Poinciana trees = existential crisis (adventures in editing)
Don’t panic, this isn’t going to be as angst-ridden as it sounds – it’s actually a post about editing (with a bit of naval gazing thrown in).
There are two phases to editing:
- structural edits: when you make sure your plot, characters, pace etc. are all working (sometimes this is a small job, sometimes it is a bloodbath)
- line edits: when you work on making each line work as hard as it can for your story (tightening up the prose, working on imagery and scene setting, checking you don’t overuse particular words or phrases).
I set a reasonably cracking pace when I write - primarily focused on plot, characters and dialogue - and then I do a few rounds of revisions to polish it all up.
When ‘Shadows’ was contracted by Text, it was in pretty good shape. It didn’t require much structural work, which gave my editor Ali and I lots of time for line edits. The process involved Ali sending suggestions, prompts and questions (in pencil on the draft) for me to ponder.
For the first time, I got to slow down and think about the beauty (or intentional ugliness) of the words I wanted to use; think about new and original ways to describe things that have been described a million times before.
And it turns out I had some issues with trees.
One of Ali’s notes was to describe the poincina trees Gaby looks at while she’s hanging out with her mates in the local bar. Ali pointed out that not all readers know what the trees look like and a few visuals would be helpful.
So I had to find a way to do that, but it needed to be evocative, contextual, relevant to Gaby and – the big one – original.
Here’s what I had originally in the sentence:
The sun has dipped behind the headland, leaving a soft purple glow in the sky over the ocean, and fairy lights shimmer in the poinciana trees down the Esplanade.
I spent two hours agonising over those sentences. There may have been some moments of self-flagellation There may have been a brief existential crisis. I may have driven to a street filled with poinciana trees just to stare at them...
In the end, I went with describing how the trees made Gaby feel. Here’s what appeared in the final draft:
The sun has dipped behind the headland, leaving a soft purple glow in the sky over the ocean. Down the esplanade, fairy lights shimmer in the old poinciana trees. I love those trees. When I got off the bus last year, I stepped onto their carpet of orange blossom. I felt safe underneath those branches. Protected.
(In another scene, I needed to describe the feel of a fig tree trunk. You guessed it: I drove to a local park and hugged one while nobody was looking.)
Is there anything else you guys would like know about editing or any other part of the publishing process? If you do, just leave your questions here as a comment and I’ll either address them as part of this thread, or write a separate post to answer it before the end of the month. Don’t be shy!
Here's the fig tree I hugged (beautiful isn't it?):