Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Editing for "fun"

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’d rather edit anyone else’s work than my own. When I read another person’s WIP, I am clever, astute, and forthright. I can give terrific advice, and know that I’m helping someone write a best seller.

When I tackle my own, on the other hand, I’m something of a dullard. But that is only true when I actually sit down in front of the draft to start editing. Before that, in my head I’m turning turgid, bloated sentences into elegant, dare I say “poetic” prose. My characters, who for the past 90,000 words have hidden behind corners refusing to join me, leap off the page with just a few brilliant key strokes. Plot lines that are as tangled as a Gordion knot suddenly reveal themselves to be masters of ingenuity.

Humph. Daydream all you want, honey, the first go-round of edits will barely get you headed in the right direction. Your characters will begin to wake up and stretch, laughing at your attempts to goose them into action. You will read your plot in the next two books you pick up, not to mention that it will happen in real life and your plot will be revealed in a series of newspaper articles. That poetic prose? Pedestrian at best.

You will wonder why you thought you could write scenes set in a city you not only don’t know well, but have never visited—in fact that you never even wanted to visit. You’ll wonder why you didn’t set your book in Paris or Florence, or even New York City—places you actually love. Why Kabul? Or Minsk? Or Ames, Iowa?

Why did you think you knew anything about hacking computer code? Or about the intricacies of banking—or that you could make either of those things interesting? How did you think you could get into the mind of a 30-year-old woman when you left your thirties in the dust a long, long time ago? In your you write successfully about a geezer, so how does that give you confidence that you can get inside the head of a forty-year old man?

In the first go at a draft, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not a work all done; it’s a work in progress. I might have to dig a little deeper to understand how a thirty-something woman thinks these days. I have to read articles and books about what it’s like living in Kabul. I have to make sure the names I’ve chosen for my Middle Eastern characters are actually workable and that I’m not naming an Afghani man a name that only an Iranian man would have. I have to check a slew of facts—and then recheck them. And that’s apart from getting to know my characters deeply, and making sure the plot doesn’t have gaping holes.

Bottom line: That’s what editing is—not the fun part you get to do when you read someone else’s WIP, where you point out a little discrepancy and then go on your merry way, but the hard grind of smoothing, rechecking, discovering, and making it work.

1 comment:

Pat Batta said...

But I do love taking a sentence that just lays there and turning and twisting it until it says what I want with some punch.