So, you’ve finished that four hundred and sixty page novel. You sit proudly and pat the cover page tenderly, smoothing the white surface when much to your horror, you see a mistake! Cold sweat breaks out on your brow, fingers tremble, mouth suddenly goes dry. As your eye wanders down the page, more and more errors jump out at you! Fear grips your heart as you stumble from the desk, desperate for a calming cool drink. It’s a nightmare, but you can’t wake up. It’s real. Your brainchild, the fruit of your creative efforts, is flawed and it’s up to you to fix it.
This is a scenario each of us faces. Sometimes it’s as minor as a misplaced comma or a dangling modifier. Other times an entire scene, or even half the novel is so bad it has to be scrapped and retooled. I started an historical novel about ten years ago, set it aside since it wasn’t going anywhere, picked it up a few years later and realized the reason it hadn’t gone anywhere was that it was garbage! No other word for it. After careful review, I threw away all but ten handwritten pages. Of those ten pages, perhaps parts of seven survive in the retooled version.
Several things were problematic that I didn’t realize until much later. First, and most important, the point of view and style were all wrong. Set in St. Augustine in the Florida territory in the late 1700’s, it was told in first person by a young Spanish woman. I had chosen to do it like a diary (not really sure why) and it was far too limiting to my story.
Second, after doing some more research, I found that the time period would have to be moved from the 1780’s to 1739 or I could not incorporate certain facets of the novel. It would have been grossly inaccurate.
Third, and most difficult, the man I had intended to be the bad guy simply wasn’t working. No matter what I did, even in the retooled version, he wouldn’t be villainous. The heroine refused to fall in love with anyone else. Even the good guy couldn’t be relied upon to behave. He became the villain, the villain became the hero, the heroine didn’t succumb to another man’s charms, and they all lived happily ever after. (Except for the villain, because he, of course, was dead.)
It got terribly out of hand. After lots of time and effort reading and re-reading, honing, changing, and fine tuning, it is a really solid piece of literature that I am proud to put my name on. Five years ago, when I started re-writing it, I wouldn’t have given ten cents for it. It was the catalyst that started me writing in earnest and made me realize I had stories inside me to tell. None of the rest are historical in nature, the rest are sci-fi, because with that novel I learned something else important. You can’t do too much research if you want to be historically accurate. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d rather spend my time bleeding profusely from multiple wounds that tracking down that evasive, all important fact.
Sci-fi is far easier for me to write. Once I have a believable setting, the rest is easy. Don’t ignore the laws of science, throw in some really good fight scenes, add a few interesting aliens and voila! Creating my own world is far easier than working within the confines of someone else’s, but that old adage “write what you know,” is nonsense. What I know is boring! Who wants to know about raising kids, doing endless errands, making phone calls and taking out the garbage? No one.
Writing is the ultimate escapism. For that short span of time, things work out; the hero and heroine fall in love and live happily ever after. The bad guy gets his just desserts, the good guy wins, and there is always a happy ending. It’s far more interesting than washing the dirty dishes, cooking dinner or sorting laundry.
But I digress. Despite the thrill of putting words on paper, the hard part is making sure that everything is right. We can live with the small stuff like ending a sentence with a preposition. Frankly, it sounds odd if it’s correct. However, misplaced modifiers, sentence fragments and subject – verb agreement are very important. Even if a writer can’t name the errors, wrong is wrong!
One solution is to read and re-read your own work, honing and perfecting it. It’s easy to miss simple errors that way. Sometimes running off a hard copy helps, but it’s still hard to catch it all. Better yet, get people who are gifted in grammar to help you. They might not be able to name the error, but they can spot one and may be able to offer suggestions on how to correct it. If you can afford it, have an editor review it. Few of us can, so it’s up to us to read and re-read our own work until it is smooth and as error free as it can possibly be.
For goodness sake, don’t rely on the grammar check in Word! It’s garbage and will cause for more problems than it solves. I don’t care if it’s the primary word processing program used world wide, the grammar check is terrible. Spell check, on the other hand, is a Godsend, but won’t help you if you simply type in the wrong word. I once finished typing out a test for my 11th grade class only to find that I had one very important little word wrong and the spell check hadn’t caught it. Instead of saying, “What is the theme of this story?” I had, “Shat is the theme of this story?” (For those of you who don’t know, that’s the past tense of the verb ‘to shit’. — 11th graders knew that!)
There is no easy way to get through the editing process. It is tedious and time consuming, but if it makes the difference between selling a book and having it gather dust, it’s well worth it.
© Dellani Oakes
To Buy Dellani’s Books
Second Wind: What is your story?
Manuel: My story is still being written, but a portion of it is chronicled in “Indian Summer” by Dellani Oakes.
SW: Who are you?
M: My name is Manuel Hermida Enriques Orejan Sanchez and I am confidential aid to Governor Ferdinand Deza.
SW: Where do you live?
M: I live in the beautiful town of St. Augustine in the Florida territory.
SW: Are you the hero of your own story?
M: What is a hero? A man who does what he must to protect that which he holds dear. I am such a man. If that makes me a hero, then I accept this role gladly.
SW: What is your problem in the story?
M: The problem is that there is a pesky British spy wandering around causing trouble. The beast is wily and sly, but I’ll catch him, have no doubt.
SW: Do you embrace conflict?
M: Conflict is in many forms. If it is in the form of a beautiful woman, I embrace and make love to it. If it is in the form of this annoying little fly speck of a spy, then I spit on it and grind it to dust beneath my heel.
SW: Do you run from conflict?
M: Never! Face conflict proudly and fight it to the death.
SW: How do you see yourself?
