May 5, 2008

Leaving myself on the editing room floor.

I found an interesting article over at How Not To Write last week about the editing process entitled: “Fix Bad Stories by Getting Rid of Yourself," and I’ve had the idea for this post rattling around in my head the past few days since. 

The editor makes some keen observations that although true can be rather difficult to take, especially for a young writer. I know I wouldn’t have taken the post very well a few years back before I finally managed to just get over myself and really started learning something about the craft of writing instead of simply vomiting words upon the page. It’s very human, in our self-centered way, to believe we’re fascinating and easy to become insulted when told we really aren’t much higher on the interest meter than say a slice of burnt toast. However, being able to tell the difference between ideas appealing to a wide audience and something of interest only to yourself is in the job description.

“What you are looking for are the telltale signs of too much thinking and too little action. Characters who walk around the house at night. Scenes where characters are driving in a car. People waiting at the train station or sitting in a coffee shop.” – How Not To Write

Here’s a first point where I absolutely have to agree with How Not To Write’s editor. This is particularly true for writers of science fiction and fantasy, commonly known as an info dump. Typically the author plops the reader into the protagonist’s head where they think an awful lot about their world, its history, and their own past, or even worse, there’s some sage character who spouts all this information off talking heads style. Sometimes a bit of it is needed for the purpose of world building, but please, at least mix it up with a little action every paragraph or so.

The last full version of Succession had this in it. Maya was both a walking info dump and the sage mentoring poor, sheltered Chantal. I had to cut huge swaths of useless text from the first few chapters especially in the rewrites I’m doing now. The information will still be in there, but I’m not dumping it all on the readers in gigantic five paragraph lumps or endless conversations relevant to Yekara as a world but not so important to the plot.

“When you first start writing, the process of revision seems like a painful chore. You might even shirk it in the name of artistic integrity. Eventually, you learn that art is revision, a continuous cycle of experience, impression, skill, and that magic whatever that we often call imagination.
And then, if you're like me, you get addicted to it.” – How Not To Write

Hello, my name is A. B. England, and I’m a revision addict.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know Succession’s been a work in progress since my junior high days. True, a lot was stop and start with gigantic gaps while I focused on school work, planning my wedding, worked on other pieces, and just tried to stay afloat in every day life. But up until about five years ago, I never really had a complete version of the book because I could never do a read through to get back into the story and remember where I left off without starting to write the whole thing over again. I’ve used the excuse that I started working on the story when I had no idea how to actually write, so I’m continually going back to correct mistakes as I learn, but that’s a cop out.

Truth is I’m addicted to rewriting pretty much anything. If I come across something I wrote a while back, I can barely get through a few paragraphs without reaching for a red pen to mark something or other. If I’m reading a novel, poetry, articles, what have you, I’m constantly picking out typos and/or rewording the odd sentence here and there. I’ve come to suspect this is why I read so slowly at times.

I wonder if there are any rewriter’s anonymous groups out there?

“At some point, an experienced writer recognizes that there is nothing they can do to make the story better. In fact, any more work they do is likely to weaken the story.” – How Not To Write

Here was the real kicker for this article when it comes to me personally. I have a horrible time finding the point where a story is good enough. I don’t know about any of you, but I tend to be my own worse critic when it comes to my fiction. I never like the flow. I fret over whether something actually makes sense, or if it’s just my familiarity with the world and story allowing it to read correctly for me. I find no end of typos and phrases I find too awkward to keep.

Yet, I know there will come a point when the story will be there, as good as it’ll ever be, and it will need to fly or fail on its own. This point is at hand for Succession. My revisions now are mainly to correct ricocheting points-of-view, continuity errors, and fill in plot holes caused by leaving out the darker subplots when I was trying to pigeonhole this book into the young adult category. After that, a swift read through for dropped or added commas and typos, and then out she goes for good or ill.

So what about you, dear readers? Do you need to edit out the self-portraits in your writing?

Originally Posted 4/17/2008


  1. Hi, I found you from your comment on I-can't-remember -where (Did you visit Bluestocking? She's a book-friend of mine...)

    Anyway, I figured out you're working on a book so I poke around till I read some more.

    I'm working on a book too (A crippled girl disenchants a beast, but her happily-ever-after is interrupted when her prince is called away on a quest and she is left to face monsters without him.) and yours sounds a bit like fantasy or paranormal-- I couldn't decide which.

    Maybe I didn't read enough.

    Anyway, I wanted to introduce myself and let you know I'm following for a while to see if I can figure this out.

    (Always interested in meeting other moms who continue to write with little children at home.)

  2. Welcome Amy Jane.

    I mostly stick to science fiction and dark fantasy, though Right of Succession has elements of both. This one is in final edits before submission now that I've finally decided to stop trying to stuff it into the YA mold. Checking out the Posts by Topic links to the right of the page should help. Succession has it's own link, and there's an excerpt from the novel in the Blast from the Past section.

    Good luck with your own manuscript!