Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Teeth and Bones Editing Contest: Is Editing Worth All the Pain?

Several weeks ago Novel Matters held the Teeth and Bones Editing Contest - and Ellen was our
winner. Since that time, she's been through some intense stuff. As I promised in the contest, it was truly
my teeth on her bones. It hurt. Lots.

I don't relish that fact. But I am so proud of Ellen. She's taken her story to a whole new level (and it didn't happen in one sweet leap, either. It was more like a long trek up Mount Everest), and I couldn't be more proud of her.

The truth is, writing is difficult. It takes a level of dedication and creativity that is more rare than it may seem to the casual observer. A typical conversation I have with people who tell me they have a novel in the
Person: I want to be a writ

Me: Are you crazy

Person: You wr i

Me: Yeah, but I'm crazy

Here's Ellen's own words about the editing process she's been through.
The substantive editing process has been enlightening and . . . stressful.

The first week I struggled to absorb Bonnie’s instruction concerning concept, central moral problem, storyteller and characterization. I wrote a new beginning to define some of these elements and attacked the synopsis, the third such rewrite and not the last, altered some plot points, pondered one major concept that was called into question (decided to keep it, but with a backup plan) and learned more about the central moral problem of my hero.

Week two, I hit bottom, cried and moaned “I-don’t-have-what-it-takes,” then got back on the keyboard, found additional resources online and redid that synopsis (that hadn’t made synopsis status yet), deliberated over my hero’s faults (to be real, he had to have some) and submitted the new synopsi s
and ch.1.

Week three, Bonnie applied the line edit and I found myself in a sea of red. Really, really thought I might drown. Hours of rethinking later, I had a new improved ch.1, original ch.1 now ch.2, more plot points defined (why didn’t I think of these before?) and that troublesome synopsis in rewrites four, fiv
e, then six.

Week four, I submitted the edited ch. 1and hooray! It passed muster. At week’s end, I submitted the edited and retooled synopsis. Will it make the cut? Still wading through that sea of red on what is now chapter 2. I have a new list of scenes to write and realize I’m only one third through my novel, not half way, especially when I finish applying the ed it
ing process.

I am very thankful to have had this opportunity. It’s been an extreme learning experience and timely. More than ever, I’m sold on the idea of crafting a synopsis before writing the story. Hopefully, my writing has improved a notch and will reflect the new skills I’ve learned. Perhaps most important, I’ve learned to be flexible and open to alternatives throughout the writing process. I am in awe of each of you writers that has undergone this process multiple t
So, Ellen is off and running with her new story, right? Uh. Not so much. It's been a week or so since she wrote these paragraphs, and in that time she sent me a new synopsis to read. I was nearly 3/4 of the way through the synopsis before I read a couple of lines that really got me. And I thought, "THIS is where the story starts!" I wrote Ellen, asking her to please not hate me, BUT, I think the novel should start much, much later into the story than she had planned. Oh, and if she agreed with me, then the novel would have a different theme, plot, and character arc.

Ellen is a trooper. She spent some time fiddling with my ideas and agreed. Suddenly, after so much work, so much planning, thinking, changing, crying, praying, planning and rethinking, we were on to something that both of us got pretty excited about. A story to really sink your teeth into. In many ways, it's a different story than she had first started to write. In other ways, it's the same story (at least in terms of the background and the characters and certain events

t a sample of the changes and growth Ellen has experienced? Absolutely! Here is the original first paragraphs Ellen submitted to me. Right after is Ellen's edited work with the new direction of the novel.
The young boy snapped awake, the pinching grip on his shoulder roughly yanking him from his deep sleep. The bed jerked under the kick of a booted foot as a voice in the dark snapped. “Five minutes!”

e’re going hunting. Great. Patrick jumped from his bed. It wouldn’t bode well for him if he caused father to wait. Not that he was his real dad. No, this was his stepdad. And having a peaceful day with him meant… how did mom put it? Stepping on egg shells. Yes, you just did what you were told to do and hoped it would be enough…to avoid a whipping.
And the new beginning:
The handwritten missive began, ‘My Precious One.’ A chill swept his body through rising anguish. He plunged on reading words of proposed comfort that assaulted him like hot coals. The final words, Abba Father, crumpled in his fist as he wadded the letter and threw it on the floor. Decision made, his heart was as stone, hardened to both his past and his future, the present now irrelevant.

With eyes red and swollen from his earlier grief, Patrick plunged his heel onto the balled letter, stomping and shredding as hate shredded his heart, cries of denial filling the room.

