Monthly Archives: July 2013

Well That’s Just Like, Your Opinion, Man: Subjectivity in Editing

So those last 30 pages? The ones that I blew through at twice my normal speed and found very few problems with? Have turned out to be absolutely FULL of issues. I don’t want to call them errors, because the problems I have found to correct on my second pass through that section were not wrong (in the sense of correctness) so much as simply…not right (aesthetically). And I haven’t even gotten all the way through them – I have done maybe 10 of the pages. Miles to go, yet; this edit might be 9 hours, after all, because the going has been much slower than my average this time around. (*blinks* What?! …. EXACTLY)

These disparate experiences of analyzing the same text have given me a heuristic knowledge of the common writer wisdom that “editing is subjective.”

Yes. Not all editing, mind. Some editing is rules-based and incontrovertible: spelling errors, dangling modifiers, unclear/absentee/improper antecedents, certain punctuation constructions, etc., are not going to change from one editor to another unless one of them is ignorant of the accepted rules of English. But the kind of editing that writers think of–the kind that points out, not errors, but places your text could be clearer, or more concise, or more precise, or less cliche? That kind of editing is absolutely subjective.

I don’t think y0u can get proof that is more empirical than the same person going over the same text on two different occasions, both of which occurred when the person was intimately knowledgeable of the text and thus could not be accused of finding problems only with greater familiarity, and getting two different results.

I think in the first case I was editing as a reader–did anything stick out at me as being wrong or bad or unclear or wordy? No? Then move along, nothing to see here. In the second case I have been reading as an editor and picking up the sorts of problems I found throughout the whole.

As a self-publishing writer, I think both hats are important, reader and editor. You have to be able to read your work as each–but at separate times.

Even if you hire someone to edit your words for you, you still need to be able to view your text as an editor, because there is no other way for you to evaluate what they are suggesting you change. No editor’s word should be gospel. Aesthetic editing is an art, not a science. It is the art of making you sound more like you than you can.

TYRELLE EDITING

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Line Editing Timeline

I finished line editing my novel last night. Well. I finished marking up the printed version with pink ink last night. Grafting all the changes into a digital copy had to wait for another time.

And I may decide to run through the ending again. Unless I mis-marked my start time, I worked through the ending at literally twice my average speed to that point, which tells me I was probably not as critical as I could have been on those last 30 pages. At least a couple had no marks at all. Is my first go really the best those pages could be? Maybe. Or maybe I just got so caught up in the story that I forgot to analyze the words during the climax and denouement.

I wrote my start and stop times on the pages so I would be able to keep track of how long the process took, in the sense of how long it would take me if I were an editor and not an author who had to go back and make decisions on whether to accept the suggested changes. I am glad I did, because this process did not take me nearly as long as I expected, nor as long as I would have estimated, looking back on the process, if I had not been keeping such a strict record of work times. Nor as long as industry professionals have tried to insist to me that it does.

I did 11 editing sessions, five of them a full hour. Several of the other six were just little 15-minute stretches at lunch or before work. My total was 8 hours. Eight hours for 50,000 words. Really it was 7.5 hours for 53,383 words, but the others are such nice round numbers, don’t you think? Plus this gives me a half-hour of flex time to go back over the ending without having to redo this post.

I am embarrassed to admit I missed three–not one, not two, but THREE–typos that my mom had caught on her beta read, that I had overlooked every time I read the piece, even on my phone as a Kindle book, even on paper, that I found after I finished my work last night because that was when I remembered that I had not yet looked at her minutiae, only the big-picture stuff we discussed via email. So that is how I know that I missed them. All three were the same type of error, too: a missing word. Blech. This means when I think I’m done, that I’ll have to scour the file again at least once more. I cannot abide mistakes. Three in one novel is too many, if I am the one with her name on the cover and the editing credit in the afterward.

I don’t know how obsessively I’ll be able to track the changes I make when I integrate the edits. I am curious how many words I remove, how many words I replace, how many new words I add, and how many punctuation constructions I alter. I am curious what the total difference is between performing a line edit versus not: 3%? 10%? I would like to catalog the changes that closely. But I know myself, and typing these corrections into my document seems like the sort of task I can easily get wrapped up in and forget to make notes about…so we’ll see how the stat’s taking goes.

