IAM Guest Post…Editing a Story into Shape

Guest Feature

It’s the start of Indie Author Month – IAM2013 – and who better to get us started than blog regular author Tony Talbot? In a special feature, Tony takes us through how he approaches editing a book – and when you’re an indie author, this is a vital part of the writing process. 

————————–

Stories are never complete until the editing is finished…and editing is never finished. I’ve run over my books six times, had three different people look at them…and still had people find typos and flaws.

But this is a typical editing process for me for a very short story. I started with a single word and started typing, making up things as I went along, some of which made it to the final edit and some didn’t. I’ll try to explain as much as I can as I go along…

If you’re new at this, some of these edits come from experience. The more you write, the more you know what you want to aim for. There’s a passage in Misery by Stephen King, where he compares writing with firing a long-range missile. It could be aimed to land exactly where you want…but you have enough explosive power in the nosecone, close enough is good enough.

Notes at the bottom of each story.

Extinction(1) – First Draft

               “You really think we’re the last?”(2)

Fitch stubbed out his cigarette on the stone balustrade of the bridge and tossed it one-fingered over the edge into the seething water. “Have to be. We’ve only seen that one guy last week, the one in Penzance.”

Wilson pursed his lips and rested his hands on his palms. “We should have done something about him.”

Fitch shrugged away Wilson’s concerns. “Like what?”

Wilson sighed. “I don’t know. I keep thinking we should have told someone and then I remember there’s no one to tell. Still it don’t feel right.”

“Yeah. Still. It’s all happened so fast, nothing feels right.”

Wilson lit another cigarette and offered the pack to Fitch, who shook his head no.(3)

They turned away from the balustrade and continued walking through the dead streets.

“Day of The Triffids.” Wilson said from behind a cloud of cigarette smoke. They’d found themselves on The Mall, strolling towards Buckingham Palace. (hand in hand) (4)

“We’ve done that one. Dawn of the dead.”

Wilson shook his head. “Doesn’t count. No zombies.”

“Mm, yeah, that’s one thing to be grateful for. Twenty-Eight Days Later.”

“That a good one?”

“You haven’t seen it? That one’s great. Come on.”

Fitch pushed open the gates of The Palace and they strolled inside (the entrance hall). They looked round for a few minutes, then at each other with raised eyebrows.

Wilson whistled. “Veryyy nice. This is what my taxes did, eh?” He stretched himself out on a long and luxuriant sofa.

Fitch kicked a leg of the sofa and laughed. “You’re getting mud on it. Her (his) Maj’ would not be pleased. Come on, there’s got to be a DVD player (bluray) here somewhere.”

Wilson raised his head from the sofa. “You really think they got a copy of…what did you call it?”

“Twenty-Eight Days Later.”

“What about ‘lectricity?”

Fitch walked over to a bank of switches and flipped some (them). Chandeliers of spun crystal turned the (semi-dark) hallway into a blazing corridor of light.

Wilson stared upwards at the beads of hard light (and followed Fitch down the hall). “You got to love Her Maj’ (Charlie). Should have known (he’d) she’d have her own generator.”

 

***

Wilson tossed the last of the popcorn into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “I don’t think it counts.”

Fitch stretched beside him and looked shocked. “Huh? What are you talking about man?”

“Well, they were zombies. In a way.”

Fitch shook his head. “Engineered, mate. Engineered. Human weapons research, or whatever it was they were doing.”

Wilson pursed his lips and tilted his head towards the roof of the private cinema. He crossed his arms. “If you’re having that one, I’m having The Stand.”

Fitch made a disgusted noise. “Oh, God, not this again. Give me a break.”

Wilson crossed his arms tighter. “If you can have Rage in Twenty-Eight Days later, I can have Project Blue (Captain Trips) in The Stand.”

“Well, fine, then. Have it. See if I care. I hate Stephen King.”

Wilson put a hand on Fitch’s arm. “Oh, come on. Don’t be like that.” He rose from his seat and walked towards a wall of blu-rays, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Fitch came up behind him and squeezed his arms around his waist. “Sorry.”

Wilson twisted his head and kissed his cheek. “Ass.”

“Ditz.”

They laughed simultaneously.

Fitch looked at the wall of blu-rays. “What else have they got?”

Something caught Wilson’s eye. “The Birds! How did we miss that one?” (5)

Fitch frowned. “Does it count if there are still people?”

Wilson sighed. “I don’t know. I’m just making this up as I go along.” He waved the blu-ray at Fitch. “Want me to stick this in?”

Fitch blinked. “I don’t want to know where.”

Their laughter rolled down the empty hall into the empty city and across the empty planet, until it faded to dust. (6)

 

 

 

Notes

The bits in brackets are what I came up with as I typed.

 

(1) The title came from the WRITERS BLOCK, book. I opened it and came across a spark-word: EXTINCTION.

 

(2) So my original thought was ‘the last two humans throw themselves off a bridge, after discussing what they think will come next, what will happen, etc.’ Hence the discussion and the seething water.

 

(3) They had other ideas and went for a walk through London instead!