“Never. NEVER. I do NOT accept you as my Father. Leave me be.” The words screamed from his mouth. “I DENY YOU. I DENY YOUR RIGHT TO ME, GOD. LEAVE ME ALONE.”

He did not stop until he was hoarse.

He’d expected to find that letter waiting for him. As always, it had been simply addressed Patrick. When he walked away, the letter lay in pieces on the floor.
So, in the end, we have a new beginning. And I know the journey is far from over for Ellen, but she's on a bright (exhausting) track.
What do you think? Do you have the dig in deep gumption it takes to be a writer? Do you think your bones can stand the editor's teeth? You'll soon have another opportunity to find out. :)
Mean time, please take a minute to offer your warm thoughts for Ellen, and to share with us your thoughts (fears?), and hopes for an editing process of your own.


Megan Sayer said...

Wow. I think we've all been looking forward to this one!

Ellen: WELL DONE!!!!!!!!! I have two things to say:

1. I read your original opening paragraphs and thought "yup, she can write". I've read multiple library books to prove that openings of this standard are publishable.
Then I read the second one.
It took my breath away. I SO want to read this book!

2. Reading about your synopsis has encouraged me no end. Yesterday I picked up mine again after a break of a couple of weeks, thinking I'd got it all out in note form, all I needed to do was polish it up and make it sound good. HA! What a joke! Six hours later and all I'd done was discover how many holes it had. What I thought was my first major plot point wasn't at all, and I had no idea really what my protagonist's real motivation was. Today, thankfully, I've answered a few of those questions. Funny how obvious the answers are when they come...not at all funny when you're waiting for them. I wrote about it on facebook and got some confused responses. This is something that only other writers really understand!

So thank you. Thank you for sharing your journey, and the amazing destination. I can't wait to read the full manuscript!

Latayne C Scott said...

Yay, Ellen! If it's any encouragement to you, I've been plotting a new novel and it has gone through as many incarnations as yours -- just in the plotting stage. So you hang in there, because your work is showing a confidence and strength that distinguishes you from the pack. Keep it up!

emma connolly said...

what power comes forth in that 2nd version! Just this one post makes me want to rewrite my entire novel. Congratulations for living through this process Ellen, even though I know you are not finished. I admire your tenacity and courage!

Lynn Dean said...

Great work, Ellen!

The first version wasn't bad, but the second is remarkable--something unique and powerful and very compelling.

Yay for you, plowing through discouragement to create something that rises from craft to art!

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

First off- Ellen I can't wait to read the rest of your story. I can't wait to find out what happens to Patrick in your story and why. It was a wonderful change in your story. The first samples were good, but the second caught my attention and made me want to go on. I even thinking naming him gave me a bit more attachment to him.
Keep it up!!
Secondly - After reading this short passage about editing it makes me appreciate even more the wonderful novels you and all authors turn out for us readers. It does make me wonder how the bad ones get through. :-)
Thank you for all your hard work and keep it up it is very much worth it to us that read.

Latayne C Scott said...

Ellen, do you have any idea what a compliment it is to get praise from someone with Chris Jager's credentials. Woot.

(And hi, Chris!)

Bonnie Grove said...

Just to whet your appetites a wee bit further: After Patrick denies God access to his life, Patrick finds he has been granted his "wish".
God has left him - completely, utterly alone.

Got shivers?

Me too.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Wow, Ellen, you ARE a trooper. :) It's encouraging that you went through all that and still persevered to make your story as good as you could. Yay! I needed that encouragement today--and you write really well, too!

Patti Hill said...

Ellen, you are a WRITER! You listened and you were able to implement what Bonnie taught. I'm in awe of you. I agree with the others that the first version was good. The second version ignited my emotions. Well done!

And Bonnie, you're an amazing coach.

Jan Cline said...

Way to hang in there Ellen! After reading this, part of me is glad I didn't win and part of me says - I want to do that! I bet it's wonderful to look back and see what you have accomplished. Im waiting for my MS to come back from the editor and Im really nervous. You inspire me to hold on tight and just do it.

Steve G said...

Great job, Ellen. One lesson here that I have seen in several instances is the issue of where the novel starts. Many times after you have done the plot/synopsis, etc, there comes that realization of a specific point where you get that light bulb flashing on and realize, "That is where I need to start!" When you see that, it usually sharpens and tightens the whole theme and structure quite radically.

More power to ya', Ellen, as you go on to the rest of the book!

Ellen Staley said...

