By pure serendipity, this last week has turned out to be all about editing.
It wasn’t supposed to happen. I had finished the substantial edits needed on my new book, The Prince’s Bride. I felt they made the story hugely better. The publisher’s editor accepted them. The book went up on Amazon for pre-order. It should all have been done and dusted.
I needed to refresh my introduction page on this website. What’s more, the book I’ve been worrying at for far too long was calling to me for some editorial TLC. Loudly.
I went to a talk on pacing by the brilliant Julie Cohen at the Romantic Novelists’ Association on Thursday. Came home inspired.
And then I started reading the The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, which is new and strange and full of clearly heartfelt asides on a writer’s craft, disciplines, habits and general weirdness. Including editing. At one point the writer-narrator actually starts editing a vicar’s funeral oration – too many “verys”, in case you’re interested.
Editing is Difficult but Necessary
Now, I’ve always found editing my own books difficult. Indeed, when I first started writing stories for publication, I thought editing was almost cheating. I flew off into the mist, under the white-hot power of spontaneous invention. What came out at the other end was, of course, going to be Truth.
When it was clearly Untruth, and a slippery porridge of half digested ideas to boot, I would just put it to one side and take off again on a new flight.
Eventually I learned that flying into the mist is fine at the purely creative stage. But after that I needed to make sure that a) I and b) the readers know what’s going on. In other words, Edit the Damn Book.
Week’s Editing Lesson 1
Tell the reader the things they need to know in the right order. By that, I mean the order of importance to the reader, not to me.
When it came to my new Sophie Introduction page, that meant my new book has to be the first item. It’s news.
But what of my much-loved and frequently abandoned Work In Progress? I had just finished a major editing exercise and I’d learned a lot from it. I could apply those lessons to the tattered pages, couldn’t I?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, because I need to think about the reader’s needs, not mine.
No, because The Prince’s Bride is a romance, focused on one relationship. Work in Progress has romance, sure. But there are at least 2 non-romantic subplots and some major conflicts for characters where love, true love, is no answer at all, even with a serious hunk. Or hunkess.
The right order is not self evident. Confession: I have 39 drafts to prove it.
This is not a failure of story telling craft. It’s vacillating, pure and simple. My guru editor, Jacqui Bianchi, would have hit me over the head with my teddy bear until I stopped tiffling. Gulp.
Week’s Editing Lesson 2
Week’s Editing Lesson 3
Experiment with post it notes to plot characters’ every action. Thank you, Julie Cohen!
I’ve heard her say it before, mind you. Never thought I’d do it. But my besetting sin when editing is writing new stuff, instead of applying myself to what’s already there.
I may be able to work out what the reader needs to know next by drawing up a detailed list of what actions are already there in Neglected Book.
Will probably colour code by character. Possibly star code to show significance and turning points. OTT? It’s going to be fun.
I’ll let you know how it works out.
Week’s Editing Lesson 4
Don’t be scared by feeling out of control. Thank you Anthony Horowitz. (The Word is Murder really is a cracking book, in so many ways!)
Out of control is dynamic. It means the story lives.
A little bit out of control may just be essential to keep the freshness.
Remembering that might stop my pointless rewriting. Focused rewriting, however, remains a brilliant tool.
Week’s Editing Lesson 5
Editing is creative too. I enjoy it. I’m good at it and getting better. Thank you Joanna Maitland.
My esteemed critique partner reminded me of how I apply myself to editing. It’s always painful to begin with but, once started, I see the mist clearing and all sorts of ways to make my story sparkle.
The end product surprises me every time. In a good way.
I’ll still need Joanna to stop me tiffling, though.
And If You’d Like Some Editing Help …
Joanna and I are sharing some of the lessons we’ve learned to add that sparkle to a manuscript in a one day workshop in London next month.
Saturday, 21st October 2017. Venue: RAF Club, 128 Piccadilly, London
For more information and how to book, see the London Flyer here
Oh yes, when to stop tiffling, as you put it. Doesn’t seem to matter how well I edit, inevitably, after a few weeks or months break, when I read it again, there’s something. So hard to notice. I remember, even after the book going through at least four pairs of eyes at HMB, there were still errors in the printed text. But editing per se, ie making it better, is the bit I quite enjoy. It’s when the story is so well known I can’t read it any more that it gets hard.
I know that feeling of not being able to read the story any more, Liz. It keeps me from opening the file for days sometimes. But actually, once I start, I usually find I engage quite quickly, especially if I take it slowly by starting off reading it aloud.
My besetting sin, though, is endless change without a clear objective. Jacqui said it was a way of not letting go of my child. It can certainly go on ad infinitum. There’s no reason I should ever stop – except for an editor threatening GBH with teddy bear, of course. Or getting up the courage to say, “No more!”