5 Levels of Editing

So I’ve finished another book, and now I’m stuck with my neck craning back, aching, a wall looming before me, and I just can’t bring myself to figure out: What is the key to editing? Being a perfectionist, there seems to be so much looming before me, but I feel like if I break it down, then it doesn’t seem that bad anymore. So tad-dah! Here’s the 5 levels of editing:

5levelsofediting

1. Plot’s ARC

This is the broadest, most general pass I do while editing. Here I’m looking across my entire story, examining it for an arc, explained earlier here. I want to make sure it has all the general pieces of a story, specifically a climax, and I want to make sure it smoothly increases and decreases in tension. Bobby shouldn’t be dying before readers know he’s fallen down the stairs, or that he’s fallen down the stairs because he has a loose peg leg, which his brother unwittingly loosened for him after a fight over their favorite game.

2. Chapter Editing

At this point, I’m no longer looking at the entire book but each chapter, and there’s a few things I’m checking for:

  • Looking for a purpose/conflict so that the story moves itself ahead
    • If the chapter is missing one or the other, I need to change it so it has both
  • Checking for realistic dialogue
  • Editing transitions between chapters so that you don’t lose focus/tension

3. Paragraph Editing

Here are stylistic changes, which means adding more character reflection or imagery. My goal is that every chapter comes alive and that can’t happen unless you’re connected to the characters (through internal reflection) or until you can see the story (which means more detailed imagery, using as many senses as possible). Currently, I’m not here, but later I’m going to find my ideal paragraph and use that as a standard to measure up against the rest of my writing.

4. Line Editing

Here focus is narrowed until you’re looking at individual lines. Your always asking yourself, is there a better way to say this? Is it awkward? A good test at this point is to start reading your whole story aloud. Read it to a partner or friend. What can sound good in your head can sound really awkward aloud, and usually your mouth is already fixing the sentence for you. Try it.

5. Word Editing (aka proof-reading)

This is more like copy-editing as this point with CUPS, ensuring you have good spelling. Changing your word choice when you think of a better word. Etc. At this point, you should be feeling happy with the story, and if not, you need to go back and rethink at what point are you not happy? Maybe there’s something you need to fix.

Question

While I was watching my kids test today—may their grades rest in peace—I got distracted, thinking about how my kids are good at asking questions. And it’s sad sometimes to think that this is overlooked as a skill, a valuable one at that. Unless you’re asking questions, you’re not really learning, which is why I always push my kids so hard to ask when they’re confused. If they don’t ask, they’ll always be wondering what if…And until you try it, you’ll never know, which got me to thinking…

You’re not a student until you start asking questions. Until then, you’re only an observer.

Of course, now I’m stuck on the idea of wanting to slap that quote on a poster and hang it up in my classroom. And of course I want to put my name on it, because who wouldn’t be proud? It takes me so long to come up with anything, and I feel like lately it’s so rare, that I’m extremely proud of myself. I want everyone to see I can say smart stuff too, especially when the words seem to just congeal and spill out of my mouth in math. But I guess I can’t put my name on the poster…that would sound too conceited. So why can’t my excuse be because I’m a writer. And, isn’t that what writers do? Obsess over words?

Father Earth’s been missing it

“The path that the Moon naturally follows. Instead of letting it pass again, lost and wandering, bring it home. Father Earth’s been missing it. Bring it straight here and let them have a reunion.” (390)

In the previous book, The Fifth Season, I learned about orogenes—people who can manipulate the kinetic energy around them, usually in relation to dirt and rock. This means that they can fix the energy released during an earthquake, or can manipulate the rock around them. In the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, I learned something new. Besides there being a new kind of beings called Stone Eaters, called such since their skin and hair resemble stone, I find out that Father Earth is alive. And he’s fighting a war.

This book makes me excited because of the layers that Jemisin has again woven into its plot. While still focusing on Essun and her search for her daughter Jija, the book begins to weave the story of a war going on between Father Earth and the residents living on his surface. It tells the story of a two-sided war, those who would like to stabilize the Moon to bring it back into orbit, to end the seasons, and those would like to bring the Moon home and end all humanity. This plot line gets me excited mainly because it is similar to a book I want to write, one that contemplates how the Earth feels about people living on its surface, because surely if it was alive, it wouldn’t be happy with us.

One thing I didn’t like, which was more something I had to get used to was the unusual second-person perspective. I have seen authors use “you” before in order to insert the reader into a specific viewpoint, but this book is written using this POV for Essun’s perspective, and it’s very jarring starting out. Mainly because I think it breaks the norm. Once you get used to reading it, I think it’s very interesting. And it really separates the reader from Jija’s perspective since it flips back and forth, but I still don’t know how I feel about it. I might have to think about it a little more.

