A Revising We Will Go

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. I’ve written before about my writing process, one that includes a great deal of revising. Usually, I start with a very short rough draft and the book gets longer with each pass. This time around, working on the fourth Deadly Edits mystery, now titled Murder, She Edited, things have gone a bit differently.

Maybe I was worried it wouldn’t be long enough. Maybe I was anxious to include everything I thought might work for the plot, since this is the last book in the current contract and you never know if the publisher will want more (HINT: if you want to insure that the series continues, you can help by pre-ordering #3, A Fatal Fiction, which has a release date of June 30, 2020). Whatever the cause, as I’ve been working on the current revision, with at least one more to come before the due date on June 1, I’ve ended up cutting, not adding.


Boy have I been cutting! Lots of wordiness. Lots of unnecessary words like “just” and “very” and “suddenly” and “still” and the like. And I repeated myself way too often. You know that rule of three they talk about? Repeat important stuff three times to make sure it registers with your readers? That’s fine for some things, but if you hit readers over the head with the same theory about who dunnit and why too many times, you end up telegraphing what’s going to happen and end up with bored readers. Or you make your amateur sleuth look like an idiot, either because the theory turns out to be way off base or because it’s so obvious she shouldn’t have missed its significance. Once, maybe twice if it’s worded differently, is really enough to get the point across or plant a clue.

In general, though, my revision went pretty much the way it normally does. On some pages, like the ones shown here, hardly a word goes unchanged. In writing the early drafts I’m just trying to get ideas down on the page. Sometimes scenes are all dialogue—talking heads with no tags and, apparently, no reactions or movement or descriptive detail. It’s for good reason that this is sometimes called the sh*t draft. It’s during the revision process that the extraneous detail comes out and the telling details go in. I often move whole blocks of text around within a chapter so that the scene develops in a logical order. In this book, as I have in others before, I ended up switching the order of a couple of chapters and breaking another chapter into two.

What’s left to do before my deadline? First, a big chunk of time away from the manuscript while I work on something completely different. I want to come back to the story able to read it as if I were coming to it fresh—as if someone else had written the book and I was just a regular reader. That distance is important if I’m going to catch errors, especially in continuity. In the interim, the text will go to my beta reader (aka husband) for his feedback. He’ll be catching typos, too.

On the next read through/revision, which I’ll probably start in mid-April, I’ll still be substituting better word choices for the ones in the current version, but hopefully not as often. I’ll be trying to add a few sensory details here and there. I’m always fine with what my sleuth sees, but letting readers know what she hears and smells and the feel of things she touches is harder for me to remember to include. Then, too, I need to go through the entire manuscript and make a “who knows what when” list, to make sure I don’t have any of my characters privy to information before they should be . . . unless, of course, that’s a clue to their villainy.

I worked on the revision I’ve just finished for nineteen straight days, a minimum of four hours a day. Most days I spent mornings revising on a printout and afternoon sessions putting those changes into the computer. Some days I revised three or four of the forty-eight chapters. Others I was lucky to manage one four or five page chapter.


Proof that, somehow, it all works out in the end! With luck, #4 will be at this stage a year from now.

I have no idea how long the next pass will take, but unless my beta reader finds some major flaw in the plot, it should go more quickly that this last one. Will that be the end of it? Of course not. It has always been my goal to send a manuscript to my editor that is as close to perfect as is humanly possible. There will be at least one more revision, if only to catch as many as I can of those pesky typos that always seem to sneak into the doc file.

P.S. There is a definite upside to taking my time and doing this many revisions—it’s been a good many years since I’ve been asked to make any major changes in any book I’ve turned in. Even the copy edits tend to be light.

With the January 2020 publication of A View to a Kilt, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty-one books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. Next up is A Fatal Fiction, in stores at the end of June. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes but there is a new, standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things, in the pipeline for October. She maintains three websites, at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and another, comprised of over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century English women, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.

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4 Responses to A Revising We Will Go

  1. Heidi Wilson says:

    Kathy, how long is that “big chunk of time” between finishing the manuscript and going back for the final polishing? I feel as if my ms. is so burned into my brain I could never get a fresh take!


    • kaitlynkathy says:

      I know the feeling, Heidi! I try for at least a month, during which time I’ve worked on something completely different. Two months is even better. In the past, if I was traveling to conferences, I’d try to finish a draft before I left and not go back to it right away when I got back. Of course this doesn’t work with a tight deadline, and life has a habit of getting in the way, but that long a break is always my goal.


  2. louy castonguay says:

    As I age, I’m finding it hard to both write one book while editing and proofing another in preparation for publication. So I end up doing one or the other. Used to be able to work on many story lines at a time. One semester in college I had four writing classes at time, dong three shorts and working on a book at the same times, while doing papers for two other classes. The times, they are achanging.


  3. Amber Foxx says:

    It was fascinating to see your revision process. Always enlightening to know how other authors work.


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