Like Trying to Wash a Cat

I read a great quote today about editing a novel, which said it can be like trying to wash a cat.  I relate to this, which says a lot considering my cat had an irrational fear of water.  Trying to wash her involved thick rubber gloves, a raincoat and plenty of Betadine for treating scratches – which gives you a clear image of how I sometimes find editing.  Luckily I’ve learnt much through the mentorship, which has made this process more pleasant.  The next stage will be the third draft, which Kate has described as working on structure and ‘making the writing sing’.  Parts of it sing a little already, but more of a bad idol audition rather than the polished rock-star performance I’m hoping for.  Anyway, this got me thinking about how the second draft unfolded.

I was lucky enough to have Kate’s experienced and objective eye to assess my first draft, and together we discussed where to take it from there.  The first thing was to identify the target audience – I was on the cusp of two, so we made decisions about whether to slightly simplify the language / world for a junior audience, or increase the stakes to appeal to a mid-grade audience.  After this we looked at what needed working on.  First up was world building: being a fantasy story, the world presented in my first draft was not detailed enough and I needed to get to know my races better.  For this I did lots of daydreaming, brainstorming and mind mapping, one of which appears below:


The next thing I tackled was character consistency: I tend to learn about my characters as I write the first draft, which means they change a lot as I go.  BUT by the end of it I know them quite well.  So I created character profiles for each main character (about 6 all up) which included a number of points about their personality / background, their core strengths and weaknesses, physical traits, and (because I also illustrate) sketches of their face and clothes (which helps with consistent descriptions).  My protagonist’s profile is below:


Lastly I did a detailed plot / chapter plan.  One of the most valuable things Kate taught me was a rule for weeding out chapters that aren’t working hard enough.  Every chapter needs to: 1. Propel the plot forward, 2. Develop character, and 3. Reveal more about the world.  I used these rules to write my plan.  Firstly I scrapped any chapters than were ambling along (more than I’d like to admit).  Then I looked at the skeleton I had: what each leftover chapter achieved and what plot points / character traits were not yet explored fully enough.  After this I made headings of every major event in the book in the order it happened and jotted down a summary under each of how the scenes would fulfil the above rules.  I put it all together along a timeline on a pin board (see below), with coloured paper highlighting major plot events.  Yes, I am a very visual person.  And maybe a little anal, but let’s not be judgmental.


THEN came the re-write.  I used sections of the first draft, but a lot of it was brand new writing.  The detailed plan made it much less scary and the board made it easy to track my progress, which spurred me on.  This whole process took me just under three months and the manuscript increased by ten thousand words.  Not sure what the third draft will look like, but I’m looking forward to finding out…



6 Responses to “Like Trying to Wash a Cat”

  1. 1 chrisbongers February 3, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Interesting that you use the storyboard approach Katherine – so does Sonya Hartnett, so you’re in good company. She also colour-codes her major characters as a way of keeping track of them throughout the course of the story. Though her books tend to be small and perfectly formed; not sure how that technique would sit with a sprawling epic!

  2. 2 Katherine Battersby February 3, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    That’s interesting about Sonya Hartnett, Chris. I love her work – my favourite of the moment is The Ghost’s Child. It’s always good to learn from the way other writers work. And luckily my novel is a reasonably ‘quiet’ fantasy, so not too sprawling! I did actually use colours to track characters in an early draft of this text, to ensure none disappeared from the action for too long.

    I still find it fascinating that we all love telling stories, but can go about it in such different ways.

  3. 3 Madeline Stephenson February 4, 2009 at 6:22 am

    I absolutely adore editing. There’s just something about taking an unfinished work and molding it into order and perfection that calls to me. I can’t wait til I get to this stage!

  4. 4 Katherine Battersby February 4, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    That’s great Mady! I’m learning to enjoy editing more, but still prefer the discovery of the first draft. I swear, I seem to be the only one.

  5. 5 chrisbongers February 5, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    No, once again you’re in good company. Kim Wilkins loves the first draft. That’s the part she says isn’t work!

  6. 6 Katherine Battersby February 5, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Another wonderful writer, Chris! Aren’t you full of writing tidbits? I agree with Kim completely. I was starting to feel an outcast in the world of writing (but I knew there had to be others!)

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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