Posts Tagged With: Art of Editing

The Art of Editing – Volume 4: Ahhhh…. just forget it.

Editing Fun

For the fourth volume of my increasingly inappropriate writing advice columns i will tell you, forget all the other volumes. There it is. End Blog Post. Drop Mic.

Fact is, i don’t have a clue. Above you will see an example of how little i know. Yeah. That’s mine. Pretty isn’t it? Colorful. Just look at all that gorgeous red. Look at the sad and isolated patches of black, hanging out and thinking ‘oh dear sweet jesus. Did you see what he just did to us? We’re safe!’ Those poor remaining words. You can almost hear them heaving in fear, crying, their little beady eyes whipping back and forth looking for the incoming red pen that has mangled so many of their peers.

Nah. It’s alright. You’re safe.

For now.

Muahahahahahaha…..

The point i’m trying to make is all of this is just a poisonous stew. All of the tips and tricks i wrote about before… there’s no rhyme or reason for it. Not really. There’s no pattern of ‘do this and then do that’. There is, when i am writing, a scorched earth policy. It sucks until it doesn’t anymore and i will swing down like zeus on a dragon and burn the life out of all the words until the paragraphs and sentences gleam a little bit. Burn away the garbage until the bits of gold are all that’s left behind.

The first draft of everything is shit.

Use the shit to fuel the furnaces of the second.

I’m working on The Stonemaiden’s Cup now. It’s the first in a new series and it’s a freaking monster. The damned thing might kill me. No really. It might. It’s heavy enough, by god, to lay enemies low with one swift stroke. But i can’t stop and it must be done so whatever ‘rules’ or guidelines i had are out the window. I’m adding stuff now. I’m moving sentences around, the other day… seriously… i restructured the entire thing. ALL OF IT. I moved chapters around. Hell… i JUST added a chapter. And in between all of that there’s the slash and burn, finding the gold, razing the village with fire and wrath.

Maybe i watched one too many episodes of Vikings.

The thing is… and this is really the thing… you have to put those sentences in order and you have to make that little bastard sing for his supper if he doesn’t want to end up on the pile of the ember colored ink, smoldering with his baked brethren. If the sentence doesn’t sing and doesn’t make the paragraph sing, kill it with fire.

Every paragraph has a purpose. That should be a Monty Python song, like ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’. But it’s not sacred. If a paragraph doesn’t have a purpose – kill it. If it sounds pretty like a little fresh songbird… well… you might be able to save it, but only if you can make it work. All that rot about ‘Kill your darlings’ well… that’s more shit advice really. It’s the pretty, quaint, neato, ‘genius’ thing writers say to classes of students to make themselves sound bespectacled and brilliant but it means nothing. Save your darlings if they are worth saving. But if you’re saving them at the expense of your story, your plot, your characters, if they don’t help the survival of the whole… let em burn.

No darling ever really dies. They rise like gold laden zombies and as a brain devouring horde of rich people they shamble forth and create your work. So don’t worry about them. They’ll rise again.

Alright. Now i’m just rambling so screw it. Get to work and light a match. You have fires to start.

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The Art of Editing Vol. 3 – Ground down to a tiny nubbin.

Right. Yeah. I promised a blog about editing. So here it is. Frankly, i don’t really feel like it because i have been at it all day and my eyes are about to fall out of my head. Okay… that’s a lie. I HAVE been at it all day but i have also been goofing off in a huge proportion to the actual work getting done and THEN i hit a snag.

Right now i’m in the final phase. Proofreading. So that’s something you’ll need to figure on and put in your toolbox. It’s a bit of an annoying process. Really, it’s the easiest bit of editing because by now you should have smoothed out all the really rough edges to your work and are just on the verge of publishing the bad boy and getting out of the proverbial house. It’s all grown up and mouthing off and it wants to take your keys and go to The Who concert and it considers you a huge embarrassment.

I’ve had a proofreader go through it and i’ve gone through it myself. The Proof Copy looks like it should be good and dead with all of the scars all over it. But it isn’t. It’s breathing. It’s more alive than it’s ever been actually and i am just plinking away at patching the tiny things – putting bandaids on all the cruel cuts my red pen has made.