For now, it’s enough that I have a baseline. I can average 15 pages per hour of my semi-finished prose in my editing layout (which averages 500 words per page, or double the going per-page word estimate). This is almost in line with what I guessed editorial speed to be way back when, when I calculated from my perspective the staff time involved in creating an ebook at a publishing house. I concede that my editing timeline then was a bit brisk; it’s three times reading speed to edit, not double, at least the first pass. I doubt the second or third pass require double, however, so I think my total time was pretty spot-on…IF you assume the editors they hire work as quickly as my overeducated ass.

If they can’t, then this is just more proof that a publisher is not adding a value to the process.

***UPDATE: I was definitely coasting on the current of my own words last night. Went over about 5 pages of the end at lunch – found about 5 things I missed yesterday that I want to change today. Looks like I will have to go through the other 25 pages from last night again, too.

A prime example of just how subjective editing is when it gets to the tightening/polishing part. ūüôā

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STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS? More Like Star Trek: Into Lameness

star-trek-2-into-darkness-poster

Another delayed review, although this one was delayed because I put off seeing this movie for that perfect afternoon of having nothing better to do and there being nothing better at the theater. I am not sorry I waited so long to see this new Star Trek movie, unless you want to count being sorry that I did not wait longer. Like forever. This second movie in the Abrams reboot annihilated my interest in the new series.

I don’t say this simply to be a contrarian who refuses to like what is popular or different from the original; my complaints are based on what I perceive as lazy storytelling and overeager pandering to the casual fandom. As per my usual reviewing policy, I warn ye: Warp spoilers ahead.

What I liked about the new movie: they brought back Khan. And cast Benedict Cumberbatch to play him.

*crickets chirp*

Yes, those are about the only two real positives I can come up with for this one. First, I didn’t like the way the movie was marketed. The trailer made it look like an action flick – and while, yes, Star Trek as a whole has plenty of action, it is not known as being an action flick per se. The trailer was nothing but one grandiose effect and near-escape after another, designed to appeal to the same crowd that keeps showing up at Transformers movies and allowing Michael Bay to keep making movies. If I had not heard Khan was in the film, I probably would have waited for DVD and maybe even not bothered to watch it at all. But, I thought, maybe they are just showing us ALL the action moments to get that demographic in, when really the film is deeper than that (I mean, it has Khan, for fuck’s sake!). From the glowing write-ups I saw amongst my friends on social media, I thought that was even likely the case.

It was not. This movie betrayed both the spirit of the original series and all principles of good storytelling.

First of all, I am tired of Emo Kirk. I get that this franchise is a reboot, a retelling, and that the experiences and attitude Kirk brought to his captaincy in the original series is not the path this Kirk has trod, therefore we are not necessarily going to get the same Kirk. But what we’re given is someone who does not¬†think¬†the same way Kirk thinks, rather than someone who weighs his thought process against different life experiences. I didn’t mind his emotion-based decisions in the first movie, because he was so young and untried, but I felt like he learned nothing from that experience. Throughout this film he makes his decisions based on his feelings, NOT on his instincts. Huge difference. Kirk sometimes followed a path that seemed illogical, but was actually highly logical – it just relied on data that Spock did not have at his disposal, and that was Jim’s sense of tactics and knowledge of human nature, which is driven by irrationality, so it sometimes¬†seemed¬†illogical. And Kirk did not flinch away from feeling the emotional impact of his decisions, but – and this is the lynch-pin but here, HE DID NOT USE THE POTENTIAL EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF THOSE CHOICES TO MAKE HIS DECISION.

That is the key difference. Emo Kirk can’t do anything that will make him feel bad. So he violates pretty much the only rule he is given as an officer in order to avoid the guilt and sense of loss he would feel if he watched a promising life form perish, and he goes haring off to enemy space and risks starting a civil war merely because he wants revenge. About the only logical choice he makes is to sacrifice himself to save his vessel and his crew at the end, but I read even that one as emotion-based: he couldn’t bear the guilt of not saving them. It was not a noble sacrifice to orchestrate his singular death in order to save hundreds of lives; it was a guilt-based decision because he would feel bad if he didn’t. Aw.

