Finishing Your Book: a handy completion checklist
You’ve written your book. You’ve slaved over the plotting, wept blood on the characterisation, drunk your way through the sex scenes, got yourself under GCHQ scrutiny thanks to the websites you’re visiting for research, squeezed out multiple thousand words through your finger ends, and typed The End. But are you really finished?
Here, in honour of sending off my sixth book to the publisher, is my cut-out-n-keep Book Completion Checklist. It won’t catch everything but it might save you a bit of humiliation as the editor finds a delicate and tactful way to tell you you’re an idiot.
Have you removed vestiges of previous drafts?
That character who used to play a plot role? That conversation that no longer leads anywhere? The dinner party introducing half a dozen people who never come back?[i] The reference to the giant octopus that wasn’t actually in the finished story at all?[ii]
Have you got the characters’ names right?
Does a character’s name randomly change in the course of the book?[iii] If you changed the character’s name, say from Tim to Felix, did you click ‘replace whole word only’, or is your MS now full of words like ‘felixing’ and ‘infelixate’[iv]?
Did you go back and do the things you meant to go back and do?
Notes to self are a very useful way to get over a passage you’re stuck on without breaking flow, but is your editor going to come across ‘DESCRIPTION’ or, even worse, ‘HOT SEX SCENE HERE’?[v]
Have you found your Word of the Book?
There’s always one. Maybe for some bizarre reason you’ve qualified everything as ‘a little’. Maybe your characters have all developed the same nervous tic of shrugging, sighing or eye-shutting. Maybe you’ve used the word ‘glee’ thirty-two times in 60,000 words, despite the book not in fact being about high school musical societies.[vi] That Word function where it highlights all occurrences of what you’re searching on can be enlightening. Not to say blinding.
Have you tied up all your plot lines?
Is it all neatly squared away, with nothing dangling and unresolved? If the book includes, say, a plot-crucial murder, have you remembered to tell the reader who did it?[vii] (It’s useful to write your synopsis when the book is finished; it can be a very quick way to find out if you’ve actually made any sense.)
Did you do a timeline?
Not ‘are you pretty damn sure you’ve got the sequence of events right in your head’, but did you do it. Have you checked that pregnancies last approx 9 months, hawthorn isn’t flowering in what turns out to be September, everyone isn’t busily heading to work on Sunday[viii], it’s physically possible for all the action to take place in the time allotted, and that you haven’t just had it become night right in the middle of daytime because drama[ix]?
Have you done that other thing?
You know, the one you meant to do? It was in that scene, and you didn’t write it down when you thought of it because there was no way you could forget something so pivotal to the book? That thing? No? Oh well, never mind. You’ll remember what it was right after you’ve clicked Send.
[i] Georgette Heyer, The Toll Gate and Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, to name but two
[ii] The Goonies. Yes, I know that’s a film.
[iii] Terry Pratchett, The Colour of Magic, error still there after more than three decades
[iv] KJ Charles, editor, error caught before publication
[vi] KJ Charles, repeat offender. If these get through, it’s not my editor’s fault
[vii] Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (not just uncaught but an eternal mystery because the author forgot. “They sent me a wire asking me [who killed the chauffeur], and dammit I didn’t know either.”)
[viii] Me again. Thank God for editors
[ix] X Men 3: The Last Stand
I just turned in story in which I had changed a minor character from a drug addict to a nine-months-pregnant single mom. On my last skim through, right before hitting Send, I caught a [ma]lingering sentence referring to her as being “all coked up.” BAD PREGNANT LADY. *delete* That was almost a sentence to make a reader cringe…
Ow, ow, ow. Yes. Exactly. And by then you’ve read it so often your eyes just slide right over…
Oh, I laughed so hard – and I shouldn’t because I will undoubtedly miss something extremely embarrassing when I submit mine.
I write in Scrivener and I highlight everything I want to change or check facts on later. It’s a lot easier to find those places when they are bright, glow-in-the-dark pink. 🙂
Thank you for mentioning timelines. I will certainly do one before my final read-through. I did one for my first edit, but by now I have changed times so often I wouldn’t be surprised to find that time has mysteriously begun to move backwards…
Timelines are the devil and if you’ve been shifting stuff around you can guarantee something’s fallen out of place. I can’t recommend an Excel spreadsheet or whatever strongly enough.
Somehow this makes me feel better. I’m still not quite sure why…
I find it very comforting when other people share these. It makes me feel less of an idiot for my own.
Once I wrote about an organic submersible built into a giant squid, where the sub’s air-exchange mechanism was patterned on gills and supplied by the squid’s own blood vessels. So the walls of the sub looked like a “book of blood” with red pages upon red pages. I was pleased with that description. Then I remembered, during final line edits, that a giant squid’s blood is blue.
One of my books has a mysterious reference to someone called Freddy in the first chapter. There is no Freddy in the book any more – the scene he was in got cut. Woops.