Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Line Editing

There are some things in life, that when you start out doing them, you think: Oh yeah, this will be fine. Then, after you've done it for a while, you realise it will be the bane of your existence.
Line editing is one of those things.
First, to differentiate. Editing, or more commonly know by most as either revision or rewriting, is when you look at your manuscript, go : that's crap, that's crap, that's crap, delete it all, and get to make up new stuff to go in its place. This is fun. Because you get to create stuff to go in its place. I love creating stuff, be in characters, plots or small and big events.
I know some people who despair at this destruction of a manuscript. I am not one of them. I rewrote (as in deleted the entire file and started again) this "thing" ( my MS) four times. I have one last thing to correct before it works itself out plot and character-wise in this draft but still, that's a lot of words.
I also wrote the next three books in the series, then came to terms with the fact that they were unusable simply because they relied on a quirk of character that would never actually happen. It just wasn't realistic.
I think those three files exist on my family's computer somewhere. My mum also has the first draft of the "thing" printed out and hidden away.
I will never use any of that again. The only thing similar between the first draft and the last one of this particular book is several characters (although some have changed so much it's uncanny) and the Manda.
Everything else was crap, so I chucked it.
After all the tearing and shredding and starting over, I think I have a workable story. Whether anyone will buy it is another question, but I think it's good. I could live with it.
So after you correct the characters (motivation matches up with personality, actions match up with motivation and personality and so on) and plot holes (wtf did she do that? There is no reason for that to happen other than I want it to) you come to the writing.
And here is where it all comes undone for me.
I read a lot of books in my childhood, and teenage years. I'm pretty sure it was part of my family's makeup that I would receive a 300 page book for my birthday, then have it finished before we went out to a restaurant for tea. I remember one particular incident where a classmate said she would give me ten dollars if I could read any book in one night. We agreed, and she handed me something twice the size of the last harry potter book. I finished it. The little brat never gave me any money because we hadn't "shook" on it.
The point of this spiel was I picked up certain major things when reading, but not others. I read every word, but they stayed in my brain was the information from them was processed in .5 seconds. As such I read really fast, and knew a lot about characters and plot by the time I sat down and wrote my first book at 12.
But. I didn't even realise that the writing had to be good. Never, ever, ever did I come to that realisation. Never, during my childhood did I stop at a sentence in one of the thousands of books I read and go - well, isn't this nice.
I wrote two books before I realised language actually mattered. In the charming way that 12 year olds have of thinking they are the world, I was all set to publish the second book. Then I read John Marsden’s "everything I know about writing" and realised - wait a moment, the words have to be pretty.
Not pretty in the "look at me" kind of way either. Pretty in the "I'm only here to tell you what goes on, deliver theme, atmosphere, character voice, author voice, and a thousand of other things in as little amount of words as possible” kind of way.
To make writing do that, you have to line edit. Which means going over every single word and asking "why the hell are you here?"
I don't hate it for any emotional reason. I know some people who have the same reaction to line editing that they do to "big" editing - they feel as if they are ripping out their souls.
For me, it just takes a bloody long time.
You sit there, for four or five hours, yes, hours, with three pages of text. For me, because I never realise anything about language when I'm reading normally, I have to approach it analytically. Which means :
Rewrite any passive sentence into an active sentence. Compare the two. Challenge every single word in each. Sometimes go through all that just to let the original one pass ( I hate rules that aren't context specific. Every change I make is context specific, so why shouldn't the so called: rules of writing, be?)
Challenge every adverb. Could you use another verb? Sometimes, no, you couldn't no matter how much people will say you can't use adverbs without being weak.
Next come the adjectives. According to some, adjectives are just props for nouns. If you are using adjectives, you're not being specific with the nouns. Can someone please describe a grass tree to an American without using adjectives? Good luck. Sometimes, however, you should be choosing different nouns.
Then we get on to the poetic writing. Does it make sense. Does if give theme and atmosphere. If not, why is it there?
Why doesn't this sentence have any theme and atmosphere? Can I put some in? If so, then I have to go over every word in the new sentences, making each one justify why it's there.
In the end, you end up rewriting three pages so many times its unbelievable. You have to learn to trust instinct. If you follow rigid rules (stunk and white anyone) then you end up murdering any type of originality. But you don't want your originality to make people groan either.
It just takes so long. You spend at least five minutes over every word, more when things don't seem to be working. I hate it.
But hate it or not, it has to be done. Because if I don't put the effort into making it readable, no one will want to read it.
(By the way, all hail Maria, who is kind enough to tell me when my style is crap, when I should get rid of my abundant comma’s, and who corrects my grammar. Many thanks to her, otherwise this would be a longer post bitching about grammar correction as well)

That's her with her stylistic and attacking Sian's crap writing knife too, by the way :P

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