Author passes on wisdom of 'Good Editing': Tom Franklin shares editing tips during Alabama Writers' Conclave conference

By Jessica Jones
Posted 8/6/13

During the Alabama Writers' Conclave conference in Fairhope, attendees enjoyed speaker events, workshops and readings. While guests learned about memoir, poetry and fiction, manuscript editing found its place in the workshop line-up as Tom Franklin …

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Author passes on wisdom of 'Good Editing': Tom Franklin shares editing tips during Alabama Writers' Conclave conference

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During the Alabama Writers' Conclave conference in Fairhope, attendees enjoyed speaker events, workshops and readings. While guests learned about memoir, poetry and fiction, manuscript editing found its place in the workshop line-up as Tom Franklin presented “Good Editing.”

He began by explaining that every story needs the three P's: people, place, problem.

“Maybe it seems basic, but it really isn't,” he revealed. “I get students at Ole Miss who write bathtub stories — where a person reclines in a bathtub, and thinks.”

He said writers could also think of these as character, contrast and conflict; “How the person in the place navigates the problem,” he said.

After the basics, comes fine tuning, he explained.

“The length of your finger is the length between words you can repeat,” he offered with a short pause and glance around the room. “I'm joking, people! But with every rule, someone's broken it beautifully.”

In addition to using a varying vocabulary, Franklin noted the importance of “show me, don't tell me.”

As attendees read “The Wig,” by Brady Udall, Franklin pointed out how the author gave only hints of background in this short story, he explained enough, but let the action of the story inform readers.

“You're doing more active work,” he said. “Like you and the writer are having a dialogue.”

He advocated the author's minimal details of background, and use of strong plot as a way of earning an emotional response, rather than drawing on readers' emotional baggage.

“What is 'sentimental?'” he asked. “It's unearned emotion. Nostalgia is a way of forgetting, not remembering. When writing a story, choose a moment: the breakfast that matters, the day things really change.”

He quoted William Faulkner, “'To understand the world, is to understand a place like Mississippi.' He knows his world.”

He said that authors may need to write a character profile to get deep into the person they're writing about. He said to ask yourself 100 questions about the character.

“Be a sadist to the character,” he suggested. “The harder you are on them, the worse their reactions will be. Let the character assume his or her own life, and put more, and more on them.”

Finally, he said don't hesitate to just write. Get something down on paper.

“Don't be afraid to be silly, or funny, or sad or dirty,” he divulged. “We all write terrible sentences and come back and edit them later … In writing, a novel is the hardest thing to accomplish. The only thing harder in life is raising children. You are alone. That's why we want to know how others do it. Really, it's you against the sky. The best advice is to just write to the end, no matter what. You can go back and edit later, but get to the end of the whole thing where you can see it and evaluate it.”

For more information on Tom Franklin, visit mswritersandmusicians.com/writers/tom-franklin; for more information on the Alabama Writers' Conclave, visit alabamawritersconclave.org.