On Editing (Part Two)

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In my last post (On Editing, Part One), I talked about priming your work for editing, and walked through some of the aches and pains associated with this monumental task. Well, are you ready to have some fun?

If you’ve visited my website before, you’ll have noticed a ‘Read’ tab in my header menu, and if you’ve clicked on it, you know it contains an unedited excerpt from my novel, The Sons Of Mil. Why was it unedited? Two reasons, 1. I’d just rewritten this first chapter in the past two weeks, and 2. I thought it would be more fun to show you how I edit, rather than just talk about it in a blog post. Been savin’ this much needed edit, just for you. Two birds, one stone…or something. Everyone makes mistakes, even editors. We have to do this stuff too.

All editing posts tend to discuss more than they show, don’t they? Since the whole point is to SHOW, rather than TELL in your own writing– here is my actual process, in all its ugly, red glory. 

My original first chapter was pretty good, all things considered, but it didn’t grab the reader. Too much exposition, not enough action, yada, yada. It needed a rewrite, and once we’re done here…I will probably rewrite it again. The point I’m trying to make here, is no one is above an edit, myself especially. That aside, I happen to learn better in practice rather than theory. I hope this little exercise, can help you with your own project. 

So, you ready to watch me take my licks? Alright, let’s slash this sucker! Huzzah!

*Orignal text in grey

*Edits in red.  I’m not going to bore (pun intended) you with a repeat of things we’ve already discussed in Part One. Instead, let’s dig right in, shall we? ‘Ben was bored’, is a very weak opening line. Why? It’s fairly passive. Recall, the goal is to make the text vibrant, and immediate. Since this paragraph is written in a Third-Person Limited, POV (meaning Ben here, is an ‘observational protagonist’); it’s important to keep the reader engaged with him, while maintaining narrative flow. 

Ben was boredHe despised sitting idle for so long. Nevermind the weather (Leading with the word ‘weather’, not so sharp) climate, which grew increasingly bitter as the sun sank into the west. A dim orange glow lingered over rolling hills; the sole remnant of a bright but brief autumn day. As Twilight crept into the valley, Long long shadows stretched between the trees, like inky fingers reaching out to caress one another. In the east, swift grey clouds raced through an amethyst sky, awash with rivers of brilliant white stars (Bordering on ‘purple writing’, to be fair- but I am not the editor who will tell someone to forgo all prose- more on this later). Beautiful as the scene was, comfortable it was not. Ben shrugged his cloak tight, dismayed by its insufficient weight. Winter was near. He could smell it; taste it on the air. When he arrived at this location hours before, he thought himself overdressed. (Redundant) Now, he He longed for a thicker cowl and an extra pair of gloves, though they would provide little protection from the searching cold. Whilst the sun dove over the far horizon, his mood plunged with it. (Barf) He did not love the cold, nor did he enjoy being obliged to endure enduring it outdoors alone. Well perhaps not entirely alone. Bored as he was, he was far from alone. The evening air forest teemed with the rustlings of nocturnal creatures, digging out of their burrows to hunt and cavort. Owls hooted from their hollows- foxes and voles gave chase in the underbrush. He wished they would all stuff their gobs. It was loud enough already, with his grumbling gut and chattering teeth. (Beware beginning sentences with ‘well’, and ‘it was’) A cacophony of tittering rodents and squawking birds, plucked at his nerves. His growling gut and chattering teeth, contributed all the noise he required. 

