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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Editing

So, I’m about thirty chapters into Novel Now Finished revision…..

……and it’s going.  I’ve finally worked out the timeline of the novel from beginning to end and it comes out to about a week.  While there’s a lot going on, the bulk of the action seems to be happening on the weekend, beginning on Friday and ending on Monday.

A lot always seems to happen on the weekend.

Had I thought about it a little more, I would have set up Novel Now Finished much in the same way that I had set up Secrets & Howls.  In that book, I had designed it to take place over the course of a week.  To clarify this point, I placed an independent page stating the day of the week, followed by the chapters that took place over the course of that day and then ended the day with a segment of a letter from 1852.  Then it would start all over again, until the novel ended with the final fragment from 1852.

But it was also a different kind of story than Novel Now Finished, which had always felt more fluid with its time than structured.  This is in part due to the fact that Secrets & Howls is told primarily in third person, with the ability to dip into the lives of various other characters and places without breaking the narrative.  Novel Now Finished is told in first person and, with very few exceptions, remains that way throughout.

Still, in keeping a timeline for any novel, it helps to keep the story’s continuity flowing and if you’re really on top of it, you’ll catch errors before it goes into print.  Whether it’s in third, first or second Point of View, it’s a helpful aid in keeping track of your characters and their actions within the story.

All I can say now is, whew!

The Manuscript in Question.

 

So, I’m revising Novel Now Finished…..

……and apparently, it decided that, yes, there is indeed a timeline.  Which I already knew about, because the bulk of the story takes place a few weeks before summer.  I wasn’t particular about the exact dates beyond the number of days between separate incidents.  And for the most part, it seemed to work swimmingly.

Except, now I’m going through and cutting needless words and cleaning up paragraphs that are left behind.  And the more I cut and revise and clean up, the clearer the story becomes.  And the clearer the story gets, the more details I’m finding about the timeline.  Vague, throwaway lines like “Oh, it happened a few days ago” will find it harder to survive.  Concise statements like “It was on Sunday” will take over.

So now, I’ve got a Word document in place to keep track of the timeline and help minimize confusion (which would be mine). This will also help keep it clear and concise for readers (which would be you, if I may be so lucky).  As of today, I’ve managed to track one week, beginning with a case of vandalism.  It’s a few sentences long, with the timeline basically being the day of the week, followed by a dash (-) and a short sentence describing the event that occurred on that day.

I haven’t decided on actual dates beyond the month, but that will change at some point.  I’m a little over a hundred pages into the revision as I write this blog, but as I go along, that timeline will grow and become as detailed as necessary.

And then I’ll go back and do it all over again.

The Manuscript in Question.

So, I’ve been brushing up on my editing skills…..

…….by looking over the first chapter of an acquaintance’s novel.  It’s been a while and I was more than a little nervous, because it’s different editing the work of someone you know (even slightly) than the work of someone you don’t know.

There’s that added pressure of not wanting to hurt or bruise feelings as you go through their words and say, “That sentence strikes a nice image, but take out ten words” or “Reduce that paragraph to two or three lines”.  But you gird your loins and you wade in and you do your best to give them clear, concise notes on how to excavate the story buried underneath a mountain of words, like an archaeologist sifts through dirt to find the relics.

Because that’s how I view a completed manuscript – as an archaeological site that is pristine and untouched.  Editing is the tool used to dig and sift and brush away the excess to unearth what lies beneath.  Michaelangelo had a similar point of view – he didn’t carve the statue of David out of marble, he simply whittled away at the excess, freeing what was already inside the slab.

My own experiences with the editor of my Novel Now Finished taught me a lot as I prepared to go over that first chapter.  And I discovered that I still have that skill to edit, to offer notes and suggestions.  It was rusty from disuse, but there, and the notes I made for my acquaintance helped him enormously.  I feel confident in that skill again.  And I plan to move forward and keep doing it.  Not only am I working on a marketable skill, but it helps me to improve my own writing.

Complementary skills, writing and editing.  And useful.

Suggested reading:
On Writing by Stephen King

So, I’m getting close to writing ‘The End’ on my Novel In Progress….

……and I know this because I’m distracting myself every ten or fifteen minutes.

If it’s not a post on Facebook, or a handful of tweets, or even preparing a few entries for my Patreon page, it’s channel surfing. Or I’m surfing the internet, looking up articles for new story ideas.

I’m procrastinating, in other words.  Not an unusual thing, but a definite habit.  Because once it’s done, it’s done.  There’s no going back…..well, okay, that’s not true, because there’s editing and revising and moving whole chunks of narrative around or eliminating altogether.

The point is, writing ‘The End’ on a story means that I no longer have this project to go back to, in the manner that I’m used to.  Now, when I go back to my novel, it will be to murder my darlings (words, for the lay person) and tighten up the narrative.

I’m distracting myself right now, writing this blog post.  And in a few minutes, that distraction will carry itself over to errands that need doing in town.  Maybe even lunch.

