Scaling the Cliffs of Insanity

If writing a novel is like hiking up Everest, editing that novel can often feel like scaling the cliffs of insanity… while Vizzini is sawing away at the rope you’re clinging to.

Today I’m going to share a little “behind the page” peek at my editing process. I’m going to show you a progression of a portion of a scene from rough draft to almost-final draft, with some screen-shots of my editors’ notes thrown in for good measure.

Rough Draft — Minstrel’s Call, from Chapter 41

The air around her seemed to turn cold and Kaitryn shivered then sighed as the temperature returned to normal. She looked down to see herself clad similarly to Yole. She reached up and touched her face, grimacing as her fingers came in contact with unfamiliar features. Her hair was short and she assumed it was dark as well, she ran her fingers through it, mussing it a little and getting used to the strangeness of it. She wrapped her illusory cloak about her shoulders and set her chin determinedly. The drawbridge was down by now and something was emerging from the shadows within the fortress. 

“We won’t have long,” Kaitryn whispered, “our timing is going to have to be nearly perfect.”

With Kaitryn leading the way they raced along the wall towards the bridge, stumbling a little in places where the ocean water had lapped up on the small amount of shore near the bulwark and made the ground slippery. More than once, Yole had to keep Kaitryn from sliding down into the water. The strip of land got narrower the closer they got to the front gate, until it was nothing more than a narrow ledge. They made it to the bridge and were able to duck down under the great beams just before the creature emerging from the fortress passed over them.

“Zdeanak,” Yole hissed slightly, pushing Kaitryn down further below the bridge. “Who?” Kaitryn asked.

“I’ll tell you later, wait until he passes and then we can duck inside behind him, let me go first and follow as quickly and as closely as you can. Careful…” Yole peered up through the space between the two planks they were hiding beneath, “it doesn’t look as though anyone is watching… now, go now!”

They scrambled silently up the ledge and slipped under the great chain that was attached to their side of the drawbridge. Two silent shadows, they turned the corner and ducked down behind a group of barrels that had been placed just inside the doorway. They stared at each other in terrified elation, they were inside the fortress. Kaitryn poked her head up to risk a quick examination of their surroundings. Immediately before them was a large open area, much like a courtyard except that there were no growing things within it. Beyond the open area were some covered walkways, supported by columns of great diameter. Rising up above the covered walkways was the fortress which they had been able to see the top of from outside the wall. Everything was built out of some sort of dark gray stone, but it was not drab, the stone seemed to have some kind of crystal running through it, for the walls and columns all sparkled in places whenever light was allowed to touch them.

“It’s almost beautiful,” Kaitryn breathed wonderingly.

“If there were some trees or grass and everything wasn’t black or gray,” Yole agreed. “Get down!” A couple of guards or sentries passed by them, almost close enough to touch. Luckily, they were facing the wrong direction and Yole had time to pull Kitry back into their hiding place.

Now… it’s an interesting scene, but there are a lot of extra words in there… and many of them are “weak” words like “seemed” and “something.” And while I personally love adverbs, there are some unnecessary ones in there, as well as repeated words.

Here is a screen-shot of my content-editor’s notes on this section:

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 3.48.14 PM

I’m glad the comments pane in Pages shows up in yellow. Red would be a bit too hard to take… *grin*

Here is the revised version, which I sent to my beta-readers and line-editor… I have AMAZING beta readers and editors, who do a good job keeping me “honest.” Their notes make me a better writer.

Revised Excerpt — Minstrel’s Call, from Chapter 41

The air around her grew cool and Kaitryn shivered then sighed as the temperature returned to normal. She looked down to see herself clad similarly to Yole. She reached up and touched her face, grimacing as her fingers came in contact with unfamiliar features. Her hair was short, she ran her fingers through it, mussing it and getting used to the strangeness of it. She wrapped her illusory cloak about her shoulders and set her chin determinedly. Shadowy figures were emerging from the shadows within the fortress. 

“We won’t have long,” Kaitryn whispered, “our timing will need to be perfect.”

With Kaitryn leading the way they raced along the wall towards the bridge, stumbling in places where the ocean cut into the shore. More than once, Yole had to keep Kaitryn from falling. The strip of land grew narrower the closer they got to the front gate, until it was just a tiny ledge. They made it to the bridge and were able to duck down under the great beams just before the creature emerging from the fortress passed over them.

