Sunday, October 6, 2013

Editing Revisited

Every time I think I have it all figured out, something changes.  I admit that I went into my latest edit of Wrongful Death with a certain amount of conceit.  I'd been through two rounds of pretty major edits, so I figured that this final time was a mere formality.  After all, I'd done some great work the previous two times.

For background information, my third edit is the one where I read the novel as if I was just another reader.  The first two were to cut and cull, but the last edit is to tweak.  Plus, I've grown much more proud of the novel as time has gone on, and I think it evokes a great emotional reaction.  Therefore, I was looking forward to having a grand old time.

Nothing in this preface is to intimate that I'm not enjoying myself on this final round of editing.  However, I've learned once again that I'm not the great master of prose I thought I was.  Going back through, there are lots of things I've reworked.  Oh, nothing from the point of view of the story, but rather how the story sounds when read.  There are more repeat words than I thought there'd be, and some of what is on the page is just awkward.  I've had to do more tweaking than I originally thought I would, and it has been humbling.

Such things are probably good for us.  We writers are often of two minds, one that is insecure and convinced that no one will ever want to read our stuff, and one that wonders how the world ever got along without us.  When I drift too far into the second camp, I only need to go back into what I was certain was a "finished" product.  At that point, I discover that a good deal of what I wrote is still raw.

I've even learned this with so-called completed work.  Akeldama has been finished for a while, and it's slated to be my first release in May of 2016.  I proudly gave it to someone a while back, only to find she wasn't as enthusiastic as I'd hoped.  She hemmed and hawed in the same way I do when I don't want to hurt someone's feelings.  When I finally broke through the barrier, she told me that the beginning was slow.

She just doesn't know what good literature is, my wounded ego thought.  Then I went back and re-read the first chapter.  To my dismay, I found she was right.  The action picks up eventually, but getting there was a chore.  And it's not even the first chapter - it's the first half of the first chapter.  We're always told to start strong, but this was flat.  So I did something I was loathe to do but felt I needed to - I re-wrote the part in question, and I found a way to give it more excitement.  The basic storyline is still there - it starts with the main character finishing a vampire hunt - but the earlier version was clumsy.  After bringing it back up to speed, I'm much happier with it.

What this demonstrates...yet that I can always do better, and more experience is key to that, as is being able to objectively evaluate your own work.  I've found myself in the past couple of weeks wondering how often Stephen King or JK Rowling find themselves in a position where they poured their heart into something, only to find that it requires more work.  Once discovered, do they have the same initial sense of loathing, as well as the same satisfaction once the re-write is complete?

We should all take heart from things like this, since it shows we can get better, and that leads to better stories down the line.  If we ever get to the point where we feel we can't get any better, we need to hang it up, because our work is about to get very bad.

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