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Approach to editing and research

 
DoctorJest
(@doctorjest)
Silver Member
Posts: 361

I'm curious to find out more about people's approach to researching and editing their entries for WotF.

I've found for myself, and this is something repeated by a large number of writers and editors I've seen as well, that the first draft is the version of the writing that contains the most energy. The more I protect that, the more happy I tend to be with the finished result. This isn't a universal truth, but it's certainly quite close to one--even stories that I thought I edited quite a lot, but ended up liking, actually have a great deal of the original raw writing. Some has been cut, certainly, but the final manuscript is dominated by writing that was present in the very first draft.

Set against that, though, there are other bits of advice I've seen--the idea that the finished story should be thirty percent less than the original draft (which is sometimes true and sometimes very, very false--my recent finalist was 40% bigger than its first draft). And I've seen some professional writers, who talk about the need to protect that first draft, also talk about not bogging down in detail research. For them, both protecting the first draft and protecting that first impulse, the excitement of the writing, is key.

And that's the balance I'm curious about. Where is it good to research ahead of the story, to get details and ideas to inform it, and by doing so produce a first draft less in need of revision--and where is it better to leave the details purely up to imagination and (occasionally) stereotypes, then research afterwards to flesh out details, add realism, and draw stronger lines under certain pieces during those edit sweeps?

Although I'm beginning to find a balance of my own with this, I was curious to see where people fall on it. I can see people landing all along the line of it, and I wonder if each approach has its merits, depending on the type of story being told, or the style of the writer doing the telling.

R: 0 / HM: 8 / SHM: 4 / SF: 0 / F: 1
Currently in for Q3.V38 and Q4.V38 / Q1.V39 20% done on draft 1
Last result: SHM for Q2.V38
Revised SHM ('Ashwright') at PodCastle
Revised HM ('The Winds of the Mind') forthcoming at Abyss and Apex, ~October 2023

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Topic starter Posted : May 8, 2021 8:06 pm
pdblake
(@pdblake)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 130

The old adage "write what you know" is a good one. Research is important. If you don't know your subject it will show, but you don't need a Phd, just enough knowledge for what you want to get across. Not drowning the reader in detail is important too (just revising one like that right now). Don't write a technical manual when just the gist of the idea will do. 

As for revision, my first drafts are never right, most people's aren't. I tend to let it stew for a while then read it again, put right all the wrongs and then, and this is a recent thing but I swear by it now, put it through Ken Rand's 10% routine. It's amazing how much you can pick up just looking for specific words and syllables. I then put it away for a while again and rinse and repeat as needed.

Still, I've yet to be published (save for my self published stuff), but my writing is getting better all the time.

 

ETA: Even this post was revised grinning  

www.pdblake.co.uk

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Posted : May 9, 2021 12:21 am
Dustin Adams
(@axeminister)
Gold Member
Posts: 997

I edit and rewrite ad nauseam. This is why I have missed so many quarters.

I'm hoping now that if I can keep a few months ahead with a new first draft, that I can burn the 3 months I need to edit and still get in by the deadline.

Every first draft, or at least un-edited-to-smitherines entry I have ever sent in was rejected in round one. My talent, if I have any, lies far beyond the first draft.

2x Finalist
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1 of 6 SilverHM. 1 of 3 DSF: Short Stories. My Finalist #1 Finalist #2 coming soon in 4th & Starlight

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Posted : May 9, 2021 6:36 am
czing
(@czing)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 202

I am not consistent. I have written things where the essence of the first draft was the best and eventually was where the story finished (of note that is the thing with my first and only published story so far and that one in particular I took way off track before I got it back to its roots). And I have written first drafts that really just had to be completely scrapped (see ALL of my novels to date).

There are some significant common problems I have with my writing that are pretty much always present in my first drafts. My first drafts meander with pacing and action problems and they have virtually NO descriptions of anything so settings are lacking completely. These are reasons that my first drafts always need work. I'd like to say I've gotten better at avoiding these problems, and to some degree I have, but they are almost always still present which is why my work always needs editing but there is variability in how much work they need.

