Story Process Sunday: Dubious italics, and why not looking at your novel for nine months is a really good idea

No Sneak Peek this week, because we don’t have anything currently going that we can talk about in detail that we haven’t already shared with you. But we are going to do a Story Process Sunday instead, so we can talk a little more about our process, motivate ourselves to get stuff done, and pass along some of what works for us.

This week we’ve been in the deep weeds of edits on Starling. We did the bigger changes our editor asked for, and now we’re going through the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. We’ve written several books since we wrote Starling together, and we’ve learned a lot about writing since then. A lot of the work is going back and applying what we know now to the work we did then.

One of our biggest sins is what Racheline has started to call “dubious italics,” which I really think we should make a drinking game out of, except that if we did, there are so many words we’re de-italicizing that I would be phenomenally drunk by the third page of the manuscript.

We’re leaving in a few, for emphasis in dialogue when someone’s being particularly catty or whiny. For the most part, though, they’re coming out.

Putting the italics in to note emphasis is, for the most part, directing from the page, which is not good. We can give the reader these characters, but we have to leave room for the reader to bring them to life too.

When a screenwriter finishes a script, it eventually goes from his hands into the hands of the actors and the director, who add their own interpretation to the words on the page. It’s their job, like it’s the scriptwriter’s job to give them words and setting in the first place. And if the writer has written well, it should be either evident where the emphasis falls and what the emotional options are from the dialogue alone, or there should be a range of amazing possibilities present that is the job of these other professionals to figure out and choose between.

It’s the same with books. If we’re writing well, we don’t need to hit the readers over the head with what words are important. The readers should be able to tell from the words themselves.

This whole exercise, as miserable and headache inducing as it is, is also a really good example of why, once you finish a piece, you really should stick it in a drawer and leave it there for a good long while before you come back to it.

We submitted Starling to Torquere last October. I’d looked at it a few times since then, to check continuity details for subsequent books. Racheline hadn’t looked at it at all until last Saturday when we opened the document from our editor.

When you go back to a piece after so long away, you see stuff you’d missed the first two or eight or thirty times you’d edited it before. And yes, this is the advice you get everywhere, but just today we found a sentence and had a horrified email exchange because WAIT THIS SENTENCE THAT WE’VE READ EIGHTEEN TIMES IS NOT ACTUALLY TRUE OH GOD.

Stuff slips through the cracks. Your eyes glaze over rereading that scene about the thing for the sixth time. Stepping away and coming back fresh goes a long way to finding things you hadn’t even realized needed fixing.


This entry was posted in books, Cowriting, lgbtq, Love in Los Angeles, Starling, Story Process Sunday, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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