Editing Is Writing

I am willing to bet that editing is what stands between most writers and their dreams.

The act of writing is romanticized at length in writerly circles, while talk of editing is typically met with derision, or at best, patience.

Editing is where the magic happens, people. Not all great writers follow this rule, but most of the writers that I hold in high regard are known to take significant time editing and perfecting everything they produce. Rothfuss, GRRM, Robert Jordan all fall into this category (at least I assume that’s what they are doing with all that time in between books). Even a writing-production freak like Sanderson has admitted that mastering the art of editing and revising is what propelled him from anonymity to the enormous success he is today.

Editing is where plot is perfected. It is the process by which characters of convenience become paper people with lives of their own. Pace can be fixed, molded to fit your narrative.

Here are a few things I include in my editing process that you may want to consider in yours:

  1. Cut >= 10% of your word count: many authors have vouched for this trick. I tried to cut on several of my previous edits, only to add more words in the name of clarity. Clarity in writing is of utmost importance and deserves an edit all its own, but when I did an edit pass with the sole purpose of cutting word count to improve pace, unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs started to jump out at me. I recently finished an edit pass and cut 17,500 words (12%) from my book! It took a great deal of work, but was a great experience. Precision is beautiful.
  2. Fill your plot holes: This is likely more of a problem for those who wing their books like I did with Ire. I ended up having to put A LOT of work into the book to correct plot issues and holes, and will likely never do that again. I recommend having at least some idea ahead of time of what your major plot points will be, where and how you’d like to build up to them and foreshadow, etc. But, even the best plot plan often changes, and making it bullet-proof is an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. This is also where smart Beta readers come in handy. Anything that any significant amount of beta readers come back with (or a particularly trusted reader) as a point of confusion, fix it.
  3. World Building and Character Elements: Writing characters is something I really enjoy and strive to do well. The danger of “knowing” your characters is that you (hopefully) write them well, but many of the endearing traits that make your characters interesting and lovable live only in your head or in your notes. Take the time to build character elements into the scenes that already exist, and to make sure that your character actions, dialogue, etc are all consistent. Similarly, this should be an opportunity to introduce any world building elements that are pertinent to your story.
  4. Read-throughs to improve flow, clarity, and continuity: The most time consuming edits for me are read-throughs, but they are also some of the most important. If your prose isn’t clear and doesn’t flow well, it’s frankly not worth reading. Everything is fair game here: grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, paragraph breaks, making your statements “active”, etc.

 

-SD

Writing Journal – One Big Thing

A discussion with my writing group led to a conscious solidification of a writing principle I’ve believed in for a long time but only now fully wrapped my mind around. It’s not new to the writing world, but it is new to me, so here is my take on it:

One KMAlexander suggested “One Big Thing” as a principle to follow relative to how much we can/should ask readers to suspend belief in works of fiction. This might apply to other genres, but it’s particularly applicable to Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror.

The idea is that all “unbelievable” elements of a story (or world in which the story occurs) stem from, and are logically consistent with “One Big Thing”.

For example, the catalyst for all of the fantastical elements in my book IRE was the idea for the spiritual metabolization (not a word, but I am trying to make it one) of energy as a magic system, which I call Infusion in my book. The theology (creation mythos) was constructed with this in mind, and the “bad guys” are all products of misuse of the direct and indirect (technology) use of this magic.

The alternative is world-building gone wild, where either the various aspects of the world feel artificially fabricated to fit the narrative, or the narrative feels fake – stretched to hit all of the world building that the author wants to introduce in the story.

Two more (somewhat related) principles that I’ve learned recently, in large part thanks to my agent’s awesome new assistant, Christine:

  1. Introduce ideas early in a book. Introduction of new characters, new civilizations, new arcs should be early enough to build to a meaningful resolution, or at least have a meaningful reason for inclusion within that book. Arcs spanning books, particularly from Book 1 to Book 2, may not be a good idea. I’m cutting a character from my book with this round of edits for this reason. A character I really like.
  2. Cut anything that doesn’t contribute to the story you are trying to tell. I’m cutting another scene with characters that I really like because their scene serves to give more depth to the world as it exists in my mind, but doesn’t contribute to the plot of this book. This is a hard lesson to learn, but a very valuable one.