“Zdeanak,” Yole hissed slightly, pushing Kaitryn down further below the bridge.

“Who?” Kaitryn asked.

“I’ll tell you later, wait until he passes and then we can slip inside behind him, let me go first and follow as quickly and as closely as you can. Careful…” Yole peered up through the space between the two planks they were hiding beneath, “it doesn’t look as though anyone is watching… now, go now!”

They scrambled silently up the ledge and slipped under the great chain that was attached to their side of the drawbridge. Two silent shadows, they turned the corner and hid behind a placement of barrels just inside the entrance. They stared at each other in terrified elation. They were inside the fortress. 

Kaitryn poked her head up to risk a quick examination of their surroundings. Immediately before them was a large open area, much like a courtyard except that there were no plants, no gardens, no grasses. Beyond the courtyard were covered walkways supported by massive columns, and higher still were the tall, flat black walls of the fortress. Everything was built out of a chalky, gray stone, but it was not drab, for the stone had veins of crystal running through it, and the walls and columns all shimmered wherever light was allowed to touch them.

“It’s almost beautiful,” Kaitryn breathed.

“If it isn’t beautiful, it is certainly spectacular,” Yole agreed. “Get down!” A couple of guards or sentries passed by them, close enough to touch. Luckily, they were facing the wrong direction and Yole had time to pull Kitry back into their hiding place.

And here are the additional notes I received back from my editors/betas. 

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 3.31.20 PM

If you can read any of that, the thing I would love to draw your attention to is their reaction to my oh-so-eloquent line, “Shadowy figures were emerging from the shadows within the fortress.”

I can just picture them all shaking their heads at me over this one. Note that one of them didn’t even have a suggestion, but just wrote, “Just… just read this out loud.” Well, at least her faith in my good sense never wavered.

Also, please note the number of comments, tweaks, and suggestions AFTER the first round of revisions! Editing is a many-layered process! 

Taking their notes into consideration… here is the final version (well, before the proofread/polishing, anyway… but that shouldn’t change too much):

Final draft — Minstrel’s Call, from Chapter 41

The air around her grew cool and Kaitryn shivered. She looked down to see herself clad similarly to Yole. Touching her face, she grimaced as her fingers came in contact with unfamiliar features. She ran her fingers through her new hair, chopped short, mussing it and getting used to the unfamiliar feel and marveling that Yole could create such a powerful illusion. She wrapped her raggedy cloak about her shoulders and set her chin determinedly. Together, they crept along, moving towards the land bridge.

Before they had gone very far, they heard a creaking, groaning sound mixed with the clanking of metal. Yole looked up and his eyes widened. “Move!” he hissed, propelling Kaitryn forward and diving after her, pulling her down behind an outcropping of rock.

“Wha…?” Kaitryn began, but Yole’s hand clamped over her mouth, preventing her from saying more.

An instant later, a large section of the wall broke away and swung towards them, one side of a massive gate opening out. Kaitryn’s breath caught as a large green dragon emerged. He flew across the water and landed on the other end of the bridge.

“Zdeanak,” Yole hissed slightly, pushing Kaitryn towards the bridge. “Go!” 

“Who?” Kaitryn asked, stumbling as she scrambled forward and into the space below the bridge.

“I’ll tell you later.” Yole panted, joining her and peering up at the entrance. “No one is watching, come on!”

Holding her breath, Kaitryn followed Yole; together, they slipped around the massive gate. Silent shadows, they turned the corner and ducked behind a stack of barrels just inside the entrance. They stared at each other in terrified elation. They were inside. 

Kaitryn poked her head up to risk a quick examination of their surroundings. Immediately before them was an empty open area, much like a courtyard except that there were no plants, no gardens, no grasses. Beyond the courtyard were covered walkways supported by massive columns, and higher still were the tall, flat black walls of the fortress. Everything was constructed from the same black stone, but it was not drab, closer inspection revealed that the stones contained veins of brilliant crystal, and the walls and columns shimmered wherever light was allowed to touch them.

“It’s almost beautiful,” Kaitryn breathed.

“If it isn’t beautiful, it is certainly spectacular,” Yole agreed. “Get down!” Yole pulled Kitry back inside their hiding space as a couple of sentries passed by, close enough to touch. 

