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First Steps in Editing

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by skip.knox, Sep 13, 2021.

  1. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    My WIP is at Draft 0. I should explain, then ask my question.

    I'm a terribly sloppy writer. I jump around, write multiple versions of the same scene (sometimes accidentally), and leave little notes that indicate entire scenes go here. I also tend to write the dialog for the middle of scene without writing setup or transition. But at some point, I have a sense that the story has all the pieces it needs and now all that remains is cleanup and improvement. That's all. Hah!

    That's Draft 0. I've got the picture, but it's in a hundred pieces scattered around on the floor, some pieces are duplicates, some will need changing ... you get the idea.

    My question is addressed to any of you who work more or less the same way. Those of you who start at the start and just keep going to the end, you can just keep on walking. We don't cotton to your kind 'round these parts. <g>

    How do you make the transition from writing to editing? I have plenty of guides (the best is Janice Hardy's 31-day guide), but they all presume I have a more or less coherent work in front of me. They all are telling me how to make a shirt from a whole piece of cloth when what I've got is a basket full of rags.

    I can't really read for consistency when the dang thing's still in tatters. Do you have a method, an approach, or even just random thoughts? You're welcome to advise that I learn how to write coherently. I could use a chuckle.
  2. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

    Regardless of how you write it, there still has to be points where you say "okay, this draft is done" and you stop. Like I'm on draft 5 right now, though it could have been 2 if I just kept going and going and didn't take a break from editing. You'll have to do the same thing when you're totally finished editng, too, because there can always be things you can find to "fix," and perfect is the enemy of done.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Thanks for the reply.

    Sure. I get that. I've written four novels, so I know how to get to done. It just feels like there has to be some approach to getting from the mess of Draft 0 to a First Draft (which I'm defining as a continuous narrative, regardless of how much editing remains to be done at that point).

    To put it another way, I have acquire a sense of how to start, how to keep going, how to know when the story is ready to abandon ... er, when it's finished. This one stage, though, I'm still just flailing around. Maybe flailing is the only method, but I thought I'd ask around.
  4. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Inkling

    You're not making a shirt. You're making a patchwork quilt. As long as it ends up looking and functioning like a quilt, it can be any mishmash of scraps, stitched together any old way.

    Some writers take that to the extreme. They switch between character viewpoints and/or time frames in adjacent chapters. Most end up with a more straightforward narrative, but it's still created like a quilt, not a shirt.

    Sounds like you're stuck on how to arrange your quilt squares. Or maybe on how to shape them: are some of them perhaps round pieces instead of squares? Do some need reshaping, either to fit with the others or to give themselves the right look?

    Maybe you won't know which pieces need to be reshaped, or how, until you start stitching them together. Do you have any pieces ready to put together in a segment, even if you're not sure yet how you're going to connect that segment with the other pieces? Feel free to go ahead and do it.

    Do you have a sense of where in chronological order the pieces you've got fall? Might as well start arranging them that way. Then, you'll see where you need to add some more pieces to fill in the gaps.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I'm not really stuck, I'm just flailing. I'll try to be more specific.

    I have chapters and scenes. They're more or less in order, though I do have a few thousand words of "fragments"--bits that might fit in somewhere or might not. For the most part, it's all there, though.

    The first chapters are in the best shape, though I might start the story a bit sooner or earlier, but that decision feels like one to be made later, not at this point.

    To take an example, I have a key scene where the duke hires our heroes to do a task. That conversation appears in three different chapters in three different forms. Another example, I have a whole chapter where my editing notes say that the chapter is ok but limp. It doesn't do much--which is not the same thing as saying it does nothing. I have other places where a scene definitely needs to be removed. Or moved. Other scenes have pacing issues.

    One way to proceed is just start with Chapter One and plow my way forward. But my brain is soon jumping around say if I do X here in Chapter 3, then a passage in Chapter 7 really belongs here in 3, but that now affects Chapter 6. It doesn't take long for me to lose all linear sense.

