Prompt – Do you hurry through a first draft, or are you conscious of flaws as they go down? Has that changed over time?
Well, yes, and no. When content comes, it comes, and yes I monitor it for certain kinds of junk as it goes down and no it’s not perfect when it hits. Catching some of that junk before it lands is easier than it used to be because I hear it now instead of waiting to see it.
But first – I missed last week. Two catch up notes.
LY – I picked up an Elizabeth George wherein feathers clung wetly.
That arc thing – Chekov said that there are only two stories. Someone goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. Which, depending on POV, could boil down to one story. I’m unsure how procedurals fit in there, but someone has to go on a journey of discovery, and before the rich old man dies a long-lost cousin shows up as a red herring. I answered my question!
Back-handed compliment award – MLB News for this gem, regarding Elizabeth George’s In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner. “At 550 pages, you won’t read this in one sitting, but you’ll want to.” Or wish you could?
On topic – Drafting and self-editing are really a discussion of the result. DRE, or Desired Reader Economy. AW more than touched on that in her previous post about arc, boring the crowd, etc. But it’s deeper than that. Action, resolution, erudition of the protagonist(s) aren’t the answers. It’s easy to become bored, disenchanted, even hostile toward a work that is obviously an edit (or two) shy of shinola.
The elements that comprise bad prose are not (generally) the duty of the Indy editor to repair. They don’t edit content. They fix grammar issues and clams like dropped words, spelling, en and em dashes, propose semicolons. If our work is sophomoric on some level(s), that’s on us. We need to learn to see things like logic, stiffness, REDUNDANCIES. Things that just flat need to go.
My biggest editing tasks post-draft are dumping things (usually ‘splaining) a character or I thought needed to be said/written, expanding or dumping scene fragments and paragraph logic. While paragraphs may read acceptably, I dislike reading my own or other’s work where this sentence needs to go up and this one down or gone. I see paragraph structure as analogous to a righteous sandwich. I’ll bet we’re all picky about the order of various components. How much of condiment X? Top or bottom? Meat, tofu, greenery, veg, dairy…If they are out of order somehow the whole is less satisfying.
Paragraph structure is all about sentences and logical arc. I’m a big fan of sentences. They’re the stuff of the paragraph sandwich. I have two rules for sentences. Don’t write shitty, illogical ones, throw the excess away, move on to another. DO NOT REPEAT YOURSELF. It doesn’t matter if it’s one word or a couple, or a whole phrase.
Check out this simple one-worder redundancy example – Bobby stood up. Up? We need it why? Bobby stood. The only modifier we might need is if he stood partially erect before painting the table with vomit. But if stood is it, stood is it. Right? We need to catch that “up” before it ever hits the page/screen. Yes, it’s that subtle. And that important.
Good sentence editing will also arrest the development of circuitous thought making it to the page. Consider – A sojourn down a path. We should see it as it rolls by, eyeball and camera style, not go gamboling over the hills and vales and back to the lane and down to the visage of the grand house and back to the lane and what’s the car doing and won’t Uncle Mack be surprised. Drive the damn car down the lane, accompanied by logical travelogue and interiority (if you must) to a conclusion. A paragraph. Or if you’re of that ilk, three pages with head time. But do it logically.
The other process, if no journey down a lane is involved and you are overcome by the pastoral bug, think of how you would describe a postcard or photograph. The trouble, as in the down the lane example, arises when we try to describe the panorama remixed with the journey.
Fix? Stop at the gate (hotel room door, coffee shop entrance…). Admire the scenery and proceed logically.
We’re all here to learn something. At least I am, and I do. I don’t care about how when I wrote The Day the Dog Ate My Grandmother that just went Tupperware I did this. I care about what “this” was and how did you repair it. This one of mine. Forget context.
She tilted her head to look past him. “Her?” The Asian woman produced a laminated sheet with fluorescent color thumbnails of all the culinary marvels available at Psylla’s, each with Han characters and brief English descriptions and dropped her index finger on one called ‘Weather Lady’.
“Shoulda known.” He studied the menu, the fluorescent globs on tiny plates not registering as edible, regardless of what they were called. She yanked the colorful menu out from under his hand, made it disappear.
“You not regular type for here. I tell her, ‘You no trust young man eat healthy food.’ For you? I have fried egg row. Chicken, beef, vegable…”
What’s wrong? “Shoulda known”. It’s a scene frag. Needs to go or make sense. Even if we know contextually who “he” is with, why or what should “he” have known? The rewrite is here. I should mention rewrite #2. A reader pointed out a gaping hole of assumption that sent me into this add-in to the scene. Throwaway Thursdays are my may-never-go-anywhere drafts, but if an edit that makes sense is suggested, I’ll get on it.
I’m using Richard here for the next example because 1) I’m sure he won’t get his panties in a twist, and 2) I commented on his blog that he should call sometimes before pulling the trigger. I’m thanking him in advance for this example, not calling him out or being some jerkwad internet sniper. We all do this stuff as I mentioned about myself. And his short story I lifted this example from is at once excellent with touches of The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything, I Dream of Jeannie with a great O Henry twist, and also a classic example of one more pass, please. Think about editing this for logic. The way Richard (and a lot of us) talk about grammar I’m sure someone charged him for the semicolon, leave it alone.
There was just an alarming absence of other people as I walked down the road towards my workplace. I saw a few cats in the windows of the houses; they watched me pass with that unnerving cat-stare. Televisions were on in front rooms. I started to feel fear, just a prickling sensation in my shoulders at first; it took over from my headache.
I only lived a short way away from my office job and unless it was pouring with rain I walked every day. I usually bought a newspaper at the local shop; it was open as usual but deserted. I took…
Can we see what happened there? We’re bypassing just as a throwaway and walking down the road. We get creeped out by cats, get more creeps, and BAM, hold on, we’re back setting up the walk to work. Huh? The logical first line in that series is I only lived…and then the cats and the newspaper, not get halfway down the street and go back upstairs.
We all need to see, clearly, what we’re doing, where we’re going before we hit the publish button.
Analogy – I imagine had Richard docked a ship before he docked a ship, he’d have had a very brief career. Because writing isn’t as dangerous as directing a million tons of steel or riding a horse or handling firearms doesn’t mean we should be any less circumspect in our QC. What’s that line about the pen being mightier? Well, slop kills effectiveness. We need to learn to seek out and destroy our slop and not let it diminish the impact of our words.
Point – Yeah, I see more garf going down than I used to. Yeah, I’m retentive about publishing even a blog post with clams and my iceberg tendency leaves holes I need to fix.
Yeah, yeah, and yeah. Like horseshoes, close enough doesn’t count. Calling it jazz or draft or style doesn’t count. The great jazz pianist Bill Evans said, “There are no wrong notes. Only wrong resolutions.” Dig that? Pick it up and use it the very next time you write a sentence, build a paragraph, compose a story and self-edit. Say what you want, but make it make sense.
Logic, y’all. That’s my .02 on catching it upfront and after the fact.
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