I don’t really enjoy editing my work. At least not the actual act of editing. I mea, I enjoy having my words get all cleaned up, and locating those missing words that my fingers failed to type as my mind spat them out. But the process of looking over what I wrote and seeing all those flaws, all those mistakes… Seeing all the parts that just add up to just plain bad writing hurts the should a little bit.
And that makes a lot of sense to me, because what is editing but having to get face-to-face with all the concentrated badness of what it is that you want to do well? Seeing all the mistakes I make in even a simple editing pass is enough keep my ego in check.
But rewriting, that can be pretty fun.
(To make it clear what I mean, I’m going to talk a little bit about my process. By no means should anyone assume that I think this process is unique to me, or that I think this is the only way someone should write. All I’m saying is that this is how writing tends to go for me. )
When I write I like to make a little outline of where I think the story is going to go. I generally have a solid idea of the beginning of a work, and of the end. The middle is where it gets the most fuzzy and where the headaches can come in. And that is where the outlining helps me. The outline lets he craft a frame of what I need to accomplish for the story in order for it to safely arrive at our mutually agreed upon destination.
My outlines tend to pretty sparse, especially at the outset. An entire character arc might be described in five points. Then, as I really start plotting and figuring out supporting cast and the other elements of story that I enjoy (or that I feel are necessary to the work) more and more details are needed.
Soon, what might be a basic five point outline gets expanded and built upon so that every chapter will at least have its on tab in the outline. Since my chapters tend to be relatively short (with an average of 1500 words, excluding the few outlier chapters that can extend to 5000 or 7000) that means that a novel might be made up of as many as 40 chapter points on my outline. And this outline its continually refreshed as I learn (discover/decide) more and more details of my characters and even my plot.
It isn’t uncommon for me to realize something that I think is great (and that hopefully the audience will agree with) chapters later in the affair. And that means I need to go back and course correct, or line up the older chapters to make sure this new information is afforded a proper place. Which means rewrites.
And this is the fun part. I get to alter time and space and make my world, my characters into a more perfect version themselves. Or at least a more fitting version of themselves.
I’ll be honest, those initial chapters can sometimes be rather perfunctory and light on setting or motivations. I’m still getting to know this new world and these new characters. They rarely start fully formed. But, perhaps 20,000 words later I will have a much better sense of how everything fits together and what was really going on underneath the surface of those earlier chapters. Through rewriting I get to more properly introduce my story.
For example, in my current Work in Progress (WiP) the second chapter introduces a new group of characters that I was still deciding on during that first pass. Here was the result:
Gaol had spent more than a year teaching them the ways of war. Now, it was time for them to prove themselves. On the whole, he had high expectations for this cohort. They were a vicious and skilled bunch. There were, however, exceptions, as there where in any new cohort. Gaol saw himself as a smith, molding the steel of these youths. Some could be fashioned into the finest of blades. Others had too many impurities that could bot be hammered at. Better to let them break, as a lesson to their mates. Twenty would join the attack. Gaol expected three of them would not return. They had no sense for the blade and would likely meet their end at the end of a farmer. But there was the other one.
Gaol frowned just thinking about her. Her skill was proficient enough. She wasn’t anything special with her blade, but neither did she embarrass herself. But there was a weakness in her. She had the hands, but not the heart. Gaol hoped she would not survive, even as he allowed for the possibility that her blood would finally show the fire necessary for her station. Her clutch-mate knew to keep an eye on her.
Hopefully you read that and were at least shrugging and going “that wasn’t bad. Kind of perfunctory, but not horrible.”
Now that I am halfway through the writing of the first draft I revisited these two paragraphs and expanded them to be:
Gaol had spent more than a year teaching them the ways of war. He had taught them combat, how to slash and parry with the blades after which they received their titles. He had also taught them how best to survive when the land offered little, something that most already had an inkling of, living as the did in the deep underground caves they called home. He had taught them how to care for the unique forms of arms and armor his people had developed due to their lack of iron and steel. Most importantly he had taught his young charges that they were their most important weapons, that to survive they must trust in themselves and in their fellows.
