Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Editing for Tighter Writing


Today and tomorrow, an editing lesson from my own work. (Which always needs editing. Badly.)

On
November 16, 2005, I ran the first page of the prologue to Coral Moon and invited your comments. (Coral Moon is the next book in the Kanner Lake series. Its release date is March 23—meaning the date it starts shipping from the Zondervan warehouse. It’s called an “April pub” since it will start showing up on shelves in April.)

I’m going to run that original draft copy again today, then show you the final edited version tomorrow. Here’s the original:

Kill and live. Let live—and die.


The words burned. Through his retinas, into his brain, back, back, to the innermost center of neurons and synapses. There they bubbled and frothed like hot acid, eating away at his soul.

Only a crazy person would follow this command.

He slapped both hands to his ears, cradled his head. Pushed in, squeezing, until the pressure battled the pain inside. His eyes screwed shut, mind pleading for the horrific message to be gone when they reopened. He hung there, cut off from the outer world, attention snagging on the life sounds of his body. The whoosh of breath, the beat of his heart.

The words boiled.

Soon the pressure grew too great to bear. He pulled his hands away, let them fall to his sides. The kitchen spun. He edged to a chair and dropped into it. Bent forward and pulled in air until the dizziness passed. Clutching hope, he turned his gaze once again to the table. The note was still there.

How did they get in here?

His shoulders slumped. What a stupid question. As if they lacked stealth, as if mere walls and locked entrances could keep them out. He’d been down the hall in his bedroom watching TV, the door wide open, yet had heard nothing. Hadn’t even sensed their presence as he pushed off the bed and walked with blithe ignorance to the kitchen for some water.

A chill blew over his feet.

His eyes bugged, then slowly scanned the room. Over white refrigerator and oak cabinets, wiped down counters and empty sink. To the threshold of the kitchen, leading into the hallway. There his gaze lingered as the chill worked his way up to his ankles. It had to be coming from the front of the house. His skin oozed sweat, sticky fear spinning down over him like the web of a monstrous spider. Trembling, he pulled himself out of the chair. For a moment he clung to the smooth table edge, ensuring his balance. Then slowly, heart beating in his throat, he forced himself across the floor, around the corner, through the hall and toward the front door.

It hung open a few inches.

His breath caught. They were taunting him . . .


How would you edit this passage? Go on, take a stab at it. The final, which you’ll see tomorrow, doesn’t have anything new added except for one important phrase of info that ties to the title. Of course, you wouldn’t know how to edit this in. But other than that, this is an exercise in editing out. The weakness in my drafts is that I’ll tend to overwrite. In editing—and remember, we’re talking numerous stages of edits here—I’ll delete, delete, trying to hone down the writing to the tightest possible. You’ve heard that old adage “less is more.” That’s so often true in writing. Too many words of description weight the action. Take away every unnecessary word--even those that are showing action--and the scene will zing a whole lot more.

Of course, this is easier said than done. When I first turn in the finished manuscript to the editor, I have a month or longer to wait before receiving the editorial letter. In that time I don’t look at the book at all. So when I do the rewrite, I have those all-important “fresh eyes.” Amazing what needed edits those fresh eyes will see that the ol’ tired eyes, who’d read and reread the words a hundred times, could not.

Those of you who are game, go ahead and edit a few paragraphs. I’m used to it. :]


--------------------
Read Part 2


14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kill and live. Let live—and die.

The words burned through his retinas, through his nerves. Back, back, to the innermost center of his brain. They bubbled and frothed like acid, eating at his soul.

He'd be crazy to obey.

Slap! Both hands grabbed his ears, cradled his head. Pushed in, squeezing, pressure battling pain. His eyes screwed shut, mind pleading for the message to leave. He hung there, cut off from the outer world, attention snagging on a whoosh of breath, the beat of his heart.

The words boiled.

Pressure. Too great to bear. He pulled back his hands, let them fall. The kitchen spun. He edged to a chair and dropped in it. Bent forward and sucked air until the dizziness passed. Clutching hope, he focused on the table. The note was still there.

How did they get in?

--rquad

Kristy Dykes said...

How can we improve on one of The Masters?

An art student touring a great gallery in Italy kept making critical remarks of every masterpiece he saw. The guide was getting more upset by the minute. Finally, he said, "Young man, these masterpieces are not on trial. YOU are!"

But your challenge is too enticing, B! As H.G. Wells said, "No passion in the world, no love or hate, is equal to the passion to change someone else's draft."

So here goes...(my suggestions in caps)...

Kill and live. Let live—and die.

