Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Continuing Education: A look at Continuity Editing

Not just another blog about editing!


Kari Donald, A4A Member


There’s a reason “edit” is a four-letter word. For some authors, it’s the least exciting part of the writing process, but one of the most important steps for improving your manuscript. Editing is so essential there are numerous blogs providing helpful hints about the different types, such as structural, developmental, line, copy, and of course, proofreading. For this, however, let’s look at one very specific part of editing: the continuity edit. 


What is continuity editing?

Continuity is often grouped in with copy-editing. However, I personally think every work can benefit from an editing pass dedicated to looking only for continuity issues. This edit is one where you’re looking at the details in your story and making sure they make sense in the real world. Filmmakers do something similar where they pay people to sit on set and do nothing but observe scene set-ups, watching for things like putting a glass of wine in a different place during a retake, seating characters in the same chairs after a break, and other similar details. Continuity edits on your manuscript are very similar: you’re checking for misplaced, out of order, or other anachronisms and inconsistencies. 

Why is continuity editing so important?

As with any edit, a continuity edit helps to remove potential sources of distraction and make the story the best it can be. It goes beyond basic writing mechanics and structure. We want the reader to stay immersed in your narrative and not wonder why someone that sat down next to the fireplace is suddenly giving an answer from their position standing next to the window. A continuity check also helps maintain the credibility of your story. Try to tell me your character recently visited Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell in Independence Hall and I will cry “Shenanigans!” The Liberty Bell hasn’t been in Independence Hall since 2003. (Or 1976 if you count the time spent in a pavilion next to Independence Hall; I’m all about accuracy; just ask any author whose book I have edited.) The last thing we want to have happen is your book ending up on the literary equivalent of Cinema Sins.

But I carefully planned my book; there shouldn’t be continuity issues

It doesn’t matter if you are a plotter or a pantser. I have done continuity reads on manuscripts from both styles of writing (and those in between), and there is no difference when it comes to the number or types of errors that I find. In my experience, the biggest influencer on continuity issues is previous edits. The developmental edit can be brutal to even the best-laid plans. Adding, deleting, or changing scenes and events in your story can cause problems like eating supper before breakfast, having Monday follow Wednesday, or watching the sun set twice at the end of the day (and no, your world is not Tatooine). You might think it was just a small change, but it can cause a ripple effect throughout the rest of your book. The bottom line: you need to check your book for continuity issues at least once after you’re done with major edits.

I’ve gone through my book several times and I don’t see any continuity problems.

That’s great! But as the author, you’re very close to your story and you know it inside and out. I’m certain that if you were to rewrite one of Gordon Ramsay’s recipes so that it was missing some ingredients or steps, give it to Gordon, and then tell him to execute the recipe you gave him, he would still make the dish the same way he always has (and not just because he would “bloody well do it the right way”). He’s so familiar with the recipe that his brain just doesn’t notice the missing or different parts of the written recipe. When checking your book for continuity, your brain will do the same thing. Since you know what’s supposed to happen, you can miss holes, incorrect details or conflicting events. Because of this, try to find fresh eyes, someone that hasn’t read your manuscript yet, to do your continuity edit. Your person of choice should be someone that is very logical and detail-oriented. However, that doesn’t mean that you are off the hook for trying to look for them yourself, especially during revisions and edits.

Okay, so what should I look for during a continuity edit?

Glad you asked! There are a plethora of factors to look for when checking a manuscript for continuity. Since it would be impossible to cover them all in a single blog (I tried), we’re going to present a series of blogs dedicated to continuity. Each one will do a deep dive on a particular topic as well as provide hints, tips, and resources to help find and resolve continuity issues. So check back for these in-depth continuity topics, and happy writing!



Join us next week for an interview with A4A author Karen Heenan, and in two weeks for our next continuity blog on location.



 


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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Editing: Keeping Track of Characters

Wait, didn’t she have blue eyes?

Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing

I wanted to keep this for the last post because this is a little bit different—it’s more preemptive. Keeping track of your characters will help you edit when it comes down to it, yes, but it will also help you from making the mistakes in the first place. 

The characters in general

Thanks to our illustrious founder B. C. Marine, I have an information tracker for all of my characters. There is so much information in there that it can sometimes be a little overwhelming, but it’s been invaluable for making sure that I don’t forget names of minor characters or physical features of some of the more frequent characters. 

