Editing between the lines

Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre
The specter of a Line Edit looming over a defenseless author

At first glance, [Line Edits] can be daunting enough to scare the pink off a pig.
-Amy Woods

Line Edits can be
fun
a barrel of laughs
educational.

The process can damage your self esteem — if you let it. So I am not going to let it.

It is humbling to have an editor asks what a sentence meant. Especially when I re-read it and wonder too. I am sure that the sentence made perfect sense when I wrote it.

I feel like Robert Browning in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, in the scene where Elizabeth Barrett asked him what one of his poems meant.

ELIZABETH BARRETT: Well?

ROBERT BROWNING: Well, Miss Barrett, when that passage was written only God and Robert Browning understood it. Now, only God understands it.

For a Harlequin author, this is the last chance to make any changes to the story. The final opportunity to see any typos or major errors. Even though by this point the manuscript has had several eyes looking at it, I need to go through one last time. Deb Kastner recommends sending the doc to a Kindle, since it’s easier to spot errors when they’re in a different setting.

mugI always think I’ve caught all the typos before I send the story off. Always. And still the pesky things crop up when I’m not looking. In the normal course of things, I do not believe in gremlins. When it comes to typos or other errors in my cherished manuscript, however, they are clearly the only answer.

Quote: Writing & Perfection

Never put off writing until you are better at it. -Gary Henderson
Never put off writing until you are better at it. -Gary Henderson

That’s something I have problems with sometimes. The words on the page never quite match the excitement of the bright shiny ideas in my head. I do believe the experts who say that you get better at writing the more you do it. If I wait for the words to come out perfectly, I’ll still be staring at a blank page next year.

I suppose it’s a form of laziness. I want the first draft to be perfect, so I don’t have to re-write it later. Note to self, learn to love revisions. Really.

Trust me

My hero needs to get other characters to trust him, let him guide them through dangerous situations. He is trying to win the villain’s trust without destroying the heroine’s faith in him.

Becca Puglisi wrote a good post on how to gain someone’s trust. This is a useful skill for my current hero to possess, so I’m going to try to include some of these traits in his portrayal.

  • Good at listening to people
  • Quick to pick up clues from body language
  • Able to control the situation without coming across as manipulative. So he has to appear caring, willing to use his people-reading skills for a good cause.

Might be useful if I ever want to take up a career as a con artist. I suppose there are some similarities between that career and writing. An author is someone who tries to persuade readers that characters she made up really exist, even if only between the covers of a book.

Newbie Author Checklist

August Müller Tagebucheintrag

  • ☐Refresh Amazon page obsessively to see if ranking has changed – Done
  • ☐Google name and book title –Done
  • ☐Calculate how long before the cover is ready – Done
  • ☐Re-calculate just to make sure it really will take that long. –Done
  • ☐Remind self that It Takes Time, Okay? Calm Down Already.
  • ☐Control the urge to tweet ‘Buy my book! Buy my book!’ in an endless loop.

Still have a couple things left to do.

From 0 to 55k … in one week?

Matthias Laurenz Gräff, Triptychon "Einklang aller Naturlebewesen"
These days, the emphasis is on writing as many books a year as you can. Books like Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k are very popular. The trouble is, writing that many words requires some dedicated writing time.

The other week, I took a vacation. Usually, that means I go visit family or go somewhere with friends, group activities. This time, I was selfish. I took a week off the day job to see what it would be like if my day job were writing novels.

I had an idea that I was toying with, and the secondary characters were hinting they had stories to tell as well. Looked promising. I noted how many words I was writing and the hours when I wrote, to see if there was a certain time of day when I usually wrote the most.

The first couple days, I wrote in the morning and then wrote for a few more hours in the evening. I was getting to know the characters as I developed the story, averaging 5-6 hours a day in the chair, and the words were piling up in a respectable fashion. Not thrilling, but respectable.

The ‘not thrilling’ part worried me. If I want the reader to turn the page, I need to make sure the story grabs their interest. A slow-going pace used to work, and some readers still prefer it. But a fast-paced book is much more likely to sell and gather word-of-mouth recommendations. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking I should find ways to zap some pizzazz into the story.

Then on Wednesday, things changed.

I wrote in the morning, fleshing out the scenes and trying to find ways to amp up the suspense. Then I went to get ready to go run errands. I was brushing my hair when I stopped, put down the hairbrush, and grabbed my notepad. I’d thought of something that might turn out to be writeable, the seed of an idea. By the time I went from the bathroom to my desk, the seed had taken root, sent up shoots, and blossomed to a full-fledged idea.

I never did get those errands done that day. Since I was tracking words-per-hour, I can state with certainty that I wrote 3500 words in the first hour after I got the idea. By the end of the day, I’d written over 7,000 words. Even when I left my desk to get more tea or grab dinner, I took my notepad with me and kept scribbling. The idea had grabbed me and would not let go.

