Breaking the rules: editing while writing

I am a big supporter of the “Just get it out, edit later” camp when it comes to first drafts. However, sometimes that just won’t work.

Every now and again, I run up against a scene where I know something is off. I don’t always know what, and I don’t always listen, and sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. We hit a point in Asylum where it stalled out for a while because Naj was trying to tell me he wasn’t reacting right to Kain. We kept writing, and eventually found the snag, and it was fairly easy to fix. It might get more smoothing over in the edits, but it wasn’t anything so bad we couldn’t keep writing.

Sometimes Seth will do that to me, where he just sits down like a stubborn llama and goes “Uh-uh, not right, not writing. We fix it now, or we don’t go forward.” Other times, we’ll but plugging along and we’ll hit a speed bump of continuity issues, and he’ll go “No worries – you have to re-write all that theology stuff anyways. When you’ve got it right, let me know and I’ll adjust. Until then, I’m going to keep calling the falcons “the falcons” and we’ll just fix it later. Don’t bother me with details.”

He’s kind of a brat like that.

Jean, on the other hand, is a sweetheart. He gets a little overwhelmed from time to time, and I’ve had to step away from his writing more than I have any other character, but bless his heart, he tries. Unfortunately, he’s a little too eager and not so skilled a story teller as Seth is, so in an effort to oblige me, we’ve been soldiering on for days now with a glaring inconsistency, and it’s finally tripped us up beyond the point of recovery.

It was a very minor thing. We were talking about modes of travel, and my very American brain ran over his European one. I’ve never been to Europe, I’ve never traveled across Europe, and I’ve most certainly never traveled with a circus. Jean has. But he didn’t want to interrupt, so he let me carry on, telling another character that the castle was only a day’s drive away. First of all, it was not, it was a day’sΒ train ride away, very different. Second, the character he was talking to had no car, and his group would not be traveling by car. Irrelevant information to give him.

But we kept going anyways. Jean and his new friends had lovely conversations and sad conversations and eventually the words just stopped coming. I asked him why, and he didn’t really have an answer, until I suddenly realized the problem – Jean was being too meta. He was trying to answer as if he knew the other troupe was only two towns away to the south, and that they would all be traveling along the same path, and could all travel together, if they wanted. Jean had no way of knowing that, and so he very politely just stopped answering.

And now I see that if I go back and have him tell Leem it’s a day’sΒ train ride away instead of car ride, then we have a trajectory. Trains go along tracks, we establish the train goes through this town and the one we are going to, and we open up Leem to be able to mention that the town they are in also has a train stop, if it does (I think it does. I’d have to have Caitlin ask Leem for sure.) and we can move on from there. Jean gets the knowledge he needs to suggest they travel together and life goes on.

Now if he’d have just corrected me three days ago when I first made that mistake.

Breaking in new characters is hard. They never seem to believe me when I give them free reign to correct me and argue with me.

Except for Seth. Seth was born an insufferable ass.

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27 thoughts on “Breaking the rules: editing while writing

  1. Thank you for this post!
    I’m struggling with this kind of thing myself — trying to get a draft written up for something, and finding that in my interest to get certain scenes written (that I had all played out in my head already, since this was a story that had already told itself to me and I am just now getting onto the page) I’ve completely overlooked listening to my characters. And so I am stalling out, and trying to make them conform to the story as I think it’s supposed to be told, rather than how they are telling it. Time to sit back, step back, and let them tell me their story. Even if it means that chunks of what I’ve written will need to be thrown out later. I mean, my Main Character hasn’t even been able to give me her name yet… 25,000 words written and I have been calling her a name that clearly doesn’t fit.

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    • It’s very difficult, isn’t it? Seth started out life with his full name being la’Zane Seth’ra, which basically means he was practically a fanfic πŸ˜› As Asylum got going, he learned to open up and argue with me- still not sure how happy I am about that, but at least I know it’s true to character!

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  2. This is a fantastic post! I’ve had to to this myself with my characters but luckily it’s because sometimes when I realize that a scene isn’t working for whatever reason, I turn off the computer, sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and literally ‘write the scene out’. For some reason, my characters usually communicate better with me and I get all the details that for some reason just don’t work out as I am typing. I usually skip things when I’m typing like how the room looks (colors, objects in the room, etc.) then go back to that during editing because I’m usually more interested in what the characters have to say or my characters themselves say, “We don’t care about how the room looks! Write as we are talking!” They are so pushy. πŸ™‚

    I’m glad that you worked out your situation with Jean. A train ride can be loads of fun, time for snacks and talking and seeing beautiful scenery. I have never been to Europe either, but I do have several books on European culture, if that helps. (For instance, in most European places they won’t put ice in your water if you order it at a restaurant. I thought that was interesting. My BF (who was in Europe) said that his soda tasted horrible without ice because it was warm after 10 minutes.)

    At least Jean is a sweetie and not pushy. He might just take some time to open up. I know people like that in real life. Just give him some time to get comfortable and see what happens. He may just be a private guy. I’m glad you’ve mentioned Seth again. I miss him. πŸ™‚

    Eclecticalli– I get you when you say that you were calling a character by the wrong name. One of my main characters can’t decide on a birthday which is tough because now I want to throw her a party and we can’t decide on a date. I’ve been writing her for more than 10 years. ::facepalm::

    -Lili

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    • Oi! At least the nameless MC has only been kicking around since December or so… I think part of the problem is the story is told from her perspective, so it took a while before her name actually came up in anything. I’m just hoping to figure it out soon. Then maybe all these other names (minor characters, nations, wars, exports) will come to me.
      At least I know I have her dad’s name (that came pretty quickly.. but then, that’s his personality too… He’s going to make sure you know what he wants you to know about him) and another key character but… all the rest… yargh!

