Usually, I do links on Friday, and, as I’m getting back into writing The Slender Man Massacre since the Amazon contest deadline is past, I had some good ones on horror writing tips lined up and ready to go. Before I could compose that post, however, I realized that I had made a big mistake in my editing. What bothered me so much is not that I made an error — I make those all the time — but that I’ve repeated that particular error so many times.
I’m writing this in the hopes that:
A. Focusing on it will help me not make it quite so many times in the future.
B. This post will help you avoid the same mistake.
I consider myself quite good at writing from a technical standpoint, and I think that feedback I’ve gotten gives enough supporting evidence that I don’t have to consider myself delusional in thinking that. I’m not saying that my prose is going to make you weep, but I can present a coherent story with words that aren’t going to make you cringe.
My problem is that, when I edit, it’s hard for me to pull my focus off the micro aspects. Is that the right word? Should that adverb be there? Good Lord, how many times do I have to tell myself that “some” and “of it” just aren’t needed? Also, get rid of the “just” in that last sentence.
For my 3rd draft editing of Power of the Mages, my methodology is:
• Go through a chapter once making my edits and picking up all beta reader comments
• Read the entire chapter checking to make sure all the pieces that I edited in the first pass fit together coherently and that there are no flow problems
• Copy/Paste the whole chapter into Pro Writing Aid and make necessary changes
• Do the paperwork changes in my book bible, file the chapter away, and move on to the next one
By far, the hardest, most time-consuming part of the process is the first step. Once I finish with that go through, I’m 90% done with the chapter. So, having finished that part yesterday for Chapter 12, I moved on mentally to Chapter 13. That turned out to be a good thing.
You see, one of the scenes in Chapter 13 has an obvious macro problem. It simply adds nothing to the story either in terms of character and plot. So, obvious solution, just get rid of it, right? The problem is that my inner author is telling me that it’s needed, forcing me to reconcile the analyst viewpoint with my instinct.
I approached the problem methodically, starting with, “What is the scene supposed to accomplish?” I couldn’t figure that out; like I said, the scene sucked. I didn’t give up there, though. Instead I analyzed the goal of the surrounding scenes. Aha! That led me to the answer. Once I had it, it was a simple thought exercise to make the scene fulfill the goal and to figure out how to make all the surrounding scenes better.
I’m quite excited about Chapter 13 now. Instead of being a useful part of the book that provides a little bit of plot info, it’s going to do that and really delve into the character motivations with good tension. Conquering that macro issue, however, brought me to a realization: though I considered myself “done” with Chapter 12, I had put exactly zero thought into macro editing it.
If I want to produce a competent book that people can read and understand the plot and characters, micro editing is fine. It will, assuming decent characters and plotline, for the most part produce a readable book all on its own (For me, anyway. It’s hard for me to write anything without at least accidentally including a minimum amount of the necessary storytelling elements.). If I want to produce a book that I can be proud of, that will draw in the reader and not let them go, I simply have to do a better job at focusing on macro editing.
For each scene, I, at minimum, should ask the following three questions:
1. Is there enough tension? If not, add tension.
2. Is there enough emotion? If not, usually it means I didn’t write the scene close enough to the point of view of the character. In the 1st and 2nd draft, I took “Show, Don’t Tell” to absurd lengths, and it hurt me. Sometimes, you just have to tell what the character is feeling or why he’s doing something.
3. What is the goal for the scene and does it accomplish that goal? This is the biggie. If it doesn’t accomplish the goal, make it accomplish the goal.