on the writing & reading trail

Edit diary

Over the next days and weeks and months I will post a diary of the journey through editing the draft of my first novel. A large exercise for a family and friendship saga spanning the years from 1917 to the end of the twentieth century and the intertwining lives of two migrant Australian families, one from Scotland, the other from Macedonia.  

Days 4 to 7 (18 – 20 February 20120

18 – 19 February:  Best intentions were hijacked for the weekend. No progress at all because of preoccupations of the family variety. And it was so hot and humid, and worse today 33o C. Hope the forecast storm will arrive here this evening. Have found a haven in the local library – cool and quiet and comfortable.

20 February: Found the beach party incident I wanted by scanning older backups. Had forgotten a longer description of the incident had been jettisoned in more recent versions to reduce back-story content. Re-read shows that an important element got lost with that – now reclaimed and fitted with another incident, also brought forward to fit the new linear approach. Made annotations in later text in several places as a reminder that anomalies resulting from today’s changes will need to be worked out. Continuing to rework the content on this basis – massaging the content into a different timeline and managing a transition that works. Also trawled to find another incident to incorporate – will stretch my ingenuity to manage that, but I think it will all work out and can probably move to the Glasshouse Mountains episode.

Tomorrow’s task will be knitting all the above together before thinking of the next chapter. No way to hurry it along.


DAYS 2 AND 3  – 16 and 17 February 2012

16 February: All editing work in the head only, trying to sort ideas about first chapters of novel. Have chopped and changed many times. Need a firm choice now to make progress so that anomalies because of the changes can be sorted clearly when I meet them further on. Need to get that right for tomorrow’s real work.

The day’s activities kept me from the keyboard as I drove or bussed between them.

a)     A morning Writer’s Group chat focused on compiling an anthology of our creative exercises in the rough, and / or including some of our individual stories in a group and / or individual blogs. We need to decide which is best program for us – thinking of Smashwords or Book Press meantime. All of us are a bit short on some of the knowledge and format skills needed.

b)     Attended a conversation facilitated by the Queensland Writers Centre in the evening between the CEO (QWC) and the owners of Small Beer publishing house. Interesting. Confirms my developing sense that an author needs to know what the current fashionable wisdom from publishing houses is, but needs to balance that with their passion about their story. Had a sense that a small press connection could be helpful. The trick then is to find a publisher who is in tune. How?

17 February: Today is all about selecting the first chapter. Have decided to go linear to reduce the number of flashbacks. Started that way much earlier but felt that there was no indication in those crucial first pages of the robustness of the story to come. So the challenge is: how can I build that vigour in for what is the gentle meeting and immediate attachment between two teens, that is tested across a quarter of a century?

Decision: Start the story in 1976 in Maroochydore on Sunshine Coast. Continue with linear approach by bringing forward several major scenes from later in the current version. NB – will require significant work on gaps / transitions when I reach subsequent chapters. Will face that when I get there. Will be storing backups of all changes in case this approach works only in part / or not at all.

Started working on this basis. New first chapter adapted reasonably easily to new location [previously part of chapters two three in previous versions].

Finding it more difficult to incorporate a beach party incident [originally from Part 4] and a class camping trip to the Glasshouse Mountains [originally from Part 2].

Aside: One comment from the Small Beer session revived a notion that had floated before. If I took an e-publishing route maybe it would work to serialise the six parts, instead of thinking of one, two or three books. Keep in mind. 

DAY ONE –  15 February, 2012

Overview of novel

Working title: Always . . . ?  [a family and friendship saga spanning the twentieth century and four generations with an emphasis on the third generation and the latter decades]

Always . . . ? is currently structured in six parts with an approximate word-count of 225,000 words.

Previous editing

Previous work was based on my continuing review of the text, and considering and / or responding to chapter by chapter comments from Writer’s Group members [they haven’t seen it all yet].

Major issues for attention, in addition to style, plot, dialogue, relevance, etc. are:

  • Where the story starts? Needs final decisions – on which prologue, and which chapters come first. Have chopped and changed starting point several times.

  • Consistency and detail – Fix anomalies that have crept in because of a focus on ‘getting-it-down’ and altering the order of chapters, and deleting some parts of original writing.

  • Check use of flashbacks – Have already found ways to include some flashbacks in a linear way into story. Has eliminated confusion in some cases and helped the flow. Maybe possible to repeat with others.
  • Fleshing out the main characters on the page so resonate more fully as the complex characters in my imagination.
  •  What can / should be cut? – there are lots of words. Some cuts already made.
  •  Check research – especially for the African and humanitarian aid content. New material pops up from time to time that could add to authenticity.
  • Presentation decision(s). Need to decide, or seek advice on keeping it as a single saga story (my preference and recommended by an experienced editor who made favourable comments on an early extract before the characters detoured to places I hadn’t envisaged), OR to consider it as two novels OR a trilogy. If two novels, each would comprise three parts. If three novels, each would comprise two parts.

Now for the serious editing

Today’s task 


Wonderful place to begin a story

Choose between two potential prologues / or no prologue:

Option 1: Current prologue set in northwest Scotland in 1917 fits if the saga remains as one novel, although its full impact would not be apparent till far into the story. Using this version is less appropriate if the story was divided into two or three books – best fit would be with Book 2 in each case.

During earlier editing I jettisoned and reinstated this version several times, intending to incorporate the content much later within the main story, but retained it as a prologue after discussions with Writer’s Group members. If included as prologue in Book 2, I’d probably reduce length and incorporate part into main text.

Option 2: An alternate prologue, developed from a flashback within the main story, is set in wartime Glasgow in the early 1940s. Its connection with the unfolding story becomes apparent early in Part One and at later times in the story. Eliminates one of the flashbacks.

Option 3: No prologue. Although some readers claim they never read prologues, I do, as I think the author must have a purpose in placing them up front. Both my examples have a foreshadowing role. Have decided to include at least one prologue.

Decision: Go for Option 2. Start in Glasgow. Check regularly for anomalies arising from the changes.  

Rabbie Burns

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