Posts Tagged ‘editing’


We received the contract for Beautiful Monster today. By now, I’d done enough research on the press and learned of some other well-respected author’s represented by the press, that I felt optimistic we’d probably be signing it. Still, I refused to celebrate until we saw the contract, looked at it very closely and agreed with it. I’ve spent the past eight or nine hours going over the contract with my co-author, Kim, and we both agree it’s a good one.

(Kim and I, professionals that we are, going over the contract via Skype)

Last week, Kim and I went out on a limb, and without having received the contract, went ahead with some formatting revisions that are standard to the press. This consisted of changing all text to Georgia font, spelling out, hyphenating, and capitalizing all chapter headers, Finding and correcting all (or most) passive voice passages, spelling out all abbreviations, separating chapter breaks by four asterisks, deleting all spaces before and after ellipses, adding quotations to all of the Fiend’s dialogue (as this is considered internal thought since the Fiend speaks in Sterling’s head), and eliminating all sentences that begin with conjunctions. It was leap of faith on our parts, considering the task took nearly ten hours and we weren’t even sure if we would sign the contract. I’m glad we did it though. It saved us a little time.

Along with the contract, we received tax forms (which kind of scare me) and Author Information sheets. These sheets are where you fill out your personal information, book dedications, and make mention of those folks you’d like to acknowledge and thank. It also asks for key points of the plot and physical descriptions of the main characters. When answering these questions, they ask that you be concise, as this is done for the sake of giving the cover artist a clear idea for your books cover picture. I guess this ensures you don’t end up with a picture of a blandly handsome, buff dude holding a petite, well-cleavaged, raven-haired beauty in the sunset on your book cover when your book is about tractors or something.

The majority of the contract is basically a long list of your legal rights and expectations, the legal rights and expectations of the publisher, royalty percentage agreements, and a whole bunch of other legal jargon that, although quite simple, is not necessarily interesting enough to go into serious depth here.

It’s still a long way to go to be able to hold my own book in my hand. It could, and likely will, be two years before I am able to have that. First, we will be assigned an editor to whom we will be accountable to as we begin a long series of editorial revisions. We will have deadlines and we will have them aplenty. Between these rounds of revision, there’s nothing to do but keep on keeping on. I will keep working on Tyranny Hall, my solo project, Kim will continue working on hers, and God help us, we’ve been throwing around the idea of a sequel (a trilogy, actually) for Beautiful Monster~but that’s another blog…

I realized today that I’m glad Beautiful Monster is the one that got the gig. Not only because I love the story and feel it is substantially stronger than The White Room, but also because I don’t want to do this alone! This is all very intimidating to me still, and I am lucky to have someone to go through this with.

A lot can happen in the time it takes for this to really be a “done deal,” but I feel like I can at least exhale a little now. I have wanted this so badly for so long, and now that it’s here, I can’t help but feel a little exhilarated. I’m too tired to celebrate tonight though. I just want to sit here in the dark and mentally replay what a wild journey it has been thus far. I can’t think about the deadlines right now. I can’t think about the marketing plans, and the book sales, and my future as an author. I can only be right here, right now, taking a big deep breath and saying to myself that no matter what happens from here, someone finally thought I was good enough to take a chance on~ I can look at myself and say that I have worked very hard for this, and it hasn’t come easy, and I didn’t give up.

In a way, I think that’s all I ever wanted.

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It’s been thirteen months since me and my mentor/friend/writing partner Kim Williams-Justesen began writing our collaborative horror novel. Although technically finished several months ago, we are now in the process of revising the final draft. Currently, we’ve been spending anywhere between two and four hours on each chapter and have worked most days of the week. In a novel that contains a total of twenty-four chapters, that’s a lot of hours. (But as I write this, we only have two more chapters to go!)

Although the final round is probably the most arduous part of this process for me, it’s also the most rewarding.  Since writing the words The End, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this novel front to back, but I’m guessing this must be the fifth or sixth time. Needless to say, I would have expected to be sick and tired of this novel by now. I would have expected that whatever passion I’d begun the novel with would have flickered out and died months ago. Strangely though, that isn’t the case. In fact, as we have labored to tighten and refine the novel, my passion has been not only been reignited, but it has climbed to greater heights than ever. I think it’s because this is where writers get to see their work come together, and can view the novel as a whole rather than in fractions. Also, the final round is your last shot to prevent embarrassing yourself before you place the manuscript in the hands of your trusted Beta Readers~ and these are the reasons why I believe this the most important part of the process.

