I concede the above title is not the most fun one I have ever invented but I hope my thoughts in my Fairytales with Bite (judgement) and This World and Others (self-censorship) prove useful.
All writers sit in judgement on themselves. Sounds harsh but it is true. We have to judge what is relevant for our stories and articles etc so we can edit efficiently and well.
The thought of judgement came up for this post partly as a result of Part 2 of my Chandler’s Ford Today interview with Gill James. This does look at censorship, including the self-imposed variety, as we continue to discuss writing historical fiction and its joys and woes. (One great joy, which is also a woe, is being tempted to use all of that lovely research which was needed to write the book but, if it were included, would weigh said book down and put readers off with far too much information). I also talk more about this issue on my This World and Others site.
This question of judgement is a strange one for writers. In many ways we are the worst people to do it. Why? I think it fair to say most writers swing between thinking everything we write is total rubbish or, conversely, is a work of genius and not one word must be cut!
The truth, as with most things, is somewhere in the middle! Yes, you’ve got good work here but it does need at least one damned good edit to get rid of what your reader doesn’t really need to know to enjoy and get the most out of the story/article. The judgement is in working out what is needed to be known and what isn’t. This is where that phrase “never be afraid to kill your darlings” comes in. Everything has to be relevant to the story. Everything has to move it on in some way. Whatever is not doing either of those things (and ideally both) is what comes out.
I’ve also found I have to put work away for a while before being able to read it again with a less prejudiced eye. I try to read what I’ve written, after said suitable gap, as if I was the reader, as if I’d NOT written it and I ask myself questions as I go through the piece (mainly is this relevant? Do I need to know this? Would the story sag without this information etc etc? What do I make of the characters now I am reading their story in the cold light of day so to speak?).
It has taken me a while to realise I cannot judge my story or article immediately. I really must put it away for a bit but it does mean when I return to it, I can wear my editor’s hat comfortably and get on with what I know needs to be done: getting rid of the rubbish I wrote in that first draft!
Part of my interview with Gill James on Chandler’s Ford Today for this week looks at the issue of censorship, including the self-imposed variety. Is there ever a case for doing this? I think so – and I recommend a read of the interview so you can see what Gill thinks about it. Her experience of writing historical fiction is based on writing her book The House on Schellberg Street, which is set in Germany throughout World War Two, so censorship would have been an issue for her characters and something they had to work with.
In many ways, any writer who edits their work (and I would hope that is all of us!) self-censors. We look at the way we originally wrote a piece, realise we can write it with stronger words and so on and cut out the deadwood. We deliberately make choices as to what remains. Also we have to work out what our reader really does need to know about our characters to get the most out of the story. I can’t think of any fiction writer who, preparing biographies for their characters (whether detailed or a simpler outline), puts every single thing into their stories! They would become top-heavy with information for a start. As for word count restrictions forget it, you’d never meet them if every single thing you created went into your finished piece.
The important thing, I feel, is whether writing non-fiction or fiction, is to ask yourself if the information is relevant to the reader? If you left the information out, would the article or story still stand? If the answer to that is no, then the information goes in and stays in!
CHANDLER’S FORD TODAY/FACEBOOK – GENERAL
Part 2 of my interview with Gill James looks at the issue of censorship. Gill also shares her joys and woes when it comes to writing historical fiction and also offers some very useful tips for writers new to the genre. I hope to be writing more “writing in other genres” posts for CFT later in the year, including crime and ghost stories. Will post more details when I have them.
FACEBOOK – FROM LIGHT TO DARK AND BACK AGAIN
I share some thoughts on competitions and whether titles count as part of a word count limit in tonight’s post.