Internal Inconsistency, Layering and Situational Irony

Blogging The Editing Day #5

In the end, Chapter Four needed more de-clunking than anticipated. Being an early chapter, I also had to make sure the fantastical elements had been set up well enough for the current happenings to make sense.

The next step had me wondering if my changes had created internal inconsistencies. I had the big picture sorted, but what about the little ones? For example, did rearranging the order of those paragraphs lead to a character stubbing out her cigar before she lit it? Did my hero’s strange behaviour still make sense, or had I unwittingly deleted her motivations?

All seemed fine, until it occurred to me that while I’d been focussing on plot, character and world-building, I’d neglected a perfect opportunity to ramp up the scene’s emotion with a touch of situational irony. Not only would it look cool, but it would also help the reader feel my hero’s outrage and disappointment.

Fortunately, it didn’t take much to fit it in. It was as if my subconscious had set it up from the start, but the part of me that’s supposed to be awake took a few months longer to figure it out.

This is something that happens a lot when I’m editing. There are so many things that need to be fixed: character, plot, sub-plots, dialogue, setting, world-building. Unless you’ve been writing for many years, it’s not going to happen in one go. An important touch such as irony can sneak up on you like an afterthought.

In contrast, when reading a well-written book, it feels as if those elements were sorted from the start. Now I wonder how many had been added over time, in much the same way as layers are added to a painting.

Choices, Action, Emotions and The Hero’s Journey

Blogging the Editing: Day #4

5th January 2018

I’m still tweaking the second half of Chapter Four which was overwritten in parts and underwritten in others. I needed a ruthless eye to catch it all, but warning signs appeared in the form of a character thinking about what to do next, choosing from a couple of alternatives, and then going ahead with the best option. This strategy assumes the reader won’t be wanting to take part in the novel, and is another form of telling instead of showing.

Having said that, it’s good that characters have choices open to them because that helps to prevent predictability. However, this is Chapter Four, not Chapter One. By now, my readers know my characters’ motivations, and have a reasonably good understanding of the novel’s world-building. In other words, if they’re paying attention, they can already see there are choices available. If they can’t, then perhaps they’re happy enough go with the flow. Or perhaps those opening chapters are still in need of a bit more editing.

Conclusion: If the writer spells out choices step-by-step before anything happens, where is the mystery?

Of course, there are always exceptions and every scene has different needs. This is what makes writing hard: that fine balance between too much and too little. Heavy brush strokes or light?

Then on to the next problem:

My previous draft had deftly managed to ruin an entire action scene by allowing unnecessary waffle and info dump to intrude. With that gone, the action came alive in the form of a life-threatening encounter that led to my hero being used as a scapegoat. My aim was for my reader to feel my character’s anger alongside her. Without using the words ‘angry’ or ‘anger’. Powerful writing demands that those kinds of emotions are for showing, not telling

Having identified all that, nothing major needed to be done to sort out the rest. I just needed to put myself in my character’s head, see the world as she saw it, and write it all down. Now, I’m confident that my protagonist’s narrative thread is well set up for a whole lot more conflict before her life can improve. Although I didn’t set out to follow The Hero’s Journey step-by-step — nor did I consciously use it — I’m starting to recognise bits of it in my plot. Having watched so many movies and read so much genre fiction, I’m sure I’ve internalised enough of the outline of The Hero’s Journey to be able to draw on it without thinking.