    What I wind up doing in earlier novels is more like sculpting or painting. Or maybe composing a song. I pass back and forth across the whole manuscript. Eventually I get a sense of sections. Everything up to this key scene, then stuff until the big battle, then ... you get the idea. And I start to be able to work within those sections. Sculpting feels closest. At first, it's the whole damn block of marble. There's no hope of sequential work. Eventually I'm taking off tiny flakes and doing a polish. Describing what comes in between as a process or a method is downright ridiculous.

    And maybe that's the way I work and that's the end of it. But I do like to hear from others how they get through the various stages of writing.
  6. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

    I think I've said (OK, written) this before, but I don't write from beginning to end. I'll write the opening scene, because that sets the story. Then I tend to write key scenes and dialogue, and usually not in the order in which they come in the story. In between all this I write other scenes, and at some point it all begins to come together in the right order. I should add that during all this I have a vision of roughly how the story will go and where it will end. and at the end of it all I'm filling in the bits in-between, those little bits of text which add all the depth to the setting.

    I'm dyslexic, so the idea of sketching out the story arc, attaching little post-it notes with scenes and other bits of info doesn't work for me. At all. My dyslexia also makes it almost impossible for me to re-read and re-draft something. That first draft is pretty much it. In short, I don't do editing so I never make that transition.

    My editor is the one who reviews it all for structure and flow. So far she hasn't had much to say to me about that, it's mostly about adding more depth.

    Possibly you're one of these writers who find it hard to re-draft. Dick Francis was said to be like that, as was David Gemmell. Both were former journalists. It isn't neccesarily a problem but then you have to be sure your ability to write the first and final draft is there.
    skip.knox likes this.
  7. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Inkling

    Is there really anything wrong with losing all linear sense?

    You apparently don't work in a linear fashion. Why try to force yourself into it?

    What's really going to happen if you do X in chapter 3, then transplant that passage from chapter 7 to chapter 3, then go smooth over chapter 7 and edit chapter 6? Or back burner chapter 6 until you've done chapters 3, 4, and 5, so then you know all the changes you've made that affect it?

    For you, it isn't a method. I would say it's a process, but it's not a step by step process. Same is true of sculpting.

    Sounds like flailing is part of it for you. Not a bad thing, just the part of the process you're at.
    skip.knox likes this.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    And I'm ok with that. I agree it's not a bad thing. I'm just wondering how other people go about it. Maybe I'll find something in there that I can use.

    Also, there's an emotional aspect to all this. Flailing feels like drowning. It may very well be that this is how I eventually wind up doing a fine overhand swim, but when I'm in it, it still feels like drowning. I wouldn't mind skipping over that and getting on to a sense of good progress.

    OTOH, it might be that if I could find a different approach, I'd turn out stories faster and maybe even write better. Or even gooder.
  9. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Sage

    I start at the beginning and then keep going until the end. More or less. If I have ideas for a later scene, I'll make notes and write some parts of it, usually the dialogue. Sometimes I write one character's story first, if the story is more epic in style with protagonists having separate adventures. Of course, I make multiple passes over the story later, polishing it as much as I can.

    Your draft 0 sounds something like my notes/plans/scene fragments/outline/dialogue fragments, which I do by hand. I'd also like a more streamlined way of writing, but it's possible that the straight road isn't the best one. The curves, bends, and detours can make the story richer.
  10. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Don't slam the door on my face. I write from beginning to end.

    How I do it is I outline, before I write, BUT there's nothing to prevent you from outlining after you've spewed out your raw material. It's what a lot of pantsers do. They vomit out their first draft, then in order to assemble everything into a coherent story, they reverse engineer an outline. This way they have a floor plan guiding them in assembling all the parts they have lying around into something coherent. Some utterly mad individuals toss out that first draft all together and start over, treating that first draft as a dry run.

    From my perspective, we all have to do similar types of work in order to get a story to where it needs to be. What order that work flow takes is completely up to you. For example, using pantsers and outliners as a comparison. Broadly speaking, ouliners spew out ideas into notes first. Then, they create an outline and then they write the first draft. Pantsers, broadly speaking again, spew out their ideas into a first draft. They then have to organize that first draft into something coherent using an outline or something akin to it.

