Editing: What is this thing?

I really want to talk about editing. Editing is a fine beast, and a totally different state of mind than writing. It is not terribly infrequent to sit down with every intention of writing, and suddenly find oneself editing instead. I don't usually see this as a problem, if only because the process of the edit actually resolves itself into discovering the solution to whatever the current conundrum happens to be. There are other times where writing simple never happens, and I'll disappear into a different project and edit that instead. This isn't entirely the way I thought this post was going to start. I could edit, (and of course, I have) but I think I'll just jump around instead. (My webcam's off... you can't watch.)

I don't have an actual editor at the moment, though I do have some good friends who are pretty decent at it. I never really felt my work needed much in the way of editing, story-wise, though there is definitely a call for grammar/word usage clean-ups. Narratively, long as my plays are, they are very... directed. There is purpose. Somewhere along the lines, someone once gave me this invaluable piece of advice.

You need to know three things before you can write;

  1. What do you (the author) want to happen?
  2. What do the characters want to happen?
  3. What do the characters do about it?
And by the way, 2) and 3) aren't necessarily the same, and sometimes, they're completely opposite.

This advice, coupled with the knowledge that everything that goes down on the page has to somehow contribute to the story, either via the plot, or via the characters (if it doesn't, it doesn't belong) has helped me to winnow the unnecessary. I also try to remember that one never tells the audience the same thing twice, unless something new is revealed. That one itself has saved me... at least when editing.

And finally, I always know what I want the audience to get out of each scene. I know (as pointed out above) why the scene happens from the onset. There are certainly times where the scene (as far of the characters are concerned) lasts outside the boundaries of what is presented to the audience. We slide in for the important bits, and slide out when we've made the point (narratively speaking).

At the end of the day, I'm a Verse Dramatist, and my stories are Character Driven. These two elements lead naturally to a longer format play, and that another reason I try to keep out the unnecessary bits. 

All of that being said... I still miss things.

Let me say first, I totally recognize the need for an Editor, and as noted, I don't have one on the payroll. Having one, though, doesn't always seem to go well. Once upon a long time ago, I ordered a sample edit from somebody/place online for one of my pieces. I don't think I've ever been more insulted by what I received. I feel I must clarify something: my verse definitely has its own rhythm and meter. I don't sit around trying to figure out iambs, and though I do stick to 10 syllable lines, I would never call it pentameter. Seriously folks. I tried that in the very beginning, and I suck at it. The “Conversational” style of verse I use, if it has a proper name, will have to be discovered by someone else. I'm too busy writing. Tangent done. This guy... who was apparently really excited to work on it... totally rewrote it. Firstly, he tried to fit it into what he thought it was supposed to be, and, in the process, completely stripped the voice from it. Lines were rearranged; words were changed... context was lost... I was utterly dismayed. I recognize that a good editor will do these things, but the problem was he quite literally rewrote my poetry. It wasn't the verse structure he'd been taught in school, so obviously it was wrong. I honestly wonder if he could even feel the meter. Anyway... I guess it still bothers me... My first thoughts after, “What the...” attempted to be more generous to this poor editor (whom I obviously didn't continue to work with). I'm certain I was a naive writer responding to a really harsh edit, but I also know the difference between a harsh edit and a good one. This was... terrible. I will also say that put me off of editors for a while.

Some years later (my verse becoming much more distinctive) a coworker of mine, who had gone to school for editing, volunteered to read a piece. I gave Jen the first draft of “The Other Side Of Life.” Due to circumstances, she never finished the job. I remember getting back the copy and... the amount of red... ink, not blood in my eyes... brought blood to my eyes. I laid that draft aside and stewed. I would deal with this later, I thought to myself. Of course, in due time, I actually did adopt and embrace a large number of the suggestions, and I certainly owe a lot to that harsh and good edit. I later apologized. I couldn't remember if I had been rude about it, but I recognized the potential in myself to have done so. I also thanked her. “Other Side” would not be where it is now without Jen. More than that, this particular partial edit was an education. There is so much I learned from it that allowed me to refine my form because it taught me objectivity. I'm not gonna lie and say I won't defend my choices (in a passionate manner,) but I have learned when to listen; when to know that I'm wrong. Indeed, I owe a lot to Jen.

My play “Airport Sparrows” was the first to receive a reading. I managed to wrangle some twenty people together to read and listen. Over the following couple of days, I ended up with some really good feedback that allowed me to edit and otherwise rewrite certain portions of it. In particular, Act 1 Scene vii. I recommend following the link to my post about it. It is one of the scenes that received a bit of an overhaul, but both versions of the scene are there (kinda cool if you ask me). Actually, the complete text of the play, albeit scene by scene, is here on the blog. I haven't yet uploaded it to the New Play Exchange, but I'm sure it'll get up there sometime. 

And finally, my best friend (and the only person to have read the complete catalog), has been indispensable in getting me to the place I am now. In more ways than one. That might warrant a post all on its own... just thinking aloud... sorry. Irene catches most everything, and her happy red (actually sometimes blue; we use the same draft, and I edit in red) pen really illustrates how important having, even one, outside voice can be. It's one of the great trials of the writer. We want feedback. We all know a hundred people who say they want to read our work, and we all know ninety-seven of them who won't, even when you hand them a copy in its own binder. The nature of the beast, I suppose.

I'm actually rather glad that my first experience was so terrible. I would willingly argue that it opened my eyes. I might not have realized how good Jen really was, even incomplete, had I not gone through that. A really good Editor sees more than what is on the page, and the best see what is in your heart. Given that we put so much of our hearts into our work, I can't think of anything more necessary.

No comments:

Post a Comment