As for research - I'm generally a bare minimum first kind of writer. Although I have found that often doing research on one thing has revealed info to me that added ideas and formed important parts of the story as I progressed.

v36 Q1, Q3 - HM; Q4 - R
v37 Q1 - R; Q2 - SHM; Q4 - HM
v38 Q1 - HM; Q2 -SHM; Q3 - P

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Posted : May 9, 2021 7:19 am
Disgruntled Peony
(@disgruntledpeony)
Gold Star Member
Posts: 1115

This is a complicated topic for me--I don't know that I ever write a first draft of a story exactly the same way twice, which complicates the matter of editing. I do have a more standard editing style than drafting style, and there are a few major categories my first drafts tend to fall into, so I suppose I'll go over them in order...

If I'm very lucky, my brain is functioning in a linear fashion, so I write my first draft start to finish over the course of a few days. (This... is rare.) In this case, the first round of editing is a basic scan for things like pacing and typos. If I don't like the way a scene flows, I might cut, edit, or rewrite it. Once I hit a point where I'm not sure what the story needs anymore, I send it to my writing group. Based on their feedback, I do another editing pass, and then I usually start sending it out.

When I'm not so lucky, I accidentally pants a story out of order and have to go back to add earlier scenes, which might require revision while I'm still drafting so that I can make sure everything remains sensible. I'll usually do a more straightforward editing pass after that, send it to my writing group, etcetera. (I made the mistake of *not* making the necessary editing pass after writing up a first draft this way recently, and the first person who read it pointed out a host of problems that were easily fixable but I was embarrassed to have missed. That initial edit is important for me.)

Sometimes I can't find my voice in prose format right away but I know what I want to have happen in a story. In situations like these, I do my first draft in screenplay format and my 'second draft' is essentially transitioning from screenplay format to prose. (I can do some of my editing steps at this stage, such as checking for pacing, but I try to do a second pass before sending it anywhere in situations like these because my prose itself might be too green.)

Sometimes I have an amazing scene idea but no idea what story goes with it. This sometimes means I'll revise that scene three to five times as I look for an egress into the larger story. That means one scene may end up considerably more polished than the others, which can lead to frustration down the line, but I usually find my balance eventually...

I've had one instance where I wrote the first draft of my story from the wrong viewpoint character, so I literally had to scrap the whole draft and start over from scratch--but it made my second first draft flow smoother and easier (although I ended up cutting almost half of that version of the story before it actually sold).

I've had one story that was almost perfect on its first draft. One. Out of, like, sixteen to twenty stories? (I don't have easy access to my story log on my phone.) It happened about a year ago, it sold to the first place I sent it, and I haven't been able to duplicate that miracle since.

I suppose, as far as editing goes, my basic methodology is to fix whatever problems First Draft Me was having and smooth it into a more consistent style. (My methodology for drafting is to run around like a chicken with its head cut off until I have enough of a through line that I can polish the words into decent shape.)

As far as research goes, I'm generally writing fantasy, which means a lot of my research is historical (unless I'm writing urban fantasy, in which case things take a more modern turn). If I'm mimicking or writing in a specific historical period, I try to do general reading and research on that era so I have an idea what things were like and then do more specific research if I hit a point in a scene where I realize I need more detailed information. (For example, I've done a lot of general reading about the "Wild West" era of American history, but I've paid special attention to the politics of the basic timeframe and generalized locale where I like to set my Weird Westerns.)

I often do my research when prepping for or writing my first drafts--which slows things down, to be sure, but I was homeschooled and don't always have as wide a breadth of knowledge about things as I would like. Early research helps me make sure I don't accidentally make a false assumption that results in my story having a fatal flaw. (For example, thanks to Hollywood/a lack of personal knowledge, I've made improper assumptions about the way guns work in urban fantasies where I featured firearms. My gun-knowledgeable critique partners have been very kind about this, and the problems were fixable, but this taught me that I definitely need to do more serious research if/when I want to have guns appear in my stories in future.)

If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells
R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F, SHM, SHM, SHM, SF, SHM, 1st Place (Q2 V38)
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Posted : May 10, 2021 9:00 am
DoctorJest
(@doctorjest)
Silver Member
Posts: 361
Posted by: @disgruntledpeony

I've had one instance where I wrote the first draft of my story from the wrong viewpoint character, so I literally had to scrap the whole draft and start over from scratch--but it made my second first draft flow smoother and easier (although I ended up cutting almost half of that version of the story before it actually sold).

I think something to this effect came up in one of the first writing exercise books I worked through, something where one of the authors had scrapped an entire story to change the viewpoint, because it simply made the whole story so much stronger than the first draft. I guess sometimes it's just what is needed!

