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.

Waffling, De-Clunking and Passive Voice

Blogging the Editing: Day #3

4th January 2018

I only managed to edit half of Chapter Four today because 1) it’s a long one, and 2) I needed to eliminate a good deal of CLUNKINESS.

Chapter Four turned out to be structurally sound with good bones. It works for the way it builds on conflicts that have been set up in Chapters 1-3.  But, oh dear, what lost opportunities for CHARACTERISATION! What was I even thinking when I submitted it to publishers and agents three years ago?

Anyhow, half of Chapter Four has now been tightened, brightened and whipped into shape. Fortunately the dialogue was lively enough to not need more than the odd tweak.

Summary of Problems I sorted out:

  • Too much TELLING in places where SHOWING would elicit emotion.
  • SHOWING where TELLING would work better, because who wants to know the minutiae of every routine action?
  • Too much preamble at the beginning of scenes, also known as WAFFLING.
  • Not knowing when a scene has ended, and weighing it down with unnecessary epilogue — another example of WAFFLING.
  • An excess of repetition, unnecessary words, wrong words, awkward phrasing.
  • PASSIVE VOICE in places where ACTIVE VOICE works better, which is actually most places. Occasionally I use passive voice when I need to vary sentence structure or emphasise an interesting concept, but I make sure it’s pulling its weight before I let it stay.