In the end, I cut 148 words from this short passage and cleaned and tightened a lot. Hopefully you can tell the difference! 

If you read all the way through this long and technical post… CONGRATULATIONS! I hope this glimpse into my editing process was useful or informational or entertaining… at the very least.

So tell me: What does your editing process look like?

~ jenelle

A Hobbit Birthday Party

Hello friends! On a whim, I have decided to have a bit of a Hobbit Birthday Party for myself here on the blog. Nothing super fancy or exciting… this IS rather last-minute of me, after all. But I thought to myself… when all these tired NaNoWriMoers are done with November, they are going to need something to relax with for a bit. And, since today is my birthday, and Hobbits are in the habit (heheh, hobbits in the habit) of giving AWAY gifts on their birthdays, I thought… AHA, PERFECT! Now, unfortunately I cannot afford to give ALL of you a present, so you’re going to have to fight for it a bit.

It will be very good for you… and most amusing for me...”

To one of you lovely readers, I will be giving away a shiny new paperback copy of Five Enchanted Roses! Just the thing to curl up with for some December reading, no?

FiveEnchantedRosesFinalCover-small

 

Rediscover the Enchantment!

A ship bearing the souls of sinful sailors drifts upon a ghostly sea. An abbey looms as the final defense between mortals and ghouls of the underworld. In the stillness of a throne room, statues stand forever frozen in a moment of terror. Monsters and men stalk their prey deep in the jungle’s shadows. A rose blooms in the dead of winter, sheltered in the ruins of an ancient Scottish castle. And only true love can free the Beast from his prison.

 

The giveaway will run through the end of November, which is coming up pretty fast… so get your entries in today!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

~ jenelle

Dear Overwhelmed Writer

Recently, I got to hear a sneak preview of my sister’s soon-to-be-released third album. When introducing one of her new songs, she reminded me of a favorite moment in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It is the moment when the ship has been sailing through the dark and they are lost, and Lucy finally calls out to Aslan. The clouds part, a ray of light shines down, a bird flies around the ship, and Lucy alone hears the words, “Courage, dear heart.”

It is a beautiful, poignant moment in fiction.

Perhaps you are in need of such a moment. Are you overwhelmed, dear Writer? November is a time when many of us start to feel the glimmerings of panic.

Perhaps you are in the midst of NaNoWriMo struggling to hit that daily word count. Today marks halfway through November, and this is where the shine and excitement of NaNo can start to wear off… this is where it can be hard to stay strong and keep churning out that word-count every day. Maybe you’re there. Or perhaps you are polishing an entry to the final Rooglewood writing competition and that December 31st deadline is looming with dark menace. Perhaps you are staring at your computer with no ideas, and you fear that you will never be able to write anything as well as you want to. Perhaps you have a hundred ideas, but you cannot decide which one to work on first. Maybe you have a few books out, but marketing is taking up all your time and you don’t feel like you’re seeing any positive results from it. Maybe you are working on the first draft of your first novel, but it’s taking so long that you despair of ever finishing a book at all. Maybe you’re in the middle of a huge re-write and you feel like you’re climbing a mountain that just keeps getting higher, and the summit never gets any closer.

Are you Frodo, scaling Caradhras, hitting obstacle after obstacle? Are you wandering through the Mines of Moria, lost and in the dark with no memory of which way to go? Are you, perhaps, trodging across Mordor, losing hope with every word you write?

Wherever you are at, if you are overwhelmed, I want you to know… I’ve been there, too.

I’ve experienced all of these moments and more.

I know what it’s like to face writer’s block and doubts and uncertainty and feel like I’m on a treadmill to nowhere. And while I don’t have all the answers to every problem you will face as a writer, I do have a few heartening words for you, and they begin with this:

Courage, Dear Heart

“Courage, dear heart.”

God gave you this talent and desire to write for a reason.

I am not promising that you’ll write a best-selling novel and make a million dollars. I’m not even promising that you’ll finish your story. But I do know one thing for sure: God has a purpose for you, dear Writer. And if you feel that He has given you a desire to write something and the talent to do so… then there is a purpose for it. Do not lose heart. Do not be dismayed. Pray for guidance as you write your story, and do not be afraid. You have undertaken a worthy challenge. Writing is not for the faint of heart, but I promise you, if you stick with it, you will gain something from the experience. A finished manuscript, a sense of having put into words a part of your soul, a way to share some of your heart with others, a sense of accomplishment… whatever it is, you will have done something that very few people ever do. So take courage, and keep at it!

