatical errors, though it’s not my actual focus right now.
Once you’re happy with the major storytelling issues (plot, characterization, etc.), send it off to your beta reader(s)! This does not mean your mother. This doesn’t even mean another writer. This means someone who can read your work critically and not be afraid to point out the bad along with the good. Hopefully, this person is able to write notes in the margin that range from “This scene made me wonder who was cutting onions since I was getting emotional about your characters” to “This scene was cute, but total fluff. Cut it.” When you get these notes, address them the best way you see fit. Even if I don’t always take my beta reader’s suggestions, I always thing about the issue critically because they saw a reason to call it out.
Search and destroy. Over the course of my last few novels, I have put together a list of words that I search with using the “Find” function. Here are a few examples (my current list actually has nearly 100):
Fluff words that can usually be deleted: “very” and “that.”
Words where the surrounding language needs to be punched up instead: “ly” to search for adverbs, finding stronger words for “went” and “walked,” describing what the character is seeing whenever they “look” somewhere.
Bobble-head-isms: “nodded,” “shook,” “shrug,” etc. A great resource is The Emotion Thesaurus to find better ways for your characters to use body language.
Consistency issues: I do a search for “ward” to make sure that my toward, backward, forward, etc. are all in that form rather than with an “s” at the end. (Having the “s” at the end is fine, but the key is having them all be the same!)
Passive verbs to strengthen action: “was,” were,” and “been.”
Phrases that I know I personally overuse when I’m cranking words out: My characters really like to put their hands on the hilts of their swords and “materialize” next to people unexpectedly.
And finally, words and phrases specific to my world: “Mercenary Guild” is always capitalized, and Europe is actually “Europa.”
Squeeze your eyes shut as you hand over the credit card to get the full text printed out at your local copy shop. The last project I printed out came to $26. That’s like 6 whole lattes! But this step is important, because at this point, you’ve read your own words so many times that it’s easy to miss things. Changing up how you’re reading your text is important, and reading a physical page with pen in hand is different from staring at a computer screen.
This is the final critical read-through, where I look for grammatical errors and dropped or repeated words. It’s okay if you still find bigger things to fix at this point as your brain scans the text differently. Jot down notes for yourself in the margins and return to Step 4 for a bit before continuing on to…
Submit! It’s time for the bird to leave the nest for real. In some cases, this is the hardest part of the process, regardless of whether you’re querying agents with your first book or sending the latest in a series off to an editor you’ve worked with for years. Someone who is not you, or even your trusted beta reader, now has your baby in their hands.
This is usually where I have another glass of wine.
This is the revision process I have used to complete all of the books in my urban fantasy/alternate history “Steel Empires” series. Please check out book 2, Steel Magic, which is available today!
Funerals are usually the end of the story, not the beginning.
Newly graduated warrior-mages Toria Connor and Kane Nalamas find themselves the last remaining mages in the city when a mage school teacher mysteriously falls ill and dies. But taking over the school themselves isn’t in the cards. They’re set to become professional mercenaries—if they make it through the next 18 months as journeymen first.
The debate over whether to hunt mutated monsters in the Wasteland or take posh bodyguard jobs is put on hold when a city elder hires them to solve the mystery of the disappearing mages. Toria and Kane’s quest brings them to the British colonial city of New Angouleme, where their initial investigation reveals that the problem is even greater than they feared.
But when a friend is kidnapped, they’ll have to travel to the other side of the globe to save her, save themselves, and save magic itself.
By day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.
Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program.
She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jlgribblewriter), and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits).