Writing ‘Red Star Falling’: Part Three

I heard back from my edit­or yes­ter­day. He’ll be tak­ing a look at my final­ised manu­script on the bank hol­i­day week­end (next week). Ahead of those edits, won­der­ing what they might be, I thought it would be use­ful to post anoth­er instal­ment of my writ­ing journ­al.

In the last excerpt, I had fin­ished the first draft of the story, which came in at 15,000 words. I next turned to the prob­lem of deal­ing with an edit­or.

Thursday, 4th April

For my next trick, I’ve been in con­tact with an edit­or. A few things are rolling around my head on this sub­ject. First of all, the cost. It’s expens­ive.

As I’m going to pub­lish this short story (call­ing it a novella, now!) to the Amazon Kindle—i.e., in elec­tron­ic format—it needs to be in good shape. That means edit­ing. What does an edit­or do? Well, there are dif­fer­ent types of edit­ing. There’s noth­ing about these types that a writer can’t do alone (indeed, many writers edit the work of oth­ers, too), but they usu­ally find it dif­fi­cult because they lack per­spect­ive. The edit­or gives a kind of ‘san­ity check’. They work as a pro­fes­sion­al, exper­i­enced sound­ing board. I liken them to record pro­du­cers. They don’t fun­da­ment­ally change the text itself, but they lend it a cer­tain per­spect­ive that can be help­ful. They sug­gest dele­tions, addi­tions, and so on.

Is it worth it? Undoubtedly. As a writer, I feel it’s my duty to get my work into the best shape pos­sible. If my story were a box­er, this would be about hir­ing the best train­er.

Friday, 5th April

It’s a struggle to make the story as alive as it can be; what is the best way of present­ing it?

I’ll need to increase the ten­sion in cer­tain parts. I’ll prob­ably do this by set­ting the char­ac­ters against one anoth­er rather more. The final scene, in par­tic­u­lar, is a bit too friendly.

I go on to write:

There’s a char­ac­ter I’ll prob­ably delete, and anoth­er I need to be very care­ful about. His iden­tity is

(Redacted.)

For that [redac­ted] to work, his motiv­a­tions need to seem con­sist­ent dur­ing the ini­tial read (when the read­er thinks [redac­ted]) and also when the read­er goes back over their memory of his actions and thinks, ‘Aha!’ My mod­el for this ‘Aha!’ moment is the reveal at the end of The Usual Suspects. That is to say that I aspire to cre­ate the same effect.

Good luck with that.

During this stage, the story tends to dog my thoughts and give rise to that faraway look that friends often com­ment on. The story is a multi-piece jig­saw puzzle where I’m allowed to change the size of the pieces as well as their arrange­ments. There’s no way this can hap­pen con­sciously. You have to let your uncon­scious per­col­ate.

One more thing is hap­pen­ing. As I become more famil­i­ar with the story—dream about it, pon­der about it dur­ing idle moments—I think of cer­tain meta­phor­ic­al con­nec­tions that could be made. For instance, I’ve decided that Saskia should be ‘awoken’ at the begin­ning of the story by a vase of flowers fall­ing over. Not entirely sure, at this stage, wheth­er the flowers should be red or white. Anyway, it com­ple­ments the end­ing of the story, where [redac­ted].

Sunday, 28th April

I often recall some­thing that Steve Jobs said about design­ing a product. Good design, he claimed, is about leav­ing things out. By elim­in­at­ing what is not great, you leave the great bits. I’m often reminded of this when I read stu­dent work, like an essay. I’ll look at a para­graph and think, ‘You should have left that out,’ because the oth­er para­graphs were writ­ten at the top of your game; they work well. Only leave in the stuff that works well. If some­thing doesn’t work—a char­ac­ter, scene, metaphor—then you can try to fix it, but must always remem­ber that dele­tion is also a fix.

Structurally, I’ve decided not to include some flash­backs (of the future, where the main char­ac­ter comes from). This should give the story a tight­er, more focused feel. You can’t have too much focus.

I’m aim­ing for this story to work in the same way that a third act works.

The final draft was 20,000 words. That’s the ver­sion I sent to the edit­or.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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