Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Dead Horse Edit

or, Thoughts on Making Major Changes

A good friend of mine is the equine manager for a facility whose owners delight in buying the saddest, most broken down horses imaginable in an effort to “save” them.

One mare is currently in need of a merciful end. Knowledgeable horse people and at least one reputable vet have said so. Yet the mare’s owner balks at the decision – not because she has philosophical issues with playing God, but because she clings to the hope that the experts are wrong and that the arrival of Spring will somehow cure the horse’s irreparable neurological issues.

The owner has mandated that she will “wait and see what happens.” Which translates to hoping that the mare will simply die a quiet, natural death.

Earlier this week, my friend categorically stated that she refuses to be held responsible if the horse goes down for the final time in her stall and dies.

“Oh,” said the owner, processing this. “Why?”

“Because,” my friend said, “the tractor with the bucket on it doesn’t fit into the barn aisle.”

This was not explanation enough. My friend tried again. “If the horse dies in its stall, they don’t tear the barn down…”

Ahhh… Eeewww!

Suddenly the mental tinder lit and the seriousness of the situation became clear.

Exploring the Big Bag o’ Editing Excuses

Wanting to save starving and abused animals is commendable. I’ve been involved in multiple rescues. I sympathize. I really do. Sometimes, though, the most humane thing to do is to allow an animal’s misery to end -- which means making tough decisions and big changes.

March is NaNoEdMo: National Novel Editing Month. To some writers, editing is akin to self-mutilation and they approach it with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for being flayed alive or doing one’s income taxes.

During an edit a writer will often encounter significant blocks of text that should be sacrificed for the ultimate good of the book. Knowing that something needs to go and actually making the cut, however, are two very different things. Writers who look at their words with an editor’s eyes can bring a bottomless bag of excuses to the task.

Sometimes a writer feels a misguided need to champion the things that need cutting. Those words have originated from the Creative Muse! What might the Muse think if they were simply cast aside on the rubbish heap of superfluous prose. She might never visit again…

On occasion, laziness is the reason the tough cuts aren’t made. This is a woefully weak scene, but it’s where I introduce the enzyme that saves humanity. If I cut the scene, I’ll have to rework at least a third of the book… Nooooo!

And sometimes a writer’s ego interferes with the editing process. Sixteen agents have passed on the material. My mother AND every single person in my writing group thinks my main character is two-dimensional. But I’m brilliant. I wrote it. Ergo: it is brilliant. Anyone who suggests otherwise is a mental midget.

Don’t Tear the Barn Down

When conducting an edit, keep in mind the important thing: The Story.

Review your structure and make certain it is sound. Every single thing that remains after the edit should contribute to your story's strength. If it doesn’t, it has to go.

A “dead horse edit” is dispassionate, objective, and necessary.

Regardless of how much you loved the words when you wrote them, if you notice that a scene, a chapter, an act, or a character weakens or detracts from the story, then do the humane thing for your writing career and get rid of them.

Your characters won’t resent you for cutting them.

The Creative Muse will not go on strike if you ax 20,000 words.

Your ego will not suffer a fatal blow. (And if it did, would that be so terrible?)

The DHE forces you to deal with a project’s major issues – even if you don’t want to – because, ultimately, it’s the responsible thing to do. All that remains afterward is to polish the remaining prose until it reflects your soul.

1 comment:

RedHeadedQuilter said...

I had no idea this was NaNoEdMo! Oh well, it will have to wait. I have paying work I should be doing. :(