My Books

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Anatomy of an Edit

In editing, like writing, everyone has a different method. This is an explanation of the way I do a thorough overhaul of my books before putting them out for you to read.

Stage 1.
Rip it apart, and put it back together again. No seriously, this is the stage where I ruthlessly rip out scenes and whole characters that aren’t actually needed. A term used by many authors for this stage is “killing your darlings.” Those lovely little conversations, or scenes, or that sweet little character (who just happened to appear on page 20 and you liked enough to keep till page 300) that you just loved when you wrote it; but that really have no bearing on the plot, or even character development. In the first Parabaloni I ripped out a whole character, that had been there from chapter 2, and had a whole story running underneath the other stories. He just wasn’t needed. So Matt died. Well, he lives on in my earlier versions. For me, that’s what makes this stage endurable. I can go back and find him again when I want. I create an “Outakes” file for every book I edit, and everything I rip out goes there. So if, after further thought, I decide that delightful little scene really did add something of value to the story, I can copy it back in again. It’s a mental balm to my troubled soul. Though I know the instances where a ripped scene gets put back in are almost non-existent. Exceptions do happen, of course; in The Way of the Ravens (which hopefully will be ready to be read and enjoyed by you this coming spring) I wrote three chapters, decided they were unneeded, ripped them out, put them back in a few months later, ripped them out, and now they are back in again at the moment. It will be interesting for me to see if they’re still there when I release that book.

Also in this stage comes the task of smoothing the book out. Tweaking those awkward sentences into something that flows, realizing when you typed up “hungry” you actually meant “voracious” and various little interesting chores like that. In this stage of the Dreaded King books, I get to tweak each character’s voice to sound like them when they tell their portion of the account. For instance, Charlie uses “upon” but Corinth never does, and Corinth uses “rather” while Charlie and Meagan can’t ever utter the word. Meagan’s sentences can only be a line, sometimes a line and a half if he has something very important to say. But Charlie, well, his descriptions are flowery, and wordy, and he notices everything. And Simpson, the translator? He’s a bit of an absentminded nut, honestly, as I expect you’ve noticed from the footnotes he’s scattered around the books.

Stage 1 ends when I’m finally satisfied the book is as smooth, direct, and streamlined as I can get it. This is the moment when I find a wonderful beta reader to ship it off to. (At this point, thanks and heaps of cudus go out to Joy and Aaron Gruben, Linda Hoover, Rebekah Cook, Krystal Webb, and Rael and John Dyal, some of my amazing beta readers. THAAAANK YOU!!!!!!) These are the splendiferous, superlative people who take the time read over my book before I send it out to all you other wonderful people, and tell me the obvious plot holes I completely missed, the absolutely ridiculous way this phrase sounds when read aloud, and various other little housekeeping matters that my brain glossed over. Because there’s always something. You become familiar with the phrases, the characters, and the plot, and there’s always something obvious you miss that a beta reader will catch for you. I’m learning this step in the process is really indispensable.

Stage 2.
Proofreading. The most boring part of the process to me. It wouldn’t be, except that stage 1 preceded it. Remember I’ve already gone over this book at least three times (sometimes twice that much), and that’s after I wrote it and ran the first initial couple of edits. The words are already very familiar. And now I have to read it again, and again, and again, trying to catch every little misplaced word and typo.

I usually let Christopher, my kindle fire, help me with this process. I read it over at least once on Allen (my laptop) to try and catch the punctuation mistakes and other little things that you really have to see to catch. And then I send the word document to Christopher, hit the “text-to-speech” button and let him read it to me. The automated voice droning out the words is a perfect way to get a different feel for the book, and catch things that I gloss over while reading it. Though he makes some strange mistakes. “Apt,” according to Christopher, is really only ever short for “apartment” and never a word by itself. And “no” often ought to be read as “number” because obviously it’s an abbreviation and not a negative ejaculation.

My family loves it when I’m at this stage. I have to do something while I’m listening to the same book over, and over, and over, or I’d go crazy. So this is the time when the little delicacies start flowing from the kitchen as I bake cookies and muffins and breads with Chris droning on in my ear, and me constantly pausing my cooking to highlight a mistake I just noticed. The laundry also gets folded at this point, as I’ve been letting it pile up while spending hours on Allen. And the floors vacuumed, and hey, I might even go so far as to clean the windows while Christopher reads to me!

After I get Christopher and Allen together and implement all the changes I highlighted on the kindle into my word document, stage 2 is FINALLY finished! And it’s always about now when the happy dance slides naturally from me.

Stage 3.
“Have you seen any new movies you liked?” This is the point where I’m always asking my friends this question. Because it’s formatting time. It’s a pretty brainless stage that takes a lot of hours, just shifting words to a bigger or smaller font, creating chapter headings, inputting page numbers; a thousand and one little things that takes a word document and makes it a book. And since most of it requires no thought, I usually work at it while something else gives me mild entertainment; like a brainless movie of some sort. I’ve watched a lot of Hogan’s Heroes during this stage. A whole lot.

It’s both a boring stage and an exciting one. A lot of time goes into mindless inputting on the computer, but minute by minute you get to see your hard work turning into something real and beautiful.

The End
And then I hit that “publish” button, and tell the world there’s a new book by Catherine Gruben up and ready to be read! But it isn’t really new. It started as a random thought that festered and bugged until I sat down in front of Allen and pounded out a plot. Then it became a rough draft of a book. And then it became a work in progress as the editing took over. That first little idea probably came at least a year before the book hit your Amazon account. Sometimes it’s more like 4 years from start to finish before I finally get around to declaring it fit to reach your hands.

At this point in my Four Books in Four Months (see my last blog post if you're curious), I'm almost through with stage 2 for Dreaded King: Reign Falls. Yay! Thanks for all the cheering you've all been doing, it's helping me stay on track. Whoo hoo, first of four books, here we come!

Getting a book from your mind onto real life paper is a long and tiring process. But it’s a wonderful process; I’m never going to stop until God snatches me up to His side.  

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