Editing

March 2nd, 2015

Things have been exceedingly quiet around here over the last month because I’ve been touring in Australia (further details on how that went over here) and also working flat out to get Half a War edited and then copy-edited.  The downside of the quick publication schedule (three books in a year) is there’s always going to be a quick turnaround, and therefore high pressure on the edit for that last book.  And so it has proved.

I cannot articulate how crucial a good edit is to a book.  I finish a first draft knowing a lot of major changes I need to make, end up with a much tighter second draft and go through a whole round of further revisions focussing on secondary characters, on setting, on the detail of the writing, before turning it in to the editors, but even then new sets of eyes (and experienced expert eyes at that) will see shortcomings and areas for improvement you’ll never have thought of.  It’s not necessarily the solutions you’re offered that are so important, as the problems that are brought to your attention and that you’ll work out your own solutions to – it’s important to maintain your own judgement.  It’s also important to realise that your first reaction to every suggestion is to scream ‘fuck no!’ (preferably inside your head), and to give yourself some time to let things sink in, to see what you really do profoundly disagree with and what maybe hurts because it strikes a bit of a chord with some small doubts you’ve already had over a scene or character.

For the First Law books I had one editor, with the Shattered Sea books I’ve had four, plus three agents giving comments.  That makes for a very different process, where rather than comparing one opinion with your own, you’re looking at a whole set of opinions, seeing what there’s agreement on, maybe discounting what there’s not agreement on, and trying to maintain your own judgement throughout.

The result was, in fact, not a lot of big changes, but an awful lot of small ones and also a general feeling that the book was a little loose and the writing not quite as sharp as it had been in previous books.  There was concern about an event happening off-screen so I made an effort at writing a new chapter that brought it on-screen, but wasn’t totally happy with it and, indeed, my editors weren’t either, so I ditched it.  There was one new one-page scene added and a few sections heavily cut and/or rewritten.

Otherwise it was a host of small tweaks, mostly centring on one of the three viewpoint characters, who, it was felt, was too sure of herself, too adult, and lacked a clear mission in the book.  A lot of other minor issues to attend to, plus a thorough, detailed overhaul of the writing with an eye to cut, cut, cutting anything that made me the slightest bit uncomfortable.  Ended up with a much improved book, I think, and one some 3,000 words shorter, despite all the additions of new thoughts.

The copy-edit, therefore, was pretty light, with just the usual hyphens, capitals and ‘z’s swapped for ‘s’s, and a few comments to consider, relatively easily dealt with.  Job done.  Half a War weighs in at 106,000 words, very close to Half the World in length.  It’s due to be published late July, but I should know in the next couple of weeks whether that’s going to be possible.  If not then, it should hopefully be very soon after…

Posted in process by Joe Abercrombie on March 2nd, 2015.

18 comments so far

  • Darren says:

    Its interesting reading these updates from my point of view, as I have never written anything that is to be published and its possible to fall into the assumption that a guy sits in his room, writes a chapter, then another, all in order, and maybe crosses out a line here or there before sending it to print.

    Clearly wrong but without these updates on your site, the average Joe, (no pun intended) will never realise all the hard work that goes into these books.

    Keep up the good work and I’m looking forward to reading the final part of the Shattered Sea.

    One quick question……What’s next? I know you have a deal for more in the First Law world, but are there more short stories which are connected before that first of all?

  • Ellen says:

    I appreciate how all these changes make for a better novel, but still I would love a peek at the original versions, to read the uncut scenes and the deleted chapters.

  • Jens says:

    Lots of work even after the first draft is finished. But it’s always worth to put much effort in revisions. The final result will be another outstanding book in the Shattered Sea series. I already love the first two volumes and I’m sure the third will be awesome, too.
    I’ve read all your books and I’ve never been disappointed so far. I guess that is why there are over twenty copies in my collection (and I still haven’t got all the editions I want). I’m currently after a Subterranean Press edition of “The Blade Itself” but 250 £ and more plus shipping… oh my goodness. 😀

  • CAI XON says:

    Why is it that I wish we could see that new chapter you finally left out?