The final round of revisions is the time to address all of the things that bothered you in the previous readings. This is where you must tackle those irritating little, (and sometimes big) weaknesses you’ve been putting off. This is where you add lines, subtract passages, sprinkle detail, rearrange dialogue, fill  in the plot-holes, fine-tune your characters, slaughter your “sacred cows”, and scrutinize all the text in search of grammatical errors and technical blunders. Kim and I currently live several states away from each other, so for us this requires a lot of sitting in front of the computer Skyping and IMing. Currently, my computer sits on a black ottoman in the middle of my living room where I sit on the floor to work. This has given me leg cramps, back aches, and neck and shoulder pain… not to mention a likely addiction to dramamine, given a ridiculously elevated proneness to motion sickness which I seem to have been born with. But that’s okay. This is where the real magic happens.

I went into the final round of revisions with a very clear, singular goal: to heighten the emotional impact. I decided that if something in the story was supposed to have a creepy effect, I wanted my skin to crawl. If a certain scene was supposed to make me feel sad, I wanted to be on the brink of tears. And if something was meant to be sickening, I wanted to feel the bile rise in my stomach. I decided I wanted to know what each character looks like, how each room smells, and mostly, I wanted to feel what every character was feeling.

As we have yet to be finished with these final edits, I can’t be sure how well we’ve done our jobs, but given my own emotional responses as we’ve fine-tuned the story these past weeks, I’m pretty confident we’re damned close to having what we want. In fact, just earlier today, due to my own mounting nausea, I had to take a breather from a particularly graphic scene and ask Kim to please not expound anymore on the topic. I don’t squirm easily, so to me, that’s a good sign.

As an added plus, the final round can reveal some wonderful new concepts. Today, I think Kim and I stumbled upon our perfect working title. As we were rewriting a scene, Kim wrote this beautiful passage that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and both of us paused a moment, thinking the exact same thing. The project that began as An Evil Heart and soon became Gallery of Dolls, is now about to take a new name entirely: Beautiful Monster. Not that a books title won’t possibly change (or be changed) down the road, but I think it’s important to have a strong title. I liked Gallery of Dolls, but it always sounded too much like The Valley of the Dolls (a novel written by Jacqueline Susann in 1966) for my taste. Besides, I think the phrase “Beautiful Monster” in and of itself, is as contrasted as the personalities of our two main characters and therefore a pretty solid title for this book. Plus, to me, Beautiful Monster just kind of pops.

So that’s where I’m at right now. I haven’t been doing much blogging lately due to the demands of Beautiful Monster (I really do dig that title!), so I just wanted to take some time today to keep the connection in tact. Blogging is a bad habit to break!  In the meantime, my third novel is underway (with a much bigger set of balls now), and due to some weaknesses I’m just realizing, I plan to take my first novel, The White Room off the table for a few months to revisit it and give it some upgrades. I predict that in the next five to seven days, Beautiful Monster will be fit to be looked over by some Beta’s and from there, it’s just a matter of fixing any errors they might find, and then sending it out the door to find a home. By this time next year, my goal is to have three (maybe even four!) full-length works circulating throughout the world of agents and publishers… and to be well into the next big literary adventure.


You’d think that after spending the countless hours, days, weeks and months required to write a novel, you’d get to relax. You did your research, developed your story, and invested almost all of your free time into writing it. Now 80 to 120 thousand words later, it would be nice to be able to call it finished. Unfortunately, the hard part is just beginning. Now it’s time to reread, revise and rehash.

Although this is not my favorite part of the writing process, it certainly isn’t the worst. Revisions are a good opportunity to strengthen story, add necessary detail, and perhaps most important of all, cut the fat.

I’ve learned that there are a few key things to look for in the editing process. One of them is character consistency. Are the characters solid? Do they remain true to their base nature throughout the story, and if the character goes through personal changes, are they believable? In Gallery of Dolls (the project formerly known as ‘An Evil Heart’), this wasn’t too big of a problem. My main character was very clear to me from the beginning and I was happy to see that he remained pretty true to himself throughout. There were a few lines of dialogue though, that when reread, didn’t sound like him. These, luckily, are easy fixes.

Plot consistency and holes in the plot are another, and probably the worst, potential good-story-destroyers that are commonly found in the revision process. Rereading Gallery of Dolls, Kim (my co-author) and I discovered some interesting issues. Hearing the story front to back, we think we may have to move the meeting of our two characters up a couple of chapters. This means some very serious rewriting and I am hoping that once we have a few outsiders read the story, it won’t be as big of an issue as I am afraid of. Beyond that, we found minor inconsistencies. I will need to go in and add a couple new scenes to smooth some transition but that’s about the worst of it.

Another thing to look for in revisions are wasted words. I tend to reiterate. And reiterate. This is a very bad habit that needs to stop. But that’s what revisions are for. It never ceases to amaze me how much stronger a sentence can become by taking away from it rather than adding to it. Adverbs are a fine example of this… but I’ll get into that later.