    One approach front loads the organizational aspect of things, while the other does it at the tail end.

    I'm a natural panters, but over time, I learned the advantages to outlining and now use it extensively. I like how I can glance over a broad outline and run through the flow of my story in a just a few moments. It helps keep me focused and on track when I'm writing. It also helps me organize my ideas and helps me identify missing and/or redundant bits.

    In terms of knowing when a story is done, a rule of thumb I use is when I make a pass over the story and change less than 10%, then it's done. OR, if I don't know how to make a story any better or fix the issues at hand, it's time to walk away and start the next thing. Sometimes you don't have the skills, yet, to fix a story, and to bang your head against it over and over is just an exercise in futility. You can always come back to a story later.

    Any way, that's my 2cents on the matter.
    skip.knox likes this.
  11. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    I was thinking the same thing as PenpilotPenpilot. Have you tried outlining?

    I'm an outliner and a beginning to end writer, so very different from your process, so take it with a grain of salt. But it sounds like you can use an outline. Even just writing down a simple timeline, with all the events in your story in order could create an overview of what's going on and if everything is in the right place. It helps figure out if you've got the right amount of time between events (taking traveling etc into consideration), and it helps know if you've got things like weather correct (I found out during one story that it took place over something like 4 months, which meant I needed to change the seasons through the story).

    A thing to keep in mind is that there are as many different kinds of outline as there are writers outlining. It can be anything from a bulletpoint per chapter on a timeline to a 10k words draft document. For me the main thing is that I just can't keep a whole story in my head while writing, so I ofload that to a separate process.

    Another option could be to rewrite the whole thing for draft 1. This doesn't work for me, I'm incapable of rewriting a chapter (editing I'm okay with, just sitting down to write something I've already written doesn't work for me somehow). But if it does work for you then perhaps that could be a solution.
    skip.knox likes this.
  12. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

    Outlining. Well, maybe.

    The late Sir Terry Pratchett (another former journalist) found he couldn't write like that, and admitted that he was more the sort who just wrote different scenes, put them together and then added to the text. He wrote that this was what stopped his planned collabroation with Larry Niven (who outlined in detail) - their writing methods were so different that a collaboration would have been too stressful for them both.

    I think all of us start out with some idea of what the story will look like. Some of us then write this as an outline, and some (like me) just keep it in our heads. Some write from start to finish and some (like me) write various bits of the story and then put it together. No matter how you write, it's having the basic arc of the story which stops you flailing around, its this which keeps things together.

    So I guess the question is how you keep tabs on your story arc?
    skip.knox likes this.
  13. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I’ve no idea what to do because i can’t see it, heh heh. People’s descriptions, my interpretation, and reality can be universes apart. What this more or less sounds like to me is what some people do in screenwriting, placing every scene or snippet onto a notecard and then putting the puzzle together. This tends to find the natural order, but in instances where linear doesn’t matter it let’s them move them around at will and see how they play. For me, while every POV tends to be linear, weaving them together tends to have have flex. At one point early with Eve of Snows I put the chapters on the floor and shifted them around, then rewrote bits to fit the tight-assed timeline necessary, which was basically using giant notecards 10-30 pages long, heh heh.
    skip.knox likes this.
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I don't know. Sounds like you need to draw back, gain some distance, and begin to set goals for yourself. Or, goals for the story. Itemize it; I mean, the structure. "First act needs to accomplish This. Second act needs to accomplish This. Third act needs to accomplish This."

    Then maybe you sort your bits into those three piles, heh.

    But not over yet, perhaps. Break the acts into other sections. Movements. Beats. What is the goal of each, and what do you have already written or noted "to be written" that will fulfill the goal or purpose of those beats.

    Still yet: consider some character arcs, subplot arcs, and the various beats of those. Think about what is needed in each place. Look at your scattered stuff and ask what goes where.

    Meh, perhaps I'm no help at all, but this seems to be your missing step. This is like outlining, but outlining after the fact. After lots has been written.

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