So what should you keep track of in this section?

Your columns

A lot of times this is information that you as the author will feel very obvious and unnecessary to write down, but let me tell you, you’ll be happy you did if you ever take a sabbatical from your WIP to start another one, or because life gets hectic. And right now, life is very easy to become hectic thanks to the pandemic. So, your very basics should at least be:

  • Names—first, last, and nickname

  • Birthplace—either their country of origin or city of origin, or both

  • Description—this will be their relation to the protagonist(s)

For me, I added a few extra bits of information because I’m keeping track of characters across a series of six books and otherwise, I might forget when the characters appear. These are the extras that I need a little help remembering sometimes:

  • Titles—this is both for the military titles and noble titles, and when they change in the series

  • Books in which they first appear

Physical appearance

My absolute favorite example to give of why it’s important to keep track of physical features both for yourself—and to hopefully share with your editors or publishers to ensure a cohesive picture—and your readers is from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series with Dell Publishing. Her main character Claire (Beauchamp Randall) Fraser is very well reported to have whiskey-colored eyes (light brown), but in one of the books her eye color was definitely not the correct one. With this information readily at your fingertips, it will be easier to avoid small mistakes like that. 

I will note, very strongly, that everyone makes mistakes, whether you're self published, published with a small press, or a large publishing company, and these mistakes should not be villainized. Authors and editors alike are human, and there’s only so much you can catch. 

Your columns

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m bad at writing character descriptions and leave them as scant as I can get away with. Unfortunately, you need to know the basics of what your characters look like aside from, “She’s pretty and has brown hair.” So what do you need to look for? Here is what I’ve got to help me keep track of my characters physical appearance:

  • Skin

  • Hair color, texture, and style

  • Eye color

  • Mouth

  • Nose

  • Height

  • Build

  • Distinguishing features

  • Corresponding actor—for those of you who are like me, you might need some visual aids to help you fill out your information or visualize facial expressions on a similar face

Personality Traits

This, I find, is one of the hardest to nail down as an author because a lot of times I want to keep track of characters in “good” and “bad” columns, but that’s just not how the world works in real life, and it’s now how your world should work in your books. Every person has positive and negative traits, and sometimes the positive traits that your characters have are actually negative because of their motivations. These are all the things that make well-rounded characters to make a richer world for your readers. 

Positive

The positive traits are almost always the easiest to come up with because we like to see the good in people. We’re breaking this down into a couple of categories. For your positive traits, you want to look at four things: moral, achievement, interactive, and identity. You might be looking at that list and say, “What in the heck does that mean?” Don’t worry, I’ll give a brief description of each. 

Moral is what influences the mortality of the character, like their loyalty and honesty. Achievement is the characteristic(s) that helps the characters reach their goals, like their adventurous nature, boldness, or curiosity. Interactive is how your characters interact with the other characters in the book, like being flirtatious or courteous. And finally, identity is how the characters truly identify with themselves, like being passionate about things or imaginative.

Negative

For the negative, there’s a little bit less to examine. You want to look at the character’s core flaws and their lesser flaws. There’s also the motivation behind the character’s actions, and you can tie that into both the positive and the negative traits, but I want to tie it mostly into the negative traits because often times we have more motivation for our negative traits than our positive ones, and sometimes our positive traits have negative motivations...which in turn makes them more negative than positive. So what would your core flaw and lesser flaws look like?

Your core flaw is the heart of the matter that will help influence your lesser flaws, like being manipulative and greedy. With these flaws, your lesser flaws would slide into being controlling and inflexible. Things are going to be the way that character wants, no matter what they have to do to get it. 

Now, this is where I think tying the motivations in the negative trait is a lot more useful to understanding the character compared to the positive traits. Let’s take the negative traits listed above and explore some internal and external motivations for why your character is the way they are. Greedy and manipulative could stem from growing up in poverty and wanting to better themselves by any means necessary, such as manipulating others and hoarding wealth so as not to lose it.


If all this sounds great, you can download a blank copy here.


Join us in two weeks when we start a series on another branch of editing: Continuity. 


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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Editing: Cutting the Fat

Snip, snip, snip.

Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing

Ironically, I already cut the fat from this blog series. Originally instead of the three posts, there were going to be four, one of which covered unnecessary words and phrases. You’ll notice that it’s one of the sections in this blog post. Cutting the fat doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get rid of everything, but that you must trim it down to be more purposeful.

Kill Your Darlings

In our Misused Writing Advice series last year, we had a post about this you can read here. As you’ll read in the post, killing your darlings isn’t about killing off your characters. (Though you might need to do that too.) These are the scenes or large sections that don’t add to the plot or character development, no matter how much fun you had writing them. They will weigh down your novel and make it more difficult for your reader to get through your work. 

One really good example of this is getting attached to a chapter in another character’s POV that could be easily summarized in a paragraph. Let’s call these Character A and Character B. Character A has the main POV through the book, but Character B has a chapter where they witness some important information happening. It’s great that we have the information, but because the reader and Character A only need that bit of info to move the plot forward, we don’t need to have a 3,000 to 4,000 word chapter to give a paragraph’s worth of retelling.

Like in the dialogue post, each scene and bit of information must have a point. It absolutely must push the plot forward toward the conclusion of the book or the series. There might be some bits that you can recycle that would be better in smaller chunks or even in another book, and please, by all means, do it. 

Just don’t be afraid to take out the knife and slice away because you’re too attached to a scene. 

Get Rid of the Clone Army

No one likes killing characters, except maybe George R. R. Martin because he subsists on his readers’ tears. In this section, however, I’m not talking about killing off characters that drive the plot forward or give your protagonist a driving point, motivation, or affects their character arc. I’m talking about the characters, or the Clone Army, that just in general don’t need to be there because they’re redundant, don’t drive the plot forward, or really make any difference whatsoever to your protagonist, or even antagonist. 

Your first thought might be going to the “sexy lamp test” that was proposed by comic book writer and editor Kelly Sue DeConnick, but those characters are better served by developing their characters rather than taking them out. If you haven’t heard of this test, Sexy Lamps are usually female characters who do nothing to affect the story by their actions and could be replaced by an inanimate object with changing the plot.

A great example of this is right in one of our founder’s own works. In book two, The Allurist’s Son by B. C. Marine, she combined the roles of the captain of the guard and the prison warden into a single character because one was redundant and didn’t need to be there when the second character could do the job of both without feeling the loss of either one. 

Another example is when you’ve got a character that shows up only for a scene or two that doesn’t play a role in later books in your series disseminating information but there’s a way for an established character that does affect the plot to give this information instead, get rid of the dead weight.

Unnecessary words

Remember that recycling I talked about in the first section? Well, here’s a great example. I’m recycling an entire blog post into here. 

Let’s talk a little bit about unnecessary words: they shouldn't be there unless they’re in dialogue and it’s the way your character speaks. There are plenty of us out there that don’t speak with the eloquence most of us strive for.

There are two categories that I think all authors need to look at in their edits. The first is looking at a sentence and seeing if you can say the same thing with fewer words while still conveying the same meaning. If you can, cut those words. The second is using the find function and getting rid of words like: 

  • That

  • Just

  • Like

  • Probably

  • Most likely

  • Literally

  • And your hedging verbs that don’t need to be there for anything other than clarity.

Redundancies

Redundancies are one of the first things that I look for when I get a new manuscript from our authors to nip in the bud. These are things that we all put into our manuscripts without thinking, but once you review them, they’re implied. Here are a couple of examples of phrases I take out to make things more succinct and take out the implied portions. 

He shrugged his shoulders. → He shrugged.

He nodded in agreement. → He nodded. 

He stood up. → He stood.

He sat down. → He sat. 

All of these can also be combined with whatever sentence is coming next.  For example:

Shrugging, he went into the next room. 


Join us in two weeks for the final blog in this mini-series where I talk about keeping track of your characters. 


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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Editing: Cleaning Up Dialogue

Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing

Ahh, the dreaded dialogue. I wanted to start with editing your dialogue because it’s simultaneously the easiest and the hardest thing to do. A lot of us struggle writing dialogue in the first place, and now we’ve got to edit to make it better? Gross. 

You don’t need every dialogue tag

Let’s start with the easiest part of cleaning up your dialogue, and that’s with the tags. 

