Friday, September 17, 2010

The Zen of Editing; or Strategic Planning

(Sorry this post is late. I've been waging war against produce and an infection this week, and rather than stay up even later last night, I decided late was better than never.)

So this past week, I've been editing without actually making any changes.

No, really.

I'm re-reading my hardcopy version of The Daughters of August Winterbourne this week, trying to keep in mind some of the feedback I've had so far, as well as a few changes/additions that need to be made. I did a hands-on edit of about six chapters a couple of weeks ago so I could submit them to my WorldCon critique group. I took out one entire scene and parts of several others. When someone who had read both the before and after versions said that he couldn't tell where I'd made the edits, I knew I was on the right track.

I realized when I wrote the story that it was slow and meandering, at least for the first three-quarters of its length. Now, after a couple of re-readings, I'm beginning to see places where I could tighten up the plot and move things along a little faster. I've even identified two "darlings" that I'm going to have to kill.

One happens about a third of the way into the book. In the scene, Celia and her sisters meet Johann Strauss II, who composes a waltz in their honor (as he was wont to do when touring and giving concerts).

It's an adorable, warm, fuzzy little scene. And I like it a lot. Celia and Nicholas are very sweet together in it. We get some nice interactions between Celia and Emmy, and between Nicholas and Eudora. Plus I even did research for it, discovering that Strauss was indeed touring England that year. But in the end ... absolutely no plot advancement takes place in the scene, and therefore, it must go. (Perhaps I'll save it to a "deleted scenes" folder, and if the book is ever published, I can offer it as a "bonus feature" on my web site.)

The second one offers Nicholas defending Celia's honor -- with his fists. Which is also very sweet, but does nothing to advance the plot. We already know that he's very much in love with her, and that he would go to just about any length to defend her. The only necessary plot point it establishes -- which is to hint that Nicholas and Eudora once had a relationship that was more than just neighborly -- can easily be moved to one of the other ballroom scenes in that section of the book.

Another scene just never worked. It involved Celia and Eudora returning to London after spending Christmas with Eudora's mother and step-father. After about my eighth reading I figured out why it didn't work: It's boring and nothing happens. It just shows them on the train back to London and looking forward to being there. As I discovered later in the story, I don't always have to show the characters journeying from place to place. I can just wave my magic wand and *poof*, they're there!

So there are three chapters on the chopping block, which might get me 10K words closer to my goal of getting the story down to 120K (from 180K). All without actually doing any editing (yet).

Now to see what else can be trimmed out...

How do other folks approach these kinds of "macro" edits?


Kate Diamond said...

Oh, editing... I loathe it. Usually, my problem is not cutting out scenes. It's realizing that I have NO MIDDLE WHATSOEVER to my books.

If you have any suggestions for that, I'd be very grateful! Good luck with your edits.

Sheila said...

LOL! Kate, my problem is that my books have entirely too much middle! Problem is, a lot of it isn't relevant to the plot. It's just keeping my characters busy until I can think of something for them to do.

What middles really need, I think, is a certain amount of conflict. Things should go from bad to worse on their way to the ultimate climax of the book.

Hmmm, maybe conflict would be a good topic for next week.