And that sacrifice? Was a complete bullshit sacrifice. Remember my rant about how World War Z had no consequences? Neither did this Star Trek. Viewers who had seen the original movie with Khan knew that Spock kills himself to save the ship, and so Emo Kirk’s choice was a parallel to that, the way almost everything else in this reboot is so predictably role-reversed. I didn’t necessarily mind that decision, even if it was obvious film-making, except for this: the writers/producers/director didn’t have the balls to actually let Kirk die. The audience could not be allowed to think, even for one movie, that Kirk was gone. I would have liked this movie if Kirk stayed dead – especially if it really is the last in the reboot (which I sincerely doubt is the case). ¬†I don’t say that to be macabre or because I like sad and depressing stories (I don’t; I write and primarily read romance for a reason!) but because his actual death would have lent consequences to the story that, thus far, it had pretended were there but had not demonstrated. Instead, with the injection of Khan’s magic rejuvenating blood, we have a hero who cannot be allowed to die, and so no future movie can ever hold true narrative tension again.

Aside from that fatal storytelling flaw, the film also made too-obvious references as a sop to casual fans. First, the parallel with The Wrath of Khan where Jim and Spock have traded places was, again, obvious. I saw it coming the moment we learned “nothing can save” the ship. Neither the moment nor the switch felt like clever storytelling; they felt like lazy storytelling, where the writers were trying to force the narrative back to a handful of origin-film plot points, and that was one of them. (In fact, going back to my previous point – the very existence of an “out” from that scenario of certain destruction made this film seem like it had no consequences.) ¬†Second, the Tribble inclusion. What was that doing there? It served no narrative purpose – any number of alien lifeforms could have been on McCoy’s dissection table and gotten reanimated with Khan’s blood – and so the only reason for its inclusion was to make people squee and say “Tribbles! I GET it! I get the joke!”

That the writers used Tribbles for this says they were not aiming that joke, that sense of inclusion РAND THEREFORE THIS MOVIE Рat true fans of the show. There are countless other episodes that could have been referenced, that are not among the most famous three episodes from the original series, that would have felt like a nod to true fans. The obviousness of this one gave me the same distaste I feel for The Big Bang Theory, which is not a show for actual nerds but people who like to think of themselves as nerdy because they watch a really popular SF series or two.

I have nothing against dropping references. In fact, I adore it.

versus1

Francis Crawford of Lymond is my favorite fictional character ever because he basically speaks in quotations, but they are always apt and often so obscure no one he’s talking to understands that he’s quoting someone. My husband and his friends, and to a lesser extent he and I, communicate with quotes and references from movies and TV. The entirety of Tumblr is a giant conversation among fans that relies on prior knowledge of the canon(s) being referenced. But if you’re going to use a reference, you should use it appropriately – and that, to me, is to aim it at people in the know. If you can explain to me why this caption is wrong, then you feel the way I do:

eleven words too far dude

The basis of this joke is actually great. The problem? Whoever wrote it explained it. The caption should be “Ain’t no party like a Timelord party cuz a Timelord party don’t stop.” PERIOD. If you know the reference, you know why a Timelord party wouldn’t stop. The explanation ruins the joke, because it aims it at people who¬†don’t¬†know the reference.

This is what the new Star Trek did. It made really obvious references that proved the movie wasn’t aimed at actual fans, just those hangers-on who consider Star Trek to be one of the few SF series they’ll watch sometimes, and that pretty much violated the prime directive of this reboot existing in the first place, as far as the real fans go.

