Writing 101- Editing pt 1

For regular followers of my blog you know that I’ve been hung up on editing the first draft of my first attempt at a professional work. Okay, let’s be honest, it’s more like my third draft. But I thought I might give you a look at what that process looks like, step by step. So I will be taking a very old work (oh god, why?) and doing a quick five step editing process.

Note: I am NOT saying that this is how editing has to be done. I am merely giving you an inside perspective of my creative process. Take what you want, leave what you don’t.

I found this note scrawled on a couple of lines of my notebook paper. I remember writing it. I was sitting in my history class listening to life in the Edwardian Era. The note was:

-Half-Elven Edwardian marries and gives birth to a man with whom she has nothing in common. After giving birth to her first child she is free to seek out actual love, which she finds in the form of an orc.

I had to go back and look at my notes in which I found out that in aristocratic Edwardian society men and women were allowed lovers so long as they were very discreet (especially women) so long as she did not flaunt the relationship the husband wasn’t really up for caring.

I remember finding it fascinating and different from the Jane Austen concept of relationships. So, to get in the mood, I put on Mansfield Park and jot down some scenes.

My paper now looks like this:

  • Chapter 1: Giving Birth and introducing the society (Should I use London/Great Britain or make a fantasy land that is very London/Britain inspired?)
  • Chapter 2: Ariadnea’s first party after giving birth, a year after the birth of her son. The conversation with several friends about their lovers.
  • Chapter 3: Leftenant Yurgot Vo’Morn, of Her Majesties Navy, arrives at a luncheon, late, smelling of dog, and rustic. Her physical and visceral response to his utter masculinity (Orcs are celtic based, old traditionalists)
  • Chapter 4: Getting caught in the rain, first kiss.

So that’s a fascinating little beginning. Right? This is what I call my Outline Draft. It’s not a traditional outline, not really. But it is how I plan things. Now, if this were a full fledged novel (and hey, one day it might be) I would continue doing this for about 20-30 chapters. I would have the entire story done out in these little blurbs.

I’m not sure, at this moment, what the main problem would be: pregnancy, the relationship becoming common knowledge, possible death of the leftenant, the culture of my orc character getting in the way, the leftenant getting married, I haven’t got a dang clue. But that would be all of these little snippets.

Next I take the scene that is most vivid in my mind and write it. For me, right this moment, it’s that kiss.

He was tall, so tall. Her fingers trembled as she clutched the wet fabric of his uniform. He pulled her closer. His head dipped. The rain fell around them as his mouth dipped down to hers.

Okay, it’s not horrific. But it’s certainly not what I want it to be either. This is what I refer to as my rough draft.  There’s almost no emotion, it’s just a series of what happens. The only sense that I evoke is the wet fabric. I used the word ‘dip’ twice in as many sentences. Ick. While I wouldn’t be disappointed if I read that in a book, I certain wouldn’t be invested either. So what can I do?

“There’s no use for it,” His green hands splayed on his hips, looking out over the field. “We’ll be stuck here till the rain lets up.”

She paused, her kerchief pressed delicately to her neck, “Pardon?”

“We can’t go out in that. Not with the moorecats out, we’ll be hunted.”

She shook her head, droplets flinging from her golden curls. “My husband will be worried if I do not make up home in time for dinner sir. You are armed, and of the royal forces, are you not?”

He smirked, a quirk of fang showing over the mossy green of his lip. “I’m an orc, Missus, not a god. Even I can’t fight off a pack of moorecats in the middle of a mistfall.”

“Oh, I see.”

She didn’t. She didn’t see at all. She was ridiculously aware of the intimate confines of the hunter’s cabin. The single room was barely large enough to fit a fireplace and a bed. The sound of the rain on the roof muffled the sound of her heart pounding.

“Are you worried, Lady?” he asked. He was watching her now, with those ruby colored eyes. She wished he wouldn’t. And, for all that, she loved that he did. It was all too easy to imagine falling with him unto that bed. To feel him peal away the layers of her clothing with those big green hands. She wondered what it would feel like to undo the thick twisting braids.

Okay, so that’s what my second draft looks like. My next step? Showing it to people and getting opinions. That will be covered in part 2.

A Month in the Life of a Writer- Day 7

Fuck commas.

Fuck, commas.

Ick. Seriously. It’s gotten to the point in my editing process where I am just going to sprinkle pepper over my hard copy and put commas where the spices fall. No one will notice. Few people will care. Why? Because no one really knows where a comma is supposed to go. Oh, people like to pretend to. They have all these little rules about it:

  • If you have to pause to take a breath you need to put a comma there
  • Listing (your good ol’ friend the Oxford/Serial comma)
  • The vocative comma (before/after titles, and names and such)
  • If there is a conjunction the comma goes between the two independent clauses.
  • To separate introductory elements of two thoughts that cannot be supported without one another.
  • Dialogue tags
  • blah blah blah (you get it, right?)

You get what I’m saying. Those are your friendly little grammar rules that help your writing look professional, and therefore worth spending some bucks on. But here’s the thing.

Not everyone agrees on these rules. I submitted a few chapters of my work to an online reading group and recently got back results about it. The bottom line…no one agreed on my comma usage. Some said that I had overused them, some said I needed more. Some didn’t mention them at all.

So here I am, over analyzing every use of a comma in my work, driving myself nuts over whether or not I can defend the use of what amounts to a dot with a tail. Ugh. This is why writers become alcoholics.