Also, a lot of what you find in revisions are total surprises. When we reread Gallery of Dolls, we found an unusual likeness in the names of our characters: almost all of them started with a C. We had Courtney, Cassidy, Claire, Connie, Claudia, Cassandra, and Carlisle the cop. We don’t know how or why this happened, but there it is. Again, this is an easy fix. We have since changed several of the names.

The last thing I like to do in revisions is assassinate the adverbs. Not all adverbs are bad, of course, but when it comes to these cute little verb modifiers, a little goes a long way. In my first drafts, I never worry too much about them. Personally, I love adverbs, but it really is true that there is usually (<—-see? adverbs!) a finer way of saying what you meant without them, so the last thing I do is an “ly” search in my document. I go through each adverb and see if there isn’t an opportunity for more powerful phrasing.

Like it or not, revisions are a necessary part of (good) writing. Many people are intimidated by the process. Others believe they are golden enough that their work requires no revision. Personally, I try to write clean first drafts in order to keep editing to a minimum, but the fact remains that in order to get the book written, you need to sit down and actually write it. In order for me to do this, I have to try my best to minimize or eliminate the need to edit as I go. If I am editing as I go… I am usually not going at all. It’s a slippery slope.

The worst part about revisions in my opinion, is that after reading your story over and over, it loses its shine and numbs you out until it’s impossible to even tell if the story is any good. I think this is a good time to put the story down for a while and pick it up when you can view it with semi-fresh eyes again. That’s where I’m at right now. I need to not look at it for a couple of weeks. Our goal is to have it presentable by October, so if I take one or two more weeks away from it, we should easily be able to attain it. Till then… I’ll be thinking of the next story…

Write (and revise) on! And remember….

 


     So yesterday (slash last night, slash this morning), we completed the first comprehensive read-through of Project: Evil Heart.  It was far less of a disaster than I anticipated.  Still, it was a process that took over sixteen hours (minus an hour or two for breaks for food and drink, plus a little of the inevitable unrelated chit-chat), but over all, it was a more positive and encouraging experience than I’d hoped for.

     Also yesterday, before we began working, we attended a seminar where one of the speakers was Patricia G. Stevenson, author of The Dilapidated Man.  Her advice was this:  “Listen to your characters.  They’ll tell you what to do.  No, you would never do the same things they would, and some of the things they do may be appalling to you, but if you trust them, they’ll write your book for you.”  Those were just the words I’ve been needing to hear.

     Since day one of this story, I have had issues with my main character.  He is a violent, terrible, fiendish demon in the flesh, and I suppose I’ve always been a little afraid of being judged for having written him.  This was, as far as I was concerned, just part of the territory though.  In time, I figured my skin would thicken and I would hopefully one day be proud of Mr. Sterling Bronson.  That day came sooner than I expected.  Yesterday, as we read the first ten chapters of the manuscript, I found within the confines of all his wickedness, a rare kind of beauty.  This character, although still all of the terrible things he is, is an accurate representation of the dark side, and having heard his story with a little more continuity, I have to say, I kinda like him.  This surprised me because I haven’t enjoyed writing him and yet, his friend Brytt, who I love writing, is ultimately, much less likable to me.

          The only technical problems we found in the read through were timeline issues and over used “comfort lines”.  What I am referring to when I say “comfort lines” are those expressions and descriptions that the writer becomes way too comfortable using and therefore implements over and over… and over.  In The White Room, my biggest comfort line was, “There was a long stretch of silence.”  Originally, there were so many long stretches of silence in fact, that it was a wonder the manuscript contained any dialog at all.  In An Evil Heart, my comfort (word) seems to be “stiffening.”  A lot of stiffening goes on in this story; stiffening muscles, stiffening spines, stiffening in the boxer shorts… it was out of control and ninety percent of it needs to go.  Kim’s comfort line was, “there was an ache in my chest.”  Her character had so many aches in her chest throughout the first ten chapters that we joked that perhaps the girl needed an EKG.

    All in all, these were easy fixes.  We removed the comfort lines in favor of more original expressions and now just need to tweak the timelines a little.  The difficulty with the timelines is that Kim and I are writing alternating chapters and half the time, I don’t even know what day we are supposed to be on, but there was only one real significant flaw in the timing, and a simple transposing of events will clear the inconsistency right up.

     For all the dreading and worrying I’ve done over this, I’m now very glad we did the read through.  It flowed smoothly and read like a pretty damned good book.  I’m now approaching the second half of the story with a revivified enthusiasm and a heightened sense of accomplishment.  We figure we have about fourteen more chapters to write and the finished project should be done and ready to be looked at by mid-July.  Also, I’ve set the goal of beginning a third book (this one will be a solitary project) by the first of May and having that one finished by the end of 2011, so there will be a couple of months where projects overlap, assuming An Evil Heart runs on time, but I’m not too worried about it.  I still love every minute of this and for me, it isn’t like work at all.