This should go fairly quickly, but it isn’t. I’ve hit a snag. There’s a three paragraph chunk that i somehow missed in the overall close editing that needs to be radically fixed in order for things to work. This sort of sucks, as you might imagine, because i’ve already had this thing out to Createspace and i’m working from a fully formatted Proof Copy, which means i REALLY want to keep the length as close to the original document as i possibly can or risk having to redo things that i don’t want to redo.

No big deal. I’ve got this. Tighten the language a little, kill off the massive run on sentence that i missed, smooth it out.

How do i do this you might ask in stunned and appreciative amazement? Well… it’s complicated. But basically, i stare at it until it starts changing. Is that a cop out answer? Yep. It sure is. But it’s also the truth. I roll the thing around in my head for a little while, try and figure what it is i’m trying to show the reader in that moment and let the sentences and paragraph reform themselves a little to bring that out.

Like i said – the bones are there. By this stage, if you have big changes, they’ve been done. If you are proofing, the finish line is in sight and you are stretching out for it. You’re constrained by knowing there isn’t much you CAN do short of scrapping huge chunks and rewinding yourself way back to a different stage in the editing process and you probably don’t want to do that. You’re sick of your story raiding your fridge and eating all of your food. You’ve bought it a Pinto and it’s already run it into a lake.

So yeah. Just relax. You’ve got this. Stare at that paragraph and let your wise training take over. Be the ball, Danny. I don’t want to hold you in suspense but i will say it didn’t take all that long to fix the paragraphs. There was one hefty run on that had some terrific imagery in it that actually worked better if i carved it into different sentences. It was a bit like straightening the poor guys tie before prom. Then there was the next paragraph that was far too witty for it’s own good. Cut that down to size a little and rearrange here and there, snip the silly rat tail off it’s head and make sure it has a comb in it’s pocket. Now off you go.

These things might come up in proofing. It’s important not to let it get to you. If you let it get to you, that little bastard is never leaving the house, you’re cutting up it’s drivers license and sending him back to sixth grade and you definitely don’t want to do that. You’re almost done. Just make the little fixes you need to make. Remember – we’re talking bandaids and not surgery at this point as long as i feel like mixing metaphors. Which i do. Cuz it’s my blog and i’ll mix if i want to.

If you have an open wound, stitch it up and slap a bandage on and get it out the door. That’s the lesson for the day. I know it’s nothing earth shattering but it may just save you some serious heartache.

Post Script:

Today i was completely schooled on a grammatical foible i have been committing – unwittingly – since time immemorial. The terrible error of my ways has been pointed out and i shall not err again. Lesson learned. But there you go kids, the minute you think you know everything – you don’t. And that’s a good thing.

Categories: Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Art of Editing (according to me) Vol. 2 – Further Down The Rabbit Hole

IMG_0203Phew. Dang. I didn’t think that introduction was ever going to get out of the way. But now what? I’ve got em hooked. What do i do with a second act? Do i have a second act? What’s my next step? Oh God. What do i do?

Panic.

Panic should be your next step. So run off and take care of that. Chop Chop.

You think i’m kidding. I’m serious. Hanging out with a bunch of characters and a huge sprawling plot for months on end is not a ‘normal’ act in polite society. People frown on that. You are – officially – a weirdo. Which is fine. Weirdo’s make the best people. But a little panic is in order. You should celebrate. You should freak out a little. You should lose your mind a lot. You should wonder what comes next. You should panic. So go take care of that pronto and then come back. I’ll wait.

All right. How long did that take? Hopefully long enough because your next step in the epic that you just wrote is shoving the whole thing in a drawer for a while. Get it out of your head. Purge. You need the distance for the next step because a little distance really helps when you have to go back to it. I suggest you take up knitting or doing jigsaw puzzles or learning Swahili. Take your mind off of it and learn something new and different. Keep the brain minty fresh. You’re going to need it.

So you might ask – why? And provided you’re actually asking this WHY in relation to me suggesting you put it away for a while and think of something else, i will tell you. If your ‘Why?’ is merely general and existential i recommend Sartre or Camus. You have to get away from it is why. You have to let your brain catch up with where you are now. If you’re anything like me, that little noggin of yours has been reaching for that story in the darkest watches of the night every chance it can get it’s grubby little mitts on a spare thought. It’s like you’ve been shut in a closet with a film projector that occasionally breaks. Now is the point you come out and actually see the sun and trees and breath some air that is unadorned with the stank of mothballs.

