Category: Revision & Editing

Forecasting 2018 (In Which Jen Tries to Keep Her Expectations Realistic)

Dire warnings of Bomb Cyclones and blizzards have been echoing around the writing cave, and while we aren’t in the path of any of the really nasty stuff, we’ve been locked in a deep freeze since before Christmas and it’s showing no signs of lifting. Today’s high is supposed to be 7º!

Since the weather forecast blows (both literally and figuratively), let’s see if things look sunnier in the fiction mines.

Grandson of Science Novel is moseying along toward the finish line, and finishing it up is our first order of business. In her secret heart Jen is dying for a deadline, but she’s terrified of missing another one. For now we’re winging it without. She’ll probably declare a deadline when we’re close enough to the end to touch it, and claim that she’s had it in mind all along. And Kent will humor her.

Once Grandson is done, the whole Science Trilogy will be in the can. Our major goal for the year is to publish the first one. It’s been edited a couple of times already, but there are many steps before it will be ready for its debut, and those will eat up a lot more time than Jen expects them to.

While the Science Novels rest between edits, we will devote our time to outlining the novel we are currently calling Sibling of Music Novel. As you may recall, we have the Music Novel, and Son of, written in full, but now we’ve decided that Son is really the third book in the series and we need to plug that hole in the middle.

If, after polishing Science Novels and writing Music Novels, we have any extra time, we’ll get started on brainstorming our Ghost Series.

We currently have no release dates to announce, but when we do, you’ll be the first to know. Check this space for updates!

And Happy New Year to you!

Shining A Light

We went to a lighting design center this week, and the main thing that we learned is that a lighting design center is a dangerous place for us to be left unsupervised. In addition to all the stuff in the showroom, they also have big, thick catalogs of amazing and weird stuff that you can hang from the walls and ceilings of your actual house and connect to the wiring therein.

There was a not insignificant chance that we would have decided to remodel our entire house (again) so we could have excuses to buy all the fun things. Perhaps it’s a good thing these items are so expensive, as that might be what brought us to our senses.

We knew what we were shopping for when we went in there: something modern and sleek for above the dinner table. We knew what the dining room looked like, and we knew we weren’t really going to redo it. Yet, all the pretty lights in other styles (craftsman, deco, neo-Victorian, space-age retro, regular retro, and vintage industrial {which, let’s be honest: that’s steampunk}) tempted us sorely. In the end, we stuck to our program if not our budget, and ordered a minor masterpiece of modern elegance that will harmonize with our home’s style.

The experience reminded Kent of something he’s heard said about font design. “Not a bunch of pretty letters; a pretty bunch of letters.” The same applies to the words those letters create.

Writing fiction is a lot like decorating a room. It’s less about how cool, or how gorgeous, any individual element might be. It’s certainly not about how many nifty things you can festoon the page with. It’s about the overall effect. You have to know when a humorous beat is needed, and when to lay off the rimshots and allow the moment to breathe. When you’re choosing a strong verb, you must choose the one that matches the flavor of the scene and the personality of the character doing it.

It’s hard to take out the stuff that doesn’t belong. When it’s good stuff, just not the right stuff to bring the room together, the killing of the darlings can feel literal. But you don’t really have to kill them. Just send them out of the room.

Don’t Fence Me In

We like to work in trilogies. The story worlds and complicated characters we develop lend themselves to longer tales, but not the endless iterations that an ongoing series requires. Three novels is a generous amount of space to explore in and bring everything to a satisfying conclusion.

Many is the time we’ve bragged about our extensive outlining process, but even when you’re as thorough as we are in the preliminary stages you’ll probably find that things evolve during the actual writing. A lot can (and should) happen in 300,000 words, which is why we won’t publish the first book in a trilogy until the third one is written.

The dream would be for the entire triptych to be completely polished before any of it is released, just to guarantee that there are no more changes to be made, that there isn’t a single detail that could be improved. But that’s not possible. First of all because no manuscript is ever truly done. No matter how many times something is edited, there’s always a sentence that could be rephrased or a comma that could be added (or removed depending on which way the wind is blowing). The bigger issue though is that we don’t have all the time in the world. If we want to keep any momentum in our writing career, we need to release new work on a regular basis. And that means the first part most likely gets released before the third is completely done.

Emphasis on ‘completely.’

