The cutting continues

While editing Vengeance Will Come I have another short passage which for me is a darling; that is to say I like it.

However the text no longer fits the shape of the story as it is being pruned. It therefore must be dispensed. To salve my creative pain, I share the small snippet here:

“All is not lost, we have a fantastic new lead.” Keeshar said as a four-foot prisoner wearing a hood was escorted through the door.

“Please tell me it’s not a child…” Danyel groaned.

Possibily Funny, Definitely Cliché

In Vengeance Will Come I had a scene where the villain had to enter an unknown building. It played out like you’ve seen a million times before: fortunately there is a lone sentry whose role and position scream “please ambush me”…

In addition to being unforgivably cliché I also made the sentry a cliché. Think the exact opposite of Stephen Hawking – a muscle bound fool who has only one neuron firing at a time. 

By making the bit-character dumb I was trying to introduce some humor through the dialogue. The humor was questionably funny but the unpleasant stench of the cliché was undeniable. 

Not only that, but the henchman didn’t fit the role description. He was the henchman of a wealthy, intelligent and powerful individual. An employer like that doesn’t hire a dunce and especially doesn’t give him any kind of important security job. 

Somehow I have to rewrite the scene to eradicate the clichés. 

Tracking Changes between Drafts

(Just to be clear: In this post I’m talking about tracking word count and structure changes between drafts, not changes at the text-level).

I use spreadsheets that I use to track my writing (and editing) activities. I’ve previously shared how I use spreadsheets for laying out the plot, comparing chapters and scene lengths and monitoring progress.

Using the raw numbers and visual cues helps me to shape the structure of the story. It does take time to maintain but it provides a wealth of information I otherwise wouldn’t have.

You might say that it’s not important to track changes between drafts. For the most part you’d be right: stats matter most for the current version. Mostly I track them because my personality says I must. I can find some benefits in tracking between drafts:

  1. You can monitor how aggressively your editing is cutting words. I’ve read elsewhere that an amateur should aim to cut 15%.
  2. By knowing how you change a novel structure during editing it might help next time you’re writing. Ditto with identifying when a scene needs to be added/deleted.

‘Experience is the best teacher’ so the maxim says. While editing Vengeance Will Come I’ve learned a thing or two that I’ll do different (and better) on my next novel.

My initial tracking involved 3 tables like this: a before-edit, edit goal and result table.vwc stats before edit

This works fine when its a simple mapping between draft and revision. But that is not the case – certainly for me working on my first novel.

easy-comparison

The above simple version of 3 tables doesn’t work so well when you start having to move scenes around, adding or deleting scenes or moving entire chapters. Comparison then gets messy and hard to do.

My new approach is a little bit more complex to set up, but handles the chapter and scene movements with ease.

I’ll walk you through making a simple version of it. I’ll be assuming reasonable skill in Excel; if that’s not you, Google is your friend. If you’d rather just see a demo download this (xlsx): Demo wordcount spreadsheet

Step 1: Create a new workbook in Microsoft Excel with 2 worksheets. Name 1 of the Sheets “Structure” and the other “Stats”.

Step 2: Create a new table Scene List in the Structure worksheet. This list will contain a Scene Name and a word count column for each revision you’re tracking (e.g. draft, revised = 2 columns). The Scene Name isn’t going to appear in your finished story – it just needs to be something which describes the scene so that you’ll know which scene it is. The Scene Name needs to be unique – you cannot have the same Scene Name more than once.

scene-list
This table is where you will enter your word counts. You can see that in the screenshot the scenes DISCUSSING_THE_MEETING and MENAS_NEW_PLAN have a word count in version 1, but not in version 2. This means the scene doesn’t exist in version 2 of the story.

Step 3: Create a new table Structure List in the Structure worksheet. This table should have a Position column (which denotes the scenes position in the novel) and a column for each revision you’re tracking.

structure list.PNG

I’ve used a code for the Position of “CHxSCy“. In the second and third column of the table the Scene Names must be exactly the same as they are in the Scene List.

new structure.PNG

To show the same thing pictorially, this is what has happened between the two drafts.

4 scenes have been deleted from version 1 to 2 (or merged into existing scenes); 2 new scenes have been added and what was chapter 3 (version 1) has become chapter 2 (version 2).

Step 4: The Stats worksheet.

Column A: will display the same codes as used in the Position column.

Column B and C then display labels for the chapter positions (e.g. “Ch 1” and “Sc 1” respectively).

Then we have a column for each of the revisions that you want to map (D and E). In the revision column D use this formula:

=IFERROR(VLOOKUP(VLOOKUP(Stats!$A4, Position[#All], D$2,FALSE), SceneList[#All],Stats!D$2,FALSE),0)

In the revision column E use this formula:

=IFERROR(VLOOKUP(VLOOKUP(Stats!$A4, Position[#All], E$2,FALSE), SceneList[#All],Stats!E$2,FALSE),0)

How these formulas work is that they first use the Position information in column A to look up the Scene Name, and then look up the word count for the Scene Name (selecting the appropriate version).