If you were to look at it now – your story that is – you might not see anything different from what you saw yesterday. You would still be ‘In’ the story. That doesn’t help you read it and reading is what you need to do next. You need to read it just like joe schmoe on the street, if joe bothered to read anything other than the racing form.

Reading is the first act of editing.

Now when i say reading, i’m getting a little ahead of myself. Basically what i’m going to – or HOPE i’m going to – give you in the next few installments are the individual processes. What order you put them in are mostly up to you. I will not – nor CAN i say that there is ONE WAY to do this. There are only steps. Like tools. Reading is the first tool you will see in the tool box.

But there are different ways to read. So it’s a bit like a wrench. You know how there are eighty billion different types of wrenches out there.

Your first read through, in my opinion, shouldn’t be just slack jawed. After all, you already know you’re going to have to tinker with this beast. But, in my opinion, it helps if you keep your immediate goals reachable with the first read through. If you need to fix things – focus on the annoying mistakes you knew you made. Things like spelling and Your/You’re issues. This makes this step manageable and gives you a little boost to keep going. That’s important because you’re in this for the long haul. This is the first step in polishing the marble. Your story isn’t going to move and grab your readers without you committing to the process and little reachable things like that can help you – so long as you give yourself credit for them.

Give yourself credit for them. There will be innumerable opportunities to kick your own ass during the editing process and it IS going to hurt and get pretty tiring after a while. So you HAVE to remember – this is really fricking important – you MUST remember to give yourself credit. 90% of the time you are going to be your own best cheerleader. Everyone else has already gotten tired of you squirreling yourself away and not being social and unless you have a miracle angel talking cheerleading Pegacorn, you’re it.

So, Back to the reading. Read it and make those little changes. Take notes. DO NOT scribble all over your manuscript. That just diminishes your agency and gives you a consistent visual reminder of your suckitude in those moments when you least need it. I usually start with a list in a notebook – a bit like the planning period before i sat down and wrote. If i can (and lets face it – MUST) alter a sentence, that’s fine. So long as you keep the little edits reasonable. You don’t want to muck about with too much lest you start yanking on a thread that unravels the whole damned sweater.

Take notes. Make the little changes. If you have a computer program that allows you to tack on sticky notes to things, that works really well.

What sort of notes? Well… that’s really up to you. Read it for the flow first. Read to make sure the thing makes sense, that your transitions are good and that you at least have the sketch of the emotional and plot driven content you were looking for. Read CLOSELY. Read primarily for story. There will be plenty of opportunities to get nitpicky with the grammar but this isn’t one of them. Right now you just want to make sure that the structure is in place and where it isn’t, leave a note for the engineers to shore up the bulwarks. Don’t be afraid to sit and think at the end of chapters. There are times, and they aren’t rare, when i’ve written something and don’t have a clue WHY i wrote it. This is generally the step where i start to figure out why.

I generally don’t find notes like ‘this sucks’ very helpful mainly because there have been quite a few times where i come back to that note after a little while and i’m like ‘what sucks? You’re an idiot. There’s nothing wrong with that.’ Notes like ‘let loose the dialog a little here.’ or ‘find better verbs’ or ‘string this out and add tension’ seem to work much better because then you have some sort of launchpad for the next step.

Which is where the real work begins.

Make your notes specific but not so specific that you’re technically rewriting, which i will get to. And don’t forget that this is not a ‘do this first and this second’ sort of advice column thing. This is a tool box. Rewriting is the another tool i will be talking about. You may lay the wrench of reading aside on the worktable and pick up the hacksaw of rewriting and then shift back to the wrench. They don’t have to be in any particular order. All you’re looking to do is get the rough piece of wood to look a bit more like the thing you saw in the plans.

Now, finally, you have finished reading it through. I hope. You have a whole bunch of well organized notes to guide you through choosing the proper tool for the next step. But remember, before you start, take a bow. Have a sandwich. Listen to some good music and give yourself credit. You have finished the first step in editing. You are a shiny golden god. You can do this. You will do this. Because the world needs your book.

Take this step because you are about to step out of the blue and into the black.

See ya next week.

Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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