July 16th, 2014

Small Edits Can Make a BIG Difference

photo credit: cellar_door_films via photopin cc

photo credit: cellar_door_films via photopin cc

I don’t write a scene until I know why I’m writing it, what happens, and how it’s advancing the plot, or the characters. Not because I’m so exacting, but because I hate edits with the zeal of an over-caffeinated Mary Kay rep. No, really. I aspire to the Linda Howard school of editing – write, go over it once and done. I’m not there yet (as my critters will tell you, when they finish chortling), but it’s a goal.

Because of my process, I very seldom have what I call, ‘orts’ – scenes, or pieces of scenes that are cut from the manuscript. But in my current WIP, I remembered a scene that was cut from my very first book in one of the 8,423 edits before I sold it and it became Her Road Home. It was a pizza joint date – and I wanted my current couple to go there. I imagined I could cut and paste, change the names, change a bit of the character’s voices, and be good to go.

Um. Not so much.

photo credit: Bill Futreal via photopin cc

photo credit: Bill Futreal via photopin cc

In reading that scene over, I could see how my writing has gotten better. The scene didn’t suck, (I mean, after 8,423 edits how could it?) but I can see little changes I can make to improve it. I thought I’d show you the before and after here. Maybe it will help your final edit process.

Before:

Laughter, talk and music from a jukebox somewhere combined to make quite a din.

After:

She walked into wall of warm air laced with the smell of yeast and spices. Voices and laughter overrode a jukebox blaring, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ from somewhere in the dim recesses.

See how the first is ‘telling’, where the specificity of the details in the second actually puts you in that pizza joint?

Before: (the name of the place is Yukon Pizza)

“What’s pizza got to do with Alaska?” Ian said, holding the door open for her.

After:

“What’s pizza got to do with Alaska?” He held the door open for her.

There are only two of them in the scene at this point, so I can drop the tag. After all, the ONLY time you need a tag is when the reader would be confused as to whom is speaking. Do you see how it brings the reader more into the scene? Look closely at your tags. They’re distancing too.

Then I read it over one more time, and came up with another small change.

After – after

“What’s pizza got to do with Alaska?” He held the door.

This scene is in her POV and the next line has her walking through the door. So I also can lose the boring physicality. Small nit-picky stuff? Maybe, but this stuff wears on a reader.

Before:

After they’d enjoyed several more songs, Mac tapped his watch reminding her that they’d better get moving if they wanted to catch the show.

After:

There wasn’t one. I cut the whole thing. God, I knew this exercise was going to be embarrassing. Let’s see, what’s wrong with that? Anyone want to tell us in the comments?

I learned something from this exercise. That breaking a huge manuscript into scenes, and using laser focus and a brutal red pen makes a big difference.

What do you think? Have I convinced you how important the seemingly tiny details are?

Cover SweetonYou Laura’s August 26th release is a Romantic Times TOP PICK! Click on the photo to purchase. Here’s the review:

RT August 2014  –  4 ½ Stars TOP PICK!

Drake does it again, with a terrific contemporary western. She takes this time-honored format and injects such fully formed characters and realistic scenarios that you might think it is nonfiction dealing with everything from PTSD to the aging athlete, all while giving us a wonderful romance. Just top notch. While this is part of a series, the Sweet on a Cowboy books are completely independent of each other.

SUMMARY: Army medic Katya Smith is unable to get past the experience of losing a fellow soldier. She can’t go back to her unit until she can keep from melting down, so she takes a job as a medic for the pro bull riding circuit in an effort to recover her mojo. She doesn’t expect to become attached to the sport or the riders, especially the king rider of them all, Cam Cahill. Cam is a two-time world champion, but those years have taken a toll. It is time to retire, but he can’t imagine himself off the circuit. Katya does wonderful things for his body, but he is not certain he is ready for the things she does for his heart. She has made it plain this is a temp job, but if he could get her to stay, he can see a whole new future.

29 comments to Small Edits Can Make a BIG Difference

  • Laura, with the time difference, I am sitting her with my first cup of coffee. Good thing I wasn’t drinking when I read your post. I can’t stop myself. I write it all and then … and then … and again then.

    Sooooo, after, after … I get down to chapter by chapter. I can’t aspire to doing it on the first run. Like the roller coaster, I take whatever seat the first time and wait until I can move up to the first car. I’m still working on how to beat the system to there the first time out of the gate 🙂

    BTW … congrats on the Romantic Times star review and I love that you used your mom’s favorite song in the book … you go girl … keep that light on for us to follow !!!

  • ManjuBeth

    Laura, Thanks for sharing your editing process. I believe you cut the line about tapping his watch because it tells without adding much to your scene. But don’t you need a line showing the transition of time and place?

