Sunday, March 22, 2009

Up to my eyes in editing!

Sorry, good friends, that I haven't been blogging for a few weeks. Until I looked at my last date I had no idea how long it had been. But the fact is, I'm up to the stage of having my most recent manuscript, "A Design of Gold" edited and I've been working on the changes I need to make.

Editing is always a very humbling experience. Since I've started writing my books I've had input from four different editors, Judy, Pat, Alison and Wendy. I could make it six if I include Suzanne, my proof-reader for the Quenarden series who was just as sharp and cluey as an editor, and Andrew, my husband, who always gives me suggestions and tips whenever he reads anything before I've sent it to the editors.

Letting a m/s go unedited would be a foolish move. Each time I've been over it myself until I've thought, "Surely they won't find much," but they always do! And very, very rarely is it anything to do with punctuation. Yet often people assume that punctuation is probably an editor's main job.

The most daunting sort of editing is the storyline editing. When I wrote my first Quenarden novel, my editor Alison explained why I needed to totally change and re-write slabs of the story. To start with, I didn't have a large enough distinction between the dialect of the Quenardians and that of the three teenaged protagonists who suddenly entered their world from a rock crack in a cliff. They all seemed to be using similar modern vernacular, which wouldn't be the case for the Quenardians, who had generally all lived isolated in that land for several generations. So I went through every page and changed the dialect of every native born Quenardian to my own sort of Celtic-cum-old Scottish/English patois. I don't know much about different dialects but I figured that as Quenarden was my country, it could be more unique than anything else people had come across. And it seemed to work. But it took awhile to change every single conversation in the book.

The second change was making my villain nastier. They told me, "Pythos is a wuss!" I had to work on making him seem far more menacing to readers from the start, and that was a challenge. For those who don't know, he's dragon-reptilian type of intelligent creature. I'd already given him semi-transparent orange skin so that horrified humans could watch his digestive system working. But apparently that was only the start. I needed to work on the menacing quality of his person.

I eventually achieved this by shifting around episodes in the book, like one of those square puzzles where you keep moving the panels around to form the picture. Beginning on page 60, Troy, Beth and Nathan had their first encounter with Pythos' evil henchmen, the Harrison brothers. A man named Joseph O'Donnell was selected randomly from the crowd to be a human sacrifice to Pythos. Originally, I'd slotted this little anecdote much later in the book. My editors figured out that bringing it in earlier would make a far greater impact before we even came to our first introduction with Pythos himself.

Without going into it, I re-wrote so much! I added more details to the first Race for Freedom (and anybody who's read them will know what I'm talking about.) I made Beth and Nathan's escape from Pythos' mountain headquarters far more suspenseful, with more breathtaking danger. And keep in mind that all this was after I'd already thought it was pretty good. Humbling, as I told you.

Another thing that editors do is to just change a few words or sentences for the better. Authors are so close to our own writing, we know exactly what we're trying to convey and assume that readers will too. Not the case.

Towards the end of the book, when the spent and battered Nathan is brought face to face with the terrified Pedor, the repentent traitor, I had Pythos bellow, "I believe you boys already know each other!" My editor suggested that I change it to "No introductions needed, I believe." The first wording, she felt, sounded too much like a "jolly old uncle."

And in another episode, Troy had a bit of a dig at Nathan, who had been teasing him. Levi asked, "Were you a hero where you came from, Troy?" to which I had him reply, "No, I wasn't. This is just Nathan's idea of sick humour." The editor suggested that I change the order of just two words so it became, "This is just Nathan's sick idea of humour!" I liked it much better.

As for my recent, "The Risky Way Home" I was advised to ruthlessly tear out several episodes, losing page after page of text. The heroine's sister Abby was having marital problems with her husband Jeff, and I'd intended for their story to be a bit of a sub-plot. My editor said, "No, slash it out! We don't care about them. We only care about Casey and Piers. This just interrupts the action we really care about." So several hours of wasted work went to the trash but I did it happily in the interests of having a nicer, tighter story.

Needless to say, "A Design of Gold" has been up for lots of reworking too. (My editor, Wendy's blog is in my tool bar, "Scribe of Spirit") She sent me an email saying, "Your standard is slipping, Paula. You need to re-write several sections before I can edit them." And she also suggested that I either turn one of my male characters into a female or re-write some of the action sequences so that a female has more involvement. "Don't forget you're writing for the women's market." Now, that made my stomach lurch to just think about it! I was aghast. I'd got fond of my boy and coudn't contemplate turning him into a girl! They are real friends and family to me. It'd be like turning one of my two sons into a second daughter! To cut a long story short, I suggested an alternative which meant I wouldn't have to make the sacrifices. She was happy with it, as long as I filled it with plenty of drama. So re-writing is what I've been doing all last week. I'll say no more, as I don't want to say too much about the plot of my as yet un-published book. (Wendy, if you read this, hi! I hope it the story's OK)

Whew, that's my excuse for neglecting the blog. If it's a little on the long side, just consider that I'm making up for not doing it for some time. And I think all this proves that there's no way a writer who gets thoroughly edited can possibly get a swelled head.


  1. Wow! That makes me very afraid of editors! I know it helps to make the story more marketable, but I know I would take it personally and start sobbing about how much I love my characters. :o)

    About your comment: I'm like your mum. Hypo- is less, hyper- is more. I always got that confused until I was diagnosed. I'm the one who could sleep 24 hours straight and still feel tired. :o) The insomnia comes from my cycle and fun pre-menopausal issues. Thanks for your prayers, I'll take all I can get. The kids were all sick this weekend. I intimately know all hours of the night. At least I got to see a raccoon and an opossum for my lack of sleep!

    Peace and Laughter,

  2. Well, I'd better make sure my daughter reads this so she won't be completely mortified the first time something she's written goes to an editor! I hope you get finished soon and can take a bit of a rest. Have a great week.

  3. Lol...I second Mama Self!

    As I was reading your post, I thought 'I'm gonna make Ktas read this. It will do him good to see all that is involved in story development and such.'

    Thank you so much for sharing!!

  4. OH, WOW!!
    I am already my own worst critic.
    I hope I can handle it when I get to the editing part.

  5. O.k. Paula, is there any chance that I could read what you edited out about Abby and Jeff? Actually, I did want to know more about their relationship and issues. Perhaps you could make their relationship the basis for another book (you never know!)

    Gosh, I knew about the world of proofreading but editing is so much more involved! I know how glad you'll be when it is all done. At least you know your editors all have your best interests in mind. I would imagine that editing makes you a better writer even if it is very painful. Have I cheered you up at all?

    Have a great weekend!