If you follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/BenjaminHendy) then you may have seen that I have already attempted to write this post twice and failed on both occasions, and that I also promised to explain myself when I finally did get it completed. Well, I have something that I want to talk about in this post, but each time I tried to write an introduction I would veer off on some tangent or other that would prove to be perfectly interesting but take me further and further away from what I wanted to talk about. I have saved both these attempted blog posts for future cannibalisation, but for now, let’s address the topic I really wanted to focus on: Editing.
There is a quote from Alfred Hitchcock, though as time passes I wonder where I got it from and if I am correctly attributing it, but hey, let’s roll with it. “The worst part of film making is making the film.” And if I haven’t incorrectly paraphrased him enough already, I’m going to make up a quote to clarify what he means by that: “I have already made the film in my mind by the time I get to the set, at which point I need to coerce the actors to give the performances I have seen in my head.”
Anyway, I feel pretty much the same way about writing; The worst part of writing is the writing. By the time I sit down to write I normally have the story plotted out, along with visualisations of all the key scenes. This means that the actual writing is a mechanical process of transferring that information from my brain to the page in a legible format. I do not like mechanical processes. Witness the fact that more than 10 minutes of any kind of data entry task will pretty much send me to sleep. And writing is only one step up from data entry at this stage.
I am, of course, exaggerating. There are plenty of aspects of writing a story I enjoy, especially coming up with small moments of characterisation that capture what a person is going through. This doesn’t stop much of it becoming a chore, only made bearable by the act of completion.
Except completion isn’t completion, is it? Oh no, then comes the editing. Some editing can be done as you go along. Indeed, this is the way I approach a lot of scriptwriting. But for prose it is considerably more intense and in-depth. Instead of having 60 pages of predominantly white paper, I have 259 pages completely covered in text to go through.
I was trying to think of a suitable simile for what I feel like I am going through right now. Similes aren’t really my thing, something which may well become evident momentarily. It’s like if you were a chef and your idea were the recipe and writing the book was cooking the meal, editing would be going through the meal on a molecule by molecule basis to ensure that the salt and pepper were perfectly evenly spaced and actually, it would be better if you took out the onion and replaced with a slightly different onion because the flavour of the first onion hadn’t quite bled out across the rest of the meal properly, etc and so on. Frankly, if that was what being a chef was, there would be no restaurants, only McDonald’s. And no, McDonald’s, no matter how much you protest, I will not accept your establishments being labelled restaurants any more than I will accept that having a large TV in my living room makes it a cinema.
So it’s quite a tedious process, that’s what I’m getting at, mildly preferable to having thousands of tiny needles inserted into your eyes. If it was only hundreds I’d probably go with the needles…
As I kind of intimated in the simile, there are two levels of editing I am doing. The first, working on the molecular level, is essentially proof-reading. Microsoft Word (other word processors are available) is predominantly a good piece of software, but until it learns when I mean to type ‘from’ and when I mean to type ‘form’, its spellcheck facility is going to be of little use. Particularly as I am using a number of made up words throughout the book. So I am going through with a fine-tooth comb (though I’d love to use a fine tooth-comb) looking for all these little details that I have done wrong.
Allied to this is the task of checking the text actually scans. It is amazing what, when in the midst of a brain-splurge writing session, comes out and how difficult it can be to unravel the intended meaning behind the words. So I am reading the book aloud to myself to make sure all the text scans. Any sign of confusion and I try to reword the sentence. As a pedant, this is quite a big thing for me. As someone with a short attention span who has been working on this story for 3 or more years, this is incredibly frustrating.
Not, however, as frustrating as the second type of editing that’s going on. This is where, halfway through the book I realised that a character lacked definition. Instead of heading back to the beginning and rewriting the character’s scenes, I left it for the edit. So now I am having to rewrite scenes and sequences to ensure character consistency. In many ways, this is far more frustrating than the rest of it. At least the rest of the work I am doing is relatively black and white; rewriting a character is chaos theory in action. “Oh, but if I change that like that, than it changes this scene, which then impacts on the other scene…” and so it goes on. And before you know it, your comedy of manners has metamorphosed into Transformers 3: The Quest for WD40, all because, actually, it would be more interesting if Brian had taken a keener interest in photography in his youth to justify him taking that picture. It’s painful.
Fortunately, the changes I am having to make won’t affect things quite as much as I intimate above, but there is still a ripple that runs through the book and you have to re-read it again and again to make sure that it still all hangs together. I think the remarkable thing here is that it actually does still hang together. And that is why I keep going. If I found the story tedious, if I couldn’t revel in the excitement of the characters on the tenth time of reading I wouldn’t be able to finish it. But it also tells me that the story is fresh, which hopefully means that it will be enjoyed by children. Well, at the very least, it would be enjoyed by me when I was 9, which is my target audience. Hopefully my taste then is representative of kids today.