Sunday, July 26, 2009

Run for the Castle Aaaaagggggghhhhh

Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail is my favorite movie EVER, but the ending is a little frustrating… that last scene where they are running at the Castle Aaaaaaagggggggghhhhh and each time it pans away, then back to the runners and they are back where they started. I’m feeling a lot like that at the moment. It’s not that I am uber-eager to have the French dump their poo on my head, but I keep running, and running, and running, and every time I think I’m getting somewhere, the camera pans away and I am back at the beginning. What I am referring to is this editing process. I publish scientifically, so I am completely aware… content even… with the idea that works take a few rounds of editing before they are quite ready. I finished my book in October and began immediately editing in the things from a notebook I’d been keeping to ‘check on’ or ‘add later’ (usually earlier hints at stuff I wrote in later that couldn’t come out of the blue). Then in November I started my ‘typo/grammar check’ editing. In December I began my first read through, rewriting portions. So we are at what? Five? At least at Arthurian counting. Then at the end of January I sent the book to three members of my writing group for feedback and sat back to start a different work for six weeks. Feedback came and I began yet another round of rewriting/editing. Then I polished it and thought I was done, only to learn 200,000 words is IMPOSSIBLE for a first time author to get published--that only established best-sellers get to do that, and that agents likely were seeing the number and pressing ‘form reject’--not even looking at my hook. So on to the SHORTENING rewrite. I have finished that and begun polishing again, only to hear ‘no longer me’ stylistically… Do you see me back there? Running for the castle yet again, from WAY back at the place I finally emerged from the cave with the Beastie? URRRGHHHH! But I began yesterday with chapter one, looking at the hard copy I used in shortening, and deciding line by line whether removals changed style or not. Only a few of them did, in my opinion. And when I was done the chapter was shortened by 1200 instead of 1500--so ALMOST as good… (down to 18 pages, rather than 17). I’m not sure if it will work, but I think the plan is to go with this and round down… it is page numbers that really matter anyway, ne? And maybe some day the whole thing will get to be published in its entirely--when I am famous and all… For now though, I am just eager to get close enough to be taunted a second time.


Galen Kindley--Author said...

Very interesting post. I’ve seen several good posts about this topic. ES Craig wrote one about book length. The Blood Red Pencil…I think…wrote one about revisions and an organized plan for same. (Which it sounds like you’re doing, by the way.)

I think you’re exactly right about word count…at or near 100K is probably the magic number for new authors…and that only avoids the automatic rejection machine. So, if that’s true, what could you do?

Well, first, I feel your pain. While that’s comforting, it doesn’t move the editing-ball forward. So, may I humbly offer a couple of thought:
• Is your work one that might be made into a series? You could break it into two parts—or more.
• Is it possible to excise complete chapters, maybe combining the information in two or more chapters into one, smaller chapter.
• How about tight sentences? I’m sure they’re tight now, but I mean super tight. Even one extra descriptor per sentence can pile up the word count pretty quickly.

Re-reading this, I hope it doesn’t sound preachy or know-it-all, these are just points I’ve read elsewhere…I don’t practice them myself, you understand, I just heard tell they’re good ideas.

Revision can be fun. You see your work coalesce into the object in your mind’s eye. I hope you’re having just a little fun at it, anyway.

Best and respectful regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Hi've clearly got a good vision for your story. I'm thinking about Rowling, who had the entire plot in her head from day 1, but broke it down into 7 (I think?) books. I don't know if that would work for you (and, clearly, it would be a huge amount of editing), but it's always a thought.

Best of luck,

Mystery Writing is Murder

Watery Tart said...

Galen and Elizabeth-thank you both so much for the feedback, and Galen, HUGE thanks on suggestions.

I toyed with a little while with the idea of breaking it apart, but it is really a single story. It is the wording thing I am struggling with now. I can make it shorter with really precise language, but that is what brought up the 'no longer me' feedback. My VOICE needs a little more to it. I don't think I'm hugely verbose, but I tell the tale from four characters perspectives and the wording provides important clues as to who is perceiving at the moment.

I am carefully currently identifying agents who've had big successes with long first works (my first choice would be Amy Williams, who represents Elizabeth Kostova--the Historian is a really long first work and she managed a 2 million dollar sale on it). I've only got one chance there though, so everything needs to be PERFECT before I dive down that road, but there are a few successful long first works every year.

At this point, I think I'd rather sell another work before losing my style completely. This one just won't hold up at less than... say 140K. And that is my writing style--my next 'hot one' planned will also be long, so I think I am just better off finding an agent who is up to it, even if it is harder to do.

Call me stubborn...

LABANAN said...

Man, I think you've got a problem I'd like to have. I can turn my amount of words into a haiku at the drop of a hat. I LOVE editing down. Send me your manuscript and I'll send you mine and you can fatten it up. As if! Oh well- just a thought. When I'm editing down I feel like I'm reducing a sauce to make it one intense thingy. Only I need way more words to do that. Alright, I'll stop being jealous and get to work on mine. Quite a process neh?
Jan (aka Crazy Jane)

Pat Bertram said...

Editing does feel that way, a true Sisyphean task. You're always running away from the French, I'm pushing a boulder up a hill, and just when I think I've got it done, it rolls down and I have to start all over again. That's the main reason to get a book published (it certainly isn't the money or acclaim!)-- to know that you are really finished with the thing.