No matter how well-planned your story is, things will change during the writing. Maybe events will line up better if you adjust the timeline early on. Maybe a character who doesn’t appear until the third book will fit in more naturally if she’s alluded to in the first or second. Speaking of characters, once a characteristic gesture or phrase develops, it’s a good idea to sprinkle it in the early scenes to maintain consistency. Perhaps a minor character becomes much more important than you anticipated, and things will make more sense if their presence early on is enhanced. We sometimes discover that either Kent or Jen has an affinity for a certain character, which means they get to go back and punch things up in the other’s scenes. In the course of research you might discover a fun detail that needs to be present through the whole series. If the first book is already set in stone, it’s quite limiting.

For a satisfying and cohesive reader experience, treat your trilogy like one enormous manuscript for as long as possible.



Too Many Projects? There’s No Such Thing!

Throughout its many arched galleries and torchlit colonnades, the writing cave has lately resounded with the hammer-blows of feverish industry — because it was annexed for a side project that kept both Jen and Kent preoccupied and away from our writing. Alas! But that gloomy epoch draws to a close, and scrivenings are nigh once more!

The Labor Day weekend will see us plunging back into Elsewhere’s Twin to get it spiffed up and ready for its debut at the end of the month. Wow, that’s coming up fast. One more month. Good thing we’re awesome.

Working with a partner is like having extra days on the calendar to get shit done. Even when the distractions just won’t let up.

Shifting Gears From Revision to Composition

Last time we gave you an update from the writing cave, we were deep into a revision pass on Elsewhere’s Twin. This week, Kent wrapped up his edits. Jen had crossed the finish line well ahead of him, as was the plan. That manuscript can now take a well-earned rest before its final read-through and polishing.

We’ve already returned our focus to writing. It’s sometimes tricky to get the brain back into writing mode after dwelling in revision-land for a while. (Yes, just the one brain. We share.) The road trip must have been just what we needed, though, because this time we seem to have hit the ground running with it. Grandson of Science Novel just crossed the 20k word mark. Woohoo!

Now to write some more.

The Grit Gets Finer

Elsewhere's Twin by Rune SkelleyThe next book we’ll release is titled Elsewhere’s Twin. It’s the third Divided Man book, following Miss Brandymoon’s Device and Tenpenny Zen. We’re thrilled at the prospect of having the completed series out.

With its publication date looming, we’ve been pushing to get through another editing pass. Jen built up a head start, and Kent is coming through in her wake. This gives us each a better chance to catch things, really lets two heads be better than one. We notice different kinds of issues, which is great. We cover more of the spectrum.

This manuscript has already been revised a few times, so the major surgery’s been handled. What we’re doing now is line edits, mainly. Jen has a bit of an advantage, going first, so she’s been trimming more words out than Kent has. It’s working out to about a 5:1 ratio.

We’re pleased to see that pattern, because it means the book is in really good shape. It’s being polished now, not reshaped. Each successive edit has produced a smaller impact on the word count than the one before it. The bulky tools have been put away in favor of more delicate instruments.

  • chainsaw
  • machete
  • scalpel
  • coarse-grit sandpaper
  • fine-grit sandpaper <– we are here
  • silk handkerchief

Editing with a partner makes the process much more efficient, if you have good teamwork.


The Surgery Was a Success!

It took a week longer than we had hoped, but Jen just completed an editing pass on the Science Novel. It had been through the ringer at least once before, and she still managed to smallerize it by 7,000 words. Meanwhile, our current manuscript-in-process, Grandson of Science Novel, has topped 11,000 words, most of them from Kent. It feels really good to have such a solid start on the new book. It feels even better to have a net gain in word count. We’ve added more to this series than we’ve taken away.

While Science Novel lays in the recovery room for a bit, waiting for the bandages to come off, Jen will turn her attention to Divided Man Book 3. It’s called Elsewhere’s Twin, and its release date is on the horizon. We’re hoping to go through the whole thing twice more before sending it out into the world, which means we have no time to waste.

That extra week we devoted to Science Novel makes the schedule a little tighter than we would like. Jen won’t get any downtime between the projects to clear her head. She’s already eyeing up a fresh scalpel. The last time through Elsewhere’s Twin she was still wielding her chainsaw. This time should see fewer huge cuts and much more finessing. Another difference is that this time, Kent will follow along a few chapters behind Jen with his own surgical tools. Having a coauthor means having more eyes on the words at every step in the process. It means a better finished manuscript.