A Month in the Life of a Writer- Day 6

My first chapter is done. Like, really finished. Rough draft- Check, First draft-Check, read, analyzed, and critiqued by a group of my peers- Check. I even went back a second and third time to adjust for the constructive criticisms I received from said group of peers.

Yay!

It’s a milestone for me. Over the years I had to overcome many personal obstacles (laziness, stubbornness, lethargy) to get to this place with my work. I started out (nearly a decade ago) believing that all authors wrote start to finish and going from rough draft to a final draft was using spell check and making sure your commas where in the right place.

Update: I’ve learned that no one really agrees on what the right place for a comma is.

Also, going from a rough draft to a final draft is about a billion times more difficult than I originally believed. There are about a thousand steps and all of them are important. Many of them are tedious. However, for my very first chapter I got them done.

Now…about 15 more chapters to go.

A Month in the Life of a Writer- Day 5

Right around 7:30 last night I set aside my revision lest I rip off my own arm and start beating myself with it. I had gotten to this strange point where I was just staring at the work going “Just fix yourself.”

Since I am not a Jedi, it didn’t work.

It was expressed to me by several writing buddies that the second and third chapter of my book were a little on the wordy side. Not that it was bad but that they could be meshed together to make a more streamlined cohesive story. At first I was like “No! I am all knowing and perfect and would never have written something that was absolutely superfluous.”

Yeah….about that.

While they weren’t completely right (some thing need to stay in so that the story makes sense later) there were some parts that could be pulled to make the characters pop a little better. So I had to go about carving up my work which felt sort of like carving up myself.

Today I am setting that aside so I can look at it later with new eyes and make sure that it flows well. Bleh.

In the meantime I am going to focus on writing a better ending to my story since I no longer like the first one. Why? Because characters, that’s why. When I first put this idea to paper my characters were little more than a couple of descriptors. Over time they started…you know…talking to me.

I’m not crazy. I promise. The characters I write about slowly come to life as I write more and more about them. I don’t think they are real or anything and I don’t find myself talking with them…yet. But I certainly get a more vivid image of them over time.

That being said…I need to write an ending that suits the characters I have created. Wish me luck.

The Daily Life of a Writer- Day 4

Today’s post is (much) later than usual. Today is my grandfather’s 80th birthday and I spent it roaming around with family. My family comes from all over the south, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia. They are hard working, blue collar, well meaning christian folk who love to fish, watch football, and drink beer.

I sometimes wonder if I was dropped off by aliens. Oh, don’t get me wrong, my family loves me and I love them but I’m pretty sure that if blood wasn’t involved our relationships would have been forgotten a long time ago. Which would have been a terrible thing because I would have surrounded myself by people who talk and think like I do and that’s not the best way to get a well rounded perspective on life.

My Poppa (that’s what we call my grandfather) survived my grandmother by nearly fifteen years. He comes from striking German/Jewish stock and is as gruff as they come. You will know, when he says something to you, that he absolutely means it. the wording may be blunt but he doesn’t like to pretty things up. He is willful, firm in his way, and takes no nonsense from anyone. I love him desperately.

It was wonderful to see him again but, at the same time, a stab. He’s getting older. His always proud stance is becoming hunched, and he can’t stand for very long anymore. It’s surprising to see what time can do to a man who bent to nothing else.

It is important to note that my Poppa is yet another person who formed my desire to write. My Marmee (my grandmother) was an avid reader, and even took her title from her favorite book Little Women, and she was the person who sent me books every birthday and Christmas. But it was my Poppa who told me that if I wanted something in life, with enough hard work, I’d make it happen.

And since the man never told me a lie to make me feel better…I believe him.

Daily Life of a Writer- Day 3

There is nothing that hurts more in writing than looking at you own work for the thousandth time. When you start with an idea it’s like catnip, you know, if you were a cat. It makes your mind feel heady. It’s a rush of ideas and thoughts and dreams that wrap around you.

You are pumped to write it down. The words come quickly (usually) and you are sure you are writing something amazing. It’s everything that you ever wanted in a novel. It makes you laugh and cry and yearn in just the right ways.

Then it’s done. You take a drink of tea, pat yourself on the back, catch a nap because you may not have slept in three days. You wake up and look at it again…and it sucks.

It’s chock full of purple and prose and pale imitations of the images that seemed so clear. There are scenes that have no place in your work, and half the story is missing. It starts in all the wrong places and all the characters sound too much the same. It’s like getting hit with the reality brush.

Okay, maybe it’s just me. But it hurts.

So you take out the red pen machete and start to hack away at your own work. It’s painful, but it’s not the end of the world. That rush was like finding the perfect paints for the canvas of your idea. You’ve sketched out an idea, you applied paints to the canvas, but now it’s time to shade, to smear, to smudge things together to create your work of art.

So what I’m saying is that my novella is around 19,000 words and I just crossed out a third of them.

Yay.

Daily Life of a Writer- Day 2

Yesterday I wrote a lot of words. So many.

Today I have to go over those words and hack at them with a machete.

As may (or may not) know, I wrote a sex scene. I already know that I am going to change a great deal about it before I even hunker down to re-read what I wrote in a mildly interrupted flurry of key-tapping.

I know that I am supposed to wait a few days before going back to my writing, all the books say so. My problem with that is, if I wait, I wont do it. Right now what I have happening in one scene conflicts with another and I need to change that before I just say ‘screw it’.

So today is an editing day. I have set up by printing out my novel. I have highlighters and red pens. I also splurged and bought some white cheddar popcorn. Yum.

Off I go.