 

-Scott

More Editing: Cutting the Flab, etc…

I can’t believe it’s been almost five months since I last posted on the blog. Not much of consequence has happened in that time, however, so I suppose the lack of activity here is justified. I’m not going to write a blog post just to write a blog post. But now I’ve re-submitted my book to my agent (Matt Bialer), so I’ll tell you a bit about what I’ve been up to.

I’ve spent nights and weekends for the last five months editing my book more. Much of the editing was spurred by Matt’s suggestions, and I’m very pleased with how things have turned out. I’ll try to hit on the major points that I’ve taken into consideration when editing through this last pass. Perhaps any writers reading this will find my approach and/or Matt’s advice useful.

  • Deepen the story – My agent called this “dropping more breadcrumbs” and this was one of my favorite pieces of advice he gave. With my first several drafts, I was so excited about the story surrounding my main character(s), that I missed the opportunity to build a deeper, fuller story by giving a peek into what other characters, particularly the “bad guys” are doing.
  • Cut the flab – My original manuscript was 684 pages long in standard manuscript format. My goal was to cut that down to 625 or even 600 manuscript pages. The primary reason was to improve the pace of the story, as this series (and particularly this book) are meant to be very action oriented, exciting books. The secondary reason for cutting is that apparently, publishers are more open to shorter books from first time authors. As a general rule this makes sense – fewer pages to edit/print, less money that goes into producing an uncertain product. But the strength of the work is my primary concern, and I hope that it will speak for itself.

It was very difficult for me to balance the need to cut scenes that didn’t advance the plot whilst retaining insights into the world and characters, but in the end I believe I succeeded, and it was the best thing I could have done for this book. My story-deepening (see bullet point above) bulked my story up to 720 pages or so, but from there I managed to cut the manuscript down to 669 pages. Not quite my goal of 600, but it was a net cut of over 50 pages after my additional scenes were written, and what’s left behind is a great story told with strong writing. (Though I may be a bit biased)

  • Development of secondary characters – This is an area that gave me a bit of heartache with Book 1. I really like my cast of characters, and each serves a purpose in the first book and in the story arc I have planned for the series/trilogy/however long this ends up being. However, in an action oriented book where I’m trying REALLY hard to allow readers to get to know and love my main character, Emrael, I find it difficult to develop secondary characters without giving them their own POV and page time, which would only serve to make my book even longer and slow down the pace. In the second book that I’m writing right now, I’ll be introducing more robust POVs for secondary characters and secondary story lines just because of the nature of the story progression as currently outlined, so I’ll be battling to keep the pace of the story strong while juggling multiple story lines. I’m shooting for about a 75% share of page time for Emrael in Book 2. I’d estimate his page time at around 85-90% in Book 1, so it’s not much of a reduction in his page time.

Last thoughts:

I continually evolve as a person and as a writer: my environment changes, my emotions change, the seasons change, etc. Consequently, I could hang onto this book forever, making changes and believing that I’m improving the book. Therefore, I won’t be upset when I get a contract with a publisher and they have their own feedback that will set me up for more editing. I want this book, and every book I write, to be the best it possibly can be.

That said, I’m very pleased with the state of the book as it currently exists, and I think you’ll like it too. I’m hoping to get it into your hands before too long. And by “before too long” I mean sometime around 2017. I still don’t know exactly what publishing timelines look like or when my book will be ready for that step. Fingers crossed.

-Scott Drakeford

Beta Readers

This has been a very big month. Early this month, I finally sent my manuscript to a small group of beta readers who had expressed interest in reading my book and giving me feedback. I’ve only received detailed feedback from one beta reader, but the opinions so far from those who have finished the book has been positive. It’s a very good feeling to have other people enjoy something that took so much time to build and write.

I chose to use 7 or so beta readers, all people I trust to give me honest feedback. They are also people who are at least passingly familiar with the fantasy genre and can thus give a solid opinion on how my book will be received by fantasy readers. Perhaps most importantly, I’m lucky to have beta readers who are extremely intelligent people who will be able to offer detailed insight as to why they did or did not enjoy the book and it’s various aspects.

I’m now just continuing work on the second novel in the series as I wait for more feedback from my readers. I’m also working on perfecting my query letter that I’ll send out to literary agents as soon as I feel the manuscript is in top shape.

