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Posts Tagged ‘editing

It’s taken me a while, but I’m finally beginning to move on from my epic retelling of Chuck’s third season, a 190K long, 20 episode, 80 chapter monster that consumed my life for more than a year. I finished it. I made an omnibus version, which I PDF’d and sent to a few people who asked for it. Then I read it and re-edited it and re-PDF’d it. I still find myself checking the special mail folder I set to receive mail from fanfiction.net, hoping that someone would have left me a comment. That’s a very addicting side effect of that site, getting feedback on what you wrote and put up there, pretty quickly. For my books I have to go searching for any comments people may have left about them, and that isn’t as often as I’d like.

I really need to start posting on Twitter and stuff, doing more blog posts here. I tend to get very single-minded when I have a project, I focus on it and not much else.

But eventually the PDF was as finished as two rereads could make it and then I put it away, and started watching Castle. Not that I like Castle all that much, but I’d already seen the first 2 seasons and discovered my library had the second two on the shelf, so I figured, “What the hell.” I have to say I’m liking these second two much better. I can’t say I hated the first two but I don’t really remember them all that well, which is indication enough. I do wish they’d get the romantic angst stuff out of the way, though, and move the story onto some other topic. I like the way they expanded the roles of some of the other players, and brought in a different Captain for the precinct.

I can’t help but think of Bones, though, and how they changed her boss from one season to the next. I can’t really say, since I don’t watch TV much at all, but it does seem like these shows are starting to cannibalize each other. I don’t care when the story is good. Seeing a little shout out to some great moment in another show I liked is kind of fun, then. When I can predict the entire course of an episode because it looks so much like some other TV show or movie, well, not so much.

But Castle is for the afternoons. In the morning I reread Ghostkiller, and try to add little bits of text here and there. I plowed through the last several thousand words by alternating with my Chuck stories, and I have to make sure they don’t read like that. When I’m in a hurry i usually focus on the dialog, and let the story just flow as characters talking to each other. I have to go back over the text to fill in the action and movements and stuff, which is what I’m trying to do now.. So far I’ve added about 1500 words, enhanced the backstory, etc. It’s actually quite a delicate business, since sometimes it’s adding three words to a line, and other times it’s rewriting 5 paragraphs to make the story flow work better.

I sometimes wish I had a beta-reader, though, I don’t know how much is really needed and how much is me being paranoid. One of the better aspects of my Chuck writing is that it pulled me into areas I don’t normally write, made me practice different styles. At the end I had to do an entire action-packed episode for my season finale, when my group, fractured into multiple groups, nonetheless manages to come together and bring doom to the villains, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. It”s not a style I do much, and I had to figure out a lot about pacing to make it work. My ending for Ghostkiller needs some of that same attention. The climax is just a little too breakneck.

I’ll get around to doing that nine2five prequel. Just not now.

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A lot of authors feel daunted by the first blank page of a new story, putting down that first sentence that will anchor the first paragraph that anchors the first chapter. I know that right now I have one last chapter to write for the current episode of my fanfic series nine2five, and I am feeling a bit daunted because I haven’t got a strong idea where to begin it.

This is where story layering comes in. Basically, it means start with one element of your story, it doesn’t matter which one. It could be your strongest story element (mine is dialog) or a hook from the previous story/chapter, anything that you feel most comfortable with, to just write something down. You can’t edit what ain’t there.

In my case I often start with a great swatch of dialog, two characters having a great time advancing the plot with witty banter and repartee. (The below examples are from St. Martin’s Moon.)

“How would you have felt about a ‘small vacation’, or a ‘leave of absence’?”

Like this one.

“You would have spent the whole time laying about, nothing to do, dreading the day you had to come back, obsessing about the very thing you were supposed to be getting over, through, and past. You resign, the future is open-ended. You need a new job, something to pay the bills, like but unlike the job you’re best suited for.”

“Watching a friend turn into ice crystals.”

“That’s not the job.”

“Oh, it’s a perk?”.

“It’s a hazard! Bing-Bang knew it and accepted it. So did you, once. Do you think she’d want to see you like this?”

“Better than me seeing her like that.”

Then, three pages later, I’ll look back at what I just wrote an see that it has no action at all, not even dialog tags. This is probably where I learned my dislike of dialog tags. Rather than write ‘he said’ all the time, I just fill in the missing action around the dialog, making sure the reader knows who is doing the talking by also showing what he is doing. The only time I’d ever use a dialog tag is when I couldn’t use the action do it.

How would you have felt about a ‘small vacation’, or a ‘leave of absence’?”

