Tuesday, September 07, 2010

What Exactly Is Editing - Part VI

Part One of this series was posted on August 3, 2010,

followed by Part II on Aug 10

and Part III on Aug 17,

Part IV on Aug. 24, 2010

Part V on Aug. 31, 2010

OK, so now down to the very nitty part of the nitty-gritty of rewriting to editorial requirements and getting it done within the deadline (which was probably yesterday).

What do you do first?

Some editors scribble in margins, some write long detailed notes page and paragraph references followed by an explanation of the problem they are having at that point.

It doesn't matter how they present the problem set to you. If you've done the original work solidly, you'll have no problem.

But how do you do that original work "solidly?"

Here is where I discussed "what to do first" when you start out to write a novel.


That blog essentially says write the jacket copy FIRST, then explains why that's necessary in terms of the eventual reviews, buzz, and publicity, and adds some clout by "who" agrees with me.

It gives a formula created by an Agent to tell you exactly how to create the jacket copy which you then use to create the novel beat by beat.

I keep raving about Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT! series on how to create a screenplay from scratch. He didn't invent the concept "beat sheet" but he reverse-engineered hundreds of blockbuster screenplays to discover what they had in common and formulated the universal beat sheet for the 110 page screenplay.

One of his students reduced that beat sheet to a formula for creating the "pitch" (i.e. what a book would use as flap copy or back-copy to sell the book to a reader).

http://www.blakesnyder.com/2008/10/try-this/#comments (and scroll up to the post)

And now here is another excellent summary of how to concoct that all important STARTING POINT for telling a story - the POINT which will, if you use it meticulously, allow you to rewrite to editorial specification successfully no matter how tight the deadline:


Now there it is - the entire SECRET of this whole editorial thing.

These 3 posts enumerate the moving parts of your "vehicle" as referred to in the previous 5 parts of this series. And it's the vehicle that is being edited -- not your story, and not your art, but the packaging around it.

So, parts 1-5 of this series are explaining to you what an editor is, what an editor does, and why.

Most of you probably already knew everything in parts 1-5 of this series, but you lose sight of that when confronted with rewrite orders. Everything you "know" goes out the window and all you can think about is what's important to you. All you feel is your own feelings.

The editing process is about putting your personal investment, your feelings, aside and focusing on your customer, your audience, not yourself. The "professional" part of writing is the PERFORMING part, and that's what the editing process is about.

Creating the submission draft is like the dress-rehearsal. The editorial process is like the actual performance with the whole crew standing behind the camera and the director seeing $$$$ flowing across the set by the second. You are on stage before a live audience that paid for the show, and THE SHOW MUST GO ON. One take. That's all you have (publishing is very low-budget stuff).

The objective of the first 5 posts in "What Exactly Is Editing" is to get you to use your writerly instincts to walk a mile in your editor's shoes, to see her job from her eyes, to feel her feelings and share her objectives. She's your customer, and at this point, your audience waiting for that opening night performance.

Your final edit to editorial specification may require a whole lot of changes, but you should not take that fact to mean that you wrote it wrong to begin with (unless of course you wrote it after selling this editor at this publishing house a novel on the basis of a 1 parag description and not even a sample chapter).

If you sold on the basis of a paragraph (yes, I've done that a few times) and then got a torrent of editorial tweaks (thankfully that never happened to me), it does mean you weren't paying enough attention to that Line's specific requirements, or the requirements changed between contract and delivery.

But if you wrote it on spec, for a general market, you should expect any editor or producer to need some tailoring nips and tucks to make your story fit into her vehicle, her packaging.

If your story won't fit into her standard shaped packaging, then it will snag in the publishing channel, the tube that runs between you and your ultimate reader. The thing will just STICK in place, (clogging up the channel and preventing other more smoothly tailored books behind it from getting to their readers). In other words, it won't sell well.

To minimize the need to re-shape your story to any particular editor or producer's market channels, take that market's characteristics into account.

Study the market, internalize the beat-sheet that market prefers, make it part of your subconscious. Here are two posts that may help.


http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/11/astrology-just-for-writers-part-6.html (this is a different post than the one above - just mis-numbered)

Writing is a performing art. Remember learning to dance? Or drive? At first your attention is on your feet, or you get dizzy juggling all the information approaching a stop sign for a left turn. After a while, some other part of your brain takes over, and you can dance or drive while talking, singing, flirting with your dancer partner, or thinking about your grocery list and yelling at the kids in the back seat. (but not while on a cell phone or texting).

Writing stories is the same way. Once the subconscious is trained, it will organize all the bits of the story into a beat sheet based on a concept and pitch that fits a very specific market. Then it will toss that up into your conscious mind and compel you to write it.

Amateur or beginning writers will "get" an idea before it's been collimated into a beat sheet that fits a specific market. That's why they struggle so much. You can't do all this stuff consciously. You have to drill the moves in deeply, memorize your lines like an actor, memorize your sheet-music like a pianist, then PERFORM that piece.

A particular structure for a particular market is like a specific Shakespearian play, or a Brahms symphony -- it is exactly what it is, but it is made anew, fresh and different by each artist who performs it, by each time that artist performs it.

If you know your business, your submission draft will need only a few tweaks and a clean-up of typos and inconsistencies.

If you do get a torrent of editorial comments that need action, then you start methodically.

#1) Put yourself in your editor's shoes, at her desk, answering her phone, attending her committee meetings.

#2) Pick out two or three novels your editor edited for that line and stack them on the desk before you. (presumably you've reread them a number of times to drive the beat-sheet into your hind-brain). For a screenplay, it's the same drill - study the product of that producer.

#3) Go to the END of your MS. Make sure the climax is RIGHT AT the very end, nothing left over but a nice, sweet denoument if that.

#4) Go to the BEGINNING of your MS. Make sure the beginning contains everything that's at the ending and nothing much else. Delete what does not pertain to the ending.

#5) Go to the MIDDLE of your MS. Make sure that the tension level is correct - low-point for an HEA and high-point for a tragedy.

#6) Go to the 1/4 and 3/4 points for a novel (the act breaks for a screenplay) - check that the plot-development necessary to lead to the ending is exactly at those points and not one page off.

#7) Review the editor's problem points and use those notes to smooth and smooth, to simplify, emphasize, showcase, and show-don't-tell the LINE (that artistic line we talked about in this series on editing) that leads from Beginning to Ending through the Middle.

#8) After entering all the changes the editor wants, check again to make sure the EMOTIONAL LINE and the artistic line, and the plot-line and the story-line and thematic statement all move with the beats.

Make sure no scene goes too long (most writers linger at a scene a few parags or events too long). Make sure all that you originally intended is there for the reader. Make sure your changes don't "show" - don't cause discontinuity or emotional jerking around. Make sure the interna-climax pattern is correct for the length of the novel.

Here are checklists for how to analyze your structure.





#9) One more read-through if you have time, one more spell-check and make sure your POV shifts "work." Check for the elements cited in the following posts:






And you're done.

With experience, it shouldn't take more than 2 or 3 workdays to polish up a 400 page novel MS. That's a target. It could take years and buckets of sweat to get that experienced.

In Part VII on September 14, 2010, find out if you're a writer or an editor.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:37 PM EDT

    this is one of the most comprehensive editing posts I;ve read so far .thank you