-Scott

Book Progress Update 12/9/14

I’m doing my last read-through edit before sending to beta readers. I’m on page 260/684.

I’m willing to bet that at least some of you reading this are thinking something like, “Scott sucks at writing books. Why does it take him so long?”

Writing a book is quite interesting. And by interesting, I mean hard. Mentally, emotionally, and even physically, it’s a lot harder than I anticipated.

I’ve read of authors whose first draft is also their final draft. When I started writing five or so years ago, I thought that seemed doable. Now, however, I think that’s amazeballs. My book has gone through at least ten drafts already, though I don’t work linearly and keeping track of distinct drafts is therefore difficult.

I love lists, so that’s how I’ll summarize how my drafts have gone, and how I imagine the future ones will go:

  • Initial concept
    • This involved a lot of brainstorming, day dreaming, doodling, etc.
  • Outlining
    • I am not a fan of extensive outlining and support material. I have hundreds of pages of info on my world and characters, but they are not cohesive at all. I ended up with the equivalent of a five page outline of the plot lines, maybe a page or two on each character, and I went to town.
  • First Draft
    • Hooboy. This was actually a lot of fun. When I put fingers to keyboard, I found satisfaction. It’s really a neat thing to find something you love and unleash yourself.
  • About a thousand random changes
    • I killed characters. I deleted characters. I completely changed the setting of my story. I changed character relationships. Some changes were calculated, and some just felt right. But Jibbers Crabst, I changed a lot of things.
    • These changes slowed me down. A lot. It was kind of demoralizing, but in the end, I felt like I got it right.
  • Damn it, I still didn’t get it right
    • As I wrote, some things were bogging me down so badly that I “backlogged” things to a future-edit list. I had to go back and fix a lot of things.
    • This felt more or less like fixing up a favorite car. I knew it would be worth it, But hey, my engineering degree was basically five years of me doing hard things that I didn’t want to do, so I was well prepared.
  • Read-through edit (where I am right now)
    • At this point, I’ve edited most parts of my book several times. This is because the edits from my list (see above) were not minor, and generally consisted of me editing major elements that spanned the entire book. I’m still changing hundreds of things in each chapter that bother me as I read through. Style, grammar, flow, and consistency are the largest culprits.
  • Beta reader feedback edits
  • Agent feedback edits (post coming on why I feel an agent is in my best interest)
  • Editor feedback edits

There you have it. I’m sure my process will change over time. I sure as hell hope that I’ll get better at it with each book I write. But even though it was a ton of work with no sure payoff, it feels really good to have completed (mostly) my first book.

-Scott

Book Progress…10 months Later. Revising/editing process, and so on.

Well. For the 20 or so of you who have read my previous posts and are reading this, I regret to inform you that didn’t meet my goal of having a manuscript sent to agents by the end of 2013.

I have a bunch of awesome excuses as to why, but the most relevant reason I use to defer accountability is that I didn’t stop Book 1 at 125,000 words. Draft 1 stopped at 170,000 words. Draft 1.5 is currently at 167,000 words after some editing.

That’s 670 pages in Word when using standard manuscript format. I don’t feel too bad about taking two years to write that much, time constraints considered. Remember complaining about a 20 page paper in college? Yeah. I win.

In fact, that’ s probably at least as long as most Dissertations…though to be fair, I did get to fabricate my entire novel. But let’s be honest, most crap coming out of Universities these days contains almost as much fiction as any fantasy novel. Cry-baby PhD candidates.

Anywho, revising a manuscript is a much more complicated process than I anticipated. I had talked myself into believing that I could just do one read-through, editing as I went, and I’d be good to go. But, the story keeps evolving, and now I have 3 or 4 pages of a bulleted list of edits to make. Before my read-through revision.

I’m loathe to even attempt a guess at when I’ll finally have my book into the hands of beta readers, much less when I’ll have sent queries out to my preferred literary agents. But, I can’t help myself, and ever the optimist, I’m going to set a goal of querying around the end of the year.

That means that most of the people who take the time to have read this far will likely read some form of my book this year, which is pretty cool.

Stories about World Fantasy Convention 2013 and ramblings about traditional vs. self publication to follow shortly.

-Scott