You’re probably wondering why I have a question mark after “Joys” in the title of this blog. And if you’re a writer, you know that editing is not a joy. It’s a painful slog through verbiage which seemed well-expressed and literate when you first put it on the page, but which, when you review what you’ve written with a view to just making it a little clearer, more literate, a better expression of what you wanted to say, has become idiotic, banal, and thoroughly uninteresting. Not to mention inexplicable.
That’s where I am now. I’m editing the third novel in my series set in Burgess Beach, Florida, featuring Detectives Andi Battaglia and Greg Lamont. It’s called REASONS TO DISAPPEAR, and the mystery concerns the disappearance of Captain Bradley, Andi and Greg’s boss, and their efforts to find him. It seemed like a good idea at the time I conceived it, and it’s still a good idea. The problem is that although I know why he disappeared, I need to give him more motivation to do that. Duh!
Because I am a pantser and write without knowing the plot but simply start with an idea—Captain Bradley disappears—when I go back to edit the material, I often find I have insufficient motivation on the part of one or more characters. Not just insufficient motivation but perhaps incredible motivation: Why would he do that?
So that’s why the editing. Now if I were plotter I would know what had happened and why in advance before I even started writing. But then of course I couldn’t surprise myself with the answer to the question of why Captain Bradley disappeared or what’s going to happen to him. And I really like to be surprised, in my writing as well as my reading. I don’t like to read mysteries where I know the guilty party too early on. Spoils the surprise! And so I like to surprise myself, too, in my writing.
At a presentation I attended at a local bookstore, a panel of writers talked about how they worked and whether they knew what was coming in their books. One of the authors was a television writer who was used to writing tight scripts where everything—plot, characters, ending— was known in advance. The other two writers were pantsers who didn’t know what was coming next. One of the panelists confessed that she had had to rewrite her entire book because she was deeply dissatisfied with the person she had appointed as the murderer. He just wasn’t the right person. So, she went back, rewrote the book, and added a character, one she was confident was indeed the murderer. And was happy with the result.
I guess it would be easier for me if I had all the plot lines figured out in advance. Then I wouldn’t be stuck with not knowing who the murderer is and why. However, I’m afraid that’s the way I write. So I edit a lot and figure out why the characters behave as they do. Then I edit again. Then, again. Again and again. Finally, I’m done.