Sunday, March 03, 2013

Answers the Fifth!

Another post or two, and I should be able to put Ask Me Anything! February 2013 to bed. Huzzah! (And remember, folks, you don't have to wait for February or August to ask me anything. I'm always on the prowl for topic suggestions!)

My friend and writing cohort (and Princesses beta-reader) Lynda asks:

When going back to edit your writing, how do you determine what to keep and what to weed out?

My first goal when editing is to look for needless words and get rid of them. In On Writing, Stephen King says that the formula for the second draft is "1st Draft - 10%", and I tend to agree with that. I like long, wordy books, but not too wordy. Of course, what counts as being 'too wordy' is open to debate and opinion, but in general, I really try to tighten up the prose when I start editing. Adverbs? I try to use as few as possible to begin with, and the ones that remain usually perish. Overly long descriptive passages get on my nerves, too, so I try to cut those down as much as possible. And then there is the fact that I can really be repetitive at times in my writing. I'm not sure why this is, but I suspect it's a combination of two factors: first, that I don't always recall what I've written before, and thus stand the chance of writing it again; and second, because I suppose I feel a certain amount of insecurity that the reader isn't going to understand what I'm really getting at unless I pound the point home with a ball-peen hammer.

What I find myself doing, often when editing, is reminding myself that you gotta trust the reader to understand. This is where beta readers come in so handy, and I really wish I'd been using them more in my previous writing projects. When a beta reader comes at you with a question of the "I'm not sure what's going on here" variety, that's a red flag. And if more than one of your beta readers questions you on the same point, than that's a red flag accompanied by sirens and guys shooting flares into the sky and your wife screaming "Stop the car, Frank!" in your ear. (I know my name's not Frank. Deal with it!) Luckily for me, that didn't happen much with Princesses, and I had six people read that thing, and I chose six folks whose tastes I can be fairly assured vary somewhat across a number of genres.

That's the mechanical stuff. Sometimes I'm looking to tighten up pacing or eliminate general flab, and make the book or story flow better. How do I decide, then, what entire scenes to cut? Well...that's a bit tougher, and it relies on trusting my own instincts when it comes to the storytelling. The question I always end up asking myself is this: Does the reader NEED to know this in order for the story to make sense? If the answer is 'No', then it's not necessarily a slam-dunk that the passage is to be cut, but that is an indicator that maybe I can lose it.

In the specific case of editing Princesses, I had a lot of flabby material toward the front of the book, of the 'establishing the setting' variety, and based on feedback, I cut a lot of that in the edits. I also added in a couple of brief scenes in order to strengthen the flow and establish the characters more than the setting. That's another good point to keep in mind: material that strengthens the characters tends to have a longer lease on life than stuff that's just there because it's cool or whatever. Of course, you have to have a relatively liberal notion of what a reader 'needs' to know, because if you really make that rule a harsh one, you can go too far the other way. And that's no good. Unless you're Hemingway. And you're not.

There was also one scene in Princesses that I came this close to scrapping completely, simply because it didn't really move things along -- and in fact, I still don't think it moves things along. But I left it in, because one of my beta readers praised that particular scene for entirely different reasons. So I kept it, on the basis that once in a while, it's OK to have something happen just because it's kind of cool.

My friend (and political soul-mate -- HA!) Scotty asks:

"Into Darkness"-excited or no, Imax or no, and who's the villain?

No, no, dunno. Next!

OK, more detail. Star Trek Into Darkness comes out this summer. Am I excited? Not really. As I've said a few times, in this space and others, I liked the first one, but mainly because I like explodey spaceshippy stuff. As Star Trek, it was a train wreck, and as science fiction, it was utter crap. But it was slickly made and fun to watch and I liked the cast, so I'll see the sequel. But 'excited'? Not really. I won't see it on IMAX, either, just because I have a feeling the sensory overload of seeing a movie like that on so huge a screen would not be terribly pleasant. I like a standard movie screen just fine, thank you. I like IMAX movies, but ones that are specifically made for that format.

And the villain? I have no idea. I do think that Khan would be a staggeringly unoriginal and uninspired thing to do. So would Gary Mitchell. I don't know what they're up to, but on the basis of the first movie and the trailers for this one, I'm not holding out hope for any sense of originality whatsoever. If JJ Abrams is gonna direct Star Wars Episode VII, I'm glad that he's not bringing his Trek writers along for the ride.

Still more to come! Progress is being made. I think. (Unless you folks sneak in any questions after the fact....)

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