Authors Gotta Author, Editors Gotta Edit
What's your writing challenge? Reading pet peeve? Here's my process...
I don't mind writing - but I hate plotting. Heck, I don't know
what happens next, and yet it's my job to make it happen. The
book will need some bad deeds and unnecessary trouble that could
easily have been avoided by me, the author, simply having my
character turn left at the book's next fateful intersection. But
the demands of plotting force me to have him turn right, and to
do so in such a way that my reader doesn't throw the book down
because I gave him such a stupid reason for turning right. And
THEN I have to write him out of his dilemma. It's like cleaning
up spilled soup when you knew darn well the bowl should never
have been placed on that tottery table. But I digress...
Clearly, I am not a natural in the field of suspense-fiction
authoring. But, about once a decade, I get an idea that won't go
away, an idea that needs to be clothed with a plot and some
characters. So, for a year or two, I have a strategy: I use the
occasions when I find myself awake in the middle of the night to
plot. I put my mind into the story I'm constructing, and
think as hard as I can at 2 a.m. about what happens next.
The thing about a story is, for the most part you don't forget
it. I don't grab my bedside notepad to write down the next plot
development. I'll remember it, and add to it the next time too
much evening caffeine keeps me up at night.
So eventually, after years, I end up with a book. (I suspect
neither Zane Grey nor Barbara Cartland operated this way.)
THEN I get to have fun!
Fun, you might inquire?
Why yes, I would respond - I get to EDIT!
- I get to tweak
my character descriptions, making them funnier, evil-er,
sadder, sweeter. This is important. And fun. I've already
done the hard work of dreaming them up, and now I get to
I get to fill in a couple of gaping plot holes I didn't
notice while writing. A friend in my writers' group noted
she'd constructed her latest book with a mysteriously
missing 24 hours. She had to go back and fill it in, like
you'd plug a pothole. Sometimes, sadly, this means
re-writing the whole book. The
the Hundred-Year Mystery had a sad
motivational hole that had to be plugged with an
entire-manuscript shakeup. I owe thanks to the friend who
pointed this out: had one character simply TOLD another
character a simple fact, a century of misery could have been
averted. I had to patch in the reason, which involved giving
the character a whole new personality. It led to a
- I usually have
to add more drama. Most authors don't have to, but I am
drama-adverse, and must ramp up my bad guy's bad actions.
See illustration at left.
- The editing
stage is also where I get to hone my craft. Years ago, a
friend warned about over-using adverbs, and I went back and
rewrote The Piglys. Adverbs can be a crutch. They
bossily demand the reader see the action a certain way, but
all too often the author relies on one poor adverb to do all
the dirty work. "He ran fast!" is not impressive
unless the scenery speeds by and maybe the character's haste
causes him to skin his knee.
- More writing
craft: Only two years ago, an editor told our writers' group
to beware the word "it." After combing "it" out of Feathergill's
Fabulous Emporium, the manuscript was shorter by
5,000 words! And, better.
- Because I
start with an idea, my semi-final edit is for nuance.(I think most
authors start with a character or a smash-bang plot.) I
pore over the manuscript to see if I communicated my
intended concept. In The Piglys, the concept was:
bad history has bad consequences. In Feathergill's,
I wanted to communicate how spoken words affect lives. I
love bringing those concepts to the foreground.
- Final edit:
catching the lingering spelling error. I found "teas spoon"
instead of "tea spoon" in Feathergill's moments
before hitting "send" to my publisher.(You really can't
trust SpellCheck.) I'm usually not the best at this edit,
because I get lost in how pleased I am with what I've
written. I should warn fellow-authors against such preening,
but heck, you've worked hard and have earned the privilege.
But you might end up with "teas spoons."
I love to write
about writing, and other important topics. You can acquire the
books mentioned here - and of course, you should, because
they're as much for grown-ups as they are for kids - at MaryCoonsDesigns.com.
Click here to
get my newsletters, and let me know what you think!
As always, thanks
so much for taking the time to read.