Tag Archives: creativewriting

The Process of Editing, Kate-Style

Am I getting better at editing, or am I just getting more picky?

OH I HAD THIS THOUGHT AT 3AM SO HAVE A RANDOM EMAIL ABOUT CHARACTER MOTIVATION

If you consider the villain as the hero for a moment, how do they expect their plan to work? What are the political, logistical and financial aspects? What do they expect to happen, and what steps have they taken to ensure that opposition is squashed or neutralised? And where do ridiculously huge, magical war-machines fit into all this?

More toe-bones for everyone!

Sometimes it’s not killing your darlings for the fun of it; it’s identifying the threads in the book, identifying the core story and the core moments, and taking short-cuts to get the characters there. It’s identifying something that builds the character up (or tears them down) and making that happen without the intervening 50-page build-up.

YOU CAN’T KILL THAT CHARACTER HOW VERY DARE YOU.

I don’t have a background in English Lit and I’m sure there’s proper words for everything, but I’m just going by “I’m not sure starting with action actually works, because he’s not in a place to command the narrative, ok? He’s coming in with no plan and then it absolutely fails which obviously it would. Him getting arrested is a much better place to start, because that’s definitely more in-character at that point.” I think I’ve ended up at literary theory via practise, which is basically pointing at a bit and going “I don’t like that, it would work better like this.”

…STOP THREATENING TO KILL THAT CHARACTER IN EVERY SYNOPSIS!

The idea of every scene being needed, and advancing the story; but! not necessarily for plot. Character interaction and worldbuilding are just as necessary. However – and another BUT here – that doesn’t mean that those threads can’t be wound into the plot-related scenes. Worldbuilding and character-building are two of the things that need to wind around the bones of the plot, and if you have a scene that just builds characters, check with yourself: do you actually need it? It could be The. Most. Adorable. Thing but if it just adds texture, could that texture go somewhere else? Could it be threaded into another interaction?

THIS IS SO GOOD AND COOL AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH

And the other side of that is that we do need to feel for the characters. We do need to care: otherwise it’s a bunch of DnD murder-hobos running around. Why is that specific character doing that specific thing? How would they react? What are their feelings about a thing? How are they saying something, or doing something? If you don’t have enough character building and then throw them into something, we’re just reading for your snazzy description of sword-play, and not because we’re genuinely worried about what could happen.

WE NEED MORE FROOF

(As you may have summarised, I’ve been doing a lot of editing recently! It’s been on a wide variety of books, which has been very fun – I’m going between space opera to the cutest necromancers to a rather terrifying dystopia to sword-fighting ridiculousness. It’s actually been really interesting, because I’ve read two of the books before – about five years ago! – and it’s been fascinating to see what I pick up this time versus what I did then, and also how much firmer I am in my opinions. Editors are as prone to Imposter Syndrome as anyone – and actually, probably more so, because we’re the ones that Know Best and Make Things Better and We Are Right – and it’s fascinating to me to see how far I’ve come from “so, if you possibly did this would it make this happen?” to “LOOK JUST REWRITE HALF THE BOOK OK?”

It is hard work. It is tough. It is a knotty, thorny minefield of character interactions, bits I don’t want to cut, characters I love, wordcounts I have to get down and threads I want to tug. It’s so so interesting to see how different writers approach things, and how their ideas feed into mine – and vice versa – to make a book stronger. But it’s also very very fun!)

(Also, I have the best authors. They’re all a joy to work with!)

Professional Development: Improving My Editing

One question: HOW?!

There have been a couple of situations recently where I’ve felt my lack. It’s not that I’m not good at it; I think I am. It’s that I need to be better.

I am a member of Sfep (and pretty close to getting my Professional status!) but actually, their training hasn’t been that helpful; I know how to use Word, I’ve got the basics of editing… it’s excellent for beginners, but for me, it’s the details that I’m feeling need improvement. Basically, I need to work on my reading comprehension. I need to work on what could be changed; I need to work on any and all improvements. I need to work on my skills at improving an existing book, and helping the author perfect and polish.

The problem is – how do I do this? It’s an ongoing problem in publishing, I think: how do you teach someone to recognise a good book, or to recognise what could be improved?

It’s an incredibly personal skill, too: there’s a huge balancing act between changing something just because you don’t like it, changing something because it’s not how you’d do it, and changing something because there’s a better way of doing it. All can potentially be good, bad or ugly: and all need to be used in moderation!

My aim is always to keep the author’s voice and style and choices as the primary objective, but… maybe I do need to start trusting myself more?

Work on my attention to detail, particularly when copy-editing.

Just because someone’s a good writer doesn’t mean they don’t miss things (spelling names three different ways, for example…) and it doesn’t mean that something can’t be improved.

Identify three things per book that I’d change

One of the problem areas is that I tend to have niggles about books, but struggle to pull them out into “actually, yes, this could be changed.” I’m putting an arbitrary number on it to make me think, not because every book will have issues – some will have more or less!

Trust myself – but also keep an eye on my biases

This is what I struggle with; the balance between what I like, what I enjoy reading and what’s good – and what I don’t think is good simply because I don’t like it. But – if something’s a niggle, that doesn’t mean that it’s just me; it means that actually, it might be a problem that I can fix! If something jumps out, I can usually spot that, but sometimes it’s just a….hmmmm. Hum. Maybe…

I think my little voice that identifies those things, that separates the difference between “I personally don’t like it” and “It could be improved” needs work, and the only way I can think of to do that is to keep going!

Keep reading AND ANALYSING

I think this is key: I just need to keep working on what I think makes a good book. I need to have that editor voice looking in when I’m reading; I often try to turn it off and let my brain just enjoy things, but actually, leaving it running might help me learn!

Learn from others

I was lucky enough to help a friend with multiple drafts last year, and learned so much; I could see him improving with every draft, and it was a real lesson in what could be worked on. My two colleagues at work have also offered to share skills and experience, which is fantastic – we just need to find time to do it!

 

So; I’ve got some ideas for how to keep improving, but no firm plan. I’m not sure it’s a skill that can really be taught except by experience and just damn well doing it – so, I’ll just keep damn well doing it!

A Brief Conversation About The Bechdel Test

So I was chatting to Otter about their writing, and they expressed worry about the Bechdel Test. “I mean, if I have a male main character, should they… overhear a conversation? I mean, I could have them eavesdropping. Or maybe just walk in on one? But that would mean they’re in the room-”

“Hang on, hang on. They can be present during the conversation.”

“Oh! Ok. I thought it was a conversation without a man present.”

“…no. The bar is literally set low enough that it has to be a conversation.

And there was a moment of silence as we contemplated exactly how low the bar was that just one conversation between two women is hard to hit.

“And it can’t be about a man?” Otter adds.

“So… an argument about who’s turn it is to wash up?” I got another ‘really?’ look. “Yeah. Seriously. Hey, have you come across the Sexy Lamp Test?”

“You have got to be joking.”

“And Sexy Lamp With Post-It. Ok, go look up Mako Mori. That’s a good one.”

Some more contemplation was had, possibly about the state of the world.

“So… what happens if you don’t meet the tests?”

“Nothing. It just depends if you want to your books to be bought by readers who don’t want to consider women as characters.”

“Ah.”