Friday 26 March 2010

Why Editing Need Not Be A Chore - Guest Post

This is a guest post by Eisley JacobsEisley Jacobs has been writing, since preschool, tentative strokes on paper that made her parents smile with pride. In high school, Jacobs discovered what would become a lifelong love for the written word. It was not until fifteen years later that she began to pursue that love in earnest. Jacobs now writes YA Fantasy, New Adult Fantasy, and Religious Paranormal Fiction. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her children, photography, drawing, singing, American Sign Language, Scrapbooking, BUNCO and much... much more.

What’s playing on my Zune? Worlds Collide by Christine Glass. I don’t usually announce what music is playing because usually people say, “Who?” However, I found it funny this specific song was playing, because it fits my post very awkwardly.

Worlds Collide, “Dark and night entwined a million ways…” Wow! Isn’t that the truth when it comes to writing and editing? You take all this time in this beautifully enchanted world filled with words that please you and make you float away on the clouds… You’re in this happy, peaceful place when you finish, feeling the joy of accomplishment… *happy sigh*

Then it happens. The darkness creeps in to overtake you! Run away! Run away! The editing darkness is coming! The dark and light will collide… and you better be ready -- armed with whiteout and a red pen (or the backspace key, whichever) and armed with understanding that though words will perish, you will emerge the victor.

Scream like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, and then ATTACK!

Insert: *Clash of swords, metal, armor and horse neighing*

Ahem, sorry. Maybe it’s me, but when the process collides with the dark, all these things rocket through my head. No, I am not crazy, why do you ask? In fact, I am sane, usually. I merely see the writing/editing process differently than most.

When you work with certain elements, you must allow them to rest and recapture their identity before picking them up again. They will be stronger and more manageable. This concept also applies to your manuscript. No, really, bear with me here.

You have sacrificed your time and poured out your heart shaping and forming this beautiful manuscript, only to exclaim to the world, “It is done!” It’s perfect in your eyes… right? Well, the elements of perfect are there, but it’s going to take some time in the fire to extract the imperfections and lift the true beauty to the forefront.

However, before you can stick this bad boy (your precious manuscript) into the fire, you must allow it to rest. Let it rediscover its identity, so when you later open it, you will fall in love all over again. Then those imperfections will present themselves to you as you hold it over the fire.

The editing process involves growing and stretching … not only for your manuscript, but for you! If you have distributed beta reads, be prepared for the feedback. Every writer has a differing opinion. If you receive comments from way out in left field, thank the person, but don’t write them off completely. While their opinion may differ, their words have some merit. You still may not agree, but you should at least consider their comments. You might even be wise to incorporate their suggestions as a test. You may be surprised by the results. If nothing else, you will be able to tell your beta, “I tried; it didn’t work.” The point is, even if you think they are completely off their rocker, you will be a magnificent writer if you can appreciate every comment you receive.

Now that you have let the manuscript rest, it’s time to edit. How do you start? Some suggest you read the entire story without touching a single sentence. I would love to challenge that and say NO WAY! Once your manuscript has rested, it’s ready for the delete key; it can totally take it! Don’t waste time rereading while your trigger finger sits there twitching. I don’t recommend you edit your original; always save a copy (“Save as…”, name it using the month and year) and start editing.

As you read, be sure to respond to anything your word processor underlines. But remember, occasionally you are smarter than the software, so don’t accept all suggestions as God’s honest truth. When in doubt, confirm with internet resources – Google, message boards, bookmarked references, etc. While you read, watch carefully for passive phrases and the words just, that, and things. Seldom do these words belong in your manuscript; they slow down the pace and muck up your writing. Usually, you can delete just and that, and the sentence will still make perfect sense. Why is that? Those words are fillers. With things it’s a little more complicated. Usually we use things because the reader already knows what we are referring to. However, like just and that, things to me screams “Blah blah blah.” There is almost always a better word than things.

Adverbs are another story, or maybe I should say they belong in another story, not yours. Adverbs tend to scream TELLING rather than SHOWING. Have you ever received the comment, “Can you show me instead of tell me?” This probably had an –ly adverb in it. You can say a lot with an –ly word, but sometimes we, the reader, want to experience it. She walked down the hall carefully. That doesn’t show me anything. Did she dart around the hall missing the creaky floorboards? Did she pause at the doors of each room, peeking around or under them? Use sights, sounds, and smells to SHOW us instead of adverb us.

Editing can be a long, laborious process, but it can be beautiful. Imagine what awaits you on the other side of the fire… beauty.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

First Guest Post!

I'm rather chuffed first guest blog post has been published!! You can find my post, on using five photographic techniques to improve your writing, over at Write Anything (which is a blog you should be reading anyway - while you're at it, you can follow @wawriters on Twitter).

I've been doing a lot of work in planning things for my blog and my website (I launched the re-design of the site at the weekend) and I'm going to try and post more focussed entries. So I'll continue to write about writing, and I'll certainly be posting more fiction, but I want to still write my posts about art or film. After the positive reception to my entry about Bunhill Fields, I also want to do more historical posts.

If there's anything you'd like me to cover, or even anything you'd like to contribute yourself, feel free to drop me a comment, or send me an email by clicking the 'Contact' button in the navigation bar.

In the meantime, how about heading over to WebUrbanist to check out their article on the abandoned mental hospital at Hellingsley? It ties in nicely with my post about Shutter Island...

