njpax (njpax) wrote,
njpax
njpax

WRITING AND EDITING 101

When I first picked up a pen and started scribbling in a notebook, I never doubted I would be able to write stories. After all, I reasoned, I read constantly, and if one read enough, one would certainly know how to write, correct?

 

Wrong! Well, only half-correct, actually. No, reading doesn't prepare you to write because nothing about writing is as automatic as you may think.  It's fun, but it can also be work, and make no mistake about it! I believe it's true when they say that it's ". . .very easy to write: You simply open a vein and bleed all over the page!"

 

Bev and I were both high school graduates, with no degrees or even any college classes on our resumes. But we had been fantasizing and making up stories since we were born. Well, it felt like it, for me. Actually, I used to say that Bev weaned me on male bonding and hurt/comfort when I was in the carriage, and that's the literal truth. When I was a baby, my mother used to make Bev watch me a lot. So, never to be idle, Bev used to make up stories and songs and entertain me while she pushed my carriage back and forth. So I don't remember a time, ever, when I wasn't either listening to her stories or telling my own to her! 

 

I recall that by the time I was in third grade, I had this thick folder full of drawings depicting my characters and scenes from my stories. I could draw before I could write, and so I presented my ideas in a kind of storyboard format. My first full-length "novel", which I wrote in my head, was titled Forest Fortress, and it dealt with capture, torture, escape – very advanced stuff for a nine year old!

 

When I was in high school, I wrote several short stories about my own characters. I even worked up the nerve to show one to my English teacher. She wrote something encouraging on it, but when she asked if I'd like to discuss it further, I backed away, too insecure to go any further with it.

 

Before we started writing our Star Trek stories down, Bev and I made up a list of possible scenarios that had always been good episodic TV fodder.  We came up with three that we liked. One we called, "Here Come The Mountain", one we called, "Here Come the Tide", and I forget what we called the third idea, but we based it on an episode of The Big Valley called "The Iron Box." ("Will you beg, Mr. Spock – for your Captain's life, will you get down on your knees and beg?")

 

We combined the story in which Kirk would be buried and trapped by a landslide,("Here Come the Mountain") and our third plot, stolen from "The Iron Box".  Spock and McCoy would fuss and fret and, in Spock's case, beg for Kirk's life. The story was published in Contact I as Not of That Feather, and I was immensely, ridiculously pleased with it at the time.

 

The story written first wasn't published until about ten years later. We dug it out and polished it up as best we could when a friend was desperate for a contribution for her new zine. I don't remember now what the final title was or even what it was about!

 

"Here Come the Tide" was never written – we got sidetracked with other ideas. Another friend ultimately chose to use the idea in another fandom many, many years later.

 

But we did write another story for Contact I, titled The Silent Connection, in which Kirk keeps hearing noises in his mind. The less said about it the better!

 

For a long while, I did the majority of the first draft after we had talked out the story together, scene by scene, either in person or on the telephone. I would  type it up and Bev would read it, change whatever she wanted, rewrite whole sections of dialogue if needed. This method of collaboration worked quite well for us, and would remain unchanged through most of our years of writing. It was natural for us, being sisters, being so attuned to each other, whereas I don't think that two friends, even close ones, could do it that way. Neither Bev nor I had any flaming ego; we both wanted the best story possible.

 

The truth was, we really knew very little about good writing in the beginning. But we learned. We learned about Point of View (POV), about pacing and structure. We started out with a fairly good command of spelling, grammar and punctuation, but we built onto it. Two things I used to get teased about a lot by the other writers in our group – One was my "Tom Swiftlies", or my overuse of adverbs. A "Tom Swiftly" is when . . ."the lovely dog lies gently on the freshly cut hay in the fragrantly scented meadow." Well, you get the point. The other was my (I swear!) occasional oxymoron. An oxymoron is any two words which tend to contradict each other. The classic examples are "jumbo shrimp" or "slightly pregnant". I made a mere one or two of these, but I never stopped getting ragged on about them! And so what if I once called a character "the epitome of mankind"?!

 

Ultimately, we acquired two fantastic line editors for basic grammar and punctuation. One represented the "old school" of very precise rules and formats. The other was a recent graduate who had been taught a more relaxed system which required, among other things, less commas. 

 

One of the more amusing stories, which occurred later, when we were writing "The Rack" as a threesome as J. Emily Vance (more about that later), was when our darling grey-haired Pat Stall was editing a line in which we had written, "Starfleet doesn't care who screws who", and she advised us to change it, to be grammatically correct, to "who screws whom"! We assured her that in this case the speaker, McCoy, would not be attempting to use perfect English! We all  laughed long and hard over that phrase, dulling the agony of editing "The Rack".