         


     Every writer must eventually part ways with some of his or her favorite creations for the sake of the greater good.  There are dozens of names for this process:  Slaughtering your sacred cows, Killing your darlings, or the term I find most fitting, Cutting the fat.  No matter what you choose to call it though, it sucks.

     There are two types of “cuts”, and although both can be equally painful, the first one (which is the removal of an unecessary sentence) is substantially less time-consuming than the second (which is the deletion of an entire scene.)  In deleting an uneeded sentence, I can at least take solace in the fact that I didn’t spend hours and hours working on it.  For me, these kinds of space-wasters are usually just flowery details that, for some reason, I’ve become unreasonably attached to.  I guess this is where my inner poet likes to rear his stubborn but eloquent and impassioned (and often pompous), beautiful head.  (Uncle Carlos is only there to give dirty looks to the main character.  Does he really need to be “a blandly handsome man with an air of quick-thinning tolerance about him”?) But over all, I am able to see the ultimate detriment to this kind of self-indulgence, and generally have no trouble toning down the details.

     Then there is the second kind of cut: scene deletion.  This, for me, has always been far more demoralizing.  It’s one thing to just clean up the excess portions of a scene, and quite another to look at it in its entirety and disheartedly realize (or worse be told by an outside source) that the entire piece is basically no good.  I got my first real lesson in this right off the bat when my mentor, Kim (Williams-Justesen), and I did the first read through of my first manuscript, The White Room.

     We were at the cemetery downtown, (now that I think about it, that sounds very odd.  Why were we at the cemetery?  Oh yeah… because it’s peaceful, beautiful and well, dead people don’t tend to interrupt), sitting on the lawn on a warm spring day.  I was all kinds of excited because it was the first time I’d be able to hear my story out loud and with continuity.  Kim began reading.  It was a disaster.  Instead of gently rowing down the stream as I believed we would be, the first thirteen pages or so felt more like being in an aluminum canoe on a wind-peeved sea.  Had I had any Dramamine handy, I would have taken it… and without protest to the inevitable drooling drug daze those pills always put me in.  Anyway, Kim was kind enough to continue to the end of the chapter which thankfully, had smoothed out a bit.  When she was done, she looked at the pages in her hand and then looked at me.  “You want to know what I think?” she asked.  I said that yes, I did indeed want to know, but in truth, I wasn’t sure I really did.  She turned the manuscript back to page one, and then one after another, plucked page after page away from the stack.  Somewhere around mid-chapter one, she stopped and pointed to a paragraph in the middle of the page.  “I think this is where your story starts,” she said.     

     I was stunned.  I argued.  I made excuses.  I rationalized and justified.  But worst of all, in truth… I agreed with her.  The reality was that the first half of that chapter was nothing more than a confusing warm-up.  I’d struck on some significant points in those pages, but over all, it was crap.  I stewed the rest of the day as we read the other chapters, and that night, I went home with my tail between my legs and started re-writing and implanting the few decent scraps from the trash pages, as needed into the newer, better beginning.  I made a decision that day that I would never let that happen again.  Unfortunately, however, I think that, at least to some degree, writing some crap is inevitable. 

     For me there are two reasons an uneccessary scene gets written in the first place.  The first, and most common reason, is that my “muse” gets an inspired hair up his ass… and just runs like hell with it, as if trying to outrun my sense of good judgment and discrimination.  I start with a plan… and end up not only in left field, but in an altogether different tennis tournament entirely.   When the muse gets this kind of head start, I find myself reading page after page of unholy gibberish that, if ever seen by a professional, would seal my fate as a failed writer.  Forever.

     The second reason I write bad scenes is simple: laziness.  I don’t feel like writing, but I know I have to, and therefore, I sit down and very simply fill white space with whatever nonsense comes into my mind.  Perhaps my character needs to pee.  At times like these, that seems pretty important.  Or maybe Henry the optometrist will spend a few hours petting the dog.  Nevermind that there was no dog before now.  Now Henry has a dog.  Yep.  Pet the dog, it is.  That will fill the empty space.  That being said, I actually prefer this kind of “very bad scene.”  It’s much easier to say goodbye to utter nonsense than to the flowery grandeur of my terribly possessive (and I suspect, alcoholic,) muse.

    Any way you look at it, editing is a bitch.  You wind up deleting hours of your life you will never get back, but alas… it’s necessary, and what works for me is I try to get it as close to perfect as I can, not because I’m such a perfectionist, but because I am insecure enough that I really don’t want to invite any more criticism than necessary. Still, it’s a drink-inducing, hair-pulling, teeth-grinding emotional calamity that although I might (let’s be honest) wish on my worst enemy, I do not wish on you.  Happy travels!