Thank you each so much for your kind thoughts and words of encouragement. I'm overwhelmed by your responses. The truth is I'm terrified the rest of my work won't stand the test, that is when I finally finish writing it.

Bonnie has indeed been a great coach and I am so appreciative of all her suggestions and redirections. She saw what I could not see.

I definitely take credit for the bad writing for the good writing was God's.

Nikole Hahn said... that new beginning. Thanks for the inspiration. I've gotten stuck in the swampy muckity-muck of the dreaded middle of my novel. I realized my characters are too wishy washy and they need more faults, more emotion, and I need to pour more of myself into it. Rewriting never hurts. This will allow me to plot ahead as I rewrite.

PatriciaW said...

Great job, Ellen. After reading the first, I thought okay, a story about a young boy and his rocky relationship with his stepfather. Could be interesting.

After reading the second and trying to put the first out of my mind, I thought, I have no idea what this story is about. But there's a rawness, a power that would make me read a little more to find out. Clearly something to do with a man and his relationship with God. Is the author suggesting this guy got a letter from God? Yeah, I'd definitely keep reading.

Good work. And thanks for shining a light on your process with Bonnie. It's encouraging.

Steve G said...

This process isn't about a writer going from bad writing to good. That is something no editor can do. The strength of the writing always belongs to the author - that is who you are and why an author needs to spend the majority of their time learning the craft and how to write "great" with their own voice. I think what Bonnie has tried to do within this process is to touch on the themes and structure (Bones) of the novel, the bigger picture. This is the "story" part of the novel. It goes hand in hand with the author's voice, and great books have both elements working well.

What you don't see here is the development of the synopsis, from where the "author" started from, and where she ended up. Never box yourself into a corner where a story has to play out a certain way; let it take shape as you write - it is much more organic and natural that way.

Carla Gade said...

Excellent work, Ellen! I, too, have been through the gauntlet of tortuous editing!! Oh, so painful, but so worth it. I'll never be the same and I trust you will not either ~ and writing much improved. Bless Bonnie for bringing you to the next level of *perfection*!

Ellen Staley said...

Steve, I recognize through your comment today that I was in that box, unknown to me of course.

With this new beginning, I am still scrambling out of that box and seeking my new approach to the story. I know its here somewhere!Its been a little over a week since Bonnie and I talked about the new beginning and my first attempts in that direction were false steps. But, I think I see a bit of light showing me the way, now. This may sound funny, but I need that new scene to pop up before I can write it. So I wait...

Chris, I am so encouraged by your words. Thank you!

I too can barely wait to find what else Patrick's going to experience. He seems to be keeping some secrets from me, waiting for me to catch up.

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

Ellen, you've demonstrated that you have the endurance necessary to learn and grow as a novelist. I stand in amazement at how far your story has come. Keep up the work and you're sure to have your heart's desire.

Bonnie Grove said...

A novel can feel like a thing that has "arrived". The words on the page - the plot - the characters come together as a whole thing. Solid. Static. It simply is.
What the reader cannot see is the fluid, unwieldiness of all of those elements (and more) as they resist the author, morph, change, develop.

When it comes to the box, and our need to think outside it, I always tell writers, "There is no box."

Thanks to everyone who has commented. I'm sure it's an encouragement to Ellen as she continues this novel. It will likely take months for her to develop the full plot and all of the elements needed to write the story (as it should - these things take time), and she can take all your kind words with her as she goes.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Dear Ellen, Here is a warm blanket and a box of tissues to comfort you as well as a laurel wreath and a bursary to encourage you on your way.
No hurry but may we expect further developments of this first chapter on this blog? This is such a tantalising teaser!
Dear Bonnie, For you a bouquet of glorious red roses and a bottle of champagne to share with Ellen. We have all learned from this experience. I look forward to more.
Sincerely and with God's love,

Bonnie Grove said...

Henrietta, that is so kind and sweet of you. Thank you.

(Do I HAVE to share the champagne? heh heh)

Ellen Staley said...

Hey, absolutely Bonnie! (Not that I really drink champagne, though I have. Think I remember too many bubbles.) :)

Henrietta, thank you so much for your gifts of comfort and encouragement. I am in this for the long haul or how ever long it takes. Even planning on attending the Mt. Hermon conference, Lord willing.

About that first chapter ... well, thought I had it as I do have it written, but I got to thinking again ... Might have to change it around. In the midst of new plot points with Patrick's new arc.

It's about now I think "fetter free? YES!" 'cause I can't seem to reach a decision. Ugh.