Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Editing Dilemma

Most weeks I am looking a different books and previewing the books  I love to read, but today I’m going to deviate from that to talk about writing and the writing process. For the past few months I have been working on a sequel to my novel, Dead Man’s Rules. The book is titled Dead Man’s Treasure and it takes Freeda Ferguson, a character in the first book, on a search for her father and a lost treasure while encountering a new romance at the same time. 

Dead Man's Rules told the story of a Los Angeles journalist who visits her mother in a small New Mexico town and gets caught up in a murder mystery.  The next book takes us back to that same small town of Rio Rojo, with another old mystery that has never been fully explained. 

I started working on Dead Man’s Treasure several months ago and now I am ready for editing. Like so many other writers I often participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every November attempting to write 50,000 words in one month.  I’ve done it for a number of years because I enjoy having one month when I really focus on writing, writing and more writing. To finish that many words in 30 days without editing, it takes discipline and daily concentration on a story. Because I don’t usually plot in advance it takes even more work to have something ready to write EVERY SINGLE DAY. Because of that I have to remember, re-establish and practice all the good writing habits I can muster and that I’ve learned in the past and that was what I did in writing the latest Dead Man story.

But there is another reason I enjoy tackling NaNoWriMo.  At the end I come out with a nearly fully written book. What is the next step? There can be several. Some writers some out of NaNo and immediately begin the editing process.  Others will go back and find all the loose ends and tie them up and then set it aside. That’s more of what I like to do. Even writing that many words will not guarantee a finished product. For certain it won’t be a polished product. But it’s like laying the foundation for a house. The framework is there and some of the walls may be up, but there is still much more work to be done. For the first week of December I usually go back to my story and fill in some of the blanks I know I’ve left in the plot or I take the time to clean up discrepancies that I didn’t complete or fix while writing the story.

So if I don’t immediately start the editing process, what am I going to do and why?  When is the right time to go back in and start to edit a book you’ve just written? It all depends. As I noted, if you know there are some things that need fixing, I suggest going back in and immediately fixing them so that they don’t get forgotten or the freshness of your thoughts in writing the story don’t get away.

But overall, leaving a story and letting it rest for a while is probably one of the best things you can do. Walk away from it, let it go, and then come back to it in a month or so with a fresh eye. You will find yourself looking at it in a whole new light.

How long should you let it go? The one thing you don’t want to do is to let it go for so long that you totally forget the feel for the book and its characters. To me the people and places in my books are alive in their own little world.  I like to visit that place, whether it is real or made up and spend some time with those characters who are always products of my imagination. But visiting that world is like walking into a real location and listening to the characters talk and seeing how they act is like a seeing them come to life. That is how it is during the writing phase, and for certain how it has to be during the editing phase.

When I come back and begin to edit, I always look  for the special touches that will make the reader feel like he or she is being transported into that special world I created. If I don’t get the feel, then I need to work on making it come alive and become real. That means:

Focus on your senses. Do you feel the coldness of the winter day you were trying to describe when you first wrote the opening scene?  Do you fear the oncoming darkness or feel the fear you want your heroine to feel as she watches the sun set and knows those creatures from the previous night might be returning?

Listen to your characters.  Do they all sound alike or does each of them have a different way of speaking so that even if you took away the tags you could tell who was talking? Are you making each character individual and making their own story come alive through their words? 

Consider the tension in your scenes. Is it there or do you need to make it more profound or turn the scene into something else? Does the scene move the plot forward or does it look like you’re just filling in words to get to a certain word count? Does it further define your character? Does it contain necessary information for the story resolution? In other words, does the scene even make sense? Read over each scene separately and make certain they are necessary to advance the plot or the character. If they are just filling time, then let them go—cut the scene.

Make a list of your scenes. Do they all flow together in a natural progression or is there something missing that you need to go back and insert so that your story makes sense? Are there several scenes that appear to be simply strung together that either move so fast you’re feeling breathless and in danger of doing the same to the reader?

What about your grammar, your sentence structure? With each pass through your book it makes sense to look for those little things and to keep correcting them so that at the end all you need is a final polish to finalize your editing.

This is just a brief look at some of the elements of the editing process and no two people edit the same, but we all have to do it. Sometimes a refresher on the editing process or editing with others besides your critique group can be helpful.  In the next couple of weeks, I will be teaching a class on editing for Fantasy, Futuristic andParanormal Romance Writers, and if you’d like more help with editing or even working with your characters or plot on a story you are currently writing, I’d love to have you join us.

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