TIP #4: GET OUT THE SCALPEL AND EDIT!

scalpel

TIP #4: GET OUT THE SCALPEL, IT’S TIME TO EDIT!

I love to write. I love to just sit in front of a blank screen and bleed all over the page. There are snippets and gouges and puzzle piece bits of story saved all over my hard drives. Sometimes I see a file with an intriguing title and open it up to find a little nugget of gold I had forgotten I had written. More often than not, however, I open a file and find a little rat pill.

Not everything I write is worth saving. Not everything I write deserves your attention. Like excessive adverbs! I enjoyed reading the Harry Potter series but I don’t believe there is a single adverb in the English lexicon that J. K. Rowling failed to use in her book series. But, when you’ve sold billions of dollars worth of books, you can pretty much write anyway you want.

For the rest of us, there is the part of becoming a published author that is the most painful. In fact, it is WORK! That phase of producing a published work is the EDIT. And, I used to think the dreaded “E” word was exercise!

If you want to become a published author, or, if you ARE a published author editing that wondrous opus you’ve bled and sweated over, the work of editing is now looming on the horizon. It is a task of Herculean proportions. And, it is SO painful!

When I was a junior medical student, the most dreaded task to be assigned was to debride a wound. What debriding a wound means is to take a tiny pair of tweezers and a tiny pair of scissors or a sharp scalpel and scrape, nick, nitpick, or tease dead tissue out of an open wound until you found living, bleeding tissue. Only by removing the dead tissue could the wound heal and close up. It was tedious, boring, and disgusting. That is why it was passed down the medical staff food chain to the lowly junior medical student who would, at least for the first time, attack the task with idealistic relish!

Let me share three tips about editing that will help any writer turn that bloated, sagging rough rough (I call it my ‘dog’ draft — get it — rough rough — ruff ruff — ah, never mind!) into a lean, mean, reading . . . manuscript. I learned these tips from the most excellent and indispensable resource, “Self Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne. Go get it now! But the book either in paperback of as an ebook and read it at least three times before you begin your next book and certainly before you begin the editing process.

Sub Tip # 1 — Show, Don’t Tell!

Here is a first pass at a scene from “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos”. In this scene my main character, Jonathan Steel, has a flashback to an incident on board a yacht. In this incident, a man by the name of Dr. Daniel Brown, also known as ‘Toady’ has tortured Jonathan at the insistence of the man’s father. I wanted to show the nature of Jonathan’s father known as “The Captain” in this scene and establish that “Toady” did not want to continue to torture Jonathan. Here is an excerpt from the rough draft version:

“Yeah, Steve didn’t show so Mikey…” Brown stopped as the inner door to the bridge opened. Two men appeared dragging the nude body of another man between them. They threw him onto the hardwood deck of the bridge. The man’s eyes were swollen shut from the beatings. A huge cut in the hairline leaked blood across his face. His fingers were swollen and angulated from the fractures. Toady drew a deep breath as he studied the fallen man. Had he taken the torture too far? Had he finally killed the only friend he had on Earth? Toady relaxed when he saw the man’s chest move. The Captain drew in a lungful of smoke from his pipe, his hand locked on the bulkhead as the yacht rolled in the rough seas. 

“He wouldn’t break?” He stated. He eyed the two men who seemed to shrink back. “Toady tried everything?” 

One of the men nodded. The Captain pulled in a lungful of smoke. “Well, I guess we can’t salvage this situation. Toady!” 

Toady tore his eyes away from the man’s beaten body. “Yes, sir?”


“Drag him outside and throw him overboard.”


Toady cast one eye at the two men and they shrugged and disappeared back into the hold. “But, he’ll drown.”


The Captain’s face flushed red with the pipe fire. “That’s the idea.”

In this passage, I think I did pretty good job of capturing the moment. But I never really SHOWED how ruthless the Captain could be. Nor did I emphasize the regret “Toady” felt for torturing his friend. I was “telling” my readers what I could have shown them. Now, this is very important to me as a reader. I want to PARTICIPATE in the story. I want to become a part of the unfolding narrative. I want a writer to make me work along with the writer to figure out what is going on. If the writer just tells me what is happening, I might as well be listening to a boring storyteller or a narrator. I want to be IMMERSED in the moment. With that in mind, I rewrote this scene from Jonathan’s point of view and tried my best to SHOW what was happening just enough to allow the reader to fill in the blanks.

The room pitched violently to one side and the two men holding my arms moved with the floor. I blinked blood out of my eyes and looked up at Dr. Brown. “I thought you were my friend.”

Brown wiped sweat from his brow and grabbed at the bulkhead as the ship shifted again. It was one heck of a storm outside. “You, of all people, should know how the Captain works. I was your friend. You have to believe me. But, I had no choice but to go along.”

I looked down at my naked body and the cuts on my stomach. I glanced at my broken fingers. “You always have a choice, Toady.”

