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Final (?) Edits
by Willma Willis Gore

There is much more to writing a novel that finds an agent and sells than simply writing one. As we all know and have read, some novels—including published ones—should have been left in the desk drawer as manuscripts.

For those who seek to earn from their writing, as readers of this newsletter certainly do, here are a few things I’ve learned that will help to get your novel into an agent’s “active” bin and not require you to spend extra dollars on editing fees. (A prominent agent I recently heard speak insisted that ALL novels must be read by a professional editor before submission to an agent or publisher. The agent who has two of my novels has accepted them without any further editing from me—or from a paid professional.)

I’ve just completed a final edit (well, I’ll do a “once more with feeling” read-through) of my 60,000-word novel. This novel has been composed, off and on, over a period of ten years. In that time, even though the story line remains fixed, some “facts” I created in the story have—until this last edit—changed without my “permission.”

First, to explain my method in fiction: I do not outline. I create characters that I “see and hear” vividly. They get into situations of common interest including: foolishness, ecstasy, peril, fanciful dreams, and reality checks. The characters tell the story. However, as clearly as I see them, I’ve discovered in this “final” edit that I have inaccurately recorded some of the “facts” of their experiences.

  • One of my prominent figures drives a maroon-colored van in an early chapter. Somehow it changed color when the same vehicle appeared in a later chapter. Another drove a Lincoln in an early chapter. I put him in a Mercedes in a later chapter, within the same time frame.

  • My heroine’s name is “Anne” in the first chapter. I discovered that I had called her “Anna” in the Chapter 29. Several months had passed between writing Chapter 28 and 29.

  • Anne listened from her home office for the mail to drop through the front door slot in an early chapter. But she went out to the mailbox on the curb in a later chapter to retrieve it—and she had not moved her residence in the interim.

  • I have learned my lesson: I will, henceforth, number all novel pages consecutively. On some computer programs it is like “pulling teeth” to get old numbers erased and new ones installed if you have numbered pages (as I did originally) beginning with “1” on the first page of every chapter. (My computer-wizard son tells me that my current program that was new in 2003 is now [five years later] obsolete! Just when I’m getting accustomed to its quirks—and it is getting used to mine.)

  • It is a good idea at the outset (something I first failed to do) to write down—or save on a computer list— all characters’ names, (with the first-chosen spellings of several possibilities), the town/city they live in, the distances you have cited between locations, the pseudonyms/or real names of locations, the names of the streets that are mentioned more than once in the story, and any other carelessly “re-named” data that would make an agent or an astute proof-reader cringe.

These are among the problems I’ve resolved as I prepare this novel to send to the agent who has two others of mine and wants to see this one. I’ve sold far more factual pieces: travel articles, essays, how-to’s, profiles, than fiction. I have two nonfiction books that have brought me an advance and royalties. My self-published novel (no charge to me except for the copyright) pays royalties.

In shorter forms of nonfiction, the facts cited remain facts that my mind refers to so that fingers on the keys “know” not to feed in un-truths. But characters and places in a novel have a way of making unwarranted changes (certainly true in real life) and they need to be monitored carefully.

© Copyright 2008, Willma Willis Gore

At age 87, Willma Gore is still writing daily (having sold her first article at age 19) with her most recent book Long Distance Grandparenting, released by an advance/royalty publisher in Nov. 2007. She welcomes visits to her blog and website: http://willmagore.com/blog/ www.willmagore.com

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