Writing a Novel, p3

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Part 3 of 3, by David Gaider

Allow me to say a word about editing.

It is one thing to sit down and actually write a novel itself, and I think for many people their idea of how much work that encompasses ends there. You have pages and pages that need to be filled up with words. Tough stuff. That’s usually what people ask me first – how did you get through it? How did you fill up all those pages? The answer’s a bit pat: you just do. Seriously, you just do.

In fact, if I could offer any piece of advice to anyone struggling to complete their own piece of writing out there, it would be not to get caught up being a perfectionist. If you spend all that time making sure that every single page is a perfect little snowflake then you will simply never finish. You have to accept that some parts are going to be golden and some parts are going to be rough. Smoothing things out is what editing is for.

Which was an interesting process for me, and a rather fascinating one as going in I really didn’t know what to expect. I kind of imagined this ogre who would take my manuscript and send it back to me with entire chapters gutted, big red marks through everything and orders to change half the story. Yikes! Talk about feeling trepidatious. It turned out, however, that the editing process was much more collaborative than I thought it would be.

I had two editors, my regular editor and my copy editor. The regular editor was the person I worked with directly. She dealt both with larger story issues – are characters being developed well? Do the story arcs make sense? Does it flow well overall? – as well as smaller questions of continuity and grammar. Maybe not every editor works this way, I can’t really say just from the one experience, but certainly in this case it was much more a case of having a sensible second opinion, someone with a good eye. You can bounce ideas off your friends, and some of them will be fantastic editors and brainstormers both… but even the most well-meaning friend will eventually get glassy-eyed after the second hour of you talking about your book. They have their own stuff to do, and no matter how much they’d like to they really can’t spend all their time tracking down every last issue in your book and telling you so. An editor, however, gets paid to do that. They’re right in there with you (at least once you’re done the writing; you’ll need to get your own cheerleaders for writing the manuscript itself).

The copy editor, meanwhile, was the person who checked things like spelling and punctuation and even more grammar… and who looked for “echoes”. Echoes are words are phrases that you repeat too often, either too often throughout the entire manuscript or in too close a proximity to each other. Let me tell you, getting your manuscript back with all your echoes nicely highlighted in purple with a little tag next to it going “you might want to vary some of these” is a humbling experience. I had no idea I used some of those words that often. With the highlighting it became obvious that every character in my book was constantly spitting, glaring and clenching their teeth. They exchanged looks, glared, growled and even snarled – sometimes multiple times on the same page.

I also used the words “obviously”, “simply”, “attempted” and “began to” so often it was embarrassing, especially since many of those uses could simply be deleted without changing what I was trying to say. I padded my text. I used passive voice. I thought I knew these things and avoided them as a rule, but clearly I did not and I really had no clue that I did not.

So, wow. It was a good experience, I think, as both editors gave me a lot to think about. They worked with me to pound the book into much better shape, and I think overall it has made me a better writer. Every writer should go through that. I could easily imagine how an editor experience could also be bad, mind you, and I have little doubt there are plenty of horror stories to be found – but this one was fantastic.

I’m eager for people to see the final product. I’m eager at the idea that, for some people at least, their first dip into Thedas will be this novel. That’s an exciting thought. I’d love to go on about the whys and wherefores of the plot itself, but I suppose that will have to wait. Now I just get to cover my eyes and have an anxiety attack as the novel goes out there to be torn apart or adored as people will do.

Yikes. I suppose when Dragon Age: Origins itself goes out it will feel similar. Every game does (and Baldur’s Gate 2 will always be my first), but at least there I get to share my anxiety with the rest of the team – who I should thank, incidentally. There’s a lot of people I could thank for making the novel possible, but the Dragon Age team helped breathe the life into this world. I didn’t do it on my own. They made my job that much easier, as I didn’t have to work quite so hard to imagine what I was putting down on paper.

That will make the waiting a little easier to bear, I think.

David Gaider wisely prepared for a career in the games industry by first suffering from terminal boredom as a hotel manager. During that time he gamed as much with his friends as he could, and that paid off with a sweet little job writing for a company he’d never heard of before on a sequel to a computer game he’d never played. “It’ll last a few years, I guess,” he thought. Nine years later he is still at the same company, working as the Lead Writer on Dragon Age: Origins. Who knew?