The words IN THE NOTE burned (JOIN SENTENCES FOR A GREATER SENSE OF ACTION AND QUICKNESS), through his retinas, into his brain, back, back, to the (LEAVE OUT "innermost center of") neurons and synapses. There they bubbled and frothed like hot acid, (CHANGE "BUBBLED AND FROTHED" OR "HOT ACID"; "I ENVISION 'HOT ACID' BURNING;) eating away at his soul.

Only a crazy person would follow this command.

He CLAMPED HIS HANDS OVER his ears, (DELETE "CRADLED"; TOO GENTLE A WORD), PUSHED (JOIN SENTENCES) in (LEAVE OUT "SQUEEZING") until the pressure battled the pain inside OF HIM. HE SQUEEZED his eyes shut, mind pleading for the horrific message IN THE NOTE to be gone (LEAVE OUT "WHEN THEY REOPENED"). He hung there, cut off from the (LEAVE OUT "outer") world, attention snagging on the (LEAVE OUT "life") sounds of his body. The whoosh of breath, the beat of his heart.

The words boiled IN HIS BRAIN.

(REPEAT THEM) Kill and live. Let live—and die.

The (LEAVE OUT "SOON") pressure ON HIS HEAD grew too great to bear. He YANKED HIS HANDS AWAY. The kitchen spun. He TRIPPED to a chair, FELL into it, bent (JOIN SENTENCES) forward, pulled in air until the dizziness passed. (DELETE "Clutching hope, he turned his gaze once again to the table. The note was still there.")

HE STARED AT THE NOTE.

How did they get in here?

What a stupid question. As if they lacked stealth, as if mere walls and locked entrances could keep them out. He’d been down the hall in his bedroom watching TV, the door wide open, yet had heard nothing. Hadn’t even sensed their presence as he pushed off the bed and walked with blithe ignorance to the kitchen for some water.

A BREEZE blew over his feet.

His eyes BULGED, then slowly scanned the room, (JOIN SENTENCES) over white refrigerator and oak cabinets, wiped-down counters and empty sink, to the threshold of the kitchen leading into the hallway. (DELETE "There his gaze lingered as"; TOO SLOW) The BREEZE HIT his ankles. It had to be coming from the front of the house. His skin oozed sweat,(WHAT'S SWEATY? HIS UNDERARMS? HIS FOREHEAD, LIKE WHEN HE HAD THE FLU LAST YEAR?) sticky fear spinning (DELETE "down") over him like the web of a (DELETE "monstrous") spider.

He FORCED himself out of the chair. STILL TREMBLING, he clung to the smooth table edge (DELETE "ensuring his balance"; TOO SLOW). (DELETE "Then slowly,") Heart beating in his throat, he forced (ANOTHER VERB) himself across the floor, around the corner, through the hall.

THE FRONT DOOR hung open a few inches.

His breath caught (ANOTHER BEAT--MORE FORCEFUL, DRAMATIC). They were taunting him . . .

Kristy, here: Okay, you asked for it! Now, back to my own writing. But this was so much fun! :)

Kristy Dykes said...

One more suggestion:

Heart beating in his throat, he forced (ANOTHER VERB) himself across the floor, around the corner, through the hall.

HE STOPPED COLD.

THE FRONT DOOR hung open a few inches.

Susanne said...

Seeing I know nothing of writing, I'll just enjoy reading the suggestions of those who do. :v)

Cathy West said...

I wouldn't dare.
You know how to kill me.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Coward. :]

D. Gudger said...

This is kinda weird, editing the writing of one of my literary heros, but learning happens when playing with the masters, and learn I must. Here goes...

Kill and live. Let live—and die.

The words burned through his retinas, into his brain. They bubbled and frothed like hot acid dissolving his soul.

Only a crazy person would follow this command.

He slapped both hands to his ears squeezing until the pressure over-rode the pain inside. Crushing his eyes shut, his mind pleading for the horrific message to be gone.


The pressure throbbed. He pulled his hands away letting them fall to his sides. The kitchen spun. He edged to a chair dropping into it. He returned his gaze to the table. The note was still there.

How did they get in here?

He’d been down the hall in his bedroom watching TV with the door wide open, yet heard nothing. Hadn’t even sensed their presence as he pushed off the bed and walked with blithe ignorance to the kitchen for some water.

A chill blew over his feet.

His eyes bugged as they scanned the room. His gaze lingered as the chill snaked its way up his ankles. It had to be coming from the front of the house. His skin oozed sweat, sticky fear spinning over him like the web of a monstrous spider. Trembling, he pulled himself out of the chair, clinging to the smooth table edge. His heart beat in his throat as he forced himself across the floor, around the corner, through the hall and toward the front door.