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      • Cait and I have always found the best way to get a char to cough up their name is to give them the wrong one- the less it suits them, the better!

        …of course, that’s how I wound up with a circus bear named Gary. Whatever πŸ˜›

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      • I think Gary is a perfectly acceptable circus bear name!
        I think I”m close with the name — she seems happy with her dad’s nickname for her (Lia), so.. it’s a start.. .it’s just the rest of the name that hasn’t formed quite right.

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      • With any luck, it will come- probably when you least expect it. Just be sure to write it down! Jon, from my NaNo, told me his last name once, and I was all “seriously? That’s your name?” And then promptly forgot it. Of course, since I made fun of him, he’s not sharing it a second time 😦

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      • Names–Yeah, I’ve had a problem with names, too. Sometimes a name can come when you least expect it, so as Raevenly said, be sure to write it down. You can even take a name that you know and ‘twist it around.’ I got one of my characters names from replacing one letter in the name ‘Bela.’
        Another REALLY fun technique is to go on Baby name websites. Two of my characters unique names I got from those sites. For my terrible character, I gave her the name Cybelle because I read on a website that it’s origins that it meant, “Mother of Monsters.” That fit her! Sometimes, though, you don’t HAVE to name the character. One book I read in college, the editor was unnamed throughout the whole book. Made it a guessing game to see if anyone would actually mention it. It made the story more mysterious to me.

        And Gary is a great name for a bear! πŸ™‚

        P.S. Seth, you are a doll! Mara and I are laughing because I wasn’t actually talking about her–I don’t need to give her any more excuses to party. I’m talking about my character that she can’t stand that basically crawled out of nowhere when I was much younger and decided to hijack my story. Mara wishes that she would crawl back to where ever she came from. Lol!

        -Lili

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  3. Seth, you are completely incorrigible and I love it! Kisses!
    And let me extend a fond wish of Happy Birthday from my Mara to you. (She’s throwing confetti in the air as we speak and raising her glass to you.)
    -Lili

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      • ::fangirl squee:: You think I’m kind. πŸ™‚

        Oct. 20 is a good day for a birthday. I bet it is all kinds of fun chaos. You may have been born before ‘birthdays’ were ‘invented.’ We didn’t always celebrate them. Hm…
        I really should just write you a letter because if you keep responding, then I’m going to keep responding too and this could end up going on for quite awhile…
        And don’t call Mara kind. She isn’t. Any excuse to get drunk and dance and she’s there. πŸ˜‰
        -Lili

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      • Never underestimate my ability to be droll, my dear.

        You are quite kind. Mara is quite Mara. I’m sure you both be pleased with those sentiments.

        Write me if you wish, you know where to find me. Mara, I believe I still owe you a letter, and I do sincerely apologize for its tardiness.
        -Seth

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  4. Wow. Way to go guys. Seth hasn’t been this talkative in _months_.
    **re-hijacks own blog**
    Gary may or may not be a cross-dressing circus bear. I was harassing him again this afternoon, asking if he at least had a stage name.

    LuLu.

    I don’t know what I’m going to do with all these weirdos in my head. πŸ˜›

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    • Lol! At least they are nice weirdos! πŸ™‚
      Gary is a crossdressing circus bear? Can he talk, then? Is he a talking bear? I never know if it’s like bears on our world that see humans and think, “Mmm, tasty to eat” or if they are like us, walking around, wearing clothes and talking and no one thinks it’s strange.
      Poor Seth. I was worried he was all depressed since he wasn’t talking. I’m glad that he’s back.
      Seth–Both Mara and I are laughing. You are correct that Mara is Mara. I am kind. I like this.
      From Mara-I wrote you again. I expect you to answer it because it has a fun invitation that I have extended to you. You’ll have fun, I guarantee it!
      (From Lili)–Please keep in mind that Mara’s definition of ‘fun’ is not what is considered so by normal,sane, healthy individuals.
      -Lili

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      • I look forward to this “fun”, whatever it may be. I always did love a challenge.
        -Seth


        **cough Prima Donna cough**

        ahem, anyways,

        Gary, like all of the performing “animals” in Cirque du Vols are [SPOILERS] erm, I mean, shapeshifters. So yeah, he can talk. And crossdress, apparently.

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      • πŸ™‚
        And just to let you know, Mara is either swearing at either Raevenly or Seth, whoever called her a Prima Donna. All right, she swears at both of you. At least she hates equally.

        I’m glad that everyone loves how crazy I can be. It feels good to know that others appreciate the weird.
        Hugs for both Raevenly and eclecticalli,
        -Lili

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  6. Well that makes Mara feel better!

    Now that she’s gone, I can say that the shoe fits Mara. You should see her–all decked out in a peacock dress (beautiful thing, though) slinky and sparkly. And her long red hair that is always perfectly in place. Girl is gorgeous. Def. Prima Donna, though. Lording her looks over other people. You think that she invented sexy the way that she just prances all over the place.

    Seth isn’t a Prima Donna! Nooo…he hasn’t been alive for years to be all Prima Donna-ish. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.) πŸ˜‰
    –Lili

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