Monday, 12 April 2010

Anatomy of a Night Out vs. Editing a Novel

It occurred to me this afternoon, for no reason whatsoever, that my 'getting ready' process for a night out is actually very similar to my process for editing a novel. So, I thought, why not write about it? To anyone to whom either of these processes is familiar, I hope it gives you a laugh, and to anyone to whom they aren't, I hope it's amusing and enlightening anyway.

Imagine your bedroom is your manuscript. Your wardrobe is each individual chapter, your clothes represent each scene element, and your dressing table is the prose you layer your plot, characters and setting with.

Step One: Clothes and Re-Drafting

Every time you choose a new outfit, or discard one skirt in favour of another, or choose to wear jeans instead of a dress, you're rewriting a scene. So when you choose your outfit, you're picking a chapter to work on. Then you decide you don't like the blue denim skirt, so why not try the black tulip one instead? What's really happening, of course, is the fact that you don't like that your two characters kiss in this scene, it doesn't feel natural. So you wear the black tulip skirt, and you heighten the tension in the scene, building up anticipation for the kiss that will come later. When you decide the dress isn't working and you have to wear jeans instead, you're tearing the scene apart. It simply wasn't working, so you're going to have your protagonist go to London in this chapter instead.

You might go through six or seven different outfits in one evening, before settling on one that feels right. Similarly, you might change a scene six or seven times before it works the way you want it to. You really have to be brutal to get the best results. (Sorry if this is difficult for male readers to identify with.) You wouldn't want to go out if your shoes were uncomfortable, would you? In much the same way, I find I can't rest easy if I know I've left a chapter less than I could have made it.

Repeat this process for every single night out, and every single scene, and every single chapter.

Step Two: Make Up and Prose 

This is where you make your face look prettier, and your manuscript read nicer.

You apply some sort of base. This can be moisturiser, toner or some kind of expensive make-up base if you're an 'expensive make-up base' kind of girl. Your base is your re-drafted manuscript, where every scene works and every chapter seems just right... except for the actual, technical writing of it.

Then comes the foundation, the bronzer/blusher, the lipstick, the eyeliner. These are all the things that enhance your features, highlight the best parts of your face. These are the things that enhance your manuscript, highlight the best parts of your characters and plot. But be warned: too much lipstick/lip gloss and you look like a clown, too much foundation and you start to look chalky, too much eyeliner and the first droplet of rain will destroy you. 

Keep the metaphors, similes and beautiful imagery to places where it works. Don't overdo any of it. Less is more. No one wants to go out with gloopy red lips and no one can wade through a manuscript bogged down with far too many gloopy red metaphors. If you're going to work with bold lips, keep eye makeup to a minimum and vice versa. I try to avoid using similes, metaphor and imagery in the same sentence. Too much.

Dot on a bit of concealer to hide the flaws, and leave behind a smooth finish. The natural look works best. There are elements of every story that a writer will look at and think oh, dear. For me, it's my action sequences. I hate writing action because I'm bad at it, I don't particularly enjoy it, and it never gets my pulse racing like great character scenes do. I'll bet every writer feels they have a weak spot, and ninety-nine per cent of the time, you have to use the weak bits too. Very few fantasy novels can work without an action sequence somewhere in the midst of it, and I write a lot of fantasy. So, what do I do? How do I hide the little flaws on my face, the bits of my manuscript I don't like?

Solution: you do the best you can. You dot on the concealer, gently, carefully. You camouflage your weak spots with what you feel are your strongest. If I have an action sequence, I sandwich it between character scenes I absolutely love, or bits of dialogue I can't wait to write. The strong will enhance the weak and, sometimes, you might discover that what you think you're bad at isn't so bad at all. [Steve insists my action scenes aren't as bad as I think they are. Maybe I'm good at camouflage?]

Step Three: Hair and the Final Polish

When you do your hair, you might have to work at it a few times to get it just right. Whether you're keeping it simple or going for an elaborate 'do, it needs a little bit of work. So does that final polish of the manuscript, the final details that make it sparkle. Does your title work? Have you got your chapters numbered correctly? Have you straightened your layers but forgotten to straighten that sneaky little fringe? Do your characters' eye colours stay consistent throughout the story?

This is what I do last. My hair, and the nitty-gritty. I give the manuscript a final look to make sure every detail and technical glitch has been fixed. Sometimes I miss a typo here and there. You can't help that. You'll never get every single hair in place. I think that's okay.

So, what do you think? Amusing? Enlightening? Am I stretching the analogy a bit too far?


  1. the male school of getting dressed up (except carl):

    find a pair of jeans, find a t-shirt/shirt, fill pockets to brim, splash on aftershave, pick up the first pair of shoes you come across. debate whether a coat is worth the cost of a cloakroom ticket. done.

    this is possibly why i shouldn't be allowed to edit books.

  2. Haha yeah true! Still, I'm sure we can find a male equivalent to editing a book... fixing a car? Useless for you, I know, but for the general stereotype of the car-loving male?

  3. Dear Sangu,
    I did not know that you were a Sherlock Holmes addict. Now I admire you even more! Would you agree that Jeremy Brett is the definitive screen Holmes? Don't even get me started on Robert Downey Jr. Love your blog!


  4. Dear Mr.J,

    Thank you very much, I'm so glad you enjoy reading this!

    On the whole, I think I agree. Jeremy Brett is the screen Holmes. But somehow I don't think any actor will measure up to the image in my head while reading the stories. Ah, Holmes... *swoons a little*

    Erm, yes. Better not get me started on the new Sherlock Holmes film either. I watched a few trailers and then refused to go see it.

    How are you? Are you a fellow Holmes addict? Oooh, I love discovering that people share my obsession!