Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Removing the Scaffolding

Hi all, Today I welcome C.M. Keller. She's here to write about Removing the Scaffolding and to market her new book, Screwing Up Time.





Mark Montgomery is a slacker content with his life. He’s a senior at New Haven Prep, has a great friend, and after graduation he’ll get a brand new sports car from his parents, assuming he stays out of trouble. Then, she comes into his life—Miranda with her I-just-escaped-from-a-Renaissance-Fair clothing. Only, she hasn’t. She has come from Bodiam Castle in the Middle Ages and demands a secret ingredient and a book of recipes for traveling through the treacherous colors of time. Although Mark has never even heard of either before, he must find them, or Miranda will die. To save her, Mark must break into a psych hospital to visit his grandfather who once tried to kill him, pass through the colors of time, take on a medieval alchemist, prevent Miranda’s marriage to a two-timing baron, and keep it all hidden from his parents. The sports car is definitely in trouble.

Screwing Up Time is available on Kindle and Nook

Now, without further ado, here's C.M. Keller on Removing the Scaffolding:



First of all, I’d like to thank Misha for allowing me to guest blog for her today. I hope to share some of what I’ve learned in my years of writing—just because I had to bang my head against the wall of writing ignorance doesn’t mean you have to.


Every writer knows that after we finish the first draft, we need to edit. We have to fill the landslide-sized plot holes, rid our manuscript of characters whose original purpose we’ve forgotten, and murder our darlings. But this post addresses the editing that comes after that. The editing that we sometimes avoid because it’s tedious and because the next novel is already seducing us. (Resist your lust for new plot lines a bit longer.)

These secondary edits are an opportunity to take your writing to the next level. I call this stage “removing the scaffolding.” Think of it this way, when art restorers finish repairing a frescoed ceiling, they have to take down the scaffolding. Otherwise, no one can see the fresco. Similarly, writers need to remove their scaffolding—the words and phrases that supported the first draft. For example, when I’m writing a first draft and can’t think of the perfect word/phrase, I substitute an adequate one. This isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a good thing because it keeps me from getting bogged down and I can get the story on paper while the passion and energy are hot. (If you struggle with this, I’d recommend Stephen King’s book On Writing.) But once the story’s on paper, those supports have to go.

Every writer has his/her own structural supports, but here are some that writers, myself included, often use. For example, to provide the “beats” the dialogue needs, I often have a character make a physical movement. However, by the end of the first draft I have so many shook his/her heads that the characters’ necks should’ve snapped and their skulls ought to be rolling on the ground. I also end up with more look/looked/looking than you’d believe possible. Not to mention the myriads of he/she ran a hand through his/her hair—they do this so often, you’d think every character must have a serious case of eczema or lice. 

If you’re nodding your head and thinking “I do that too,” don’t be discouraged. Remember those supports were important—they were the scaffolding that held the story together as you wrote it. But now, they must be removed. So how do you go about it? One way I’ve seen writers deal with word repetitions is to use synonyms. And “looked” becomes glanced, perused, spied, peeked, peeped, etc., etc. Do NOT do this. All it does is tell the reader that you have a really good thesaurus. The way to a beautiful novel is to replace the adequate beats and repetitions with texture. In other words, the beat must advance the plot or teach the reader more about the character. If not, it’s called a “cheap beat” and says “I’m An Amateur” in blinking neon lights. 

Good beats read like this:

            “You mean you’ve—” Martin swallowed and his necktie climbed his swollen gorge.  

From Beyond the Bedroom Wall by Larry Woiwode, National Book Award finalist. Here we know that not only is Martin surprised and upset, he’s so straight-laced that with a big swallow, his too-tight tie climbs his neck.

            “...He decided one day to join the black horses in the mountains. One night during a terrible storm he was struck by lightning. The lightning burned him all black. He was killed. That is the end of the story.”

            There was silence. Through my open windows came the murmurous sounds of the surf.
            “I don’t like that story,” I said finally.

From Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok. Here the silence and the sounds give us the melancholy mood and foreshadow the boy’s response.

(Emerson and Amelia are discussing how to preserve a painting.)

            “A solution is precisely what it is. A mixture of weak tapioca and water, brushed on the painting—”

             “You said brushing marred the paint.”

            “I brush it on with my finger.”

             I starred at him with reluctant admiration.

             “You are determined, I’ll say that for you.”

From Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, New York Times bestselling author. Here we see the repartee both spoken and unspoken between the characters—and we get the sense that they have a unique but happy relationship.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s hard to write like that. Yeah, it is. But you can do it. After all, if you’ve completed a novel, the hardest part is already behind you. Do it. You know you can.

For more information on “scaffold editing,” I highly recommend the book Don’t Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden, a former independent book editor for authors published by St. Martin’s, Midnight Ink, Viking, Intrigue, Rodale, and others. 



Thanks so much for the great post, Connie! Good luck with your sales!

I know that I can sometimes overuse some of my beats. I really have to pay attention to them when I edit. Which beats do you overuse?

8 comments:

Rachna Chhabria said...

Had never heard of Scaffold Editing. Love the title of your book. It sounds intriguing. Good luck with your book :)

Connie Keller said...

Rachna-

I'm not sure if I thought of the metaphor on my own--I'm sure I didn't--but I couldn't find it in any of my writing books. In any case, I hope it's as helpful a visual image of editing for you as it is for me.

Madeleine said...

I like the sound of scaffold editing. Great advice and the book sounds intriguing too. :O)

Em-Musing said...

Great ways to illustrate your points, I say as I nod my head and run my fingers through my lice infested hair. :)

Terry W. Ervin II said...

Like the cover.

Scaffolding, a good way to describe it.

Connie Keller said...

Madeleine--I'm glad the metaphor helps.

Em-Musing--Thanks! Delousing:something every writer's gotta do. :)

Michael Offutt said...

oh my...I feel like you read my mind when writing this blog on writing tips.

Connie Keller said...

Terry--Thanks, I had a great graphic designer. She practically read my mind. If you're interested there's a link to her website on my book blog.

Michael--I'm glad.