The Minutiae of Editing: a thousand tiny fixes

Today Philip returns to McMinnville for one last truckload of our stuff.  I’m excited to have my laundry baskets and wastebaskets and plastic pails and –

What?  You don’t think these things are worth getting excited for or going 600 miles north to get?  Yeah, they don’t seem important until you have to buy them all over again.  We also have quite of bit of furniture left up there.  All together it would cost us a lot more to have to replace all of that than to go get it.

My head is barely in the moving game.  I’m all buried in editing and it feels so good to be working on a writing project again.  I am not a natural at editing.  Some writers are also fantastic editors and some editors have the creativity and skill to be fantastic writers.  I am not one of these geniuses.  My editing skills are improving through practice but I can’t wait to be able to pay professional editors to help me with my novels.

Cricket and Grey Editing Notes

I’m pleased at how few spelling errors I’ve found in the manuscript.  I’m embarrassed that one of the two errors I’ve found appeared in the first chapter.  (I fixed it before posting it to the blog)  I have no idea how I could have continually missed it edit after edit.  It was right there being flagged by spellcheck.

Finding the line between writing style and good writing isn’t always as clear as you’d think.  One of the things I do when writing short creative prose is the use of “and” instead of commas.  I don’t do it all the time but when I want to create a sense of urgency and breathlessness it’s very effective.  Using this style can pollute your longer prose – I have been deleting “and”s like they’re breeding ferrets in my novel.  I can see places where it works but, man, I need to be more careful using “and” in the first place.  I have taken so many single sentences and made them into two.  I have also turned many an “and” into a comma.

I have finally discovered what that quirk of my writing is that bugs me that I couldn’t pin-point before.  I have a tendency to invert* adverbs with the verbs they’re attached to without meaning to or thinking about it or noticing it until editing.  It’s the kind of thing a person does frequently when speaking or writing in a foreign language.  Here’s an example:

“She walked softly into the room.”  (“walked” is the verb in past participle form and “softly” is the adverb qualifying it)

“She softly walked into the room.”  This is incorrect.  I do this ALL THE TIME.  It feels like a brain glitch.  Like some form of sentence structure dyslexia.  Is that even possible?  I think I’m writing “She walked softly into the room.” but in my typing I invert it.  What I’m curious to know is – do I do this when I talk?

As I’m editing I find myself getting a little bit confused about consistency of tense.  It may seem simple to other writers but to me it gets confusing when dissecting a story sentence by sentence.  “I had taken” versus “I took”.  I don’t know, when I’m writing I am telling the story in my head as I’d tell it out loud to you, whatever tenses I’m using feel natural at the time.  Sometimes it’s passive and sometimes it isn’t.  To go back and examine every use of tense is confusing me.  It’s a thing I don’t think consciously about

There.  I did it again.  That’s another version of that thing I do.

“It’s a thing I don’t think consciously about”

“It’s a thing I don’t consciously think about”*

Which sounds right to you?

Anyway – back to tenses.  I notice I have a tendency to either write passively or urgently without a whole lot of shading in between.  Effective writing style or jarring?  As I go through the chapters I’m trying to correct passive language as I find it but I’m wondering if doing this is ruining the greater continuity of storytelling?  By looking at each sentence microscopically am I losing sight of whole paragraphs?  Am I losing sight of the greater flow?  I will be reading each chapter one more time before posting it to the blog so I should be able to answer this question as I go along.  Right now I’m just digging through each chapter reading and stopping when I find something that doesn’t seem right.

Another thing I have been cleaning up are contractions.  I don’t use them in my writing as much as most writers do.  I don’t use them in my speech as much as others do either.  Overall my use of them is highly inconsistent.  Fix it or leave it?  When you’re writing characters you have to make a decision about how they will speak and this will be influenced by their characteristics.  A casual person is not going to say “do not” where they can say “don’t”.  A more formal person is likely to speak with fewer or no contractions:

“I would like a slice of cheese but please do not slather it with that atrocious goose fat.  I simply can not digest it!”

“I’d like a slice of cheese but please don’t slather it with goose fat.  I can’t digest it!”

OR “Gimme a damn slice of cheese with nothin’ else on it.”

Haha.

The other thing I’ve been cleaning up is Cricket’s repetitiveness.  There are a couple of big themes in this story that she has to grapple with and come to terms with and in the process she mentions them in her narrative and then it comes up in conversation with others.  This is fine.  You don’t bring up a huge event in a character’s life, show that they are deeply disturbed by it, and then not mention it again until the end of the book when suddenly they’re just fine (or not).  A theme is something you weave into a story and it influences what your characters do and say but the trick is to avoid hitting readers over the head with it.  I used much too heavy a hand with this.

I’m cleaning this up as I go along but I admit to approaching it conservatively.  Cricket is meant to grow quite a bit by the end of the first book but her emotional and moral growth is meant to extend over all the books so she can’t be all done growing by the end of the first book.  She has anger and hurt to work through and it has a very direct influence on the kind of choices she’s making – I can’t have her be all easy going until she’s worked it through.  As the story progresses she gets more and more information that adds to the crushing of her previous naivete with regards to certain aspects of her life so the things she’s feeling are compounded rather than immediately relieved.  The trick is to show this more subtly than I have.  Again, being buried in the tiny details of specific passages makes it hard to see if I’m really fixing things or not.

By the way, Cricket is no virgin.  In case anyone was thinking she might be.  In rereading this book I see I’ve left out some passages from earlier drafts that gave insight to her previous romantic tangles and how she’s not only not a romantic, she is very comfortable with sex being an appetite you satiate but she has never carried on a real relationship with anyone.  Being in love with Tommy is the only emotional romantic attachment she’s ever had for a man and, as you see from chapter one, her feelings were never returned.  I don’t know why it’s important for you to know this but it would truly bother me if anyone thought Cricket was sexually naive.  I guess it would bother me because it’s untrue.  Her naivete is limited to her trusting relationship with her parents.

It’s time to get back into the editing trenches.  I have chapter two all ready to post on Monday.

I think I’ll do some dishes to clear my head before diving back into the editing fray.

*This is what I meant to say and it sounds right to me and clearly expresses the intended meaning.  In this case the qualifier sounds better coming before the verb but in many cases the qualifier should come after the verb.  What do you think?

2 comments

  1. Ann says:

    I think I have the same brain glitch with the adverbs. The more European one looks right and sounds right to me. I read too many older books, mainly British so all of the grammar that is more formal and more foreign looks good to me. Ha, so silly. I know it probably isn’t a good thing for your super cool book, but in regular writing I’m cool with it.

  2. Honestly most of that sounds totally mind bending to me. I can certainly see how by getting so close to each sentence you might feel you loose track of the flow. I guess because I mainly work with flow I would probably make an absolutely abysmal editor 🙂

    Kind Regards

    Belinda

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