Sculpting Novels   7 comments

What did you edit out of your most recent book? (or another book…let’s see those outtakes!)

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First Draft

Here in Alaska, we have an annual competition of ice sculptors from around the world. I’ve helped with some of these projects and noticed that they share something in common with novel writing. An ice sculptor takes a block — or several — of ice and pares it down to something beautiful.

I’ve published seven books, in addition to submitting shorts to anthologies, and my editing process is a great deal like the process I see ice sculptors using. I am an inveterate self-editor who does not like to share her books before they’re almost ready for prime time. I did allow an editor a somewhat early crack at “What If … Wasn’t” which is why it is under extensive rewrite still two years later. It’s a good process that will make a better book, but that’s not my normal way of doing things.

When I write a first draft and to a certain extent the rewrite, it’s almost all creative process. I create the block, the large strokes of the story. I do some spot editing while I write. I fix my obvious typos and correct my spelling errors and grammar when they jump out at me, but for the most part, my first draft is pure creativity. I want to get the story down. I’m concentrating on narrative voice and character interaction and sometimes action scenes will be just one or two sentences because that’s not where I live as a writer. I know I’m going to come back later, so I’m not worried about making mistakes. This is my time to get messy and to throw stuff in that might not work. If it sticks to the wall, great. If it doesn’t, I can always revise.

Rewrite

My second draft is actually a rewrite that will invariably have a lot cut from it, but it will also be longer than the first draft because when I read the manuscript in its entirely, A bit like an ice sculptor using what is called ice welding, I”ll recognize where there are holes or events that don’t make sense without context and I will provide those. I’m a character-drive writer, so often times I don’t bother with descriptions during the first draft. I add those on the second draft because I recognize that pages and pages of dialog makes tough reading and sometimes I’ll cut a lot of dialog because I don’t need it once I add the description.

Pruning

I end up at negative editing in what can arguably be called my third draft. I don’t really experience it as another draft, but I’ve had editors and writing partners term it a third draft, so I’ll go with what they say.

This is where I get ambitious. Everything is up for grabs. A 12-word sentence can become a 9-word sentence with a tweak and a stronger verb. Whole conversations that were merely filler might be cut down to a few words. The plot has already been changed and rerouted during the rewrite, but it might get tweaked again. Sometimes I’ll decide a scene needs a change of POV because, for example, Jazz would see things Shane would not or vice versa. I’ve moved whole scenes from one location to another, swapped paragraph order or even substituted characters that weren’t in the original scene.

I pay particular attention to the voice of the characters at this point. And not just the characters who are speaking dialog, but the POV character’s narrative voice. There’s no reason to have more than one POV if they all sound as if they think alike.

Sometimes I cut whole scenes or pare a scene down to a few sentences in another scene. Nothing is sacred, although it is sometimes painful to kill my darlings.

Gates

A common mistake I find in my writing is I don’t have enough turning points. Many of my chapters miss that moment of no return as I get caught up in description and dialogue and just forget that the plot needs to move forward. I catch that on rewrite, putting in a realization or an action that can’t be undone. These sorts of “gates” inevitably lead to more conflict, which makes everything interesting.

Currently, I am editing “Gathering In”, the 5th book in the Transformation Project series. Of course sentences will be edited out and dialog trimmed, but there’s one fairly large part that is currently highlighted. It won’t be cut entirely because I think there’s some important character development in there that touches on future scenes, but it’s a little heavy-handed so it’s getting a major rewrite even in the third draft.

It’s a scene between the two brothers – Cai and Shane. Although I don’t write to a Christian audience, I do always want to present elements of my faith. Cai is a born-again Christian who makes mistakes. He recently had to kill a man because that man was a slaver (it’s an apocalyptic, right?) He’s torn up by this and seeks advice from his brother Shane who is not a Christian and is a mercenary with a lot of blood on his hands. Inevitably, the conversation will turn to faith because it’s a conflict between these two men. It’s a friendly conflict. Shane isn’t hostile toward his family’s beliefs, he just doesn’t accept them. Cai can get a little obnoxious (from Shane’s POV) but he means well. He believes Shane’s life would be better if he were a believer.

But the conversation is too long and too heavy-handed and so it’ll get pared – not deleted, just cut down to a few words and phrases so that Cai makes his points and Shane can reject them (or not) and move on. I can’t cut the scene entirely because it’s a healing scene for Cai and I can’t cut the conversation completely because there’s something Cai says in this section of the scene that is pivotal for events in the next book and rather than trying to explain what happened off-scene, I prefer to show it.

Yes, all that editing is a lot of work, but it is oh-so necessary. I spend at least as much time editing as I do writing the first draft. It’s a painful, but rewarding process as I hammer out scenes that I feel I can be proud of. I never send a draft to betas or editors that looks much like my first draft. I’m never sharing that draft with anyone (which is why I have no outtakes for this blog post). I would never knowingly dump a lousy draft on an editor. I want my book, whatever it is, to be as good as I can make it on my own before I let anyone else read it, especially before I pay anyone else to read it.


Posted September 16, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

Tagged with , , , ,

7 responses to “Sculpting Novels

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  1. A most interesting post, Lela. I love reading about how other people write. I am still a newby writer but my process is evolving and there is a lot more editing and re-writing now than before.

    Like

  2. I would also note that this article is a prime example of why we NEED to edit before we publish. I didn’t and I’m going to leave it up as that example because – well, who needs outtakes when you post a blog article cold, warts and all?

    Like

  3. What I hate about the process of pruning is that occasionally I have to cut a line that is really good as it stands alone but does nothing for the scene it’s in.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating insight. I tried to work that way but found it stifling and impossible. We’re all different I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

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