It’s All in the Edit

It's all in the editI appreciate what people mean when they say ‘it’s all in the edit.’ Of the three book series, Book One is in serious need of editing.

Good editing in movies and TV can make thin, derivative material into lively and engaging experience. Ever watched a movie that clunked at every scene change? Seen one hour of material stretched beyond breaking point to three hours? The wrong choice of point of view and pacing, reducing a snappy idea into mind-numbing tedium?

It’s the same in fiction. More precisely, Book One of my fantasy series. The opening volume has to do the following:

  1. Introduce the main characters and their goals
  2. Introduce the world
  3. Outline the stakes
  4. Unfold the plot in a structure that works until we reach a meaningful dramatic finale.

Planning and writing a series in parallel allows for development of umbrella arcs across the three books. The umbrella plot is surprisingly simple. Books Two and Three build through their individual plots reliably. The character arcs build as demanded.

Book One, however, has issues.

This whole thing started as a challenge in a writers’ group. My first inclination is always to write a classic Western, but with swords; a Samurai movie. Classic Western, three-act plot: check. Classic Western gunfighter/wandering Samurai protagonist: check. Wilderness setting for least amount of world-building: check. Distinctive bad guys: check. Helpful supporting characters: check.

Except that’s not how it played out. First draft completed, it didn’t work.

I posted before about the change of point-of-view (PoV) character. I changed protagonist because one of the supporting characters is actually more interesting than the grumpy Western gunfighter that we’ve all seen before.

Delete first third of novel: check. Change Him to Her and switch perspective: check.

The change of PoV led to extensive re-writes and a different discovery process for each of the two main characters. Plus restoring some of the world-building from the deleted first third.

Not only is the new lead character more interesting, but she has special abilities that literally adds to the foreshadowing of events. And she’s an unreliable narrator. How we all love an unreliable narrator.

Second draft completed. It still doesn’t work.

The plot mostly meets the expected three-act, try-fail structure. But what’s on the page has a soggy middle. The souffle collapses. It’s a common problem.

Part of the issue is the travelogue section of the plot that just moodles about for several days. Ride, camp, chat. Who’s there? Nobody. Ride, camp, chat some more.

Third draft, then; rearranging the pieces. Scenes are moved. One ‘action’ scene (a whole chapter) has no action. That has to go. Now there’s a hole. There’s a new scene to insert which contributes to the overall plot/character arc, but it fits earlier. Now the intros/outros of later scenes will have to be clipped and moved to maintain the integrity of the timeline

It’s difficult to see the shape of it over 200+ pages, so back to the plotting spreadsheet we go. Delete the original scene analysis and create a new one, with enough detail to identify key dialogue and backstory points. Cross fingers and hope this illuminates the failings in the relationship between the two protagonists.

It’s all in the edit.

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