There are some parts of writing that I absolutely love.
Like the writing part, for instance. When you’re sitting down in front of the computer, eyes closed and hands flying over the keys, weaving stories out of nothing except the little electric currents in your brain, it’s amazing. Life is flying out of your fingers. There is nothing quite like it.
I’ve even come to love the plotting part, too. As the #2 Ninja Writer (literally, the second person to join the FaceBook group, that’s almost 17,000 strong now), I’ve had the privilege of watching Shaunta develop all of her classes — The Plotting Workshop, A Novel Idea, and, now, Anti-Blogging for Creatives. I’ve also had the ability to try them out. And, as much as I sometimes feel like a pantser, I have to admit: plotting works.
(My happy place is to start writing a Zero Draft, so I can start hearing the characters and fleshing out their world. And, once I’ve written somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 words, it makes sense to go back and plot, with a solid idea of who the characters are, and where I want them to go.)
With both writing and plotting, your brain is running free. You’re correcting. You’re making new words!
Editing is a different beast.
If writing and plotting are like playing a song, editing is like tuning a guitar. (Okay, except that you edit after you write, not before. Don’t dig too much into this metaphor.) Except that guitar has 80,000 strings that all need to be perfectly pitched.
That’s gonna take a while. Even with a good guide, editing is a bitch.
As I’ve said before, I’ve been using Self Editing for Fiction Writers. It is a deceptively slim volume, but it’s packed full of great information and exercises. The little cartoons are funny, too.
The book, along with Shaunta’s guidance, gave me a solid place to get started.
I already have a pretty good grasp on the first chapter’s material, which is all about exposition versus narrative. Basically, asking whether we’re told about how your story plays out, or if we’re watching it play out in a scene. Good modern novels need a balance of exposition and narrative.
So Shaunta guided me into the first step of working on dialogue tags. Basically, I’m searching out every instance of the word “said”, and deciding whether or not it can be replaced with a dialogue tag.
This was a good idea. I have bad habit of doing something like this:
“Job,” Char said. A small smile crested on her lips. “I haven’t heard that verse in years.”
It’s not bad writing (if I dare say so myself), but it can be tightened up. One of Strunk and White’s cardinal laws, after all, is OMIT NEEDLESS WORDS.
So, are any of these words needless? We’ve got dialogue, a dialogue tag, an action beat, and more dialogue. Can we combine any of these?
Yes. Almost any time you have a tag and a beat together, you can get rid of the tag and work the speaker’s name into the beat. We’ll know who’s talking, and cut down on a few words in the process.
Here’s how I revised that.
“Job.” A small smile crossed Char’s lips. “I haven’t heard that verse in years.”
A little bit more economical. The prose is a little tighter. To go back to the guitar metaphor, the string is a little tighter, a little closer to the perfect pitch. None of the meaning changes. We still know who’s speaking. Win, win, win.
This sounds like a small change. Almost meaningless. But when you go through your manuscript and start tightening up all of the strings that need it, you’ll be surprised at how much tighter the prose can be. In an 80,000 word book, you might shave 100–200 words off.
Not an astronomical amount, but not nothing, either. That’s a little bit less ink the printer has to use, a little bit less paper. And you sacrifice nothing in terms of the story.
The price you pay is tedium. It is a tedious job, rather than creative. I wouldn’t be surprised if some tech-savvy person has written a bot that can do this — except that I prefer to make the judgment call myself.
It gets even more tedious, if you, like me, accidentally hit “replace all” somehow, and every instance of “said” gets replaced with a blank, meaning that you have to start all over again.
— sigh —