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 Post subject: Editing Guidelines
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2008 5:29 pm 
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Joined: Mon May 12, 2008 3:54 pm
Posts: 509
Location: On the Grey Lady
Okay, here we are at the end - or really the beginning. Time for editing, cleaning, polishing, etc. There are things I will need to cut because they are overkill (Never be afraid to kill your 'darlings,' as Steven King says). There are things I will need to polish because they are rough. There are things I will need to expand upon because they're too vague. Here's where your help becomes invaluable.

What I'm looking for overall is the style of a fairy tale or heroic epic. This story is set in a preindustrial time, and I want the writing style itself to reflect that. By using obsolete terms and spellings like yestreday, donjon and so forth, I'm trying to evoke the archaic mood of formal storytelling in days of yore. Another thing I do quite deliberately is use repetition to create echoes and contrasts or to create an hypnotic rhythm that will lull the reader into a kind of trance. Not a lull-to-sleep kind of trance, but a catch-the-reader-up-in-the-story kind of trance. Well, that’s my hope. It’s another archaic formal storytelling technique.

Okay, here's what I want help with:

1) Spelling mistakes.
I know, that can be tricky when I use a lot of archaic spellings deliberately, but some of them are no brainers too. Re0ply is just plain wrong. Sure, I write "yestreday" and "donjon" but those are done specifically to set the mood. Sometimes something is only a typo in context, as in "Tollard feel on me" instead of "Tollard fell on me." (Thanks, Sally) Spell check does not catch those things, it takes real people to find 'em.

2) Narrative contractions.
I have a horror of narrative contractions, they drive me batty. Think of the narrator as if he were Data from Star Trek: he cannot use contractions. It is a deliberate attempt to make the style formal. The characters may use contractions all they want, but the storyteller may not.

Example: "I can't see where I'm going!" Jasper shouted is an acceptable sentence. Jasper couldn't see where he was going is not. The second example would need to be rewritten as "Jasper could not see where he was going" or "Jasper had no idea where he was going because he could not see well" or any variant thereof. Sometimes you can't simply remove a contraction by turning can't into can not - sometimes I've found you have to rearrange the entire sentence, but that's not always a bad thing. See, I've slipped into narrative contractions, but this is informal writing, not part of the story. Contractions are the norm in modern informal spoken English, but I don't want my narrator to use a modern informal voice.

3) Sense.
"I don't get it." is something a writer does not want to hear from their readers unless they're deliberately trying to confuse. Which I only occasionally am. Galen and Morgan talking shop is deliberately obtuse, because I want to show that they are - like lawyers or doctors - highly specialized and technical. If you've ever listened to two lawyers talking... you either learn their lingo or remain hopelessly confused. My mom was a lawyer. If you look up the words in their conversations, it does actually make sense - I'm not using pure gibberish there - but I went out of my way to seek out big words to use in those conversations. You don't need to understand what they're saying there, just that they're being technical.

In most cases though, if something doesn't make sense to you I want to know about it so I can clarify. If you don’t understand it, other people probably won’t either. But since I don’t know what you don't understand, I cannot correct it without your help in pointing it out to me. There are some things which make sense to me because I know what’s going on and it seems self-evident to me. Of course Kemen is drunk in this scene. I mentioned alcohol didn’t I? Um, Josie? Just because you get drunk on a thimbleful of wine doesn’t mean that everyone in this scene is schnockered.

Some of the things that seem obvious to me are bits of peoples’ backgrounds or cultures which I have not taken the time to explain to the reader because it never occurred to me that I would need to. You need to remember that I have lived with these cultures and individuals many many years, and I don't always remember that other people don't know them as well as I do. Everyone has a few blind spots, and I have loads of ‘em. Don’t hesitate to say “Hey, I don’t get it.”

4) Enough, already!
On the opposite end of that spectrum, have I hammered a point to death? Gone over the same material too many times? Am I trying too hard to make something clear because I thought it was obscure? Tell me. “Jeez, Josie, we’re not stupid! I get it already!” is a perfectly okay thing to say. I need to know. If it bores you it may well bore others, and I don’t want to bore people, I want to entertain. It’s hard for a book to be entertaining when it’s closed.

Deliberate repetitions are things like:
Paige let out a bloodcurdling scream.
(Chapter Break)
Jasper stared at Paige in astonishment as her scream faded echoic into the forest.

and then later...

Morgan let out a bloodcurdling scream.
(Chapter Break)
Paige stared at her brother in astonishment as his scream faded echoic into the forest.

See, that I did on purpose. Very deliberate. There are other examples of deliberate repetition for the echo/contrast effect. I’m sure if I did them well you’ve spotted them. What I do not want is to use the same word twice in one paragraph (it leads to the impression that I cannot think of another word to use there, that my vocabulary is too limited). Well, not words like ‘of’ ‘and’ ‘the’... but words like ‘waggon.’ I went back and forth between ‘waggon’ and ‘cart’ for a long, agonizing time because I couldn’t find another synonym. A ‘carriage’ is not the same thing as a waggon (the double-g is a deliberate archaicism there), nor are any of the synonyms for ‘carriage’ such as ‘phaeton,’ ‘buggy,’ ‘trap’ or ‘chaise.’

