Editing THE SCOURGE, pt 1

Posted by on May 27, 2015 in Uncategorized | 39 comments

writerssurgeonsOver the years, I’ve had some requests from young writers to explain my editing process. Granted, not a ton of requests because most people compare the editing process to sadistic dentists like this, but it’s actually my favorite part, and in my opinion, the most important stage of writing.

Creating from the blank page is hard. It’s building something from nothing. It’s the continual realization that most of the words you’re setting down are garbage, and all you want to do is labor over those few sentences until they’re perfect. But you can’t. Because if you do, you’ll never get to the next chapter, or the next page, or even the next paragraph.

I also need to say that the first 15,000 words of this story fought me like a cursed beast from the depths of Hades (a nod to Nicolas Calva there). I have at least a dozen failed starts for this story that kept leading me to dead ends. I wrote both my agent and editor to say I might not be able to write this. I quit sleeping. I ate a lot of ice cream. Then I took a deep breath and decided I needed to think about this story in an entirely different way. Only then did I start to put the right story down on the page.

The first 25,000 words took me a total of three miserable months. Start. Fail. Start. Fail. Eat Ice Cream until the new approach hit me. The last 38,000 took me a week and a half. Now I’m thrilled to be editing.

Because editing creates art. Each rewrite takes me closer to the vision in my head and further away from that cacophony of semi-literate slush known as the first draft. I’m going to take you through the process, as I go through it.

So this is our starting place. The manuscript known as The Scourge is right now sitting at 63,642 words. Many writers have to cut their word counts in editing. I expand, mostly because my first draft skips important details like descriptions, interior dialogue, and a lot of the humor that will come later. I have many character and place names, but not all of them, so I’ve merely marked them with a line and an asterisk, like this _*. Lame. Who wants to be named _*?

Here’s my plan for the rest of the week of rewrites:

  1. Fill in those blanks.
  2. Do a general read through to find the most glaring errors, particularly major plot holes like, “Hey, didn’t I kill her off a few chapters ago? Why is she back?”
  3. Keep my playlist on “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers. It has a big place in this story.

Trust me, that’ll take the rest of the week, and that’s if I work hard. Because my first drafts are just that bad.

For those who are curious, this is the plot for THE SCOURGE (a description that will also evolve as I edit): When Ani Mells is diagnosed with a highly contagious and deadly disease, she is sent away to a Colony where she slowly begins to learn that surviving the Scourge is only the beginning of her problems. Coming in fall 2016.


  1. How long does it take to revise an entire trilogy?,or in other words,How long did it take to revise each book in the False Prince Trilogy?

    • Madison, every book is different, regardless of whether it’s a series or if it’s a standalone. Some come together very cleanly and some are just hot messes. For the False Prince, book 1 required very little editing, really only a few passes. The Runaway King required several editing passes, probably over a few month’s time. The Shadow Throne was in the middle of those.

  2. how do you create a character’s personality? I noticed that the main characters in your books are all different but some how always gets readers to fall in love with him, what usually helps you create these characters?

    • Ellen, before I ever start writing, i spend a TON of time trying to get to know my characters. Because I want them to feel like complete, whole people as soon as you meet them. I might look for pictures that look like their image in my head, or find their dominant personality traits, learn their secrets, and identify their goals in the story. I also try to find a song that represents them, because if I can find their music, they can get inside me.

      • You say you come up with songs for the characters. Could you tell us what some of them are?

      • What songs did you pick to go along with characters from the Ascendance trilogy, or Mark of the Thief?

      • What genre is The Scourge? Is it realistic fiction, or fantasy? Just curious…

        • Well Paige, it’d probably be considered a fantasy, but it’s not a series – just a standalone book.

  3. Hello!! I was wondering if there will be movies on the ascendance trilogy! They are my favorite books and think they would be an awesome movie!! I love your books and just recently started reading your newest book Mark of the Thief! It’s really good so far!!! Thanks for making the best books EVER!!!


    • Thank you, Victoria. I won’t know for sure about a movie until August, so keep your fingers crossed!

      • I can’t wait to find out if the Ascendance trilogy will be a movie or not!! I LOVE your books.

        • Thank you, Madison. Fingers crossed, right? 😉

          • Right!

