Monday, October 17, 2011

Your Zeitgeist is Inconsistent

Although theoretically I've written four novels, I'm still new to the editing process.  Novel 1... didn't really get edited at all.  Novel 2 had a tight deadline, and so I cut and clipped and tried to edit, but in the end, had no idea what I was doing.  When I finally went back to revise, I got tangled up in the mess and nearly drowned in it.  Novel 3 underwent a huge amount of revision.  And, in the end, I still think that to make it into something coherent, I'm going to have to rewrite about half of it.

So basically, I have not had a huge amount of success with revisions.  This is particularly problematic, because I'm the sort of writer who plunges in and muddles around until I get where I'm going.  Sometimes I get to a lot of other places first.

I spent a long time trying to work out the logic of Novel 3 until I had sorted it out perfectly.  Then, as it was 140,000 words I cut 40,000 words.  Then I looked at it again, and realized, although it was perfectly logical, and not too long, as a story, it didn't make any sense.  This isn't something that's supposed to happen!  It really rocked me.  One of my readers had said "your zeitgeist is inconsistent."  I didn't know what do do with that.  What did that mean?

In the end, I think it meant a lot of things.  But one was that I didn't know what I was writing about.  I had an incredibly complex plot, a herd of characters, two worlds full of settings.  But I didn't have a reason.  I didn't have a goal.  (I also had too much of everything else.)  My main character did what he needed to do, but he didn't change.  There was no metamorphosis.  It was just the crazy train.

Part of my approach to novel 4 was to know what I was writing about.  Princesses!  And gender, and class, and risk, and expectations, and... well, maybe I wasn't all that constrained.  (Pirates!)  But I had themes.  I had a character arc form my MC (stubborn and rejecting to stubborn and accepting).  My plot was going somewhere, without a lot of wandering around in the forest.  I wrote in 1p past tense, keeping the voice intent and upbeat, so the feel wouldn't change wildly.

I was confident it would be awesome, and would be perfect, only needing a tiny bit of rethreading and polishing before it would be ready to send out.  One reader read it.  She loved it.  It was fast and funny.

Then my mom read it.

You know, usually they tell you that if your family tells you its wonderful, and you believe them, you're an idiot.  I don't think my family will ever tell me anything is wonderful.  My dad doesn't read my work, but still tells me that it would improve if 'you didn't have the aliens land on the beach' i.e. if I wrote realism and not fantasy.  This is not helpful, and I ignore him.  My mom, on the other hand, reads carefully, and marks up, until every page is a horror of pencil scribbles.  (She does this to her students too.  She has practice.)

She also let me know when she got bogged down and bored, and when she was annoyed, and when she didn't understand what was going on.  I also have a critique group, who are really good at telling me about flow of information and overall structure issues.  Dealing with all of these different types of criticisms is difficult. I like to formalize everything, so I'm going to give it a shot.

Basically, I think it breaks down into three levels.  Sentence level (or, the Beautiful Language level), Scene structure (is there conflict, is there momentum, does this make sense), Book level (how do your scenes flow?  Are we arcing in the right place?

There are also three aspects of these levels.  Plot threads (Where are they?  How do they build and intertwine?)  Characters - (is character x unconscious for too long?  Have we lost track of x?  Is y's dialogue distinctive enough?)  Background (too much, too little?  In order?  enough depth?).

Trying to pay attention to this entire matrix of complexities is no simple job.

More adventures in editing later on.

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