 

We were extremely productive in those pre-Contact days! We wrote songs -- we were working on a musical, which we dreamed of producing someday. Ironically, when that far-fetched premise could have become a reality much, much later, we'd totally lost interest in the project. We created Trek Word Searches and Trek Cross Word Puzzles. We devised trivia based on all the episodes and tested each other on it. In those prehistoric days before computers, before VCRs or DVDs, we would watch an episode and jot down trivial bits of information. Like, do you know what was hanging on the wall behind McCoy when he beamed down to 1930's America in "City on the Edge of Forever"? It was a poster advertising a boxing match! We were busy plotting our serial, Phase II, for what seemed like a thousand installments! Bev wrote reams of poetry, while unpoetic me wrote a substantial number of vignettes. Some of the poems and vignettes ended up in Contact, but an equal portion was sent out as contributions to other zines, so that we could get the free contributor's copy.

 

After Contact I was printed and distributed, it was fairly well received, although now I have no idea why! But we did have our detractors, right from the start. I vividly remember sitting at a table selling our zines and having two well-known BNFs pick up a copy of C-1 and begin reading one of Bev's rhyming poems in a sing-song chanting meter, mocking it right in front of her and I! Bev was livid with rage at the effrontery, but we said nothing. I think one of the two made some remark about ". . .who in the world would write such drivel?" and Bev summoned up all her dignity and said, "I am the author." Which didn't shut them up totally, but they did move on to another table! Said BNFs, along with other fen who'd been around since the beginning of Trek fandom, didn't much approve of the upstarts who were changing the face of their fandom.  As we, and the new vanguard of fans entering the fandom, were obsessed with characterization, character interaction, and not with the holy grail of "science fiction", it was often decried as inferior stuff, not to be tolerated by the original fen.

 

As it was to turn out, we were simply a separate genre from those who were science fiction purists, those who were using the fan fiction base as a springboard to writing professional SF as either their avocation or their livelihood. From this new crop of ST writers would come the occasional pro writer in a multitude of genres, from pro ST books to mystery/detective novels, to mainstream gay novels and more. Some excellent writers of fan fiction never left the cloistered world of fandom, for whatever personal reasons they may have had.

 

Since this is a personal journal, I have to admit that I am one of the latter. I never desired to write in the professional arena. I never wanted to submit to the kind of artistic manipulation necessary to be published. If, I always said, I were ever to attempt to write something for professional publication, it would be totally mainstream, with no fan fiction roots whatsoever. Like most writers, I think, I feel that I have one or two books in me, stories begging to be told. But to this date, I have done little to put them on paper, so I  doubt they'll ever be written. I think I'm just basically too lazy to do all that work on speculation.

 

Returning to the 1970's. . .As Bev and I were learning to write better, we were also learning to edit. This was a subject we were forced to learn when we decided to publish an anthology zine with submissions from other writers. We began applying what we were learning about writing to the stories sent to us by others. Some of our contributors had more experience than we did, some had less. But it was also becoming apparent that whatever skill level a writer had achieved, they all needed editing of some kind or to some degree.

 

Over time, we refined our editing process to two separate and distinct runs. The initial editing concerned itself with what we called "Content Editing". This was going through the submission page by page, looking for any ways that it could be improved, from uncovering plot holes, small or big enough to drive a starship through. It was making sure all terminology and technology was as correct as it could be – some call it "fact-checking." It involved making a story stronger, more readable, making sure the characters and their "voices" were accurate and true. This was the more difficult edit, because it was more subjective, more subject to interpretation. We had to learn to let the author keep her own voice, her own words. We rarely ever re-wrote anything ourselves – we turned to the author to do her own re-writing. We guided, we suggested, but the ultimate words were her own. Some writers, the more experienced, were easier to work with. Some were more difficult, either from a lack of experience or sometimes from an unwillingness to work out thorny problems. There were those writers who felt, perhaps not unjustly, that they could get their work printed faster and easier with an editor who didn't really edit but who merely published. But that wasn't the way we did it with Contact.

 

Once we had cleared all the major hurdles and the story was structurally as good as the writer and we felt it could be, we went over it line by line for grammar, spelling and punctuation.  We called this the "Line Edit." It was a simpler process but nonetheless tedious.  For this step we sometimes used help, other writers or our advisors on grammar, spelling and punctuation.

 

The last step was a complete proofreading after the final copy was typed up. That was usually my job, and ironically it provided a springboard years later to a job as proofreader for an investment brokerage company!

 

There were never any awards or kudos for most of these tasks, and very seldom even any thanks given. We did it all because we wanted what we gave to our readers to be the very best that we could give, because we took pride in Contact.  And in a crazy kind of way, we did it because of the pride we all took in Star Trek, a concept that was somehow bigger and better and brighter than all of us individually.

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  • update post

    I'm posting to keep this journal alive in LJ for our dear, late Nancy. We still have the intention of getting her stories online and I will update…

  • One year ago...

    yesterday, was the day Nancy passed away. I know many of her faithful readers still remember her and miss her as much as I do. We are still working…

  • (no subject)

    Dear friends, It is with a heavy heart that I write this post for my beloved friend, Nancy. She has been in the hospital for the last couple of…