The Editor Head
[This is an expanded version of something I posted elsewhere; I thought it included a few helpful pointers for our ongoing discussion here.]
In my own writing I compose full-out, trying (beyond catching obvious flubs) to minimize the realtime editing; then when I go back over the stuff, I do it with the "Editor Head": as though I were correcting somebody else's work for publication. There's some bleed here, of course: editing will not-infrequently prompt a creative burst, and composition is sometimes impossible until you work out a trouble spot in a passage. But as a general thing, pour it all in there in the first draft, then clean it up afterwards. Over time, you'll have less to clean up: your "editor" is looking on as you write, but not (any longer) in that discouraging, work-stopping way that can so plague the beginner.
What is the "Editor Head"? -- that is, what are you looking for (beyond general effect, "sound," ease of reading, redundancies and other superfluous words, spelling or diction errors and the like) when you edit?
(1) Confidence. The thing should read like a professionally published book. A psychological trick I picked up (from Damon Knight?) early on in my own work: when you reread a passage, imagine that it's from an earlier draft of a published book by somebody else, and ask yourself what "their" final, published version eventually looked like; you might be surprised how this trick fools you into improving the passage ("Well, he had far too many crying scenes in here -- I bet he cut some").
Then too, force yourself to fact-check: this improves confidence a great deal, and now that publishers do less and less copy-editing, it's more important than ever (and indispensable for us self-publishing types, of course). Most technical details can be checked pretty easily: beyond web-searching (which you are lucky to have, you young whippersnappers, why when I was a lad...!), people in the professions are usually more than happy to help a writer, even one they've never heard of -- particularly if it gets them an acknowledgment in the book.
And finally, cheat by avoiding things you don't know, letting the reader fill in the blanks. Ex: "Even late as it was, the (supposedly) 9:30 Eastern port out of JFK got him onto a wet gray street at LAX before 7:30 Pacific..." You don't (unless you want to) have to explain how teleporting works, or even specify that "porting" is teleporting -- and note how the small real-world details of the annoyingly late departure, actual airport names and time zones, and weather in L.A., "sell" the notion of teleporting as a standard procedure.
The reader (as a rule) wants to believe you, so this needn't be terribly difficult; even a nod toward possible difficulties will help. We can believe that Suzy of 2050 EV has a sturdy old antique typewriter; it will help if we explain where she gets ribbons for it (even if we just say, however implausibly, that the great-grandmother she inherited it from also bequeathed forty-seven elderly boxes of same, now diminished to thirty-nine by Suzy's fanatical use). Which is edging us into:
2. Reality Set. This is tougher than it looks: we write from "the land of dreamy dreams," and for psychological reasons alone (including loving the sound of our own voice ;) ) it can be difficult to hold what we've written up against the cruel light of day...but boy, does it improve the work. True, this one is optional: plenty of people have sold a lot of books without a strict reality set (though they might have sold more if they'd bothered with one). Anyway, IMO, it's a good idea in revising to have a constant subroutine running which asks: [Given, if relevant, that your basic fantasy premises are true], "Would This Really Happen?"
Do people really act like this?, talk like this? (a lot of SF includes tonguetwisters no actual human culture would retain), and so forth?
3. Ambiguity. Whatever readers can misunderstand, at least some of them will, and even a brief hitch to correct a misreading can break the fictive "spell." So, another subroutine: "Can this word, sentence, passage possibly be misunderstood?" If your final version includes a line like "I was told Philbert had been conceived in a courthouse in Macon, Georgia, in 1973," be prepared for some unkind laughter (or at least some basic misunderstanding of Georgia courthouse protocol).
4. Continuity Glitches. Another thing copy-editors used to check for, and a real headache-producer for a lot of creative types...but if you don't catch it in draft, you can face real embarrassment on publication. Force yourself to do this, keeping notes if necessary -- even whole "bibles" of backstory, in a long project. Most people born in Oklahoma weren't also born in Kansas; if three characters go into an empty room, you'd better explain how a fourth gets into the conversation, even if they're good friends, and so forth. This doesn't mean dwelling on every little detail -- no need, for example, to actually describe the cab ride to Sarah's house for us to believe Frank got there in a cab. But if he mentions he took a cab there since his car is in the shop, he'd better not depart without comment in said car (and if said car is a TR3, it'd better not be an elderly Datsun when he picks it up from the shop).
If any of this is interesting, maybe I'll post some more later -- on plotting, story structure, evocative detail, or who knows what. Heck, I may do so even if it's boring everyone to tears. All Hail LiveJournal! :)
93 93/93 -- AJ