Perspective (editing project thing)

Last time, I realized that the whole story, all forty thousand words, has to be rewritten in the first person perspective. I don’t know that I’d say things are going “swimmingly” because it’s mildly tedious, yet many issues are smoothing out quite nicely. I am happy to report that certain of the most cringeworthy dialogue ever typed has been replaced by dialogue… less cringeworthy. But oh, if you only knew, you’d understand the monumental achievement here.

However, it’s going to take longer than I had anticipated at the start of the month when I planned to edit my story. I set a daily time budget of a half hour, which is nothing, but in reality I spend one to two hours a night, say from eight to ten. I don’t like to aim too high because I’ll be discouraged if I miss it. Better to under-commit and over-deliver than vice versa.

Once I read through the story in plain text, removing all formatting, resisting all urges to edit, it was clear to me right away what I needed to do. And that’s why, despite the slow-going work of rewriting every single paragraph, it’s not torture because it’s improved things immensely and made my life much less painful. But I think that if you’re not in some degree of pain, you’re not doing it right.

So—perspective. Perspective is a deliberate choice, yet it must flow naturally. Some might enjoy the challenge of picking a difficult perspective and sticking with it, or others might feel that certain styles of writing are too passé and ought to be avoided at all costs. I don’t agree with either—a challenge is fine for a short piece but not for the long haul (why swim upstream unnecessarily, just to say you did?), and who cares if a style is popular or outmoded, as long as it’s natural.

What do I mean by “natural”? Simply that it is exactly what the characters demand. My story did not work in the third person because I was always one step removed, and it was very difficult to translate every thought of the character into a “showing, not telling” to please the imaginary reader. I couldn’t understand my own creation—she was entirely opaque. It was like she sat there with her arms crossed, looking the other way. But rewriting each paragraph, it’s like she is telling me the story herself as opposed to my watching, guessing, and then reporting.

What I do is open the previous draft and the new one side-by-side on the screen and retype every single paragraph. Honestly the hardest part of this is that one of my glasses’ lenses is scratched and dirty and I can’t see that side of my screen very well. I don’t know how I’m ever going to bring myself to buy a new pair before these inevitably break; I’m just so damn lazy I’d rather see out of one eye than just go and pick some out.

By imagining someone telling me the story, it’s becoming easier to see the story arc as opposed to, as I said, guessing. Because if something already happened, then the details a narrator chooses to share are going to build up to it. It’s the same thing, I suppose, as our telling someone about our life rather than their telling it. No matter how much they observed, they can never really know the truth about the why’s and wherefore’s. If we don’t know our own why’s, then that’s our fault. I think that’s why it’s delightful when someone can tell us something accurately about ourselves. Sometimes when I get a less-than-flattering comment about myself, I’m actually tickled in a certain way if they’re right, because they at least understood me. If they say, for instance, you’re a self-pitying asshole seeking a nice deep ego massage, I might get mad, but believe you me, I laugh out loud because hey, how can I argue with you if you’re right?

If nothing else, it’s a good writing exercise because it forces me to make a decision about every sentence and how it serves the story. Some sentences are fine as they are, requiring only pronoun changes, which indicates to me why it’s better off in first person. But many of them require total rewriting because they contain judgments that a person might not make about themselves. This allows me to change the entire tone of the story to be more consistently one voice, rather than a third-person narrator’s commentary plus the reporting of the protagonist’s thoughts. Narrators are almost characters in themselves, so they do have their own voices, and in this case, the narrator’s voice was competing with the character’s. Now I have to make choices about what words she would use, which tells me more about who she is, and where the story is going, which is infinitely preferable to sitting on my chair squirming and squinting for hours trying to guess and coming up with nothing.

To PH: you would be proud if you only knew the number of “felts” which have been sent straight to hell.

For those of you out there working on one project or another, do you have a certain perspective you favor, or if you change it up often, what factors go into your decision?


82 thoughts on “Perspective (editing project thing)

    1. Ok I came to comment about finally catching up on some blogs and to say I feel a hint of your pain as I’ve also had to rewrite in first person – but not NEAR so many words lol. I use to avoid first person in fiction – but CreepyPastas have quickly made it a favorite. —- that being said LMAO at Sebastian – he kept me going my first few weeks as a noob when I had zero followers and believed this one guy was just loving my stuff. 😂😂😂

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  1. Wow Hetty, it sounds like you’re making progress. I’m so glad it’s not proving too excruciating. In terms of perspective I don’t have a preference, some stories work one way, some the other. I’ve done them all. At the moment the romance I’m working on is first person, but it changes from one character to the next, sometimes mid sentence. I’m really looking forward to a glimpse when you’re ready to share. 😀

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    1. Now that sounds pretty cool, switching from character to character. You could do some meaningful or symbolic stuff with that technique, I would think. I don’t know when I’ll be able to share, though. It’s too raw right now.

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  2. So, the only thing I could say is that editing is the most boring, and yet necessary part of writing. Most of the time, I just have few lines of notes, with general instructions which do act like a prompt. Then I just write what comes naturally, without worrying about details.

