Monday, 18 August 2014

A beginners experience of editing

Experiencing my first professional edit

 It’s funny. I was checking yesterday how many words of fanfiction I’ve written according to the various sites my on which my work appears, and I’m guessing it’s somewhere around 700,000 words. I started writing, mostly Torchwood fanfiction, in 2009 after the death of the popular character Ianto Jones. Now, when I look at the first story I wrote, which was one called Consequences, I cringe at many things, especially the punctuation, but I have to admit, that until I started writing my original stories, I never considered such things as point of view or show not tell. I wrote what I wanted to write. I wanted people to like my stories and many did. I made friends among the Torchwood community on such places as and I found a great group of people who encouraged me to continue, and I know I wrote some stories, both canon and au, that resonated with my readers. There are some I’m very proud to have written.

In 2011 I had an idea for an original novel. Naturally, as I’d been writing gay m/m romance in my fanfiction, I decided this was going to be my genre. I suppose my beta saying that I was rubbish at writing het sex may have had something to do with my choice. I only know it felt right for me. I set my story in Wales because I know the area, having been born there, and much of the fanfiction I’d written had been set there too. Also, one of my MCs was a rugby player and we Welsh are obsessed by the game. My other MC is a teacher because again that’s what I know, and he became a history teacher as I was for thirty years. And so I began writing Sporting Chance with no real idea what I was doing – I simply wrote before work, after work, during holidays and even at lunch time, if I managed twenty minutes without interruption. It took me nearly three years to finish. I remember the elation I felt when I wrote THE END. I’d written a story with 80,000 words.

I’d written in the third person, with most of the story from the point of view of either Dan or Iestyn, but other characters had opinions at times. I also, although I didn’t know it, slipped into omniscient point of view. I will admit to not knowing what this was until my editor pointed out when I’d done it. The first lesson I’ve learnt is very much about how to keep my writing so the point of view is clear. I read other stories to see how they do it, and I know from my current WIP that I’m learning to do this much more accurately.

Another thing I’ve learned is about active v passive voice, combined with show not tell. No more he blushed, now it’s heat spread across his cheeks and no more he felt tired, ill, fed up, scared. Felt is a no-no word, and I’ve learned more how to show these emotions. My editor gave me a few examples and I took it from there – I hope. Now, I look for the ‘was’ in my writing. I also look for ‘that’ and cull them where I can. I have lists of other words that should apparently be used as sparingly as possible, such as all, own, just, really and wonder. My characters often used to wonder or realise. I’ve also learned about repeating words too closely together and now have a whole host of alternatives for ‘look’ and ‘pull’.

Next discovery was that different publishers have different rules about punctuation and the sort of thing you can include. I have to admit punctuation and grammar have never been my strong points. I failed my English language ‘O’ level on my first attempt, and my first essay at university was thrown back at me; I was told to go away and learn how to write. I bought Roget’s Thesaurus, but I was lucky to be sharing a room with someone who did English language ‘A’ level, and I owe my roommate for teaching me how to use a semi-colon. Over thirty years on and she still reads and beta checks everything I write. Ironically, my publisher doesn’t use semi-colons. I’ve yet to find if this is the norm.

Lastly, the aspect of editing or revising I found the most difficult. It is rather intimidating that my publisher gives each story gets a heat and sexiness rating. I have no idea where my story will come of the publisher’s scale, but my editor very gently pointed out areas where I needed to add sexiness because this was, after all, supposed to be an erotic romance. I’m still not sure what this means. I know I’ve read some books which I find erotic, but writing these scenes can be like walking a tightrope. You have to make sure you don’t fall into the purely mechanical part A slots into part B, or the purple prose of a “throbbing love muscle”. At one point in the revision process, I was trying to imagine what I was writing about and suddenly realised moving my hands in that particular fashion might have got me some strange looks. Maybe it’s a good excuse to ask “can I touch you in this way and you tell me how it feels to you”. Obviously, don’t do this to passing strangers on the high street! I hope in the end that these scenes were ‘improved’. I know one morning I had to rush downstairs to get the perfect sentence I’d written at three in the morning as part of my MCs first kiss down on paper. I also know I could have kept tinkering with one word here or there for ever. I groaned much like Dan or Iestyn at times – well perhaps not exactly in the same way! Oh dear, I used an exclamation mark – not supposed to use them either.

Overall, my first professional edit has been exhausting, but worthwhile. I did thirty six hours of work, over four days, sat in front of my computer, as well as numerous other minutes and hours when I was thinking about how I could improve certain passages. I think years of marking essays and pointing out where my students could improve their work has helped. I know I will be a better writer, and I also know my next editor will hopefully feel the benefit.

Writing is a learning curve, a steep one. You can learn to write well, but you do need a story to tell. I suggest buying a few books about writing. Hopefully Sporting Chance is a story people will enjoy reading as much as I loved creating all the characters. At least now, it’s certainly a better story than the one I finished writing over a year ago.

Sporting Chance by Alexa Milne and published by totally Bound will be available as follows

Pre-orders:  29th September 2014
Early download: 10th October 2014
General release: 7th November 2014

Amazon UK -

Amazon US -


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