— Originally published 4/23/2009 @ LiveJournal
I had another day of massive editing on very few words, so I could get my scene turned into the class. I’ve learned some interesting things about editing from doing these two scenes so far. The “teacher” has set a strict limit of 2 pages of text, 12pt TNR, double-spaced. Anything over that she won’t read (and who can blame her; she’s got college classes to teach and her own books to write, in addition to reading and commenting on all these scenes. She’s a busy gal!). I’ve learned that in my own personal style, this amounts to roughly 700 words, give or take 50 words. And both times so far, what I’ve wanted to use has been closer to 2 1/2 pages, but I set my sights on making it 2 pages. Both times I’ve hit my goal, though it’s taken several hours to do so. I’ve been not just fixing awkward phrasings or picking new verbs, but adjusting action to better show character emotions and move towards the big moments I want to reveal in more efficient ways.
I’m a very loose writer by nature, meaning that in first draft, I just dump my brain on the page, mess and all, then go back and clean it up later (this also describes my house-cleaning methods. Ha!). Brevity is still something I contend with though, and until now I’ve dealt with it by retyping each draft, to better clean up my prose. Rearranging of things on a small scale for making things happen faster hasn’t been on my plate, and I never really thought of it as a plausible editing method, until now anyway. And I end up cutting 20% of the original text. If I could cut 20% of my novel and not lose the necessary action and character arcs, wow! That would be 70k off the first draft, bringing me down to 280k for the full shabang. That might be too high of expectations though and it would probably be closer to 10-15%, but still that’s a great deal of wordage.
So what exactly have I been doing? I figured out the major element I wanted readers to get in this two little pages then I cut and paste from my original document and see that I’m half a page over the limit. Damn! But I need to start where it starts right now and it ends where I need it to end, so my only choice is to start working cutting and reworking everything in between. Kill all the sloppy right away, but that gets me only about 1-2 lines worth of text. Got to go back and work some more, evaluating the weight of every word I’m putting in and deciding whether I can lose it or if it has to stay. I’m also evaluating action and dialog, making sure it’s absolutely necessary to be there for the scene to make sense. If it’s just waxing poetic or slowing the action, it gets the axe. In some instances, I use other actions already there to do double duty with some minor tweaking. When I’m finished, I notice I’ve actually cut more than half a page, which is good, because I’m not feeling all that great about my characters and don’t think there’s enough of “them” there. That gives me a little wiggle room to enhance the character elements, which usually means adding little bits and pieces to make the action carry some character weight. Of course I’m not doing this in any particular order, but rather as it comes to me that A would be good spot for some characterization and B isn’t really telling the reader anything new and necessary, and if I just tweak Z a little bit, it can do this in addition to what it’s already doing, etc. When all is said and done, I went from 789 words down to 667, which is a 15% cut in wordage.
About the only thing I don’t like about this method is that it’s really time consuming. I spent about 2 hours doing this yesterday and though I’m quite happy with the product, the time investment is daunting, particularly when thinking of applying that to a novel the size of Morning Star Falling (Gardens of Omeyocan). And I’m wondering just how effectively I can apply it to editing a novel. I do like the idea of a target page limit I have to work within, which yes I could apply to the novel, but I think the more pages I’m give to work within, the more I’ll be inclined to let things slide, to see if I can keep them and cut elsewhere. Still, I think I’d like to at least give it a try when I start editing.