May 19, 2011

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The Emotional Depths of Deep Editing

I recently went to a writers retreat in Pacific Grove, CA. The topic was how to bring emotional depth to your writing, or something along those lines. I’m a sucker for trying out things to bring more emotional depth to my characters so I signed up. In class that morning, I was all ready to learn secret NYT bestsellers techniques that would give my characters such emotional realism that they would literally have to reach out from the page to hand my sobbing (or laughing) readers a hanky to dry their tears so they could finish reading the rest of the book. What I got was a color-coded deep editing technique for analyzing how much internal thoughts/backstory, dialogue, action, setting/description, visceral physiological responses, and tension I had on every page. Yikes! Those who know my writing style know that I hate, well dislike intensely, editing my work. I’ve always felt that editing was akin to being strapped down to an uncomfortable chair and forced to see a agonizingly boring movie (such as War and Peace, the silent version, with no music, and dialogue cards written in Russian) over and over again.

This said, I was surprised to find that it was helpful to have a visual aid to see what was happening on the page. Just looking at the different colors in a holistic manner (oooh see the pretty highlighter colors…) allowed me to get a good idea if my narrative was doing the job I wanted it to do for the scene. Too much backstory or internal musings would result in looking at a big puddle of yellow

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. I learned to avoid those when my puppies were being house-trained, I learned to avoid them on the page.

In the beginning I groused to my unlucky table partners about the mega-horrendous thought of highlighting my entire manuscript-in-progress. But after some internal processing and a few sugary treats, I started to see the wisdom of the process. It was a struggle, but now I have to admit I feel a teensy bit of excitement, a little surge of adrenaline causing tingly sensations all over my body, when I pull out my handful of bright highlighters and get ready to mark up a scene.

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