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Friday, 4 March 2011

Editing. A thankless task.

From Jake Barton's Page
I’d hesitate to claim improvement as a writer, that’s for others to say, but I’ve seen a distinct difference in the manner in which I approach the soul sapping process of making a book ready to go off on its travels. This one is bound for Kindle where it will, hopefully, reach an end consumer – which is how we best-selling authors refer to readers.
Oops, irony overload.
Third book edited. To what passes for satisfaction when an author is reading his own work. No obvious spelling mistakes anyway. As for the content, as I say, that’s not for me to judge.
Reviews, comments from readers can help an author, but they can also confuse, annoy, irritate or even enrage as well. Just lately I’ve had a couple of emails from people I’ve never met, and have no wish to meet, pointing out where I’m going wrong as a writer. As far as I can see, neither of my self-appointed literary guides has written anything themselves.
Okay, I can cope with that, but it does make a difference to my perception of their comments. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer.
Being optimistic, all three of you are writers.
You understand the writing process. I’ve shovelled coke into a blast furnace for twelve hours at a stretch, faced up to thirty-five blank faces all convinced that education is a waste of their time and mine, had a gun pushed into my face, on two occasions – all areas of my former employment that stand out as not being particularly enjoyable. Writing is nothing like that, but that doesn’t make it easy. If taking an hourly rate of pay as a point of comparison, writing has to be the worst job in the world.
We write in our own individual style. I’m beginning to doubt my style is suitable for the genre in which I write. Too many words, perhaps. I chose to write crime thrillers because crime thrillers sell. Simple. As a reader, I prefer something more than the ‘this happened, then this happened’ type of book. Books  with imagery, descriptions, sentences that make me think, that’s what I like as a reader. Books that I’ll read a second, and then a third or fourth time. Not always present, indeed rarely present, in crime thrillers.
I wrote a couple of pieces in my blog recently, thoughts on a new novel, and it was this that prompted the emails pointing out my deficiencies as a writer.
I wrote this, for instance -  ‘A faint glimmer of light entered the room with all the stealth of a trespasser.’ What’s wrong with saying, ‘it got light?’ my literary advisor asked. Hmm!
The next passage was decried as ‘Just a weather report. Get on with the action. Who needs to know all this. What’s wrong with just saying it was raining?’ Here’s the offending passage:-

‘The rain was a real cloudburst by now, an unbroken translucent curtain seamlessly bridging the gap between earth and sky as thick banks of scudding clouds whirled away into the distance.
The wind was a full gale, howling in from the coast and leaving a tang of salt in the air. It roared between the houses, touching carelessly exposed flesh with icy fingers as cold as a traffic warden’s heart.
The wind snapped at her face and she flinched and hunkered down into her jacket wishing she were somewhere else. It didn’t have to be a sun-drenched beach resort. Anywhere else but here would do.
She watched the rain in silent desperation, not really expecting it to do anything out of the ordinary; it was just rain doing exactly what rain was supposed to do, but she watched it fall with a fierce intensity.
The light was improving with the arrival of dawn, but the absence of definition on any visible object meant she still had to maintain a fierce concentration to keep the object of her long vigil in view. The house remained dark and the street was as empty as it had been for the past three hours.’
Another correspondent took exception, violent exception, to  ‘padding’ such as this: -
‘Conscience was a word as far as he was concerned. Nothing more. Meaning an awareness of the difference between right and wrong and the ability to act in accordance with that awareness. For most people, this knowledge is learned at an early age and determines their behaviour to a greater or lesser extent. Awareness of right and wrong does not imply a particular individual will slavishly comply with that knowledge. He knew all about conscience, but used the concept as a means of exploiting situations. The meaning of the word was an alien concept. Conscience was something that applied to other people and their foolish adherence to the idea that behaviour could be decided by whether an action was right and wrong was a weakness he could exploit.’
Now there’s a case to answer here. Fair enough, and I’d have probably removed, or at least cut down, this section, but this was only ever a rough draft, not the finished article. I was prepared to accept this person knew what they were talking about, until he told me this next piece was ‘completely redundant.’ It isn’t necessary, so he said, ‘to have a picture of a character in your mind as a reader. Let the character’s words and actions set the tone of the reader’s perception of a character.’
Well, I violently disagree with that simplistic view. I want to see how a character is perceived by other characters as well. Here’s the offending passage. I will almost certainly never use it anyway. Or any of the other examples I’ve chosen here to illustrate some spurious point or other.
‘She walked in and stopped dead in her tracks. Her new assistant had arrived. The glowing computer screen lit up the face of the person sitting in a swivel chair, her swivel chair; a fat youth dressed in the clothes of someone three times his age.
What have they sent me, a bloody Sunday school teacher?
White shirt, plain tie, tweed jacket, stay-pressed trousers and sensible lace-up shoes with black socks. He must have bought the jacket a while ago when he’d been about three stones lighter as it stretched almost to bursting point across his back and shoulders and the top button of his shirt had popped open.
Ruddy cheeks, farmer’s boy complexion. No facial hair. On cold days he probably wore a trilby.
He must have sensed her presence, turned round, looked at her. Sullenly. A brooding silence spread throughout the room like an oil slick from a beached tanker.’
Oh well, back to editing. Confused. Uncertain.
Should I be writing the Historical novel I really want to write? The one where research will be massive, and massively rewarding? The one that will take a year of my life and never sell a single copy? Or should I persevere with writing in a style that doesn’t suit some reader’s perceptions of a Thriller novel? If only I had the audacity to think I could write in that most enigmatic genre of all, literary fiction. Overwrite to my heart’s content, spend three pages describing a falling leaf or the precise nature of sprouting nasal hair – oh, come on, let’s not get carried away here!
A final observation on those kind souls who devote their time to pointing out the failings of others: when you say ‘your a shit writer’ did you mean to say ‘you’re a shit writer?’ Not wishing to be picky, of course…

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