Editing Into The New

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

It’s a strange thing, editing “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet,” my upcoming novel that you only know about if you hear me talking about it constantly.  Editing has become a bit of a slog.

This is no fault of my exceptional editor.  My editor (who if you want to get an intro, I will do, so you can give her lots of money) did an exceptional job.  The problem is I’m kind of tired of reading my book.

I mean, yes, I like the characters.  I like the setting.  I like the story.  It’s a contra-epic of various odd people in a world of magic and mystery dearly not wanting to have a legendary adventure, since lots of stuff dies when those happen.

It’s just you know I’ve seen it a lot.  Over and over again.  It’s a drag and it’s a bit boring.

Today, however, I realized my editor had given me a way to enjoy it again.

See, by following my editor’s advice, by editing my book, I’m rewriting it.  As I rewrite it, it becomes a new book.  What happens during the editing process is not just me reviewing, it’s me discovering a new version of my book.

I know the characters better.  I enjoy the new prose.  I like the revelations I inserted.  It is new.

Suddenly, it’s a bit more enjoyable.  I mean I won’t lie, editing is work, but realizing I’m finding a new book makes it much easier.

So if you’re tired of editing, remember you’re not just editing – you’re discovering a newer and better book.


Editing: The Fiction/Nonfiction Difference

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As everyone who even remotely checks my blogs knows, I’m editing A Bridge To The Quiet Planet, my techno-fantasy novel and return to fiction.  I’m learning a lot from the editing process and my editor (who I am glad to refer to anyone).

One of the things I’ve realized is how radically different editing fiction and nonfiction are.

This probably surprises few people, but it had never really crossed my mind.  This was because I’ve done both and I’ve written so much over the decades, I hadn’t thought about the shift.  It was all ‘writing’ to me, and I assumed I wouldn’t be that rusty.

Well, I was definitely a bit rusty.  But I also began to see the unique challenges of fiction writing after spending time away from it.

Fact checking is harder.  In fiction you’re basically making facts up.  You’ve got to check and be checked on things you pulled out of the air.

There’s more ways to do it.  Instructional and nonfiction works have certain structures and patterns you usually end up following – from the workflow of a process to breaking things down.  Fiction gives you room with metaphor, wordplay, flashbacks, etc. that give you so many ways to do fiction editing and planning is much harder.

You’re in the heads of unreal people . . . you have to get into the minds of fictional people as you write about them.  So you not only have to empathize with your audience, you have to empathize with people that don’t exist.

. . . and have to empathize with your audience in complex ways.  If I write a good instructional or nonfiction piece, I have very set goals and can pretty easily figure my audience out to deliver it.  For fiction I have to think of a variety of experiences the audience may have, their attitudes, backgrounds, and more – and wrap all that in connecting them to a fictional world.

There’s much more back and forth in fiction.  Because of the unique elements of fiction, I find that editing is a lot more of a back and forth thing.  You find a bit of inconsistent language here and have to go back all over your story.  You realize you need to tweak a “feel” here and there.  With nonfiction I usually can go through one or two edits and be done, with fiction there’s more.

You have more of an illusion to keep up.  Nonfiction is about reality and communicating.  Fiction needs you to keep up the illusion, which requires you to be careful with language, repeated words, being properly evocative, etc.

So that was informative.  I’m glad I took time to write it down.  Now let’s see what else I learn . . .

-Steven Savage

A Writer’s Life: Arcs Over Rewrites

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

So “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet,” my sf/fantasy sarcastic road trip novel, is in editing.  I did a few passes, but now the goal is to tighten up the plot and characterizations.

Originally I had wanted to go over the story and truly re-work it to be “what I wanted.”  The plan was to re-outline the plot, and then do a mix of cut-and-paste, writing, and rewriting to flesh out the “new” novel.  But something felt wrong . . . that kind of thing that tells me I’m doing something wrong.

So that gut feel – why did it feel wrong?  It felt excessive, it felt like a lot of effort, and it also didn’t feel like it’d bring me much.  I’d spend a bunch of time building an outline, then try to shoehorn things in, and as my past experience had told me – I’d probably find plenty of other things I’d have to change.

It’s always important to listen to those gut feelings, and this one said it was a bad idea.

At that point, I discussed this with friends.  How was I going to tweak the plot?  After a few discussions, I went back to my lessons from Agile Software development – good improvement is often iterative.  So how would I truly improve the plot in iterations?

Well, in software you rarely go overhaul everything.  You tweak the components, improving this piece here, that piece there.  My novel wasn’t flawed, it just needed to be improved.  Re-plotting it would have been as logical as doing a working piece of software from scratch just to add a few new features or improve existing ones.

That’s when I realized what I wanted to do was improve various story arcs.  So this is what I’m doing:

  1. First, I went over my notes and thoughts, and wrote down the arcs I wanted to improve or make.
  2. Under each arc I wrote down the general things I wanted to do in story order.
  3. Now with that done, I plan to rewrite just the arcs, going through the story (which I know all too well) to just add to, tweak, expand, or reduce the story to embody these new or improved arcs.

What does this net me:

  • It’s easier.  It’s just not some giant re-outline that’d be inaccurate quickly.
  • It’s about value.  Each individual arc improvement makes the story better.
  • It’s atomistic.  Each arc improvement is roughly standalone, so I can add them with relative ease.  I can also drop them with relative ease.
  • It’s synergestic.  I’m working on one arc at a time, so I get to see the synergies as I go part-by-part (which plays into iterative improvement).
  • It’s iterative.  Each arc I add or improve in the story allows me to re-evaluate progress – and re-evaluate the other arcs I want to add or improve.
  • It’s more hands-on.  I’m editing arcs much quicker as opposed to making some plan, so it keeps me in tune with the story.

I’ll let you know how this goes.  But it’s certainly less of a burden on my mind, it gets me writing quicker, and it fits my Agile experiences.

– Steve