The Queen of King Street: Part 3

Editing Lola's autobiography has been a challenge. (See my previous blogs for news about Lola.) Not because it wasn't written well, or because it rambled (well, it did a bit) but because it was wayyyyy too long.

Most books come in at around 80,00 words, 100,00 if you're famous, I was told. Lola used over 401,000 words (!) to recount 150 years of history in minute detail.

Every primary school classmate was lovingly mentioned by name, every actor who she produced was listed along with what character they played, every word was precious to her. Yet I had to cut out four-fifths of it. What could I remove, what could remain?

Exterminate, exterminate! 

The first thing I had to determine was where and what was the focus. The reason she wrote her memoirs was to remind us of a long-vanished city; the cottage she lives in formed its benchmark, its gold standard, its plumb line. The life around the cottage reflected the changes of a colonial capital transforming into a cosmopolitan city.

With Lola's story, it was easy to find the focus. The story circled around this tiny cottage. Even though she travelled widely and her numerous adventures took place away from home, most chapters have some action taking place in the cottage.

After I'd found the focal point, the rest was relatively easy. Twelve chapters of overseas travel, fascinating though they are, had to go. All people mentioned only once also were 'exterminated'. If they were mentioned occasionally but I couldn't find references of them on the internet or in libraries, they were also 'deleted'.

Scissorhands

512px-Scissor-for-paperThat got me down to about 120,000 words. Now tough decisions had to be made. A second edit of the whole text revealed stories that were irrelevant to the main story. (Did we really need to know that she taught at one school for only three weeks where nothing of note happened?) 

I found more compact ways of relating her story without changing her words by eliding certain passages and joining paragraphs together. I drew a family tree so that that family relationships didn't need explanations in the text.

I scrutinised the text to excise repetitions, much like an artist making fine paper cutouts with delicate scissors.

Phone a friend

I left it for a few weeks so I could 'forget' it and come back to it afresh. This allowed me to make more reductions. Then I rang a friend to get another pair of eyes to run over it.

Some of my editing had gone too far and I'd chopped out so much so that some passages didn't make sense. Upon restoration, we now have a text that is only 89,000 words long - a compact, readable and highly amusing story.

If you are thinking of writing a book, or have written one and don't know what to do next, feel free to contact me for an editing consultation. I love reading and working on stories, and I make your writing ZING!            

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