Monday, June 23, 2008

Editing Down the Road Less Traveled

Blogging today caught me by surprise—I need to have reminders a week ahead! Anyway, summer is in full force…I’m grading student papers as the first summer session winds down at the college, my daughter has swim practice or a swim meet every day of the week, plus art camp in the mornings.

And I’m writing! I’ve been getting in some ten pages a day days, which don’t rival the 20 page a days I got in a few years ago before even my summers got so busy, but I’m happy. So, I’m now at the halfway point for my current work in progress. Time for taking stock, checking my plotline, and for me, that nasty word, editing.

Since this is “only” my fifth or sixth manuscript, depending on if you count the ones I didn’t finish or the one I wrote PK (pre-kids, this may not be as well-known an acronym as some I can’t figure out), my method may or may not be the best. But this is what I have gleaned from several sources over the years…

I print the whole shebang out. Using Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days method, I cut the pages apart to distinguish scenes. My method—I listed the scenes with a bullet on each. Next to the bullets—I might type this out the next time, this time—I write who’s POV this scene is in (would it be better for someone else to tell this particular part of the story), what day is it (does anyone else have to count? I’m also creating names for the units of time in the world I’m creating), how many pages am I devoting to this scene (some need more, some need less), and where does this fit into the traditional plot line of black moment and so on.

I also finished moderating an online course about editing. This course was taught by Jane Toombs and Janet Walters…whose book is titled Become Your Own Critique Partner. I won’t, of course, give away everything they taught in their course, but here are some of the pointers I took away with me. First, we may need to ask ourselves, why is this scene in here anyway? If there’s no purpose, consider cutting your baby. Of course, there’s show and don’t tell, but what I took away is permission to write horribly at first and then go back in and rewrite those sections where I lapse too much into narrative and not enough into showing. Also, it’s not enough to be told to show and not tell. I need examples. One method is to look at the best writers and list their verbs; another is to list the descriptions they use. I have real trouble with using like and as too often.

The final source I’m relying on with editing has already been mentioned on this blog by Mel—Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Benni Browne and Dave King. I already had that one on my shelf, had read it dutifully last winter, but now I find it most useful when I’m actually in the process of editing. I’m going to take just one point from the book…again, about the show and tell. You can overdo it. If a scene is not that important, summarize it and move on. Right now, I have scene after scene full of dialogue and little narrative.

So, it’s (hopefully—once I’m done grading papers) back to the editing board.

And…to share why the quirky title. My daughter read to me from Lemony Snicket this past weekend…The author wrote that he knew a man once who took the road less traveled. The road was beautiful, but because it was less traveled…when some night creature attacked, and he screamed, there was no one there to hear his cries for help!

Certainly the way editing makes me feel sometimes…and I thought the road less traveled was only meant to be the beautiful, peaceful one.


Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Hi Lexie! Self editing is a lot like trying to do self therapy--very difficult to pull off! I think everyone has their favorite technique but I check for passive voice, repetitive word use, and overall flow. And I'm ruthless about yanking out scenes that serve no purpose. I might love it but if it doesn't move the plot or develop character it has to go bye-bye.

Glad to hear you are finally getting some time to write. :)

Lexie O'Neill said...

Thanks! I'm not quite to the ruthless stage yet--maybe that comes with wisdom and experience:)

Evonne Wareham said...

I'm envious at your page count - spent the afternoon wrestling with a bush that is trying to demolish a wall in the garden. Not exactly getting the manuscript on the move.

Evonne Wareham said...

I'm envious at your page count - spent the afternoon wrestling with a bush that is trying to demolish a wall in the garden. Not exactly getting the manuscript on the move.

Evonne Wareham said...

Now I'm repeating myself.

Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Lexie, I'm envious of your page count too! Glad you're getting time to write.
That is so cute about your daughter. And, truth to tell, that's been my experience on the road less travelled. All the beasties and meanies are lurking to take their turn at devouring me. And, oh! do they! sometimes.

Omygosh, if I went through your editing process, my eyes would be spinning back into my head.
Not that I don't edit. I'm darn ruthless with certain elements of a story and how it's put together. I want it to sing and live for me. To be intense with color and passion, the passion of life, not just romantic passion -- but, that too.

Lexie, you made a good point about sometimes there is too much 'showing'. That can take away from the story for sure.

Your blog is very timely for me. I just spent last night on the second edits for Tangerine Carnal Dreams. The most intense editing process so far, because I ventured out on the road less traveled with my intentional POV shifts.
Oh well...but I am thankful the book is coming together and is definitely a much better story. Thank you, to my editor. Hopefully, I'll get the last chapter done today, and get it sent back.

Mel Hiers said...

Hey, Lexie!

I, too, do a bulleted list of scenes. It helps me keep motivated to be able to check 'em off or delete them as I go.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Hey, all,
So sorry I didn't get to blog back last night--I taught my last full night class last night--four straight hours and I'm exhausted.
I hope I didn't make it look like I'm able to get 10 pages every day, yesterday was barely a page with papers to grade. But now I don't have a night class again until next January! (Rotated off for the fall).
Sav, I haven't done the full revision thing before this year, but I really got stuck with the one manuscript and found it helpful (we'll see if I keep it up).
My daughter is amazing--no kidding, no bias:) But Lemony Snicket really gets you to see things from a different perspective, now if only he closed off all story lines at the end...
Thanks for your replies!!

Terry Odell said...

Some oh so true (and painful) points. Does it advance the plot? I think one of the hardest lessons to learn is "beautiful prose does not justify the scene".

I'm reading contest entries at the moment, and that turns on the editor, which gets harder to turn off when I go back to writing my own stuff. But it also reminds me what to look for in my own stuff.

I do minimal edits on the first draft, although with my current MS, I cut two whole chapters. But I normally shoot each scene past my on-line crit group for obvious errors, because I think they actually take root and if you don't spot them early on, you'll never notice them.

If I'm having trouble deciding where my story should go next (yeah, yeah, I don't plot the whole book first), I might do some edits--like culling my crutch words, or printing the last few chapters because it looks different in print and seeing what jumps out.

Definitely recommend Self Browne & King.

Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Terry, it is interesting how it does look different in print. And I do spot errors that way, that I hadn't noticed.
Also, the whole flow of the story, I think, is easier to see, and then, make corrections.
Which begs the point, when you read an e-book, does the story flow differently in that format, than when you're reading in print?

Terry Odell said...

Savannah, yes, there's a different "feel" to an e-book read, depending on the reading method. I can't read them on my computer because I immediately want to edit them! But on my eBookwise, I get into 'book' mode quickly. And I don't seem to get the 'tired eyes' as quickly as with print.

Another hint I picked up at a conference -- if you're printing to edit, change the font. The sentences, etc., will break at different places on the page, and because it looks 'different' you're more likely to see what's on the page instead of what's in your head.

Another thing I've done is printed the book out in 2 columns. The shorter line width makes scanning a line easier, and again, things line up differently. Because you can see 'more' those repeats seem to become more visible.

And I've also printed them out using the 'booklet' format so they end up printing like a paperback.

But I don't think I'd print an e-book I bought for pleasure. I bought it to avoid using paper to begin with.

Savanna Kougar said...

Terry, great suggestions. I have used the column method because I wanted to see how the story would 'read' or flow in that book format.
Also, like you mentioned, since it looks different I often catch the minor errors that way, and have a chance to improve how the story actually flows on the page.
I've only read e-books on the computer, so far. And, fortunately, the editing thing doesn't come into play, any more than if I were reading a print book.