  • Iangr says:

    The ditched chapter got me thinking…would you be willing to share with us original ideas/directions for characters or story that you thought of,but were (in retrospect) ditched?

    It’d be interesting for us fans to see how your original fantasy was until you put it in write.

    I’d die to get a Director’s Cut of the the Heroes or Red Country.

  • Ellen says:

    I would also Love to read the Directors cut version.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    There’s no ‘writer’s cut’ in that sense – everything that appears in the final book is what I chose to put there, everything I’ve cut I’ve cut for a reason. Editors only give advice you’re not obliged to take. It’s sensible to listen but in the end you have full control over what’s in a book (or you certainly should have). There are things in old books I’d do differently now, for sure, but overall the books when published have been the best I was capable of producing. I understand the mystique of the deleted scene but, really, they’re deleted or done differently for good reasons. I cut the bad bits, the repetitive, the unnecessary, the badly thought out, not the good ones.

  • Franky Fitz says:

    Interesting. Would you ever go back over past work and make revisions then, such as Stephen King and The Gunslinger?

    P.s. Loving Half the World by the way – I think it showcases your best prose yet.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Franky,
    Actually have been thinking lately about doing a small revision of the First Law, most especially the Blade Itself, just to tighten and sharpen the writing. As my first book it’s still the thing most readers encounter first, and inevitably has some of my ropiest writing. Wouldn’t want to change anything too major or lose any of the sense of exuberance that comes with a first book. We’ll see.

  • Ross says:

    Can’t wait for the 3rd book. I really appreciate how hard you are working to get this out. It would kill me to have to wait a few years. Not only do you write really well but you bust your ass to get things out quickly.

    I agree with a lot of the other comments that Half the World is the best written book of yours that I’ve read. I’ve really enjoyed reading the book. The First Law trilogy made me a fan, but this book really nailed it for me.

    There were 2 nights where I had to get to sleep but couldn’t because your book got my heart racing and I couldn’t calm down. I had to see what happened next. Happy that I don’t have to wait until next year for the book.

    I’ve already pre-ordered Half a War through Amazon.

    BTW…just want to through this out there…not having to do with The Half King…Bayaz is an ass.

  • mayank says:

    Would it be possible to add that deleted chapter at the end of the book, as an “extra” ?

    Regarding changing The First Law: please dont! In my eyes it is a masterpiece. There is not one sentence that seems out of place.

  • thomas+conneely says:

    Agree completely with mayank, don’t change anything from The Blade Itself – it made your name, and led to everything else.

  • Chad says:

    Please don’t change any of your books! A bit too “Lucas-y” imho. They’re all perfect – not only did it get me into reading all your other books, it also got me into Fantasy in general. (Always been a SF geek!)

    Obviously it’s up to you, but I’d leave as-is and channel your energies into new stories (please).

  • AntMac says:

    I just couldn’t take the time off work, or I’d a come to the Dymocks signing mate. Brought a copy a week or more ago, but, bloody work, I have not had a moment to even do more than read the title page.

    Re re-writing the first book. It is my carefully considered opinion that it would be a damned shame. I am not to be advising the master on how to lay the keel for the ship, I understand . . . but it is what it is man !. Hundreds of writers would piss blood for half the return.

    And Steven King?. Honestly, where should he STOP in re-writing. Maybe he should just stop. Talk about a comparison damning with faint praise.

  • Roger says:

    The idea of rewriting “The Blade Itself” is really interesting. Certainly there are certainly parts of it that read noticeably different from your current prose. And I wonder if you’d eliminate thinks like the initial attempts of magical fire-breathing Logen that were abandoned in the rest of the trilogy.

  • Matt says:

    Mr Abercrombie,

    Your books are an inspiration. Completing Half the World inspired me to re-read The Heroes for a third time.

    Thank you for the worlds you take me too and distraction from my real life. I look forward to the third installment in my new favorite series…

  • […] tries to figure out what the writer was trying to do, and helps him or her do it better.” And here’s Joe Abercrombie (who also happens to be my favorite author): “I cannot articulate how crucial […]

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