Editing: The Evolution of a Story

I've spent the past few weeks under the radar for various reasons, but edits have had a great deal to do with it.

Trapped between the grindstones this month, a novella that has a relatively shallow past with me. It hasn't been around all that long, I didn't play around with it much before I just churned it out.

That's not my modus operandi, to be blunt. I don't do my best work that way. Thus, the edits are exhaustive, and have resulted in the story's growth, on a number of levels.

Yeah, the word count swelled with every page I edited.

But it was more than just fluff. In fact, a good bit of my efforts have involved cutting back and tightening the prose where I can. And yet the length increases.

I think this quote from Stephen King doesn't just apply from a reader's perspective. As an artist, writing is much like any other medium. Some stories aren't just all there from inception, adhering to the predetermined outline. Certainly mine are not.

Instead, my stories evolve as they're written. As the characters flesh out, they take control and make their own decisions, dictate what they'll say, what they do, how they do it. Toss a couple of those on the page together, and a writer (well, this one at least) swiftly discovers that the story being told isn't at all the one that they started out telling, and in fact may bear little or no resemblance to its predecessor.

All the sudden the story is whispering things, themes that weren't even planned now echoing through the subtext. Monsters lurking in the shadows, and wraiths in the basement. Don't go down into the cellar alone, and make sure you knock first.

In the initial editing round, I doubled the length of the story, from a short to a novella. One of the secondary characters I introduced in the newer text decided that their sex/gender was irrelevant, and presents as neutral. This is very challenging in a third-person construction, limiting referential options in the prose. On some level, I dislike it. And yet it won't slide past unnoticed by the reader, which I feel makes a crucial statement. Here I go playing with the reader assumptions and perspectives again. Just a little bit. I swear.

I just find myself wondering what else this story will decide needs saying before I'm done with it...
And of course, that's half the adventure. Discovering the story as I write it, following along on the adventure every bit as much as the reader eventually will. Actually, I get more adventure than the reader does, because I get the fun of exploring all the options that don't end up in the final version as well.

Sadly, there's little room for actual sex in this novella. Too much blood spatter, arterial spray and close quarters combat...