Pulling Threads: Editing Unravels Problems in your Writing

Sometimes, editing is like pulling a thread. You give it a little yank, and everything starts unraveling.

So it was for Chapter 16 of Red Dragon Five, the next novel in the Wolf Dasher series that premieres in a mere two weeks. While working through the book’s fourth draft, I noticed Wolf hadn’t used my favorite of his powers: his postcognitive vision. It was an easy fix. There was a nice, logical place for it to happen. I added the sequence, liked what I had, and moved on. Everything was great.

Or so I thought.

As my editor and I were working on the fifth draft, I discovered my nifty, little fix created a logic problem. There’s a minor character in Red Dragon Five named Dark Dagger, a Phrygian Shadow. I’d never established any powers for him, because his part is small enough he doesn’t get a chance to use them. When Wolf first meets him, Dark Dagger threatens him with a crossbow.

But when I wrote the new passage in the fourth draft, I gave the Phrygian agent the ability to form knife-shaped Shadoow weapons and throw them at opponents. Hence, his codename. Well, if you fling daggers of dark, otherworldly energy around that are capable of killing people, you don’t need to carry a crossbow. You’re going to rely on your special power instead.

This seems like an easy-enough fix. Just don’t give him the crossbow. Change the encounter so Wolf is threatened with the Shadow weapon instead.

The problem was Wolf turns around and uses the crossbow in the very same scene. If Dark Dagger doesn’t bring it, Wolf doesn’t have it to use.

Now what?

Well, that required me to rewrite some more, and I didn’t like what happened. It looked to me like I had a plot hole. So I had to get out my literary drywall and patch it. Even more writing was required.

Once I finally had the crossbow conundrum solved satisfactorily, I was getting ready to move onto Chapter 17. Then another logic problem occurred to me.

After the encounter, Wolf poses as Dark Dagger to further infiltrate the bad guys’ operations. Since Dark Dagger is from Phrygia, I had Wolf adopt a Phrygian (i.e., Russian) accent to maintain the cover. Consequently, all of Wolf’s dialogue for the better part of 10 or so chapters was written in phonetic dialect.

But after four drafts, it finally occurred to me that Dark Dagger’s original mission was to penetrate Wolf’s Urlish (i.e., Anglo-American) organization. He wouldn’t be able to do that very well if he spoke with a Phrygian accent. Thus, to imitate a Phrygian trying to sound like an Urlander, Wolf would need to speak in his natural accent.

So I spent the next 10 or so chapters changing all of the Phrygian-accented dialect back to its original (i.e., regular English) form.

All this because I pulled one thread in Chapter 17 and had Wolf use a power he hadn’t used.

This is, of course, why you edit, and why you go through multiple drafts. No matter how hard you work or closely you pay attention, it is still possible to miss something until late in the process.

Red Dragon Five is a better novel now. It’s tighter, more logical, and more satisfying.

But it just goes to show you that editing your novel is a critical part of writing a good book. Find an editor you trust and have him or her help you pull threads, so if anything unravels you can fix it before it gets out to readers.

Otherwise, things come apart in ways you won’t like.

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