A book in the process of becoming

I finished* a manuscript last night. 80,000 words, 16 months from first concept to “The End.” Prodigals is (so far) the shortest novel-style work I’ve ever produced, and it’s solidly in the middle of the pack for completion time.

There will be changes. Possibly even major ones. But there will be no more “drafts.” As detailed in other posts, by the time I get to “The End,” I’ve put my original plot, character concepts, settings, story structure,  and themes through the wringer, over the moon and off the board multiple times. In the later stages my story sculpting–that process of  chiseling, chipping and buffing out a story from a chunk of pure idea–more often resembles an octopus untangling bags full of yarn and hyperactive kittens.

Prodigals is a finished story, a newborn baby novel. Time to break out the champagne & throw glittery confetti?  Time to show off my creation to the whole awed world?

No. Not quite yet.

Yes, some people do set their books free at birth, trusting their formidable, agile creations to thrive and dazzle from the outset. And some might thrive. Some manuscripts might spring perfect from their creators’ brows. Haven’t seen it happen myself, haven’t heard or read any tale of it outside mythology texts , but anything is possible.

In my experience…

Books are not born like guinea pigs or ponies, ready to rock and roll as soon as they hit air. (Baby guinea pigs are the cutest things, by the way. Squeaky, tiny tribbles with beady black eyes, such perfect miniatures of their parents I thought someone was pranking me the first time I saw one.) Nope. Books aren’t like that at all. At least not mine.

My newborn books are more like baby kangaroos. They’re squishy and raw, barely formed. They have life and breath, they are alive and finished,  but boy, they are helpless, clumsy fragile creatures unready to face the cold, harsh world.

My manuscript, wetly-stamped with “The End” and still sticky with typos,  needs a lot more nurturing before I declare it ready for independent living. It will be with me for months yet, held safe and warm while it develops. As time passes, it will come and go from my protective embrace, changing, improving, and maturing each time.

The marsupial process goes something like this:

  • Check over manuscript for gross errors and format for beta readers.
  • Send to beta readers.
  • Make revisions based on beta feedback.
  • Send to editor.
  • Make revisions based on editing.
  • Set formatting, cover, and layout.
  • Proof final book.

There are good things to be said for gaining experience and collecting the right stuff. This isn’t the first word baby I’m sheltering from blob phase to book life. I’ve picked up a few tricks and tools.

The simple trick of contacting potential beta readers before checking over the manuscript saved me days or even weeks. The process of making the manuscript ready for eyes other than my own was also much easier this time around.

Spelling+grammar+phrase power checks? I have lists and a routine, and I’ve lately mastered the nuances of find/replace and the trick of saving the manuscript to an e-reader program where errors stand out like blaze-orange embarrassments.

And formatting? Breaking my first novel into chapters took YEARS. I do not exaggerate. The second? Hmmmm. Still not in chapters, honestly. Both subsequent published novels took days and serious paragraph restructuring to get from the scenes in which I think and write to a chaptered structure that had any hope of pulling a reader’s attention along.

Prodigals? A couple of hours. No rewording needed. Imagine my glee. (It goes like this. Ha. Ha! HA! BWAhahahahahahahahahahaha!)  I watched three episodes of Person of Interest to celebrate.

Prodigals was a difficult story to bring to life, but now that it’s finally here, squalling and wriggly, I look forward to carrying it along the rest of the way. And sharing baby pictures, of course.

What are blogs for?


*I say finished, but it’s really finished again, as there was a slight delay in the actual birthing. After thinking I’d completed it a month+ ago and lining up beta readers, I discovered not one but multiple points where I had uncharacteristically left<fix action here> notes instead of working out a sticky plot point.