Saturday, 1 June 2013

On Tight Writing & Editing

I want to talk about tight writing and editing today. I also thought it'd be an opportunity to show a few scattered sentences from the first scene of the novelette/novella I'm working on (sort of brief snippets showcasing the plot if you will). It's the main reason I've been inactive, though I'm also editing a novel for a friend, which is cutting into my time.

Currently, I've got 5,600 words written and I'm wrestling with it. Adding/deleting scenes as necessary. Trying to wrap my head around the story itself, as it's a more complex story than I'm used to writing. I'm also trying to decide whether to keep the basic plot and add in a new main character, which could lead to a series. But while I could use most of what I've written if I were to do that, I'd question why I've written nearly 6,000 words, so I'm probably going to plod on with the piece for good or ill as I don't want to keep abandoning projects. And yep, I know, don't edit till it's done. But I need the content right before continuing and I'm a rather quick editor, so my writing time isn't cut into much.

Anyway, what you'll be looking at here are sentences that are straight from my head, with one editing pass. So, they may or may not be perfect. Keep in mind this is me self-editing as well and people aren't good at editing their own work. Also, with it being excerpts from a work in progress, you are seeing possible story elements that may be present in the finished story. So you may want to avoid reading this, if you've enjoyed my published short on Amazon, The Dead Should Stay Dead, and intend to pick up my next story. On the flipside, there may be no spoilers if things end up differently in the final version. I can never tell with works in progress what's staying and what's being deleted.

1) James Redfield was sat in his office with a cigarette in his hand and he had the Statham Evening News open on his rather barren desk. He looked at the headline, 'Another Death At Manderly Home', read the bit below, and then turned to the page where it continued to resume reading. (52 words)


James Redfield, sat behind his desk with a cigarette in his hand, viewed the front page of the Statham Evening News. The headline read, 'Another Death At Manderly Home'. He read the bit below and turned to the page where it continued. (43 words)

Now, the above is actually the first few sentences from the work in progress. You'll note that I had 'was' in the first sentence and I removed it in the revised version. There's a case to be made for the tense seeming off. But I rather dislike 'was' being in there. I think it's clear what's meant without 'was' in, too? I think it reads much better anyway.

And on further reflection, I could probably tweak 'sat behind his desk with a cigarette in his hand' to 'sat behind his desk and holding a cigarette'.

Anyway, I'm not sure yet about 'was', but I think it reads better. It's not an exact science when it comes to editing work either, really. 'Rules' are just there to help with communication.

2) She pulled the chair out from under his desk and sat, rummaged in her handbag and pulled out a little advertisement before shoving it back into her handbag and putting her handbag down beside her. "You must be James Redfield." (40 words)


She pulled the chair out from under his desk and sat, rummaged in her handbag and pulled out a little piece of paper before returning it back inside and putting her handbag down. "You must be James Redfield." (38 words)

The revised example is not much tighter at all. But the revision was mostly made to help prevent using 'handbag' too many times. And again, I've noticed how it can be further reworked from 'before returning it back inside' to ', placed it back and put her handbag down'. Funny how you see better ways of revising after you've done the first edit.

Final example from my own writing and this is the main teaser.

3) "You think she's making this up or has mental issues? She isn't and she has always had all her marbles." Janet frowned. "She mentioned that the new head had been leaning over him. Faces practically touching. And his head wasn't turned sideways. His face was directly facing the dead man's, lips opposite each other, from what she could make out." (60 words)


"You think she's making this up or has mental issues? She isn't and she has always been all there." Janet frowned. "She mentioned that their lips had been practically touching when the new head had been leaning over him. It was like the head was kissing Gerald." (47 words)

I'm not sure how happy I am with the revised version above yet, but I think it's still much better. I realise this 3rd example seems odd too, but all you really need to know is that there's an abnormal spate of deaths at the home. Natural causes being cited as the reason. And suspicion has fell on the head of the home. I suppose that if you read horror/supernatural stuff, you're used to weirdness anyway. ;)

So, you see how a rough draft is and how it is refined into a more readable form with just one editing pass? A lot of it is due to tightening.

But you know how I said editing isn't an exact science? It isn't because grammar rules can be bent/ignored if it serves your story and there's the fact that having everything as tight as possible isn't always a good idea because it can compromise your style and character's voice. Sometimes taking the time to use more than the necessary words is worthwhile to establish character etc.

This is what I meant by editing isn't an exact science. It's not easy, as you always have to consider the author's style and character voice (I bet a lot of people could rewrite each of my own sentences in their own way, but that's not what editing is. You shouldn't be rewriting every sentence in the way you'd write it). People tell you to keep everything tight, but I've very rarely, if ever, seen anyone say that tightness shouldn't always be strived for. So, you have to weigh everything up. It's a judgement call.

The key, as I've said before, is to just make sure everything is as tight as possible, without compromising style and character voice. (You should note that I'm not talking about content here, simply tightness on a sentence by sentence basis.)

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