It hung open a few inches.

His breath caught. They were taunting him . . .

It's shorter. I tend to have the opposite problem - not enough description.

Kristy Dykes said...

Can't wait to see what you say to us tomorrow, B. You are going to comment about us brave souls who edited you, aren't you? :)

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

I am very thankful for you brave souls. :]

I won't comment directly on anybody's editing. I think this is a personal exercise. My best comment is to show you tomorrow my own editing, and let y'all compare what you did to that. You may agree with me on some things; you may disagree on other points.

Alison said...

Wow, how am I, a humble college student from Michigan supposed to edit a portion of B.C's books?!?!

I can't resist, here goes.....


Kill and live. Let live—and die.

The words burned. Scorching his retinas, they blazed through his brain, seeming to shrivel the neurons and synapses. The hated words came alive, bubbling and frothing like hot acid, eating away at his soul.

Only a crazy person would follow this command. He wasn't crazy...... was he??

Slapping both hands to his ears, pushing in, squeezing, until the physical pain battled the pain inside. His eyes screwed shut, pleading for some unseen force to remove the message and deliver him from this torment. He hung there, cut off from the outer world, wrapped up in his mental anguish. Slowly, he became aware of the life sounds of his body. The whoosh of breath, the beat of his heart. Until....

The words boiled out of control and the pressure grew too great to bear. He pulled his hands away from his head, letting them fall to his sides. Looking up, the harsh overhead lights only served to accentuate his pain. The room spun around him. Bending forward, he pulled in air until the dizziness passed. Clutching hope, he turned his gaze once again to the table. The note was still there.

How did they get in here? How did they find him??

His shoulders slumped. What a stupid question. As if they lacked stealth, as if mere walls and locked entrances could keep them out. He’d been down the hall in his bedroom watching TV, the door wide open, yet had heard nothing. Hadn't even sensed their presence as he pushed off the bed and walked with blithe ignorance to the kitchen for some water.

A chill blew over his feet.

His eyes bugged, then slowly scanned the room. Over white refrigerator and oak cabinets, wiped down counters and empty sink. To the threshold of the kitchen, leading into the hallway. There his gaze lingered as the chill worked his way up his legs and consumed his trembling body. It had to be coming from the front of the house. His skin oozed sweat, sticky fear spinning down over him like the web of a monstrous spider. Trembling, he pulled himself out of the chair. For a moment he clung to the smooth table edge, ensuring his balance. Then slowly, heart beating in his throat, he forced himself across the floor, around the corner, through the hall and toward the front door.

It hung open a few inches.

His breath caught and the pain returned. They were taunting him . . .


Well???

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Okay...here goes...just don't hit me!

Kill and live. Let live—and die.

The words burned. They bubbled and frothed like hot acid, eating away at his soul.

Only a crazy person would follow this command.

He slapped both hands to his ears, cradled his head. His eyes screwed shut, mind pleading for the horrific message to be gone when they reopened. He hung there, cut off from the outer world. The whoosh of breath, the beat of his heart.

The words boiled.

He pulled his hands away, let them fall to his sides. The kitchen spun. He edged to a chair and dropped into it. Bent forward and pulled in air until the dizziness passed. He turned his gaze once again to the table. The note was still there.

How did they get in here?

His shoulders slumped. He’d been down the hall in his bedroom watching TV, the door wide open, yet had heard nothing. Hadn’t even sensed their presence.

A chill blew over his feet.

His eyes bugged, then slowly scanned the room. To the threshold of the kitchen, leading into the hallway. There his gaze lingered as the chill worked his way up to his ankles. It had to be coming from the front of the house. Trembling, he pulled himself out of the chair. For a moment he clung to the smooth table edge, ensuring his balance. Then slowly, heart beating in his throat, he forced himself through the hall and toward the front door.

It hung open a few inches.

His breath caught. They were taunting him . . .

Domino said...

It's an "April pub".

The words burned through her retinas, into her brain. There they bubbled and frothed, eating away at her like hot acid.

Evil laughter echoed through her mind. She slapped both hands to her ears, squeezing until the pressure battled the pain inside.

She looked at the words again. She hung there, cut off from the outer world, listening to the whoosh of her breath, the beat of her heart.

The words boiled.

Soon the pressure grew too great to bear. She pulled her hands away, let them fall to her sides. The kitchen spun. "Oh! I absolutely cannot wait until April to read Coral Moon!"

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Okay, Domino's edit takes the prize. :]

Air Force Family said...

I've enjoyed reading this!