Ardella Jones in Jamaica

I was amazed to find how many typos, inconsistencies and plain old F.U.s there were in my final draft of Miss Widow in Jamaica. My editorial team – Jonathan Wolfman on plot and story, Simona Sideri on fine detail, timelines, layout and punctuation, Joan Lecky on all things Jamaican – had been through the MS at least twice. I had read through the ‘final’ draft three times– slowly, yet there were still missing/superfluous/misspelt words. More seriously, there was a woman cooking dinner at breakfast time, a missing .45 revolver, and several trans-Atlantic phone calls with the wrong time zones. So let me pass on to you a few tips I’ve learned from this painful process:

  • Print a hard copy. Forget about saving trees, this is more important (Forgive me, planet). You cannot weed out every typo on screen; you just don’t see them. Read slowly, pen poised so you don’t skip over anything; our brains tend to fill in blanks and add missing letters.

To complicate my life, I had to turn off spell-check because all the Jamaican words provoked a red line.

  • Keep character notes with house numbers, dates of birth, ages at specific dates; this saves you leafing back through the whole MS because you can’t remember on what floor the villain lives. Programmes like Scrivener (you can download a free trial) provide functions for notes; I am going to try one out for my sequel.
  • Highlight in the draft MS what clothes characters are wearing – you don’t want your rapist unzipping his jeans when he’s in track pants. Note what gun/phone/car ­– we don’t want the baddie firing ten rounds when he’s got a .357 Magnum which holds six.
  • Double-check telephone calls across time zones. I had to rewrite several scenes in which I had got the five-hour time difference between Greenwich Mean Time and Eastern Standard Time the wrong way round as in, “Have I woken you up?” “Er – no, it’s three in the afternoon.”
  • Don’t forget temperature and time; if you said it was 9 a.m. and 30 c. the start of a chapter, don’t let your protagonist put on a woolly a few pages later at noon.
  • Make margin notes on times and days; it’s easy to lose track especially when you are switching between different characters within a tight time frame. I had a tendency to make my heroine hungry – it sounds more dramatic ­ – but Simona Sideri, as an Italian, was very strict about mealtimes and quite frequently gave me notes like: “She had three hours at the hotel, before the gunmen arrive, in which she could’ve eaten a perfectly adequate lunch.”
  • The body count was another issue on which Simona and I differed; she had twenty-one corpses and I could only find twenty. After listing all the fatalities, we realised the missing cadaver was an unfortunate dread called Mouse in Rat Records. I rewrote so it was clear that he was only a GBH not a homicide. If you are writing chick-lit this problem may not arise but you’ll probably need to count skinny lattes and one-night stands. Fantasy writers will need an accurate elf/dragon tally.
  • Make good use of your Search Document Function to check on spellings, names et cetera; I wavered between ‘veranda’ and ‘verandah’ so I Listed Matches and replaced one with the other throughout the MS. I’d called a character “Essie’ and “Ettie” at different times, so I plumped for one and pressed Replace All. It’s also a good way of avoiding repetition; I’d used ‘palpable’ four times and decided that twice was enough for any novel.

Ardella Jones
Writers’ Room workshops take place 1 – 4 p.m. first Saturday in the month and are suitable for new and experienced writers, those who enjoy trying new forms and ideas. Novelists’ Survival Group meets 7 – 9. 30 p.m. first Monday in the month for writers with 40,000 words plus synopsis.