Saturday, August 8, 2015

Editing Wildwood - aka - Nanowrimo in reverse

For those of you who have never participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month,) the idea is to write a complete first draft of a novel, or at least 50K words of one, in one month. It is HARD, and, to date, I've never succeeded.

So what does this have to do with Wildwood, book #3 in the Moonlit Trilogy? Well, the draft I submitted to my publisher was 156,000 words, and I knew in my soul that it was the best story I'd ever written. It's my favorite piece of the trilogy. My editor agreed: do not, under any circumstance, touch the plot, she said. And then she said: But I need you to cut 57,000 words. Minimum. Really, it'd be better if you could find 60,000 words to cut.

Sixty. Thousand. Words.

Or, NaNoWriMo in reverse.

When I first sat down to tackle this edit, I thought: I can absolutely do this. No problem. I'm wordy and I know it. I can clean this up in a single pass. So I painstakingly evaluated every word, tightened up sentences, cut an expository paragraph or lines three and four of a description here and there. And at the end of the first pass, I had cut 6,000 words. I had also taken two weeks to do it.

Editing a 75,000 word story like Moonlit and Windswept took every brain cell I had. Once I realized I was essentially editing them BOTH size-wise, I buckled down, glared at my screen, and launched into pass #2.

I started seeing some serious word-loving habits. Like descriptions. Boy-howdy do I love to word-draw. Three paragraphs of artsy, flowery page-decor became a sentence or two bold, direct strokes.

I'm a transition-junkie. I quit cold turkey, cutting their heads off whenever I saw them peek up at the bottom of a paragraph. CHOP CHOP CHOP. And boom, without the transition present, the paragraphs flowed BETTER, because if the writing is tight and the motion is streamline, a transition becomes a speed bump.

Full-body feels. This probably accounted for 25,000 words. And I don't mean the way a "feels" moment pulls at a reader's heart strings. I mean the way every single action pulled at every single possible part of my main character (although hearts, centers, stomachs, guts, middles, and mouths seem to be favorites of mine). I shouldn't tell a reader how my character internally responds to a positive or negative moment because the reader should experience the moment without me telling them how to do it.

And, last and certainly most painful for me, expository paragraphs. I love to sink into a scene and roll around, like a dog on a carpet, feet in the air, tongue out, just *feeling* it. Inviting a reader into a character's head space for a good long time. Like a page. Maybe two. I caught myself skimming these words and sections I was sure I loved, and why? Because sure they were pretty but they didn't affect the story in any way so I didn't need to change them so why look at them.

Wait, what?

If a sentence does not affect the plot or the character, if the plot and the character are exactly the same on the other side of the sentence as they were before it, then what was the point of the sentence? The idea of a story is to keep the action and characters in motion. You know what dogs do after they roll all over the floor? They take a nap.

And there was my other 35,000 words.

Finally, one month, 60,000 cut words later, edits for Wildwood were done. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, and taught me some invaluable lessons about the way I write, and how to make it better.

Wildwood now has a release date - September 22nd, 2015, and one truly amazing cover.

I can't wait to see what y'all think of the conclusion to Tanzy's story, and my new, lean, action-packed story-telling skills.

It's been one helluva ride.

Thank you for coming along.