Friday, January 23, 2009

Scrambled Eggs From Buboes Cooked


It’s odd, but as I’ve just been sitting editing the chapter whose opening appeared a few days ago on Evil Editor’s blog, a swelling erupted in my right armpit, and before I knew it, a freshly laid blog post had rolled down my sleeve onto the desk.


And here it is.

I had to crack it open, of course (with my dinky new Bubonic Blog Post Nutcrackers — a bargain from www.gadgetUlike.com that also doubles up as a catapult), but that’s always the most exciting part, isn’t it? Running your fingers over the knobbly exterior and sniffing the goo (if there is any). Normally I can tell what I’m going to get by the pattern of the whorls, but this one was a nice surprise.

I’ve been wondering why I loathe editing so much, particularly as I’m susceptible to amending and chopping as I go along. Mainly, this is down to my ability to churn out utter gibberish if I unchain the homonculus of my subconscious (and I’m speaking here in gibberish everyone will be familiar with) and hide away his frisbee so he has to do something productive, like writing. Although I’m OK with fleshing out notes, I dislike having to chuck or rewrite semi-formed sentences or paragraphs, so invariably I wield the pruning scissors at the same time as cracking the whip over the words and directing them through the hoop. (Kiersten has a good post about metaphors and analogies over at her blog with a killer comment by JaneyV in the trail, btw — though why I mention this in the context of that last sentence is anybody’s guess, as it’s neither use nor ornament, let alone any form of symbolism). Once I have a rough draft and move onto the editing proper (revising, I suppose), I find all the cutting and pasting and word substitution and rephrasing a real drag, and over the past few days I’ve had an inkling into why this is.

My current guess (based on supposition and an omen c/o a donkey I saw in the tea leaves at the bottom of my last cup of Earl Grey) is that when things get to the nit-picky editing stage, it’s so easy to get lost off on the words — all the scanning for repetition and alliteration (which I like, btw), the rhythm and the word choices — and lose sight of the movie reel that prompted them in the first place. It’s almost as if the swapping and changing of the words does violence to the fictional beings hovering in that peculiar fantasy world between eye and page. When it gets really bad, I find myself staring down a long tunnel, trying to negotiate unruly has-es and was-es, as if the individual letters were climbing frames on a fiendish obstacle course. Meanwhile, the colours of the characters and the scenes they inhabit splat unseen against the outside of my visual bore holes like I’m looking through a couple of kaleidoscopes turned inside out. What I’m discovering at the moment is that the desire to carry on staring blindly at the page (a literal summary of a prior mental event) doesn’t seem to work for me. I’m better off making myself a big cheese sandwich and forgetting about the words altogether, rerunning the scene as a florid cartoon and seeing again what needs to be said rather than trying to re-think it all up in a linear glut of sigils.

Oh, and look — I got a free gift like you get in Christmas crackers. Whoopee.

29 comments:

Robin S. said...

when things get to the nit-picky editing stage, it’s so easy to get lost off on the words — all the scanning for repetition and alliteration (which I like, btw), the rhythm and the word choices — and lose sight of the movie reel that prompted them in the first place. It’s almost as if the swapping and changing of the words does violence to the fictional beings hovering in that peculiar fantasy world between eye and page.

I couldn't possibly have said it better myself, and I don't need to try, because I love how you said it.

JaneyV said...

I'm not anywhere near being at this point but I already know that I'm going to feel the same way as you do. As I'm writing I can't forge merrily on drawing broad brush strokes with the knowledge that I can fix everything in the edit. If I'm not accurately describing the movie reel in the first place, I can't make progress. So when I think I've got it right and I move on to the next bit I do so in the foolish belief that when it's all done the t-crossing and i-dotting will be easy peasy. I know this is delusional. I just hope that once the final chapter finally closes and I come to take stock, that I don't look around and realise I've filed my entire plot using the wrong alphabet.

I sympathise, Whirl. Keep the movie reel in mind. If all the props are in place all you'll notice is the story. The skill of editing is to remove the potholes that distract you on the road from the opening sentence to The End. A word or phrase repeated too often feels like an ambush; inconsistencies feel like the road signs are pointing the wrong way. For me the only way to stay sane in the process is to keep listening to the music of it. When you get bogged down in quavers and semibreves you'll lose the tune.

That's a bit of mixum-gatherum of metaphor/analogy for you there - all carelesssly used in the same paragraph. It doesn't bode well for me Whirl!

Thanks for the compliment about my comment at Kiersten's. I was particularly proud of that one!

Kiersten said...

It was a supremely awesome comment by Janey, wasn't it? Probably one of my all-time favorites.

All of that stuff about editing was great, but I liked the sandwich of the blog post egg it was encased in even better.

Slog through. Keep your voice. In the end that's what's going to get you an agent, and then you'll sell the dang thing and throw the mess of has and was on some poor, low-level copy-editor.

Which isn't to say you shouldn't do your best, but like everyone else said, don't rip it to shreds. Just smooth it out as best you can ; ) And then go play with your frisbee for a bit.

Whirlochre said...

Thanks folks. Just coming up for air. Oh — and some toast. I must have toast...

