Thursday, May 15, 2008

Perspective in Editing

I'm reading a book on craft right now titled "The Artful Edit" by Susan Bell. (Thanks to my friend, Lacey Savage, for the gift of this book.) It's an interesting read and offers some good food for thought. In particular, in Chapter One, there's a subsection titled "The Hang-Up or Lay-Out." Utilizing this technique in the editing process can be very visual and enlightening. Consider this partial definition for "perspective."

Perspective: the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed, b. the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance. --Webster's

Bell suggests stringing a line and clipping each page of the chapter to the clothesline to gain a visual perspective and cadence to the written word. Somehow you see the writing differently, say, long and short paragraphs, and the balance of text. Visually, does something not look quite right? Maybe it just looks out of whack. It also suggests that some people lay their pages out on the floor rather than hanging them up.

I guess I found this interesting because I have a novel right now which has moved into the never-ending edit realm. I was really dissatisfied with the first chapter, but I couldn't quite lay my finger on the exact problem.

Finally, one day, I printed out two copies of Chapter One. The first I set aside to keep as a road map to my original destination. The second one I cut up like paperdolls. I cut each paragraph of the chapter out, page by page, and then I played around with the wording. I have several white boards here that I picked up from Home Depot rather inexpensively and upended one of them. Well, actually two of them. I then grabbed some tape and started storyboarding my chapter project. I cut, I added, I switched around. I made notes. Somehow I did come up with a better feel for the chapter. Then I taped all the little pieces to blank white sheets of paper in the order I wanted them. Once I had them all aligned, I went back to the second printed out copy and numbered the paragraphs and then returned to the computer to edit my chapter. Well, actually, I think I sort of numbered them as I was going along, but I tried to make a more legible copy. I might add that during the course of this editing process several pages were removed from the chapter. A few bits and pieces added.

It sounds like a long, drawn out process, but I felt the chapter and the story benefited from the task. It's the first time I did something like that, but not the only one. And I know it's a process I'll use again. It's amazing where frustration can lead you.

So, lining pages up on a clothesline really wouldn't be a far stretch for me. It's certainly something I'd be inclined to try.

Are there any out-of-the-ordinary editing rituals you have?


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