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