Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thoughts on Editing and Revision -- c.anne.gardner

“There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning and a book of two hundred pages, which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don't see them." Elie Wiesel

I want to talk about the editing and revision process this week, because as the quote above states, there is a huge difference between a tight compelling narrative and a wandering dissertation. Revision is where we edit out the extraneous stuff, where we make course corrections, and where we compress our dreams into concise thoughts and actions. It's where we take an idea and give form and function. It's where we discover how to say what we mean in as few words as possible.

We are often told to write bravely. Well, I think you have to have a modicum of suicidal bravery to begin the editing and revision process in the first place. Why? Because you are going to hear a lot of shit thrown at you from critique partners, beta readers, and even regular readers. Shit like: The bla bla character wasn't likable. So and so wouldn't do this or that. The language was too flowery, complicated, simple, slangy or whatever. Your character's name reminded me of some stupid shit or another or I couldn't pronounce it, so you should change it to Claire; or, you’re first sentence didn’t hook me ... ad nausea. Much of what you hear will be noise like this and not relevant criticism, and the reason why is that most of what you hear will be subjective opinion -- biased opinion. Our characters don’t have to be likable in the least. We don’t have to write to an 8th grade reading level; we only have to write to a level that is true to our style, the story, and us. We don’t have to name our characters Bob and Carol or Ted and Alice just because a reader finds them appealing. And we don’t have to write an advertising slogan as our first line.

When I am asked to beta read or review a book, I try to put all the subjective stuff out of my head and focus on the story. I will give it the attention it deserves, and I will "get it." I promise I will not project my own personal bullshit onto your story. "I would have written it that way." never enters into my mind. It should never enter into any critic's or reader's mind. I might be an author and a book blogger, but before all that happened, I was a reader, and when all those other things drift off into the distance, I will still be a reader, or rather, a lover of the written word. While your book or manuscript is in my hands, I promise that...

  1. I will focus on grammatical issues, particularly participle phrase abuse and verboseness.
  2. I will focus on mood and movement, the textural stuff. If your page long description of the floorboards in a room affects the pacing or distracts from the story, I'll let you know I thought so.
  3. I will focus on the implausible and the downright ridiculous. I'll take specific genre considerations into account on this, but if your ordinary Joe takes a few bullets to the chest there better be a damn good reason if he gets up.
  4. I will focus on inconsistencies and redundancies; if you bludgeon me with character motivation on every page, I'll probably smack the shit out of you. I am capable of thinking on my own. You don't have to explain everything.
  5. I will damn sure focus on your characters, and I love me some loathsome characters. I even like clichés if they are used creatively to force a point home.
  6. And I don't care what language you use. I am not a fan of overly simplistic see-spot-run sort of writing or heavy dialect, but if it fits the story, then it fits the story. Whether I like it or not is irrelevant.

I don't believe in giving bad reviews. I don't have time to read books that are technically challenged let alone review them. I'll politely email you and decline the review if I find your book too out-of-sorts to continue and I’ll explain why if you ask. If I am beta-reading for you, you can be sure I will give you the straight shit, straight up, and there will be no coddling, ass kissing, or hand holding. You'll get my respect and that's about it; unless I have some spare chocolate and whiskey on hand.

Yes, I will give you my honest thoughts and opinions, and I won't be snarky about it, so what you decide to revise or cut will be entirely up to you. We cannot revise to suit every single reader's personal preferences, that's not what revision and editing are about, so I try to keep my own idiosyncrasies out of it while I am beta reading and while I am reviewing. I try to focus on the bigger picture. Yeah, I'm talking about that one you painted for me in blood, sweat, and tears.

Writing is much like the distillation process. A lot of ingredients go in at the start, but it's the concentrated essence we are after.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

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