What purpose do tags serve, you ask? Well, their most important purpose is to easily let the reader know who is speaking. It also lets the reader know how the character is speaking—but these aren’t always necessary. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean and how to clean them up.

“I can’t stay here anymore!” Alan yelled. “I can’t take it—I’m leaving.”

Now we know who’s talking in here, but Alan yelling is implied by the fact there’s an exclamation point. You’re better served by either taking out the dialogue tag altogether or using an action beat instead.

“I can’t stay here anymore!” Alan grabbed whatever he could and threw it into the open suitcase. “I can’t take it—I’m leaving.”

It’s more effective for setting the tone of the scene and how frustrated Alan is while he’s planning on leaving. Now let me give you a less clear example of where you can either keep or change the tag: 

“What do you mean you’re leaving?” Charlotte asked quietly, her lip quivering. 

If we take out the qualifier of asked, the dialogue tag becomes redundant and we don’t need it. But, with that qualifier, it’s telling us the intonation in which she asks, and becomes a little more important. However, I’m still a believer that it can always be improved:

Charlotte’s lip quivered. “What do you mean you’re leaving?” 

This cuts the unnecessary dialogue tag while still, to me, implying that she’s saying something quietly because she’s emotionally distressed. And don’t be afraid to move your action beat or tags around to make your dialogue more impactful!

Tone

Tone is one of the harder ones to fix, because it’s often a more pervasive problem throughout an author’s manuscript. Your characters need to have their own developed voices so that they become distinguishable from each other, and if there’s a narrator, the narrator’s voice. This is not only important for the readers, but the author to develop story arcs and series arcs for the characters.

My suggestion for keeping track of this is to create a character sheet with basic information about their personality and character arcs planned throughout the book or series so you can easily reference what kind of character they are.

Context matters

The context in which your characters speak to each other really matters. If you have a mother and daughter talking to each other, they might be a little more blunt and gossipy as compared to coworkers or people they’re trying to flirt with. Switching back and forth between the two might make it feel like there are some character discrepancies, so looking at the context in which things are said will help you determine if you’ve created a problem you need to edit away.

What’s the point?

Every piece of dialogue needs to have a point. While people will talk to fill up the space, your characters shouldn’t. Every bit of their dialogue should serve a purpose to move the plot and their character development forward. 

The biggest test of whether or not you’ve written your dialogue with purpose is if you can remove an entire scene of dialogue, or a sentence here and there, and the plot will remain the same. 

Keepin’ it Real

The way that we speak in real life is not the way that our characters talk in books—and for good reason. Truly realistic dialogue is going to sound inane and not going to interest your reader into “listening” to a conversation they could hear on the street or in their own living room. Like mentioned in the previous section, your dialogue must have a point that moves the plot forward. 

So when you’re going through your edits, take a close look at your dialogue and if your characters are stumbling over their words without purpose (like they’re naturally shy speakers and can’t get through a few sentences without saying um or pauses), take it out or change it to have purpose. 


Join us in two weeks for our next post in this series where I talk about cutting the fat.


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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Editing: Overview

A Necessary Evil

Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing

Editing. It’s the bane of every author’s existence—aside from the inability to put perfect words to paper the first time. We’ve previously talked about editing before in a nonserial post, but we wanted to talk a little bit more about the more specific parts of editing. Over the next three posts, we’ll talk about some of the biggest parts of your editing passes. 

After each post goes out, we’ll update this post with links for easy navigation.

Cleaning Up Dialogue

I wanted to start with editing your dialogue because it’s simultaneously the easiest and the hardest thing to do. A lot of us struggle writing dialogue in the first place, and now we’ve got to edit to make it better? Gross. In this post I’ll talk about how you don’t need to use dialogue tags all the time and give several examples of how you can use action beats instead, add tone for your characters that make them unique, contexts in which your characters might feel like they’re out of character when they’re not, and purposeful dialogue. 

Cutting the Fat

Ironically, I already cut the fat from this blog series. Originally instead of the three posts, there were going to be four, one of which covered unnecessary words and phrases. In this post, I really practice what I preach, which I think is important if we’re going to be doling out guides for public consumption. Cutting the fat doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get rid of everything, but trimming it down to be more purposeful. In this post I talk about killing your darlings—and what that really means—and when you can combine characters to avoid being redundant, and getting rid of unnecessary words and phrases that are implied by the context or statement in general.

