A Quick Editing Ramble

I’m currently going through the editing process, so hang onto your butts, boys, girls and others, because ranting may happen.

Confession: I love the editing process. I love everything about it: I love the satisfaction of fixing problems with my writing, I love the tweaking and the rewriting, I love watching the wordcount change as I add or remove scenes, and I sure as sugar love complaining about it constantly.
Isn’t it great? It’s the one part of writing writers are allowed to both unironically love and unironically hate at the same time. You sit there and you bang your head or hands against the keyboard, cursing yourself for being so stupid as to write this tripe in the first place, and then feel all warm and glowy once you’ve fixed a problem.
I feel like editing is the one place in writing where novel writers have actual milestones to work towards. If you’re anything like me as a writer, you have no idea how long the story’s going to be when you’ve finished. This is referring to novel writing only, obviously – academic writing, journalism, and anyone who writes to short story submission criteria can safely ignore this section. But even outliners, who have a very certain idea of where the story will go, often don’t know the actual wordcount for their finished piece. I always “aim” for around 90,000 words, that is, whenever anyone asks me how long my book will be, or when I’m considering how many months the first draft should take, I use 90,000 words as my estimate. My actual book lengths? Vary from about 83,000 words to about 107,000 words (as of current drafts). This means, while you can sit down and go “Yes! I finished another 10,000 word milestone!”, it feels a little meaningless, because it doesn’t actually tell you how much closer to your goal you are. You have no goal.
Editing, on the other hand? I have a little red list of all the problems, and when one is fixed, I cross it off the list. It’s really easy to see how far along I am. I fixed four problems with my novel this week – that’s 5% of my 86-problem list!! At this rate, I’ll be done in 20 weeks!

Or, at least, it could if THE DARN LIST WOULD STOP RESPAWNING.

Big edits throw all these lovely things I just said out of the window, because there is nothing a writer can possibly do that will stop a big edit messing up a whole lot of smaller edits along the way. Restructure your book so the pacing is tighter? Get ready to go back and fix all the continuity errors! Kill a character at the end of the book? Yay, retconning your foreshadowing! Remove scenes and themes? Hope you remember where all the references to that are, because you’re going to be picking them out of the story like Cthulhu picks souls out of its teeth after a meal.

The upshot of this is: If you ever have a writer friend, and you’re waiting on their book to get through edits, please understand that whatever time frame they give you will likely expand, probably by three months at least. They’re not trying to annoy you. They’re just playing infinite whack-a-mole against their brain.
But I swear they’re probably enjoying it anyway.

Book Challenge

This year, my writers’ group posted a book challenge.
Here it is, in all its glory!

The Reading Challenge!

I came across this a week or two ago, and I’ve been marking off books I read since New Year’s, and given I’ve got no school and am still job searching, it’s a little embarrassing how far I’ve made it through the list. It’s entirely designed to encourage reading books you wouldn’t necessarily pick up and read, but might enjoy if you did.

In a perfect world, I’d add a couple more categories (maybe splitting up ‘Asia’ from one monolithic thing into some constituent areas because cultural diversity, add self-published as well as indie published, and of course because it’s me, adding more spec fic categories), but I do like that it has categories for gender/sexuality diversity, cultural diversity, genre diversity and different publishing venues/categories. It’s not concentrating on one area of adding diversity to reading, and that means I’m more likely to find more cool stuff. Heck, I’m actually putting stuff on my to-read list because of other stuff I found looking for books to fill categories on the list that I may not normally have found, because I’m essentially using different search terms.