  • I’m with you, Laura, on trying to write the story the best I can the first time to reduce the type and number of edits necessary. I use scene beats to outline the story flow and the emotional content of each scene so I can see the arcs. Then I start writing each scene, envisioning the action like a play on stage, but from the POV character’s view. I’d imagine you cut that paragraph because the subsequent action and dialogue made it redundant or unnecessary. Thanks for sharing!

  • The Lion Sleeps Tonight is my mother’s favorite song.

    I’m guilty of hurrying through transitions and I loved your point that adding details will show the scene instead of telling. Never thought of it that way … Thanks!

    Looking forward to reading the next book and congrats on the review and Rita nominations!

  • What a difference, Laura! Thanks for giving us hard examples where we can truly see the difference! Awesome. Congrats on the shining review–will be looking for Sweet on You!

  • Thanks everyone – Hope my pain helps you! And note, these changes and laser focus happened on edit # 4824, so I have a hard time zooming in as well!

    I’ll share why I cut the last line at the end of the day – want to see if anyone catches the major problem. WITS bloggers – I know you know it, so don’t tell!

  • Laura. I don’t aspire to “write it right” the first time. I’ve worked very hard to allow my creative self to just “let it go.” using the words from Frozen that all little girls, their moms, and grandmas are singing. Otherwise, I’d never get the story down. In fact, that critical self stood in the way of the story developing. Now, I put a small stuffed dog on my computer when I’m in creative mode to remind me to “let it go.”
    After that first very rough draft is down, you betcha, get out the chopping ax and my list of over used words, and Margie’s colorful highlighters!
    Without knowing what follows your sentence you cut above, I can’t figure why you cut it. I kind of like transitions to yes, “show” passing of time and link to the next scene. You don’t have to use them every time, but without any, the story is choppy to me. Here’s a question for you, Laura. When do you decide enough is enough? I’m thinking, we can always make the scene/book better if we go over it just one more time. Thanks for a super interesting post. I’ll share.

  • There is no action in the scene. I would just put them at the show after a page break.

  • allybroadfield

    The major problem I see with the cut line is that it’s about some guy named Mac.

  • Thanks for the inspiration and courage to CUT the unimportant material out of my WIP.
    I’ve had a tendency to go over a chapter before I move on. At this point I’m trying to get the story down, and then go back and edit it.
    Congrats on The Romantic Times star review, Laura.

  • vicki

    Hi, Laura: after several years, I opened my second book doc and am hacking away. I hope something good is left to work with.

  • We may be similar in some ways (no sexy cowboys on my cover). I write sparsely and seldom cut whole scenes in rewrites. More often it’s chopping redundancies, trimming bits of dialog until it sounds natural, and making sure I stay on beat.

    I’ll still flog it to death looking for each perfect word, doing anywhere between 10 to 30 drafts. I’ve vowed not to do that anymore. My current WiP hasn’t needed much revising so far. Perhaps I’m ready for the big leagues.

  • Ally, you caught something I didn’t! I’m so laughing – The hero’s name was Ian before it was Mac and – before it became Nick in the actual book!!

    Okay, the reason I cut the last sentence, aside from the fact that it’s not very exciting. is that it’s a minor POV violation. I could see that him tapping his watch is a reminder of the time, but it’s a lot to assume he’s thinking that they were going to miss the show. She couldn’t really know all that from a tap.

  • Great article! Thanks so much for sharing.
    I think you cut the scene because: 1. Telling instead of showing. 2. Use of the word ‘they’ three times in one sentence (they’d, they’d and they, respectively). 3. Use of the word ‘that’ unnecessarily.
    Congratulations on The Romantic Times star review! 😀

  • I love to edit. I know–weird, eh. But I love to see how much my writing has developed.
    Different horses for different authors. : )

  • I like editing, most of the time. My first/early drafts are just awful. Thanks for the concrete examples.

  • LOVE LOVE LOVE the description as she walks into the pizza joint. Amazing. I’m so there. I love your writing!

  • Sandile

    Thanks Laura, quite an eye opener for me, editing the devil at my door.

  • Sometimes it’s hard to tune into what needs a deeper perspective. I think it’s an ongoing learning process.

  • Love the use of concrete examples, thank you

  • Annette Gallant

    I love your examples, Laura. Trust me, I needed this post right now! Also, WTG on the TOP PICK!!!

  • Fae Rowen

    You have worked hard to build your craft, Laura. I’m so lucky you’re my crit partner!

  • Marilyn

    All these examples really helped me. I can see some things I need to cut in my own Manuscript. I hate editing but I am still at the point I have to do it. I hope you do more articles on drawing the reader closer at some point.

  • Regina Richards

    Very helpful. Thanks.

  • I love seeing the scene before and after AND all these comments. You go, girl. 🙂

  • Thanks for the before-after! So helpful. And yes, I’ve seen how just a small change can make a big difference. (Like the placement of power words, a la Margie Lawson. 🙂 )