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


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.

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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