Recently I’ve been reading through Susan Bell’s The Artful Edit and something that leapt out at me is the different means proposed to gain perspective of your work when editing. And I’ve noticed some of these are things I’ve done before with varying success, and given my recent foray into short stories, I thought this might be the perfect time to sit down and try to more objectively identify what works for me. And hopefully, in the process, offer some insight or alternatives to what was outlined in the book.
The first I’m going to start with is number 4 in the list; The Big Break. The choice for this one comes more from convenience of timing than any cunning plan I had concocted, there is a story that has been sitting in its drafted state waiting for a proofread (outside of the initial re-read I always do to make sure my characters have not spontaneously changed names - or possibly sex if my ‘s’ key was being stubborn). So come with me reader as I explore gaining perspective on written works.
The first thing I did when returning to this story was open up this very post in split screen with the story as a note taking space - primarily because I’m editing in markdown at the moment, it’s a long story (the reason for using markdown, not the actual story itself), and I can’t mark up or track changes in this editor - though it has come to mind that this may be more distracting than anything so I can’t recommend it. The good news is I remember nothing about the story whilst reading, which makes it fresh and relatively easy to go through, in the past reviewing things I’ve written can become a slog especially after the second readthrough, so that’s definitely a plus. I’ve also found it much easier to pickup on errant contractions, I’ve tried my best to avoid using contractions in narration and make sure they only turn up in dialogue, it’s something someone said to me once that has stuck with me ever since.
While I do remember some of what I wrote, the problem with this particular story and the distance/time I’ve given it is that it (the story) jumps to characters who are never named and are there to show how long story is told over (along with giving allusion to some of the things that are happening outside of the other character’s viewpoints). While it made me reread entire chapters to determine who the scene is about it has helped me identify that it needs clarity, something that my initial re-reads didn’t because it was so fresh and the progression of the story was still present in my mind. Obviously, once the reader finishes the story it would have made sense but the fact that they may get confused is problematic so I’ve spent more time, not identifying these bit-part characters, but instead identifying the named characters more clearly at the start or during their scenes to help keep the reader on track.
All in all this feels very much like a normal edit, the few months I’ve gone without looking at it hasn’t done a great deal really, potentially this is because I did an edit previously that clarified a lot, or potentially the perspective a big break gives is more suited to longer form stories, I know it has helped with my longer form writing in the past (though the size of the break wasn’t really intentional in some of those situations).
I would definitely recommend this approach as one of the tools to use assuming you have the flexibility in deadlines. It gives you enough time to get over the ‘wow this is such a cool idea’ scenes and work out whether your character really needs to go skydiving off the Eiffel tower whilst playing a flame-throwing guitar to progress the story (they probably don’t, but who am I to tell you that?).