There are some words for which there are no synonyms, like 'mage,' 'wizard' and 'magician.' Those are all quite different words and cannot be used interchangeably. On the other hand, if I say 'forest' and the next time I reference that I don't say 'woods' then I'm in trouble. Some writers disagree, they think that using too many synonyms is showing off, but I find this kind of repetition to be lazy and dull. That's just my preference.

5) Anachronisms.
No one in this book is gonna hop on a motorcycle and go tearing across the countryside. Paige has no electric hairdryer and nowhere to plug one in. Jasper has no scuba diving suits on board the ship. Modern words and phrases need to be located and excised. I try to be vigilant, and yet they creep in anyway when I'm not looking. When in doubt, I like to research words, and one of my favourite places to look them up is the Online Etymology Dictionary. I can say that someone leapt into action, but I cannot say that they were galvanized into action, because
OED wrote:
galvanize -
1802 (galvanism dates to 1797), from Fr. galvaniser, from galvanisme "electricity produced by chemical action," formed from name of It. physicist Luigi Galvani (1737-98) who discovered it while running currents through the legs of dead frogs. Figurative sense of "excite, stimulate (as if by electricity)" first recorded 1853. Meaning "to coat with metal by means of galvanic electricity" (especially to plate iron with tin, but now typically to plate it with zinc) is from 1839.
See, the word is just too modern. Generally I like to avoid things more recent than the 1650's. There are a few exceptions, certainly, but that's a ballpark era I want to stay within. I will not use the word ballpark, though. Interestingly, I could get away with saying 'holocaust' because that word dates back to the 1200's, but I'm not going to use it because it now has such powerful modern connotations.

There is no gunpowder in this world, so there will be no cannons, guns, rifles, pistols, etc. Phrases like 'flash in the pan' cannot be used because of this. No one should utter the words "son of a gun!" nor say "that was dynamite!" It can be a tricky challenge figuring out what to keep and what to ditch. Some modern phrases will end up in the writing just because there's no real equivalent that wouldn't be topheavy and clumsy to a modern reader. It happens. But on the whole I want to avoid anachronisms as much as possible.

6) The Fourth Wall
I do not want anything that will break the mood of the medieval/archaic style. Anachronisms is really a subsection of this, I suppose, but there are other things that are very subtle anachronisms I want to beware of. One of the big things (and this may catch you off guard, but it's important to me) is avoiding any and all biblical references. Katherine Kurtz in her Deryni series has a wonderful fantasy world which is Catholic. That drove me up the wall. I wanted to grab her and shake her and ask her to show me where, on a map of her fantasy world, is Jerusalem or Bethlehem. They're not there, it's not even the same planet! Gr. It made me batty. I love her stories, but the biblical references kept jarring me out of that world and back into this one.

Biblical references can be very hard to catch sometimes. They are deeply ingrained into our Western culture, even for non-Jewish or non-Christian people it's still an innate part of our language. English as a language did not emerge until well after Christianity was established, and long, long after Judaism. So it's not just a question of avoiding placenames like Bethlehem or Rome. It's not just avoiding biblical names like John, James, Peter, Adam, Abraham, Eve, Sarah, Mary, etc. I've painted myself into a corner of avoiding words like 'angel' as well, since that's an old Hebrew word that means "messenger of god" - Hebrew words I want to avoid like the plague. They're more common than you think.

Similar things I want to avoid is references to other real-world religions. No Odin, Venus, Diana, Zeus, Loki. You get the idea. I am trying to build a completely separate world, on another planet. It has its own religions and cultures, and in order to make it seem complete I want to avoid bringing the real world into this fantasy one. It will echo the real world, of course, but I want it to be its own entity. Sure, the cultures will be similar to our own, but I don't want it to be blatant. Erlayan culture is similar in many ways to Hindu culture, but they don't worship Shiva or Ganesha. They worship Laric, Opari, Erris, and a host of other gods whose names I haven't even bothered to set down because they're really not important to the plot. Krisadon and the rest of the Freelands are essentially Northern Europe, but they're not Christians or Vikings.

These things are mostly common sense when you stop and think about them. It's just that they're so deeply integrated into our language and culture that we don't often stop and think about them.

I'm sure there are other things I am on the lookout for, but that's all that comes to mind right now. If I think of other stuffs, I'll be sure to post it. If there's anything about THIS post that don't make sense, ask me!

Above all, please, please, please! do not pull your punches. Say what you think. Call it like you see it. I cannot improve if I'm told that things are fine the way they are. I am not looking for flattery. The reason I ask you is because I want to know. I want to do the best possible job I can, and though I refuse to pander to the lowest common denominator, you are not low or common if you're here. I may choose to ignore your opinion if I disagree with it, but I still want to know.

And spelling or grammar mistakes aren't really opinion, anyway. Well, sometimes they are when dealing with a medieval style, but not too much. Re0ply is a mistake. Gaol is not. I'm betting you get the gist of what I'm looking for. Most of it is common sense.

Okay, I'll shut up now.

Well, for a few moments, anyway.



Xander, don't speak Latin in front of the books. ~Rupert Giles~

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