Now, it was time for these trainees to prove that they had learned their lessons well. On the whole, Gaol had high expectations for this cohort. They were a vicious and skilled bunch. There were, however, exceptions, as there where in any new cohort. In many ways Gaol saw himself as a smith, molding these youths into something that was far stronger than steel. Some of the trainees could be fashioned into the finest of blades. Others had too many impurities that could not be hammered out. Better to let them break, thought Gaol. That too would serve as a final lesson to their mates, that a life of devotion to protecting their society, their queen, sometimes came with sacrifice. Also, it was better that those unworthy to truly become Blades were broken now, while they were still being tested, than during the performance of crucial duties in the future. To be fair, he had contacted their families, informing them that they were unlikely to survive this ritual tempering. The families in questions had elected to keep their children in training rather than send them, as failed Blades, to a lower caste.
All in all, twenty would join the attack. Gaol was fairly confident that three of them would not return. They had no sense for the blade and would likely meet their ends at the head of pitchfork wielded by a farmer.
But there was one that Gaol could not predict.
Gaol frowned just thinking about her. Her skill was proficient enough. She wasn’t anything special with her blade, which he noted was a rather valuable thing, being made from ancient steel, possibly from before they were relegated to this life below ground. Either way, this girl did not possess the skill to have earned such a fine instrument of war, but neither were her skills low enough to cause her embarrassment.
The problem, as Gaol saw it, has in her heart. There was too much weakness in her. She had the hands, but not the spirit to be a true Blade. She was easily distracted, drawn to noises that were of little concern. More than once, as she was caring for her precious sword, she would apparently drift away into fantasy. Once, while practicing the forms essential to sword work, she had compared it to dance. Gaol had snarled at the insult. Dances were for the nobles who had the empty time to follow such frivolities. Sword forms were matters of life and death. The comparison was inexcusable. For the rest of the day he had consistently chosen her to assist him in demonstrating techniques. While he had intentionally refrained from using more force than necessary upon her, he was sure the soreness of that day would teach her a lesson. And, she had never mentioned dancing again. But once, as he was overseeing practice of the trainees martial forms he had heard something that almost sounded like the humming of a tune. His head had snapped around involuntarily and the noise abated. After a prolonged silence, other than the grunts appropriate to sword work, he had dismissed it as just another ghost sound that occasional drifted up from the deep tunnels. Still, he had suspected a different origin.
To put it simply, Gaol hoped she would not survive. This hope existed even as he allowed for the possibility that her blood would finally show the fire necessary for her to ascend to the position of a full Blade. Perhaps this excursion would be just what was needed to convince her to put away her childish daydreams and become a true servant to her Queen. But Gaol did not believe this would be the case. HE believed her to be a true half-heart, and half-hearts had a way if getting those around them killed. They were too weak to do what needed to be done.
And so, Gaol had done what he felt was necessary. He had asked her clutch-mate, a comely girl named Jang, to keep an eye on the half-heart during the encounter to ensure that executed her duties correctly. This would not only give him a vantage point into the half-heart’s actions, but it would allow him to monitor the clutch-mate as well. They were connected by blood, the half-heart’s father and Jang’s mother were brother and sister. Gaol might have need to use this a further test to ensure that any weakness was not due to the shared blood.
Now, hopefully you made it through all that and came away feeling like you had a much better image of the world and of who some of these characters might be. You might also be thinking that it is a tad overwritten, some of the information needs to be cut out, and perhaps you even found more than a handful of errors.
Yeah, that is what the later pass(es) of editing is for. To fix and tighten up the entire piece. If editing is creative destruction, then rewrites are simply expanded creation. And rewrites can be the part of writing that makes me feel like a genius with all the answers.
But don’t worry, soon the editing phase will start and I’ll remember that I have a long way to go in my writer’s journey.
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