Last weekend I wrote the closing climax scene of my new Street Stories novel Bend Me, Shape Me. It was two chapters long told from two characters’ points of view, Jo Sullivan and a homeless street kid named Snow Ramirez. While I knew where the scene was headed, I really had no idea what steps would take place to get there.
Conveying action scenes in words alone are tricky to get right. If I was filming the scene, the audience could just watch the stunt men duke it out. Sure I would choose which angle to shoot from and when to cut and what effects to use to make the biggest impact. But I wouldn’t have to worry about which details to “show” the writer. In film, punch, kick, jab can happen in real time, not the amount of time it takes to describe them. If you get too detailed when writing, you make the action boring; if you don’t give enough, the reader has no idea what the hell is happening.
While I am writing scenes like this, I “feel” my way through them. I try to get into the character’s head so the suspense comes as much from what they are thinking as from the blows that land. When a writer is able to get into the character’s mind like that, you tend to go with the flow and get carried along by the emotions they are experiencing. Once you’re in the groove like that it can be a little intoxicating.
As I finished the scene, I still felt a little high. This was good stuff, I thought, full of high drama sweeping across the page like a thundering herd of mustangs: beautiful and powerful. I even posted on Facebook about how effing awesome I am as a writer, believing every crowing compliment.
Today I started editing those chapters. The creative muse has left the building and the editor is now firmly ensconced in her office. I look at these pages and need to see them as if I was not the one who created them. I am trying to be a reader who has never seen the words before. Do they make sense? Do they move me? Or are they so filled with melodrama and purple prose that they verge on slapstick?
The editor’s job is to question, to be skeptical and precise. I can no longer “go with the flow.” I must sieve through the stream to see what kind of crap might float to the top. I believe it is impossible for the author to be completely detached when in editor mode, even writers like myself who do editing for others. This is especially difficult to do with high drama scenes like my climax, with scenes that flowed so well as they were written and where the character seemed to be leading me each step of the way.
This is where self-published authors have a disadvantage, I think, unless they are smart. Other eyes must help you see. Thankfully I have a great critique group who is not afraid to point out the flaws in my supposed deathly prose. Then the editors at New Libri will give it a thorough going over, several times, in fact. After all these eyes have helped me see what changes need to be made, Bend Me Shape Me has the best possible chance of being as awesome, as thunderous and sweeping, as if felt when I posted that praise to myself on Facebook.
And somewhere hiding under the editor’s desk is a muse squealing with delight at the possibilities.