I dream about the day when I can go back and read one of my previously edited chapters and be reasonably happy with what I see. In reality, nothing depresses me more than returning to a chapter I thought was in good shape and finding a mess. And it happens all too often.
What are the biggest problems? The usual suspects—too much telling, not enough internal thoughts, clumsy sentences… You know the drill. These are issues I can fix for the most part. All I need is some time and practice. But there’s still one problem I have yet to crack. I over-explain waaaay too much. Unfortunately, I think that trait is permanently hardwired into my brain.
My problem, I suspect, has a lot to do with having developed most of my writing skills while writing scientific research reports, where over-explaining is to be admired and where keeping the reader entertained is a secondary consideration. Writing fiction is a completely different animal. When I write fiction, my process is to envision the scene in my mind as if I’m watching a movie, and then try to reproduce it on the page. I suspect many other writers work the same way, but in my case, I end up choreographing every move, every thought, every nuance, everything. Instead of a flowing narrative, my scenes are often bullet lists of events. If a character would turn his head in the movie, I make sure the readers know about it. If I want a scene to be humorous or scary or surprising, I beat the readers over the head with it, as if the only way they will get it is if I spell the emotion out for them. Not because I think the reader is an idiot, but because I don’t trust myself to be subtle.
I know subtlety works. I’ve gone back and re-read scenes from my favorite authors, scenes I remember as vivid and complicated, only to be shocked by how few sentences the authors needed to convey the scene. They didn’t explain every nuance. They left a few subtle hints and my imagination had filled in all the rest.
Man, do I have a long way to go. I pity the lucky copy editor who gets to edit my stories.