Monday, March 5, 2012

As ye shall write, so ye shall edit

One of my various hobbies is medieval recreation with the Society for Creative Anachronism. Which means I'll occasionally dress up in funny clothes and go hang out with other people in funny clothes and eat funny foods, all in the interest of historical research. And fun.

It's a hoot.

But since the historical periods I'm interested are medieval Ottoman and early Byzantine, it's not like I can run out and buy my clothes. Now, 14th century English? Yeah, that I can get off the rack.

But Ottoman?

Not so much. So I make it.

What, pray tell, has this to do with writing? Bear with me...

Recently, I was working on an Ottoman outfit that consists of an undercoat, an overcoat, and pants. I made my own patterns and cut everything out. When I finished the body of the undercoat, I put it on... and it wasn't quite right under the arms. It pulled oddly, causing the fabric across my bust to pucker. There was no way I could put in frog closures and have it look decent.

The problem was the sleeves. They just didn't fit the body of the dress--they were too tight at the armpit. I had two choices at this point, either try to stick in a gore--an extra bit of fabric between the body and the sleeve, or just rip the sleeves off and make new ones that fit.

I opted for entirely fresh sleeves, since I had enough fabric. Sewed them in and presto! The coat fit. Fabulously. You can't even tell I had screwed up at one point.

Sewing is very much like writing and tailoring is quite a bit like editing.

Sometimes you can get away with a little tweaking when the plot is fitting poorly. It's just a matter of adding or cutting bit here and there. Tighten this bit up here and suddenly the whole thing flows well.

Other times, you have to rip entire scenes out and write them over from scratch. Or just leave them out. One one of my writing works in progress, I received back a critique that made me realize I had started the novel in the wrong point of view. I ripped out an entire chapter and wrote a new one.

It worked so much better. Pulled the reader into the story, gave them a character they could understand and identify with before I threw them into the strange world I'd created. It was like ripping off those poorly fitting sleeves and sewing ones that fit better on the the coat--suddenly, the words fit the story. The plot flowed.

The purpose of tailoring is to make a garment look good on your body. Clothing, ideally, is supposed to work with your form, complement it.

Editing is similar in that it's a method of shaping your writing to make your overall story look good. Editing shouldn't ruin your work--it should enhance and complement it. Make it shine.

Don't fear editing. It's tailoring for manuscripts.

(And yes, just as you can edit too much, there's a time when you really should stop taking that seam in. But that's another topic for another day.)

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