In fact, much as Khan made me curious to see the thing, his inclusion as the villain was yet another reference anyone only vaguely familiar with the series should get. And going back to my lack of consequences point? This Khan was not angry at Kirk because of actions Kirk took against him; this Khan was angry at modern humanity in general, and Kirk just happened to be the one who stood up against him. Thus there was no heft, no momentousness to Khan and Kirk fighting one another. And the whole thing about Khan working with them at first, and being maybe not the villain, was just more role reversal of “hey this is a parallel universe so everything’s opposite! Isn’t that original?!” that was neither surprising nor original (nor was it surprising when he then turned out to be the villain, after all).

On the whole this movie just left me really annoyed. It was an unsatisfying narrative with no consequences and way too many gratuitous explosions, and no emotional impact because no one in the franchise will let this veer away from summer blockbuster fare and into actual darkness.

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What she said

I haven’t talked about the “scandal” this week of JK Rowling being outed as Robert Galbraith, because I don’t really talk news here. But I wanted to point out Kris Rusch’s post on the topic, because she had a perspective I hadn’t considered – that of what publishing’s reaction says about them. I had been looking at the incident with both my writerly and my privacy-obsessed citizen glasses on. My thinking about this case, you could say, had gotten way too uptight.

I feel sorry for Rowling. I absolutely understand the desire to be taken…without bias as a writer. When I first hit publish on my novellas, self-publishing was not quite respectable yet, though it was getting there. I caught a little of the bias against it from reviewers, a bias I expect I will not experience with my next publication. All I wanted was my work to be read with the same open mind any reviewer would give to a legacy pub book, which sometimes I got and sometimes I did not.

Rowling’s name is polarizing. She cannot write under her own name and be taken without bias. The idea that she was outed for sales or money is absurd – she doesn’t need it. She just wants to write, and have the book be taken on its own terms, not those associated with her name.

Anyway, Kris touches on that point, too, so I won’t go further with it. But go read her post for a level-headed look at this situation.

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The Importance of Touching Projects Daily

One thing I noticed this spring, when I finally went back to the novel I had been writing for 15 months, which I abandoned to NaNo and then to finish my NaNo project, was how out of the rhythm I felt. I couldn’t quite grasp the pace of the story, the flow of the text. I said to myself then that I would not abandon a project in the middle again unless I meant never to finish it at all. Even if something else came to the forefront, a la focusing in November on a new story, that I would nonetheless keep a finger dipped into the stream of the other story.

I am noticing in microcosm the difference in my ability to just sit down and work if I write a little bit every day or if I go several days in between writing blocks.

I pretty well abandoned the “write a lot of little bits every day” attempt because I hit a section I just didn’t know how to work through, and, as an INTJ and a non-pantser, I just cannot write blindly. I paralyze; words literally do not come if I can’t see at least a few steps in front of me to know which direction to head. I¬†think¬†I am almost through that section, because suddenly I am finding it easier to just sit down and start writing (as opposed to having to read a lot of what I wrote previously to reorient myself in the story), and move forward.

The sewing project is continuing to be a good analog for my novel-writing. I am still struggling over the pattern, which has progressed from flat patterns to cloth patterns that are constructed and being adjusted piece by piece against my actual body to get the fit I want. I have found that if I take more than a day or two off from working at the project, then it feels overwhelming to go back to. I have to sit there and really think back through what I did previously, what I tried and what I had to change, and read through all the notes and lines marked on the fabric itself in order to begin moving forward again.

So perhaps there is something to the idea that writing a little bit every day is the most productive way to write a novel. If you do, then you don’t lose the timing of the dance and don’t have to waste time figuring out where you’re supposed to be or what you’re supposed to be doing.

I am going to try for at least a couple sessions every day again. If nothing else, this way I won’t lose track of what I’m doing, even if I get stuck again.

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how many different adages can you make out of these words?

What, love, write, you.

I can make three that are all different and true and meaningful to me:

Write because you love it.

Love what you write.

Write what you love.

Did I miss anything?

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Why Is Your Story Set When and Where It Is?

A friend of mine was complaining to me about a book she referred to as Steampunk Lite–basically a so-called Steampunk that started strong but then devolved into ¬†a boring forbidden love story that never brought up the Steampunk elements again–and it reminded me of a rant I’ve been working on for a while. Are you ready for my theme? Because here it is:

The time and place your story is set cannot be arbitrary.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? I mean, why would any writer choose to set their story in a historical time or an alternate version of our world or the future or another world altogether if they did not have good reason for doing so?

