Friday, September 13, 2013

Savagely Funny Advice

I've mentioned Chuck Wendig's blog A Terrible Mind before.

He may or may not have good advice when he churns out his weekly "25 Ways To ..." posts. Everyone's process is different, and what works for him might not work for anyone else. But he's always funny. Very, very funny in a savage way.

Savagely funny is good.

This week his column is 25 Steps to Edit the Unmerciful Suck Out of Your Story. See? Just the title tells you everything you need to know about him.

I wish I'd read this a year ago when I started the final revision of Scurvy Dogs! a task I thought would take a couple of months and which took almost exactly a year (although it is a much, much better book for having done it. Man, I wonder what I was thinking when I wrote half the original story. What crap.)

To give a taste of his style (and it might be the most important thing he says, about being merciless) here's his step no. 5, "Take Notes Like a Terminator."

"Your own notes should be cold. Merciless. Equal parts Follow me if you want to live and Your clothes: give them to me now. No emotion. Just the icy crimson stare of a sociopathic robot hellbent on fixing grievous errors (by driving a car through the front of a police station, if need be). Don’t only use the time to highlight stuff that doesn’t work. Highlight the things that do work, as well — stuff that, to you, counts as components of the story that do what they were designed to do. And okay, fine, if you want to drop the emotionless edit-bot motif for a second, feel free to doodle little happy faces or gold stars or tentacled elder gods giving you a thumbs-up (er, tentacles-up) in the margins to indicate: I’m making a note here — 'HUGE SUCCESS.'"

It goes back to what Arthur Quiller-Couch said – Murder your darlings. Don't fall so in love with your prose that you can't see whether it's doing its job, advancing the story. Anything, no matter how clever, no matter how amusing or beautiful to you, only belongs in the book if it advances the story.

Or, as Sean Connery's character says in Finding Forrester (my favorite movie about writing,) "You write the first draft with your heart. You write the second draft with your head." And what he doesn't add, but maybe should have, is your head has to be clear and cold. The only thing that matters in that revision is what works and what doesn't, and there are no free rides. If it doesn't work, it has to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment