Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Novel Idea: Editional Issues

Heh, that's the cartoon I promised to share a while back.

Good inni'?

Well, I've just finished chapter five now.

I went with the re-sectioning of chapters idea. Usually my chapters are very short, ten pages or less. I decided that as this is a longer novel, I quite fancied having longer chapters. There's still easy-reading section breaks in there, but now each chapter is about 25 pages, which is around 8-9,000 words.

It makes me feel like an adult, writing all grown up and literary, like.

I reckon I should get about twelve to thirteen chapters out of it.

That would be nice.

Depends on whether the word count goes up or down. I assumed down to begin with, as I managed to knock several thousand words off Lucid when I came to edit that. So far though, this one seems to be going up. Partly because it's historical rather than contemporary, which means you tend to take a more formal approach to both dialogue and prose. Less don't, isn't and I'll, more does not, is not and I will. A small distinction, but over the course of 100k it really does start to add up.

Also, I left a couple of notes for myself throughout the first draft, which are basically a list of things to go off and research more carefully. For instance, something might happen beneath a famous landmark, but that only works if the famous landmark existed in 1853 - did it? Go look it up. If not, think of something else.

Each of those usually results in a couple more lines, sometimes even a paragraph.

Chapters one to four have already gone to Martine & RuairĂ­, but I've asked them not to comment or feedback until the end. This way I get through it in blissful ignorance of all the things I've done wrong. There will be plenty of time to kick myself and mope about feeling disheartened later.

I've already taken a spin on the roller coaster of Editor's Flump.

The best way to describe flump is erectile dysfunction of the mind.

My last novel, the Nemesis Novel that remains unpublished, was just a nightmare. It was the first time I'd written something and just gone 'meh'. I thought it was good when I wrote it, then I edited it and decided it was shit, now I have absolutely no idea what it is, so I've put it in a draw labelled 'Lost Manuscripts,' second star to the right and straight on till morning.

That's the first time flump ever got that bad, but I hazard most writers will know the feeling.

Dialogue you wrote with as much enthusiasm as licking ice-cream, suddenly turns to sherbet sour. You find yourself squinting at passages that flowed like Tolkien when you wrote them, asking 'Is it any good? Is it even legible?'

Never edit when you're tired, because the answer to both those questions will be a resounding 'no.' Contrary to the old adage write drunk, edit sober, sometimes a glass of wine can help. I used to love editing with a large glass of red and a liquorish rollie dipped between my lips, back when I smoked. You tend to take a much brighter view of your work if you can relax a little.

The other way to push through it is to accept that the first edit is about grammar, and only read it for that. Once you've got most of that fixed up, the second read gets a lot better, because you can enjoy the story for the story's sake rather than combing it for everything that's wrong. Compartmentalise the fixing of the story and the enjoyment of the story, don't try to do both at once, otherwise you'll start to get that creeping downer.

I have a theory, you see.

Back when I was a kid, I was always imagining stories. There were vampire hunters and shops with secret worlds in the basement, monsters that lived in trees, and creepy old ladies who ran secret cults. Being a child was quite an exciting time. It was all about living the stories. Writing them down was secondary. There was very little separation between the mind and the page. You might say only a paper-thin separation.

And it is good that it was all about the story, because my handwriting was shocking. Still is. I was well above average on vocabulary and reading, but nobody could read anything I wrote, which was probably a good thing because if they had been able to my spelling would have left them weeping. I was a late developer in the grammar stakes.

I'm fairly good at spelling now, and usually even better at grammar. Which isn't to say I'm brilliant, it's just to say I'm a lot better than I was. I've sort of caught up. Plus, with the invention of the keyboard, it's no longer a disability that my handwriting is illegible.

Yet with the correct use of every semicolon, em dash and ampersand, you sort of feel as though the wall between reality and fiction is somehow one brick higher. Or, rather, you're not consciously aware of it until you find yourselves reading through some of the best stories you've ever written and instead of saying 'wow, awesome!' you're berating yourself for repetitive use of an adjective.

Seriously, that was never the effing point of writing in the first place.

And that's not a fair assertion either, because stories that are 90% enthusiasm and 10% skill only ever tend to enthral their creators, unless delivered through the medium of film, radio or interpretive dance. Writing is an art, and it's also a skill. You start off in remedial spelling and claw your way up to being good at something (usually because you love that something so much that it consumes you, to the point where you actively enjoy learning about it) and then you take what you've learned and use it to create stories that are not just fun for you, but engaging to lots of other people, some of whom you may never even meet.

But I was thinking in the shower this morning (which is where I do a lot of my thinking) that writing and editing a full-length novel as an adult is definitely very different to the way it felt to write and change stories as a kid. The more novels I write, the more it starts to feel like a clinical operation. Who gave a crap about word count or character continuity aged ten? I know I didn't.

It's not that I don't enjoy writing any more. Obviously I do, I'm just getting started. But I am aware that editing makes me a little grumpy, and that, especially since Nemesis Novel, I find it harder to engage with what I've written after I've written it.

There's this golden space when you're editing where you get so carried away with the story that you realise, several hours and many pages later, that you haven't really been paying attention to the job. I've done that on every novel I've edited at one point or another. Spent an entire day sometimes just enjoying the story rather than weeding out the typos. Yet I find this blissful appreciation for my own work is harder to attain the more I write. It's like those 3D images: try too hard and you'll never see the big picture. You need to relax and allow yourself to be entertained.


Maybe it's just a phase.

I spent yesterday despairing that the story was dreadful, and today feeling as though it was wonderful. No doubt tomorrow I'll think someone else wrote it. 

All of which goes to prove that, beyond a certain point, most authors are completely incapable of being objective about their own work. At which point, you might as well let somebody else read it.

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