The Making of a Novel

Terri Blackstock Uncategorized Leave a Comment

I’ve just finished my final book in the Restoration Series, DAWN’S LIGHT. At least, I’ve mostly finished it. The process goes on and on, and I’m never actually finished with a book until it goes to the printer. I only give it up then because I have no choice.

Whenever I write a book, I begin with a very sloppy first draft which I write as fast as I can. “Fast” to me is still two or three months, and when I’m finished, it’s not even publishable. But it takes that first draft for me to get to know the characters and figure out the entire plot. Then I get creative as I begin to rewrite. The second draft bears little resemblance to the first, and the fifth or sixth drafts are drastically different. In each draft, I add more texture and more details. I flesh out my characters and give them their quirks, and add all the things that I hope will keep my characters reading. By the time I submit the book to the publisher in its first “finished” form, I’m exhausted and keyed up, and in much need of brain rest after nine months to a year of living in this fantasy world.

My editor reads the book and writes me a lengthy review of the book, telling me all its weak points and suggesting changes to take it to the next level. I love these letters. When I turn the book in initially, I think it’s the best I’ve got. But when I get his letter, I see my book with new eyes. I dig in again, twisting and turning the plot, squeezing into the heads of my characters, creating more depth and adding new insights into the theme and story that I didn’t have before. I take about a month to do that, usually. It’s a very intense month in which my house looks like a tornado swept through, my refrigerator has nothing but half a bell pepper, some wilted lettuce and a bottle of cranberry juice. My poor neglected husband brings me food and water and watches for a break so he can speak to me. But around ten o’clock on the night before my deadline, I save that last copy of my manuscript, attach it to an email, and hit “send.” Then I wait.

I usually decompress while I wait to hear back, staying away from my computer and basically trying my best not to think. This is not the time to do my taxes or balance my checkbook. But after another month or so, the book comes back edited. I usually get the manuscript in a Word document with “track changes” activated, so I can see where changes are made. The editor imbeds his/her questions and comments, so I go back through, making necessary corrections and changes. I only have a few days to do this, and usually I have a last-minute melt-down wanting to change everything from the villain to the lead character. Forcing myself back to rationality and making only the changes that are feasible at that point, I send it back in and … you guessed it. I get it back again. This time it’s been copy-edited by another editor who formats it and puts in all the codes for the printer, and checks yet again to make sure there are no mistakes. I proof-read it for the final time. This time I usually write the changes on a hard copy and send them back to the copy editor. He makes the changes and finally sends it to the printer.

I know this is probably more than you’ve ever wanted to know about the making of a novel, but maybe it interests some of you. The bottom line is that it’s not an easy process. There are some very fast, very gifted writers who make it look easy. But it’s a difficult process for me. You should know that the editors are my heroes. I appreciate them more than I can say, because they always push me to my limits, encouraging me to make my book the best it can be. Since I’ve been in the Christian market I’ve only worked with editors who are top-notch. Behind every good writer is a great editor. And behind every bad writer is a frustrated editor.

Because DAWN’S LIGHT is the fourth and final book in my Restoration series, I also hired an outside editor to read all four books in the series back to back, to check for consistency. Hopefully, when the book comes out in May 2008, and the series is wrapped up, my readers will feel they’ve had a seamless journey with characters that have become like family members.

At the moment, I’m waiting for that edited document to come back. As I wait I’m working on my next novel, a stand-alone suspense novel set in Nashville. It’s a little difficult pulling myself out of Oak Hollow and a massive power failure, and emersing myself in the music business and a new murder mystery, but in a way it’s like cleansing my palate. And starting all over again.

Thank you for being loyal readers. You’re the ones who make it possible for me to keep doing what I love!

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