      • i NEED to see those books in a movie. I remember in fourth grade when my teacher was reading us The False Prince, I was thinking about how cool it would be if there was a movie. i have my fingers crossed for a movie. 🙂

        • About another month and I should know about The False Prince, Tori. Until then, thanks very much for this!

  4. Thanks so much for posting this! I love writing but find it so hard to do the first few chapters because they never turn out right. I also never really go back over them because I find it so tedious. This really helped me to understand the editing process though so thanks! The plot for The Scourge sounds so good! I cant wait to read it!!

    • The first few chapters are often really frustrating because you’re having to build the whole foundation. It’s why I have so many failed starts on this project. But don’t worry about whether they’re turning out right in that first draft. They won’t. They’ll be awful, and that’s okay. Keep going!

  5. Cool! I love that song from the proclaimers, so it’ll be fun reading a book where that played a main part. I might listen to it on my headphones while I read. 😉
    That’s a good idea to come up with a song that represents each character… I’ll have to try that. I usually write down everything I can think of about my character and sometimes send them through the MBTI test, which helps as far as being consistent with their personality.

    • Music has a way of focusing me on the character’s emotions, though it might not work that way for everyone. And I often do personality tests for my character’s too. It not only helps with consistency, but also in better understanding how they relate to each other. In fact, now that I’m thinking of it – I might just do that for the SCOURGE characters tonight.

  6. When in doubt, eat ice cream 😀

  7. Last year when I was in fifth grade, i was (trying to) write a series. One of my favourite characters was this girl names Bailey, who ended up dying in book six. I was reading through book nine and I realized that Bailey and Luna were talking with Lily at the school cafeteria. I finally realized that she was supposed to be dead and I was like, “She was on of the best characters! How did I forget she died?”

    (I actually sad that out loud and my mom looked at me funny. 🙂 )

    Oh, also, I’m going to legally change my name to _* 😀

    • Yep, that’s pretty much the reason for editing. For longer series like that, many authors create a bible – just a comprehensive record of every character, place, and timeline.

  8. Do you know if your books in the Ascendance trilogy are going to be movies yet!!??!!

  9. I think centuries by fall out boy https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LBr7kECsjcQ is sort of like Nic’s story

    • It’s definitely Roman, and there are a lot of similarities to Nic’s story, no doubt. Good thinking, Madison!

  10. Hi :). You mentioned you do personality tests for your characters. Do you look at Myers Brigg’s when designing them? If so, what are their types? (Actually now I’m super curious as to your type, too.)
    Ps. Now I’ll definitely be using music when designing characters (because they bring to the surface emotions within you that your main characters will be struggling with in their stories.) Perfect suggestion 🙂 thank you.

    • I haven’t used Myers Briggs as much and don’t even know my type. There are two other tests I use that are primarily used by psychologists. I don’t use them in designing a character, but rather, to better understand the character once they are created.

  11. what is the time frame of the scourge

    • If it were in actual history, it’d be the early 1800’s. But of course, it’s fantasy, so I can play with time a lot, which is always fun!

  12. How do you get your book known by lots of people?

    • Hi Holt – That’s one of those questions that every author asks and no one really knows the answer to. I think it needs as many of these factors as possible. The more the better.
      1. Publisher support. When a publisher gets behind promoting a title, that can have a big impact.
      2. Great reviews. This particularly helps for librarians and indie bookstore buyers to want to get your book in stock.
      3. A great hook. High concept books tend to get buzz, such as Hunger Games’ “Kids forced to kill other kids” shocking concept.
      4. Author Platform. It helps if the author is highly visible, such as with a lot of social media followers, or they can get a TV interview, or they’re a well known public figure.

      That said, an author can have all of that and still have a book that flies under the radar.

      So…in my experience, the most important thing is…(wait for it!)…

      5. Word of mouth. The best sales tool I know is when one person reads my books and then recommends them to someone else and so on and so on. That can take some time to build, but has an incredibly powerful effect.

      This is why it’s such a great compliment to authors to post reviews of their books, ask their school or public librarian to get a copy in, and to talk about a book they liked to their friends.

  13. how many awards did you receive?

    • Hmm, I dunno. The best way to figure it out is to look up each book on my website. Listed below its description are any awards that book has received.


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