We are in this together.

Dear Writer, I am rooting for you. Whatever stage of the process you are in, I am cheering you on and praying that you succeed. Writing is not something we can do in a vacuum. If you are feeling alone, reach out to me. Or find someone in your life who can encourage you in your craft… and it’s even better if you can find someone you can encourage, in return! Don’t try to do it all by yourself. The best ideas I’ve ever had are the ones that originally came from my siblings, my parents, and my husband. My stories are stronger for their combined help and suggestions.

Take a break.

Sometimes deadlines kill creativity. If you are in the midst of Nano and find that you dread writing each day, and feel that what you are writing is garbage… throw that word count goal out the window and go for a bike-ride, binge-watch something on Netflix, go out with your friends, or read a good book. I can’t tell you how many times just taking a break has recharged my creative juices and allowed the words to flow better than ever. If you need someone outside yourself to assure you that it is okay to take a break, then here I am: giving you permission to rest!

Set a deadline.

I know, I know, I’m contradicting myself here… but… different problems call for different solutions. Maybe your struggle is less with creativity than it is with motivation. Set yourself a goal and then work hard to hit it. NaNoWriMo is a wonderful tool… and if you’re looking for a group of like-minded writers, now is the perfect time of year to find them! So what if you’re getting started late? Sign in, set yourself a reasonable word-count goal… and WRITE your story! Some of us work far better under pressure! There’s even still time to enter the Rooglewood “Five Poisoned Apples” contest, which I highly recommend! DETAILS HERE

Write some opening lines.

Maybe you struggle with picking a project. The plot bunnies are attacking you from all directions at once…

…and you can’t decide which one to follow first! Try writing an opening line or paragraph for each idea and see if any of them spark your interest and keep you “hooked” more than the others. If you still can’t decide… throw your first lines up in a blog post or on facebook and ask your readers which one they are most interested in!

Take a marketing break.

Every now and then, we just have to remember what we are… we are WRITERS! If you are like me and writing is a Long-Haul Operation, or at least, not something you depend upon for income… maybe take a break from marketing and just write your next story. I hate marketing with the passion of a thousand fiery suns… and I’ve been told time and again by those with more experience and more books out than me that the NUMBER ONE trick to marketing is simply WRITING MORE BOOKS. So, get off social media, put your blog on hiatus, and focus on writing another story. Your fans will thank you!

Keep trudging.

At times, the only thing to do is to just… keep… plugging… away. I promise, the summit WILL come into view eventually. Push through the fatigue and keep writing, editing, polishing, whichever endless task you are in the midst of, and soon you will see the fruits of your labor.

Mix it up.

If you always write on your computer, go get yourself a shiny new journal and try writing your story by hand. Listen to music while you work. Take a break from your main project and write up a character worksheet, or a short story that reveals something interesting about a character’s back-story. Try writing in a different genre, or write some flash-fiction. If you are artistic, maybe try drawing something from your story. If you’re not artistic (like myself) try acting out a scene, speak your character’s dialogue out loud and see how it sounds. Pick something that your character does and go try it out so that you can write more authentically about it (preferably something not too dangerous…) For example, when I want to be able to describe my characters traveling in inclement weather, I wait until it’s raining and then go for a hike, or just sit under a tree for a while so that I can really appreciate how miserable they would be if they didn’t have a house right there with warmth and dry clothes waiting.

Take heart!

Writing takes courage. It is not easy. What you are doing requires dedication and perseverance. Writing is putting your heart on paper, and publishing is like putting your heart in the hands of the world to do with as they will. It is not for the timid. What you are doing is a worthy endeavor, a lofty goal, a noble pursuit! And I’m right here, cheering for you all the way. Many of you who read this blog are also unpublished writers, and I want you to know that I am so excited to read your books if and when you finish writing them and take the plunge to publish them. And when you do land that publishing contract with a publisher, or if you decide to release your books on your own, I’ll be jumping up and down and tossing virtual confetti and cupcakes your way!

Courage, dear heart. You got this.

 

~ jenelle