Keeping Track of Characters

I wanted to keep this for the last post because this is a little bit different—it’s more preemptive. Keeping track of your characters will help you edit when it comes down to it, yes, but it will also help you from making the mistakes in the first place. In this post I’ll talk about your characters in general, like where they come from, their physical appearance, and personality traits. It might seem like boring and obvious information when you get down into the nitty gritty of everything, but this will be an invaluable resource for authors and editors alike to keep the mistakes as few as possible. 


Join us in two weeks for our first post in this mini series where I talk about cleaning up your dialogue.


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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Another Year in Review

What a Year It’s Been

This is going to be our second installment of us looking back on our year. If you want to read the first, you can find it here. We want to keep this tradition going for every year we’re a company, because we believe it's important to look back on what we’ve accomplished and what we could do better in the following year. 

This year has been hard

First and foremost, we can’t talk about the year without addressing one important thing: it’s been extra hard with a world-wide pandemic going on. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to still have a healthy business while people have been cutting back on their spending habits; we know others have not been as lucky. This pandemic has impacted everyone from the top to the bottom—even one of our founders and her family suffered from a case of COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic. We do genuinely hope that, for those that are still buying our books, we’ve brought a little joy in their lives during an incredibly stressful and scary time.

Some hard decisions

As we talked about last year, publishing is hard. It’s still hard, and with the turmoil and stress of the year, we've decided that we want to funnel our time and attention into fewer books, allowing us as a company to take the time needed to fully develop each book. To that end, we only published eight books this year, and plan on publishing six books per year going forward.

Our Authors

One of the reasons that we’ve managed to stay successful this year is our wonderful authors. Without them, we’d be nothing. That might sound dramatic, but it’s the truth. We have some of the most understanding and caring authors working with us. We couldn’t be more thankful for the ones that have who keep wanting to come back to us year after year. 

Last year, we talked about our very first author who took a chance on us. This year we want to talk about the author that has the most books planned with us: Lisa Borne Graves. She currently has two series running with us, and a third one planned after another finishes.

Lisa Borne Graves is a YA author, English Lecturer, wife, and supermom of one wild child. Originally from the Philadelphia area, she relocated to the Deep South and found her true place of inspiration. Her love for all literature, led her to branch out from the academic arena to spin her own tales. Lisa has a voracious appetite for books, British television, and pizza. Her inability to sit still makes her enjoy life to its fullest, and she can be found at the beach, pool, on some crazy adventure.

We would highly recommend following her on Facebook or Twitter (or both).

Our Books

Our publishing schedule has booked up far quicker than we ever expected, to the point that we don’t know when we can open back up our submissions to new authors again. We can’t wait for everyone to read the books we have out from the previous year, but this year as well. We’ve really had a great bunch of books come out in the romance and fantasy genres. 

As with our author section, we want to feature Lisa Borne Graves with one of her books that came out this year: Quiver, the first book in Lisa’s Immortal Transcripts series.



What would you do if you could live forever? Could you hide it from the one you truly loved, especially if her life depended on it?

Thanks to his dysfunctional Olympian family, Archer Ambrose finds out firsthand how difficult this can be. He never falls in love but bestows it on others—until he meets Callie.

When Callie Syches moves to the Upper East Side to prepare for her father’s impending death, she doesn’t expect to meet the boy of her dreams. She also never believed her father’s harebrained theory about myths, but her uncanny ability to “see” uncovers godly secrets Callie can hardly fathom.

With an immortal family demanding absolute obedience, how far will Archer go to protect his love from the storm the gods will unleash upon them?

In this reinvention of Cupid and Psyche, experience an electrifying series where familial and romantic bonds are at war, and knowledge could mean the end of everything…or a new beginning.

Our Blog

Last year our blog didn’t get any attention in our review post—there was a reason for that. We were still developing our blog and figuring out whether it was worth keeping up the effort. 

