Monday, 28 May 2012

Musings on Editing my Work in Progress


I’m trapped upstairs in a spare bedroom today, sitting with the dog curled up beside me and listening to hammering, sawing and a few expletives coming from the chap fitting my new flooring downstairs. It’s not conducive to writing. I can’t even get on with editing, since my master document is on the main computer, which has been dismantled and put away from all the work. Tip for other novices – back up to a memory stick every time you make any changes.

I could do some ironing - the pile is a teetering metre high, but the weather is too warm. Who wants to cloud themselves in steam on such a nice day? I’m not sure I’d even fancy the sauna on a spa retreat. Besides, ironing will always be one of many last choice activities – up there with bungee jumping, horse riding and queuing for theme park rides. I could sit and relax in the garden, or should that be ‘chillax’, a word in the news this week. No, I don’t think my skin would stand up to the heat and it feels wrong to be out there while the flooring guy sweats over his work.
The ironing pile
So I’ve decide to reflect on the whole process of writing and editing my novel. I began my work in progress (WIP) when the tutor of a creative writing evening class set the group homework – write the first chapter of a historical novel. I was teaching the Tudors to my primary class at the time, so decided on a setting in the late Elizabethan era and aimed it at my bright readers. I began with the stench of urine – ‘that’ll hook the boys’, I thought.

I took 20,000 words of my WIP to an Arvon course on fiction writing, and used it as the basis of a one-to-one tutoring session with Kathryn Heyman, where it became evident that I needed to focus on structure and develop more of a plan for the story.

I know everyone works in different ways. For me, ploughing straight in and getting a feel for the story was important, but eventually I needed a much clearer idea of where it was going. I had to get the foundation working. Kathryn advised me to think of it in scenes, which help me, and I set about producing a plan along the lines suggested by Jim Smith in The Writer’s LittleHelper.

In developing the story arc, the urine chapter moved to chapter four, and my main character developed goals to drive him through the story, with accompanying external barriers to drop in his path and trip him up along the way.

By this time I had given up my day job and was travelling around Europe in a small van with my husband and dog (Charlie Dog Came Too), spending time writing while my husband pursued healthily active pastimes.

For my whole year of travel Kathryn Heyman mentored me through the GoldDust programme. We concentrated on story and scene structure with the aim of making the writing as strong as possible, looking at:

  • Keeping tight to the main character’s point-of-view and ensuring that his motivation within each scene was relevant to his story goals.
  • Maintaining a good pace, with a balance of narrative, dialogue, and introspection.
  • Avoiding clich├ęs of action and thought, and ‘ye olde English’ dialogue.
  • The old chestnut of showing rather than telling.
  • Making the emotions of the characters believable. 

    Through the whole of this writing process I was also editing, since I was producing 20,000 word blocks to send to my mentor. This was an ongoing process of refining the writing at paragraph, sentence and word level, trying to:
  • Vary my sentence length.
  • Avoid repetition of the same word or phrase – for me that involved removing quite a bit of winking and rolling of eyes.
  • Minimise passives and weak words. I’ve gone through for these common five words you’re told to edit out – very, really, just, quite, perhaps – but I’m still trawling through for ‘filter’ words such as to see, to touch, to think, to feel.

I am nearly there. I’ve been nearly there for two months. Once this flooring is down I will go all out to get right there – wherever there is.