Friday, October 4, 2019

Lightning vs. The Lightning Bug

How do you know when you’re finished and it’s time to submit? Do you take a break or start right on the next one?

by Paul D. Marks

Second question first: In the Good Old Days, I used to take breaks before next project, not these days—in fact these days I usually have more than one thing going at one time. Work on more than one at once and they overlap. No rest for the wicked.

And now to the first question:
Me after I'm done editing

You never really know when something is done—because you’ll always find something else you know you can do better, to fix, change, etc. As a pantster, versus being an outliner, I fine tune and fine tune, until I get something I like. My early drafts are pretty rough. I just let the character “walk and talk,” so they can walk and talk your ears off or walk off a cliff and you have to get them back on track. Each subsequent draft hones the various elements. The early drafts mostly work on a plot level. Later drafts deal more with character, polishing, getting the right word or right way of saying something.

Sometimes things don’t quite seem to be coming together. Then you’re walking the dogs and something pops into your head that makes it all come together. It’s like the keystone in an arch—the element that makes it all work. But still, you’re not done.

Once you get that element you still have to fine tune everything. You have to make all the elements fit together. Make sure everything is consistent. As a silly example, I often change descriptions of characters, but I don’t do it as I go along. I’ll do it in the next draft. So if I have a character whose hair is green at the beginning and I change it to pink I need to make sure I do that throughout. On a deeper level you need to make sure that the characters act consistent with the personalities and character traits that you’ve set up for them.

Sometimes as you go along you see possibilities for plot turns and characters that you didn’t initially see and things can change radically.

Then, you want to make sure you say everything just the way you want it said, and use just the right words for everything. Mark Twain famously said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

I was going to say you tie up all the loose threads, but I don’t always do that. I tie up the major threads and story questions, but because life is messy not everything is always tied up in a nifty little bow.

Then, when you think you’re done, put it aside for a couple of days or even a couple of weeks. Go over it again—you'll find things you missed, even though you thought you were done.

Read it out loud. You'll be amazed at the things you missed.

Put it aside again and start the process all over again.

Finally, give it to trusted friends—beta readers—who will give you an honest critique, not just people who will be yes men or women. Your mom might love it, but how critical is she?  And how much about writing does she know?

If you want, you can hire a professional editor to give it another go-over.

But then, you just have to stop at some point, because the best is the enemy of the good, as Voltaire said.

Then you turn it in and inevitably if you read it over after it’s been published you find things you know you could have done better or differently (which = better).


And now for the usual BSP:

Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."

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rodric camela said...
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Terry said...

Paul, this is a terrific summation of the process. I'm on my fourth iteration of a novel that it feels like I've been writing forever (a little a over a year). I'm only to the character and setting-tightening stage and already hating it.

GBPool said...

Editing is backbreaking, but not editing is murder. Don't kill your baby. Reading ones work out loud or letting Text-to-Speech do it will open your eyes. You hear the redundancies and the parts that don't make sense.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Sage advice, Paul, Put it aside, read it out loud, go over it again.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I just went over the edit done by Encircle for my next Kim Reynolds mystery. I thought I had done a thorough edit, but the editor still suggested changes. Writing is all about rewriting. There is always room for improvement.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Terry. And I know, some of them feel like they’re never-ending. But eventually we reach that point.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Gayle. Yeah, reading it out loud or Text-to-Speech, which I haven’t tried because I fear my mind will wander, really helps.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Dietrich. Both putting it aside and reading it out really do make a difference. You hear/see things you just didn’t catch earlier.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Jacqueline. As you say, writing is all about rewriting. I think sometimes we just want to move on to the next thing so we don’t want to do that rewriting, but it’s part of the discipline.

Naa Songs said...
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Lawrence Maddox said...

Great advice Paul. Reading aloud is a must. Good stuff.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Larry.