Writing as Editing

As a beginning fiction writer four years ago, I had no book author skills. What I brought to my new profession was experiences living and reading thousands of books, and knowing what I enjoyed reading. I began putting down stories because I could not find enough books to read that fulfilled my interests. So, I sat down to tell stories I wanted to read. These tales of swordsmen and swordswomen wandering dangerous lands, meting out justice and meeting exciting characters spilled out of me quickly.

But, editing was slow, frustrating, and limited. I mostly looked for typos, spelling, grammar, and plot errors. My creative process resulted in plots that moved from a beginning setup, through middle complications, cumulating in conflict, and final resolution. I tried to build tension, give fight scenes to resolve tension with antagonists, and carefully study the terrain and locations my characters would have to traverse. However, I was not editing to improve the story, or bring the characters or scenes to life.

I have enjoyed working with my editor over the last few years. EJ Runyan has supported my writing with permission to write raw and fast, those stories in my head. She says, ‘first you have to get it out on the page.’ Then we’ve worked together to turn it into a great story. Part of that editing process has been to convert telling scenes into showing scenes. I think of it as living in the scene, not telling about the scene. We work on making sure the action or decisions in the scene contribute to future aspects of the story. It’s important to have the motivations and intentions of the characters drive the scene. This process of editing, while time-consuming, results in more satisfying stories with life, grit, and staying power.

I will share some scenes from my stories and try to show the type of revision which have been carried out during the editing process. This first scene is from Asante’s Gullah Journey. Beneda the farmer and archer, with her friends, is making the final assault to liberate the Library from Cootuh and his henchmen.

Cootuh spots two people coming his way as he moves around the building. Beneda! Beside her strides Hector with a huge club.

Cootuh freezes and waves his two men forward. Jeremiah, stopping also, pushes his two toward Hector. Cootuh moves closer to the wall on his left. Maybe, if I duck right quick, the wall’ll stop that club.

As Hector swings wildly, Cootuh sees Beneda’s raised her bow. In an instant Cootuh’s he’s looking at a arrowtip aimed his way.

As she releases, Malcolm smashes into her from behind. The arrow plants in the ground, inches from Cootuh’s boot.foot.

A man bounces from the wall in front of Cootuh’s men. Damn! Looking over he realizes Hector’s alone, except for this one a man hanging on his back. Jeremiah’s eyes meet his. He’s asking what to do. “There!” Cootuh commands.

On trembling legs, Jeremiah steps in front of Hector. But he only blocks the huge man for a second. That club crashes down on his shoulder and Jeremiah drops like a felled tree. Out cold.

Wait!” Cootuh shouts Hector flings the last man off his back. Off and away. “Wait!” Cootuh shouts. It works, Hector freezes with club raised.

There’s movement and grunting, out of the corner of his eye, Cootuh noticeshears Malcolm on top of Beneda. Sees both her hands grip his wrist. Malcolm’s small knife close to her face. With the free hand he hits the girl’s her head and chest.

Hector. We friends.” Cootuh’s spread splayed his hands apart wide, eyes opened as wide as they’ll go.

Shaking his head and the club, Hetor growls, “No.”

You worked for me.” Cootuh forces a distorted smile. “The farmers killed Brutha.” Cootuh casts his face toward Beneda as she struggles on the ground. Cootuh’s thinking the knife in his hand is a twin to Malcolm’s but his won’t stop Hector.

No!” With Hector’s shout comes a jolt of pain in Cootuh’s hand. Hector’s club has smashed down.

As Cootuh backs away, another black shape comes moving rapidly toward the struggling pair on the ground.

Malcolm!” His shout too late. The old attacker has thrust a Bowie knife into Malcolm’s kidney back. That old man, what helped the scout and the librarian woman. Now Hector’s closer.

Careful where he steps, No mora this! Cootuh’s turned now, Feets! Not caring to see or hear more, he tilts full speed, heading to the creek.

This next scene is from A Dangerous Way. The Library Scout, William Way, has been captured and placed with someone who should be his enemy, Meredith. Instead, they work together to achieve their freedom.

She goes to the At the door, Meredith cries out in a high, strangled voice, “Help, he’s getting away!” She keeps repeatedly calling for help, “Guard! Guard! Jonny! Quickly!” repeatedly until the guards open the door. Then as she Meredith runs toward the window, they step in pointing and yelling even louder, they both step in and survey the room. All the furniture has been piled up in strange lumps. around the room. She points again. at the window they Fredrico looks but sees nothing but a cloth blanket hanging from the window rod. As they’ve planned things, it can’t be seen whether the window’s is broken or not. As he walks to inspect it window Jonny stands back three steps from the door.

Suddenly William leaps steps out from behind the mattress and launches himself. Jonny the guard at the door holds his sword in low guard toward the left. William comes at him, from the right locks his arm between their two bodies. William He uses both hands to choke out the man. As he falls, Fredrico spins. while looking to the right. The man Jonny, beneath him, struggles less and less, finally going limp. But the other guard heads moves in their direction. With only three long steps between them, Fredrico he will reach William in seconds.

Unexpectedly, that one gets a burning lamp wick against his cheek. Meredith has grabbed the flame and used it as a weapon.

In the near dark, the guard Fredrico sweeps around and strikes Meredith down. As his he is turned back is turned, William leaps. jumps on him Clamping Fredrico in a headlock, and applies applying a choke hold between his forearm and bicep. After a few seconds, the man slumps down. The flickering lamp wick lies on the floor beside Meredith’s body.

Quickly Picking up the damaged lamp, William quickly kneels. She feebly looks up at the feeble light.

You saved my life,” he says. to her.

We can escape now?” she asks.

Yes, we‘re are not prisoners anymore,” says William. William says to her.

Good… it is Good to be free,” Her eyes close. William feels her neck. artery and there is no pulse. No pulse.

I have been learning how to craft stories to bring scenes more to life. My goal is now to live the scene, not explain the scene to the reader. It turns out that the editing step is a key to good writing.


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