Editing MIDNIGHT THIEF: More Tips I Learned From My Editors

(Note 1:   I used Grammerly to grammar check this post because I welcome our robot overlords.  FTC Disclaimer – Grammarly offered me a $200 gift card to try out their service and post about it. The website found 1 punctuation error, 12 grammar issues, and gave the post an overall score of 69 (weak, needs revision), but I couldn’t actually see the mistakes they flagged because you need to give your credit card number to see the rest.)

(Note 2: Thank you to everybody who voted for the POISON DANCE cover. You can see the winning design here. And also, POISON DANCE is now on Goodreads. In my review, I confess my secret crush on the main character.)

A few months ago, I wrote about critiquing tips I learned from my editors Abby Ranger and Rotem Moscovich at Disney-Hyperion. Today, I thought I'd talk specifically about actual changes that I made to MIDNIGHT THIEF in the editorial process.  When possible, I've tried to abstract my changes to larger principles that might help you with your writing as well.

1.    Juicing up the world building.  Midnight Thief is an alternate world fantasy novel, and much of my first revision focused on making the world more real and vivid. This included:
  • Inserting small details that illustrate how this new world is different from ours. This included setting details such as paintings, to personal interactions, to myths and folklore.
  • Language.  My editors encouraged me to come up with terms specific to the world.  For example, Palace guards are now referred to as Red Shields. I also came up with different speech patterns for the nobility vs. the poor.
  • World building as foreshadowing - without going into spoilers, there is a big reveal in MIDNIGHT THIEF.  Some initial test readers found the plot twist unbelievable, and I’ve since shaped the worldbuilding to make it more natural.
2.    Further development of themes.  In my original manuscript, I played a bit with ideas of class and power and how the wealthy take advantage of the poor. In revisions, my editors encouraged me to explore this further, including:
  • Adding new events and characters to illustrate aspects of the theme. I added more concrete examples of clashes between classes. I also introduced one character that was the embodiment of everything Kyra hated about the nobility.
  • Making sure everyone behaved “in character.” Even though the classes theoretically did not get along, this principle did not always carry through to my characters' actions. When people of different classes came together in the original manuscript, interactions went too smoothly.  I went back in and added more of the misunderstandings and conflict that would naturally result from such situations.
3.    Rounding out characters. Much of my first edit letter was Editor Abby systematically going through every character and challenging me to add more nuance and dimention. This included:
  • Developing the main character's journey. What did Kyra learn throughout the novel? How did she change? I tweaked the story to highlight these changes.
  • Using a supporting character as a foil for the main character. Kyra's friend Flick is gregarious and friendly while Kyra is somewhat standoffish. In my revision, I came up with more ways to illustrate Flick’s character traits and use Flick as a way to highlight Kyra’s weaknesses.
  • Ensuring that all characters had both good and bad characteristics. Pretty self-explanatory.
  • Making sure that close relationships between characters are earned. In Midnight Thief, Kyra has several close friends -- almost an adopted family. But it it’s not enough for a writer simply to say that they’re close. Emotional bonds have to be earned. So I added back story, close emotional moments, and (in one case) an actual blood relation to make these relationships more believable.
  • Rounding out the secondary narrator. While Kyra is undoubtedly the main character of my novel, I had a secondary point of view character (Tristam), whose scenes did not command the same interest as Kyra did.  I focused on several ways to bring him to life, including:
    • Exploring internal conflict. What did Tristam struggle with?
    • Developing a more detailed back story to give readers a better sense of where he came from and why he saw things the way he did.
    • Giving him more friends. Tristam was mainly solitary in his early scenes, and I revised them to include a friend. You can tell a lot from how someone interacts with others.
    • Developing the interaction between Tristam and Kyra. When they finally meet, I brainstormed ways to play the two characters off each other -- to have conflicts and misunderstandings, and moments of agreement that would highlight their personalities.
4.    Plot.  Some random thoughts here.
  • Sometimes, a ticking clock will add to the tension and pacing -- some kind of impending disaster or deadline.
  • People like to see the main characters interact! In my revisions, I moved the initial meeting of Kyra and Tristam 40 pages earlier, and that made the beginning of the novel more engaging.

These were a run down of the major themes for my edits.  The book is much better for them (IMHO).
So now, to you, dear readers.  Any particularly good revision suggestions that have improved your stories?


  1. Thanks for sharing! :) Amazing what a good editor can bring to a manuscript!

    1. It really is amazing, Laura. To think I almost self published the manuscript two years ago without editing. So glad I didn't!

  2. Great post, really interesting to see what kind of changes you made!

  3. It's amazing how little details can make a story come to life. And using the setting to enhance the plot is a great tip!

    1. Patchi - setting to enhance plot was a big breakthrough for me. Fixed one of the big problems in the book.

  4. What encourages me is that your book was accepted before all these changes were made, a testament, no doubt, to the power of your writing.

    Worldbuilding is the hardest for me, not the mythology itself, surprisingly, but the smaller details, so I was especially interested in hearing how you handled those.

    1. Joanne, after every revision I look back at the previous versions and think, "How did I possibly think that was good, before?" Funny how that works. :-) The fact that it sold is also a testament to my agent's excellent suggestions as well. I blogged about his revision suggestion a while back.

  5. So, question for you Livia - Grammarly contacted me as well about a blog sponsorship. Did they actually hold up their end of the bargain and send you the gift card?

    1. Check back in a couple days, Tiana. They said within 72 hours, and I sent them the link yesterday.

    2. And I got the gift card last night. They must have a heck of an advertising budget!