Imperative and Perilous
By Sharyl Heber
“When reading I pretend I’m an editor, though when writing I realize I’m not.” Fierce Dolan
I’ve done much reading, a lot of writing and fair amount of editing and I have a quote of my own. “The experience of creating a story can be light-years away from the experience of reading it.”
In creation mode, stories flourish on the vibrant no-flaws movie screen in our minds. Our inner experience transcends the need for a myriad of mandates that must ultimately be addressed. And, while spelling, punctuation and grammar jump out first, they are the least of those concerns.
In creation mode, and perhaps even into early drafts we are, by definition, in a state of delusion. Polish is not needed here and in fact can hinder our creative process. But at some point we need to get back to the reality of audience. I say we, because I mean me too. We can help each other by providing feedback. Because, while in creation mode, while musing:
· We don’t require the introductory hook – there are multiple points in our story that fascinate us simultaneously.
· We don’t need to establish a clear story problem or character goals, we’re exploring broad concepts.
· We have no confusion between the identities of our multiple characters. We know them perfectly.
· We can visually position objects and players accurately and precisely on our mind’s stage.
· We are naturally entertained by our own chimera and may not feel the need for them to be moved or changed.
· There is no need to mine the thesaurus for power-word-choice or for any particular word choice because we experience our story as dynamic brain-region interactions, not as ink & information on the page.
· We perceive great importance and profundity in our own subject and theme.
· We inherently feel every emotion, no need to find words to describe them.
· We soar over leaps in logic, because we know our intended destination.
· We disregard story-world rules because, while still in our heads, there is no consequence for breaking them.
· Our characters don’t need to be fleshed out as complex, flawed or quirky with logical motivations because they appear to us as plot devices in random, abbreviated bursts of intention.
· We can plop in characters and objects and solve plot problems miraculously (Deus ex machina) because, while musing, there is no need for solid foundation. We can skip critical rungs in plot structure to hover over more satisfying conclusions. We can arrive in hyper-drive at our story’s climax without need of crafted obstacles, mystery or suspense.
· We revel in our own excessive flowery language. It’s fun to compose!
· We tolerate our simplistic phraseology because we are sensing, not reading our story. We fail to notice choppy, clunky sentences because we have an adequate understanding of the intended meaning.
· There’s little need to establish and reveal setting on the page because the required imagery is vibrant in our minds.
· Obvious, on-the-nose dialogue will suffice because it provides us the minimum information required to get in and out of the scene.
· Our characters can all sound the same. They’re ours. We can distinguish between them perfectly.
· Ordinary, cardboard character names may not leave us feeling flat because they do their job as person-placeholders through story construction and we’re not depending on them to contribute to character depth, personality, intrigue or fresh perspective.
· No need for poetic turn of phrase or to sculpt word-beauty because we’re in story development and because we’re intrinsically moved by our own notions.
· No crafting of symbolism, metaphor or subtext is required as we’re inherently privy to any deeper meanings. Layers and depth may not be required while we’re entertaining ourselves with plot.
· Repeated words are of no concern because they do, after all, accurately describe our intention.
· We can tell not show the story because we already see the required imagery in our minds.
· We allow excessive, expository passages and bland backstory because it’s accurate and informative and we’re still figuring out the who’s, what’s, why’s and where’s.
· We abbreviate and truncate necessary prose because, in our minds and at our desks, time has no meaning— the beat and the pace have no mandate.
· We may not detect lags in tension because we can mentally flit from highpoint to highpoint, imagining the desired impact.
· We may not recognize, or we have little concern over, fresh perspective; it’s new to us right now as we’re writing, and we’re not comparing our creative experience to what’s available in print in the world market.
· We don’t get bored with our own musings; we can drop them at will and them pick them up again weeks later when the mood suits us.
· Un-evocative titles suffice because we’re not standing in a bookstore, bombarded with an avalanche of gripping competitive banners, ready to make that all-common consumer decision... Should I reach for this book cover? Should I pay money for this story?
We’re interested because when the visions are streaming and the words are flowing, story creation is exhilarating. But, are endorphins clouding our judgment? We can’t perceive problems on the page while a blockbuster is thriving on the exclusive movie screen in our heads ...the public has not yet been granted entrance.
In creation mode,
we feel the impact we hope our stories deliver.
But, are we confusing passion with skill? In creation mode, everything is a placeholder for something more polished. After preliminary drafts, it’s time to land the flights of fancy on solid ground. Unless we’re writing a journal kept under our mattress, there is an audience to consider.
Readers share none of the musing-mode luxuries listed above. And, here’s how they react to a piece that fails to deliver as we’d dreamed: Hey! I’m out here, trying to make sense of this hot mess! I’m impatient, bored, confused, frustrated, incredulous, fed up, and pissed off! A tree just died for nothing and I just wasted precious time and money.
“We are not communicators unless our missives can be absorbed by others...” Rachel Gordon.
Rigorous self-editing is imperative, and a skill that can and must be honed. The points above can add to our training. But, relying solely on our myopic perspective can be perilous. Skilled critique groups, peer editors and beta readers can help. Publishers use professional editors for a reason.
Insisting that we alone edit our own work may be a literary conflict of interest. Of course we think it’s perfect, we wrote it!
And a note of caution regarding our critique groups— Even if highly skilled, while invaluable, they do love us. They sense our fragility and will nurture, praise and support us. They will not risk friendship to tell difficult truths. They won't push us to go deeper if it brings discomfort. They may only address broader issues. They may not require or take the time to scrutinize a written copy. They won’t demand a publish-ready product and may well be swayed by the dramatic performance in our oral readings. My critique group loved it, may not mean it’s ready.
Don’t invite them to be honest,
beg them to be ruthless.
beg them to be ruthless.