Friday, 13 July 2007

The three Cs of rewriting

The good news for my fans is that I have now finished the first draft of The Infinite Day, and with college now over for the summer I am now working full-time on tidying it up. What does this involve? Well as a lay preacher, I tend to see things in threes, all beginning with the same letter. And here I am aiming for the three Cs.

1) Concision

Although we use concise a lot, the noun concision is not an everyday word, which is a pity because it is a useful one. The dictionary defines concision ‘as terseness and economy in writing and speaking achieved by expressing a great deal in just a few words’. Just so: in other words, it is the art of summarising something very complicated in such a way that the reader grasps it in a paragraph instead of having to wade through six pages. In writing things down for the first time you tend to be profligate with words. In rewriting, you try and boil your descriptions and dialogue down to the bare minimum. Sometimes concision requires that a prized bit of writing gets the axe!

2) Clarity

There are all sorts of things here. So, if you are describing a meeting, clarity involves making it absolutely obvious who is saying what. Or, if it’s an action sequence, where more or less everybody is and who does what to whom. The last thing you want is readers to pause with furrowed brow and backtrack for a couple of paragraphs until they are absolutely certain what is going on. (Incidentally, this is the real problem with experimental writing: it’s just too much like hard work.) Fairly obviously, clarity and concision can work against each other. Concision demands that something be described briefly, whereas clarity may require lots of words.

3) Consistency

I could use the more filmic word ‘continuity’. At one level, consistency is very easy, if hard work. It is to make sure that the facts match throughout the book. So at a simple level, it is to ensure that a character who has dark hair at the start still has dark hair at the end. But it gets more complicated. Do people speak in a particular voice? Is that consistent throughout? Or do they have similar mannerisms, likes and dislikes throughout? Or imagine A meets B briefly in chapter 1: the astute reader will spot the mistake if when they meet again, twenty chapters later, they have to be introduced. Needless to say in an epic trilogy such as mine, which must be heading for 650,000 words total, the question is not whether there will be continuity errors but how many will there be. (As another aside, my recollection is that there were a large number of continuity errors in the first version of Lord of the Rings, which were only tightened up in later editions.)

That’s all for this week. Hopefully, the manuscript will be in a fit state to print out and give it to my wife on Monday, who is anxiously awaiting it. Fortunately, or otherwise, the weather is so appalling at the moment that there is no temptation to hanker for the great outdoors!