I attended a terrific workshop the other day, and I came home with a whole lot of thoughts. I’m not a workshop kind of person. I’m kind of an anti-meeting person altogether, so this was somewhat of an anomaly for me. I’ve always written on my own, albeit aided by invaluable words of wisdom from other authors on the internet and in books. I’m a bit of a hermit, and I’m also an insanely busy hermit. The idea of sitting stationary for a few hours, listening to other people talk, doesn’t always entice me. But I really wanted to meet these authors, since they’re all from my area. Plus, they’re all members of the RWA, and I’m not, so I wanted to get a feel for what I might be missing. I'm so glad I went.
What struck me the most was how different a lot of the perspectives were … and how different some were from mine. I had a couple of beefs, but I’m keeping those to myself, because really, everything in writing is subjective (except for grammar and spelling). Nothing I write is any more valid than something anyone else might write.
But I woke up this morning with a niggling thought—you know those? That little voice that won’t shut up long enough for you to convince it that you’re too busy to write a blog? Anyway, mine was insistent, and I did think it interesting, so today’s blog is about SEX.
Writing sex, anyway.
One of the questions put to the panel yesterday was by an author uncomfortable about writing graphic sex and/or violence. I can’t recall all the responses, but I got the general feel that the author should just do it, dare herself, be free! And yet … I’ve written a lot, and I still am uncomfortable writing either. In this day and age, where we’re relatively dulled to violence and hard to shock when it comes to sex, do we have to juice it up? Write such rip roaring scenes that you’ll get past the rest?
In my opinion, no.
I’ve written relatively sexy stuff (which I haven’t even considered publishing), and that includes a couple of wedding nights. And oh boy, I’ve written violence. My most controversial scene of “Under the Same Sky” was one of the first things I ever wrote, and it shocked me to the core. I had no idea I had that in me! I wrote absolutely everything my character saw, everything she heard, everything she felt. Through my words, the reader knew every little thing that was going on. Then I remembered that readers had brains and imaginations of their own. I cut, cut, cut, and in the end I came up with something a couple of people have called “Fade to Black” violence. I created the setting, built the tension, put up signposts and fences so the reader couldn’t avoid the scene, but I let the writing suffice. Did I have to indicate every kick, every punch, every thrust? Did I have to repeat the abusive language those creatures used? No. Absolutely not.
When I’m reading, two things will prompt me to set a book aside, unfinished. Predictability and Redundancy. Do I know just about everything about the characters and story within the first few pages? Yes? Not interested. Do I need to learn the details of how to tie a knot? The material on the chairs in a room? The weather? Unless these things are directly related to the storyline or are a central focus of the scene, I could care less. Touch on them, but let’s not dwell, people. I get bored.
The same goes—for me—with writing sex. I figure we all know how sex works, right? Insert Tab A into Slot B, create friction … Why do I have to include thrusting or sweating or groping or panting? And don’t get me going on descriptions of how she’s feeling during her orgasm. I can build to what’s going on through other actions, but once my characters are into it, they’re on their own.
On the other hand, I’m not going to just shut the door on what’s going on. Take this example from “Sound of the Heart.” It was actually pretty graphic for me.
He wanted her to love this, to feel the exhilaration he felt. He wanted her to want more. He certainly did not intend for this to be their one and only time. He tried varying his speed depending on the little purring noises she issued, then realised he couldn't stand thinking anymore. He closed his eyes as a familiar, delicious rumble began deep within him, taking ahold and growing, wave after wave, taking possession of his mind and body.
Not one thrust, not one unnecessary grab, though I’m sure there were plenty in his mind. I could have gone into the down and dirty descriptions, but in my heart, that was enough. I didn’t look away, but I didn’t take away from Dougal’s moment by over-narrating, either.
I think there are three distinct schools of thought on writing sex and violence. The first would be the hands-off, the author who wants nothing to do with writing more than a peck on the cheek. The second is the full frontal, go-for-it, no holds barred (or add in holds just for the thrill of it, if you’re into erotica). But the third is one that people often forget, and that’s Fade To Black.
What I want to say to readers is ... if you’re looking for more graphic stuff from me, it isn’t forthcoming. I am in my characters’ heads already. They deserve a little privacy now and then.
What I want to say to writers is ... if you are uncomfortable about writing sex or violence but it’s necessary for the story/scene, consider writing Fade To Black.
