I recently had the opportunity to work with a professional editor on a science-fiction novel that I hope to release via traditional publishing. Overall, I must say it was an absolutely positive experience, something both I and CoPAP (my novel) needed. JukePop has asked me to share what I’ve taken away from this, which I’ve gladly agreed to do.
First a little background. CoPAP has rattled around in my head in various forms for over twenty years. That produces a lot of attachment. In the fall of 2013, thanks to self-discipline and National November Writing Month (yay NaNo!), CoPAP finally emerged in complete draft form, a diamond in the rough. I left CoPAP mostly untouched until November of last year, when with the help of Jukepop, I got in contact with ‘K’, my editor. It was time to hand CoPAP, my little darling, over to another person.
Before sending off most of the first chapter to K, I went through and polished up the excerpt as best I could. I knew the rough draft was rough, but I thought I did an admirable job cleaning and tightening where necessary. Imagine my surprise when the line edits K suggested removed roughly one thousand words – almost forty percent! I must admit, several bowls of ice cream were necessary before I could take a closer look. This brings up the first, and probably most important, thing that I learned.
I had an emotional attachment to non-critical elements that were holding back the story.
An editor can look without the emotional baggage. K could think objectively about structure and flow without knowing how long a particular scene or character had been ‘integral’ to the story. To me, every word is a gem, critical to the final story. I would leave the diamond in its rough form, because to me, it is entirely diamond. K did not have that holding her back.
Consider the very first scene where I introduced the main character, her setting, and basic motivation. As she moved to scene two, there were some paragraphs that introduced four important side characters along with a card game two of them were playing. That card game existed in every incarnation of the first scene, all twenty years. The specifics changed, but it was always there. K cut the cards.
I almost cried.
Before rebelling and justifying why it MUST be left in, I took a deep breath. I read what was left after the cuts. The plot didn’t grind to a halt. There weren’t any ‘element x now makes absolutely no sense’ moments. The story still flowed. CoPAP survived, now my ego had to as well. K could see what I simply could not. The main character had lost center stage and she needed to keep it a little longer.
Now, can I reinsert the card game later? Oh yes, I plan to. The story just wouldn’t be the same without that spice that world building provides. Just not in the same way, and not at the expense of the scene. K herself recommended threading many of the cuts back in later. She didn’t say where, instead leaving that to me. That brings up the second most important thing I learned.
The story was still mine, even after edits.
K may have suggested several changes, but she never took the reins. Even when words were changed, they were still my words, my ideas. Nothing was added or changed in a way that usurped my role as author. Some of the paragraphs had been superficially changed to almost unrecognizable, but a closer look revealed that the core was still there.
Consider the changes to the scene where we first see the main character interfacing cybernetically with her powered armor. My rough draft version of “The customary buzzing pain in her skull was followed by the pungent whiffs of green onion that her brain associated with her new implant’s signals” was superficially unrecognizable after K’s edits made it “she felt a buzzing pain in her skull and caught the now familiar whiffs of green onion”. Even though less than half of the specifics are identical, it’s still my world, my ideas. They’ve just been tightened up better than I could (that emotional attachment again).
SCoPAP way have been nipped and tucked, but it was still mine.
There were certainly other minor things that I could mention, but they’re just that – minor. Evidently I often repeat things redundantly, as I just did there. I also like third person limited, but have the bad habit of slipping into third person omniscient. Again, those are small things, almost insignificant.
So, that about wraps up my guest post.
I need to get back to the grindstone on both DLB and CoPAP. Stories don’t just write themselves (sadly). If you have questions or just want to chat, feel free to stop by twitter, facebook, my writing blog, or just in the comments section here at Jukepop. Thanks again Jerry for inviting me, and hopefully this post doesn’t require as much editing as my novel rough drafts do. Also thanks again K, and I hope you’re willing to work with me again. I promise to not be too cantankerous. Well, I’ll try.