Dare To Dream

And so the editing continues…

Well, I finished the first draft of “Cruise Control”, the day before I headed overseas on holiday. I printed out three copies, posted one up North, gave one to my mum and took one with me to read on the plane.

It wasn’t long before I realised that the book has problems. When I start skim-reading my own writing because it’s over-written, that’s not good. When I find myself getting bored, that’s even worse. And when I cringe at how some of the characters’ actions just don’t make sense, that’s a big problem.

But there were plenty of good parts, and the ending worked really well. I restrained myself from crossing out entire pages as I’d promised the book to a friend, settling for just editing the odd typo. My friend that I was travelling with read it, and she said the book was great.

I heard from my mum a week into my trip, telling me that the book just wasn’t working for her, and she was finding it hard to get through, because the plot was stalling in the middle. I’d felt the same way, and told her so. Relieved, she sent me a list of things that she didn’t like. I can always count on her for honesty!

Meanwhile, however, several other readers have read and loved the book, said it kept them up reading all night, and that it made them cry, and are instructing me not to change it too much.

But it needs help. It’s not yet the book that I want it to be. I think right now it’s good, with some parts that are great and some parts that are just okay. But I’m not here to write “good” books. I’m here to write great ones! Like anything in life, there’s no point striving towards mediocrity.

When I start to tell a story, it is alive in my mind. The characters, their nuances, the details of their lives slowly come to light as I write, but from the very start I have a strong feel for these people. I know who they are, and the story that I’m trying to tell. “Cruise Control” isn’t there yet. In its current form, it’s still hazy, still an idea not yet fully executed.

So I sat down one evening in Canastota, NY and started writing notes. Picking apart the characters, trying to work out how to make the story flow better. Which characters to bring into the book more, and which to push aside. Which characters needed more fleshing out, and which needed less help. Which scenes should be cut, and what scenes needed to be written in.

It’s going to take time, as writing always does, and unfortunately there are no real shortcuts. But I feel more focused now, and I’m confident that what people loved about the book won’t change. It’s just that everything around those parts will work better, will read better, and will feel more real.

I hope.

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Dare To Dream

The most tedious process of editing …

As I work frantically towards finishing the first draft of my latest book, “Cruise Control”, I thought I would take a few minutes to rest my brain and explain a bit about the editing process of a book (or at least, my editing process, as everyone is different).

When I started writing this story, I had only the vaguest idea what it was about. I will talk about the inspiration in more detail at a later date, but basically I wrote the opening scene straight off the top of my head and went from there. The entire book was written in a fairly organic manner – I didn’t sit down and plot out the storyline before I started, I just wrote! Another chapter, and then another one. I would sit down at the laptop, read the previous chapter, and think about what might happen next in the lives of these characters. When I was about two-thirds of the way through the story and started building towards the climax, a plotline occurred to me that would make for a much more dramatic finale than I had anticipated. Excited, I started writing it, but found that the plotting was more intricate than I’d realised! I wrote the final scenes of the story, but left big gaps in the middle to be filled in at a later date.

Then I got sidetracked with other things (including the release of “Flying Changes”) and it was quite a while before I went back to “Cruise Control”. By this stage, I knew what was going to happen to Marley and Cruise, so the urgency to write had died away. But time ticked by and I realised that I was too attached to this story to let it sit on my laptop and not share it. I decided to finish it off, but when I went back to the file and started writing, I realised that the plotline I had planned wasn’t quite going to work. I had to rethink it, and that took a few weeks. And then I had to decide how to tell the story – how much information should I give? How many people’s perspectives should I provide? I wrote and deleted PAGES of text, trying to make the story continue at a good pace, and still struggling to get it to flow and make sense.

And then one day as I drove home from riding my horses, I had a breakthrough. I suddenly knew exactly what had to happen in the lead up to the big moment at the end of the book. I drove straight home and started writing. Now the ending worked better, and I saved the file with great satisfaction. I still had a few bits and pieces in the story that needed fine-tuning, but they wouldn’t take long. I decided to let the book ‘rest’ for a few days, and then go back and re-read what I’d last written once I had a bit more perspective on it.

But when I went back, I realised that while the ending is now a lot better, the lead-up to it no longer made sense. I had to go back and fix quite a bit of that, which led me to realise that I had to write an entirely new scene.

Okay, I could manage that. But now I was getting concerned about page count. At its fattest, “Cruise Control” was over 350 pages! I re-saved the file and several scenes that didn’t drive the story forward, or provide any new information to the reader. I got the page count down to 300 pages, but didn’t feel as though I could lose any more. This cutback forced me to take out one of my favourite scenes, but sometimes that’s just part of writing. (Of course, anything that I delete I simply cut and paste into a new file and resave – nothing is lost forever, and I would love to continue writing about these characters, so it all might come up in a later book.)

Now I felt like I was on the right track. I still had that scene to write that I mentioned earlier, but that wasn’t going to be too difficult, I hoped. I let the story rest while I mulled it over and searched for inspiration.

And then a couple of days ago, I decided to try something more drastic. I went on a deleting spree, ruthlessly cutting out parts of the story that I liked, but that didn’t contribute to the plot. Once Cruise arrives in Chapter 2, he needs to feature in every chapter. But there were whole chapters around Marley riding her other ponies, that really had no place in the story. So I culled them out. I deleted an entire pony, three horses and seven or eight tertiary characters, took out more scenes that weren’t related to Cruise, and suddenly “Cruise Control” was only 228 pages long.

Now I had room to re-insert that scene that I had loved. And I put back in another scene, although I trimmed it down significantly. And then I decided to cull it back further, and change the impact of one character. I can’t discuss this in too much detail without spoilers, but I think I’m on the right track.

Unfortunately, there are still plenty of edits to do…and I’m running out of time if I want the first draft completed before I go overseas next week! But I’m going to keep trying.

And so I’m going back to it…wish me luck!