Just found this terrific article about editing by Jim Warner http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2010/08/guest-blogger-jim-warner-on-editing.html. The blog's no longer alive, but Jim is, and seemed kinda pleased I wanted to run this. I thought it was great. When I was on Authonomy I had a few arguments - let's call them discussions - with people about editing. I decided I was only going to 'back' books if they were "editor-ready", meaning well edited, etc. After all, that's what I thought mine was. The people who disagreed with me figured that's what editors were for.
Well, turns out I was right. Editors are, like the rest of us, overworked and underpaid. If you want to make your writing tempting to them, make it as perfect as you can. If you offer someone a gift, do you just roll it up in a wad of paper towel or toilet paper? No! You wrap it up nicely - even if it is in a recycled gift bag (ahem ... works well for me). Don't make the editors work. Get them to say 'yes', get them to like your book, get them to publish it.Do the work.
Why I Call Writing Editing (And You Should Too)
by Jim Warner
I’m going to shatter some illusions today.
Writing shouldn’t be called writing. It should be called editing.
Why? And more importantly, why should you care?
Because editing and revision are important, and you must do it well. If you think you’re only writing, and what you do after that is merely cleaning up the rough spots and fixing the little mistakes that creep into an initial draft, you’re missing something vitally important.
Here’s how to tell if you’re doing it wrong. Writing rarely feels like work. But something else does, if you’re doing it right. You know that feels like a chore?
I’ve looked all over for a magic bullet, a way to cut down on revision, editing and proofreading. A way to make this awful process shorter, to get back to the fun stuff, like researching and writing. I hate editing. Lots of writers do. Do it anyway.
I’ve been told Rachel Caine can write a book in two weeks. My source likely heard something out of context, but I could (if I worked really hard and didn’t have any distractions) knock out a first draft that fast. I’m no Rachel Caine, but you probably aren’t either. For me, pre-writing can take anywhere from one to three months. It takes me about a month to hammer out a first draft. But I’m not done there. I still have to edit those words, and this takes time. I plan on at least two months, maybe ten weeks. I spend more time editing than I do on any other process.
I have to revise, and I have to revise a lot. This involves a lot more than looking for typos, misspelled words, and grammar mistakes. I tighten up a sentence here, I unscrew an adverb there, I add detail or take some away. Sometimes I cut things. I’ve been known to dispose of entire scenes, even though I use outlines. I’ve also added them. Both made the manuscript better. It’s all part of the editing and revision process.
The ugly truth is, no matter what technique I’ve used, what gimmick I’m applying, whatever system I’m trying, it takes me ten to twelve drafts to make a novel presentable.
You’ll want to speed through the editing. Resist this. It’s best to work only an hour at a time, maybe two at a stretch. Take long breaks between sessions. Do you think that’s too little editing over too much time? I’ve cheated and my beta readers noticed. That novel took more time than if I had done it right the first time. So develop some patience. Two months is not very long to revise a novel.
The reward for all this self-inflicted torture is the tenth draft. When I get to that tenth draft, I’ve caught almost all of the typos. I’m changing words or making the dialogue work better. I long ago caught all the major errors. By the time I get to the tenth draft, I’m polishing, making my prose more saleable. Sometimes I need to do an extra pass or two. It depends on the state of the manuscript. If I’m playing with words and toying with sentences that are already working, then it’s probably okay to stop. If I’m still finding grammar errors or too many commas, I sigh and start another run the next day. Early, so I’m fresh.
I’ve seen websites out there telling you that you can make do with a single pass. Don’t believe them. If you disagree with me, start saving your drafts as separate documents. Make five passes. (You don’t even have to go backwards, although everyone should try that once. You’ll be amazed at what you find.) Read draft five and then go back and take a look at draft one.
If you’re the editor you should be, you’ll see an enormous difference. The first draft will be awful, embarrassing, and nowhere near as good as you thought it was. You wouldn’t dream of sending that piece of garbage anywhere. But the fifth draft, now that baby just might have possibilities.
In about five more runs.
After a few months, you’ll stop thinking of what you do as writing, and rename it editing. It’s more than a word, it’s a state of mind. Don’t give in to the urge to cut corners. There is no easy path. Unlike the Force, you can’t turn to the Dark Side to find a quicker, easier solution.
If you’re skeptical, try this on for size. I’ve never received a rejection telling me my writing needs work. I don’t get letters that tell me to polish, rewrite, and resubmit. What I get are “enthusiasm” letters. They didn’t like the book enough to represent it. They had trouble with the premise, or they didn’t like the style. It wasn’t right for them. But they never have trouble with the prose. I’ve even received compliments from agents for my writing. And that’s what we are all about, isn’t it? That’s what we’re trying to sell. Good writing.
Ironically, it’s really just good editing.