The Magic of Editing

In the last couple of days, I dusted off what is apparently the fourth draft of Summer, what I tend to refer to as ‘my other novel’ and started editing again. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, since of the two series I’m working on Summer, its sequel, and its hypothetical threequel is quite definitely the more publishable, so getting an actually decent draft together in the near-ish future would be a good idea. So far it’s mostly reminded me of how much I love editing.

I should qualify that statement. I hate editing things I’ve just written, which is awkward and sometimes near-painful. I loathe cutting things down to get them under a wordcount. But editing something written upwards of three years ago, which needs to be longer rather than shorter (Summer currently stands at 80k, which is a little short for a novel)? It’s excellent.

You get all the fun of writing and wordsmithing and playing with characterisation without having to worry about what’s going to happen next because hey, you already worked that part out! Above all, you get the satisfaction of making something better and deeper and more interesting. I remember one moment during my last round of edits to Summer where I took a few lines where one minor character enters a room as another is leaving, expanded that oh-so-brief interaction, and made it a bit flirty.

On top of that, properly reading and contemplating the story this way is good not just for the details but for the over-arching themes. Now that Summer‘s in my head most of the time, things have gotten pretty interesting. Here’s some pretty big news that won’t make sense to anyone but me: I finally figured that thing out! You know, that thing. The plot thing at the end of the second book that’s been confounding me for going on two years now. I figured it out. Turns out the key was replacing castles with standing stones. Seems pretty obvious now I think about it.

Much of Summer needs to be largely re-written. It’s not completely a problem with the writing style. This brings me to the first big issue I’ve been trying to combat: one of the three main characters is terrible. Just terrible. She’s incredibly bland, and somehow it took me until midway through the second book to realise just how pointless she is.  Unfortunately, a bit more than a third of the book is told from her point of view, and that all now needs to be re-written, because it’s bland as hell – and now that I’ve given her a personality, everything from her point of view has to be re-written to be more consistent.

Then there’s this problem: characters are constantly doing things because the plot says so. Formally-bland-character, Caitrín, is the worst for this. Because she had no personality, she had no real motivation, so when she had to do something important plot relevant (which was rare) it was next to impossible to give her a reason to do it. So she would just do it. In the first draft she’s constantly wandering in and our of rooms and attics and stables for absolutely no reason at all. Somehow I didn’t even notice this until just now. I’ve spent a lot of time tweaking the plot to give her actual reasons to do things.

Thankfully that’s the main issue with Summer. The rest of the editing mostly involves polishing the style and working out the kinks of the worldbuilding. I’m also throwing around ideas for a better title – something to do with masks, maybe? – or more accurately, a title that doesn’t force the series to be a quartet. All in all, very productive.

It’s strange, because a year or so ago I bought a book called Writing Magic. It’s a writing advice book for children by Gail Carson Levine (author of Ella Enchanted), which I am way out of the age range for, but it was cheap on Amazon and I liked her books enough when I was younger that I was honestly interested to see what she had to say about writing. Here’s what she has to say on the subject of editing:

Revising is my favourite part of writing. When I’m working on a first draft, I feel like a prisoner. I’m in an iron cell with no windows and no doors. Nothing is happening, and I’m trapped. I notice a bit of moisture condensing on the walls, four or five beads of water. Each bead is an idea. I scrape them off and write feverishly until I use them up. Then I wait for more moisture.

But when I finished my first draft, the walls come down. A fragrant breeze wafts by. No more waiting for condensation. Now all I have to do is make the book better, which can take a long time.

At the time, I thought I disagreed completely with Gail Carson Levine on this one, but I think the fact that I quite enjoy first drafts fooled me into thinking I must therefore not enjoy editing. As it turns out, I do, very much so. So now, to quote from Gail Carson Levine again, I must go and face ‘the revision beast’.

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Filed under Editing, Summerverse, writing

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