Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Out-Takes, Silly Conversations, and a Couple of Things I've Learned about Editing

(Reposted from 05/10/08)

So, since JLY and I are endlessly entertained by our somewhat ridiculous writing process, we've decided to dedicate a pair of posts to a particularly specific behind-the-scenes look at what we do. When we write, we end up with an inordinate amount of silly quotes and what we like to call out-takes. We've each agreed to do a post that focuses on one of these.

Out-takes are naturally-occurring scenes that crop up when either JLY and I get a bit too sleep-deprived or silly for our own good and suggest a particularly ludicrous line. Usually, it's something that's funny (at least, to us), but it's too out of character or non-sensical to make the cut in editing.

Which, of course, isn't to say that a few out-take-type scenes don't eventually make it into a post or two. But, for the most part, we kill those lines and keep them in a nice little collection that usually goes wildly unappreciated. Until now. You can find some of our best out-takes on JLY's blog, wrapped up in a tidy summary of writing tips.

So, I figure I'd better follow along and add a comparable post of my own with some silly quotes that go along with few things that I've learned about editing. So after we have our first draft, when we're ready to polish it up, there are a few things I try to check for.

My Author Checklist:

1. Check the craft elements. It's easy to get caught up in the plot and the characters, and forget all about those little things like grammar and diction. But the difference between telling a story and telling a story well is usually in the little details that go mostly unnoticed.

For Example:

KM Ricker: Isn’t this sentence a little long?

KL: J.K. Rowling had a sentence that was a whole paragraph.

JLY: We looked it up in one of the books. That's the standard by which we measure our sentences.

KM Ricker: Yeah, but was the sentence all adverbs?

KL: ...Shut up!

So even though it's hard, and even though it's often no fun at all, go through and check the sentence structure. Check the clarity and the tone. Check all of the things that should be working together to make the meaning come across clearly.

2. Don't get lazy. It's good to use place-holders when the alternative is to get stuck thinking of the right synonym for "smash" or the right way to show a particular scene, but never take the easy way out once you're editing. Make every scene and every word count. I hate re-writing, but with few exceptions, the second draft is better. You have a clearer understanding of what the scene is about and you already know where it's going, so it's easier to get there.

For Example:

JLY: What should we name the section where Fell fights Phaeton?

KL: ... Fight!

JLY: ...

KL: With an exclamation! "FIGHT!"

JLY: How about "Defending Dove"?

KL: ... Ah. So that's why you name the scenes.

3. Balance the writing. The best scenes have a combination of description, action, and dialog as well as humor and seriousness. Personally, I'm not particularly fond of descriptions. I'd much rather write action or dialog, and I often can't even "see" a character until KM Ricker throws us a picture. I usually need JLY to prod me into realizing exactly how little I know about what my corner of the SFA world looks like, but I'm trying to get better at that whole description thing. So, ask the questions, or keep someone around who will ask them for you, and push you to "see" everything.

For Example:

JLY: We should describe how Dove looks at the Winter Ball. Wait, what does Dove look like?

KL: ... What do you think Dove looks like?

JLY: Isn't she your character?

KL: Uh... Maybe she has white hair?

And, of course, Dove ended up with nothing like white hair, but it was the process of starting to "see" her that led us to that point.

When it comes down to it, creating SFA with JLY and KM Ricker has been fun, and it's taught me quite a bit about writing and editing. For me, the act of writing is about turning off the critical part of my thought process, and just putting words down without agonizing over the details. Editing, on the other hand, is about weighing each word and sentence, and making everything the best it can be.

So, if anyone out there is thinking about writing, I'd say stop thinking and start writing. Go back to thinking when you're ready to edit. Or, find people like JLY and KM Ricker who will help you do a lot of your thinking... even if that help takes the form of rather troublesome questions that you haven't bothered to ask yourself, much less answer.



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