Heisenberg's taste in tapestries
Wake up and re-write

Writing for radio part 5: editing

The first pass revisions of my story for Radio 4 were the usual ones. First, once I had the story down on the page, it was about adjustments to the structure and spacing of the piers of the bridge: this is where being able to spread the pages of a short story out is wonderful. In such a short story, and one to be read aloud, there isn't space for anything structurally complex, but it's an oldish man remembering his youth: was the frame the right width (length?); did the sense of the speaker's 'now' fade in and out at the right moments and in the right way? And as so often, the run-in to the story was a little long. Sometimes it's because you're finding out where the story really starts - thinking/writing your way into the situation and character, and you can cut it later. But this time it was about not knowing how much space I could allow the how-we-got-here bit, which, given the fixed wordcount, meant waiting till it was finished to judge the proportions. Then it wasn't about cutting out material from the beginning, but about condensing it: saying exactly the same things, as expressively but more economically, making every word work harder for its place.

I checked things like Google StreetView and scraps of Brighton history. At some point, I realised that title was 'Calling', and later I read it aloud. The voice came across, though I straightened out a few sentences which worked fine for the eye and mind, but not for tongue, teeth and ears. This is something I do with everything I write, though I was extra-conscious that an other, and a real live actor at that, would be reading it. Would it work for him? Reading aloud also found the repeated words, a slightly jarring modernism here, a too-Dickensian phrase there, a second-hand image, the same metaphor used twice, a too-bony paragraph, a flabby description. It was a bit long: I winkled out a couple of hundred words again by condensing. And that was it. Resisting the urge to whizz it straight off to Cecilia the producer, I put it aside to cool and went back to the novel.

Then, a few days later, I read it over, was relieved to find that it still worked, tweaked and poked it, read it aloud again as a final proof-check, and emailed it off. And agonised. No point in going into all that, all I can say is, thank goodness for all my friends and fellow-sufferers over on WriteWords, where we have an ongoing thread specially for anyone who's waiting to hear... The production manager rang about the contract and I asked a couple of things: was it okay to blog (yes, provided I didn't give away anything about the story) and any chance of a podcast I could put on my website? No to that, as I'd expected, because there are contractual problems with the actors. But there's never any harm in asking.

And then Cecilia emailed. She loved 'Calling', she said: 'beautifully written and very moving'. She had only two doubts: one a point of research, and one about the ending. The research was solved by asking an assortment of Brightonian friends and the end... I understood her unease, but it took a while to find the answer which solved her problem, and still gave the story the ending it had to have. But I did, and then worked out how to write it as well. Another tweak, another read-aloud, and I sent off the final version to her and dived back into the novel.

Yesterday, she rang with some suggestions for actors. We talked a little around what would work, since I hadn't written it with a particular actor in mind, and her first idea was great, as was her second. Suddenly, the recording session's next week. I can't wait.

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