Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Editing

I am currently editing one of the first scenes that I wrote for S&V. It is one of the first scenes that I wrote, and requires a very heavy edit. I thought that I'd reproduce part of it here as an example of how I edit my writing.

This short paragraph features two of the main characters in the book: Alan Hooke, a barman in his early thirties, and Karla, a woman he is growing attached to. She is sitting at the bar whilst he is serving another customer.

Original version:
By the time he turned back to her, a teenager, already half-drunk, was making a half-hearted attempt to chat her up. She was replying, but her eyes kept on moving back onto Hooke. Hooke gave the youth a glare, then: "How old are you, son?"
So what are the problems with it?
  1. Show not tell: 'already half-drunk'
  2. Impossibilities: 'eyes moving back onto Hooke'. Eyes do not move onto someone; a gaze does.
  3. It feels very impersonal.
  4. Repeat usage of both 'Hooke' and 'half' close together.
So, how to rewrite it? Firstly, what is the point of this paragraph? It shows two things: That Karla does not particularly object to someone trying to chat her up, even if she is not interested (her eyes flicking Hooke up and down). Secondly, it shows that Hooke does not appreciate the youth chatting her up.

After a little work, I come up with this altered version:
A teenage boy, already half drunk, stood next to her, his elbow resting against the bar in an attempt to look nonchalant. Hooke overheard some of the classic chat-up lines, ones that he remembered swapping with his schoolfriends. Karla was smiling as she replied, but her gaze kept on flicking back onto Hooke. He glared at the youth then asked: "How old are you, son?"
This is better, but I'm still not quite happy with it. I think the first sentence is weak, especially the 'already half-drunk' snippet. Therefore I came up with the following:
A teenage boy was standing next to Karla, his elbow resting against the bar in an overwrought attempt to look nonchalant. His voice slurred as he told her some classic chat-up lines, ones that Hooke could recall learning from his schoolfriends. Karla was smiling as she replied, but her gaze kept on flicking back onto Hooke. He glared at the youth then asked: "How old are you, son?"
I'm still not fully happy with this, but it is certainly better than the first version. I'll work on it some more when I do the next edit.

2 comments:

rfwitch said...

It depends entirely on how much time you want to devote to this section, I think. The last sample is certainly a bit better. You have shown that he is drunk. But on the other hand, you have told the reader that he is pretending to be cool and trying to chat this woman up, unsuccessfully.
You could throw in a snippet of dialogue, with a suitably cringeworthy chat-up line. But you will have to look the line up on the internetz. You cannot possibly know any. ;-)

rfwitch said...

I meant, in the comment above, that the teenager is unsuccessful in chatting the woman up, not that you, the writer, are unsuccessful in telling us this.

This is why you are the writer and I am not. Doh!