Honesty with Editing

Most writers know editing a story can be difficult. It isn’t simply a matter of having a great idea, writing it down, and making millions without doing any work.

In the past, the editing I’ve had to do has been a lot of work, but nothing like what I’m doing right now. I’ve been trying to figure out why this one is so hard and have decided it’s time for some honesty.

First off is the discouragement. The beta readers came back with very positive comments, and they loved the story. They had good, constructive criticisms. The editor, however, immediately caught all the things I’d subconsciously known were there, that I believe I’d been hoping would just slide by unnoticed.

Second is the fear. The characters are wanting to go into a darker place than I am comfortable writing about. But no matter how I try to twist the plot where I want it to go, their past keeps intruding. I believe I need to look at why I find this uncomfortable and why I don’t want to free the characters to face their true story.

All of this means I  feel at the moment that the whole story needs to be simply thrown away. I haven’t felt this low about writing since I was undergoing radiation and my screwed up brain chemistry told me I’d never write again.

However there is this. I am not so stupid that I don’t recognize this as a hole that can be edited out of. And I was smart enough to send off all my angst to the editor who keeps prodding me. And here below is part of her response.

Ghost Roads is a very good story. You need to make it a great story. You’ve got the characters, you’ve got the inciting incident, you’ve got the action moving from plot point to plot point, you’ve got it breathing life — now you have to add the passion. That comes from the characters having goals. And making sure they pursue those goals. That’s why I keep harping on the back story for Harlow, Leigh and Bonnie. Their collective past is influencing their present and driving the plot. I think if you look at each scene that way, you’ll find that you have not as much to do as you think — adding the undercurrent isn’t nearly as heavy a job as fixing a wandering plot.  In the piece between Bonnie and Harlow that you sent this past weekend, that’s what needs to be added to give it weight. And that piece is very important. It tells the reader the reason Harlow came home and why she isn’t packing up her backpack and dog and heading out when that’s what she’d really like to have happen. It shows us that she’s taking responsibility and facing down pain for the sake of someone else — and that struggle makes us want her to succeed. And, it’s not so much the words that grab the reader, but what the struggle of having that conversation tells the reader about the two women. Go for it.
Words of wisdom: sometimes this writing thing isn’t fun – – it’s hate-every-minute-of-it work.
Hugs. Pick up your sword and go back to the battle. You’ll win. I saw it in my crystal ball.”
Isn’t it amazing what a support system can do, especially when they are honest and won’t let you get away with taking the easy way out? I’m still feeling far from qualified to do Ghost Roads justice. But I just might be able to face the scene my editor references above. After that, well, we’ll see.

Editing Yourself

Okay, let’s break down, honestly, the editing process when you are getting your stuff ready for the real world. Others have said similar things before, but I’m saying it again as I am right at step #7.

1. The first draft is finally finished after lots of angst and hard work. I think it stinks, the plot sucks, the characters are even worse, and it’s time to go back to the day job.

2. I leave it alone for a few weeks, then sneak back very tentatively and peak at the first page. It doesn’t suck as bad as I thought so I read on and realize, well it’s okay at least.

3. I revise and get it to the point where I think, hey, this is actually the best one I’ve written so far.

4. It gets sent off to the beta readers with high hopes that comments will flood in on how perfect and wonderful the story is.

5. Days pass. Doubts creep in.

6. Comments come back. In this case, one of my favorites included this: 2, 4, 13, 26, 53, etc. for a long list of numbers which translate to pages with typos I somehow missed. Some comments ask basic plot questions that I can’t answer because I never thought of that – why does the protagonist come home? A lot of comments show structure issues.

7. I regress to step #1, with the added drama that it’s going to take so much work to revise I might as well toss the whole thing, give up, and move on to something else. (this is where I’m at today)

8. Eventually I laugh at myself (this always happens so these following steps are listed as coming from past experience), take the easiest comments to deal with first (probably will be the list of page numbers) and start editing.

9. The realization sinks in that, wow, these changes are making the story much stronger.

10. The edits are done, there’s a final beta reader review, and hey, this is the best one I’ve written yet!

11. The book goes out to the world and I start on the next one, and then…

12. I find typos after publication.

I imagine there are a few of you out there that can relate.

Word Conundrum

Which comes first, the final edit or the readers?

I have become hooked on the Game of Throne series and noticed that there are places where I skim. In some spots there will be paragraphs of names, as in before a battle starts, when the author lists everyone who’s there. I don’t really care; I want to see the fight. Plus, with all the names I’ll figure out who they are if they show up again.

The point is though, that I skim whole sections. And there’s that old adage that if the reader skims, that should be the part the writer leaves out.

And there’s my dang conundrum. By the time readers are skimming and making note of that in reviews, the book is out of my hands. There’s nothing I can do about it. Hopefully an editor is honest enough to point out the places readers might be tempted to skip, but obviously that isn’t foolproof. On top of that, what one reader finds boring another will not. If you left out stuff everyone skims you’d probably end up with two pieces of cardboard with great cover art and just empty space in between.

That leads to the old dilemma about editing: how to stop. It used to be once a book was published there was nothing more you could do. If there was a typo or a long passage people skipped, it was there for posterity, or at least until the next printing. These days, the temptation is to take the book back, make changes, and republish it.

Think about the chaos that could cause. Multiple versions of your book. And think about the temptation to revise in a series. You could be working on book three or book ten and realize you should have added a character sooner, or tossed in something in book two that would allow you to justify what you want to do to your character in book eight. Readers would be so confused. A clue that existed in version two of book one isn’t in version three, and on and on. I imagine the writer would be pretty confused, too.

However even though it’s possible these days to edit forever, obviously you shouldn’t. Still though, there are those skimming sections that I bet authors wish all the readers pointed out before publication. It’s too bad we can’t do a preliminary publication, similar to an audience screening of a movie. Something where more readers than just five or six would weigh in.

Oh well. Meandering brain this rainy afternoon.