Well, I’ll tell you, it has been. It’s the perfect opportunity to show that yes, we do know what we’re about. We’ve been able to pass on a lot of our knowledge since we started writing our blogs, and we’ve learned even more while researching for some of them. As much as we’re enjoying writing our blogs, we’ve also decided to decrease the number we’re putting out each year to make sure that the quality is as good as possible.

Series from the last year

We like to try to do a couple of series per year where we cover a lot of subjects to help the Writing Community no matter what stage they are in in their publishing journey. 

Misused Advice—in this series we explore advice that’s great at its core, but has evolved over the year to be absolute and seemingly inviolable advice that’s followed by writers and instructors alike. We wanted to rock the boat and say some of these rules you don’t have to follow simply because most people think you have to.

New Authors—in this series, we started back at the basics for authors new to writing and the writing community. We cover the seven biggest things you need to know and develop in your work to really make it successful: plot, characters, dialogue, setting, world building, themes, and conflict.

Plot Archetypes—in this series, we talked about the seven basic plot archetypes in any story. We wanted to have another series this year that really focused on the building blocks of writing for our newer writers. We often quote the wise words of Richard Bach, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit,” because we want to encourage every amature not to quit. And we think sharing the building blocks of the craft will help. 

Favorite from this year

There are a couple of blog posts that I’ve really enjoyed writing, but my absolute favorite from this year was one I wrote with cofounder B. C. Marine: I’m Feeling Conflicted from our New Authors series. In this blog, we wanted not only to talk about conflict, but bring it off the page by having conflict between the two of us. 

We might be arguing in the blog post, but I can assure you, it’s the most fun I think either of us has had writing a blog. We sat in a Google meet giggling like children the entire time. 

Final Thoughts

This year, like last, was hard. It’s hard to be in a job that has endless hours, sometimes little thanks, and a lot of the time more frustrating than one might expect. 

But would we choose another profession? No. 

No matter how hard it gets, there’s no better feeling than helping an author achieve their dreams of going from unpublished to published. There’s a unique joy in being the one to do that, and it’s the joy we hold on to tightly when the going gets tough. 


Join us next year when we start a new series on editing.


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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Misused Writing Advice: There Is a Correct Way to Write

Plotting vs. Pantsing

B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing and Lisa Borne Graves, A4A Author

To plot or to pants, that Is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler for the writer to plan out every scene in outrageous detail, or to find inspiration in the sea of ideas and kinda just wing it?

Anyone who’s spent time in the online writing community or browsed the writing resources at their local bookstore has probably noticed that there’s no shortage of books and systems that proclaim to be the perfect method to write fiction. The vast majority of them can be divided into two categories that you’ve likely heard before: plotting and pantsing.

To illustrate the differences, I’ve asked one of our authors to join me in describing our methods. Like me, Lisa Borne Graves writes speculative romance; we share many themes and style choices, and our fantasy trilogies are being released almost side-by-side, but our methods of getting our stories on the page are wildly different—to a point.

Getting Started
Plotter (B. C. Marine)

I plan everything before I write a word in my manuscript. I know the ending and sketch out most of the major plot points that will get me there, sometimes writing a paragraph or two of specific details I want to include. I make a map of the setting so I can visualize it as I write and set up spreadsheets with character descriptions, relationships, and other details that I need for continuity. If that sounds like a ton of prep work, that’s because it is! Depending on the length and complexity of the story (and how many of my other stories it has to maintain ties with), it can take up to a few months to get this all down. 

Pantser (Lisa Borne Graves)

I get inspired by something. Whether it be an image, a concept in a movie, book, real life, etc., something strikes a chord in me and sets off my imagination, aka, my “evil muse.” Scenes unfold, and I rush to write them down. I know nothing yet, except my main genre basics: romance has loose rules I will follow. I don’t know my sub genres or characters or their conflicts.

Drafting
Plotter

It usually takes me at least three or four months to get a novel down. Inspiration may not strike when I have time to write, but I borrow the inspiration I had during my preparation phase and tap into that. I write in order and build from one scene to the next, using my outline as a map.

However, much like an actual roadmap, I sometimes find that I need to take small detours here and there to get me where I want to go. Maybe my characters have developed more feelings for each other than I had originally intended, or maybe they’re hesitant to take a necessary step. In either case, I’ll stop and re-evaluate my outline to accelerate or decelerate relevant plot points before moving on.

