Edit or Shred It

Oceana - Edit or Shred It

“Lori, the good news is Oceana is original and commercially viable. The bad news is it needs some major work to get it ready.”

“OK, like what?”

“First, change the point of view. It’s written in third person, but it would be better in third person close. Once you do that, it’s just little changes to make it more readable. Oh, and your characters—they are a little shallow. And your start, you must have a mind-blowing start, or no one will touch it. You might want to work on that too.”

“Uh, OK, anything else?”

“No, the rest is fine,” he says as if he didn’t petty much just say the whole book sucks. “Do you have any last questions for me?”

It feels like last rights, and Oceana’s barely alive. “Uh, what’s third person close, again?”

Two months later . . .

I’ve edited 287 pages of my 430-page manuscript. I know the difference between third person and third person close now, in theory, but writing is so vaguely rule-driven its maddening. Every day I’m faced with new questions and unreliable answers, thanks to the internet. Note to self: invest in a good guide to grammar.

I would like to give you a small taste of my editing journey if you’ve the stomach for it. Below, I’ve chosen a short paragraph from the first draft of Oceana. I followed it through its evolution and copied that same paragraph from my latest draft. I’ve included my thoughts, including changes that need to be made and questions that still linger.

It may help you to know the setting before you start: Gwyneth is a princess from the underwater kingdom of Galmaria. She is feisty and strong-willed. Her culture is similar to Europe’s medieval period, but instead of riding horses, they ride beasts called ilshrivan. Gwyneth’s ilshrivan, Ren, looks like a horse-sized version of the Loch Ness Monster, and Gwyneth and Ren are going for a pleasure ride in the kelp forest. This is one paragraph from their journey.

Chapter 6, paragraph 8, draft 1:

Gwyneth’s plan was to ride to the farthest end of the kelp forest and back. The princess reasoned that if they were to keep the sun to their left on the way out and on their right on their way back, and returned before slack tide, they could not possibly get lost. What she did not count on were clouds.

Notes: This writing is thin and shallow as I’m learning a first draft often is, but it sets the stage for word art. It’s ready for the description that will paint the picture for the reader’s imagination. But no one wants a blemish on their masterpiece so grammar must be just right. In this example most of the grammar is straight forward, but a few details still elude me such as princess or Princess? I’m trying to wrap my head around designation capitalization. Check out this example: My father is a butcher. Pass the meat, Father. Why is father capitalized in one example and not the other? An explanation is lurking in the shadows of my mind, but . . . then, what if the princess has some meat? Should it be “the princess’ meat,” or “the princess’s meat?” If you use princess’ possessive, you need to have more than one princess, right? But, since when do you put three s’s in a row unless you’re a cartoon snake? I think I was absent that day. My learning curve is still skyrocketing.

Chapter 6, paragraph 8, draft 5:

Gwyneth planned to ride to the farthest end of the kelp forest and back. A child could navigate this, she thought as they entered the gently swaying brown-green copse. Speckled rockfish and orange giribaldi hung beneath branching, leaf-like hideaways in the tall kelp. Colorful invertebrates—yellow brittle stars, purple sea slugs, and bright-green kelp crabs—clung to the thick stalks. Gwyneth and Ren glided effortlessly along pathways carved by the armies of ravenous purple urchins that fed on the kelp. Sunlight guided them and illuminated the forest from above. Just like the stained-glass windows in the Galmarian Royal Chapel. On such a lovely day how could anyone possibly get lost? she thought as the sea darkened; a cloud drifted over the sun.

Notes: Hmm, might need a few more tweaks, and now I have new questions. Should I use commas or em dashes? Do I capitalize giribaldi or is it too general? But the scene has substance now. I can see where she is riding where, before, I knew only that she was riding.

Editing is not just the details, however. There is a plethora of big picture items to constantly consider such as: Are my characters complex enough? Is the plot interesting enough? Is the ending satisfying enough? Does the word count fit the genre? Suggested wordcount for fantasy is 80,000 to 120,000 words. I’ve passed 140,000—yikes! Time to delete conjunctions. Sorry ‘and,’ ‘but,’ ‘if,’ you’re history. Finally, and with an almost unbalanced self-importance, is the start of the book. Are the first lines good enough? Agents and publishers won’t consider your work if they are not captivated in the first few pages. Sometimes I lie (or lay?) awake and think of possible first lines. What can I write that will draw a reader into the page like a Black Friday sale? How can I persuade them to keep reading, because if I can’t—let me steal the apropos first line from Andy Weir’s, The Martian: “I’m pretty much fucked.”

It’s daunting to think that I’ve spent more than a year of my life writing. Every day, I’ve poked and prodded my brain for words and ways to connect them that might be interesting, even captivating. As my editing on Oceana winds down, I fear my time for writing may be as well. It frightens me. I found what I love, but there are so many ways it could fail. My future depends on the whims of a too-busy, fickle, profit-driven industry, and I’m hanging by a thread. Luckily, at the other end is Al reminding me that, “Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.” Thanks, Mr. Einstein, I needed that. Absurd, wait for me!

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