In today’s Behind the Rewrite, romantic suspense author Cathy Skendrovich talks about the power of the red pen—and the delete button. She discusses five changes she made when rewriting her new release Zone of Action.
It doesn’t matter how great you think the book you’re writing is, it’s going to need some editing. When I wrote my first book five years ago, I had no idea what the publishing process entailed. Sure, I figured I’d need to change some words, maybe remove some punctuation. After all, I’m a former English teacher; my book wouldn’t need a lot of editing, right? Wrong! My editor had me slicing and dicing until I felt like a contestant on Iron Chef. Never underestimate the power of a good red pen (or Delete button).
The process hasn’t changed over the years, either. Zone of Action is my fifth book, and it went through three editing passes before my editor approved it. Here are some changes I made that I feel have improved it drastically.
Change #1: What’s In A Name?
When I started writing Zone of Action, I knew I wanted my heroine, a former Army counterterrorism expert, to have left the military and become a florist. I wanted to juxtapose her violent past with the peace and tranquility of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, I also thought it would be fun to name her Daisy Jenkins. Get it? Daisy, florist? Besides Daisy, I chose Joe for my hero, and Frank for my villain. I could picture my characters really clearly with those names.
However, my editor didn’t see them the same way. She asked me how vested I was in those particular names, that they were old-fashioned and in Daisy’s case, a dumb idea. It took the seriousness out of the plot and made it, well, corny. And Joe was not hero-sounding enough. It was too ordinary. And Frank? Way too old for the twenty-first century. I racked my brain, because I was already into the book a few chapters by then and decided my hero could change from Joe to Cameron “Cam” Harris, and my villain went from Frank Gates to Brett Gates.
I immediately saw a different image whenever I wrote Cam (just look at the cover model!), and, though Brett was a harder sell for me, I eventually saw the prudence in changing his name. I now get a very vivid picture of Brett whenever I see his name. As for Daisy? I tossed around a lot of choices, but in the end I chose Audrey, after my older son’s fiancée. It’s still a little old-fashioned, but more up-to-date, and definitely not a poor play on words! A name is everything in a book; choose one that sets forth the right image for your characters. Your readers will thank you for it.
Change #2: The Sinister Acronym
My novel is about a terrorist group who wants to take over the U.S. Army. When I first started writing, I decided to have a terror cell working with a larger group, meaning I had two sets of acronyms. I had them straight in my head, so I figured the readers would understand the difference, right? Wrong. On the third edit pass, my editor finally flagged the two entities and said, “Can’t we just have the one terrorist organization? I’m getting confused with all the acronyms.” Since she’s the expert, I went back and pulled out the cell’s acronym, and reworked each section that had it. More work for me, but the finished product reads much better now. Less confusing. By the way, the group is the GUWP. You’ll have to purchase the book to find out what it stands for!
Change #3: “Strangers In The Night”
Most of you are probably too young to know the song sung by the venerable Frank Sinatra, but it’s a good title for my next major edit. My novel is a romantic suspense thriller. I had the required romance and (Sh!) sex scenes, but my editor came back very early in the first pass and said, “I don’t see any buildup of attraction, to romance, to sex. They have insta-lust, and then they fall into bed,” or on the floor, in this case. I reread the manuscript (again) and looked for places I could add a stolen glance, a prolonged touch, a flirtatious comment. I added those, and also reworked the actual sex scenes, adding description, using better adjectives, and “showing, not telling,” as our English teachers are always saying. And I have to say, those scenes are really “hot” now. Again, you’ll have to get your own copy to see if you agree.
Change #4: Good Guys Don’t Act Bad (ly)
The hero in Zone of Action, Cameron Harris, is a military man. That means he believes in action. He doesn’t want to sit around talking or cajoling suspects into telling their secrets. If there’s a way to physically coerce the unsub, then he’s going to choose that route. For example, Cam catches the eighteen-year-old kid who was hired to break into Audrey’s house. Audrey asks the youth why he did it, and who hired him. The kid replies with a nasty phrase. I wanted Cam to act like a he-man and slam the kid’s head into the car hood. My editor said, “No, no, no! That makes Cam look bad. He isn’t heroic if he’s slamming a kid’s head into something. Rewrite!” I really wanted that scene, but in the end I changed it to him shaking the kid and saying something rude to him. I have to say that I like the change now that I’ve lived with it. Cam doesn’t seem to have a wicked violent nature hidden under the surface now. Most of the time, editors know best.
Change #5: The End (Or Is It?)
I love writing the HEA to my books. Sometimes I know the ending before I know the beginning, if that makes any sense. In Zone of Action, I wanted an ending like the old movie, An Officer and a Gentleman, where Richard Gere appears and whisks Debra Winger off her feet. My editor was fine with that, but she encouraged me to delve into Audrey’s thoughts more, show her worrying over never saying I love you to Cam. After working the ending scene over a few times, I’m very proud of it, and can see how the added information builds Audrey’s character more. Readers can relate to her now. Haven’t we all wished we’d said some things to our significant others? Or, perhaps not said certain words? By adding to Audrey’s thoughts, I’ve pulled readers into her dilemma, and they can feel for her more.
Want To Read The Rest Of The Book?
Former terror cell expert Audrey Jenkins has seen enough death and destruction to last a lifetime. When she uncovers her ex, Brett, a higher-ranking officer in her unit, selling military secrets, she turns him in and returns to the simpler life she has embraced since leaving the army.
CID Special Agent Cam Harris is a career military man with a strong sense of duty. When a military prisoner who once saved his life in Afghanistan escapes while in his custody, he requests the assignment to track him down.
Cam’s manhunt leads him to Audrey’s door. His prisoner—her ex—will resurface here, he’s sure of it. The feisty woman wants nothing to do with hunting down her ex, but when a terror cell she’s all-too-familiar with launches a deadly attack on army intelligence soldiers and officers, she knows it’s Brett.
Helping Cam is the right thing to do. But the attraction burning between them may be the mistake that gets her and Cam killed…
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More About Cathy
Lover of dogs, reading, and the outdoors, Cathy Skendrovich looks for story ideas in everything she does. Recently she moved to Star, Idaho, with her real-life hero, and now they enjoy living overlooking a pond. Her favorite genre to write is romantic suspense, though she’s also dabbled in historical romance. Her fifth book, Zone of Action, blends her love of suspense with the military. Her younger son, who’s currently in the army, has stopped taking her calls because of all the research questions she asks him. Seriously.
Opportunities For Writers
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Line Editing Made Simple–5 Days to More Polished Pages – Free e-mail class packed with line editing tips
Shortcuts for Writers: Editing Made Simple Facebook group – Download the guide, 7 Simple Steps to Nailing Your Book Blurb in Unit 1.
How To Name Your Characters: Tips Every Fiction Writer Should Know – Check out this extensive post on naming your characters, an informative video tour of 7 character-naming sites, and a free PDF guide that summarizes all the information.
Book Editing Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable – Learn how to streamline the editing process in this affordable, self-paced online course that will empower beginner and intermediate writers to think like an editor so they can save time and money. A steppingstone to hiring an editor.
Stacy Juba, the founder of Shortcuts for Writers, is a freelance editor and online course creator who teaches authors how to simplify the self-editing process and fit their writing goals into a busy life. Her books include the Storybook Valley chick lit series and the Hockey Rivals young adult sports novels.
Sign up for her free, on-demand masterclass, How to Create Your Editing Game Plan and Fast-Track Your Book: 3 Costly Mistakes to Avoid.