The anatomy of a novel

I’m in process with revisions to Honest And For True, the novel about the mechanic who can see her guardian angel. If you’ve hung around here for a while, you remember how much fun that novel is.

Since then, I’ve gotten expert feedback on revising it to submit to the mainstream market rather than the inspirational market. It’s good advice, but it requires dismantling the entire book and re-writing large swaths of it, removing some characters, and otherwise giving its good points space to breathe.

The first thing to do was not, as you’d expect of me at this point, to start revising willy-nilly. Yes, that worked wonderfully in Seven Archangels: Annihilation, but this kind of remodel needs to be more finely tuned. Instead I’m doing what Angela Hunt suggested a smart person should do for the first draft of a novel. (Hey! Just because smart people do it doesn’t mean I’m not allowed.)  I’m using a spreadsheet.

On the spreadsheet is a breakdown of the book, scene by scene, listing what happens in each scene, who is in each scene, and where it takes place. This will help me keep track of how often Lee is in her apartment, when she’s at work, and how often she interacts with her niece.

Going through the first draft, all that happened by feel. With the novel lying in textual chunks around my bedroom floor, I’m not so trusting in my instincts. They might work. They might not. Call it a triptik for the literary world, but I need to at least make the effort of being organized.

You’ll also have to join me in a funerary dirge for the character of Paul, who apparently didn’t matter to the story as much as I’d have wanted him to when I initially wrote him. And Bill, who was previously a love-interest, has been downgraded to “pal” and may be shortly downgraded further to “nonexistent.”

Do you know why? Because over the long term of the novel, neither one was much more than the above paragraph. Really: the ten thousand or so words they were occupying is verbal real estate, and it needs to be occupied by something more central to the novel. I just didn’t see it.

I’m giving myself six weeks to revise (and sob as I cut) and then one more month to do the “sit/gestate/re-revise” and at that point, I may have a new finished product. I don’t know at this point, as I’m writing this blog entry, where I’ll be by the beginning of December, whether I’ll be agented and needing HAFT as a bargaining chip for an agent who’s submitting ♥My Book♥, or whether I’ll have given up on finding an agent for ♥My Book♥ and will re-start the entire process with HAFT (which, for the record, has a much better hook for a query letter.)

But for now, I’m looking at the anatomical structures that make up a novel — my novel! — as if I’m looking at the skeletal system or a diagram of the electrical infrastructure of the United States. And you know, it’s kind of cool.


  1. Ken Rolph

    And Bill, who was previously a love-interest, has been downgraded to “pal” and may be shortly downgraded further to “nonexistent.”

    How naughty of you. You are describing my student days. But at least you had the common decency to change my name!

    1. philangelus

      HAH! I actually like how I redesigned this guy’s character because he fits much better with the protagonist now.

      Like most (but not all) of the guys I had to do that to in real life, he’s a likable character and I wish him the best, but he’s not for her. 🙂

  2. cricketB

    Have you tried a wiki for the story bible? Mur Lafferty loves using it for that. I’m yet to commit to a project that needs one, but I love wikis.

    I usually begin with the structure. Agreed, it’s an awesome thing. Much better with some muscles and flesh and clothes, but I enjoy books where every so often I think back and can feel the support of a good skeleton.