Ben would prefer to be watching (Redundant, Passive) watch the seasons change from a nice cozy window, hands wrapped firmly around a piping hot tankard of spiced cider. Spending the night high in a tree, in the middle of a damp forest, was not what he wanted to be doing (Passive) was far less enjoyable. If he were home, he would be well into his third dram, and working his way through a healthy dollop of Colm’s venison stew. He hadn’t expected to be kept waiting, for so many hours, in such dreadful weather. Samn, was the first Dor month of the year; the harbinger of six months of darkness. In Innisfail, the year was divided into two halves; light and dark.(You don’t need to cram all of your exposition/backstory in your beginning chapters. Let the reader glean this information within your narrative) Ben (Established) He missed the Ban months, already. Without the sun to warm the valley, the wind whistling over the Little Boyne, cut deep. Scowling, he blew into his palms. This was absurd. If the temperature dropped much further any lower, he would have to start working on (Passive) nothing would keep him from the flask hidden inside his vest, and that would be a problem. He was meant to guard the Greenmaker’s reentry into Eire (Weak, Redundant) If he got whiffing drunk just to keep warm, what then? Nothing good, he knew for sure. Ben was an accomplished archer, but drink and tedium, made for poor aim. Nevertheless, when his ballocks shrank into his torso if this dragged on much further, he could make no promises. He’d been perched here for nearly six hours already. His arse was fast asleep, and he hadn’t felt his toes for eons. Sobriety and sedation, was a lethal combination. (Redundant Repetition) Perhaps a nip or two, wouldn’t hurt anything? It would take far more than that, to do real damage, wouldn’t it? He took one, then another, and by the fourth or fifth– decided a bad shot was better than none.

They should have been back by now. It was unlike Robin to dally. Ben’s ill-humor alternated between irritation, weariness and increasing concern. Any Greenmaker worth his salt, knew better than to linger over the border. Robin Gramble certainly knew this, as The Quarter’s Headman. Hadn’t he droned on about the importance of haste, just this morning? Indeed, every morning, on every raid they’d ever dared? Well, Ben would be delighted to know what was keeping them. The wilds of Aes Sidhe were not a pleasant place for mortal men to roam- regardless of circumstance. Ben couldn’t recall ever having waited so long for a return before. This delay could only mean something was amiss (Not every word needs to be worth 5 bucks) wrong. Ben pocketed his flask, wiping his eyes with icy fingertips. Scanning the border for the thousandth time, he sighed. A heady, aberrant mist crowded the river on the opposite shore, impervious to any breeze. It was a challenge Ben (Mid Paragraph is fine, but if the POV character hasn’t changed, you don’t need to repeat it constantly) struggled to peer further than past the first line of smoking trees, curling toward the embankment. Ben had He’d been at it all day. His, and his skull throbbed from the effort. The mists of Aes Sidhe, marked the border between the realm of men, and the land of the Immortals Sidhe to the north. Even from his elevated vantage, visibility was next to null. It was meant to be so This was by design, of course. The Sidhe did not invite prying eyes into their domain. Mortals were especially discouraged, for a plethora of reasons; some political, other most preferential. Most Eireans found this exclusion discourteous at best, or downright elitist at worst (Bad Exposition) In truth, the border was veiled to warn mortals of the potential perils lurking within this obfuscating cloud. There was much more waiting on the other side of the river, than riches or game. Dark things. Horrible things. The Greenmakers were likely the single group of men in the whole of Eire, who grasped the significance of that warning to fully grasp the risk. They knew not to linger overlong, in the realm of the Sidhe. Many men who trespassed, never returned.

Brooding over a the panoply of potential perils, which might have delayed his comrades, he finally caught a smudge of silver and white he caught motion in the distance. Winking in and out of the fading light, a figure dashed alongside the riverbank, holding something gleaming and metallic in his hand. Ben inched forward on his bough, hugging the heavy branch with between his thighs while he unslung his bow. Whoever it may be, he was no Greenmaker. Ben’s crew They did not sport such flashy gear, nor were any of them half so tall. That was a Dannan cuirass. A hunter, from Bri Leith, no doubt. He cursed. Struggling to nock with trembling frozen fingers, he searched for any sign he could glean that his friends were on their way, and in one piece. He saw nothing at first, just save mist, the hint of dark trees, and great pools of swirling gloom. Then, he heard a shout; a scream, and the undeniable ring of steel on steel. Shimmying further out on his limb, Ben spotted several black shapes running through the cumbersome fog– dragging men and dead animals between them. They were pursued. by a handful of large men, in dazzling white armor. Robin’s booming baritone was unmistakable. “Get over, lads! Go, go!”