Giants of Science (Novels)

We passed some nice milestones recently in the auxiliary writing cave. Our base of operations shifted there while we collated and discussed the critique input we collected on Science Novel, and even though we would rather have done that work over the winter (because the auxiliary writing cave has a fireplace) it was still a nice change of scene.

Now we’re back in the primary writing cave, gearing up to dive into the Science series. Maybe “come at it broadside” would be more apt, seeing as we’ll have three books in play simultaneously. Now that the critique info is digested, Jen will begin an editing pass on Science Novel. Meanwhile, Kent will be making additions to the first draft of Son of while Jen lays the groundwork for Grandson by cooking up its first batch of stubs. It’s a form of cookery where all the plates are spinning, evidently.

The last time we tackled three books all at once was when we did the covers for the Divided Man series. Based on how that turned out, we might want to start making a habit of it.

Less is More

There’s a certain joy that comes from being in total agreement with someone, and we recently got to experience it a whole lot. During last week’s lengthy power outage, we whiled away hours and hours listening to an audio book, and holy shit you guys, it was terrible. It was way too long, and the focus was on all the wrong parts of the story. We had to stop the book numerous times to voice our many objections.

This book was painful for us, but it did spark some fun discussions. They weren’t arguments because we were in fierce, burning agreement. But we were both quite passionate, and voices were raised. It was cathartic.

Also educational.

As we mentioned recently, we struggled a little bit with just how much spectacle we wanted in the finale we were editing. The dust had settled, the darlings were buried, the ego-bruises were being iced, and then we listened to this load of hooey and suddenly felt much more confident about the amount we cut.

The protagonist in this audio book finds himself alone in an allegedly spooky setting, and proceeds to run around for what felt like hours and hours of listening time, not interacting with anyone else. It’s just this seemingly endless string of “and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened” and it carried all the excitement you would expect from a stranger on the bus telling you about the dream they had last night.

It taught us to use care when sending a protagonist off on a solo mission. Most compelling conflicts arise between characters, so with only one character on the page you’re setting yourself a challenge to hold reader interest. They say getting there is half the fun, but we needed to make sure that the journey didn’t overshadow the destination and what happened there. And now we’re in fierce agreement that we’ve got the right balance.


We talked a few weeks ago about Jen’s obsession with size. Ahem. Let’s try that again. A few weeks ago we talked about Jen’s preference for all of the books in a series (and all of the chapters in a book) being approximately the same size. It’s a battle she’s been fighting on two fronts: trying to make Son of Science Novel big enough while simultaneously trying to make the third Divided Man book small enough.

But now we have a victory to announce! Huzzah! While the two of us work on writing SoSN at night, Jen’s spent her daytime hours taking her machete and blowtorch to Elsewhere’s Twin. Being third in line it’s had fewer editing passes, and it shows. Well, showed. It was too long, which in addition to making Jen’s eye twitch, meant it wasn’t the best book it could be. Now it’s had a trim and is 21,000 words shorter which puts it right in line with its two siblings in the series, and gives Jen a warm fuzzy feeling.

For the most part the edits were non-controversial, even if they were kind of major. For instance, there are now two fewer characters. We lopped out a couple of scenes. At least one scene got its point of view reassigned which meant Kent got to do a full rewrite. It’s been a whole thing. Even with all of that, most of our darlings escaped the firing squad.

That is, up until the final couple of chapters.

The finale in this one is kind of huge and there was disagreement in the writing cave about the desired degree of spectacle. Everyone’s favorite intrepid coauthors had hoped to have these edits done before last weekend’s planned family madness, but that didn’t happen. So we set it aside with every intention of diving in on Monday and finishing it up. Mother Nature had other plans though, and we lost power for 47 1/2 hours. Not that we were counting.

So, in addition to falling behind on email, and losing our 400+ day streaks in Duolingo, we lost all momentum on our writing projects. Grumble grumble.

But now we’re back on track. Kent got out his own machete and we menaced each other over the penultimate chapter, which is now resting comfortably. Neither of us sustained any lasting damage. The manuscript is still in need of smoothing and fine-tuning, which we’ll address in a month or so. Our publishing schedule leaves us time for at least two more drafts, and we’ll definitely take advantage of that.

We do it all for you, dear reader. All for you.