M: In my life, I have done many bad things. However, I am trying to change to be worthy of my darling Gabriella.
SW: How do your friends see you?
M: I haven’t many friends, but those are very close. They see me as strong, intelligent, passionate with women, stubborn and capable. How do you see me, cariña?
SW: How do your enemies see you?
M: My enemies never see me. They are dead long before that. If by chance they do catch a glimpse, it is as of the face of death.
SW: How does the author see you?
M: Ah, my beautiful Dellani. If it were not for Gabriella, such stories we would write together! She sees me as romantic, passionate, handsome, slightly dangerous, and very well appointed.
SW: Well appointed?
M: You will have to read my tale to find out what I mean by that.
SW: Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?
M: As accurately as any woman may know a man’s heart, yes.
SW: What do you think of yourself?
M: I am not a modest man, but even I do not like to brag. I am all that is said of me and more.
SW: Do you have a hero?
M: Yes, my blood brother, Sailfish of the River People. He is the greatest warrior I know and even more brave than I.
SW: Do you have a goal?
M: Indeed I do! I want to catch the spy so that I can marry my beloved Gabriella.
SW: What are your achievements?
M: That is perhaps not a question I should answer here, eh, cariña?
SW: Do you talk about your achievements?
M: As I said, I am not one to brag. What I have achieved is a matter of history. There are things I have done that I would rather forget.
SW: Do you keep your achievements to yourself?
M: Many of them, yes.
SW: But why? Surely your accomplishments are wide ranging and very nearly stuff of
M: Not all legends have a happy ending. Some things are better left unsaid.
SW: Do you have any special strengths?
M: I am swift, strong, I speak many languages fluently. I can track prey like an Indian and shoot a bow as well as a gun.
SW: Do you have any special weaknesses?
M: Only my love of Gabriella. She makes me weak.
SW: Do you have money troubles?
M: No. Although I like to gamble, I rarely lose. Besides, my parents and aunt left me a great deal of money.
SW: What do you want?
M: I want to marry Gabriella more than anything in the world. Well, there is perhaps one thing I want more than that, but it’s not polite to discuss.
SW: What do you need?
M: I need to catch that wretched spy!
SW: What do you want to be?
M: I am what I want to be. An honorable man who loves a beautiful woman. One day I shall also be a father, that is my greatest ambition.
SW: What do you believe?
M: I believe in God and my strength and abilities.
SW: What makes you happy?
M: Would you like to me say something poetic like a beautiful sunset or the seagulls above the water? I am not poetic man. What makes me happy is very simple, my love for Gabriella. It drives me, moves me to be the best I may be.
SW: What are you afraid of?
M: I am afraid that what I am capable of will one day consume me. And I am terrified that I will lose Gabriella.
SW: What makes you angry?
M: The snake of a spy.
SW: What makes you sad?
M: The loss of my sweet aunt. May she rest in God’s peace.
SW: What do you regret?
M: I regret how I have behaved in my past. That is behind me now.
SW: What is your biggest disappointment?
M: I am most disappointed that I cannot wed Gabriella right away.
SW: What, if anything, haunts you?
M: In a soldiers life, are there not many things to haunt him? What haunts me, cariña, is better left forgotten.
SW: You look sad, have I touched on a painful subject?
M: Among the most painful. I am not proud of many things I had to do. It is between me, God and the dead.
SW: Have you ever failed at anything?
M: So many things, how can I even count them?
SW: Have you ever failed anyone?
M: Not something I wish to discuss. But yes.
SW: Have you ever betrayed anyone?
M: Never on purpose, but accidents happen.
SW: Do you keep your promises?
M: Always. It is a point of honor.
SW: Are you honorable?
M: As much as I am able to be given circumstances.
SW: That sounds like a very cagey answer.
M: And it is the only one you shall get.
SW: Do you have any distinguishing marks?
M: Oh, yes. I am very well appointed.
SW: You would love for me to ask what that means, wouldn’t you?
M: No, I would like you to read the book and find out.
SW: Have you ever killed anyone?
M: I was a soldier, of course I have killed. And nearly been killed more than once.
SW: Who was your first love?
M: My first love was a girl whose father was a garrison soldier. We ran away together, but I deserted her soon after.
SW: Why did you do that?
M: Because I was headstrong and stubborn and scared to death of her father.
SW: Who is your true love?
M: Ah, my beautiful Gabriella is my own true love.
SW: What is the most important thing that ever happened to you? Why?
M: Getting this job with the Governor is the most important. It got me out of my old life and onto a straight path to redemption. It also brought me Gabriella.
SW: Was there a major turning point in your life?
M: The day I realized how much I love Gabriella.
SW: Was there ever a defining moment of your life?
M: The day that Gabriella said she loved me. It was the most important day of my life.
SW: What is your most prized possession? Why?
M: My most prized possession? Must I have just one? Perhaps my pistol. Or my best pair of boots? No, not really, although I am rather fond of these pants.
SW: Oh? Why is that?
(All I get is a sly grin and a slow, wicked wink.)
SW: What is your favorite color? Why?
M: Sapphire blue, because it is the exact shade of Gabriella’s eyes.
SW: If you had the power to change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be?
M: I would change how much we hate and distrust the British. It would be great for us and the rest of the world to trust one another.
SW: What makes you think that change would be for the better?
M: There would be no wars or conflicts. I would never have to leave Gabriella’s side again.
SW: If you were stranded on a desert island, would you rather be stranded with, a man or a woman?
M: Can you really see me stranded with a man? I’ll only go if Gabriella does.
SW: How do you envision your future?
M: Happily married to my beloved.