Saturday, May 5, 2012

Evolution of an Edit

I'd like to share with you the process I recently went through trying to tweak a scene's opening paragraph.  I do this often to the point of self-torture.  Follow with me the evolution of that sentence.

This was the original statement:
"Miriam sat at the table cradling a cup of far too weak cynom tea wondering what was keeping her husband and sister."

I decided the reader needed to know where Miriam was since it wasn't mentioned later.
(Edit: Take 1)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive, western curtain wall, Miriam sat cradling a cup of far too weak cynom tea, wondering what was keeping her husband and sister."




Then I got to thinking.  "far too weak" doesn't really add anything so I removed it.
(Edit: Take 2)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive, western curtain wall, Miriam sat cradling a cup of cynom tea, wondering what was keeping her husband and sister."




Then there was the issue of senses.  I had a hint of taste, but nothing else.  I added some more.
(Edit: Take 3)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive, western curtain wall, Miriam sat at the table wishing her cynom tea’s flavor matched the strength of its spicy aroma, cradling the hot cup and wondering what was keeping her husband and sister."



Well, that sentence was way too long and difficult to comprehend.
(Edit: Take 4)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive curtain wall, Miriam sat at the table wishing her cynom tea’s flavor matched the strength of its spicy aroma.  Cradling the hot cup, she wondered what was keeping her husband and sister."



I decide I don't like the extra prepositional phrase at the table and remove it.
(Edit: Take 5) 
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive, western curtain wall, Miriam sat wishing her cynom tea’s flavor matched the strength of its spicy aroma.  Cradling the hot cup, she wondered what was keeping her husband and sister."



I decide I don't want to start the second sentence with Cradling and tinker with splitting the longer sentence.
(Edit: Take 6)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive curtain wall, Miriam sat.  She wished her cynom tea’s flavor matched the strength of its spicy aroma.  She cradled the hot cup and wondered what was keeping her husband and sister."


I decide I like the original first sentence even if it is longer, but removed the sitting.
(Edit: Take 7)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive curtain wall, Miriam wished her cynom tea’s flavor matched the strength of its spicy aroma.  She cradled the hot cup and wondered what was keeping her husband and sister."



So that's where it stands now.  Am I finished?  Not likely.  You see, that's my problem.  I never know when to draw the line and say "enough is enough" and move to the next sentence.  And only a few thousand more paragraphs to go!

Do you torture yourself with endless revisions of every line in your manuscript too or do you know when to stop?


P.S. The Movie Clapper Board Generator can be found here.

11 comments:

  1. I love revision. Seriously. I'd rather do revision than first draft any day. Knowing when to stop... now... I don't know if it ever stops. I've decided it stops when it's done? I guess? Or when it's been published? Who knows.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, being mostly a pantser, I've found that my first draft writing is strictly for hammering out plot and flow, fleshing out characters, discovering the subplots, etc.

      I feel like the boy who hands his lollipop to the owl and asks how many licks it takes to get to the center. Maybe three isn't such a bad answer after all. :)

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  2. I said this before on a number of blogger's sites, as a musician I found that every song I recorded wasn't good enough so I would remix it until I was blue in the face. The truth was that any of the mixes were good enough so I stopped that nonsense. Cold turkey change was not easy though. I apply that to my writing now as well.

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    1. Perhaps it's a personality trait, hard-wired into the brain or something. Cold turkey change is never easy, but it may be the only way for something like this though. It's good to know that it *can* be done.

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  3. I am working on a book and haven't started revising yet. That being said, even my blog posts are never good enough for me. I cringe to push the publish button! I just don't have the time to keep working on them.

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    1. It is rather like a commitment, no? Clicking that button? But I am glad to hear that I'm not the only one who hesitates. I compulsively click "Preview" no less than thirty-nine times before "Publish" is even an option. LOL

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  4. Jeff, I loved reading the evolution of your edits. That was so cool!

    I do labor over a few sections of my manuscripts this way, tweaking them endlessly. But, no, I don't do this for every line in the manuscript. :)

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    1. I'm really trying to stop the endless tweaking. Step one is to stop tweaking while drafting. Hopefully, my little NaNo exercise will purge that tendency. Time will tell!

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  5. Pardon my commenting so far after the original posting, but "Edit: Take 2" is my favorite. You could also have Miriam doing something that conveys anxiety, slip in something about her husband and sister, and connect the two. For example: "Miriam's hand shook as she poured herself a steaming mug of cynom tea. She glanced at her husband's sturdy boots beside the threshold. "Out and about for hours without his good shoes," she murmured. "And with my sister. That man."" (Funny, I did several edits on my example.) Granted, I'm reading this out of context and I'm not familiar with your voice. My edits are generally a "change anything that sounds odd" kind of thing. I do one fix and move on. Other fixes are for other drafts, if I have the time for them. My writing is usually rather clean nowadays, at least in my opinion.

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    1. No pardon request needed! I'm planning to plunge into edits and revisions after another couple weeks or so. I guess this makes your comment rather timely. :)

      I think this is the very reason why we writers need editors. The thing that surprised me most when people critiqued my chapters was that what they interpreted wasn't always what I'd intended. I was left scratching my head trying to figure out how they extrapolated a meaning so different than what I thought I conveyed. Granted, they were usually small things, but what I thought was crystal clear was only clear to me.

      Receiving feedback and suggestions colored by others' perspectives is a most valuable tool in so many ways. I find it interesting that you preferred a version from so early in my process--and that you edited your own example several times before posting.

      Thanks for the well-thought-out comments!

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