Editing, Editing, Editing

Handing a manuscript to a reviewer is the hardest thing about writing. Nothing incites the same sort of nausea and anxiety as watching someone else’s eyes gliding back and forth across your words and observing every minute expression for any tinge of pleasure or disgust.

However, the second hardest thing comes when your dear friend hands back the manuscript with note-filled margins suggesting improvements and then you have the task of implementing those improvements.

Fortunately for me, as I mentioned before, the plot passed the test. Much to my chagrin, the prose didn’t.

Today, I start on page 59 of 126 for extensive prose-tightening day 4. And I’m going to do something I literally never do. I’m going to show you some of my ugly prose… immediately followed by how I tightened it. (It’s such a painful thing for a melancholy to do despite my phlegmatic bits. Pardon my cringes…)

Before prose-tightening:

When I finally awoke again, I found myself in a warm bed surrounded by soft whispers. Certain I that had been captured, I attempted to calmly decide what I should do. If Jacobi were indeed the enemy, perhaps he would show me some mercy. After all, I thought that he was my friend.

Before I could decide my next move, though, those around me must have noticed I was awake. There was no use pondering with eyes closed. It was time to see what I must deal with.

To my surprise, the warm bed was in a small cottage bedroom. The man hovering over me was a doctor—judging from the instruments and vials sitting on a nearby table. His wife smiled comfortingly at me as she took my hand.

Not the  absolute worse prose to ever desecrate a page, but let’s be honest. Where’s the energy? The anxiety? The narrator thinks she’s captured, for goodness sake, and the words don’t convey the anxiety or urgency.

So, contemplating the need to actually relay urgency to the reader, I decided to deviate from the narrator’s normally wordy style and utilize short sentences to create a better sense of the emotions you would actually feel if you thought you were captured and expected to meet your doom. I also decided to slow down and spend more time in the moment instead of breezing over it.

Take 2:

When I finally awoke, my head throbbed, and my body ached. The heaviness that accompanies hours of deep sleep left me disoriented. For a moment, I had forgotten the events prior to laying in that warm bed, sore but comfortable.

Then my memories returned like remnants of a nightmare. I had fallen. I had been riding through the darkness, and I had fallen. Jacobi’s men were chasing me. I was in danger. I had to return home.

Panic gripped me. Surely I had been captured and rested under the watchful eye of Jacobi’s men. Perhaps they would kill me. I knew too much. I had to escape.

I braced myself. Then I opened my eyes. To my surprise, instead of finding myself surrounded by dungeon walls and piercing eyes, I was in a cottage bedroom. A man eased me back into the pillows, and his wife hurried to my side and took my hand. He felt my forehead and examined my eyes as he assured me that I was safe.

His skilled fingers scrutinized my shoulders and arms for injuries as he and his wife began a torrent of questions. Was my back sore? Where were my parents? Did it hurt when he pressed my ribs? Who was I?

Perfect? No. Better? I think so. If nothing else, I feel like I’m being more true to her distress and doing more justice to the moment. And, when it comes to crafting the right prose, it seems that much of it comes down to what the narrator is feeling at the moment. What is important to her? What is she noticing? What is she feeling?

What do you think? How do you approach prose-tightening?


6 responses to “Editing, Editing, Editing

  • C.B. Wentworth

    I’m always a fan of tightening prose, but not to the point of losing style or voice. There is no such thing as right or wrong, instead there is good and better. Whenever I have someone read my work, I take their suggestions in account but I don’t let them take over my revision. Reader feedback is valuable, but you can’t please everyone! Change what needs to be changed to serve the story and nothing else. :-)

    • EverydayEpic

      Thanks for the great reminder. That is a trap I fall into all too often…. until I realize that the suggestion doesn’t fit the story.

      I also misrepresented the situation a little bit. My husband is the reviewer this time around. Usually, his feedback is spot on. (Which is why he’s the first filter for most of my writings… not my blog, of course, but most other things.) I knew some of my prose was lousy, and now that I’ve stepped away from the story for a couple of months and gotten some very specific feedback from him, I can finally see the problems too and can see how to fix them. I suppose that’s the trouble with writing a long work. For me, the first few pages are molded to perfection but the attention to detail–prose detail specifically–fades out as time goes on. C’est la vie, though. : )

      • C.B. Wentworth

        I have a friend who does the same thing for me. She has a great eye, but I allow myself to disagree with her. We have a deal – if I can successfully argue why something should stay the way it is, I get to keep it. ;-)

        Have you ever tried editing backwards – Starting from the end and moving to the beginning? For my last draft, I did this a couple times to keep things fresh and consistent.

      • EverydayEpic

        Sounds like your friend is the perfect cohort. :)

        I’ve never tried–or even considered–editing backwards. Knowing the way my mind thinks, though (and how comfortable it is in moving exclusively chronologically through a story) I think it would make a huge impact. Once I’m done with this run-through, though, I will definitely give it a shot. :)

  • Bonnie

    Wow, Take 2 was like reading from a different writer – awesome job! I really enjoyed it… and am intrigued! I like your style.
    I’m glad to have found your blog, you have some great posts here and I’ve only looked around a little. I’m off to explore more. :) Nice to meet you!

    • EverydayEpic

      Great to meet you too, Bonnie! I’m glad I’ve found your blog, too. I’ve only glanced at the first page, but I love the combo of things you talk about (I enjoy scrapbooking too!). And your boys are adorable! :)

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