For the past few weeks, I’ve spent every free moment I have at my laptop. I wish I could say I was consumed with the fire of creating a new novel. I wish I could, but the truth is I’ve been doing my least favorite part of my job as a writer. I’ve been doing the thing that makes writing feel like a job; editing.
Believe it or not, writing the novel is the easy part. With enough motivation and the time to go with it, I can produce a halfway decent novel in fairly short order. That might sound like an impressive accomplishment, but the luster fades when you realize that rough draft is very rough.
Writing a novel is about more than telling the story. It’s about telling it well and making the readers feel as if they’re a part of the story. The only way to give readers the story they deserve is to edit that story, and editing is so much more than making sure there aren’t any grammar, spelling or punctuation mistakes. It’s about character and plot development and a story that flows well with good scene transitions. It’s about being entertaining and finding a way to give the readers enough for them to understand and empathize but not too much to lose their interest.
Like writing a story, editing a story can be somewhat subjective. Case in point; the said tag debate. The said tag is what writers use to identify the speakers in a conversation. For example, “I don’t like beets,” John said. “Why not?” Mary asked. And so on and so forth.
There are some editors who will tell you not to use the said tags when only two characters are speaking. Not only do too many said tags get to be tedious, but they demean the readers who are smart enough to know which character is speaking. Conversely, some editors will tell writers to use those said tags often so as not to confuse the readers. This very thing happened to me. The last editor I worked with insisted I minimize the use of the pesky said tags so that I could improve the appearance and flow of the story. I applied this model to subsequent stories only to be told by my newest agent that I wasn’t using them enough which was creating confusion in my novel. Color me surprised!
As if that wasn’t enough of a shock, it was also recently suggested to me that I needed to confine my said tag identifiers to the words said, asked and whispered. If you haven’t guessed, the said tag identifier is the word that tells readers what type of dialogue has been spoken. John said he doesn’t like beets. Said is the identifier. Mary asked why he didn’t like them. Asked is the identifier.
When I first started out as a writer, these were the most common identifiers I used. Then I started to get feedback from editors who said I needed to show readers how the characters were interacting. To do that, I needed to expand on my said tag identifiers. Instead of saying John asked where Mary was, I could say that John demanded to know where she was. Then Mary could retort it was none of his business instead of it being something she simply said.
Now it seems I’m back to square one and back to the basics of said, asked and whispered. As frustrating as this is, and I’m not going to deny it’s a bit frustrating, it’s part of the editing process.
More importantly, I’m going to defer to my agent on this one. If my agent says this is what publishers want then I’ll spend all the time necessary making these changes. I might be good at telling stories, but my agent is skilled at knowing what publishers want and giving it to them. Funny though, how it all comes down to a case of he said/she said.