August 15th, 2007


[links] She feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China


[help|politics] A question promoted from comments

ianrandalstrock asked a question in comments which has more or less gotten lost in the shuffle, I think, so I'm bumping it up here for discussion.

I wonder if I might impose a bit on your much larger readership for a political quote of my own for which I've been searching. It's older than yours, but I can't recall where I read or heard it. It was to the effect (I may not have the exact phrasing) that the speaker/writer couldn't understand why any president would run for re-election, since the presidency is the greatest job in the world from which to retire.

I really appreciate any help I can get. Thanks.

[process] Editing

I was recently asked about my editing process, and promised a response here. I have to say (disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer) that editing is my most difficult bugaboo in the writing process. First drafts are mostly a joy and a privilege, when I am channeling the story and discovering the setting. Editing feels like work, by Ghu.

That being said, my editing process is a multipass approach. The numbering is for convenience of discussion more than a reflection of either order of priority or order of process.

First is the line edit. This is simply reading through the manuscript for typos, wordos, dropped words, duplicates, and so forth. Nothing ever goes out the door without this edit, though sometimes it has been the only edit I've been able to accomplish on a given piece.

Secondly, and often done simultaneously with the line edit, is the style edit. This is reading through the manuscript for issues of prosody, rhythm, rhymes (accidental or intentional), alliteration (accidental or intentional), echoes, clunks, infelicitous turns of phrase, and so forth.

For both of these editing layers, a read-aloud is extremely helpful. Here's where one of my idiosyncracies comes into play. I pretty much can't manage a read-aloud by myself. I am virtually shameless, as many of you know, but reading aloud to myself in an empty room feels too much like being the crazy uncle in the attic. So I really like to read to someone when I can. (This isn't terribly practical on a novel, sadly, at least not for me.)

Third is a structural edit. This has to do with things like sentence order, scene order and so forth. A fairly common error in writing, for example, both mine and other people's, is reversing cause an effect. "He turned as a shot rang out" is backward, to use a very simple case. This happens because as I'm writing I arrive a bit of plot or action, then rationalize it into the story, but don't realize I'm doing it. It can happen at the line level, the paragraph level, even the scene level. Occasionally even the chapter level.

Fourth, and also often done simultaneously with the structural edit, is the plot edit. This is making sure the events and characters progress in the order which the story calls for. Linear is nice if you're telling a linear story, but if you're telling a non-linear story, then the order of the reveals is far more critical and tricky.

Other passes (or at least watch-fors within passes) include a continuity edit, reading for character development and arc, and a high level readablity check on the story as a whole.

I strongly recommend against having a checklist approach to these processes. I do multiple editing passes when time and energy, but in reality I'm reading at most of these levels most of the time, with a shifting focus with each pass. Much of my journey as a writer has been to develop a holistic editing approach that encompasses these layers, along with more granular issues (handling gender perspectives, for example). Right now I'm shifting focus with the goal of achieving a more conscious competence, dialing up specific aspects of editing to work on them.

I don't have good practical advice here, just some descriptive narrative. This is my own weakness as a working pro, which I need to advance beyond to improve my craft and professionalism.

Comments? Your own observations and experience? Suggestions for me?

ETA: As I should have pointed out in the first place, the brilliant yet talented kenrand has written what may be the best book on editing process ever, The 10% Solution Amazon ]. I highly recommend this book, which in addition to a much more detailed high level overview than this post can encompass, also has some excellent nuts and bolts suggestions for the editing process.

[process] Novel synopses

Ah, novel synopses. The second most mysterious aspect of becoming a professional novelist. (The most mysterious aspect is the "how do I get an agent?" dance.)

The best description I ever got of a synopsis was from a workshop mentor who said, "Imagine two teenage boys coming out of a movie, recounting the plot to one another." It's all present tense, it's short sentences and paragraphs, it's all the high points without much detail.

Length is highly variable. I sold, then wrote, Trial of Flowers off a five paragraph synopsis. I know people who routinely write 50-75 pages of synopsis before they consider themselves ready to write the novel. Some of that has to do with how much detail you want or need to capture.

Remember that a synopsis serves multiple purposes. It's a selling document, to promote your work to your agent and your editor, and once sold, to the marketing department. It's also your roadmap while writing the book. (Sometimes a synopsis written for that purpose is called an outline.)

Here's something to try. Write a long synopsis, 5-10 pages or more, with a lot of detail. Then write a short one, 1-2 pages. Then write a 1-3 paragraph description, as it might be explained in a review. Then write a 1-2 sentence description, as it might be explained in a publisher's catalog listing. If you can do all of those things, then you really understand your book. As a practical matter, you might not be able to do all of those things until after you've written the book, but you should probably be able to do some of them.

Don't be coy. This isn't the place to hide the Big Secret. An agent or editor reading it needs to know how the story comes out, who the secret heir is, where Uncle Wally hid the atom bomb. Put everything in there that needs to be there.

Don't be rigid. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. No synopsis survives contact with the manuscript. On the one hand, use it as your guide. On the other hand, if you have a better idea while you're writing, follow the muse.

One thing I do is paste the synopsis at the bottom of my working draft. Then, as I go through the novel (since I write them front-to-back, generally), I delete portions of the synopsis which have been filled in. In essence, I use it as an outline in the term paper sense, or at least as a writing guide.

If you're curious, here's a link to the synopses of Mainspring Powell's | Amazon ] and Trial of Flowers Powell's | Amazon ].

This will be a lot more useful if you've read the books, I should think, but feel free to look at them in any case. Remember that Mainspring sold as a finished spec book, while Trial sold off the synopsis you see there.

Once again, feel free to make with the comments, corrections and alternatives.

ETA: pnh, who knows whereof he speaks in glittering spades, has added the following two corrections:

Trivially, our catalog descriptions are usually a bit longer than 1-2 sentences. Depending on the book, they run from three sentences to three or four paragraphs.

More importantly, catalog descriptions, front flap copy, and the like--all of which I call "story copy"--is fundamentally different from synopses and other working documents. The purpose of story copy is to provide the setup while withholding the resolution. It's the movie trailer, not the two kids explaining the movie to each other after they've seen it.

[photos] Dinosaurs on the wall

lasirenadolce took some awesome photos of the clockpunk dinosaurs frankwu used to decorate the trope chest that my friends gave me for my birthday. The chest is on a table in the living room of Neuvo Rancho Lake, and a chance gap in the curtain combined with the angle of the sun to make some cool images for her to shoot.

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As usual, more at the Flickr set