 

(4) At this point I decided they were gay; it has no bearing on the story whatsoever, but makes them a little more ‘real’ to me. Plus all these end of world stories are always man + woman and I wanted to be different. So they start talking about end of the world films and books, obviously an ongoing conversation. Since they were walking through empty London, 28 Days Later and Day of the Triffids came to mind.

There was an old advert for Kit-Kat chocolate bars where the two characters are road-line painters. One of them is trying to find a new topic of conversation, and it went something like this through the advert:

 

Character 1: Football.

Character 2: (Talked about that in) Liverpool

(They walk a little further)

1: Horse Racing

2: Ascot

…Etc…

 

(5) This was going to be The Sound Of Music, but I decided it was too stereotypical to have two gay characters watching it. Then I remembered The Birds; since birds are what will be left after we’ve gone.

 

(6) This is almost a straight lift of a last line from a Ray Bradbury short story I AM MARS, about a man left alone on Mars for years.

 

 

 

Now the edits… (Underlines are inserts, cross outs are…well, cross outs)

 

 

Extinction – Edits

 

“You really think we’re the last?”

Fitch stubbed out his cigarette on the balustrade of the bridge and tossed it one-fingered over the edge into the seething water. “Have to be. We’ve only seen that one guy last week, the one in Penzance.”

Wilson pursed his lips and rested his hands on his palms. “We should have done something about him jumping.” (1)

Fitch shrugged away Wilson’s his concerns. “Like what?”

Wilson sighed. “I don’t know. I keep thinking we should have should’ve told someone and then I remember there’s no one to tell. Still it don’t feel right.” (2)

“Yeah. Still. It’s all happened so fast, nothing feels right.”

Wilson lit another cigarette and offered the pack to Fitch, who shook his head. no.  (3)

They turned away from the balustrade and continued walking through the dead streets. They’d joined hands and found themselves on heading down The Mall, and strolling heading towards Buckingham Palace before Wilson spoke again. (4)

“Day of The Triffids.” Wilson said from behind a cloud of cigarette smoke. They’d found themselves on The Mall, strolling towards Buckingham Palace. (hand in hand)

“We’ve done that one.” Dawn of the dead.”

Wilson shook his head. “Doesn’t count. No zombies.”

“I am Legend.”

“Yeah, that’s good. Chuck Heston or Will Smith?”

“Oh, Chuck. Has to be Chuck every time.”

“Dawn of the dead.” (5)

Wilson shook his head. “Doesn’t count. No zombies here.” (6)

“Mm, yeah, that’s one thing to be grateful for. Twenty-Eight Days Later.”

“That a good one?”

“You haven’t seen it? That one’s great. Come on.”

Fitch pushed open the gates of The Palace and they strolled inside the entrance hall. They looked round for a few minutes, then at each other with raised eyebrows.

Wilson whistled. “Veryyy nice. This is what my taxes did, eh?” He stretched himself out on a long and luxuriant sofa.

Fitch kicked a leg of the sofa and laughed. “You’re getting mud on it. Her His Maj’ would not be pleased. Come on, there’s got to be a DVD player bluray player here somewhere.” (7)

Wilson raised his head from the sofa. “You really think they got a copy of…what did you call it?”

“Twenty-Eight Days Later.”

“What about ‘lectricity?”

Fitch walked over to a bank of switches and flipped some them. Chandeliers of spun crystal turned the semi-dark hallway into a blazing corridor of light.

Wilson stared upwards at the beads of hard light and followed Fitch down the hall. “You got to love Her Maj’ Charlie. Should have known he’d she’d have her his own generator.”  (8)

***

 

Wilson tossed the last of the popcorn into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “I don’t think it counts.”

Fitch stretched beside him and looked shocked. “Huh? What are you talking about man?”

“Well, they were were zombies. In a way.”

Fitch shook his head. “Engineered, Engineered, mate. Engineered Engineered. Human weapons research, or whatever it was they were doing.” He waved towards the now blank cinema screen. (9)

Wilson pursed his lips, and tilted his head towards the ceiling roof of the private cinema and . He crossed his arms. “If you’re having that one, I’m having The Stand.”

Fitch made a disgusted noise. “Oh, God, not this again. Give me a break.”

Wilson crossed his arms tighter. “If you can have Rage in Twenty-Eight Days later, I can have Project Blue Captain Trips in The Stand.”

“Well, fine, then. Have it. See if I care. I hate bloody Stephen King.”

Wilson put a hand on Fitchs arm. “Oh, come on. Don’t be like that.” He rose from his seat and walked towards a wall of blu-rays, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Fitch came up behind him and squeezed his arms around Wilson’s his waist. “Sorry.”

Wilson twisted his head and kissed his Fitch’s cheek. “Ass.” (10)

“Ditz.”

They laughed simultaneously.

Fitch looked at the wall of blu-rays. “What else have they got?”

Something caught Wilson’s eye and he pulled at it out. “The Birds! How did we miss that one?”

Fitch frowned. “Does it count if there are still people?”

Wilson sighed. “I don’t know. I’m just making this up as I go along.” He waved the blu-ray at Fitch. “Want me to stick this in?”

Fitch blinked. “I don’t want to know where.”

