Thursday, 24 June 2010

Editing the novel

I wrote two first drafts of novels this spring, and I have absolutely no idea how to edit them. Normally, I just move bits around until all sense is lost, and give up on it. 'Silent Obsession' was the first one I actually second drafted but it all got lost along the way somehow, probably because I'd read the bloody thing 200 times and had lost all interest. I have looked at books but, frankly, I need someone to spoon feed me some instructions. Then I found Holly Lisle's site. I've been getting free ideas from her for a couple of years (she's very generous with her materials) and I got an email asking if I would like to buy a course on editing a novel. In desperation, because courses off the Internet aren't always that helpful, I sent off for part one.

I'm very, very glad I did. So I've printed off my worksheets, promised faithfully not to faff about with the spelling/language or anything else and started reviewing my own novel. This has given me a real sense that I am in control of the book, not it in control of me. I've got loads of ideas for the rewrite, can see each little 'telling-not-showing', 'whose POV?' and 'who is this character?' moment and am noting it down. Off the page (very important). What I'm really doing is the opposite of what I usually do. Instead of fiddling with the small stuff, I;'m standing back, and looking at the whole think. What did I want it to be? Who were my characters? Where did the story wander off? Then I can get on with the smaller stuff, then finally the language. I don't think I would have dared even look at the book otherwise. I have one great advantage - I write very first first drafts, so I can hold most characters in my head and most of the plot (because I cannot plan). My first drafts are quite well formed, fairly good to start with. But there they languish, not getting any better, just fading away as my insecurities cut away at anything spontaneous, original, quirky and turn it into something my English teacher might recognise from when I was 15. I have, however, learned to edit short stories, again from the top down. So hopefully this will be an extension of that process.

The first chapter strikes me as way too slow, no real hooks to get you reading, no development of the  characters. I wrote the first two chapters from the wrong POV's, the man's and I started the book from a secondary character's story, not the principal. What I liked, however, is the creepy, ghostly spin on the main character and her rather odd way of looking at the world, that can come up.

Meanwhile, something that's been bothering me for a few days. A fellow blogger has raised a question about how she feels about being identified as a writer. How do I feel about being a writer? I do feel the word is appropriate, even if I'm not presently published, because that's where the work is. I think anyone who works on writing every day is a writer in the same way that someone who plays music every day is a musician. It takes so long to get published you can lose heart, you have to keep that passion and confidence flying. For me personally (and it's just me), I'm working on being comfortable with the word, 'writer'.


  1. Hey :) I'm working on feeling comfortable with the word 'writer', too. That's why I wrote the post. I'm glad it's made you think, but I hope it hasn't bothered you too much! :)

    Good luck revising your novel. I've only ever written short stories, and during the rewrites I tend to try and hold the essence of the story itself in my head, so I can enhance the themes, etc, with the rewrite. I cannot imagine how one could accomplish the same thing with something the size of a novel (something so huge I can't even imagine it, let alone hold the whole in my mind), and I guess that's why you need crib sheets, novel notebooks, and other devices to remind you of your initial aims and feelings. Thanks for the link to Holly Lisle's site, I'm looking forward to heading over there and having a nosey!

  2. Thank you for the comment, Rosie, I'm not bothered at all, it's a really interesting question! I'm not sure I have the answer yet, either, but at the moment I'm feeling pretty confident...this will drain away by September so I'm enjoying it. It's going to be really weird being in a group of fellow students!

    It's strange looking at a novel like this - one thing she made me do is look right back at my original idea, what got me excited in the first place. I think I should be doing this for my short stories too. Once I start writing, I lose my original idea. I wish I could hold it in my head, but at least I've started writing it down!

  3. I have a friend who never edits/redrafts her work. She's a really fantastic writer, mainly of short stories and flash fiction; but her approach to writing is unorthodox in the way that she perfects every single sentence before she moves onto the next one.

    What made me think of her is that she tries to retain that original idea/image in her head throughout writing, to ensure that the story itself reflects her intentions in every possible way. It's an interesting post... I'll just try and find it...
    gah, no I'm sorry - I think it was a comment on a blog which no longer exists. But that's the gist of her method... which is certainly interesting (particularly the 'I don't edit' part of things).