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.


A stressful week on top of getting slammed with allergies convinced me to stay home from work today. Instead of staring at government words on paper I’m staring at my words on paper. Plodding through the editing process. I made a pot of tea, opened up the document, prepared to knuckle down and work all day. And the very first sentence I saw was this:

The fire was stoked and beating back the chill in the old house.

Okay, easy to fix. Even I could see that without looking at editor comments. Well, after the fact of course. I didn’t see it when originally writing it. The sentence quickly became:

The stoked fire beat back the chill in the old house.

And then I got stuck. The editor suggested ‘of’ rather than ‘in’. I spent so much time going back and forth that I came here  instead.

Really, is such a small word worth such indecision? It appears so.

‘Of’ makes me think of an old house that’s always cold, even in summer. Damp maybe, with that smell of something closed up too long. It speaks of a house not lived in, not loved, or maybe lived in once by a nasty old lady with binoculars.

When I think of ‘in’ I imagine there is an outside force making the house cold at this particular moment. Which is the case here as it’s winter, the protagonist is alone in a home she doesn’t belong to yet, and her mother is back making demands.

So I’m going to stick with ‘in’. It feels right to me.

And I’ve now spent half an hour debating between two-letter words. I do believe though, very strongly, that it’s this level of detail that makes a story. Just the right word in just the right place. Or at least what I perceive to be just the right word.

Dang, here’s another two letter word.

Cody opened up the journal. That just became, Cody opened the journal. Why didn’t I make that simple change while writing the story initially? Who knows. At least it was pointed out to me before going to print.

At this rate I’m going to spend all day on the first paragraph in this chapter. But at least I’m not at work, and the tea is still hot, and the next paragraph will be there tomorrow. For today, as they say, the devil is in the details.

I wonder how that expression came in to being. I refuse to google it and research it and delay my next two-letter word stumbling block.

Back to work.

My writing companion watching chickens

My writing companion watching chickens

Remembering Poems

Poetry fascinates me because I can’t write it. I’ve tried. And failed. Two friends write poems that make my heart ache with the beauty of their words. It takes me a novel and 80,000 words to say what they convey in five stanzas.

I don’t edit poetry simply because I don’t understand it and could never edit with an unbiased eye. I know what I like but couldn’t tell you why. It’s a form of writing that is a deep mystery to me.

A few months ago I watched a little known gem of a movie called ‘The Business of Fancy Dancing’ based on a book of poems by the talented Sherman Alexei. There is a scene where the main character is remembering a pow wow. He’s sitting in bed with paper and pencil and as his memory brings alive the drumming and singing, his pencil begins to tap the rythm he hears in his past. Before long words are flowing into a poem with the same rythm.

That’s when it hit me that a poem is remembered music, and that music comes alive only when the poem is read by someone who recognizes it, that finds something in the words that resonates. I’m not saying that a poem is just lyrics to a song. Far from it, for a song is heard by the ears while a poem seems to be music heard at a deeper level. I think all writers hear that song of words inside, but only a gifted few can turn that into a poem.

So have you written poetry? If not, consider this a challenge to try it. Let me know how it turns out. And feel free to share your favorites here. Mine include Wedell Berry’s ‘Peace of Wild Things’ and Robert Frost’s ‘November Guest’.