Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Editing, the Process: Narration & Setting

In continuation from yesterdays post...

By now, if following my process of editing, you will have already finished your story and read through it once, fixing minor spelling and grammar errors, and fixing referencing problems and descriptions of your characters. Now comes the second step.

Let me tell you a few of the issues I had with this step in "A Place Called Earth." I think it will help to better explain this step. This story is written in the first person narrative, told to you by the characters themselves. Many people writing in the first person POV will stick to one MC to show the whole story. That just seemed a little too easy for me. Instead, I have eight of them. When a writer is writing in first person, it is best to know that character completely as to give themself over to that character--to be them-- in order to have it be real. The goes much further than their actions and beliefs. You have to know their mannerisms, the idisyncrosies, their dialect, and what they are feeling about things. The thought process alone for another person is hard to accomplish. I spent a lot of time getting to know these people. In the editing part of this, I found myself trying to switch from one character to another as each chapter and subchapter for characters went. I had to forget this technique quickly. I began going to the subchapters for each character from beginning to end, focusing on each one specifically until the end. It made all the difference staying in one mind for the longer periods of time.

Now, the process for narration in third person is different. You have someone that could just be an outsider looking in, or a person familiar with the situation (aka "In the know") or someone omnipresent like a higher power that just seems to know whats happening. This last one, isn't a popular POV these days. It allows the writer to tell a little too much. We want the readers to figure things out on their own, like how the character is feeling. Even in first person POV this becomes difficult. You have to look carefully at your writing to see them.

With third person POV I like to create a character to be the narrator. It isn't always going to be me hearing and retelling the story. Sometimes it makes it interesting to have a grumpy old man, or a little kid telling the story. Keep in mind, that the person telling the story has to be appropriate for the story, and they have to be a consistent narrator from beginning to end. The narrator is the only one in the story that shouldn't show any growth, because while they are an important part of the story, they exist outside the realm of it. Again, though, I do like to sometimes come up with a nameless, faceless personality to tell a story. Develop the narrator well.

Another thing to be aware of in this step is info dumping. When you're reading through your story, look for paragraphs that are simply full of details. Whether it be about a room the character is in, or about a character in general. It overwhelms the reader and doesn't look good. The settings and physical descriptions of characters should be thoroughly planned before you start a story so that you don't end up doing this. It still happens regardless. How do you break up info dumping? It differs from writer to writer. You can do several things. Dialogue is a huge help. It allows you to get vital information to the reader without info dumping. That isn't to say you can't still do it with dialogue. Be careful of long winded explainations that don't sound right coming from a certain character. That's a good sign of info dumping. Its easy to fix in first person POV. Looking through the characters eyes, notice what they notice. Strange details about a room or person. How that character can't seem to look away from the boil on the other characters face. It comes up often and there are remarks about it. You've just told your readers about something and you've done it the right way. Also, let the characters interact with thier surroundings. This helps to not dump it on the reader. What? They knocked over one bookcase and it started a domino effect on that amiour, and then a barstool. Now they're cringing as glass shatters when something else completely smashes a window. What a mess, but you've given the reader a lot of the room this way.

This process takes a long time. A very long time and it will pay out immensly if you don't try to rush it. Another important thing to remember is that you don't have to get all the details out. If one room, you forgot to mention what color the carpet is, you aren't going to get angry letters from the reader demanding to know. Just knowing that its carpeted is probably enough.

The next step, although it could be added into this, is the setting. I spend some amount of time before starting a story to work on this. Search engines work great for real locations. Look up pictures of places, make notes, print the pictures. Do what you got to do to make yourself familiar with a place that will appear in your writing. Be believable. Rooms, houses, etc. is a little different. Sure, you can google or bing a victorian house to see if there is a common layout, but you don't have to. Draw up a sample floor plan and make notes about specific appliances or furniture, carpet or wood floors, paint or wallpaper. This will also help with info dumping.

I also like to make a chart to help with this. You want to try to include all of the senses in your writing without telling, and without it being too wordy (More about this in the post on Passive Vs. Active Voice). The best way I've found to do this is to make a graph. At the top, split the page into five sections: Sight, Sound, Taste, Feel, and Smell. They don't have to be in that order. Start writing details for each one for a given setting. The forest is dark from the overgrowth of trees so close together. The air is fresh as though it just rained. Birds are chirping somewhere above in the bright green leaves. Etc. Etc. You can pick and choose details to add slowly to give the reader a great idea of where it is. It pulls them into the story to not just imagine how it looks, but how it sounds, smells, feels.

While you are going through this phase, make sure the character is involved with their surroundings. If the reader can't "see" how the characters interact with the location, the reader will have a harder time seeing it. And, one last thing. You should watch out for words that indicate that you are telling, rather than showing. "He saw," "She felt," "They heard." There isn't any reason "He heard a board creak upstairs and his eyes snapped up toward the sound" couldn't be "A board creaked from above and his eyes widened Who could be up there?." The second example is stronger, shorter, and looks better. Don't you think so? It also gives the reader more information without being so wordy.

That's all for tonight. Look for the next installment tomorrow. The topic will be revision! Until then.

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