25 March 2017

#Editing 3: Content Edit

Release date coming soon
Pilgrims of the Pool, Book 3 in the Torc of Moonlight trilogy, is finished. Except it’s not. 

Last week was spent on a Structural Edit. Some chapters were re-positioned, others were queried and marked for a future decision, but overall I’m happy with the balance. My notes – just over a page of A4 – were reviewed, line-editing changes I’d marked along the way were keyed-in, and a clean copy of the typescript printed. Beyond this stage, working with a typescript festooned with different coloured annotations soon becomes a recipe for disaster.

This week I’ve been concentrating on the Content Edit. What am I looking for?
  • Facts – yes I’m writing a novel, but facts are the bedrock of any fiction, no matter the genre, and these facts need to be correct. I am working with contemporary conservation, wind turbine and oil-shale hydraulic fracturing; a lab environment using a mass spectrometer and a chromatograph; true places; and a historical thread set around 1150. Can the Benedictine monks of Durham’s priory actually walk in the Chapel of the Nine Altars or was it still under construction? What was the church actually called at the time? What did they eat, when and where? How did they travel? And on it goes... Obviously much of this was either researched prior to the start of the novel, or on the hoof as it was written, but the context still needs to be weighed.
  • Seed, Mature & Harvest – information and artefacts the characters use within the conveying of the story need to be in place (seeding), and mentioned (maturing), before they can be used to the effect necessary (harvesting). If one character is going to slug another with a baseball bat, that bat had better be talked about or dusted long before it’s needed. The same goes for information imparted. Most pertinent detail is slipped on the page as a throwaway line so readers don’t gleefully jump all over it believing they can read the writer’s mind. Once, they’ll forgive; three times and they’ll seek another novel to read. Also, it is very rare that an item is seeded, matured and harvested within the same chapter or couple of chapters, for exactly the same reason. Each needs to be woven into the fabric of the novel so they over-arc one another.
  • Hooks & Bombshells – just as the opening of a novel needs a hook so as to engage the reader, throughout a novel hooks are used to pique interest, and conversely bombshells are end-of- sections or chapters written so the reader desires to know what happens next. These can be as overt as portrayed in a TV soap opera, but not all the time or they become laughably wearying. In a novel the use of a series of subliminal bombshells, each ratcheting up the tension by degrees, often works better. It depends on the genre.
  • Conflict – a chapter should not tread water. It matters little whether the conflict is external or internal, pin-prick small or devastatingly large, it needs to be there.
  • Pacing graph – no novel of any length can ignite on opening and keep soaring like a rocket; readers would be emotionally exhausted before they were halfway through. There has to be slower, perhaps more introspective, segments where both the character and the reader take stock. A check of the graph, be it mentally or physically plotted on a wall chart, ensures that variations are sown throughout the length of the novel, with the final quarter increasing in pace to the climax.
  • Character – consistency. This is something I broadly looked at during the Structural Edit. Now is the time to look at it in detail. One set of subsidiary characters were subsidiaries in Book 1 so I need to ensure they speak with the same syntax and haven’t developed an odd accent or extra children or talk about a dog that was never mentioned in Book 1. Also, the main character was alcohol-free in Book 2, yet in this typescript there is mention of “a pint” in a pub situation. So is he or isn’t he on the wagon? He also wears a ring that is pertinent to the story, yet it’s not mentioned between pp54-120. That’s a hellova gap. Likewise, the Benedictine monk starts with “prayer beads” which become “rosary beads” which are forgotten halfway through the book. Somehow I don’t think a medieval monk would forget their use.
  • Time/Continuity – the three story-threads move forwards, but not at the same pace. Now is the stage to ensure the days of the week/s are in sequence, particularly as certain chapters have been repositioned.
  • Anything else – this catch-all was used during the Structural Edit, and in truth it acts as a coarse filter for whatever edit follows. Picking up phrases or overlong sentence structure at this stage helps to clear the decks.
See you next week for my take on a Line Edit.

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See also:
Editing-1: What does editing actually mean?
Editing-2: The Structural Edit
Editing-3: The Content Edit
Editing-4: The Line Edit
Editing-5: Line Edit Update


  1. What an excellent post.

    I have A4 sheets of paper stuck to the wall above my desk, with timelines, dates, lists of commonly used words by characters (to make sure they don't all use the same slang, for instance!), even the ages and birthdays, etc. I'm constantly making notes of practical stuff like the alcohol-free chap you mentioned, and rosary/prayer beads. I don't use an editor and do it all myself, so it's particularly important that I get it all right, though my proofreader does point out the odd error (or says things like 'Cleary wouldn't say 'who are these people?', he'd say 'who are these bastards?''), and I have a test reader with a keen and critical eye!

    From a reader/reviewer's POV, I find that too many thrillers have too much action and not enough characterisation and 'downtime', as mentioned in your pacing section. And I'm currently reading a book in which one character's dialogue varies between social classes/upbringing. In my second draft of my current book, I realised that one of my main characters had changed personality between Book 2 and Book 3 (the WIP); it was right that he had become more quiet and ponderous, but he'd lost all his spark and dry asides.
    I went back and read all his chapters in Book 2 again, and thought myself back into his head.

    Incidentally, if you use hashtags on Twitter, like #writers, #amwriting, #writerslife, #wwwblogs (the last one on Wednesday, as it's Women Writers Wednesday, your posts will get more attention. They should!

    1. Many thanks for calling by, Terry, and adding in your experience. I do appreciate it.

      My desk faces a window overlooking roof-tops, the greenery of gardens, and a wide, wide sky - the great fictional beyond - so my working notes are in a messy pile beside me. Despite the clutter I find it easier to check than having it digitally hidden in a folder on my laptop.

      I'll use your suggestions for Twitter tags, especially the #wwwblogs.

  2. Ah, so many writers look out on the world... I prefer a blank wall and a closed door, no distractions! And I like to be able to look up and check things. I write in the corner of the living room, and that part of the wall is covered in blu tack. A good thing neither me or my husband care about stuff like that!!!

    1. Oh, I snaffled the smallest bedroom. I couldn't work in our lounge. Continuous interruptions!Blu-tack... better than sliced bread. Where would we be without it. A pin-board, probably.