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Inspired by Bunhill Fields

Like most writers, I lead something of a double life. Evenings, weekends and stolen moments are spent writing; either creating something new, or editing something that I've already written. But by day, I work in an office just on the edge of the City of London. The back of the office overlooks Bunhill Fields, one of the few inner city burial grounds that hasn't disappeared under an office block or housing.

Bunhill Fields has been an area associated wth death since the seventeenth century, when it was set aside for those bodies that couldn't fit into other churchyards. Naturally the plague that swept London in 1665 decimated the population, and caused an explosion in cemetery overcrowding. It was eventually converted into a graveyard for dissenters, which was extended to include anyone who practiced a religion outside of the Church of England.

Bunhill Fields was closed in January 1854, although the City took it over in 1867 and reopened it as an inner city 'green space'. These days, half of the area is a park, home to squirrels and other wildlife, and the rest is the cemetery. Iron railings serve to keep the graves separate from the open space. William Blake, Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan are all buried here, along with approximately 120,000 other people.

It's a lovely space, and a quiet place to have your lunch when the weather's fine. I decided to have my sandwiches there yesterday, and my only company was an inquisitive squirrel and a lone magpie. Being the recluse that I am, this is my idea of bliss. People might think eating your lunch by yourself in a graveyard is a bit morbid, but a) I never pretended to be a cheerful, sunny sort of person, and b) I envy the peace and quiet of those that dwell in eternal slumber.

It's sometimes easy to forget that everywhere you walk in London, you're treading a line through the city's past. The living and the dead jostle for space in the capital. Hell, the area around Bunhill Fields used to be used for plague pits - my office probably sits on one (though I'm hoping the Yersinia pestis bacterium is dead by now). How many lives surround us? The whole of history is exactly that - a story. At any given moment, I'm surrounded by hundreds of thousands of stories; some of them are old, some of them continue right now, and some of them have been forgotten. I'm part of some of them. I even tell them.

I'm off out to have lunch with my new friends. Maybe they'll tell me some stories...

Sunday 21 March 2010

Shutter Island

I went to see Shutter Island at last today. I've never been the biggest fan of Martin Scorsese, but I am a fairly big Leo fan, so off I trotted to my local cinema to see if the so-called 'Gothic thriller' would live up to expectations.

For the most part, it did. Set a thriller in a creepy mental institution on a remote island, lashed by a hurricane and staffed by Max von Sydow and Sir Ben Kingsley, and your suspicions will instantly be aroused. Sure, we've seen this before, so Scorsese throws in a staccato strings soundtrack (perhaps Hitchcock misplaced it after making Psycho), weird dreams of a dead wife and some Holocaust flashbacks, and ends up with a bizarre concoction that doesn't seem to be able to decide what it wants to be. Psychological noir-thriller? Surreal horror? Knowing pastiche of an entire genre?

Mental institutions are rarely depicted as calm sanctuaries of healing. Arkham Asylum, possibly the most famous cinematic institution, is usually a Gothic pile full of dark cells and screaming inmates, while even superhero pisstake Mystery Men featured a fortress-like asylum on an island off the mainland, home to Geoffrey Rush's delightfully insane Casanova Frankenstein. Scorsese has taken this on board, and added flourishes borrowed from the decaying Danvers of Session 9, to give us Ashecliffe.

Rachel, played by Emily Mortimer, is a patient at Ashecliffe (home to the criminally insane). She has murdered her three children, but is so unable to acknowledge her crime that she lives in a fiction, in which Ashecliffe is her former home and the other patients are neighbours. She manages to disappear from inside a locked room, leaving behind her shoes. Apparently Jonathan Creek wasn't available, so they call in Teddy Daniels, a US marshall (played by Leonardo DiCaprio, still looking as youthful as ever), to investigate. Partnered by the affable Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), Teddy starts digging, although if you dig up the past, all you ever get is dirty.

Conspiracy theories are never far from the surface, particularly in a film set in 1954 (a time when 'the Reds' were hiding everywhere - if you weren't careful, you might even find one in your morning bowl of cereal), and soon Teddy doesn't know who to trust. Believing there is more to Ashecliffe than meets the eye, he finds himself stranded on the island, and convinced he is being kept there to prevent him 'blowing the lid' off what really happens at the institution (shades of The Wicker Man, anyone?). His dreams grow weirder, seeming to encroach on waking life, and the backdrop of the hurricane ramps up the tension. Frequent references are made to his time as a GI in WWII, particularly his involvement in the liberation of Dachau, although whether we are supposed to take this past as an explanation for his defensive, paranoid state of mind is unclear.

It's beautifully shot, perfectly evoking the 1950s through its excellent wardrobe stylings, and references to 'the H-bomb'. At the same time, it also brings to mind the stark film noir of the time, with typical chiaroscuro lighting and inmates - sorry, patients - who wouldn't look out of place in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Watchmen's Jackie Earle Haley plays a disfigured patient in a dank cell, proving that he can play more characters than psychotic Rorschach by playing...another psychotic. Leo is as watchable as ever, although he's perhaps a teensy bit too earnest in his portrayal of a haunted, paranoid detective. Kingsley's Dr Cawley is just the right side of sinister, although von Sydow's German doctor is too one-dimensional and stereotypical to really work.

I would recommend it, particularly since it's different from the other films currently on release. I enjoyed it far more than Alice in Wonderland, which I didn't like enough to even write a post about. This is madness that you can not only believe in, you can fear...after all, how would you ever know if you were so crazy that the world around you was simply your invention?