Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Editing Process. Louis Shalako.

Louis Shalako

I’m just in the process of winding up my eighteenth novel and the sixth in the Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery Series. (Smashwords.)

It’s called How to Rob a Bank. (Excerpt.)

The first draft came in at about 54,000 words. A week or so later, and the final book is approximately 63,000 words. Editing is definitely a process. I’ve just completed my fifth deep edit, a really stiff read through the book that took a good twelve or fourteen man-hours. The average person would read the book in anything from two and a half to four hours.

At some level, it is entertaining. There are times when you think, ‘man, I can’t believe I wrote this thing…’

There’s definitely some level of satisfaction there.

So. You have a good story—now you want to take that story and use it to knock the reader’s socks off.

Editing is work, that’s for sure. It is work that must be done.

At some point it becomes excruciating. It’s really tedious, painstaking work.

It’s startling to discover, in the first really good end-to-end read of your book that one character, described as having a wife and two kids in an early chapter, has mysteriously turned into a single man with an active night-life near the end of the story.

There are two solutions. The first is to accept the change later in the book. Your single man would have a wife and two kids again, and you would have to add material. You would be adding material here and there all through the book. You would have to go back through everything and justify it logically, because every little thing in the book relates to every other thing in the book.

It has to make sense.

As easier change was to go to the early chapter, remove the reference to the wife and kids, and then everything about that character made sense again. It still requires careful reading, (you want to look for further references to wives and kids), but having discovered this error, now we’re hyper-alert to more.

And find them we did. In another scene, I had a character who began life as Mathilde, and then switched over to being Phoebe, and then back again to Mathilde. It was a simple choice, as I already had another character named Mathilde in the book. (At least I think I did!) It can get confusing.

To avoid confusion, Mathilde in that chapter became Phoebe.

In another scene, a police officer is interrogating a witness or a suspect. We start off with Grosjean in the chair, with Levain coming and going. For whatever reason, during the writing process, we must have gotten up and walked away, shut down or whatever. When we started up again, we just grabbed Andre Levain by the scruff of the neck and then all of a sudden we had him asking the questions.

That required careful reading, as even I don’t know what the hell I’m trying to say sometimes.

The scene wasn’t completely visualized as to actions and characters and their movements. 

Sometimes it really does take five or six rewrites before the scene makes total sense, and yet it is important during the writing process to forge ahead to the end of the manuscript.

The nice thing about a mystery novel is the denouement. This is the scene where the detective lays the case and its solution out to some attentive audience. Very often in the old-school novels, all the suspects would be sipping tea in the drawing room of some big old mansion.

It is only after reading your own book ten or fifteen times that you can really nail all of it down.

Writing a mystery novel is a lot like conducting an investigation. You want to have all of your facts in place before snapping the cuffs on your suspect or suspects.

Every little place where I fudged as a writer, every place in the book where I’m writing pure fiction, of a sort based on information that can’t be easily verified, it all comes back to haunt you. But this is an opportunity. Court procedures in France in 1929 are one grey area for me. 

I’m not a lawyer and to do the research online would be difficult as the best sources are in French. There is the problem of key-word searches when you want to ask a very specific question. Very few readers will ever question it, and even fewer have the knowledge to contradict the text!

The book’s not really written for scholars, lawyers or police investigators, it’s not written for bankers. All of those folks have a million times more knowledge than I can claim.

It’s written for people who like a good murder mystery, and of course I want to do the best job I can.

Every objection that I can raise to my solution can also be dealt with. It does require going back, through vast sequences, and finding the perfect spot to put another little detail into the story.

You have to get to the end of your manuscript before you can really begin shooting it down.

It’s all part of the editing process, the writing process, and ultimately the publishing process. 

No one wants to produce a book that’s full of typos, misused words the author clearly didn’t understand, errors of logic and an ending that underwhelms the reader.

Even on the fifth run through the book, I was still fixing clunky sentences. I still found missing words and the odd extraneous word in a sentence. As far as logic, it seems pretty good, pretty detailed, and hopefully convincing enough for the average reader.

How to Rob a Bank will be available through many fine online bookstores very soon, with paperbacks to follow.


This may be a bit controversial.

In my opinion, a beta reader, one that had read the book once might have picked off any number of these errors. They might even pick off all of them. But they didn’t write the book, they don’t know who the characters are supposed to be. That’s not the real problem.

The trouble is that time element. I don’t want to wait three weeks to hear back from people. I would be on to the next project. It would dominate my mind—and this story would be almost forgotten at that point.

I really don’t want to go through that sort of process multiple times. Let’s assume beta readers caught every mistake. My solutions would have been pretty much the same. The book would be substantially the same. Either way, it would still take x-number of hours of my time, and probably a lot more doing it that way.

That’s not to say there are not concerns, because there always are. With each book, we learn new things and that all goes towards the next book we write.

There comes a time when it’s done and it’s time to let it go—but I will read the book again once or twice just to make sure, ladies and gentlemen.

You can trust me on that one.


Here’s my blurb:

Inspector Gilles Maintenon has finally run up against an original mind—someone who’s very good at wasting their time. The dead body of a young bank employee is discovered in a vault that shows every sign of being robbed. The premier Paris branch of Crédit Lyonnais has ten or twenty million francs on a busy day. Then there’s the safety-deposit boxes. A proper investigation takes time. The police are nothing if not predictable in their procedures. But that other mind has already gone down that road. They’ve had plenty of time to think about it. Their killer, using simple human psychology, has come up with a brilliant plan. Gilles would dearly love to meet the mind that conceived of that plan. He intends to do just that.

Mystery fans are sure to enjoy How to Rob a Bank, the sixth volume in Louis Shalako’s Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery Series. (Amazon.)

Thank you for reading.


1 comment:

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