So what changed? What made the difference between the first couple days of “okay” progress and the lightning-fast writing sprint that was the rest of the week? I got an idea that gripped me. It had suspense, tension, drama. I was totally caught up in what I was writing.

How did you get an idea that grabbed you and wouldn’t let go? I kept asking questions. I wasn’t satisfied with what I was writing. I needed something that was exciting. And so I kept asking myself questions, as if I were being interviewed by a journalist who would not stop until they uncovered the truth. Plus, I kinda think I got lucky. But I don’t think I would’ve gotten lucky if I hadn’t been looking.

If you’re a numbers nerd like moi, these are the stats:

Wednesday: 7800 words
Thursday: 10004 words
Friday: 11035 words
Saturday: 10012 words
Sunday: 7011 words
Monday: 10008 words

Wednesday and Sunday, I only worked half days. I didn’t start at the same time each day, but I wrote from the time I got up until late into the night. That was pretty much all I did on the 10 thousand word days. I gave myself time off on Sunday because my brain was getting tired.

In short bursts, I don’t really notice anything different, physiologically, when I’m writing vs. when I’m not. This was different. Seekerville has a post on creativity and improvisation and how they affect the brain. There really are changes in your brain when you’re writing fast. There’s a physiological aspect to writing. Just because it’s all in your head doesn’t mean it’s not physical.

It was a weird feeling. I could feel my brain working. I read that when the creative areas of the brain are working, there’s more blood flow to those areas.

For example: ordinarily, I am a very good speller. It’s never something I’ve had a problem with. This week? Couldn’t spell anything. The ms. was riddled with typos. At first, I stopped and went back to correct them, but by the end I’d given up trying. They were too prevalent.

Now that I’ve got the first draft written, I am going through to smooth out the gaps and see if I can streamline the narrative. I started out with a lot of characters who only have one or two scenes. I want to see if I can compress these secondary characters, have one fulfilling multiple roles. I should probably track how long revising takes vs. writing. I want to see if I can revise at a faster pace. I took way too much time revising Geoff and Lia’s story. Writing and editing are skills, and skills can be improved.

I’m getting there.

Great Opening Lines

Henrik Nordenberg Blick aus dem Entrée

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.” – Uprooted, Naomi Novik

“Sabrina had never picked a lock in her life, but it was done every day in books.” – Tryst, Elswyth Thane

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” – The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

Random thoughts of a problem I’m trying to work out for myself: how to start the story. This isn’t something I worry about when I start writing. The idea is on fire and off I go. But when editing, I come back and look at what I wrote. That’s when I start to question everything.

I love the feeling I get when I open a book and read a great opening line. I want to find a secluded corner and settle in for a good read. The stories don’t always live up to their opening lines, but the promise is there. The promise of a wonderful adventure.

What makes an opening line work? I love the above samples because of their promise. They intrigued me into reading more, which is the basic goal of an opening line.

It’s so simple when someone else does it! It’s harder when I try to do it.

I like to start by grabbing the reader and that doesn’t work for everyone. Some people love a leisurely opening and feel disoriented when they get thrown in the deep end. Plus, there is the plain truth that no matter how shiny and promising the idea starts out in my mind, the actual words on the page are going to look flat in comparison.

The opening of His Forgotten Fiancée:

“Who am I?”

Liza Fitzpatrick dropped the cleaning rag onto the counter of the dry goods store and spun around. A man stood in the doorway, his rough, workingman clothes soaked to the skin. He stared at her as if she were the first woman he’d ever seen.

The opening of Geoff and Lia’s story, tentatively titled A Gentleman of Leisure:

Geoff heard the click of a gun from the bushes behind him, and then a woman’s voice, deadly calm: “Stand up — slowly, now — and keep your hands where I can see ‘em.”

I like to start out in the middle of the action, in medias res, but even so the reader needs some basic orientation. I remember one contest entry that I read. All I knew was that the heroine was near the seashore looking at a ship. I didn’t know if she were sitting or standing or floating sideways. I didn’t know if she were on a dock or standing on a beach or looking out of a window of a house on the shore. I was trying to picture the scene and I was missing fundamental elements, which threw me out of the story at the start.

I want to start with something happening, but while it is happening I have to slip in some crucial details. Just enough for the reader to feel grounded, not enough for them to feel swamped. Argh!

What’s your favorite opening line for a book? Why does it work for you? Do you get disoriented if an author starts out too abruptly?

It’s tricky, achieving that balance between hooking the reader’s attention and throwing too much at them all at once. It’s frustrating, trying to convey an idea from one mind to another through the medium of words on a page. It’s amazing, to look at a whole book and think, “I did that. I want to do it again.”