The Dannans blew their horns. The chase was on. Someone must have done something stupid. That was the only explanation that could (Leading Narrative) Ben couldn’t figure any other explanation, which would warrant such a swift martial response. Robin was always a stalwart professional on a raid. He demanded nothing less than the same, from his men. Whatever had happened, surely it wasn’t his call. (Leading Narrative) Ben snatched a glimpse of his friend He saw Robin emerge from the fog, a hundred or so yards to his left. He ran pretty fast, for a fellow of middling age. Gerrod and Paul, splashed through the mud behind him, hauling a six-point stag with a snow-white pelt over their grubby shoulders. They were covered slathered head to toe in the beast’s blood.

Ah…he thought…sheer madness.

A pervasive calefaction wormed its way up Ben’s neck, at the sight. Sheer madness! What utter idiocy prompted them to take this creature? Sylvan Stags were sacred to the Sidhe– more, they were thought to be vessels of the god Herne, himself. The Sylvan Stag was the sigil of the High King’s own Clan. Those whom chased them, wore that device on each of their breastplates. (Leading Narrative, Exposition) A sylvan stag? No bloody wonder they had a score of Dannan guards chasing them down on their trail. Robin knew better! What possessed him to allow such an obvious, careless mistake on his watch? Growing angrier by the second, Angry now, Ben drew his longbow crosswise. No damned good was going to come of this, he was absolutely certain. Seamus’ vivid red head emerged from the curtain of mist after them; two sable fox tails swinging from his wide belt. In his slip-shod haste, he slipped in the loose detritus littering the forest floor. An ivory-fletched arrow, narrowly missed his ear by a breath. Another zipped past his thigh, and he stumbled again. “For feck’s sake!” He cried. “Robin! Keep goin’! They’re crawlin’ up me arse!”

Seamus scrambled to his knees in the duff. A Dannan hunter leapt from the woods on his right; twin larks poised to slice through his middle. Seamus He raised a hand to ward off the incoming attack, but he needn’t have bothered. The Sidhe scout was thrown backward by from the impact of Ben’s arrow, his scout’s blond head cracking off the cracked into the trunk of a nearby birch. Ben’s plain brown fletching, arrow protruded from a painful but non-fatal area, in the crook of his shoulder. Seamus wasted no time skittering away on all fours. He slid down the embankment on his belly, and into the frigid river like a seal. He was safely halfway across, by the time Robin, Gerrod and Paul, plodded into the current– fifty-yards further west. Ben fumed, watching them drag their heavy prize through the water by its rack. Robin shoved them off, then stood sentry in the shallows; his crossbow poised to defend their position. “Nat! Marty! Get yer arses in gear!”

Another hunter emerged from the canopy on Robin’s right, his larks raised high. Robin sent a quarrel through his gut, dropping him on the spot.; gore trickled out of his lovely white cuirass. Robin reloaded. The next Sidhe attacker came swung in from his left, and Robin he shot through him in him through the throat. Ben heard a distinct click. He Robin (For POV) was out of ammunition. “Ben, Siora damn ye! Tell me yer Ye’d better be out there!”

Ben whistled back, mimicking the marsh swallow he would recognize immediately. He watched Robin draw drew his daggers, “Marty!” Robin he roared, with new urgency as three more Sidhe hunters darted into his line of sight. “Nat! Where are ye?!”

Dropping to a lower limb, Ben nocked and fired, twice more. Two Dannans went down. The first, took an arrow to the thigh; the second though the ribs. Neither shot was fatal. Ben made sure. He would not kill a Dannan warrior, unless he had no choice. A third hunter tore out of the trees, throwing himself at Robin with a snarl. They tumbled into the river with a splash. Ben didn’t have a clear shot. Robin would have to sort himself. Lastly, Ben saw a familiar black head materialized from in the east. It was Marty, dragging Nat’s sagging slim body by the shoulder. Nat had an ivory shaft through the center of his chest Ben was alarmed to note, A thick stream of blood poured down his dirty brown jerkin. “Ben!” Marty squealed, also bleeding from a slash down his calf, “they’re comin’!”

