A Final Pass

by Miko Johnston

By the time you read this, the manuscript for my fourth A Petal In the Wind novel will be back from the editor and ready for its final draft before publication. Prior to sending it out, I made several passes through it, each time searching for ways to fix or improve the work.

In my first pass I searched for everything from formatting issues to misspelled words. In light of recent events I found parts of the story, which I’d begun writing in 2017, had become dated. I couldn’t gloss over a worldwide pandemic and the social rifts that emerged from political discord. Several new characters who were introduced in chapters written years before the book’s conclusion sounded too generic; I’d gotten to know them better as the story progressed and that needed to be reflected in their earlier dialog and mannerisms.

Other passes looked for repetition, excess verbiage, more precise word choices, missed misspellings, lapses in logic, and incorrect information. With that complete, I sent out my manuscript, anticipating a few more changes would be needed once I heard back from my editor. I took advantage of the wait time to put together all the additional material needed – logline, book blurb and synopsis.

Whenever I have to write marketing stuff, I cringe. It’s not what like to do, or do well. I view it as a necessary evil, and many authors I know feel the same way. However it must be done, and the good news: I’ve found an advantage to it beyond promoting the book.

When you have to encapsulate your x-hundred page novel into a one page summary, then a teaser for the back cover, and finally a one-sentence logline, it forces you to look at your theme in a different way. Gone are the long passages of prose, the snappy dialogue, the transitional scenes and flashbacks. You must have a laser focus on what your story is about – what you’re trying to get across to the reader in terms of theme, character, and plot. By doing so you sometimes will see aspects of the story that are important but may not have been shown in a compelling or complete way. So beyond my editor’s input, I saw that I wasn’t done with my revising.

I came to that conclusion when I encapsulated a 106,500 book into a few paragraphs with just a hint of where the story will eventually wind up. I had my external conflict and internal struggle, and pointed that out in my blurb. Then I wrote my logline:

Amidst the social and political upheaval in the aftermath of WWI, a woman who identifies as an artist marries the love of her life, but chafes at being relegated to wife and mother.

We can understand the difficulties a woman would face in giving up her career to marry and have children, especially at a time when such notions weren’t as accepted as they are today. But had I adequately shown how she feels in the book? Could I have made it not only clearer, but on a much deeper level?

The logline hints at the deeper issue. What she rails against is not being married to the man she loves, or even the challenges of motherhood. It’s losing her identity, having to see herself as only a reflection of her husband and children. When Jane marries John Doe, she becomes Mrs. John Doe. Her baby’s mama. She’d wonder—what happened to Jane?

My character Lala is a woman who’s accomplished a great deal despite her youth. She not survived the trauma and hardships of WWI and kept her family alive, but her home town as well. It’s described as a factory town north of Prague throughout the series. In America we’d call it a company town, where a single business – in this case a furniture factory – provides the economic base of the area.  Circumstances force her to take charge of the factory and oversee its conversion to wartime production. If it had closed, which it nearly did, the town would have been devastated. How can someone like this ignore all she achieved, the skills she developed, the talent that resides within her?

When the manuscript returns from the editor, I will review the comments and make some changes, including a few of my own – adding more layers of my character’s internal dilemma to the story. Then I’ll probably rework my promotional material. A writer’s work is never done…that is, until it goes to the publisher.

 

Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers In Residence, is the author of the historical fiction saga A PETAL IN THE WIND, as well as a contributor to anthologies, including “LAst Exit to Murder” and the soon-to-be-released “Whidbey Landmarks”. The fourth book in her series is scheduled to be published later this year. Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

13 thoughts on “A Final Pass”

  1. A daunting task, but that’s what writers do. Just like Aristotle said in The Poetics. There are five basics components to a story: Plot, Characters, Setting, Dialogue, and most important of all: The Meaning of the Story. What is the writer trying to say? And then you have to put that thought into a few words to capture the attention of the would-be reader. That’s what a good writer does.

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  2. So true, Gayle. Aristotle knew his stuff! Condensing the story down to that sentence made me see what the story was truly about. Now I must go back to the manuscript and make sure my log line is reflected in every page.

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  3. Thanks, Madeline. It all comes down to creating a pleasurable and exciting experience for the reader, as well as something we can be proud of putting out. As Gayle said, that’s what a good writer does.

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  4. Those edits, especially final ones, are always challenging. I just sent what hopefully will be the last version of one of my upcoming stories to the editor and am glad I finished it! And now I also have to start working more on the promotion of my two books to be published in May, including the brief summaries. Thanks for an enjoyable post that delves into those writing issues!

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  5. It is a process, isn’t it? But looking at your work in a different way allows you to see what you may have missed, which helps make the final product even better (fingers crossed).

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  6. Miko, thanks for sharing this important part of the editing process. You illustrate how vital the synopsis, blurb, and longline are, not just for marketing, but for the story itself. Looking forward to your finished work.

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    1. Thank you, Maggie. The prospect of publishing again is exciting after a three year lapse. I’m aiming for two books plus submissions to an anthology. I’ll keep you and your readers posted.

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  7. A very thoughtful post, with some good insights. Since I was lucky enough to read this book as a work in progress, it has special relevance. And as a writer in the same stage as you are, I empathize with all the work that goes into turning a novel into a finished product. It’s hard, but if it were easy, everybody would be doing it.

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  8. So true, Bonnie. Writing is a process in which the first step is finishing the story, but it involves much more. When we write THE END, that’s for the readers. For writers, it marks the beginning of phase two – the rest of the story.

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  9. Miko – what an intense and thought-provoking post, indeed. Those many edits can be so illuminating – yet frustrating. But we get there in the end, as we sculpt and mold our creation.
    And, as you say, ‘The End’ is the start of the rest of the story. What a fascinating journey. Thanks.

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  10. Thanks, Rosemary. That attention to detail, so critical in making the story come alive and immersing the reader in the characters’ world, is something you do so well in your books.

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  11. It was validating to read your post. I am at about the same stage for my novella as you describe. I know it is a novella and not lengthy by definition. But, when I found myself describing the plot to the cover artist, I realized that I do need to begin that process of finding an “elevator pitch” or logline. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Thanks!

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