For me, I've sometimes taken a story and edited it so much that whatever was good about the original was lost--and I think that has planted in me a sense of wariness about over-editing now. There are things I definitely need to edit--I'm picky about rhythm, I often change a word or two. And I have learned to be very willing with the scalpel if my stories become over-long. But whenever I find myself actually rewriting something, or making very heavy edits to a part of the story, it always seems to be missing something. This isn't universal--I've definitely had times where heavy editing has yielded great results for me. But it does seem to be the exception, rather than the rule.

(And then again, I'm wary of anything that purports to be a rule at all. For everyone successful with one method, there seems to be someone just as successful working in exactly the opposite manner.)

Posted by: @disgruntledpeony

I often do my research when prepping for or writing my first drafts--which slows things down, to be sure, but I was homeschooled and don't always have as wide a breadth of knowledge about things as I would like. Early research helps me make sure I don't accidentally make a false assumption that results in my story having a fatal flaw. (For example, thanks to Hollywood/a lack of personal knowledge, I've made improper assumptions about the way guns work in urban fantasies where I featured firearms. My gun-knowledgeable critique partners have been very kind about this, and the problems were fixable, but this taught me that I definitely need to do more serious research if/when I want to have guns appear in my stories in future.)

That makes a great deal of sense to me, too. I think because I'm writing sci-fi or fantasy a lot of the time, and because the sci-fi I write tends towards more of the science-fantasy sort of bent, it's not always clear what I need to research. For some details, I get quite meticulous--but sometimes, researching details that seem to be very fringe versus the story throw up such interesting little details that I find myself wanting to research more. I'm still trying to figure out exactly where the line is that tells me when my research is up to the level I need to let me move forwards.

I suspect that the answer is, when the research has given me enough to be confident that I can write it, that's when I should begin. And if anything else comes up during the story that needs additional research, that can either be done then, or later, depending on exactly what it is. 

Posted by: @axeminister

I edit and rewrite ad nauseam. This is why I have missed so many quarters.

I'm hoping now that if I can keep a few months ahead with a new first draft, that I can burn the 3 months I need to edit and still get in by the deadline.

Every first draft, or at least un-edited-to-smitherines entry I have ever sent in was rejected in round one. My talent, if I have any, lies far beyond the first draft.

Playing devil's advocate against the approach that my own experiences have leaned me towards, I saw this quote from Terry Pratchett (which may or may not be able to appear properly as an image): 

image

So I think he's with you on this one--he didn't appear to have the same reverence for the first draft as some other people did. Given the way that he wrote, in fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that his drafts were continuously layered over with new ideas and metaphors as they struck him through the revision process.

(Addendum: I had to keep revising that paragraph to correct it to be past-tense. Sigh. I still have a few books of his that I am making my way through slowly, a kind of pleasant acceptance of the fact that there will be no more, but that for now, at least, there's still more of his work to discover.)

Posted by: @czing

There are some significant common problems I have with my writing that are pretty much always present in my first drafts. My first drafts meander with pacing and action problems and they have virtually NO descriptions of anything so settings are lacking completely. These are reasons that my first drafts always need work. I'd like to say I've gotten better at avoiding these problems, and to some degree I have, but they are almost always still present which is why my work always needs editing but there is variability in how much work they need.

I think you're with Dustin on this one. What I find, in particular, is that my pacing gets worse as the story gets longer. I find I lose sight of which details are important to the story, which ones are adding to the whole manuscript, and which ones are just bloating or bogging down the tale. I think I've started to learn why this is, to some extent, and to look at my writing of longer pieces differently--but for now, at least, the longer the story gets, the more likely I am to need to wield that scalpel judiciously.

Posted by: @pdblake

As for revision, my first drafts are never right, most people's aren't. I tend to let it stew for a while then read it again, put right all the wrongs and then, and this is a recent thing but I swear by it now, put it through Ken Rand's 10% routine. It's amazing how much you can pick up just looking for specific words and syllables. I then put it away for a while again and rinse and repeat as needed.

Ken Rand's 10% Solution is one of those books I've yet to read, though it's in my list of things that I should give some time to. This is one I've heard about a great deal, and it seems to be one of the better books for people looking to improve their fiction self-editing. I don't think many people's first drafts are perfect, that's for sure--for now, my goal is to see how much I can limit the need for editing that first draft.

