Category Archives: random musings

A Newbie’s reflections on editing

Editing my short story.
Toss and rewrite.

As far as editing is concerned, I am what the gamer world would call a total “noob”. I have only started seriously applying butt to chair since October 2013, and so far I have a finished first draft of a novel and two short stories to show for that. So I have minimal experience with editing my work (even smaller than my experience in actually writing it).

However, I started this blog not only to share my thoughts and opinions on books and shows I like, but also to track how I progress and evolve as a writer. So based on editing two short stories and finishing the re-read of my first draft, I have made several observations about my writing process.

So far, when I sat down to edit both of short stories, I ended up keeping about 10% of the original text and rewriting everything else. When I noticed that, at first I was depressed, because I felt bad for all that time I wasted writing the first draft only to toss most of it away. But then I started analyzing the differences between the draft and the end product, and the result was not as abysmal as I had thought. Yes, I had tossed 90% of what I had written, but the bones of the story remained the same – the plot stayed in those 10% that were left in its entirety. So I got the structure of the story right the first time around, but it’s the presentation that needed reworking.

Doesn’t that realization make you feel better instantly? I know it did for me. I didn’t waste that time writing the first draft. I put the skeleton of my story together instead. And those scenes that I tossed and rewrote? They served a purpose too. They showed me that first setting / event/ character reaction that came to my mind didn’t work. If I hadn’t put it down on paper and re-read it, I would never have noticed that. Guess what, that made me think of a different way of telling the story. And if the critiques I received on Critters are to be trusted, the story only became better because of that.

And now I am faced with the daunting task of taking the first draft of my novel (which about 95k works longer than my short stories) and trying to make a decent story out of it. I must admit that I am scared: if I have to toss and rewrite 90% of the original, that would be about 90k words. That can potentially take me A LONG time. But I have learned one thing from the short story editing exercise and the read through my draft – the plot is there, the characters are alive and their POVs are visible, so the “bones” of the novel are solid. Now I just need to make sure to flesh it out and dress it in Sunday’s best before I let it fly into the world.

J. K. Rowling or why telling a bestselling writer to stop writing makes no sense.

I know I am jumping on the wagon way too late, since this article had been posted on February 21st, but I have some thoughts on the subject, so I decided to post them anyway. Hey, this is my blog, so I can do whatever I want in it, right? Wait, where are you all going? Come back!!!

Ahem, back to the subject at hand. I think the idea that bestselling authors somehow steal readers (and thus money) from less known writers by publishing new books is absolutely preposterous. More than that, the reasoning is flawed.

Would I buy a new book by J. K. Rowling? I would read the synopsis first, and if the story interests me, then yes of course I will. But I would do that with any other book as well, regardless of the author. Granted, seeing a big name on the cover would incite me to pick up the book and actually look at the synopsis more than a name I don’t know. Does that mean that bestselling authors sell more books? Yes, definitely. Does that mean that by doing so they steal money away from less known authors? Heck no!

No author, no matter now prolific, can publish more than one or two books a year. Even an average reader goes through at least 12-20 books a year. And a book junkie like me usually goes through at least one book a week (because I still have a full time job, a family and my own writing which chip away at my reading time). So after I am done with the latest Rowling, King or Scalzi (those should have kept me occupied for about a month), will I just sit on my hands and die of boredom the rest of the year waiting for their next book? Of course not! I will go on a hunt for more books to read in the genres I like.

This is why I love Amazon with their neat feature called “Customers who bought this item also bought”, or the recommendations page on Goodreads. I discovered many fabulous authors by browsing through those recommendations, opening each book and reading reviews and synopsis until I found a book I wanted to read. And if I happened to like a book by this new author, I would look for more of his or her books to read.

My point is, if this – if this bestselling author hadn’t written a new book that I read and liked, I wouldn’t have gone looking for something similar, and I would never have discovered a lot of new fledgling authors that I love and follow now.

Bestselling authors shine a spotlight on the genre they chose to write in and attract more readers who might have been unfamiliar with that genre before. And this is good news for everyone, readers and authors alike.

Back to our example, J. K. Rowling wrote a crime novel. Even if only one third of her followers bought it and liked it, chances are they will want to see what other crime novels there are out there, and they will not wait for Rowling to publish a new book. Instead they will go and browse the crime section on amazon or their local bookstore / library. Chances are, they will pick up Lynn Shepherd’s novel next, or the first book of another new author, boosting their sales.

So instead of telling those bestselling authors to put their pen down and retire, we should encourage them to explore more genres so that everyone could benefit from the publicity.

Also, a good writer can never retire, because writing is not a job but a way of life. Telling them to stop writing is like telling them to stop breathing – rather impossible to do.

Character-driven narrative

I admit that I am not a seasoned writer. Heck I started writing seriously only since mid-October, and all I have to show is one finished first draft of a novel and one short story. But I have already started planning my next novel, and I have ideas for several other short stories. So I guess the person who encouraged me to start writing was right – the more you write, the more ideas come to you.

But the point of today’s post is not about my writing experience or lack of thereof, well not entirely. I have read somewhere that writing is the never-ending path of self-discovery, and I agree with that statement. Even with my very limited experience, I have already discovered one fundamental thing about my writing – it is character-driven first and foremost.

As far as I can see all my stories, even the gazillion unfinished drafts, started with one or two characters. Usually, I see them in very vivid details, sometimes even with background stories, and then I have to try and build a story around them. One of my good friends once told me, “Think about where you want your characters to get, both physically and emotionally, and then build a story to accomplish that.” That’s the best piece of advice I have ever been given.

For example, Of Broken Things was born when one of the characters literally barged into my sleep, sat down and said “Listen, you are going to write this…” The initial idea was very simple: what would happen, if a super-soldier fell in love? And if the person he cared the most about was taken from him?

So in the beginning I only had one character with his set of problems and priorities. But then I had to think about what kind of woman would a man like that fall for? She would need to be truly exceptional… And that’s how Cassie came into the picture and took the spotlight. Then I started writing my outline, and all of a sudden private investigator Aiden Stappleton came out of nowhere and highjacked the whole of Act 1. But even with all that, ultimately the story was still about the super-soldier and the consequences of his actions.

Working on Of Broken Things showed me that I like writing about characters. I like putting them in difficult situation and watching them change in order to overcome obstacles. Story and setting are important, but only as a catalyst for character change.

This realization made me take a good look at the books, movies and TV shows I like. Just as I thought, they are all character-driven. The author could have created the most beautiful world with the most complex society, thought about how the magic works and what Gods his people worship, but if the characters walking this world fail to interest me, I will probably put the book down before I reach the end. Setting and world building doesn’t interest me if they don’t influence the protagonist and make him or her evolve in some way.

I think discovering this particularity about my writing is a big help against writer’s block, because now when I feel stuck in my writing, I know that it’s probably because I lost sight of my character’s development somewhere along the way and made them do something very out of character.