Four more Dannan hunters tracked them to the riverbank. Two were mounted on graceful dappled palfreys. Ben was too far away to shoot in rapid succession. They would never get across. “Robin!” He bayed, slinging his bow over his shoulder to descend; giving away his position. An arrow sailed into the trunk where his head had been. He hopped down a half-dozen limbs, before his boots bored into the mud below his oak. “They’re not going to make it!”

Ben dodged a second missile, returning and returned fire. He heard his arrow strike something solid, but was already rolling away from another volley by the time he was ready to fire shoot again. The Sidhe were expert marksmen. The; the finest, period. If he made one wrong move, he would pay for it with his life. Rob left his attacker assailant’s body face-down in the Little Boyne– the Dannan’s long pale hair, churning churned in a swiftly reddening current. Rob clutched at a new wound in his side, only one dagger left, “Where are they?”

An arrow ripped through one of Ben’s sleeves, very near his ribcage. “Damn it! I’m a little busy here! On your right!”

Robin waded downriver toward his two injured men. Marty saw him first, cringing as an arrow opened a gash in his cheek. He careened into the water on his knees, trying to keep Nat’s head out. Robin screamed a warning too late, as a razor-thin lark slammed into his back, shoving bits of his heart through the front of his tunic. The Dannan who wielded the blade, withdrew it again slowly; a wary green eye on Robin. Marty sagged face-first into the river on a gurgle. There was nothing to be done for him now. Nat, on the other hand, drifted just shy of Robin’s reaching fingers. Waist deep now, he snatched at the unconscious man’s cowl, desperate to drag him over. If they could make it across, they might be safe. The Sidhe never crossed into Eire, unless expressly ordered to do so. Besides, they wouldn’t have to if they killed every poacher before they could make it to the far bank.(Leading Narrative) There was a good chance the Sidhe would abandon the chase, if the Greenmakers made it to the far bank. Still, this was a rather large, ‘if’.

“Ben!” Robin cried, wary of the bows being drawn to prevent drawing against his retreat. Ben toed the waterline, careful not to immerse his boots. He dropped to a knee in the damp sand. Gerrod and Paul ambled up the bank beside him, heaving the stag’s carcass out of the water, with no small amount of back-breaking effort. The beast must have weighed at least four-hundred pounds. Robin had hold of Nat’s hair, steadying him while he sidestroked for shore. Ben drew twice, sending yet more Sidhe hunters to the ground. He had a third arrow nocked and waiting for a decent shot, when the Dannan Captain dismounted; his superior ash and yew longbow, trained on Ben. He was a bit taller than the others, and marked out by the six gold chains dangling from his left ear. He wore an immaculate grey cloak, made of soft, waterproof sealskin, trimmed in white ermine. His long pale flaxen hair unbound, save for two small braids at either temple. The leaping sylvan stag on stamped into his radiant white cuirass, was crowned by three shining gold stars.

Ben hesitated, dropping his elbow a fraction.

Fionn?

The Sidhe Captain mirrored Ben’s motion him, his mint-green eyes narrowing in mutual recognition. Ben felt every inch of the disbelieving derision he watched blooming on Fionn’s face; the surprise, the judgment and the silent condemnation. Ben could not look away.

“Ben! What in the hells are ye doin’? Shoot him!” Plead Rob, fighting toward the shallows on the Eirean side of the river. The host of Dannan Sidhe lined the far bank, their numbers replenished, arrows drawn. Ben knew why they didn’t shoot. It was the same reason he could not Ben knew they wouldn’t shoot. Neither could he. Fionn’s handsome upper lip curled back in disgust. Ben swallowed sourly, feeling every ounce of shame that single look conveyed. , and Ben swallowed. He sighed, releasing his bowstring. Ashamed, he released his bowstring altogether. 

“Ben!” Robin was nearly over, Gerrod waded in to help him out. Nat trailed in the river, his skin grey as Fionn’s cloak. Ben was glued to the spot, haunted by the knowledge in on Fionn’s dour face. The ghosts of a former life, tracked clammy fingers up and down Ben’s spine.

Ben! What’re doin’?” Robin followed Ben’s gaze, to the knot of Dannans gathered at the river’s edge. The look between Ben and the Captain, was not lost on him, “damn ye, Maeden! Shoot him!”