Their laughter rolled away from them through down the empty hall and faded into the dust of the dead city. and across the empty planet, until it finally faded to dust. silence. (11)

 

 

 

Notes

 

1. I wanted to be specific about what they’d seen the suicide doing. It’s also more of a hook to the rest of the story. Why didn’t they do anything about a suicide jumping?

 

2. Making Wilson’s language a little less formal.

 

3. Most people who shake their head mean no.

 

4. Lose a bit of stage direction; I’m more interested in getting them to Buckingham Palace than how they walk there. I moved this up from after Wilson’s dialogue to make the conversation terse and speed things up a little so they would get there faster. Short fragments of dialogue pull you down the page.

 

5. I added this snippet about two versions of I am Legend just for fun.

 

6. Trimming dialogue for pacing again.

 

7. Changed Her Majesty to His Majesty and changed DVD to Blu-ray. Pushes the story a little further into the future.

 

8. Bit of unnecessary stage direction, we don’t really need to know that Fitch is following Wilson, and following on from point 7, changing the monarch again.

 

9. They needed to watch the film somewhere!

 

10. Added stage direction so we can tell who is doing what to who.

 

11. I really thrashed around with the ending, to give it the loneliness I wanted.

And here’s the final product…

Extinction – Final

 

“You really think we’re the last?”

Fitch stubbed out his cigarette on the balustrade of the bridge and tossed it one-fingered over the edge into the seething water. “Have to be. We’ve only seen that one guy last week, the one in Penzance.”

Wilson pursed his lips and rested his hands on his palms. “We should have done something about him jumping.”

Fitch shrugged away his concerns. “Like what?”

Wilson sighed. “I don’t know. I keep thinking we should’ve told someone and then I remember there’s no one to tell. Still it don’t feel right.”

“Yeah. Still. It’s all happened so fast, nothing feels right.”

Wilson lit another cigarette and offered the pack to Fitch, who shook his head.

They turned away from the balustrade and continued walking through the dead streets. They’d joined hands and found themselves heading down The Mall and towards Buckingham Palace before Wilson spoke again.

“Day of The Triffids.”

“We’ve done that one

“I am Legend.”

“Yeah, that’s good. Chuck Heston or Will Smith?”

“Oh, Chuck. Has to be Chuck every time.”

“Dawn of the Dead.”

Wilson shook his head. “Doesn’t count. No zombies.”

“Mm, yeah, that’s one thing to be grateful for. Twenty-Eight Days Later.”

“That a good one?”

“You haven’t seen it? That one’s great. Come on.”

Fitch pushed open the gates of The Palace and they strolled inside. They looked round for a few minutes, then at each other with raised eyebrows.

Wilson whistled. “Veryyy nice. This is what my taxes did, eh?” He stretched himself out on a long and luxuriant sofa.

Fitch kicked a leg of the sofa and laughed. “You’re getting mud on it. His Maj’ would not be pleased. Come on, there’s got to be a blu-ray player here somewhere.”

Wilson raised his head from the sofa. “You really think they got a copy of…what did you call it?”

“Twenty-Eight Days Later.”

“What about ‘lectricity?”

Fitch walked over to a bank of switches and flipped them. Chandeliers of spun crystal turned the hallway into a blazing corridor of light.

Wilson stared upwards at the beads of hard light. “You got to love Charlie. Should have known he’d have his own generator.”

***

          Wilson tossed the last of the popcorn into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “I don’t think it counts.”

Fitch stretched beside him and looked shocked. “Huh? What are you talking about man?”

“Well, they were zombies. In a way.”

Fitch shook his head. “Engineered, mate. Engineered. Human weapons research, or whatever it was they were doing.” He waved towards the now blank cinema screen.

Wilson pursed his lips, tilted his head towards the ceiling and crossed his arms. “If you’re having that one, I’m having The Stand.”

Fitch made a disgusted noise. “Oh, God, not this again. Give me a break.”

Wilson crossed his arms tighter. “If you can have Rage in Twenty-Eight Days later, I can have Captain Trips in The Stand.”

“Well, fine, then. Have it. See if I care. I hate bloody Stephen King.”

Wilson put a hand on Fitch’s arm. “Oh, come on. Don’t be like that.” He rose from his seat and walked towards a wall of blu-rays, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Fitch came up behind him and squeezed his arms around Wilson’s waist. “Sorry.”

Wilson twisted his head and kissed Fitch’s cheek. “Ass.”

“Ditz.”

They laughed simultaneously.

Fitch looked at the wall of blu-rays. “What else have they got?”

Something caught Wilson’s eye and he pulled at it. “The Birds! How did we miss that one?”

Fitch frowned. “Does it count if there are still people?”

Wilson sighed. “I don’t know. I’m just making this up as I go along.” He waved the blu-ray at Fitch. “Want me to stick this in?”

Fitch blinked. “I don’t want to know where.”

Their laughter rolled away from them through the empty hall and faded into the dust of the dead city.

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6 thoughts on “IAM Guest Post…Editing a Story into Shape

  1. I never you to edit anything when I was younger, I would just write something at it would be done. Lol. Sometimes it sucks growing up and realising perfection is harder to come by!

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