12 August 2009

Jesscapades Edits I - Focus Editing

Please note: I unknowingly breached copyright in some of the terms I used in my original post. I've replaced these terms with terms of my own. I've also added a little clarification in one or two sections.

So, since a) it seems to be the trend to write about editing right now (Liana Brooks, for example) and b) Glam did a fantastic series of posts about maps and compasses for your story, I thought I'd chime in. Especially since this is where I'm actually up to in the writing process right now. (I highly recommend those posts I just linked to, though! :))

And especially since I use most of the methods Glam mentions in her pretty comprehensive list of outlining methods at some time or another in editing. Perhaps you can consider her post the 'what', and these posts the 'how' ;)

Today, we're talking about Part One. Basically what this stages boils down to is Focus - finding your focus, finding your character's focus, and finding your story's focus.

When we edit, we absolutely have to have a focus; if we don't, how do we know if the scene fits or not? If it moves the story forwards or simply weighs it down? If the subplots add or subtract from the story? If the story even ends up where it's supposed to?

All these questions and more are what this stage of editing answers for me. Although, like anything creative, this is all a messy, organic process as well; with Jesscapades I found the MC's focus through this process, but it wasn't until well after Stage Two of editing that I found the story's focus.

But let's pretend that stories are nice, mechanical beasts that can be slotted into boxes, just for a minute. What does Focus Editing involve?

So. Your story needs a focus, and you need to find your focus before you edit. There are many ways to do this - but this is how I do it, inspired by one of Holly Lisle's methods, and by a method developed by a friend of Glam's who is publishing a book on how she does it. My method is a lot simpler than either of these those, since I'm impatient O:) And of course, it draws on lots of other stuff I've learned along the way; which just goes to show how organic the writing process is, and how individual we all are :)

First up, I pull out my Sentence again. For Jesscapades, this was:

A dedicated student assassin receives her graduation assignment: kill her best friend, or be killed by him.

Okay. That was where I began; but is this where I ended up? If I actually look at what I've written, I see that mostly, the focus isn't actually on her assignment. So what I do next (and what I'd do even if the story DID match the sentence) is figure out what my Inciting Incident is. Glam has a great post on inciting incidents right here, so I won't go into detail - but basically, it's the incident that drives the story; the incident your MC is continually having to face the consequences of; the event without which the story would never have happened.

BEWARE: Spoilers ahead.

Inciting Incident: In Jesscapades, initially I'd planned for the II to be Jess receiving her assignment. But this wasn't right. It was a good catalyst, something to poke her into action after years of hiding - but it's not the main issue she has to confront throughout the book. That place belongs to - dun dun dun - the murder of her sister.

So. My sentence will need reworking. But before I can do that, I need to check that the other parts (twist and antagonist especially, and needs) are in order. And there are a couple of other roles (based on the icecream cone diagram) that I want to check are filled.

Antagonist: This is the character that represents to Jess what she's fighting against. I realised that Jesscapades had two characters vying for this role: the head bad dude, and his lackey. And Jess can't be trying to fight both of them if the novel is to feel coherent. So, buh-bye head bad dude; you'll get your turn in book two. For now, Lackey is going to be my antagonist. And not only were there two CHARACTERS fighting for the role of antagonist, there were two ORGANISATIONS as well! It made the book very messy, and Jess's actions were scatters - so I cut one.

See how I'm streamlining here, cutting out the unnecessary waffle (characters AND subplots) that detract from the main focus of the story?

Hero: In terms of 'one who saves MC', which can often be the MC themself. Who's the one who acts on behalf of the MC, whether they win or lose? In Jesscapades, it could easily have been Jess herself. BUT. I also have a whole bunch of scenes (not quite half, but a sizeable amount) from John's POV. So why not give him this role? It will give his arc direction and purpose, rather than just having 'another character'. This is also key: any characters in your WIP that are key stakeholders, or main players, or POV characters, have to have a role if their storyline is to support the main one and add to your focus. So, John gets the role of hero. (Does he succeed or not? Bwa ha! You'll have to wait to read the book! :P)

Safe Character: Now, this role is actually pretty optional, but you'd be surprised how often it crops up. I think it closely parallels the role of 'mentor', but I like the term 'safe' because it reminds me of the difference this character makes. This character is someone who is 'safe' for your MC; who isn't going to turn on them, who they can run to with anything. In examining this role with Glam when I visited her, I finally figured out what makes fiction 'dark': the safe character dies or is somehow corrupted. That's not all of it, but it's a large part. The safe character for me in Jesscapades is Patty. Is the book dark? Bwa ha! I'm not telling!

Needs: This is what I meant about writing being organic; ideally I'd have thought about needs at the same time as all the other stuff. In actual fact, I didn't. It only hit me yesterday, and it relates to the focus of the entire book. Jess's main need, whether I like it or not, and whether she ends up believing in it or not, is revenge. So, in fact, is the need of the other 3 POV characters. I'm amazed I didn't think of this before; and I'm amazed that I'm writing a book about revenge o.O But now that I've accepted it, I realise that it makes the book so much more cohesive; the subplots back up the main plot because they're about the same thing, only in a different way; and it's going to help tremendously in editing because I'll know whether subplots and extra scene should stay or now - if they're relevant and back the main story up or not. Lovely :)

So now I've streamlined my book in a major way: I know what subplots can effectively be cut, I know what I'll need to focus on in each of the plot threads, I've simplified who Jess is aiming for and what each of the main characters' roles are, and I've cut the POV characters down to just 4, which turns out neatly symmetrical: one for each 'side' in the fight, and one each for Jess and John.

At this point, you could rework your Sentence - but in real life, I hadn't found my needs properly yet (digression: I go on and on about how the most important thing you can know about your character is their driving need, or compelling motivation - and yet I managed to write an entire novel where I didn't know what it was for ANY of my (at the time) SIX POV characters!!!) so I didn't have enough information to rework my Sentence. But let's pretend I did. It might go something like this:

Jessana, a dedicated student assassin, must face down an old enemy as she fights for revenge for her sister's death - all while trying to avoid killing her best friend.

Or something ;)

And that's it for today, folks! Tune in on Friday to read about Editing: The Read Through!


Charmaine Clancy said...

Great post Inksy,
I look forward to one day being up to the editing process. One day.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love it when I read a post that covers subjects I've read about before but gives me new insight. You did just that. Since I'm in second draft, rewriting and trying to wrangle all the elements, you've given me some good things to think about. Thanks!

ElanaJ said...

Very informative post! Thanks!

Merc said...

Wonderful post, Inky! Glad you streamlined it, and thanks for sharing how you did it--very informative. :)

Inkblot said...

Charm - I look forward to you being there too! I want to read your writing. (*does not comment on how much "I want to read your book" sounds like "I vant to suck your blood"* O:))

Tricia - I'm so glad you found it helpful. It's nice to know I'm being useful here, and not just repeating what everyone else is saying :) Thank you.

Elana - You're welcome! Thank you! :)

Merc - Yeah, I'm glad too. This next version will make a lot more sense o.O And I'm glad you found it informative :)

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