Friday, October 17, 2008

Looking beyond History

How easy is it to make history? Very.

When I started this blog, I promised myself I would post weekly. As you can tell from the posting dates, that didn't happen, so my promise is history.

Anything that is in the past can be qualified as history. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering. It just has to have been.

Historical, on the other hand, requires more impact. Let's face it, no one cares if my wee promise is history UNLESS the impact in some way, shape, or form changes the future, whether that change is global, continental, national, or personal (Think Mary Todd Lincoln's mental instability vs. Abraham Lincoln's assassination.)

Our historical records tend to focus on life or world changing events. Everyone has heard of Waterloo--even if its ABBA's version--and understands the decisiveness of that battle. But how many know of the smaller skirmishes that laid the foundation for Britain's victory? Waterloo didn't stand alone, but iced a cake assembled ingredient by ingredient. It is the quality of the ingredients, or the lack thereof, that determines success or failure.

These small bits, the ingredients, are the recipe for historical writing success. These are the things that can set your book apart. Instead of another rehash of what has been done before, there is freshness, a new flavor.

The major battles, controversies, famines, political upheavals, felons, inventions, philosophies, etc. of any era are well documented. The things building them, swirling within them, and resulting from them are less so, yet they are pivotal because, without them, the greater event would never have happened.

While war scenerios are the best documented so are easiest (there are myriad books available dissecting the battles and strategies), they are not all.

A small farming village in a bucolic countryside finds itself host to a nest of radicals. This cannot help but color the lives of the villagers. Some will agree with the politics. Others will not. Some will go blithely through their days ignorant of the political bomb ticking beneath their feet. Others will simply ignore it, hoping it will go away before it explodes. This is true regardless of era, and it is how the people react to the circumstance that makes a good story.

To put it in a nutshell, look past the obvious. As you search, you will have a "Eureka!" moment (sans running down the street naked, one would hope), finding something that, while small within the context of time, meant success or failure in that moment. Things that happen everyday will suddenly become important: a dog bite that sidelined a messenger with vital information. A thrown horseshoe that put someone in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time. A flippant comment that fanned the flames of revolution (Let them eat cake, anyone?)

Open your eyes to what lies beyond the big picture. See the vignettes. Remember, people make history. (Yes, it's been said before, and it will be said again.) Their pictures may be small and blurry, lost against a sweeping backdrop of epic proportion, but they are there. And they have stories to tell.

It's up to you to tell them.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Editing -- not for dummies

First, I need to warn everyone that I don't edit this blog. Whatever pops into the over-ripe melon perched atop my neck is what you get--seeds and all.

I hate to edit my own work. Sad, but true. With so many stories camped within the limited confines of my skull screaming to get out, once a story is written, I'm ready to get onto the next.

I wrote "THE END", but I guess nobody got the memo.

Or maybe it's just that it took me a long time to realize "THE END" is really "THE BEGINNING" of the work phase of writing.

There are several kinds of editing--something I learned to my abject horror. There is the editing one does for contests: remove bits to fit the page count, make sure hooks are pithy and enticing, get that stellar paragraph from a later chapter and weave it into your entry (because you know that's the deal-maker), sex it up if they want hot, and tone it down if they don't. The final judge is an editor or agent who likes a certain theme or spiciness (you know because you checked the appropriate website or read it in the RWR), so you tweak a bit more, hoping to make the cut, get the request, make the grade.

From my previous blogs, you know I'm no contest diva. Not my style. The very idea of sculpting my manuscript to fit someone else's parameters seemed dishonest, a betrayal of muse, talent, and story, prostituting them for the payoff.

High ideals. The moral high road. Rising above the throng---and the muse, talent, and stories languished having no opportunity to strut their stuff.

Yeah, my reality check got cashed in a big way.

After conceding to the wisdom of a seasoned contest entrant, the changes were made, the contests entered, and people wanted to read more. The stories had an audience, the characters could begin to live for someone other than me.

Ethically, the whole sculpting idea still doesn't sit well, but the results speak for themselves. And the stories that went out were not the bastardized versions--those were keys to closed doors--but the real deal complete with the permanent addition of some of the best contest changes.

Editing for publication requires an entirely different mind and skill set. Yes, the hooks are still integral, the pacing essential, the character arcs--goals, conflicts, motivation, all the way to the happily ever after--indispensible, but there is more. This is not three chapters and a synopsis. This is the whole book, and the quality must stand throughout. No getting by with three chapters polished to high gloss while the rest wears a primer. All or nothing at all.

Abridged editions, specific audience requirements, different media, all require specialized editing--that someone else gets to do if we're lucky.

Editing someone else's work is rarely a problem. There is no personal investment. The characters aren't near and dear. Objectivity comes easily.

Not so with your own work.

I envy those who can stand back and, with a truly objective eye, slice and dice their manuscripts, stripping meat from the bones, rendering the fat, and come away with something wonderful. It is amazing to think that a person who can pour that much passion into a work can be so dispassionate in their evaluations.

I can't--yet. But I'm trying because the rest of the stories are clamoring for their turn, and they must wait until the work in progress is done.

Winners never quit, and quitters never win. Since failure is not an option, quitting is out of the question.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it's true.

So I hate editing, but I'll do it, and then I'll do it again, and again, and again if need be. Those voices banging at my cranium will not be silenced until they live between the pages of a book. They tell me they deserve that.

I believe them.