TMI: (Way) Too Much Information

Here on BenEzard.com I’m sharing my writing journey which includes the ugly and the good. If I’m being generous to myself I’d say its a ratio similar to the chemical composition of Hydronium: three ugly for every good.

A while ago I created a method of secret communication for my novel, Vengeance Will Come.  (Lacking expertise in this area I have no idea if this is a plausible solution…) The idea was that one tremendously large file hid the secrets of anyone who paid to use the storage service. To any observer, it would appear just one long piece of encrypted text, with no way of knowing where one message began or ended. Only the sender/receiver would know the coordinates of their message, and the encryption keys to decrypt it.

This was my first attempt at ‘writing it’ (many, many moons ago).

He went to the DataBank site which required no login and no password. After entering his credit card details – one of the number of fake identites he had on Drasius – he entered two coordinates. The Databank held a single file stream which was yottabytes in size.

Unmarked portions of the file ‘belonged’ to the tens of millions of users – individuals and companies who wanted to store data securely. Any person could upload/download any portion of the stream (paying per megabyte). The trick was, only you knew the coordinates in the stream where your data began and ended, and the encryption used on it. Without knowing where the ‘data ownership’ began or ended, or the type of encryption that was used, decrypting it was nearly impossible.

Cameus entered coordinates that were hundreds of megabytes on either side of his desired data block. This cost far more money, but also meant that anyone tapping the planetary-net would have to try decrypting a lot more data. The download process to his computer took a few minutes. Cameus then disconnected from the net and entered another two coordinates into the computer with the encryption details.

These coordinates were where his message was, ignoring the padding on either side. His computer was powerful and compact, but the decryption process would still take about twenty minutes. Cameus headed back toward the warehouse.

Congratulations if you read each of those 226 words. You’d be among the minority, and I don’t blame you if you didn’t make it all the way through. No one – except for me and a very rare egghead care about how the encryption specifically works.

For this reason in the next editing pass I savaged my creation, diluting its so-called brilliance for the sake of brevity.

He went to the DataBank site which required only one of his false identities credit cards. Entering in coordinates that were only known to him and his employer he began to download data. The Databank held a single file stream which was yottabytes in size, the unmarked portions of the file ‘belonging’ to tens of millions of users on Drasius. Cameus had downloaded hundreds of megabytes on either side of his desired data block; which cost more but would exponentially increase the difficulty for anyone trying to locate his message. The download process took several minutes after which Cameus entered the two precise coordinates of his section with the encryption details. His computer was incredibly powerful for its size but the decryption process would still take about twenty minutes.

So I had cut it severely down to 129 words but it was still not enough. The passage was a mouthful without flavor – calories without enjoyment – ready to frustrate the reader. I don’t know about you, but if I’m absorbing calories I want enjoyment: reading is no different.

So now my creation is rendered invisible, for the greater good of the story:

On the roof of the drinking shop he used his wrist computer to connect to the dark side of the net, downloading the encrypted stream from the DataBank. Cameus started the decryption algorithm and headed back to the warehouse at a run.

Sentence Length

The more you know, the more you know you don’t know. 

When I’m reading with a critical eye the only thing I’ve been looking for in sentence structure is crazy-long sentences. That’s all I knew to look for, until now. 

Five Word Sentence Quote by Gary Provost
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

Jane Doe

I have a female character in Vengeance Will Come– she’s tough, determined, dangerous and with a bit of luck you’ll never hear of her (by name).

At the moment she has a name, but as a two-bit character I’d like to de-name her. This woman provides the point of view for scenes two and four in chapter eight, before disappearing for good; her name is used ten times in under a 1,000 words. Though her part is small she provides an important viewpoint on the action that no other (main) character can.  I want to anonymise her because most professionals recommend keeping the (named) story cast small.

Originally as I was writing she didn’t have a name; but I found referring to her became awkward. I’m going to have another go at turning her into a Jane Doe: unknown female. I’m not sure if I’ll succeed to my satisfaction. 

Writing Update

With my ambitious editing goal it’s not leaving much time for other writing, i.e. blog posts.

A darling, cut from Vengeance Will Come:

Humans were top of their evolutionary chain until they discovered that the universe was so much larger than they had originally dreamed. Faced with the knowledge that they were just a small ant in a vast garden of much more formidable creatures, would they, if they could, take back the earliest space travel?

I like the passage, but it was part of a section that was too introspective. My natural writing style (at least early on) was introspective – heavily introspective. Now I am cutting down on that, pushing narration into dialogue or more often off the page entirely.

I’ve edited 24,865 words (23%) and so far cut 12% from the overall length of the story. (Which I think means I’m actually about 7k words behind schedule 😦 )