Like this one.

The colonel’s face was stone, intent stone, but stone. “You would have spent the whole time laying about, nothing to do, dreading the day you had to come back, obsessing about the very thing you were supposed to be getting over, through, and past,” he declared flatly. “You resign, the future is open-ended. You need a new job, something to pay the bills, like but unlike the job you’re best suited for.”

“Watching a friend turn into ice crystals.” Marquand could barely be heard by anyone but the cooling tea in his hands.

“That’s not the job,” said Pierce quickly, his voice full of the bitterness lacking in the other man’s.

“Oh, it’s a perk?” Ah, there’s the passion.

“It’s a hazard!” Pierce managed, just barely, to keep from shouting. “Bing-Bang knew it and accepted it. So did you, once. Do you think she’d want to see you like this?”

“Better than me seeing her like that,” Marquand countered.

So that’s my second layer. A third layer might be the reactive text, showing what character A is thinking or feeling about what character B has just said or done. Or it could be character A thinking about what he himself is doing. My least favorite layer is the part where I have to put something down as the author that no character is saying/thinking/doing.

How would you have felt about a ‘small vacation’, or a ‘leave of absence’?”

Like this one. Marquand shook his head mutely. The thought of such a suggestion, today, such a… trivialization of what had…he couldn’t speak through the anger. Impossible to imagine what his reaction would have been then. They wouldn’t be trying to get him back now, for sure.

The colonel’s face was stone, intent stone, but stone. “You would have spent the whole time laying about, nothing to do, dreading the day you had to come back, obsessing about the very thing you were supposed to be getting over, through, and past,” he declared flatly. “You resign, the future is open-ended. You need a new job, something to pay the bills, like but unlike the job you’re best suited for.”

“Watching a friend turn into ice crystals.” Marquand could barely be heard by anyone but the cooling tea in his hands.

“That’s not the job,” said Pierce quickly, his voice full of the bitterness lacking in the other man’s.

“Oh, it’s a perk?” Ah, there’s the passion.

“It’s a hazard!” Pierce managed, just barely, to keep from shouting. “Bing-Bang knew it and accepted it. So did you, once. Do you think she’d want to see you like this?”

“Better than me seeing her like that,” Marquand countered. His voice sank into a mutter. “We were going to ask to be partnered next rotation.”

Story layering is clearly a form of story editing, and for those who prefer to write fist and edit later may not be of much help. My own writing style is to start from the beginning, and then every so often reread what I just wrote to come up with ideas for what I should write next. During this reread I will often have thoughts about text that should be in there that I forgot to include the first time, quite often flavoring pieces that don’t have much impact on the plot but enhance the presentation of the character. My personal favorite one of these occurred to me when writing St. Martin’s Moon. As my hero was being chased by one werewolf into the arms of another, the two monsters start threatening each other, rather than pay attention to him. I was on my fourth round of edits when I reread this scene and the thought popped into my head:

They weren’t social creatures. Nice to know, but it sucked to be the one to find out.

Which not only suited the character perfectly, it was an important plot point later on. The best part about this is that it’s often cyclic, as new layers inspire you to add yet more layers. It’s important to not get so lost enhancing what you’ve already got that you lose track of where you want to go. The important layers will feed into each other and propel the story. Others are just lily-painting and should be left for the end.

Unless they’re really, really good.

By which I mean to say, that I am following a thread. It’s not a real thread, unfortunately, but a thread of logic, of coherence, and consistency. It is in short, a thread of story.

Lots of authors out there can tackle any piece of a story that comes their way, writing up little pieces of text that will, eventually, get put into the right order so the story is revealed, much like a picture puzzle. I am not one of those people. The writing experience for me is very simple: I start at some beginning (which, often as not, comes to me in a dream or a random comment, or some internal visualization) and I keep going until I get to the end.

There are upsides and downsides to thread-following, as there are to most things. The upside is that the maze becomes less of a maze. Random side alleys are less inviting, if they even get noticed. I’m not looking at them, I’m looking at my thread. I’ll go down a random side alley if the thread does. Which it often does. To a pantser, every alley is a random side alley.

But, not all side alleys are alleys I want to go down, even if the thread leads there. My latest WIP, Ghostkiller, has my MC currently working with a pair of homicide detectives investigating, well, a homicide. Another Ghostkiller. Which has lots of nasty ghostkiller-related consequences. And I don’t know much about homicide detective procedures anyway. I’m interested in the guy, not the job. Do I really want to go down that alley?

