So, yesterday I spent most of the day picking my way through ‘Emmeline’ with a fine-tooth comb, searching for inconsistencies and errors and repetition (boy, do I repeat myself, a lot), misplaced punctuation, frankly stupid conversations between characters (there were a few), scenes which were more ‘filler’ than ‘vital’ – there were a few of these, too, probably because the book began life as a NaNoWriMo project – and clumsy description. I’ve realised when I’m writing under pressure that I can be a huge fan of the old dangling modifier, and that my powers of description go out the window. Stupid metaphors and ridiculous similes abound, and I remind myself of Bambi on the frozen lake, skidding around doing my best to write something right, and succeeding only in ending up on my behind.
I didn’t get through the whole book, of course. Between Friday’s efforts and yesterday’s, I’m probably just over halfway, now. I’ve trimmed over 5,000 words from the total wordcount, which means the book is still far too long – but it’s an improving situation.
Strangely, I’ve discovered that the bits of the book which I thought would give the most trouble actually turned out to be the smoothest, and the parts I thought I’d be able to gloss over are the ones which have caused me the most eyebrow-raising difficulty. It’s funny how your memory works; I remembered certain parts of the book as being particularly thorny and challenging, and so I figured editing those bits would be a major hassle. Perhaps, however, the harder the scene is to write, the easier the edit – at least, that’s how it seems so far. Lots of ‘Emmeline’ just flowed out of my brain and onto the page, which felt great at the time, but it means that, on re-reading it, I’m left a bit stumped by my plot choices, or word choices, or character motivations. Nothing so far has been a deal-breaker, or a book-destroyer, and I’m hoping it carries on that way, but I’m a bit bemused by my own memory nonetheless.
One of my major fears with this book was that the central third – the ‘sagging middle’ – would be too flabby and over-written and unnecessarily long. So far, I’m finding that it’s not as bad as I thought. That’s not to say whole chunks of text haven’t been excised – with plenty more lining up for their turn under the scalpel – but the plot moves along faster than I remembered, which is good. At this point in the book both Emmeline and Thing are on their own, separate, quests, and – when writing it – this was difficult. I was constantly switching between their viewpoints, writing one section in Emmeline’s world and another in Thing’s, trying to keep a certain balance between them and always thinking of ways in which their journeys could be linked or even contrasted, and – to me – it seemed to go on forever.
Luckily, however, it doesn’t really read that way. It seems that the harder a scene, or even an entire section, is to write the longer and more turgid it feels in your memory. This can be a surprise, come editing time.
I’ve also realised that I always, always write linearly. I know there are writers who write scenes separately from the parts that come before and after them, much like a filmmaker puts a movie together; a scene from the book’s opening can be written right at the end, and perhaps the author will write the middle third first, perhaps in an attempt to ensure it doesn’t get overblown and out of control. I admire this sort of technique, but it just struck me the other day that I have never used it myself.
The above isn’t a map of my writing process, but it could easily be. I don’t think I could function writing a scene from the end of a book before the beginning – my brain just isn’t flexible enough for that. I also edit the same way – from the beginning, straight through to the end. Once a square, always a square, I guess.
I’m beginning to wonder, though, if I should shake things up a bit and start editing non-linearly. Perhaps it would make things easier to see if I’m reading sections out of sequence, and it might make the book seem fresher and more surprising if I edited backwards, or from the middle out, or something like that. Anything which makes mistakes and excess and injudicious word choice stand out more clearly is a good thing when you’re hovering over your work with your editing hat on. Sometimes, other writers read their sentences backwards to check for spelling mistakes – as your eye is less inclined to see what it wants to see when the sentence is out of order – and so it makes sense that shaking things up when it comes to your editing habits can bring benefits. So, I think at least one of my runs of edits, this time, will be a non-linear one – and let’s hope I don’t end up like this in the process:
I also hope I’ll be able to bring the wordcount down to where it should be without causing myself, or the book, too much pain. Soon, it will be time to start printing out whole chunks of text and going at them with a pen, a process I always enjoy – I guess there’s a hint of a masochist in me, somewhere.
Stay tuned for updates from the editing coal face, and the results of my non-linear experiment (that sounds pleasingly scientific! *polishes spectacles*) – and, with any luck, the good news that ‘Emmeline’ is ready for querying, just as soon as possible.