To Detail Or Not To Get That Specific, Duh!

I’ve been in the copy edit stage for a while now with my debut novel, Forced To Change. This is a good thing. No, really it is. It means that when the novel is published it will be polished. Each and every word as I intended or agreed to so that the story I meant to tell is the one that you read. I really needed an editor. This way I’ve had five so far. Five different people, it’s a team of editors. Woo Hoo! Five different sets of eyes going over my story. It was an unexpected advantage, unexpected because once again, I'm not always the brightest bulb in the room and I didn't realize how much I needed a professional editor. Not even beta readers could catch all the little hidden mistakes that I can’t see any more purely because I wrote it.

So this becomes another example of where I have to practice patience daily. I’m cool with it. Really, I am. Okay, it was a lot ego-bruising at first. Then someone reminded me I have no history with my publishers. They have a list of amazing, established authors that they’ve worked with for years. People that brought much larger platforms to the table. I just started my writing career a few years ago. I haven’t built up the audience yet. I had no idea what the business side of writing entailed.

I’m getting a quick education and a part of that is, editing takes a lot of time and a lot hard work. Not just me, but from a team of individuals on my publisher’s side. People who are hoping this book turns a profit and does amazing when it’s available just like I have the same dream. Only no one gets paid should my book fail epic-ally. Then all their time, money, and energy is out the window, while I sit around being disappointed, but not defeated by it. Why? Well, it’s my first novel. As much as I love the story I wrote and told, the realist in me knows that usually the debut novel doesn’t do much market wise.

The debut novel establishes an author’s credit. The way the scenario for most typically plays out, it’s the success of the second, or the third novel that elevates the first novel. Or, it takes years and years for the first novel to gain a following. As much as having a best seller out the gate would validate my career choice of writing professionally, I’ve got a deadline in mind as to when I’ll have to sacrifice my time and energy to a dreaded, stupid day job for the benefit of my needs and survival. I'll tuck my dream away for a bit and try again in a few months or years when I’m in a position to pursue it again.

Okay, so that was completely off topic. Details. Um, about that. In writing I mean. Well, sometimes they are necessary. No matter what your process as a writer is, your story is better when you get the details out of your head and down onto the page. I’m a ‘seat of my pants’ writer, though I used to be an ‘edit as I go’ writer. A while back I decided I’d attempt to ‘outline strictly’ or ‘organize, but loosely’ my next work. I read a piece where that was apparent in the work and I could only see the benefit of working that way. This means that before I put word one down of the next novel I should at least have a brainstorm, an outline, maybe even a scene list done before I sat down to write. I did and am currently working on the follow up to FTC. Woo Hoo!

The advantage of working on a novel this way is it cuts down on writer’s block. When I sit down to write I have a direction every single day to go in until the story is finished, rather than my usual word count for today game plan. No matter which way you write though, when you’re capturing a scene down on the page there comes a point where you want to share. Maybe it’s the setting, or a description of the character or how the weather is at that moment or what song is playing on the good old iPod for the character. How much is too much? When does detailing go from moving the story forward to bogging it down with information that the reader won’t want to read and possibly they stop reading the book?

That’s the trick to detailing, finding the balancing act of giving enough information to keep the reader interested. Painting a vivid picture but not so much detail that the reader skims until it changes or something happens, if you’re lucky. Remember they always have the option to stop reading, period.

This is why the editing process is taking a great deal of time with FTC. For my 3 long time loyal followers (welcome to the party 3 new ladies), you guys know how much I like to detail. I also slip specifics in that don’t seem important at the time, but later come back around. Although Stephen King recommends ‘kill your darlings’ he can say that. He’s established as an author and has a working history with his editor. So, sometimes a three page description of person will end up in his work and as a reader I accept this and most of the time enjoy it anyway.

Since I’m no Stephen King, I accept that my editors pull some of the stuff I feel is necessary to the telling of this story. In other words, they murder my darlings for me. When I have a chance to let the edit marinate, I see their point. Sigh. In the end I usually defer to their wisdom and most of the time the sentence/paragraph/scene reads much better for the correction. 

I think I’m pretty good about cutting my own darlings. For example the original draft of Forced To Change the first paragraph was this whole thing about spilling food on her breast and making choices. At the end the main character walked out of the house not caring that she had a bright spot of yellow on her white shirt.

I thought the paragraph did this great job of establishing the character’s state of mind. It captured her depression, low self-esteem, etc. It was the setup of all setups for who this girl was. By the time I was done with the second draft or third draft it was gone. A darling no more. 

I loved the paragraph, but I didn’t feel it was good for the story as a whole. I covered her state of mind later and I do a more relatable job of it as the reader moves forward in the novel. All the things that one paragraph did are spread out over the first chapter. It was my darling and to keep it weighed down the story.

My recommendation when writing, when choosing whether to detail or not to detail, DETAIL. Break every rule of writing you can while writing your first draft. The first draft is for all the mistakes. Write prose and not enough if necessary, because the goal is to write. With NaNo coming around next month a lot of people will attempt to write their very first novel. Sticking to the rules of writing can and does create writer’s block and the goal is to get that first novel under your belt, right? So write. Detail until anyone reading the scene can see, taste, hear, feel, and smell the entire thing the way you mean it. It’s much easier to amputate your darling.

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