Fortunately, I don’t have to. Story logic is multi-branching, and there are threads all over the place. There are doubtless other threads I can follow which do not require me to know about police call-in procedures. I’m not a complete pantser, either, so I have some idea of which threads I want to follow and where they’re likely to go. If I’m done the job right, or got lucky, there’ll be a branch just up ahead. If there’s no branch, maybe I’ll do like the hero in Tron and make one. If I’m not lucky and I can’t just make it up, there was a branch just a little back there. If I’m really unlucky the last branch was quite a long time ago, and I’ve got some serious revising to do.

Which, curiously, is another benefit of thread-following. Dead ends and bad branches don’t hang around in the text, waiting to be excised in a furious burst of revision and second drafting. The current draft is the only draft. When editing time comes along there’s almost nothing left to do but the mechanical formatting and grammatical stuff. Of course I suppose I could just save that text and see if it makes sense somewhere else. That’s another weird thing about story logic, a scene that makes no sense from one direction can make perfect sense somewhere else. The manner in which you enter the alley dictates whether or not there’s an exit, and if so what kind.

But if you drop the thread you’re screwed, hunting around on hands and knees in the dark, groping about until you find it again. Which could take a while. If you’re like me you’ve got a bunch of threads at the same time, though, so if you can’t find one you can just spin off on a different thread-axis and work on a different story for a while. The threads are all connected, after all, by following one you may pick up the one you lost. Happens to me all the time. On the other hand, having multiple threads can be a problem if they all start calling at once.

I haven’t said anything about the main metaphor in this sea of troubles, the minotaur that lives in the maze. Which is only fair, I suppose. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, and have no idea what it could be. Do you?

There really ought to be one. Why now, you ask?

Well, considering that NaNoWriMo just ended, and the world is now flooded with thousands of manuscripts written at a breakneck pace, I’d say that this is the most appropriate time there is. If anything, it should be National Editor Appreciation Month. Unfortunately, while lots of people like to think there’s a novel inside of them, not so many like to think that it needs to be fixed.

But I have other reasons, especially since I didn’t do NaNoWriMo and I probably never will. I do have stories, though, and those stories do need to be edited. Last month I had a record (for me) 5 stories getting edited in a row, St. Martin’s Moon followed by ‘Bite Deep’, then ‘Steampunk Santa’, “Chasing His Own Tale 2′, and lastly a re-edit of my first novel Unbinding the Stone. Not to mention trying to write new stories at the same time, while the holidays were all around, mucking things up.

So I didn’t blog so much.

Anyway, my editors did me a great service, beyond the moaning, groaning, and kvetching about my punctuation that they usually do. It turns out that in two–count ’em, two–of my stories, there were actual errors in the text! OMG. Stephen Brayton noticed that I had a character who knew the story he was starring in was a paranormal even though he hadn’t been there when the decision was made. Jenny Turner noticed that I had a character who knew nothing of oceans or even lakes nonetheless use words like ‘hurricane’ and ‘island’, even ‘tropical’.

So I, with the great modesty that is so characteristic of my noble spirit, offer my thanks to these unsung heroes, without whom my stories would be less fabulous than they are. (The astute reader may have noticed a subtle element of humor in the previous sentence. Rest assured it did not include the part about offering thanks.) (Well, maybe the part about ‘unsung heroes’ was a little OTT.)

Have your editors done as well by you, rendered you a similar service?

I’m supposed to be in the final edit stage of my latest novel, St. Martin’s Moon, but I keep re-reading it and I keep seeing things to fix.  Mostly it’s just punctuational stuff, commas that should be inside quotes, missing periods, that sort of thing.  My publisher automatically turns all my double-spaces after a period into single-spaces, which makes it harder to automatically search for cases of a space between periods and quotes, but I digress.

One of the other things that usually happens when I reread my stories is that I’ll come up with some more text, a new line, a brilliant bit of dialog that I wasn’t brilliant enough to think of before.  In one scene, they’re trying to sneak down a corridor without getting spotted, things happen, they get spotted.  My heroine says, “Gronk.” and proceeds to flee.  Why does she say Gronk, you ask?

Well, I saw no reason to pause in my writing to think up a suitable curse, just as I saw no reason to delay in order to come with a good home city for my hero.  I simply called it Greater Not Relevant and got on with things.  I replaced it later with some other name.  Similarly I thought I would replace Gronk with an appropriate curse later.   (By cursing here, I mean of course the unfortunately-standard use of certain words to express displeasure, to the point where the original meaning of the word is gone.  Sometimes I see the word used correctly and it strikes me as strange, I’m so used to seeing it used as an expletive. )

Except I didn’t.  I left the Gronk in place and had my hero ask her “‘Gronk?'” after they got away.  In an earlier edit she simply says, “I had to say something, and I don’t like to curse.”  In this, supposedly-final edit, I embellished on that text, in a way the shows Candace’s love of words and their meanings as vehicles to express thoughts.

