Do You See?

I’m not a great micro-editor.

I write instinctually; sometimes a long sentence feels good, sometimes a short one.  I mess around, but don’t put much thought into it.  When editing, however, I’m not in the moment— I can’t tap into that instinct.  Often I don’t know what makes good writing beyond good grammar and spelling.  Rhythm, tone, flow… it’s kinda lost on me.

My instinct is starting to speak up in strange places, though.  This is bad, I think as I write blog posts.  This feels confusing.  I’m not getting my point across.  Usually it’s the form that bugs me— not this time.  It’s taken a while, but I think I’ve pinpointed that feeling.

Over the past couple weeks, I read through the Query Shark blog archives.  I wanted to learn how to write a good query letter.  The form of a query letter, however, is simple.  The author of the blog spent more time on flow, rhythm, and word choice.  One in three queries had a note offering another version of a sentence, or another word choice, or a revamped paragraph.  She kept asking, “Do you see the difference?”  After reading about 200 queries and revisions, I started to see.

My ideas weren’t confusing— my sentences were clunky. Continue reading “Do You See?”

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Stuff To Which I Am Up

Fun fact: when you arrange “Stuff I’m Up To” in order to remove the preposition at the end, you still end with a preposition.

Anyway, I told you I was going to fill you all in on my productivity plans, and here I am.  I don’t usually do this, because sometimes I can’t be as productive as I’d like to be and I never get to the things I say I will.  But that’s human, and I hope you all understand that I, too, fall into that category.

So let’s jump in.  Here, in no particular order, is the Stuff To Which I Am Up. Continue reading “Stuff To Which I Am Up”

What I Learned from Revising a Stageplay (And Failing)

A couple months ago, I rewrote a stageplay.

It wasn’t my stageplay, originally.  It was chosen to be the focus of a musical theater class I’m taking.  Unfortunately, it was no Shakespeare.  A couple of my friends and I agreed we might like to see a revamped version: something a bit funnier, less corny, and more character-driven.  So, keeping the plot intact, I rewrote it.  I typed it into Scrivener’s stageplay template, added a scene or two, and edited the dialogue.  I figured out a character arc for the main character, one that destroyed the play’s corniness and strengthened several characters at the same time.  I added as many jokes as I could, without destroying the emotion.  In fact, several of my posts from September came from (or went into) this project.  I had to put my novel-editing on hold for a little while, but editing something else allowed me to return to my own work with a more objective view.  The project had enormous benefits.

However, the teachers of the class didn’t feel comfortable with the changes.  Each student already had a copy of the script— to change it now would mean forcing everyone to unlearn and relearn their lines, based on my changes.  Furthermore, the class was based, rather strictly, on a videotaped production by another group.  Thus, in order to change the script, we would be riding without training wheels, without the video to back us up.  And anyway, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the script, as it was.  In fact, the teachers were actually aiming for a script that would be easy to work with, in terms of acting.  My script required a bit too much skill, skill that some of the younger actors might not have been able to achieve in a short time.

So, my script was trashed.  It wasn’t the right thing for this class— they wanted me as an actor, not as a writer.  While a revamped script would have been nice for the older students, it wouldn’t work for all the students, the way the teachers wanted to teach. Continue reading “What I Learned from Revising a Stageplay (And Failing)”

Making Things Personal

In Gifts of Rith, my current editing work in progress, I have a villain.  This villain lives up to every expectation of a villain— he fights against the main character, is hugely powerful, and wants to destroy lots of people the main character cares about.  He makes mischief for much of the book, blocking the main character at every turn and fulfilling expectations as to villainous behavior.  Then, at the end, (spoiler alert) he dies.  As villains do.

Unfortunately, his death hit the wrong chord.  Instead of feeling powerful and satisfying, this villain’s death felt… jarring.  Several eyebrows were lowered in confusion, including my own.  Instead of satisfaction, the readers felt slight disgust at how cruel the main character was for killing this guy.  The scene as a whole felt— dare I say it?— unnecessary.

You don’t need me to tell you that that reaction was exactly the opposite of what I planned.  I wanted a dramatic fanfare, a slow-motion shot of the hero straightening up, victorious over the body of his nemesis.  I wanted a good villain death— is that too much to ask?

If the villain’s death didn’t mean anything to the main character… well, yes.  It is too much to ask.  What was the problem?  I needed to make things personal. Continue reading “Making Things Personal”

No More Whining

Sometimes characters are in tough spots.

Okay, all the time.  (At least, they should be.)  Characters are always in tough spots, and if they’re at all sympathetic, they’ll probably complain a bit.  If characters never complained, somebody would be clamoring for their unique minority to be represented.  Not all characters do complain, but many can and will.  They can’t just ignore their troubles.  That would make them seem unrealistic.

But when characters complain too much…  That’s a different problem.  People who complain are automatically less fun to be around than people who don’t complain.  (That’s why I dislike “Everything Wrong with [popular movie] in # Minutes or Less” videos.  Some of the flaws they find are bad writing, but the rest isn’t worth mentioning, and I don’t care.)  Pessimists aren’t lovable— they’re whiny.  That’s exactly the same effect produced by a complaining character.

That’s not a good thing.  Usually, if things are going wrong for a character, they have something that’s supposed to make them likable.  The unlikable characters can have as much going for them as they want, but the likable characters are always in trouble.  And if the likable characters need to be… well, likable, they can’t be unlikable.  That is to say, they can’t be whiny.

Does that mean they can’t complain?  Nope, because (to quote paragraph two of this post), that would make them seem unrealistic.  Sometimes a character needs to complain and be likable at exactly the same time.  That requires a lot more contortions from you, the author.  That said, you have a couple options. Continue reading “No More Whining”

An Editing Process

I just finished a month of editing, and in the spirit of the work, I’m going to type up this post and publish it without a single read-through.  How’s that for living on the edge?

This month I edited Stakes, the novel I wrote last November for NaNoWriMo.  I had tried editing before on Fathoming Egression (my second novel) and failed– while the premise was good and the characters sound, I found it needed a complete rewrite, which I was ill-equipped to give.  I moved on to other projects, loathing the idea of editing until nearly a year later, when I reread the story and decided to query with Stakes on April 1st.

With less than a month to prepare, I couldn’t afford to rewrite the story.  I needed to make a one-pass, effective edit.  In planning said edit, I was unable to resist the charm of checklists. Continue reading “An Editing Process”

Killing Your Darlings Vs. Making Them Pretty

Everyone has a different process for editing a manuscript.  Some people edit as they write, taking hours for each paragraph, trying to get it perfect before they move on.  Other people prefer to simply write and leave everything for later.  However, one thing they can all agree on is the necessity of separating micro-edits from macro-edits.

Micro-editing is important.  It focuses on the words, the sentences, the paragraphs as individuals— examining things like flow, emotion, description, and such.  It makes sure the narrative is smooth so the reader doesn’t get held up by a weird turn of phrase.  When you micro-edit, you’re polishing the manuscript for a good reading experience.  It doesn’t matter what’s happening in the story— it just needs to sound good.

Macro-editing is also important.  Macro-edits focus on plot, characters, and making the right impact with whatever you’re trying to do.  The words don’t matter.  At this point, you’re just figuring out what you want to say, not how to say it. Continue reading “Killing Your Darlings Vs. Making Them Pretty”