And different role! Those that follow the blog, know I have developed an eccentric pattern in my writing routine. It’s a rather odd thing, but I like to edit my manuscripts on the beach in Puerto Rico. You’ve heard of “beach reads”, I call this a “beach-edit.” Each of my four novels have gone through this sun, sand and red pen ritual. It kinda’ goes like this:
Read, turn page, read, ooops, red pen, read, Bikini,
read, turn page, read, Bikini, ooops, red pen, Bikini,
read, read, turn page, Bikini
You get the rhythm and the two-piece picture.
Last week however, I sat on the beach in beautiful Isla Verde and edited a manuscript “not of my own making!” I did a beach-edit on my cousin George Cannastraro’s brilliant new book, Constantine’s Dagger. This was my first experience in “story editing” or “content editing” a book. My cousin allowed me to make him the guinea pig in my editorial experiment.
Followers know I am not a master of grammar and sentence structure. I couldn’t last 2 seconds in a Spelling F not to mention a Spelling B! But I, and anybody else who has done this for a while, can spot story opportunities, contradictions and potential character and plot enhancements when doing a fresh, critical read of work – not of your own brain.
No two writers write the same, even when they are cousins, but if you really put on the Editor’s cap and go with the flow of the author, it’s a pretty happy outcome. In our case, and I guess in all cases when you get down to it, story editing is about choices, conscious or otherwise, made in the telling of the tale. Sometimes when we write we have a single trajectory, one way in and one way out of a scene or subplot. But when it ain’t yours, you are free to see the “story-scape” from a different perspective and make recommendations to give more involvement, drama, comedy, risk and reward to the reader.
We had some wonderful moments opening up the story with added beats, which increased the tension, drama, and comedy or emphasize a character’s trait. This was easy because the action and dialogue were written so well and with a flair for word-craft. We took the opportunity to increase the texture, widen the scope and to more clearly focus the reader into the story through experiencing emotions, rather than reading about them. We had fun “cutting in” to use film terms, “close ups,” and reaction shots or just playing with rhythms like leaving the next shoe to fall, not now… but, …wait for it, …wait for it, … Now!
That part became more like conducting an orchestra than editing. But only because George wrote great characters, and musically wove them together.
I am about to mangle an old Native American saying, but it went something like, “You can’t paddle your friend’s canoe across the river, without you, yourself, getting across.”
My first shot at editing, has gotten me across a divide I have experienced in my own writing. Now, I see more globally at the same time I am writing locally within my story. I am quicker to recognize patterns and old stand by’s in my own work. In fact, right now, I am in the first pass of my 5th novel, Give Us This Day, I am more attuned to pacing and making conscious choices. Like whether to play the note a little longer, or make it a quick flourish in order to make an impact.
I recommend story editing to anyone who wants to get across the river that we sometimes encounter when we are traveling along the path to our own novel.