She shrugged. “Gotta say something, and I don’t like to curse.”

“Why not?”

“So many words in so many languages, you think I’m going to limit myself to the least interesting?”  She shuddered, and he could see she meant it.  “Words like that mean so many things they mean nothing at all.  Just sounds taking the place of anything real.  I prefer to use a word that really does mean nothing.”

“Sorry I asked.”

“It’s a bit of a sore point for me.  So many people here, it’s half their vocabulary.”

“I get that. What are we running from, anyway?”

In A Warrior Made, Tarkas expresses his annoyance that his plans failed with the word, “Drat.”  He doesn’t know what it means, but he’d heard someone else use it before so he figured he’d use it himself. Then he wonders if he’s used it right.  Jeff Bean, another character from St. Martin’s Moon, does get off a classic line, “F*ck you, a**hole,” which is immediately discounted as a bit of repartee on a level with his game-playing.  That’s about the only use I can see for using such language in a book.  Or in a blog post that doesn’t appear to have a natural end.

Crap.

I came across my umpteenth post a while back, on the subject of names and how to choose them.  I checked my own archives, spread across three different websites, and found that I’ve never done such a thing myself.  So, in the interest of craft completeness and giving myself something to link to when the subject comes up again somewhere else in the future, I’m going to address this burning issue now.

Bear in mind that I am a fantasy novelist, so the business with names is rather different than it is for a book set in the normal world, even for urban fantasy or a paranormal.   In some ways.  In UF or PN the characters can have more fantasy names, but they’ll also usually have a nickname or short form that interfaces well with the normal human population.  Since I have both fantasy and paranormal stories, I’ll handle each separately.

Generally, when coming up with a name, I don’t want to use a standard name in a fantasy context, since that would sort of burst the bubble of fantasy-ness that I’m trying to construct.  Tom Bombadil is not a name I’d choose, and Sam was only good because it was short for Samwise.  I have been known to use human but non-standard names in my stories, but only for the sake of a mid-story twist.  In general I’d start with a naming convention and generate names from that, rather than select random syllables that sounded cool.  Names have rules, usually the same ones languages have.  A commonly used word is usually a short word, and names are intended to show how the bearer fits into the community in at least one level, usually family, with clan or village designations also possible.

When I first started writing Unbinding the Stone I hadn’t given any thought to a naming convention, I just had the hero’s name, Tarkas.  Spinning out the logic from that one seed, I decided on a convention that had a family name in the first syllable, the personal name in the last, so Tarkas’ parents were Tarmel and Tarsis.  Beyond that I had a village designation, although I don’t know why I did that.  Since he didn’t stay in that village long it wasn’t really important, but it sounded nice.  ‘Tarkas tel Kwinarish’ has a much better sound in certain contexts that plain old ‘Tarkas’ does. 

That is another point to remember as a writer: poetry.  Names should have a certain rhythm, a flow, that makes the sentence and paragraph work.  The reader is going to be reading that name pretty often, so make the experience a pleasant one.  Tongue-twisting combinations usually don’t do that.  This is a point also overlooked in the editing process, where the importance of auxiliary words like ‘was’, ‘had’, and ‘that’ is overlooked in the mechanical exercise of removing them with more active verbs.  Sometimes they are not there for the verb but for the poetry of the sentence.

Anyway.  Tarkas eventually got a new one when he shifted to a new realm, with a more military view of things.  In that context, families were subordinated to clans, and the city of residence didn’t matter at all.  The name of the city had its own convention, though.  In this realm there was a central artifact called the Eye of God, and all cities took their names as a reference to this artifact.  Over time the custom degraded, and the reference dropped out, but the directional nature of the name remained.  I did not come up with any of this as an abstract idea, I’m showing this in the course of the stories I write, so we see that naming conventions can have significant backstory possibilities as well.

My paranormal book is a futuristic, with pretty normal names.  As a number of people have recommended, however, most of these names are not ordinary names like Jack or Tom.  The hero is named Joseph, but he is never called Joe, usually Major or Marquand.  The administrator is always Robert, and my bad-ass villain Bertrand is always Bertrand.  There is a Ron, but he’s Dr. Ron.  For each I have a variety of secondary titles to use in place of names, so constant references to them by name don’t get dull. 

