Finishing Up Your Novel: Deepening the Shallows

Copyright © 2014 George Green and Lizzy Kremer. All rights reserved.

Finishing your novel is a bit like cleaning your house. OK, everyone cleans their house in a different way (assuming they do it at all!). Nevertheless, this is a useful way of thinking about finishing your novel.

Assume that you’ve got a complete draft of your novel and that you’ve edited and rewritten it until it’s in pretty good shape. You’ll get to the point where you feel that what’s now needed is ‘one final push’. (It’s probably also true to say that, after wrestling with the novel for however long it’s been, the very last thing in the world that you’ll feel like doing is returning to the start and going through the whole thing one more time. But there it is. The novel isn’t finished yet. Take a deep breath, one more time.)

What you need to do now is to take a bit of time to make sure that you approach the various things you need to so in the right order. This is where the similarity to cleaning your house comes in – there’s no point in hoovering the floor and then cleaning out the cupboards, as everything that you clean out of the cupboards ends up on the floor. Remember, everything else first, hoover last.

So, one of the things you need to do is a ‘looking forward / looking backward’ edit. Go through the text and make a list of all the important things that happen. Then go through the list and ask yourself two questions: ‘Have I prepared the ground for all of these events?’ and ‘Do all of these events then roll on through the story?’

The first question makes you look at things in terms of foreshadowing. There may be a tendency for things to happen out of the blue – nice people suddenly behave very badly for no reason, previously stable people suddenly get wildly drunk, dark secrets are revealed about people whose lives appear to be impeccable. Now, of course, that’s the point – a good reveal is a pleasing surprise for the reader, but it has to be in some way foreshadowed, so the reader says ‘Well, I wasn’t expecting that, but now it’s out there I can see that the thing that happened on page 37 was a real clue’. So it’s a balance, but remember, things don’t usually happen clear out of the blue.

The second question makes you check that things don’t take place without consequences. If a child dies and the parents aren’t really affected by it, the story isn’t going to be very convincing. And if something happens and there are no consequences, what’s the point of having it in the story at all?

Sort out your foreshadowing and your consequences first, before you try and do any sort of final edit, otherwise you’ll end up having to do it all again.

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