Pantser

I often enter a phase of obsessive, or perhaps possessed by the muse, writing. At times, my husband teasingly comments my keyboard is smoking for how fast I type. I’m simply transcribing the scenes my imagination plays—much like a movie—into words. This takes me a few weeks to a max of two months if work and life are hectic.

The strangest part of letting the muse lead is she doesn’t like to go in order. I must go where I am inspired. The recent trend seems to be for me to start with the inciting incident—boy meets girl—and then I discover who they are. Sometimes conflict comes next, sometimes the climax and resolution. Exposition is usually added somewhere in the middle to end of my process. I jump around creating scenes until I feel spent. The story is done. 

I use these terms to explain my process to others, but never do I think, “I’m writing exposition right here.” I’m completely freewriting with wild abandon. 

Editing
Plotter

Up until this point in the process, I’ve been frustratingly slow. Just write the dang thing already! But in this editing stage, I’m lightning fast. The time it takes me to respond to both rounds of suggestions from my editor totals less than a week. Granted, it ends up being longer than that to process as I have to wait on my work to go through the queue, but it doesn’t sit in my hands for long at all. I’ve been known to turn my work around in a matter of hours for my second round of edits.

The truth is, I’ve done a ton of editing while outlining and writing. Scenes and subplots got scrapped or changed before I even put them in the manuscript. This doesn’t mean I can skip editing or am free from continuity errors, but having a cleaner manuscript from the start makes this stage easier.

Pantser

Editing already? Wait, wait. I’m not ready. After the first draft is done, I let it “marinate.” That means after my month of intense writing, I move onto something else for a few weeks to reset my brain. 

When I come back, I revise, and during that process, I’m taking the pieces I’ve strung together and smoothing them out, while checking that my plot is sound. Normally, it is pretty solid and shipshape, but I’m enhancing what is there by adding about 10-15K words in the form of descriptions and narrative voice. While I’m doing all this, I critique my work with notes—my own worst critic. This round takes a few weeks.

Then I pass a round or two of line edits and fix the notes I’ve made. Then I submit. The publishers give me a couple rounds of edits, but they don’t run off screaming, so I must be doing something right.

Altogether, the first words written up to the submission is a three to four month process for me, not counting the many breaks from writing that life throws. During these breaks, mental work is going on. I process and reprocess, revise and critique my work, write and rewrite. These mental exercises make this revision and editing process quicker and smoother.

The General Process
Plotter

Believe it or not, the single draft I get down is the one that goes to my editor. Before you gasp in horror, there is a difference between a first draft and a rough draft. Because I edit as I write (sometimes rewriting a single sentence four or five times before moving on), what is technically my first draft is by no means something rough that I threw down on paper; it’s closer to what a pantser’s manuscript looks like a few drafts in.

Pantser

I would say my fourth “draft” is what is submitted, but I feel more like they are two layers—draft and revision—that have been edited twice for everything from word choice and grammar to bigger things like characters arcs, narrative voice, and plot. Although many say first drafts can be hot messes, mine are more like a great tapestry riddled with holes that need mending. No matter how carefully I plan that tapestry pattern, it would not work out the way it was intended. Instead, I must go with the flow of where imagination takes me and then examine the pattern I have made and tweak the stitches for aesthetic beauty.

Conclusion

By the time you get to formatting and proofreading, both the pantsed and plotted manuscripts look the same. If we don’t tell you whether Marine and Graves are the plotter or the pantser, could you guess which is which? Unless you comb through our blogs or social media responses for where we’ve stated our preferences, we doubt it.

Both author types ultimately go through the same stages of the writing process. The difference is whether we spend more time at the beginning or end to get our ducks in a row.

Another thing to note is the false dichotomy of plotting and pantsing. Neither of us stays strictly within our chosen method 100% of the time. Sometimes a plotter has to be flexible or a pantser needs to stick to a planned element. The two methods are better described as a spectrum, and authors may find themselves anywhere on it, even directly in the middle. And the best part about that spectrum? It’s level; no part of it is above any other.

You can find romances by Lisa Borne Graves and B. C. Marine here.

Next week we’ll be taking a break for Christmas, and in two weeks, we’ll conclude 2020 with a review post of the year. 


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