Editing the First Draft: Or, Where did the Time go? with M. S. Spencer

A recent interviewer asked me about my writing process. Do I carefully plot or let the characters drive the story, do I outline,  do I write in the wee hours or in the noonday sun—that sort of thing. It got me wondering which is the hardest part of editing a story.

For me, it is making sure the timeline runs rationally.  For instance, I’ll be busy working on a scene and suddenly realize the heroine’s been in bed for three days, or that she’s caught in a snowstorm during August, or that she’s been eating lunch for twelve hours straight.

Another area in which you have to be careful is the amount of time allotted to any activity. If she’s driving to Florida from Maine she’s not realistically going to arrive on the same day. Nor if she’s flying to, say, Paris. Remember to take account of time zones as well: for example, our heroine must arrive in Paris in the morning, since most transatlantic flights leave at night and arrive in the morning.  She’d better be watching the sun rise, not set, on the City of Lights.

One method that helps to keep track of the time line is to maintain a running outline.  As I draft each chapter I fill in highlights. It might look like this:


Setting: Mid-Summer; whole story takes place in one month.

Chapter One:

Morning to afternoon;  8 hours, sunny.  Milo meets hero; jumps down rabbit hole; is kidnapped by Red Queen.

Chapter Two:

Next day (afternoon to evening), raining. Milo escapes; has tea; hero rescues from rabbit hole.


The key is to remember to keep that running timeline current. It will shorten the editing process considerably. Plus you won’t have to field irate letters from readers pointing out more than your usual faults.


M. S. Spencer’s latest release takes place in Old Town Alexandria, an historic cobblestoned city on the Potomac River in Virginia.  It follows the adventures of several artists at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. An old munitions factory on the waterfront, it lay abandoned after World War II until the 1970s, when an intrepid band of local ladies convinced the City of Alexandria to lease it to them for an art center.


Waiting out the rain, Milo Everhart takes stock of her widowhood and the handsome man standing in the door to the bar.  Little does she know she will meet that man again and again under both passionate and terrifying circumstances.

Tristram Brody waits for his date, too conscious of the beautiful woman sitting by the door. Little does he know that she will hate him for trying to destroy her beloved art center, and even suspect him of murder. Nor that she will be drawn inevitably into his arms.

Little does either of them suspect they will be embroiled in not one, but two murders, in which the fate of the Torpedo Factory, an art center housed in an old munitions factory on the waterfront in Old Town Alexandria, will be decided.

Buy from Secret Cravings Publishing


Artful Dodging: The Torpedo Factory Murders

Released April, 2012, Secret Cravings Publishing

eBook, 65,000 words; M/F; 3 flames; ISBN 978-1-61885-250-2

Romantic Suspense/Murder Mystery







Although M. S. Spencer has lived in Chicago, Boston, New York, France, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, and England, the last 30 years have been spent mostly in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, Congressional staff assistant, speechwriter, editor, birdwatcher, kayaker, policy wonk, non-profit director and parent.  Her current day job is Executive Director of the Friends of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.  She divides her time among Virginia, Maine and Florida.  All of this tends to insinuate itself into her works.

Ms. Spencer has published four contemporary romance novels. Lost in His Arms is set in the spinning world of 1991 when countries fell like flies and a CIA fixer had his hands full. In Lost and Found we follow a desperate wife searching the wilds of Maine for the husband who disappeared. Losers Keepers is a tale of love, lust and treachery set on the island of Chincoteague. Her latest release, Triptych, tells of jealousy and intrigue high above the Potomac River. Coming April 24, 2012 is Artful Dodging: The Torpedo Factory Murders, from Secret Cravings.











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