Fionn shook himself at the sound of Rob’s voice. Nostrils flaring, he raised his bow. Belatedly, Ben threw out a hand, “No! Don’t!”

A thick ashen shaft hammered dove through Nat’s prone body, straight through the heart. Robin shrieked in fury, but was rendered powerless in impotent fury, as several more launched into the sky. He was obliged to duck underwater to avoid the succeeding volley. By the time he came up for air, Nat was already turning over in the current, a dozen ivory-fletched shafts sprouting from his torso. Robin screamed abuse at the Sidhe, at Ben, at the sky above. Nat washed downstream on his belly, bowed under the weight of so many arrows. Gerrod managed to haul Robin out of the river, despite the older man’s girth, and flailing limbs.

Unperturbed, Fionn leaned against his bow, staring over at Ben with a grim smile. He waved; a flippant mirthless gesture, full of contempt. Wordless as the wind, the Sidhe turned as one– melting melted into the trees mist, heedless of the dead men they left behind. Ben didn’t call out to Fionn. How could he? His hands shook. He slung his bow back over his shoulder and tucked them into his pockets, so where they wouldn’t be seen. Robin’s fist crashed into his left cheekbone. Ben staggered a bit, but he wasn’t done. He threw three more punches, before Bens feet slipped from under him. Paul and Seamus caught at Robin’s his arms, to halt preventing a fourth attack. The veins in his Robin’s scarred forehead bulged. Gerrod tried to help Ben up, but he pushed him away. Robin He spat at Ben, red-faced. “What in the hells do ye think yer doin’, Ben? Why didn’t ye do somethin’? Ye let them make Nat into a bleedin’ pincushion. (Slaps Forehead) He’s dead now, cuz o’ye!” He strained against the arms holding him in place.

Ben slowly got to his feet, “Whose clever plan was it to shoot the Stag, Robin? Which of you was stupid enough to kill one of the High King’s deer?”

Robin fought so hard to free himself from Paul’s grip, his face purpled. Spittle bubbled over his bleeding chin. “I’ll kill ye, for this. I’ll do it, I swear to Siora. How dare ye attempt to scold anyone, ye fecking bastard. Nat and Marty are dead!”

“Nat was gone long before Marty dragged him into the river.”

“It’s true, boss,” offered Gerron, in Ben’s defense, “I saw him take the wound. One o’them cut him down right in front o’me and Marty. Rest him. It was Marty, shot the stag. I tried to tell him, Ben. I did.”

Paul shrugged. That was his way. Insolent and block-headed. “The hide’s worth at least a thousand fainne. Rack, near five-thousand, I’d say. The fox-hide on Seamus’ belt, maybe two hunnerd’, three? Who cares about a dead deer?”

Ben scowled, (Unnecessary Attribution) “You don’t kill the High King’s deer, you arrogant simpleton. They’re charmed beasts. You’re lucky every Sidhe for twenty miles didn’t answer the call!” Ben growled, shoving him back, hard. He couldn’t help himself. Someone had to answer for this mess. Why shouldn’t it be Paul, who didn’t have the sense the Gods gave a goat?

Paul raised his hands in mock surrender, “Tryin’ to see the good here, Ben. That’s all.”

“The good? Are you mad?” Ben sneered. (Unnecessary Attribution)

“That’s why ye let Nat die?” Seethed Robin, “Ccuz Marty shot a feckin deer? We’re bloody Greenmakers, ain’t we? Feckin’ no account poachers. It’s what we damned well do, isn’t it? Tell me yer not arguin’ for the Sidhe’s side, Ben. Tell me yer ballocks don’t swing that low.”

Ben was livid now, no helping it. He glowered at Robin. “I didn’t let anyone die. Nat’s death is not on my conscious, and you know it as well as I do. Three of you are alive at this very moment, because of me. Maybe if you’d taken the time to teach these children how to behave over that border, both Nat and Marty would be too. If that Dannan Captain wanted to, he would have had the provocation to break treaty and cross. If I killed him, every one of us would be toasting each other in Tech Duinn right now. You’re not angry with me. You’re angry with yourself.”

