The Writing Life, The Writing Process

Editing: Finding the Hidden Oak Tree…

When we bought our house almost six years ago, there was an odd little holly bush/tree thing planted right smack in the middle of the backyard. It was a weird location, but it wasn’t hurting anything, so we pretty much ignored it. Despite Himself’s attempts to keep it trimmed, it kind of got away from us, and gradually became unruly and not very attractive.

Tree Before

I made a passing comment to Himself a month or so ago that it was getting downright ugly, but that in the middle of that clump of trunks and spiky greenery, there was actually an oak tree growing tall right through it. It was as if the ugly shrub had protected that oak, and now it was flourishing.

You can imagine my surprise on Mother’s Day when Himself dragged me away from my desk (I was on a deadline!!!) and showed me his gift to me. He had cut away all the ugly stuff and left the beautiful oak tree standing alone. It was as if he gifted me a brand new twelve-foot oak tree, and I loved it (and him)!

Tree After

Every time I look into our yard now, I think of how that beautiful tree was buried in the chaotic mess of holly and vines. It’s a lesson for several things in life, including editing. As writers, we tend to go big and messy on our first drafts. In fact, we’re supposed to! We throw everything in there, including the kitchen sink. We may fall in love with scenes and sentences, but those treasures are often being choked and hidden by all the other “stuff” we’ve filled our pages with in that first draft.

When we head back in for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th or whatever drafts, that’s when we start hacking away at all the messy chaos in an attempt to find the hidden treasure of a story that works. And if we’re determined enough, and willing to chop away a few of our darlings in the process (favorite scenes that just don’t work for that particular story), sometimes we end up discovering a strong, nurtured, beautiful oak tree growing right there in front of us that we never saw before.

So, fellow writers, don’t be afraid to take the hedge clippers (or maybe even an ax!) to your first draft – just be careful not to chop down the buried treasure in the process.

And for everyone else – – – what part of your life might need a little pruning to let the treasure shine through?

The Writing Process

Falling in Love With Your Words

Halcyon Faded Stupid Story        For a writer, there really is nothing quite like the feeling of falling in love….with the book you’re writing. That moment when it moves from being a good concept to a good book is pure magic. All of a sudden the characters are behaving themselves and are doing and saying the things they should be. And not doing the things they shouldn’t be.
        In this case, I’m falling back in love with a book (Halcyon) that needed a heavy revision, including a brand new beginning. The new beginning was a challenge for me, but when editor and agent BOTH say a change is necessary, a smart writer gets busy rewriting the beginning. Knitting that new beginning into the existing story was hard, hard work. I flailed and floundered until I finally (just last week!) found the authentic voices for Blake and Amanda again.
        Let’s be realistic – Blake would never answer the door in Chapter 4 and smile at Amanda. That’s ridiculous. He’s guarding his heart and fighting his attraction to this woman, and he wants to discuss a business proposition with her. Smiling, or any other warm/fuzzy reaction, would be all wrong.
        Revised scene: he’s in the midst of an angry phone conversation with his father (yeah, they’re not close…at all) when he opens the door to Amanda after summoning her to Halcyon. She gets to hear him all snarly on the phone, with barely a hint of warmth, even after he ends the call and tells her they need to talk. Yup. That’s just the tension level they need.
        And Amanda wouldn’t be all chummy and jokey with the construction workers, even if it is in a toss-away scene. She’s a traumatized woman, for crying out loud! She needs to maintain a distance from them. Otherwise, it’s just confusing.
        Multiply those two minor changes by a few hundred, and the entire tone of the book changes. It’s genuine. The characters become compelling, and the reader actually cares about what happens to them. The story moves forward with the proper amount of tension, because the characters are doing things that are believable for them.
        Once I have characters properly formed, I can see their motivations and habits and defense mechanisms. I see their hearts. Not only do I know how they’d react in any situation; I also know why they’d react that way. And the reader can see it, even when the characters can’t.
        So ‘all I have to do now’ (that was sarcasm, by the way) is finish going through the manuscript paragraph by paragraph, and ask myself over and over and over: is this really what should/would happen? It’s a piece of cake (more sarcasm).
        Now that I have a full understanding of the characters with this new beginning, it’s a lot more fun. Take the first example mentioned above, a scene that has been written and edited for several weeks. All of a sudden I can see it playing out as if it was on film. When I’m immersed in the book that deep, it’s easy to say “Whoa – why the hell is he smiling?” Once that quick correction was made, the rest of the scene was easy to revise, and it ended up being SOOOO much better. Yeah, it’s still work. But instead of beating my head on my desk and spinning my wheels, I’m making forward progress.
         And I’m falling back in love with my favorite book and characters. YAY!
        Why should you care? Well, when an author loves the story, it’s a lot more likely the reader will love it, too. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to do just that later this year.
        Stay tuned!