Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Editing emotions to death

Surprise! I have a post for you all.

First off, after my rather declarative but vague previous post about how I wasn't currently writing and was a-okay with that, I decided no, I wasn't really a-okay. I've been taking this summer as it comes because I don't have anything in particular to occupy myself with. I had been applying for jobs and keeping my plate cleared "in case." However, I realized that wasn't an excuse to sit around doing nothing. I had some projects that I'd saved for the summer--and editing MIRRORPASS was definitely one of them.

So I started fresh, printed out a nice thick hardcopy of all the chapters that had been edited already, and spent a couple days getting back into the voice of my story. I ended up doing a lot of polishing in there and even rewrote a large chunk of one chapter that's been well written but out of date for a while.

Then I hit the current chapters-in-progress. The ones I've been working on, for yeah, a few months now. The ones I hated writing originally and hate even more now because for the life of me, I cannot seem to balance the unique mix of elements the story requires right then. Not only am I unsure how to fit all the necessary plot into those two short chapters, I also can't seem to write with any emotion at all.

And that's what I wanted to talk about. Keeping the drama and emotions rich in your story while editing. I know that many times in the past, I've started out with intense adrenaline-filled stories that, although rough and dramatic, ring with a kind of emotional fervor that makes me inspired to write them. I push my first drafts to the max. In edits I try to mature this emotion--keep the raw, real quality, and loose the overwrought bits that are a little too cheesy or angsty or unrealistic.

It's difficult because as the story matures and changes, the emotions my characters face have to change. I have to clean away some of that raw intensity and start over. Except I'm not just pushing it to the max; I'm trying to mature it, make the descriptions simultaneously more sophisticated and more intense.

Usually this means cutting. Cutting the adverbs that end in "ly," the run-on sentences that were a cheap gimmick to build breathlessness, the dialogue tags. It means my MC can't scream every line and she can't use so many exclamation points. Such things get cut.

In my quest for maturity--and maybe you've experienced this too--I find that I tend to edit out the emotion altogether. The more drafts I go through, the less intensity the pages have. It becomes harder and harder to remember what I wanted my MC to feel the first time around, or exactly what emotion I was trying to capture. As I become weary of the editing process, my prose becomes weary of itself. Scenes that require the most technical attention suffer the worst. Story sequences that need multiple heavy revisions tend to suffer as well.

Time and time again I've tried to re-inspire myself and plow through these chapters. I go back, re-read, find the emotion, and dive back in--only to find myself writing sawdust prose moments later. And this bothers me. I've come to learn the strengths and weaknesses of my writing, and I know the way I write emotion is a big part of what makes my style unique. Without it, I fall a bit flat. I don't really want to write something that won't get the blood pumping or have people edging off their seat. Yet in edits, this is what happens.

It's discouraging. Maybe, it's also one of those things we writers simply have to go through. And maybe there is some hope after all. I know that I've heard some incredible stories of authors who went through sixteen, twenty drafts between their first go at the story and the time it hit bookshelves.

So tell me, all of you writers faithfully plugging away at your third or seventh or twelfth draft. How do you do it? How do you keep the emotions real? Do you ever find yourself editing something to death?

Suggestions, observations, and magical solutions are welcome. Or you could just crack the whip on me. That works too.

-Creative A


dirtywhitecandy said...

Great post - I found myself nodding all the way through. First drafts are often raw but the splurge contains a deep honesty that can disappear with refinement. And as you so rightly put it, you can get to the stage when you're weary with your latest version.
The solution is simple. Listen to your instinct that's telling you you've calmed things down too far. It's probably right. Then go back and look at your first draft. It's all still in there.
I think you may have inspired a post! I hope you don't mind...

Elizabeth McKenzie said...

For me, my stories never get finished, even when I promise myself, it's over, stay away.

Emotions. I'm a drama queen, I hate that about myself, I over-react to most everything, in fact I react period. This is how I write and it works. I find the fewer words one uses during an emotion, the more emotional the scene becomes. But here's the thing, I have to feel the emotion myself while I write it and when I read it. I should be able to come back in a year and experience that emotion.

So I really doesn't think you over edit an emotion. Trust your own emotions. I think you'll do okay.

I hope things look up for you. You sound a little depressed.

Creative A said...

@ whitecandy -- I find my problem is not so much accepting that the rewrites lack emotion, but more of the fact that I can't currently re-ignite that emotional spark. Going back to the first draft is a good idea, though. And I don't mind at all! If I inspired you, go for it :)

@ Elizabeth -- thanks for sharing; I'm the same way about not being able to finish, even when I want to. I just can't let a story go until I know it's reached its highest potential. Which, yes, can get a bit depressing at times. But I think right now I'm just a bit at a loss what to do next.


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