A Video Editor’s Insight On Writing

Season of the Serpent: Book Two is finished!

I know there are at least a handful of readers anxiously waiting for it to come out. However, I’m especially excited that it’s finished because I can finally get my life back. Yay!

The manuscript has been mailed out for final editing (thanks Carol). Then the paperback and ebook will need to be formatted. Hopefully with no delays, (fingers crossed) Book Two will be available by the end of September, 2013, early October at the very latest.

Let me just state the obvious for the record: writing a book(s) is hard work! Particularly since I’m not a writer by trade. I’m a video editor. I work with images and audio all day long. Words are a bit harder to wrangle. However the process is remarkably similar, so I wanted to blog about the writing process now that the work is done.

I love writing, and I hate writing. It’s both exhilarating and exhausting. It takes far too long to accomplish. I like instant gratification as much as the next person. For that reason, I prefer the video editing process. Both are highly creative and repetitive jobs. You can spend a lot of time on one edit or one word. Or you can sit back and review/reread the entire project, looking for ways to make the pace tighter, the flow smoother, and the message more coherent.

What drew me to writing a novel is the absolute control you hold, from the initial vision to the final product. It’s entirely your baby. As a video editor, you are usually working with another person’s vision or script. Film and television are collaborative efforts – and damn expensive to produce and distribute. Writing is cheap. Unfortunately, these days it’s treated as such.

Writing takes time and so does reading. Reading a book is a big investment, whereas watching a television program requires hardly any investment at all, an hour at most, and you can still do something else while the set is on in the background. Television is passive. Reading is active. Another thing that drew me to writing is the personal interaction you have with the reader, their complete undivided attention.

The writing process is similar enough to video editing, in that you take ideas and raw material and assemble them into a rough draft. Then you go back, again and again, reworking it until it’s polished. In video editing, like writing, you learn how to pace a scene, how to build tension, how to end a segment/chapter to keep the viewer hooked through the commercial break.

Every writer uses a slightly different process. In my case, I wrote the beginning and ending of my story first, then I went back and filled in the entire middle section. It was important for me to have a destination to reach, to know in advance how all the pieces tied together.

Some writers just sit down and write freestyle, discovering where the story will take them as they write it. I’m an obsessive outliner. With a plot structure as complex as mine, I had to become a slave to my outline. Some people might think that takes all the spontaneity out of writing. Absolutely not. The outline is just a skeleton. The writing process puts meat on the bones. This is where the magic really happens.

I might be working on a chapter and suddenly write a sentence that takes the narrative on a different tangent. I might accidentally discover a new depth to one of my characters, or discover an interesting fact about Yang’Ash or Yin’Dru that I hadn’t planned. Something that just pops out of my subconscious, or from someplace beyond. (I’ll save the spiritual dimension of writing for another blog). This would happen all the time, in almost every chapter. I would surprise myself with something completely unexpected. I might have to go back and re-arrange it, but the idea usually worked out, and almost always added more substance to the story.

In one instance, just changing a character’s reaction completely transformed the meaning behind the dialogue. I could have kept the exchange simple, but the change gave it more complexity. The scene in question added another level of depth to the relationship between Dar’Winn and A’Meric, something I hadn’t even considered before. So it’s important to keep your imagination open to new ideas as you work.

Somewhere in the course of writing these books I discovered a secret rule that I attempted to follow in almost every chapter. I would encourage any aspiring writer to use this secret rule as well:

It doesn’t matter what action is happening, or what’s being revealed, if you want your story to have depth and come alive for the reader then you should focus your attention on the interaction between the characters in your scene – their evolving relationship, their history, their secret motivations, exposing the tension between them. If there is no tension, then there is no story.

So much writing falls flat because the characters are flat, their interactions are static and predictable. They have no inner life. They have no complications aside from the usual stock cliches. Granted, some of my characters are stock cliches because they are being used satirically. Their job is to test the patience of my main characters and reveal their hidden personalities. In the end, what people remember most about your book are your characters.

And that’s my insight and advice on the writing process.


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