Sunday, 26 May 2013

Turning, turning

Summer is here, and I have sunburned arms to prove it. Apart from that scrap of evidence, though, you could almost imagine it was winter here in Oxford: rain, a layer cake of cloud, rain, perishing wind, rain and a little bit more rain. Fingers crossed for blue skies in New York. 

Anyway, enough of the weather. First and foremost, thank you so much for your incredible feedback on the trailer! I was overwhelmed by the positive response. Tailored Media did a fantastic job of capturing the way I see Scion: the clothes, the auras, everything. I swear, this guy – 


– looks exactly like one of the characters in the book, Haymarket Hector. I need to know where they found him. LOOK AT HIM. 


Anyway, erm. Moving swiftly on. With my exam celebrations out of the way (and when I say "celebrations" I mean watching The Apprentice), the Bone Season sequel is officially ready to go. The new manuscript has a working title, a list of possible chapter names and its first appendage. I'm incredibly excited about this book; the plot and setting, plus the introduction of lots of new characters, means it's shaping up to be my favourite of the planned seven. Over the past year I've learned so much from my editors, and I think my style has developed a lot since 2011. I hope to put the lessons I've learned to good use in the sequel.  


One of the things I haven't yet discussed about the editing process, which occurred to me last night, is something Alexa told me about during the late stages of the edit. Let me introduce you to . . .



THE WRITER'S TIC


Not the eight-legged tick that gorges on blood (although they do seem to cling to your prose like a tick to skin); this is the kind of tic you get in your eye. A writer's tic is a recurring, involuntary "quirk" in the manuscript, something you repeat over and over again. It becomes a kind of crutch. It could be a single word, an image, a turn of phrase – anything that just keeps springing up. Most likely you won't notice your quirks until the copyeditor picks them out. The copyeditor's job is to look at the manuscript's minutiae. While you're working on big structural edits, that layer of the manuscript won't fully register. Editors act as a microscope, giving you a new lens through which to see your writing. Take a look at these four sentences from the ARC of The Bone Season:

He half-turned his head. I watched his eyes turn empty. Without another word, he turned his back on me and left. The key turned in the lock. 


Fairly innocuous paragraph, right? I didn't notice anything wrong with it until Alexa called me to London to do some fine-tuning, based on my copyeditor's notes. Now, with my eye attuned to the right level, I could see a fairly blinding problem: 


He half-turned his head. I watched his eyes turn empty. Without another word, he turned his back on me and left. The key turned in the lock. 


There you have it, ladies and gentlemen – my biggest tic. The word "turn(ed)". It's everywhere. This word gives me nightmares. 


If you're scrambling for your Word document in a panic, first let me say: don't worry about it. Writer's tics are something you can deal with. Everyone gets them. You'll see them in finished, published novels. Agents and commissioning editors don't look at your novel on a sentence level. They look at the whole package: at the story, at the voice, at the overall strength of the work you're presenting. They know it will go through massive changes in the editing process and they're not going to reject you because you said the word "cold" or "dazzling" or "the sun streamed over the buildings" twenty-odd times. If you can identify your tics early, though, then do try to get rid of them – it will save you doing it later. It also, most likely, won't endear you to an overworked agent if the dreaded word makes it into your sample pages. Once you've identified the tic, it's easy to do a global search for it and hit delete. 


The best thing you can do to find your tic – and you will have one, if not more than one – is to get someone else to read your work. Anyone at all. Once you've read something a certain number of times, you're just not attuned to the minutiae any more. A reader's fresh eyes won't read as closely as those of a professional copyeditor, but they'll come pretty damn close. They'll be able to pick out all the little things that catch them as they read. Some will always slip the net, but you'll have a much better chance of snagging them.   



Next blog will be on Monday after BEA. Hope to see lots of you there!  

9 comments:

  1. I love this post about writing tics, it's so true. I sometimes have the same trouble but was initially unaware of what I was doing. Then at university, another keen writing friend and I began to swap stories with the idea of sharing constructive edits and so on. Even at that level, I found it was very helpful. Enjoy BEA! :)

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    1. It's amazing how completely unaware you are of tics. They're so sneaky. And I will!

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  2. They did do a fantastic job. Hope you have fun at BEA :-)

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  3. Well, thanks for making me self-conscious about my writing...:P
    Seriously though I completely get what you're saying about those tics. Mine often have to do with characters raising their eyebrows. Ex. "he lifted his eyebrows, she knitted her brows" I try to keep them spaced out, but like you said, I shouldn't really worry too too much about them at this stage.

    Glad to hear about The Bone Season 2 coming along nicely. Now all you have to concentrate on is making it even better than the first one!

    Looking forward to hearing about how BEA turns out. Enjoy yourself!

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  4. Now I have to comb over 300 hand written pages. Thanks.

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  5. Great post :). My crutches are pronouns :)

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  6. I caught that, Samantha! Heehee.

    This is EXACTLY what I've been looking out for in my own work. I actually have a separate Word document with a list of the words I use over and over: my "writer's tic" or what have you.

    Right now, 'that' and 'as' top my list. It's awful, but once you're aware of those bloody habitual words or phrases, you'll actually be able to catch yourself before you type/write them. It's annoyingly amazing!

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  7. I loved the trailer and the article was very insightful.
    I've noticed this before in my writing and am glad to now have a term for them. My "tics" tend to be more punctuation based. Before I used have too many exclamation marks!!!! And then there were too many colons: I mean what's up with that?! At the moment I don't seem to have any but they're there, I know they are, somewhere. Tic-toc Tic-toc.
    Loved the article and all the best with the Bone Season Volume 2.

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