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

7 Comments

Allan James

That is a GREAT POST, Jenelle. Every Writing Teacher in America should use this example for their students. Like you have always known……..excellent writing is mostly……….just…………relentless effort!!!!!

Reply
NanJ

Thank you for this “inside peek” at your editing … realm … WORK!
I’m sure the common reader who picks up your finished novel may have no idea of just how many steps it takes for you to get to that finish line! I know I don’t! ;)
Great post! This could/should be used in writers’ workshops. :)

Reply
Tracey Dyck

Ooh, I love inside looks into writers’ processes! The scene grew a LOT stronger by the end! A couple hundred words really does make a difference. :)

You know, a byproduct of this post is feeling encouraged that other people’s first drafts aren’t perfect either. ;)

Reply
jenelle

Oh goodness, no! My first drafts are FAR from perfect! :)

This scene was an easy one to show the detail that can go into editing a single portion of the story. There are many other places in this book where I completely rewrote chapters (or added whole new scenes), but that’s harder to “show” in a “progression” like I wanted to do here.

Glad you enjoyed it!

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