I have yet to read Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, but I am quite enthralled by his blog. He’s witty, funny, and certainly helpful for those of us slogging through the novel process. His most recent post is about editing, and he hit it so spot on I started laughing (a little maniacally, I admit) while reading it. I’m glad to know that other people out there, especially those writing in fantasy and multi-POV styles, experience the same kind of borderline insanity that I do.

Currently, I’m in stage four, according to Joe:

4. Character Pass. And now we come to the meat of the exercise. You have to imagine me being interviewed, probably on a darkened stage with a single spotlight, in a black leather armchair like Mastermind, by Melvyn Bragg, possibly? I’m wearing a corduroy suit and a thoughtful yet slightly sour expression like I just tasted a fine wine and detected the slightest aroma of piss about it. And I say something like, “well, you understand, Melvyn, this is when I take on the mantles of my various characters, this is when I absorb them into my id. This is when I become them … Or do they become me?” (humbly apologetic smile, round of applause from the sycophantic audience, you get the idea). Basically I try and get as complete a sense of each point of view character as possible in mind, often taking one particular chapter that worked particularly well as a model. Then I spend a few days going through every chapter and part of chapter from their point of view trying to get as strong a sense of that character down on the page. Usually involves some cutting down, some tinkering with the prose style to try and get it consistent across every appearance of that character, some work on the dialogue to get the voice right, some application of clever tricks and catch-phrases, or repeating constructions, and so forth.

Also during this phase, and particularly with the three more important characters, I’ll be trying to draw out some of the theme relating to that character a bit more strongly, especially early on when I wasn’t (ahem) totally sure what their themes would, like, be. I will be trying to sketch their arcs more distinctly. Trying to boil them down to a more decisive essence of person. Melvyn. Whoever said I was pretentious? I’m just like any other master craftsman or great artist at work…

When this pass is done the book should hopefully be coming together nicely.

I’m currently on Chapter Eighteen, approximately 100,450 words in to the final book (the original was 32 chapters I think, so I’m actually cutting a few, and axed two POVs…). All the “finished” chapters are lined up so pretty in Scrivener, and it makes me feel fulfilled and happy. For a moment anyway. Until the real editing starts, I suppose.

I have a very hard time letting go and admitting defeat; or, rather, admitting that things need to go. I hacked 10,000 words tonight, of my own volition, after sitting down and having a heart-to-heart with The Aldersgate. Defeat is definitely the wrong word here because I’m fairly certain that this work is going to lead to better things: most importantly clarity, character, and cohesiveness.

This is my problem: I try to do too much. And this, I think, is connected to the way my girl brain works. I am indeed, how Wil Wheaton put it, “A ferret on meth.” Except I don’t take meth, and am not, at last check, much of a rodent. I’m always balancing a thousand things at once, and often, I flourish in the chaos–my brain actually works better when I’m busy, ideas come more easily, dialogue flows better. But it also means I sleep less, forget more, and am often an incessant chatter-box. I’m a consummate multitasker.

But there is a tipping point. The first draft of the book had five main POVs; at one point, this current draft had nine.

I am not, I repeat, NOT George R. R. Martin.

My ferret brain is a ferret brain, and there is a point where I just can’t keep it up. So. Axe, axe, axe. I took away the narratives that were turning into character sketches and not moving the plot along very well. What ultimately decided the deal for me was, oddly enough, the podcast. I started listening to the chapters as if I were an audience and not the author and realized–heck, I’ve got to make this more interesting. If I keep introducing characters at this rate, the reader will fall asleep because nothing is happening.

And honestly? I feel like I can breathe better now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love characters. Putting these folks on the back burner breaks my heart. I get attached, feel motherly toward, and even get occasionally get crushes (very… weird, yes… but I admit it, and I’m told I’m not the only one) on my characters. But it’s not like I’m killing these folks. No, they’re just receding to the background and not getting a POV because their stories can be told through the eyes of other POVs.

I’ve probably stopped making sense by this point. I suppose, what I’m trying to say is that, if you’re at a point where you feel like you’re stuck in the mire (which I certainly have been feeling) sometimes you need to step away and put on another set of goggles (go go steampunk metaphors!). Telling stories is hard business, and telling them right is even harder.

Words are not nearly as precious as the stories they tell, and sometimes the words have to be rewritten… and rewritten… and rewritten, until they’re right. In that way writing is much like sculpture. The work is there, in the stone–you just have to chip away until you find it. And then there are even times that the stone you’re working with isn’t even worth the work, and you have to start from scratch.

But you keep going. Because well… it’s your art.

Writing. It’s what I do.