26 March 2008

Immersed in editing

Writer at work -- it's a hard life!

Here's a great recipe:

Take two writers, two partially finished manuscripts, four days, a holiday house on an island, and Easter -- throw them all together and what have you got? You've got a recipe for getting lots of work done. And feeling inspired.

Four days and lots of chocolate later and a serious amount of work has been done. Last time E and I went away together I was NaNoWriMoing (and working on book 2). This time I was doing an editing pass on book 1.

Normally, when I'm editing, I work from front to end. Simple really. Start at page 1, finish on the page that says "Ends". But this time I decided on a different approach. I have eight POV characters (I think) in my novel: four in each storyline, and one in each is quite minor. This time I chose the major storyline (about two thirds of the novel) and worked through the storyline one character at a time.

First was my major protagonist, who's story this really is. Working through his scenes was always going to be a joy, because, let's face it, I love spending time with him. And I did love it. (Though enjoyed the other characters almost as much.)

Things to think about for me in this pass were to add to characterisation, and make sure character motivation is always clear. When I was at Clarion I was told that motivation was one of my great strengths, but someone had recently said they thought it was lacking in my novel. Now this may or may not be true, but when I get a comment like that I always want to take it seriously and give it due consideration. After all, I want to put the strongest book I can in front of editors and, indeed, the world. So these two things have been my key -- oh, and cutting words. Not that the book is wordy. It isn't. But it's a big, sprawling story, and so involves a lot of words to get all that action across. But long novels cost more to produce so the risk is greater, and we're all about getting our mss into as publishable shape as possible, right?

The thing about looking at individual storylines is that it gives you a really great feel for whether the individual voices are working and whether they are what they're supposed to be: individual. Staying with just one storyline allows you to make sure the voice is consistent -- so, for example, the different characters speak with differing levels of formality, they notice different sorts of things, they have their own vocabularies and favourite sayings. Oh, this is such fun.

(Similarly, in an earlier draft I colour coded all my dialogue, by character, and that was equally insightful.)

Of course the trap is that you need to do this over a fairly short period of time to pick up any plot inconsistencies, because you're now not reading in a causal sequence anymore. It's also harder to evaluate pacing as a whole, because you're not looking at the whole novel. Still a worthwhile experience. I'll have to do at least one pass this way on every multiple-person POV story I ever write. More on the weekend later.


ellen said...

I maintain that only the gin & tonic was lacking!

Tracey said...

Well, there was gin there and tonic there for the taking...

Seriously, it was a great weekend. So productive. Wish I was still there because I'd be finished!