Jemisin, N.K. The Obelisk Gate. New York, NY: Orbit, 2016. Print.

Revealing your background

They followed him, just a short distance behind, the monk continually glancing back at them over his shoulder.

The monastery buildings were now dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace. (147)

This is an interesting paragraph, not because of the lack of dialogue and constant motion, but because of the method of how it draws your eyes. And thus reveals one of my weaknesses.

I love to focus on the movement of a character, so if we cut everything down to just the character, the me-version would read as follows:

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

It’s like it paints half a picture, just like the old television shows where Scooby Doo and Shaggy were painted in these bright pastels, always moving since they were in the foreground, while the background was dark and shadowy, never changing.

And, if I wanted to add the background, I would use the movement of the character to draw the reader’s attention to it.

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, which prompted them to turn back and stare at the monastery buildings behind them, dark shapes against the setting sky. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

Of course, it gets very repetitious when I have to keep saying stared, looked, watched, peeked, glanced, gazed…their eyes followed… It’s much easier to do it just as the way Ishiguro did. When you expect a character to turn and look at something, don’t start with the character, immediately jump into the imagery instead. Just like Ishiguro.

There is an alternative, and I almost prefer this one…

They followed him, the monk continually glancing back over his shoulder, watching in case anyone left the monastery buildings behind them, in case anyone was following. As they drew closer, the monk paused, moved his forefinger over his lips, then continued at a more cautious pace.

I like this one better for 2 reasons: 1) the character is interacting with his environment and 2) there is some reflection on the action itself. Right when I mention”in case anyone was following,” you can see the characters are worried and careful. I think this draws a reader more into the story, although Ishiguro’s way can be described as a more artful way, since it really shines on the imagery.

But I guess it really depends on which effect you like the best.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Organizing your story

I want to donate a technique I’ve been using that helps me write and focus on the story. (Mainly because I have a tendency to slow down and focus on the realism of the characters.)

Meet my standard format for outlines!

 Chapter #  Purpose  Conflict
 Here, I write the chapter number. And will outline each chapter in my book – this helps if you think of each chapter like a mini-story, each with its own purpose.  Write the purpose of each chapter here. What do you want to show your readers? How does the plot advance in this chapter?  I’m always worried about a slow story. If you’re reluctant to read, it’s not engaging your interest. What conflict is there to up the tension in the story?

I will do this for every book, every chapter. Lately, I’ve been using this to go back and edit my stories, but lately, I’ve also been using it while I’m writing (for longer stories). It helps me focus on the big picture.

Your death or others

I had a weird dream last night. And I just want to start off by saying if you don’t like disturbing things, then you probably shouldn’t keep reading. But if you want a creepy story prompt – go for it.

Suppose you’re on a lake. Not literally on it, as in sitting in a boat or what not, but you’re standing at the edge, your head tilted back, waiting for the sunshine, except these huge storm clouds are growing. Hulking grey giants, they quickly spawn several tornadoes.

Now you’re wondering where to run because it’s not like there are several buildings around, and the most you can do is follow the sidewalk, which somehow has a ladder spawn in the middle of the grass. Not knowing what else to do, and realizing underground is much better than above ground, you climb inside, finding a half open area still exposed to the weather. You can feel the wind picking up, and although you’re happier being somewhat covered, all you can think is lower. I must go lower. After all, these could be F5 tornadoes. They could destroy everything in their path.

So the next you thing you do is eye this hatch that looks like it’s made for a submarine, except it’s sitting in the middle of the wall, and thinking this looks safer, you open it up.

And…

There’s ash. Mountains and mountains of ash.

And bones.

What you’ve stumbled upon is an old cremation oven for human bodies, except these bodies don’t like they were fired all the way because some of the ash is still holding their shape, and some of that ash looks like bone, and you can barely make the shape of a few skulls holding themselves together.

You can’t stop thinking about the Holocaust anymore. How there’s too many bodies crammed inside, too much ash had collected for this to be a legal, medical thing. And standing there for a moment, slowly the aura builds. This huge creeping invisible cloud that sits like a weight on your lungs, and you find yourself struggling to breathe. But it could also be the wind picking up, starting to rip the air off your breathe.

You have to make a decision. Now.

Do you stay outside – die by tornado? Or do you go inside – and sweat among bodies that you know were probably murdered alive?