“Don’t call me that!” Brown leaned into me and lashed out with his hand. Blood filled my eyes again as my head snapped from the blow. I spit blood into the air.

“What are you going to tell him? I’m not giving you any more information.” I growled.

Brown rubbed his hand and nodded to the two men holding me. “Drag him up to the bridge. I tried to protect you. I really did. But, now it is out of my hands.”

They pulled me up the stairs to the bridge. My legs were weak and my arms were numb from the beatings and the drugs. It wouldn’t have done any good to fight them if I could. Outside the bridge windows, the storm churned in the blackest night I had seen in years. But, the inside of the bridge was dry and the air was hazy with pipe smoke. The Captain turned from his instruments, the pitching of the bridge deck seeming not to affect him. His eyes burned with ferocity in the shadow of his Panama hat. His face was illuminated by the glow from his Meerschaum pipe.

“Did he break?” The Captain asked.

Brown shook his head. “No, sir. He wouldn’t say a thing.”

The pipe bowl flared with an inhaled breath and the burning fires of hell lit up the Captain’s relentless gaze. “He doesn’t know where the other is?”

“If he does, Captain, he’s not saying.”

The Captain continued to stare at Brown and I found the energy to speak. “Why don’t you look at me? Why don’t you look at your own son?”

The Captain slowly turned his gaze at me. “You had your chances and you chose the wrong side. We’ve been over this before.”

“So, what are you going to do since your Toady failed?” I said.

Brown swore and thudded a fist on the bulkhead. “Stop calling me that!”

“He speaks the truth for once.” The Captain’s turned toward Brown. “Need I remind you that if it weren’t for me, you would be rotting away in prison? Look at you. You’re a pitiful excuse for a doctor.”

Brown seemed to shrink and his glance at me was filled with shame and remorse. “He was my best friend and you turned me against him. Have you no humanity?”

The Captain slapped Brown across the face and he slammed up against a bulkhead door. “Don’t ever talk to me like that again. Throw him overboard. Now!”

Brown wiped blood from his lip. “But, he’s your son.”

“I know that.” The Captain looked away. He picked up a backpack from the corner and tossed it to Brown. “Put something that floats in there and tie it on him. It’ll keep him from drowning.”

Brown picked up two plastic bottles from the corner and nodded toward the door. “Take him outside.”

One of the men holding me popped the handle on the door and the wind slammed it open. Rain and wind whirled around the bridge. The Captain clamped the hat on his head and tucked his pipe into his pants pocket. The men dragged me through the open door and out into the maelstrom. If I could just pull away!

Brown slid the backpack over my head as the two men put my arms through the straps. He fastened it across my chest. “Now, you listen good.” He leaned in and I could barely hear his whisper above the roaring wind. Thunder crashed on the horizon and his face was lit by a splinter of lightning. He was crying. “I will find you. I will help you, understand? I will make all of this right. But, it will take time. I have to fall off the radar . . .”

Suddenly, I felt the iron clasp of a hand that had gripped my arms and shoulders many times in the past. The Captain whirled me around and his intense eyes burned with anger. The wind took his hat and snatched it off of his head. His short, grayish red hair filled with rain that ran down his lean features. Unlike Brown, I knew he was not crying for me.

“You will stop following me. You will stop hunting me. If you cannot tell me what I want to know, then I will have to take the risk to get rid of all of your knowledge. Do you understand me? You will remember nothing of this. Nothing. Beware the demon of the spiral eye.”

Lightning illuminated his wild features and my mind fell, whirling, spinning into oblivion as his grip released and I fell backwards, down, down into the warm salty water and down, down into an empty mind where dark specters waited to snatch away my memories and bury them in concrete and steel and where the lightning grew green with the pounding waves and I was no more.

Well, did you see the difference? Did you feel the strength of the storm? Did you experience the anger and resentment Jonathan felt toward his father? I hope I succeeded. For more information on how to transform a “so so” scene into one that moves and breaths and grabs the reader, check out “Self Editing for Fiction Writers”. Or, if you can’t wait for the book to arrive, Renni Browne has a website with tips and help for your manuscript. More on that later. Today, if you are chugging away through NANOWRIMO, pay attention to a scene. Try Changing a dry, narrated passage of exposition into a dialogue filled scene moving with action will make a huge difference.

If you want to find out more about Toady, Jonathan Steel, and the Captain check out my Chronicles of Jonathan Steel. They will make excellent Christmas presents! Why not give all three volumes as a gift this year?

Okay, enough of that commercial. Tomorrow, I will give you Tip #2 (I guess it is really a sub-tip!) Use Action Beats.

 

About Bruce Hennigan

Published novelist, dramatist, apologist, and physician.

Posted on November 5, 2014, in Breaking News, My Writing, Speculative Fiction and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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