Tuesday, February 16, 2021

3T Writing Tidbit

 As I write this, I'm making self-editing passes on Night's Bliss, the final book in the Ancients series. One of the most important stems from the three-pass system by the always awesome Liz Pelletier, publisher at Entangled. It requires a complete read through and deals with overarching things like plot pacing. Normally I have 3-5 pages of notes when I'm done.

This book, I had four pages--in the first 10%. 

Most were line edit type things. Wrong word choice, muddled phrase or sentence. So I went through the book cleaning up the prose first. Then I tried the full read again. 

This time I got through four pages and 14%.

Frustrated, I did another nitty-gritty pass, cleaning up muddled paragraphs and sharpening dialog.

Then, finally, I was able to read the book at the level where I could see problems with character arc and plot structure.

It brought to mind a workshop on editing I took with great writing coach Laurel Yourke as part of A Weekend With Your Novel (UW-Madison Continuing Studies). She calls it "trees" versus "forest."

As writers, we spend a lot of time honing the trees. Crafting an elegant turn of phrase, getting just the right word. But too many of us get bogged down in all those elegant phrases and perfect words. We never see the forest, which might be a horrendous mess. Yourke, as I remember it, said we need to do more forest-edit passes.

True. But I discovered something during my rounds of self-edits. While the whole-book high level pass is essential, the shape of the forest can't be determined if the trees are choked by weeds. That is, the prose must be clean enough that you can actually see the shape of the big-picture things.

I encourage every writer out there, if you're not doing a read through like a reader, where you plow through the whole book from beginning to end with as few stops as possible--start. (If you don't know what to look for, I found insight with the two people I mentioned, but there are plenty of guides out there. Find one that works for you.) But be aware that the grand read-through pass may not be possible until you've weeded the garden first (or trimmed the excess clay from the pottery wheel or plucked the extraneous hairs from the eyebrow or whatever metaphor works best for you).

Published since 2009, over the years I've accumulated various items of writing wisdom. The Third Tuesday Writing Tidbit showcases these items in no particular order. Click here to see all 3T Tidbits

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