    Then edit those details, no matter how much my brain demands to do something more “Fun.”

    Also, I like to write flashbacks in first person, especially if a character is recounting an event or a conversation to other character. And my god, it feels so easy to write in first person.

    But third person will always be my choice of narration.

    Anyway, I hope you got something out of these disjointed bits. Aside from that, I’m really glad you like my anime reviews. I will be honest with you here. I didn’t took you to be the kind of person who enjoys anime.

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    1. It’s funny, I enjoy the editing more than the writing, at least for those breakthrough moments when something clicks and more of the story comes to be or I can make a real improvement. Sometimes I do write a few lines or a prompt, too, to give me a direction. Regarding the anime thing, I don’t actually read/watch anime, but I think you’re a good reviewer of stuff, so I can appreciate it that way.

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  3. Sounds like you’re working really hard and doing a wonderful job. I hit 40k on my first book. When I finished editing I was at 96k lol. My edits never make a story shorter. Keep it up, Hetty, you’re doing great!

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    1. Hey Mason. Yes it’s funny how things wind up longer. I think it’s because we start seeing connections between things that were seemingly random or disjointed before. That to me is the best part.

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  4. “you’re a self-pitying asshole seeking a nice deep ego massage…” Damn that’s introspective and I can totally feel you. I think this is why I stopped writing for the whole year. And why I’m starting again having emerged from having that ego devoured.

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    1. Sometimes I think we need our egos taken down a peg. Or at the very least, you can split the difference by continuing to write but not necessarily show it right away so that your ego doesn’t get the satisfaction. I’d be quite irritated with myself if I didn’t write. I get crabby and mean because I know I’m not doing what I should be and then take it out on other people.

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      1. I like the idea that acceptance may also mean the ability to accept what you see as a fact, rather than run it through internal filters to achieve an interpretation that makes you feel OK. The truth may set you free, but there’s the price. And, as usual, the ego fights you every step of the way, as if it’s important.

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        1. Meant to say I’m happy I converted to third person on the Nano project. Word count be damned. Now I can totally dump the stupid character (it was me, I suppose) who was sitting around watching everything and telling you.

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        2. For me, it’s the opposite issue–things run through my filter and make me feel decidedly not okay. If I accept something as a fact of life, my ego relaxes a bit. But I can see the other side of the coin, too, as in when we don’t want to accept a difficult truth.

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          1. It’s almost like this idea of how slippery truth can be is the fundamental problem. And if the truth in our heads doesn’t align with the actual world, things get dysfunctional. Good or bad, either way.

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  5. Your post is very inspiring for me. I am not working on any project right now, but then I know that’s because I am not ready for the one that is waiting on me. Your sharing feels like a nudge for me in the right direction.

    I loved the wisdom in these lines – I think that if you’re not in some degree of pain, you’re not doing it right. So—perspective. Perspective is a deliberate choice, yet it must flow naturally…

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    1. Hi Pragalbha. You’ll know when the time is right for your project. I think pain is part of passion because we want to express how we feel, we get frustrated when we can’t do it right, and the passion urges us on to keep trying. Even though there’s pain, there’s happiness too. Otherwise, we’re apathetic.

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  6. …rather than a third-person narrator’s commentary plus the reporting of the protagonist’s thoughts. That’s why you let the story tell itself and gtfo of their heads. I know you could write War and Peace without a line of dialog, so whatever works but I’m way off of authors leading me around with their deep thoughts and insight. I have two books in my kindle right now that are probably good stories buried in authors words getting frenetic in the characters’ heads and leading readers around by the nose. What I call authors books. But then 97% of readers don’t have the imagination to get involved. However, and those with ears should hear, third person is a far better God mode for that kind of thing than first person and my kindle content proves it. Why run around wasting time on motivation in one head when you can do it in fifteen?

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    1. I think at a certain point, it simply comes down to personal taste and doesn’t go any deeper than that. Life experience play a role too in terms of how information gets processed. I think there’s room on the shelf for many genres.

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      1. I agree. Whatever works. Lime the old motto, you can sell 400 of anything. I had a boss one time who said in an interview that if someone decided to put a rat, a razor blade and a roll of duct tape in a box and could get what they believed was a musically useful sound out of it, go. He wasn’t condoning torture but did manage to shut someone down who wanted to argue “art” with him. And it’s true. Also true is the word “genre” belongs in the donation box with all the other overused meaningless words in the when, then, suddenly, basically, literally and awesome category. Opinion only, but I urge everyone who uses it to go out and get a specific. pigeonhole definition of it as it applies to a work. There are 2 stories and 36 or ploy templates. Genre might as well be called wardrobe for all the weight it carries. Rant over.

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  7. Ehmagerd. Realising you need to change ANYTHING for the entire 40,000 word-manuscript is a stress in and of its own. To hell with perspectives. Even changing someone’s gender is work enough.

    Writing is like programming in a sense. Change one little bit of code and you’ve gotta comb through the rest of the programme to make sure nothing’s broken.