***

This dream has made me think a lot. It’s made me ask myself, am I more disturbed by death or the death of others? It’s also made me wonder, why are we as a species so concerned with macabre topics? Does the constant exposure dull the edge of the fact that are lives are finite? I know this is probably a highly researched topic, but it’s one I think all writers should consider.

What would you do in this situation?

Halfway through SLEEPING GIANTS

So I had a bit of a fan girl moment at comic con at Seattle. Everyone was waiting half an hour to an hour to meet their favorite actors and actresses, and I could waltz to the front of my line because no one wanted to get the autograph of some well known writer.

Thank you Brent Weeks and Kevin Hearne. You made my week!

Also thank you Sylvain Neuvel not only for your autograph but for your new and first published book, Sleeping Giants, which was an obvious attempt and marketing but I didn’t care because cool! Advance Reader’s Edition!

Right now I’m on page 201 out of 302, having read most of the book on my flight, and I have to say it was interesting, even if this was my only means for entertainment.

This book follows a very predictable timeline pattern: linear consecutive flow, excusing the initial prologue where the story is introduced two decades in the past. After that what follows is a series of dialogue within interviews and reflective diaries from three/four characters.

And firstly, I like the interviews. I would say Neuvel definitely has his dialogue down. What I like most of all is how the interviews are always conducted by the same character, this mysterious main whom we never know the name or position of, except that he holds control over the president and NATO’s bank. This is my favorite part.

I do like the little diaries, except they seem like necessary scene breaks in order to break up the dialogue, which doesn’t get boring but seems almost required in order to get descriptions of actions or visuals, especially if the giant which is integral to the story.

The characters do have a good voice, and you can see the gender and age differences between characters, even their personalities just by their voice. But what I felt was lacking within the characters is a real dimension. Maybe it’s because they felt like stereotypes, overused archetypes: motherly overseer,  angsty pilot, etc. They didn’t have too much history or purpose behind them besides curiosity for the job driving them forward.

And right now, that’s all I can see driving this book forward: curiosity. So far what’s played out has consisted of “Ooo. Robot! Let’s find it!” to “This robot is a deadly murder machine. We’ve got to hide it!”

Seems like transformers except more technology advanced, it’s own hardships, and it’s own looks.

I’m waiting to read what happens next. What’s the arc?

Delivering a moment

If you haven’t heard of Moss yet, it’s an online journal found here.

Anyways – I went to APRIL, which had a small convention at the Hugo House, letting small indie presses sell their wares, and Moss was one of companies. Apparently, they just made a new first-time-ever print edition, and me having known about them for a while, and being irresistibly excited by print, I bought a copy.

First story – “Family Life and Sexual Health”

After I finished this story, the first thing that comes to mind is a motif about brothers, siblings. You can tell from reading this story that the main character, Elle, really wanted to be something other than an only child. And this is a great feeling to focus on – I feel like a lot of children/people can relate to this feeling.

And for its one positive to focus on – pacing. This author’s style is similar to mine as of late. At least when I’ve been riding the bus, and writing in between bus stops, I find myself favoring the quick, jumping scenes, ducking in and out of the story, and Texeira has successfully accomplished this.

She writes, What do you mean by and stops.

Elle keeps her eyes on the paper, “Sex?”

A few uncomfortable attempts and she finally figured out the angle at which something could go inside. (4)

A lot of scenes are like this, cutting in and out with dialogue or some concrete imagery, with each scene not being more than a moment, maybe a few minutes at most, before continuing on with the story. I think this makes a short story really successful, delivering only the most crucial details. In this case, Dan’s repeated visits to Elle, always eating pie, always asking for a fork, sharing a timeless moment, is something you would see between siblings, quickly getting the motif across. It makes me wonder if Texeira wanted one.

Guy, Connor and Alex Davis-Lawrence. Family Life and Sexual Health. Seattle: Moss Volume 1, 2015. Print.

Best last line in a book

Okay. So maybe I exaggerated a little bit. Maybe it isn’t the best last line in a book, but it was pretty amazing.

“A moment later, the cold ran up her arms, and caught her breath, and beneath her hands a heartbeat fluttered, as Victor vale opened his eyes, and smiled” (Schwab 364).

Oh! I forgot! You haven’t read it, so let me back up a step. SPOILER ALERT!

This is the book with the two different timelines, Vicious. And as you may (not) know, the main character, Victor, is plotting revenge against his college friend, Eli. Why? Because Eli turned Victor into the police and tried to kill him. (Note: there’s more back story here with tons of details and nuances but read the book for that.)