Sometimes the name is not what matters, but the function.  That’s what I did in my short story ‘Chasing His Own Tale’, where Author Guy has to deal with Fearless Hero and Evil Enchantress et al.  Then even an ordinary name like Loretta (the Damsel in Distress) will stand out.

What conventions do you use?

I’ve been away from this blog for a while, first with that short story I was writing for the contest, and more recently with the editing of my new novel, St. Martin’s Moon.  Fortunately for my writerly pride there weren’t too many real issues to edit, mostly breaking sentences up or putting them together, or excessive wordiness.  Not that the words didn’t work, but the difference between ‘the creature’ and ‘the creature itself’ is not so great that it justifies the extra syllables, on a semantic level.  The real issue is the poetry of it all, the way the words flow.  Sometimes those two syllables make a difference not in the meaning of the sentence but in the way it sounds.  Note the use of ‘in’ twice in the previous sentence (or ‘to’ in the next), and try to imagine what it would sound like if only the first one was there, i.e., “not in the meaning of the sentence but the way it sounds”.    I have similar concerns about the current campaigns against words like ‘that’ and ‘had’ which serve a purpose, not to the meaning but to the flow.

The main other offender in my original manuscript was the use of italics to represent thoughts, as opposed to tags such as ‘he thought’ or ‘he wondered’.  I like italics.  The problem is I like them whether or not I use the tag.  The general rule of editing is one or the other.

One such sentence is : Turn right, he thought with grim humor, and go straight.

Now, I can see dispensing with the tag if all it said was ‘he thought’.  Those words add nothing.  In fact, many of the edits I got were to remove such tags, and I did.  There are, so far as I can tell, only two reasons to use tags, either to identify the speaker or to describe the manner in which the thought was thought or the words spoken, such as ‘ with grim humor’ or ‘with a complete lack of sincerity’.  This tag contains the grim humor, which adds to the meaning, and I can’t just dispense with it, so I have to take the other route and drop the italics.  The thing I don’t like about the tag is that the thoughts it refers to don’t get blocked off anywhere.  You don’t use quotes, either single or double, around the thought, and that looks really ugly to me.

Turn right, he thought with grim humor, and go straight.

I’m always reading sentences like these and getting tripped up over the fact that I don’t know it’s a thought until I read the tag, and then I have to go back to the beginning and reread it, because thoughts don’t read like normal sentences.  They are not just thoughts, they’re thoughts that the thinker has taken the trouble to put into words.  This is not a common occurrence.  Words are slow, thought is fast, like a flash of vision, a memory, an emotion.  Nothing reads worse to me than great blocks of thought, especially in italics, which are really ugly in great long chunks.  I read speech differently from the way I read a plain declarative sentence for that reason, and thoughts are a form of speech.  But it’s not dialog, which is why I don’t like to use quotes, either.  Quotes are spoken, italics is unspoken.

This is to distinguish them from yet another form of thinking I use in my books, but which I don’t see in other books.  I don’t like descriptive prose, as we all know, so most of my description is done through the eyes of whatever character is seeing the scene, i.e. perception.  As a result, I have a type of description which reads like a thought but isn’t, which I don’t italicize, don’t tag, and don’t block off.

Could they have seen the Earth from where they were?

And the answer is, yes. Just barely. In a meager, first-quarterish phase. Could that matter?

Only one sentence makes it to the realm of thoughts. The rest are better thought of as filtered perceptions.  He’s already had the thought, now he’s checking what he sees, to see if it fits the model he’s already thought of.  So for my writing it’s important to have some way to distinguish these three forms of thought when standard editing practice only has two.

None of which means anything when it comes to editing.  I wrote my manuscript with italics and tags because I like it that way and it looks better and makes more sense to me.  But I am not the editor.  I am not the interface between me and the rest of the reading public, she is.  This is where editing becomes a judgment call, because sometimes what the editor wants changed matters to the sentence, and sometimes it doesn’t.  This change matters because of a distinction only I seem to be making.  When enough readers see the distinction and care about it, then and only then will the editing manuals catch up.

Which means I’d better write some more.

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Unbinding the Stone

A Warrior Made

A Warrior Made

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St. Martin’s Moon

St. Martin's Moon

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Ghostkiller

Chasing His Own Tale

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Struck By Inspiration

Struck By Inspiration

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Steampunk Santa

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Bite Deep

Christmas among the vampires!

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Cyber-pirates. Sort of.

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Off the Map

Reality TV...without the Reality!

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