Thursday, July 22, 2010

Welcome, Diane Scott Lewis

Severe Self-Editing

Several years ago I wrote and researched a novel set on the remote North Atlantic island of St. Helena during Napoleon’s exile in 1815. Most of the people who accompanied him wrote diaries and memoires…so many details and history. The island itself was a character due to the odd flora and fauna and geographical setting. I stuffed the novel, Elysium, with these nuggets until it grew to over 150,000 words. The first agent that actually read the book said I had too many characters and needed to develop the two main characters more. So I ripped out several characters, fictional and historical, (which left huge plot holes I had to repair) to make room for Napoleon’s POV along with delving deeper into my heroine’s.

With all that introspection, the novel again ballooned to over 150,000 words. The agent rejected me anyway, not on size but theme. Later, I received a publishing contract from an up and coming small press which wasn’t afraid of large or “outside the box” books. The joy! Then they filed for bankruptcy before I even began edits.

I set the book aside for over a year, but the story kept calling to me. I read Elysium again a few weeks ago and said, “What crap! This needs additional severe self-editing.” First I went through and cut extra words: “just” and “very” are good ones. You also don’t need “she/he wondered; she/he knew; she/he saw” in their POV’s. I slashed the “telling” and added more “emotion”. I studied each scene, do I really need this scene, is the info important, or can I move that one line of info elsewhere? “But I loved that scene!” Oh well, no room. In many scenes the characters blathered on too long, repeating themselves…snip snip!

Get to the point faster! Do I really need to name all the unusual plants on the island, even though they’re fascinating to me? More cuts. Do I really need to keep saying “really”?

The experience has forced me to look at my writing in a different light: cut extra words, scenes that go nowhere, remove superfluous characters. Can two, even three, characters be combined into one? Make every word and all the dialog count and move the plot along.

I’m amazed that I’ve shaved the work down to 137,000 words, still large but manageable. Now I lament that I might have cut too much and removed the historical points I wanted to include. I might sneak back and…add a few back in.

My friend, and an extremely talented writer, Anita Davison, designed this cover for my as yet unpublished book.

For more info on my recently published historical novel, The False Light, adventure and romance in the eighteenth century, and my other books, please visit my website.


Diane Scott Lewis said...

Ginger, thank you so much for hosting me today. I love your blog.

Anita Davison said...

Diane,I am about to go back to the beginning of my now 180k word current wip and do exactly the same thing. It still surprises me how self indulgent I sound by putting in lots of irrelevant but fascinating details - to me anyway. I mean who really wants to know how a flash locks works??? Will I ever learn? [I would have tweaked that cover too if I knew you were going to use it - but thanks for the mention]

Debra E. Marvin said...

Both Diane's post and Anita's cover are wonderful.

"Oh, but I love that scene!"

So true. Perhaps part of the enjoyment of writing is doing those scenes that we love. Writing for ourselves. Unfortunately we're not the hoped-for audience and sometimes . . . they have to go.

At least we know how great they were (even if no one else ever does)!

Thanks for hostessing, Ginger. Nice to see two of my favorite authors here, and I'm glad to be reminded of your blog. It's been awhile.

Victoria Dixon said...

Great post. This is pretty much exactly what I had to do, too. Good editing is good editing. ;D

Lorrie said...

So true. My group hates when they hear the words, "It doesn't add to the story, cut it," or "Even the good stuff has to go."
Now, if I could only follow my own advice, I'd be a happy camper. lol.
Great post.

Cate Masters said...

Great insights Diane. It's true you have to disassociate your emotions from your work to make it effective. As an author once said, Kill off your babies!
Maybe if your word count's still high, you could make it a series?
Best of luck with it.

Brenda J Weaver said...

Great post!
Editig! One of the great deadly such a love/hate situation...being a history buff myself...its so hard to keep out and downsize all that information! But in order to move the story along, unfortunately it has to be done...good luck with finding a sounds very interesting :)

Maggi Andersen said...

Great to hear you've done that Diane. A ms needs to rest for a while before you can look at it with new eyes. Otherwise, you come to love your words too much and can't look past them.
Great cover, Anita!

Maggie Dove said...

Love the cover and the premise of your book. I'm sure a publisher is going to snap it up right away!

Marie Higgins said...

First, let me say how amazed I am that you wrote that many words to begin with. My longest written story has been 123,000. lol But like you, it took and editor to tell me I over-write too much. Oh dear... So lately when I've been revising my stories I'm seeing it everywhere! I'm just afraid my 100,000 word story will end up to be only 50,000 by the time I'm done, then the publisher might think I write category. NOT! lol


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Diane,
It is heart breaking when you have to cut out characters or reduce your word count, but a writer has to do what a writer has to do, to get published.



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