I can’t answer the why, but I can attest to the fact that I regularly encounter writers who seem not to have spared a moment’s consideration for the setting they chose–everything from historical romance where the story literally could take place in modern times without being different; to fantasy worlds where the fantastical elements were nothing more than re-named cultures and cities from Earth, or else the story was so divorced from any kind of magic or fantastical element that it might as well have been contemporary Earth; to modern stories set in part of America the author has clearly never been to and in their ignorance fails to use appropriately as a plot device (looking at you,¬†Beautiful Creatures).

Stories like that disappoint me, in part because they cut a few cables holding up my disbelief suspension bridge and in part because they are missed opportunities.

In the case of romance, I read 95% historical, and the bigger problem for me in this context is the suspension of disbelief. If a writer is writing essentially a costume drama, AKA “mistorical fiction” (history shrouded in mist), then the odds are high the book will not be well researched or include much world-building, which make the historical setting seem pointless, and also that the story or characters will exhibit serious anachronisms that move the story from pointlessly set in the past to insulting because I’m being asked both to believe something that just could not have happened and also to waste my time on a contemporary story in costumes when what I wanted was an actual historical story. For me, an historical setting has to drive the plot in a significant way‚ÄĒgenerally, with romance, it involves social constraints or customs that would not have existed in an earlier or later time that inform the arc of the story itself. It might be how the hero meets the heroine, or why they are kept apart (or forced together), or how they come together in the end, but at some point, something in that story needs to happen that could not happen at any other time or any other place. In fact, the¬†appeal¬†of historical romance is often that it involves constraints that don’t exist nowadays, that make drama easier and yet still realistic. Nowadays most (inter)personal issues seem petty, and the really big dramatic stuff is not how most of us live our lives and therefore feels unrealistic. The ¬†historical stumbling blocks of duty to family, financial necessity, expectations of society, don’t matter anymore. Too often, though, I see writers who seem to think they didn’t really matter¬†then, either.

With fantasy/science fiction the issue is more, as my friend was saying, a feeling of being rooked. The cover and premise offered one thing but did not deliver the goods–it’s like the publisher brought a Pinto, painted it a color unique to the Starchief and replaced the logos, and tried to sell it as a Starchief. No. It’s just a¬†mislabeled Pinto. Someone on the #amwriting blog, back when it was still ¬†active, talked about this in a Steampunk context. Very good rant. Read it. After I read it the first time, I added “why is your story that particular genre?” to my list of questions to ask. Because if your story could be another genre/sub-genre without changing anything except the window dressing,¬†you’re doing it wrong.

When I encounter stories like either of these, I think they are written either by people who know they like a particular genre but misunderstand why, or by people who don’t like the genre, but do like playing dress-up, and want a story that fits their worldview (as opposed to the story that would fit the worldview of their setting) while retaining the costumes and props they enjoy.

I have seen this disjunct happen in contemporary stories, as well, strictly with respect to setting. For example:

  • I watched a movie set in (contemporary) Japan about two American brothers who reunite when they find themselves both in Tokyo at the same time. But nothing that happened in the entire movie required it to take place in Japan. It could have been New York, or St. Louis–the story could have happened in any city in America. Setting it in Tokyo felt completely arbitrary, like the filmmakers wanted an excuse to travel or realized they needed something more interesting to film than Overland Park, Kansas, which to me smacks of an attempt to disguise their inability to actually make a compelling film.
  • A week later I watched a movie set in India about an Indian-American man seeking an arranged marriage. That story, in sharp contrast, needed to take place in India because it could not take place in America. Nor could it have taken place at a time other than now, because the current social mores in both India and America mattered to the characters. That story could not take place in any other time or place and be the same, and the setting felt both necessary and proper to the telling of that particular story.

So, just to reiterate, setting is not arbitrary. The setting of your story needs to directly influence what happens within your story–and if it doesn’t, then you’re writing either the wrong genre or the wrong story.

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