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    1. Thanks. Things were definitely sounding awkward and even though it’s a lot of work, I’m much happier with the results. I write third-person stuff too depending on the nature of the story.

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  8. “If we don’t know our own why’s”

    I know this is a thing though I find the concept absurd, lol. I don’t know how you couldn’t know why you are doing things. You are first person perspective by default 😄.

    That really does sound like a great writing exercise btw! You’re doing great 👍

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    1. Honestly, I’d be surprised if most people know why they do what they do. We’re the introspective type, so we’re used to analyzing ourselves. Many, if not most people, just distract themselves all day long.

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      1. 😭😭😭. I hope the last line isn’t true lol. My parents weren’t introspective at all, but viewed me as particularly non introspective. Can you imagine. My dad definitely lives to distract himself. But yeah lack of introspection explains a lot. It’s just so absurd though to think about.

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            1. HAHAHAHAHA.

              It actually just occurred to me that possibly a big part of the problem in dealing with parents is the fact we ONLY have those to rely on, or extended family members if they are close by. My extended family members were physically distant and there were no family friends. But if we had more of a community/network of adults to rely on, the shortcomings of our parents wouldn’t matter so much.

              Because even as I say that, my dad was remarkably consistent and hardworking and capable with his work (computer programming) or DIY projects around the house. It was just that that wasn’t what I needed, and my mum wasn’t providing it either. And I was just stuck in a house in suburbia with nowhere else to go. Outside of physically providing my parents had no redeeming qualities, and that made it impossible to appreciate any of the things they did do, especially as they were emotionally abusive because they misunderstood me the whole time because of their lack of empathy and emotional intuition.

              Anyways sorry for the rant, I just say all this because my optimistic side wants to be able to see/take the good in things, but that does require having options and limits (well, boundaries right!?).

              You can’t create any boundaries as a kid when you’re dependent on two adults in the whole world…and by the time you do have independence it can be too late after all the distress/trauma it’s caused…

              I think I’ve just hit on something important behind why such a high percentage of kids are experiencing abuse. 🤔 And yet again my reasoning comes back to community…

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              1. Parents are definitely luck of the draw, that’s for damn sure. I think part of growing up, though, is recognizing our parents are flawed people too, and that they can have good and bad qualities. In some ways I am not well understand, and in other ways I am. In some ways they provided well for me, in other ways they didn’t. I have a lot to be grateful for. But I also inherited a lot of neuroses. It could have been much worse. I’m just very sensitive and I don’t have a lot of will to forge forward in my life.

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  9. This whole project is so impressive. I don’t think I have ever written, let alone edited, 40k words in my life. I write poetry because it is short and I am lazy. Reading your posts and the comment section from other writers has been very eye-opening.

    That said, reading about your scratched lens is making my eye twitch. Get some new glasses, girl!

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    1. I’m sure taken altogether you’ve written as much if not more. Don’t forget this is over the course of a number of years, so in that time frame it’s not that impressive. I get jealous of people who write hundreds of thousands of words. I’m more of a short-story person because I don’t have the attention span or vocabulary to sustain a novel, which is what I’d like to do. That’s why I call this thing a patchwork.

      Re: my disgusting glasses–it’s not just the scratch, but they have a coating to not reflect light and when the coating gets scratched, it’s perpetually greasy and there’s not a thing you can do. 😈 How’s your eye feel NOW hmmm??

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          1. This is turning into a TV Made-for-romance special. “Mysterious stranger arrives, aggravates main female character, slowly but slowly two sticks are rubbed together, setting a flame on fire…”

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  10. This is really cool to read right now, though I’m still reading in your recent past. Currently, my own project kind of went the same way: I had some characters and a semblance of story I was interested in, but I was finding it a bit of a grind, and when I signed up for a writing challenge with a time limit / word count component, I found myself realizing I could only make the pace if I switched into first person (in the case of this story, anyway).

    I think my problem was that I really want to write a character-driven story, but I wasn’t done figuring out who the characters were, and what they thought about things. Switching into first-person (and then letting the main character also be a bit stream-of-conscious in their style) suddenly meant I could at least hit the word count goal. Much less wonking around trying to describe what the character was holding at the time they said something, or what direction they looked in, or how tall the ceilings were in the room they were in… writing first-person turned my story nugget into a conversation between the character and the reader, and that was more fun to write, and the character started to explain themselves to me a bit more.

    Looking forward to hearing how it worked for you!

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    1. Hey you’ve got some real good advice here! You really got what I was trying to say. Things turned around a bit after I wrote that post and it’s for pretty much the reasons you’re describing here. Sometimes a new perspective is all it takes (in most everything in life, actually).

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      1. I was watching a video by the author Margaret Atwood, and that was one of her suggestions: if you’re stuck, maybe it’s the perspective or then tense that’s wrong. I watched that particular bit of advice around the time I was figuring out that’s what my problem was. I’m glad to hear you’ve been working that out too! It’s fun when things start to flow more easily.

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