Anyways, Victor and Eli both have super powers, calling themselves EOs. Eli has regenerative healing, and Victor can manipulate people’s level of pain. And Victor finally tells his group, I have a plan to take down victor, never revealing what it is.

It leaves you wondering. Here’s a man who wants to take murderous revenge; you can’t kill the character; and the whole city is against you – thanks to Eli’s persuasive girlfriend.

So how does he win?

“Pain swept over the three like a current, like a breath, something held back and now returned. And then, one by one, the realized what that meant” (Schwab 358).

He died. And lost. But not before his team takes out the girlfriend, leaving the city to turn against Eli. Which they do. Realizing Eli killed Victor, that he had actually committed dozens of murders before this, they arrest him and take him to jail.

And Victor, with the help of a bring-back-to-life sidekick, wakes up in his grave smiling.

I liked this. This was one of the few times I think withholding information was well done. Why? Because it didn’t flaunt the withholding of information. Maybe because it continued the story under the assumption the plan works. I’m not ejected from the story, and while at first it seems as if he lost, I’m  pleasantly happy when I realize he actually won. It didn’t work out as bad as I thought. That this was the plan, and a brilliant one as a matter of fact.

This could be a technique for when you want to withhold information: Omit the details and then show the omission through scene and action with reflection at the end.

Ps. Anyone else realize the that the winner, or victor, in this book is Victor? Play on names, you think?

Schwab, V. Vicious. New York, NY:Tor, 2013. Print.

Creating conflict within the reader

I love discontinuity between the readers and the character’s thoughts. Usually, it’s a benefit seen only in third-person, but here, Stross has created it within a first-person story – amazingly done – which only results because of his belief that memory can be altered through the use of back-up bodies/memories. This means that if something should happen to you, as in kill you, then at least there’s a copy of you somewhere (like a back up file). (Of course this also means there can be multiple copies of you running around, but that’s another part of the story.)

I’m not male. No, I’m female. I raise my other hand, explore my chest. Female and orthohuman. 

This in itself is no big deal. I’ve been a female orthohuman before; I’m not sure when or for how long, and it’s not my favorite body plan, but I can live with it for the time being. What makes me freak and stand up again, so suddenly I get black spots in my visual field and nearly fall over, is the corollary. Someone tampered with my backup! And then the doubletake: I am the backup. Somewhere a different version of me has died. (Stross 40-41)

This is great! I’m being lead along with the thoughts within the character: the turmoil of being female, the resulting recognition that she is the backup, and that somewhere – back in the other life that we, as the reader, can remember she died. It creates the thought of what did we miss? Who killed her? What about her old romantic relationship Kay, and will she remember her?? How much does she even remember??

By reverting to the backup body, backup memory, suddenly a multitude of thoughts are swimming out of control in the readers mind, creating possibilities within themselves. It creates the thought, what about Kay? How much does (s)he remember?

I blink. Then I reread the tablet, frantically searching for alternate meanings. I didn’t sign that! Did I? Looks like I did-either that or I’ve been hacked, but my having signed the release is more likely. (Stross 42)

Above we learn more specifics, detailing the situation even more, and I think what draws me in the most about this scene is not only do I read it, strategically interested, but I’m dying to know more information. I’m reading and re-reading bits, making sure I didn’t miss anything, and my brain is moving a mile a minute trying to guess what happened, what’s going to happen next.

My brain is engaged.

When you’re engaged with the text, you’re reading. And if you’re reading, you’re interested, making it a good book (most of the time.) I think what made this scene so amazing was the discrepancy of what we know and what the character knows. At the time of reboot, the character’s understanding was as far as that current lifeline while mine extended. Because I had greater understanding them than, there was this discrepancy, making it interesting to read. I was hoarding knowledge over the character.

I know quite a few authors, especially new ones, will try to do this in reverse. Hoard knowledge from the reader, not revealing until later, and a lot of English teachers will flinch over this. (I know this because when I did workshop with my creative writing classes, this happened…a lot.)

But, I don’t think everything has to be hidden. Actually, I’ve been going back in my current book and adding more subtle hints and obvious reflections of what my character, and readers, should be noticing. I think it’s important to bring them along for the realization because they’d be more excited on ‘figuring it out’ then for you, as the writer, to prove it to them, by later revealing the facts.

Maybe this is why I like this scene. We know more than the characters. Suddenly, I’m more in the know. For Stross, it took memory deletion. For third person, it requires scene reveals. Think about where you might use this.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Ace, 2014.