Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Things I learn while editing

I am finally nearly finished Jambalaya Justice, the followup to Gumbo Justice, and am editing, first for continuity, to make sure I haven't changed a name or left out anything important. I follow a pretty strict outline, so the first is probably a lot more likely to happen than the second, but I do end up changing some things, so making sure I don't change something later in the novel that makes a difference to something I wrote earlier is still important.

I caught a few issues, the main one being my propensity to use "S" names. I had already used a lot of "S" names in Gumbo Justice, and obviously I couldn't change the names of those characters now. But I found myself gravitating to "S" names again, so I had to go through the manuscript and change some names of key characters. It's difficult, because you already see the person as that name, but if I have to change a name, I always try to come up with a name that I think fits the character just as well. Occasionally, I'll find a more common name that I've accidentally used more than once for peripheral characters or someone that doesn't appear "on screen" but is mentioned, and a lot of times I can just remove the name and it doesn't matter.

One thing that I had to change shows up in the first third of the book, which was written last year, and it was a nasty comment made by Ryan's nemesis, Kellie Leblanc. Kellie was making fun of Ryan's big butt when she bent over, and made a remark about Ryan's big moon in the sky causing a tsunami in Japan. I am so glad the book took longer to write than I had thought, or that comment would have been in there, and history would not have changed. So that comment would have been in the book when the real tsunami happened, and I would have felt horrible.

It did make me realize that an offhand comment by a character in a book can end up being much more than that. At the time I originally wrote it, there hadn't been a tsunami in Japan for a long time, but I knew that it was a place that did have tsunamis. I guess I could have used Hawaii or even the west coast, but it would have still been as bad after what's happened now. It's making me go back through the manuscript and check out any other sarcastic comments to make sure they don't have the potential to blow up in my face.

I remember for September 11 there had been a movie about to be released and it either had a scene about someone blowing up the twin towers or something to that effect, and either the producers took the scene out or scrapped the whole movie. I don't recall now, but I remember at the time it was a big deal.

I guess the lesson is we're responsible for everything our characters say, even those characters who are jerks. I guess there's a line to be considered, though, for instance, say someone is writing about an assassination, and after the book is published a real assassination of the same or a similar person occurs. Does that mean no one should ever write about assassinations for entertainment? Lots of thrillers, especially political thrillers, focus on assassinations or attempted assassination.

Ultimately, I think if you are writing about something that could happen, and it's something horrendous, as long as it's something integral to your plot, you go with it. Otherwise, we'd never write about anything. On other hand, if it's something trite like a character's mean attempt at humor, it might be better to go another way. I did change the line, and it still gets Kellie's meanness across without, I think, possibly offending the world.

Next, I am editing to cut the story down, because it's a little longer than I want it to be, but hopefully that will go faster.

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