A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
When I was reading books as a child, I had this idea that authors just sat down, wrote them from beginning to end, and never touched them again. All books, I naively believed, came into existence word perfect and forever unchangeable.
I was wrong about that. In fact, I was totally, utterly, and completely wrong. Some books may be written in full from beginning to end, but many are written leaving gaps for missing scenes that the author fills in later, rather like someone filling in potholes on a road. Others have chapters written completely out of order, and it’s even possible to write the two plotlines of a book entirely separately, and then shuffle the sets of scenes together to make a whole.
Even when the first draft of a book is completed, there are usually a lot of changes ahead before publication. Those changes can be anything from minor polishing, to drastic changes of plot, altering the cast of characters, adjusting the writing style, or even rethinking the viewpoint used.
My first two books, Earth Girl and Earth Star, went through a similar pattern of changes between first draft and publication. In both cases, I finished the first draft and instantly went straight back to the beginning, cutting unnecessary sentences, paragraphs, or even whole scenes. By the end of that first revision, each book was about ten per cent shorter, and in my opinion a lot better.
After the first revision of a book, I aim to step away from it for a month or so, come back with a fresh eye and revise it again, improving it as much as I can before anyone else sees it. Earth Girl escaped into the world ahead of plan, but Earth Star went through the second revision stage. After that, both books had several more waves of changes in response to comments from agent and editors. At every stage I worked at polishing and trimming the text.
Earth Girl and Earth Star were nice, well behaved books. Between first draft and publication, they shrank a bit in length. The basic plot stayed the same, though a few events were either added or strengthened. The characters, writing style, and viewpoint all stayed the same, but I made a whole host of tiny changes to polish the text.
But then came Earth Flight. This was the third book in the Earth Girl trilogy. By the time I was halfway through writing it, I knew I was in big trouble. Earth Girl and Earth Star were both about 105,000 words. Earth Flight was going to be much longer. It was going to be far too long.
The reason was simple. Earth Flight was the end of the trilogy. The first two books each had their own plotline that reached a conclusion. Earth Flight had that too, but it also had to bring all the threads of the trilogy to a conclusion, and ideally complete character arcs for all the main characters as well.
The first draft of Earth Flight ended up being over 150,000 words long. That was fifty per cent longer than either of the first two books. I didn’t want Earth Flight to be a giant whale of a book, so I set myself a target. My goal was that Earth Flight would be the same length as Earth Star. During my first revisions of Earth Girl and Earth Star, I’d trimmed one word in ten from each book. With Earth Flight, I needed to lose one word in three.
So I went into the first revision of Earth Flight aiming to be brutal. I cut scenes wherever possible, and tightened the plotlines. By the end of it, Earth Flight was 128,615 words long. I know the exact number, because at the end of the first revision I decided mere brutality wasn’t enough. This had to be total war! I resorted to desperate measures and made a spreadsheet showing the current word count for each chapter as well as the target word count.
So I revised Earth Flight again and again until I finally got it down to the length I wanted. Doing that was a very interesting process, because I think it improved the book. Looking at it now, I don’t think I miss any of the scenes I cut except for one. A scene that would have shown something interesting about the developing relationship between the main character and her boyfriend. On the other hand, given what was happening in the main plot line at that point, having that scene could have seemed a bit of a digression from more important issues. Perhaps the book is better without it after all.
It was only after those huge changes that Earth Flight went off to my agent and editor.
After that point, Earth Flight had a few more changes, but probably less than Earth Girl or Earth Star.
Earth Flight was published last month. It ended up being 75 words shorter than Earth Star. Honey, I shrunk the book!
Janet Edwards lives in England. As a child, she read everything she could get her hands on, including a huge amount of science fiction and fantasy. She studied Maths at Oxford, and went on to suffer years of writing unbearably complicated technical documents before deciding to write something that was fun for a change. She has a husband, a son, a lot of books, and an aversion to housework.
Find out more about her and her EARTH GIRL trilogy at www.janetedwards.com