Don’t Worry, Be Editing

With the first draft of the children’s book done, I can at last turn to editing my first novel, the one I started as part of NaNoWriMo 2014.

The problem, of course, is that I have no idea how to edit a novel.

A short story, sure. A blog post, definitely. Those are small things, though, easy to hold in my head and thus easy to find contradictions in, easy to re-read and catch typos, easy to control.

I read in The Kick-Ass Writer that you shouldn’t go into editing without a plan, and that you should make several passes: a pass for grammar, a pass for plot, a pass for descriptions.

So I made one plan, and threw it away, because it was too detailed and intimidating.

I made a second plan, and then threw it away, because it was too vague.

I made a third plan, and then decided I needed to stop being afraid of diving in and fixing things. So I re-read all the alpha-reader feedback I had, picked the most glaring flaw they all mentioned, and decided to start there.

Granted, it’s two-thirds of the way through the book. But it’s something that worried me when I wrote it, and if they also had issues with it, it’s something I should take care of.

Once that’s fixed, I’ll move onto the next biggest issue, and then the next, and the next. Along the way, I’ll tweak wording here and there, fix typos, etc, so that hopefully I’ll have caught them all before I do my “official” re-read for those kinds of mistakes.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Practically perfect. Preserves a fairy-tale feel while subverting fairy tale tropes; I can easily see why it was nominated for a Hugo this year.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • First person with naive narrator learning about the world still a great way to introduce that world to the reader
  • Can show evil influence on thoughts by transitioning those thoughts from normal to wicked slowly, taking the reader along with you
  • Short descriptions can (and should) be opinionated descriptions

First Draft

First draft of the children’s book is done!

I’m way over the target word count, but at least I’ve got the story beats and page layouts done. And I did manage to hold it to 28 pages, so revisions can focus on cutting words from individual scenes (hopefully).

Now to send it out to some alpha readers, see what they think. 

In the meantime, I’ve gotta get started on editing my first novel. It’s been almost a year since I finished that draft, so I should have enough distance from the text to fix what needs fixing.

Harder Than It Looks

Making good progress on the children’s book. Taking each page as a single scene, a single beat in the story, is helping, as is thinking of the image I want on the page and using that to substitute for most of the description I would normally put in text.

But man, is it hard to be that brief.

I read that children’s books — the ones made for the age group I’m targeting, anyway — are usually somewhere between 400 and 500 words. For a 28-page story (again, typical target length), that’s only 17 words per page!

I’ve found it’s really, really hard for me to say anything significant in so few words. With each page, as I write it, I keep an eye on my word count, but several times now I’ve blown right by it.

It’s one more thing I’m telling myself that I’ll fix “in post”; that is, in the next draft. I imagine I’ll be cutting every scene down to the bone to fit within the limits. 

Which I guess will be good practice for me: can I hold on to some form of my writing voice, even in so few words?

The Usual Path to Publication edited by Shannon Page

Uneven. The publication stories from the first half of the book are very depressing, and made me think going indie would be the best way to get my novels published. Stories in the second half pick up a bit, but still have the air of persistence in the face of repeated abuse.

Three things I learned:

  • One author’s book was published 6 years after receiving an initial rejection, but only after the editor that rejected it died (!) and the person going through his office found the manuscript and liked it.
  • Many authors at one point took a break from writing — for 5, 8, 10 years — and eventually came back to it, then stuck with it long enough to be published.
  • Even after you sell your book to an editor, that book might not be published. The editor might get fired, or the publisher could close shop, or they could get bought out, and then your book is “orphaned” until you can get the rights back to it.

Details, Details

Spent the week working through the rough outline, filling in details as I go.

I’m writing up each page like a comic panel, describing the image that should be there and what’s happening in each scene.

This next week I’ll do another pass and add the text. I’ll try to keep my vocabulary simple and the words brief, but I won’t worry about actual word counts until the first draft is done.

After working on two novels, it’s a bit of relief to have something this small to write. I feel like I can hold the whole story in my head, and more easily see its structure and how everything plays out.

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Moving. Robinson conveys both the triumphs and the horrors of interstellar colonization, covering hundreds of years in a single book. Almost cried at the end of the penultimate chapter.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • The experience of agoraphobia (possibly all phobias) is something the written word is much more suited to portray than film, allowing us to think what the sufferer thinks, feel what they feel, better than other media.
  • In a longer work, you can structure chapters as stories of their own, with a cold open, development, slow crisis, resolution, and a reveal
  • When narrating long periods of time, zoom out to establish rhythms or patterns, zoom in on unusual or unique happenings (or things that have an impact on the larger patterns)

It’s a Comic! Sort of.

Had a realization this week that’s guiding how I outline the children’s book I’m working on: it’s a comic!

…in a way. Instead of multiple panels per page, there’s just one. But it’s got a similar interaction between words and images that a comic does (with the images doing a lot of the descriptive work), and a two-page spread in a children’s book is similar to a splash page in a comic, a chance to break out of one-page-one-scene and do something sprawling and dynamic.

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at a comic for a while now, so I’m thinking of this as a kind of warm-up, a practice run. I’ll think of the book in terms of layout, of how the words and the pictures will work to tell the story, rather than relying on just the words themselves.

It’s good timing, because I’ve got the basic outline done, and now I’ve got to drill down into each scene (page/panel) and work out the details of what should be in it. With a little luck, I should have a draft ready by next week.