Issues of editing

Feeling frazzled. This week’s blog may be a bit disorganised, directionless. That’s because it’s crunch time. No more messing about. The votes are in, the deadline upon me and I’ve a better idea than ever about what works and what doesn’t about Night Shift. I mean, nine drafts – by this point you think I’d know it all, right?

Nah.

But I do have a better idea of what questions to ask.

Over the years I’ve built up a small but perfectly formed group of friends and writers who I can call upon for help and advice. The payoff is, of course, being willing to do the same for them. This time I’ve been particularly mean: due to my inability to set realistic deadlines I’ve begged for one last read-through to hopefully catch all the typos, inconsistencies and miscellaneous errors that have escaped the net so far.

Because the last rewrite was a big one. This was the one requested by the agent. For her I hacked up certain sections and recast the sequence: emptied some scenes, created new ones and, basically, did a lot of fresh, virgin writing. I did this over the course of around a month and a half; and, if you’ve ever met a writer, you’ll know that this creates a whole lot of agonising. Is what I’ve done any good? Does it disrupt the flow, mangle the pace, hurt the brain? Do I use too many rhetorical questions?

And of course I didn’t give myself anything like long enough to read through my work objectively and answer these questions myself.

So I’ve turned to my friends and colleagues, promising vague promises of wine and nibbles and eternal gratitude. I turned to my parents. I asked my fiancée. I was tempted to send out a blanket request for readers on Twitter, but I’m too paranoid for that.

Friends. Great, aren’t they?

And so this is the week that the responses come a-tricklin’ in. Trying to get a consensus, I am, on what works and what doesn’t.

One thing I’ve learnt (too late) over the many years I’ve been writing is that lack of direct criticism doesn’t actually mean a section is any good. I’ve had a tendency to use placeholders in my work, like dipping a toe to test the water. I’ve been assuming that if something doesn’t work then someone will comment on it. Nope. Ain’t the case. I can see that now. If it doesn’t feel right to you then it isn’t right full-stop.

And in this particular run-through – with a definite, tangible end to it – I decided to ask specific questions of my readers. These were only to be read upon completion of the novel (‘upon completion of the novel’ – how pretentious am I?) because I wanted to tap the readers’ emotional centres and not their logic-brains. These were mostly referring to the new sections and altered parts because they’re the bits I’m less able to assess: and, whilst much of the novel has evolved over a year and a half, these sections are essentially first draft.

It occurs to me that some of you might be interested in these questions. Some are specific to Night Shift; others are more general. And, in my eternal arrogance, I wonder if it might help any of you writers out there to reproduce them here…

General points:

  • The ending: does it work? Is it properly foreshadowed and not too obvious?
  • Foreshadowing: are there too many mentions of a particular item? Not enough?
  • Are there too many rhetorical questions? [Yes, I really did ask this: I wasn’t just joking earlier]
  • Are there any internal contradictions?
  • Are the characterisations consistent?
  • Is there anywhere I’m egregiously ‘showing not telling’?
  • Are there any sections that drag?
  • Do I over-describe characters?
  • Are there any sections you find repetitive?
  • Is there anything ‘missing’? Any sections/ideas hinted at but not explored that you think should be?
  • Did you know what was going on at all times?
  • Any ‘Chekov’s gun’s in there at all?

 And more specific questions:

  • Are the chapters of a consistent length?
  • Is the main character’s past laid on too heavily? Too much? Or not enough?
  • Should I condense the conversations between [pages] into a single section?
  • Are [character’s] injuries too severe for survival?
  • [Character] uses people’s surnames. Is it clear to whom she’s referring? Should this be changed, this trait abandoned?
  • Masks: do the references to masks work? Is there a theme here, a thread? Does it work, or is it just confusing? [this is a fairly specific reference; I don’t just have an obsession with face-coverings]

Is anyone actually interested in this? Or am I merely appeasing my own vanity this week? As I said, I’m a bit frazzled at the moment – all my chickens coming home to mix their metaphors and stir their pots.

Does anyone else have any questions they ask themselves when editing a project? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

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