Of course, I've yet to actually write my Q3--so it remains to be seen if it's something I can do effectively, or if I'll find myself drawn back down into heavy editing for that story.

R: 0 / HM: 8 / SHM: 4 / SF: 0 / F: 1
Currently in for Q3.V38 and Q4.V38 / Q1.V39 20% done on draft 1
Last result: SHM for Q2.V38
Revised SHM ('Ashwright') at PodCastle
Revised HM ('The Winds of the Mind') forthcoming at Abyss and Apex, ~October 2023

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Topic starter Posted : May 10, 2021 8:46 pm
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pdblake
(@pdblake)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 130

I just did a blog on this, just a basic run through of editing a rather wordy story that needed a couple of fundamental changes. 

https://skeletonsintheclosetpdblake.wordpress.com/2021/05/28/self-editing/

 

www.pdblake.co.uk

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Posted : May 28, 2021 2:19 am
Morgan
(@morgan-broadhead)
Bronze Star Member
Posts: 132

What a great question! Making me think about my own process a little, which is wildly sporadic. In general, my overall personal rule is: only do enough research to make the story feel authentic.

When writing my first draft, I use placeholders when I need to write something I'm not sure about. Allen pushed the raft across the rocks and made his way down the [name of that big river running north and south]... Yeah, because sometimes while I'm writing I can't even remember simple things like the Mississippi Freaking River. I'll go back afterwards and do a quick Find and Replace with the right info.

I'm always researching stuff I think is interesting though. Honestly I think half my day is spent dealing with random thoughts that pop into my head, then opening up Google and having a peek. Researching has often led to story ideas. More often than not, that's how it works for me; stories are born from researching something I thought was cool and interesting, rather than having to research something for a story idea. That might not make any sense, but remember you're dealing here with a guy who can't even remember things like the Mississippi River. Honestly, sometimes I don't even know how I'm able to string two sentences together.

"If you can do it for joy, you can do it forever."
- Stephen King
Drop me a line at https://morganbroadhead.com

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Posted : August 31, 2021 7:50 am
storysinger
(@storysinger)
Gold Member
Posts: 882

I have two laptops side by side on my desk. One is never connected to the internet, that one is strictly for writing.

If something pops up in a story that I don't know, I use my connected device to research the issue. I wouldn't want to write something questionable.

Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality-D.R.Sweeney
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HM-V36/Q4
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Posted : September 1, 2021 8:00 am
David Hankins
(@lost_bard)
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Posts: 143
Posted by: @morgan-broadhead

When writing my first draft, I use placeholders when I need to write something I'm not sure about. Allen pushed the raft across the rocks and made his way down the [name of that big river running north and south]... Yeah, because sometimes while I'm writing I can't even remember simple things like the Mississippi Freaking River. I'll go back afterwards and do a quick Find and Replace with the right info.

Glad to hear I'm not the only one who does that. For the longest time I kept getting derailed by trying to find the perfect word (thesaurus.com is my most visited website) until I started just putting in XXX or parenthesis commentary like you had and driving on. It's a good technique, has really helped my flow.

V38 Q2: HM
V38 Q3: Submitted
V38 Q4: Submitted

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Posted : September 3, 2021 4:39 am
Morgan liked
Disgruntled Peony
(@disgruntledpeony)
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Posts: 1115
Posted by: @lost_bard
Posted by: @morgan-broadhead

When writing my first draft, I use placeholders when I need to write something I'm not sure about. Allen pushed the raft across the rocks and made his way down the [name of that big river running north and south]... Yeah, because sometimes while I'm writing I can't even remember simple things like the Mississippi Freaking River. I'll go back afterwards and do a quick Find and Replace with the right info.

Glad to hear I'm not the only one who does that. For the longest time I kept getting derailed by trying to find the perfect word (thesaurus.com is my most visited website) until I started just putting in XXX or parenthesis commentary like you had and driving on. It's a good technique, has really helped my flow.

I'm a big fan of brackets, myself, because I sometimes use parentheses in my fiction, but I have yet to use brackets for anything, so it makes for a simple thing to search for when it comes time to fill in the blanks. My rough drafts are often littered with them.

If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it. ~ H.G. Wells
R, SF, SHM, SHM, SHM, F, R, HM, SHM, R, HM, R, F, SHM, SHM, SHM, SF, SHM, 1st Place (Q2 V38)
Ticknor Tales

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Posted : September 3, 2021 5:58 pm
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