Robin towed Seamus and Paul at least three feet, in his urgency to get at Ben. Ben dropped his bow and undid his swordbelt, letting them thump into the sand at his feet. “Let him go!” He hissed, raising his fists.

Robin barreled into him with a guttural grunt. He attempted to tackle Ben, but he was twice his size and outweighed him by at least fifty pounds. Ben let him take one or two swipes, before he hooked an arm under Robin’s shoulder joint, spinning him around. It took one blow from Ben’s right hand, for Robin’s arse to slap One blow, and Robin’s arse into hit the ground on with a solid thump. Dazed, Robin gaped at up Ben with unfocused malice. Ben leaned in, ready to strike again if he had to. “You deserved that.”

“Aye,” Robin gasped, spitting spat a mouthful of blood, “we’re done, Ben Maeden. Yer no Greenmaker. Greenmaker’s don’t choose the Sidhe over one o’their own. Don’t think I didn’t see ye.”

“Fine,” Ben snarled, “you’re too old to learn common sense anyway.” He retrieved his Retrieving his weapons, he shoved Paul again for good measure, and spun on his heel. He refused to look at the stag, where it lay broken on the riverbank; its perfect white coat speckled red and black from the wound in its ribs.

Sacrilege of the first order.

He spared Robin a last withering glare. “I quit.”

Gerrod ran jogged to catch up with him. Ben shrugged him off. “Wait, Ben. He don’t mean it! Neither do ye. We’re sorry ‘bout the stag, alright? Marty got desperate. Ye weren’t over there. Ye don’t know what it was like.”

Robin threw out a spiteful laugh, “He ain’t ever over there, is he? Stays on this side o’the river, like a bleedin’ coward, he does. Tell us, ye faerie bastard…how many kills have ye made, to keep our folk fed and clothed, hm? How many times have ye given over the last coins in your precious purse, to help one o’ours? None. That’s how many. Yer a selfish sack of shite, ye are.”

Ben ignored him. It wasn’t easy. Robin Gramble had been his friend for almost fifteen years. He didn’t even turn around to dignify his comment.

Gerrod’s anxious apologetic expression bordered on despair, “We’ll meet up at Barb’s later, yeah? C’mon, Ben. Ye can’t leave it like this. We’ll sort it all out.”

Ben paused, for Gerrod’s sake, if no one else’s. “Later then. To collect what I’m owed, then I’m gone.”

“Ye’ll meet us there? Ye won’t leave until he calms down?”

Ben let out a protracted breath. His oldest friend had gone to stand by the water’s edge, hiding a face full of tears. Nat was his Robin’s kin, his sister’s son. Ben could understand his irrational rage, even if it was unfairly directed. “Yeah, Gerry. I’ll be there. I’ll go and look for the bodies first. They can’t have gone too far. You get this lot back home.”

“Thank ye, Ben.”

Ben faced east. “Don’t thank me. Robin might not be right…but neither is he wrong.” He didn’t give Gerrod a chance to process his statement. Ben pulled his hood low over his eyes. He strolled into the Greensward, fading into the trees like the Sidhe, only minutes before.

There you have it! Not so terrible, now was it? Cutting a few lines, and rearranging weak sentences, can make all the difference in the world. The text is more immediate, less confusing, and flows much more smoothly. I happen to be a serial offender, when it comes to Unnecessary Attribution, Excessive Exposition, and Unclear POV. It’s a simple fix! No need to stress. Once you develop a working habit, editing can be a snap…even when you have 38 chapters to wrestle (internal screaming). In the next post, in my ‘On Editing’ series (Part Three), we’ll talk about grammatical flow, and Copyediting. Remember, don’t be discouraged. You ARE a good writer, and you can be an equally good editor. It just takes practice. Believe in yourself.

Do you have a foolproof editing process? Take umbrage with my work here today? Have questions about the choices I’ve made, or need advice? Feel free to message me anytime! I’d love to hear from you.

 

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Image Copyright: Winter Boughs

 

 

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