As I mentioned last week, though I haven’t been blogging and haven’t been writing as much as I want to, I have managed to edit a few chapters of Oil and Boiling Water. I sent that novel out on query a couple of years ago and got some feedback from agents, several of which didn’t send a form rejection. The novel ended up on standby while I worked my way through my burnout from my old job and then flew my way to Germany.
Because I truly believe in this story, I figured that I could ease my way back into writing by doing a new pass of edits on the whole thing. It helps that the story sat for a while. Before I set out on my edits, I made a list of my goals. At first, I focused on the feedback I had received: simplify the voice, clarify the opening, age it up (some people thought it was YA and that’s not the story I want to tell).
I read and tweaked, pulling details together into more visible elements, straining relationship a bit more, and cutting down some of the overly lighthearted moments. These tweaks, though rather minor in the grand scheme of things, messed up the progression of the relationships between my characters a little bit. I decided to dig into this a bit more and track the ups and downs of relationships in an Excel table.
Why stop there?
The table grew quickly to help me satisfy additional objectives I added to this pass of edits: check the rhythm of action and drama, make sure the key elements of the story show up regularly in chapters, validate that the longer chapters deserve to be this long, etc.
This is what it looks like now for chapter 1 to 10.
The colored chapters numbers flag the length. Elements that evolve in the story get a variety of numerical values, while tertiary characters/key plot points get nothing if they are not mentioned in a chapter, a 5 if they are briefly and a 10 if they play a significant role in that chapter. I should probably at least mention the Scholars (my main antagonists) in chapter 5 or 6 because they currently disappear for seven chapters after their first apparition.
Then, that table turned into a series of graphs.
Chapters 12, 21 and 24 are clearly a problem; no drama or action. And to top it off, 12 and 24 are some of my longest chapters. My midpoint does what it should: high action, short breather, high action. There should be high drama close after that and that’s not happening.
These tools have allowed me to paint a clearer picture of what my edits need to accomplish and I’m confident I can fix these issues with rather small changes. The elements of potential drama and action (for example) are in there, but they don’t shine so I’ll point a follow spot on them. ;)
In case you’re curious, here’s the new first 500 words of Oil and Boiling Water. You can compare them to the initial draft (which hadn’t changed all that much in the previous revisions).
The door slammed shut in my face and shook for a couple of my angry heartbeats. I looked down at my bulging breasts, cursing them per my new habit. I had tried everything to get into the University.
“You don’t learn, Lady Seymour,” said the guard perched on the high marble wall. The coal-charged drizzle tarnished his apprentice robe, a hybrid between cassock and nobleman’s wear. “If your female brain can’t comprehend the meaning of ‘never’, how could it handle calculus?”
“How would your weak will handle celibacy if I walked your halls?”
The guard scoffed.
Even when I strapped my breasts, borrowed my brother’s clothes and tied my hair in a fashion appropriate for educated lads, my body wasn’t humble enough to pass for a man’s. It was the crux of my predicament, to be sure.
“And you are one to talk,” I continued whilst I had an opportunity to vent some frustration. “The Scholars’ teachings were your birthright and your stupidity squandered it.”
The drizzle had ramped up to a downpour and its drumming on the slate roofs covered whatever the guard mumbled. The angry slant of his brow left no doubt that I had hurt him. Everyone knew that the University’s guards were noblemen who failed one too many classes. He had attacked my ego first.
“Hurry back to your fiancé, my Lady,” he yelled over the din. “You will come closer to science by birthing Britannia’s heir.”
That smarted. A lot.
I wiped the rain off my face with my sleeve. “Expect me back with a working iteration of the prototype your master stole. They will invite me in.”
The guard burst in laughter, and I did the only ladylike thing left to do; I spun on my heel and walked away.
Since the soft spoken words, patience and fluttered lashes couldn’t get me through the mahogany door, I had hoped my gift and the coming storm would get gentlemen to offer me shelter. My scheme failed to consider that Scholars put chauvinism before manners like they put their thirst for knowledge before diplomacy. I wouldn’t make this mistake again.
Time for plan B.
I gathered my petticoats in my arms and stomped down Maryott Avenue, my head held high, as befitted my rank. The thunder roared and my knees buckled, thwarting my march with an ungraceful stumble.
“Do you intend to cripple me before I run away?” I said to the uneven cobblestones. “In league with the Scholars who would cover you in blood?” Steadying myself on a lamppost, I removed my high-heel shoes and stockings before resuming my escape.
The Scholars’ iron grip would bring Britannia’s to its knees before I got pregnant. Already, riots reddened some nights and France watched with coveting eyes. I couldn’t wait for a maybe heir who may grow into a wilful man who could keep chipping away at the Scholars’ walls. No. I had to be the battering ram.
What do you think? How do you plan your edits?