And when all that is done and behind me, I will fire up this computer, open up that document and throw words at it until I have no more.  Take a deep breath, throw some more words in, move things around and I will keep doing that until I am forced to write the inevitable.

‘The End.’

The Manuscript in Question.

So, my Novel in Progress is coming along……

…….and I’m starting to feel energized by writing again.

One of the notes I was given was to not summarize parts of my story – that if it was going to be mentioned, it deserved a scene of its own, in the present, as an action. So, I broke a chapter in half and created not just two, but three, chapters out of one. This includes the active version of what was a summarized scene.

The new scene, the one that breaks the former single chapter in half, takes place in 1924. An incident occurs in that year that is continually referred to throughout the story. It’s a pivotal moment in the story, as it affects several lives over the course of several decades leading up to the present. It may also be key to how the Narrator resolves the story and put an end to the danger that began even before 1924.

So it made sense to bring this moment out into the open.

And now I’m getting ideas on how to add some necessary details of the Narrator’s past into the main frame of the story.

And I’m beginning to feel excited by my work again.

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So, I’ve been working on my Novel in Progress…..

…….going over notes from my editor covering the first eight chapters. After six hours of taking out, adding to, and much re-arranging of words, I’m now five pages away from finishing the original notes. Then, I’ll go on to the edits covering Chapters 9 through 16. There’s also a pass-through of the first eight chapters, mostly a tweak here, a question there, and I’ll get to those at some point.

As soon as I’m done working on Chapters 9 through 16, however, I’m going back into the thick of it and write on. There are some elements that I want to add in for some of the secondary characters and a new skill for the Narrator. Bits that need to be established early on in the story also have to be done (continuity is the thing, here), as well as adding detail to the world I’ve created.

Maybe now I can figure out how it ends.

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So, I’ve been working on my Novel in Progress……

…….and have gone through about seventy pages of the original notes given to me by my editor. I’ve got about twenty pages left on these edits (going through Chapter 8). Then I’ll be tackling the new notes, which picks up with Chapter 9 and goes through Chapter 15.

I think I’m making some headway here, and the notes have been challenging me to re-think certain scenes. I’ve been changing the tone from passive to active as best I can and adding detail where needed to give characters more depth.

There’s a lot of work still to be done.  But I’m okay with that. I’m re-discovering this world I wrote and I’m sinking back into it. I like it. I’m sorry I stayed away from it, after having what might be termed as creative shut-down. It hasn’t been as difficult to work on as I thought it would be, and I suppose my resistance to it made things worse.

I intend to finish this novel this year. No more putting it off, no more avoiding it. Time to knuckle down and focus on it.

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So, I’m working on my current novel……

…….and it always surprises me to find that I’m having a lot of fun with it. I don’t know why I build it up in my head that it’s going to be hard to alter, edit, revise things, because when I actually sit down to do it, things start to work out. The story begins to flow a little easier, I can see what can be removed or embellished. In short, I can make it better by working on it, by going through each editorial note with care and applying it as best I can.

I suppose it’s performance anxiety of a kind.

In any case, I’ve got sixty plus pages edited from the original notes and two hundred and fifty plus more to go. Then I have to go back and look at the new notes. It’ll be a slow process, but now that I’ve figured out that it’s not the big bad bogeyman, I’ll be okay.

In the meantime, I’ll work on something else (Greek comedy, anyone?) and then get back to the edits, taking five or six pages at a time.

A simple goal, but one easily managed.

A view of my local cemetery.
A view of my local cemetery.

So, I’m re-writing my Ancient Greek comedy……

……and I kept coming back to a quote regarding writing and editing. It was made by Arthur Quiller-Couch in his 1914 Cambridge lecture “On Style” and it has been widely popularized by the likes of William Faulkner, Alan Ginsberg and Stephen King, to name a few – “Murder your darlings”.

In other words, be as verbose as you want in your writing, but cut the unnecessary fluff when going back to editing, revision, and re-writes.

As I began working on revising and re-writing my play, I noticed that some of the dialogue as it stood was far better suited to the narrative form, rather than script-form. ‘Wordy’ would be a better description, actually, and I was able to cut down on the number of words while keeping the integrity of the line intact.

In some cases, this was fairly easy. In others, not so much.

I’m eleven pages into this re-write of the original script, which topped out at fifty-plus pages. I’m also re-formatting it, to script guidelines, so the structure is also different. There are the requisite stop-starts as I come to scenes that require a bit more creative thinking before weaving the new changes into what’s already there.

An example of this is giving one character his voice back. As written originally, his dialogue was sound and light cues, so I’ve paused there to really look at another character’s reactions to him. I have to ask myself what was said to make the second character react in outrage or frustration and the more specific I am, the funnier the scene will be. Changes will occur, as it always does, but it’s an interesting process to see what chaos might ensue.

(Then again, considering that this play is about the gods and goddesses of ancient mythologies, chaos might be an understatement.)

So, when writing your tales of wonder, be as wordy, as verbose, as flowery as you like. Just remember that, when editing and revising, wordy is not always better, so trim the fat, weed out the excess.

Murder your darlings.

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