On editing

I’m chest-deep in the quagmire that is the first edit of Book Deux.

And whilst it’s fine (it’s not particularly difficult or stressful, and anything to do with writing is kind of fun) it’s also like carrying on 11 conversations at once. Or, a better analogy: it’s like keeping 50 pins in your mouth for 50 tiny tweaks in a dress that you’re altering. (For this to work, we need to imagine for a moment that you and I are the kind of people who alter dresses.)

You have to remember how each tweak will affect another tweak, and how the whole thing will hang because of each tweak, and then you think of a new tweak (or hem or dart or shoulderpad, whatever) as you go along, and so you go back and adjust an earlier tweak, and oh… After eight hours I’m exhausted, and after 10, I’m a zombie.

And as mentioned before, editing can be brutal.

Killing dialogue is tough, especially if you think something is funny but know it’s not really adding much else. Killing an entire scene, though, is oddly thrilling when you realise you can do the same job better somewhere else in the story. I tend to scavenge my deleted scenes for my two or three favourite shiny dialoguettes and put them somewhere else. I’m like a little magpie for one-liners.

And killing a character is… well, it’s sinfully easy.

She was only a minor character. Her name was Janey. She whinged a lot, and then after I made her happy, I couldn’t figure out what else to do with her, and nothing just turned up the way plotlines normally do. She never really sparked for me, she was never real the way the others are. So boom: she’s gone. Anything important that she did can easily be done be someone else. No one misses her. She leaves no mark.

I erased her in less than a day, after months of writing about her.

Then, drunk on the power of playing God in my tiny world of lustlorn Londoners, I decided to kill another character, too, even though I found her quite funny. Her name was Leigh. Killing her wasn’t necessary, but neither was her character. I merged the best bits of her plotline with someone else’s. It’s not personal, I feel like telling her. It’s a numbers game.

Let us be silent a moment and think of Janey and Leigh, two characters who were never meant to be.

Right then. Enough of this babble, especially considering how zombie-dull and blunty-witted I am tonight. My next blog entry shall sparkle and shine, I promise. The edits are almost done. And then the book will go to my editor at Harper Collins, and she’ll come back and tell me what she thinks, and I’ll go over it again, with 50 more pins for 50 more tweaks that will leave it a tasty, tight little amuse-bouche of a novel.

Exciting, huh?

And at many points in the next few weeks, as happened today, I’ll wonder if the thing is funny at all, if the main character is as sympathetic and lovably quirky to others as she is to me. Sometimes, tired of my endless edit list, I’ll open the manuscript to a random page, reread the dialogue I find there, scowl with dismay and start viciously editing to make it sharper and (God, I hope) more amusing. And at other times, I’ll read it and it’ll feel like it was written by someone else entirely, and I’ll think, oh, maybe this is a cute funny little thing after all. And then on nights like tonight, I’ll lie back on the couch, my stomach making growling noises because I ate too many cherries, my head lolling on the cushions and my hands tapping on the laptop and I’ll just think, I hope this book is good. I really, really hope this book is good.

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