April 29, 2010

The self-conscious desire to over-explain

Something I have the tendency to do whether it be fiction, blogging or even in academic writing is to reiterate the same point over and over again. Maybe I've done it on here, but I know in my private blog and my Madrid ones I am guilty as charged, and I do this certainly in my fiction - but I just don't realise it while writing and editing.

Repetition is fortunately one of the easiest faults to cure. It takes a couple of proof readers to look through the text and point out that I really don't need to say the same thing two, three, or four times. But why? Am I cursed with the memory of a goldfish or what? I thought a bit about this, and I think I understand the cause behind my need to hammer my point home until people vomit on the point I'm making (ok that maybe was a bit of an over-exaggeration). The reason, certainly in my case anyway, is insecurity.  I say something with subtlety in my writing, but self-conscious about whether I make that point I feel the need to state the obvious. Example:

"I glance at the stall on the street corner selling cheap imitations: a substitute for the real thing." 

There is no point to the second half of this sentence after the colon; it's just another way of saying something I have already said. Sometimes this can be something as obvious as saying the same thing in a different way, or as "subtle" as explaining something that should show itself through the action that is happening in the scene. An example I made up on the spot for demonstration purposes:

"Jane felt the gust of wind come in through the window, her skin bubbled up in goosebumps. She was cold." 

This is still pretty simple but it gets the point across. We know that Jane was cold as this is expressed by her biological reaction "her skin bubbled up in goosebumps".

Asides from insecurity, I also do this over-explaining because I am going for emphasis, but again, why do I need to say it twice when I can say it once effectively? Maybe this will only be something I can truly get rid off as my confidence grows and the less self-conscious my writing becomes or I just need to train my editing eye to notice this unnecessary repetition (along with clichés, passive voice, adverbs, POV issues etc).

April 27, 2010

Figuring out how to edit a novel: creating characters

 It's a surreal feeling, when you pick up a manuscript you've written but haven't read properly before. Writing puts you in such a different zone that you visualise everything with such intensity that everything you write feels Pulitzer worthy, but on re-reading what you really think is:did I really write this shit. I cringed through most my novel upon re-reading, especially since I know more about writing now as opposed to when I wrote it. Still, things can still be corrected and re-written which is a start, since all first drafts are shit, as Hemingway said. I've never been under any illusion that this novel won't require a lot of work: I expect hours of writing, re-writing, tossing manuscripts and bleeding on paninis.

But on the positive side: the concept works and the characters could be vivid and interesting. There is a lot potential in the manuscript even though it needs heavy-duty cosmetic surgery. By the time I will have finished this novel, it will be un-recognisable.

Since my last post, someone suggested I check out StoryMill  (a novel writing software),  which has helped a lot in the planning as well as organising my ideas. One of the tools in StoryMill are character notes, using this I spent over a week writing long and detailed biographies for each principle character. Even though the details and histories will not necessarily come up in the novel, as a writer, it gives me a better perspective of where my characters come from: who they are, how they would react in certain situations and why. Considering my novel depends a lot on psychology, I feel this is a particularly important part to address; I need to make my characters as real and believable as possible. When it comes to individual personalities, the most interesting things about them lie buried in their past, sometimes only alluded to, yet their reactions are rooted in this historical foundation of experiences which have formed their very natures. I think, and I could well be wrong, that writers who fail with real and intense characters in their novels don't think about them outside the context of the novel's plot. Sometimes it feels like a waste of time to think about things which don't happen on the page, but what happens off the page is equally important. When I feel lost in writing,  I turn to my characters to direct me as after all, it is their story.

April 7, 2010

Figuring out how to edit a novel: making lists

I have been writing: mostly about physics though,  but I still have been trying to keep up the work on the side. I feel like I've fallen out of the writing mode quite a bit since the pressure from the PhD can be felt intensely as I spent most of the holidays working on a report for my boss. I sat in little bohemian cafés with my new MacBook doing equations in LaTeX... not quite the cliché I guess.

However I decided - enough is enough - and it's now time to work on the novel. I printed out the 75,000 monster and looked at it terrified to read it for fear of it being shit. I read it, and of course, like all first drafts it was shit. At least I didn't lose myself in any delusions of being awesome and patting myself on the back for having written the great Anglo-Hungarian novel of the 21st century (although I could have, since there's not many of those around). I think the fact I have learned so much over the last 6 months has helped me keep a realistic perspective on my writing, so instead of believing what I want I can look at the manuscript and go "this is shit, but has potential - what can I do to make it less shit".

First, I read the whole thing while making notes of things which:
 a) immediately annoys me - changing point of view frequently being one of the main offenders
 b) what actually works - I have to say the premise of the novel and the possible character development is very interesting and could work very well, but I just need to figure out how to make it good. Having a good premise is not enough but it's a good start.
 c) what could be changed - there could be a scene which has potential but something doesn't quite work so to think about what changes would improve it.

I then sat down and summarised the novel chapter by chapter. I opened up a document in open-office and went through the manuscript marking where the chapters should be and proceeded to summarise them. This not only gives me a quick overview of the novel plot, but can help me do some plot edits and I can see in which order things come. Alas at the moment it's a non-linear mess which doesn't quite work and needs to be reorganised but I wouldn't have seen that had I not made a summary.

I then went through the summary and highlighted in green what stays, red what goes and yellow as to maybe go or just change.

I made some separate lists such as what works, what doesn't work, what should I do or include to make the plot more interesting and then some more specific lists to do with certain aspects of the plot.

So far I have a lot of lists, lot of ideas and too little time. I am trying to figure out the next stage. Maybe I'll copy paste the current summary and plan the plot and subplots around the points I made. Will it work? Who knows, but will see how it turns out.