Mary said...

It is too easy to edit the life out of a story. When editing, I think I need to find a balance, to partially remove the blinkers that make me read the writing and not the story. Over-zealous “improvement” can suck too much blood. In fact, my first three chapters are probably dead.

Whirlochre said...

Overzealous Improvement
Chapter 1

I voss born in Hosstria in 1947 ant holwaiss wanted to become a bodybuilder...

Robin S. said...

Saw your comment on my blog, and made a comment as well.

What say we kindly goad each other all day, to get our combined jobs done, forsooth? (Forsooth? - What the hell, whatever....)

Whirlochre said...

Sounds like a good idea, but I should warn you, I'm on fire this morning.

I've been up since 5.45 and thundered my way through a couple of chapters, pruning shears in cupboard, light sabre in hand — so that's 4500 words through the hoop already. And it's only 8.15am.

I'll be here till around 1pm when I have to take my beautiful old iiyama CRT monitor to the dump...and visit the mother-in-law for lunch.

Soon as you wake up, drop by. If Son Of Whirl hasn't wrestled me from my seat to play some useless online combat game, I should still be here — and I'll need someone to help me make it through the Sore Buttock Barrier...

JaneyV said...

You've been up since 5.45? The rain woke me early too. Is it chucking it down in your part of the country too? I have to don the rainwear now and take Big Son to my friend's small holding so he can learn to feed her animals while she away. When he signed up for it he was lured by the promise of payment. Looks like he's about to suffer baptism by drowning.

Whirlochre said...

It's Clement Freud here (ie dry).

JaneyV said...

You have some weird ass rhyming slang up there!!

McKoala said...

The Koala is more pleased with you than your badge indicates.

Whirlochre said...

Don't try to pull the wool over my eyes you fiendish marsupial!

The last time I took a furry animal at its word I ended up in bed with Bob Hoskins.

Robin S. said...

Good Lord, Whirl.

You've already kicked my butt! I just made a comment to you on mine about dowloading The Good The Bad and The Ugly Theme Song and barmaids, but you've already done it, Mr. Van Cleef.

OK, I'm bearing down now (have my Doey Coke in a can, ice cold, my cat sleeping on her blankie under a lamp two feet away, my USB loaded, my list written out to check off as I go...

Robin S. said...

Shit. That was supposed to say..
"Diet Coke"...

writtenwyrdd said...

What kind of jam on your toast, Whirl? Toe jam? Bwahahaha!

My cat Mikey says helloooooow.

Whirlochre said...

Is Mikey a new cat? Unless I've been sleeping, I swear I've not heard tell.

Meanwhile, I'm stuck on a couple of points of research. Can anyone help?

Firstly, I need a word, preferably monosyllabic, to describe the noise made by a kamikaze plane as it descends. It's not a roar is it? Or a squeal? Or a shriek? I just can't lay my hands on it.

Also — and this is probably for the over-40s out there — can you remember those lengths of coloured plastic tubing you whirled round your head in the 70s? That made an eerie whistling noise? What were they called?

Meanwhile, WIP update. I've not managed to trawl through any more chapters since this morning but I have amended my hard copy on the Pute. I now have 6-7 completed chapters in the bag, each with the odd line or paragraph to tinker with. So hurrah for me.

Robin S. said...

How about 'whine' for the sound?

I'm still drilled down in mine, came up for air. The only tubes I remember are Hoola Hoops, so not the right ones. Sorry.

Sounds to me like you 'done good' today!

Whirlochre said...

Maybe — but I've got bags under my eyes the size of kangaroo pouches.

But I daren't stop!

Up there in the eucalyptus tree, that mean fluffy marsupial threatens to drop on my head should I so much as think of taking my foot off the pedal...

writtenwyrdd said...

Do you mean bullroarers, Whirl?

I think the zeros (kamikaze planes) made a hum or a whine, but if you called it a mosquito whine it might work.

Keep plugging away!

McKoala said...

*scritch scritch, scritch scritch*

That's the sound of my claws against my claw sharpener.

Scream?

I vaguely remember those things, but I don't think I was allowed to have one.

ril said...

...can you remember those lengths of coloured plastic tubing you whirled round your head in the 70s? That made an eerie whistling noise?

Weren't they called whirlocres? Whoa! That's spooky.

They actually made a pretty impressive screaming noise upon contact with a neighbouring playground pal, and the loud whine could be heard for some time thereafter.

How about "whine" for the Kamikaze plane noise?

Whirlochre said...

It's looking like a whine isn't it?

ril said...

Or you could try "howl" if want to be more aggressive...

Whirlochre said...

Howl is the one. Thanks, Ril.

Chris Eldin said...

What Robin said.

But also, I liked the part about the cheese sandwich.
:-)

Whirlochre said...

Me too. And I can confirm that this strategy works.

Robin S. said...

Oooh, howl is a good one.

How's it going, Whirl? Good writing stuff going on? Hope so!!

Whirlochre said...

I've got a couple more chapters to have a breeze through, Robin, after which I'll have a full list of revisions to sail through, Grunt Punt in hand...