In the Shadow of Legends: An Editing After-Action Report

I finished the first draft of my latest novel In the Shadow of Legends on March 8th of this year.  I put it into a drawer for two months before even thinking about it again, something I learned from The Last Scion.  Trying to edit a book right after you’ve finished it is not unlike calling your own baby ugly.  You just can’t do it.

If you look back at my post entitled “The (Red) Pen is Mightier”, you’ll get a feel for what I mean.  Today, I finished going through the last of the 225,000 word novel (about 7-800 pages paperback) with a red pen and a vengeance.  It took me a few weeks, and I wanted to share what I’ve learned.

Dean Wesley Smith, who wrote a book about the myths associated with writers, suggested that rewriting is a gimmick used by authors to make their work seem harder than it actually is.  He says that all he does is “sit in a room alone and make stuff up”, and it’s as easy as that.  I agree with him to a point – you can really suck the voice out of your writing by taking your Strunk and White and stapling it to the pages – but mostly I think that’s a rule for writers that have millions of words under their belts.  I learned an awful lot from my read-through, and by the time I’m done making the changes I mapped out I think I’m going to have the best book I’ve ever written.

I noticed that the first 1/3 of the book seemed to have been written by my thirteen-year-old self.  Run on sentences, overly complicated exposition, misuse of adverbs.  I bled all over the page, literally running out of red ink somewhere later on in the novel.  The Last Scion had a dearth of description, the action happening in voids of nothing that it took many months to fix in my rewrites.  This time I think I swung the pendulum to the other extreme, and I’ll have to pare it down a bit.  I think, however, that In the Shadow of Legends succeeds in bringing the reader into the world in a way that my other writing hasn’t up to this point.  I’m happy that I’m learning something, at least.

Somewhere in the middle of the book my writing changed completely.  I’m still trying to figure out the timeline to see what exactly happened, but it may have had something to do with my going to Life, the Universe and Everything with my wonderful friend Jen Lerud.  While I was there, I had a few conversations with the clever and talented Mary Robinette Kowal, who said one thing that I had written in large, block letters in my notebook:


I get it, now.  You can’t just attack writing with the task-master approach that I use with nearly everything else in my life.  That certainly helped – the first draft took just over three months to complete – but the spirit of Mary’s advice really rings out in my writing.  It’s the passion for telling a good story, the passion for recreating that goose-bumps feeling you get when you read something so powerful that your body reacts of its own accord.  I’m not saying that my own writing is anywhere near that good, but I can see the seeds of the things I’ve learned starting to sprout.  Grinning like an idiot at your own work, even if it’s only every once in a while, is a great feeling.

It wasn’t all flowers and wonder, though.  I still have a lot of work to do on this novel.  I noticed that I have some gaps to fill in regarding my foreshadowing, and the backstories of some of the characters created some plot holes that need filling.  The arc of the whole plot is good, and the arc of the main character is solid, but I need to make sure my villains have motivations other than simply being evil people.   I also caught on to my “favorite” words.  My characters tended to “freeze in their tracks” a lot, and some other cliches that need eliminating.  I also need to work on my similes and metaphors, and stop using phrases like “seemed like” and so forth.

The great thing is that the book isn’t broken.  It can be fixed with some strokes of paint here and there, and in the end I think I’m going to have a really good book on my hands.

Now, to get someone to buy it…

– Joe

***Note:  As I have just finished the red-pen process, a rewrite is about to take place that, depending on my schedule, will take a while.  I am currently canvasing for test readers.  If you would like to be a test reader for In the Shadow of Legends, leave a comment or hit me up via the contact tab.  I’ll be looking for a larger edit, not line-editing where you make suggestions on verbiage, etc. Just people to read my book and tell me where a.) you’re bored, b.) you’re confused, or c.) you’re thrown out of the story.   Also, telling me when you’re in love with it, if I do anything cool, helps.  (Thanks for those questions, too, Mary!)

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