Given that my first thought after I finished my uni year last year was “AWESOME FANTASY BOOKS!! *dives into pile of spec fic*”, I think this is a really good idea for me – to keep me from getting not-studying-induced tunnel vision on books (Not studying is going to drive me a bit insane, but that’s a discussion for another time).
Plus, I’ve had a few conversations with friends about reading material before, to suggest fantasy books because they’d like to read more but only seem to pick up mediocre fantasy. I like the spec fic section, always have. So I know how to navigate it. I can read a blurb and a first page and generally tell what kind of book it will be, and whether I’ll like it. I’m more often right than wrong, these days.
Put me in the fiction section? “Well, that sure is a great picture of that person’s immaculate jawline. Hm, this writing is good, but it doesn’t tell me anything about the story. And this blurb is frankly confusing”. I might have an idea of whether I’ll like it or not, but I’ll not trust my judgement enough to actually spend money on it unless I have a recommendation from someone I trust.
So something like this, where I’m forced to take a chance on a specific type of thing? Maybe it’ll give me some practice figuring out how to read vague lit fic blurbs. Maybe it’ll mean I can decide on books I’ll like based on “Well, it reads similar to this other thing I really liked.” I’d like to be able to trust my abilities to pick up more than just fantasy.
To facilitate this, I’ve also added to my rules that I can’t reread books for it. Every book has to be something I haven’t read before.

So if this sounds like something that will make your year’s reading a bit more interesting, well, have a link! Otherwise, ignore the crazy person. It’s the Internet, I’m sure it won’t be the last time. If you found a new book because of it, recommend it in the comments! Or if you’ve got suggestions for books for certain categories. Everyone loves book recommendations!

Building Plot

Kind of a sequel to the last post I made, I figured I’d talk a bit about building from basic ideas.

So, last week, we talked about getting the plot from basic idea to something you can build a story around. And my opinion is that you need to get to the point where you have a basic conflict to work with. Non-conflict-based narratives are a topic for another post; I’m going to need to do a bit more research on them before I make any bold statements on the Internet.

Let’s just imagine that you have the barest bones of a plot idea that you can build on. So, for example, this one: “A loyal butler for a government official is kidnapped and recruited into a rebellion.”

This is a good start, but it’s probably not enough for a whole novel. So, where would I go from there?

Well, let’s look at what I have. I have a main conflict – the rebellion wants the butler to help them, but the butler wants to do what’s best for his employer. They’re going to have to come up with some really good reasons for him to follow them. A good part of the story is likely going to have to do with them gaining his trust (and probably him gaining theirs, too).

I’d have preliminary questions here: First, what does the rebellion want? They’ve got to have a legitimate grievance.
Second, why is the butler so loyal? Or, probably more pertinent, how loyal is the butler? Is he loyal ideologically, so that if the rebellion can prove to him that his employer is causing serious harm, he’ll agree to work against him? Personally loyal or in debt? Or does he actually agree ideologically with his employer, and unlikely to agree in the end with the rebels?
Third, will the butler double-cross them? Will he pretend to agree to and use their trust to help his employer?
Fourth, why the butler? What can the butler do that either someone outside the household can’t, or they can’t take to the employer himself?

Those questions are all going to make sure that the main conflict is as interesting as possible, and that I don’t have too many plot holes. They’re not going to be the only questions I need to answer, but they’ll be good to get me started, thinking about how these characters relate to the conflict.

But let’s move away from that. I’m not going to develop the whole story here.

In something the length of a novel, you need more than one plotline. B-plots are good, as are subplots (for clarity, I call a B-plot a plot as large or complex as the main plot, which takes up roughly the same amount of time in the novel. A subplot is a plot that’s either shorter or simpler than the main plot, which takes up less time and reader brainspace in the novel).

But where does that come from?
First, I’d be looking at putting some people in my rebellion, getting some character dynamics in there. Maybe there’s some infighting about what exactly they want to get out of this whole process. Maybe there’s a few “I agree with you and I need you to make this work, but dammit, I just really want to punch you” things going on. On the opposite side, there’s probably some inseparable friendships in there.
Second, fun with sects and factions! They’re probably not the only group out there looking to make some changes to the way things work. Who are they working with? Who are they working against? Who can they and can they not compromise with? Adding a PR element is going to put a damper on any really bold plans, and force some interesting workarounds.
Third, what happens to the rest of the household when the butler is gone? Who has he left behind? Anybody who’s likely to stir up trouble looking for him, particularly the kind of trouble that’s going to upset the butler’s carefully-laid plans.

And if you can’t find a few interesting B- and sub-plots in there, there’s something horribly wrong.
From there, it’s just a matter of picking the best ones – the ones that are logical, fit in with the characters you have, and complement the main plot.

More on that later. This ramble has gone on quite long enough.