Writer, Edit Thyself

Self-editing. Some days, it’s a pleasure – like sharpening your brain’s claws on some rough, craggy tree bark. Other days, it’s pure torture – you can feel every slash of the red pen as though it’s a scalpel ripping at your flesh. One thing’s for sure, though: no matter what kind of day you’re having, self-editing is an important part of getting a piece ready for its journey out into the publishing world. So here are a few articles to make the process less painful, more productive, and – yes, I’m going to say it – more fun.

The first article, “The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing,” comes from the highly-useful archives over at Writer’s Digest. Reading about these common self-editing pitfalls can help you identify your weaknesses when it comes to your own writing – and maybe, just maybe, learn to overcome them.

As far as my own self-editing experiences go, I’d have to say that “Gluttony” probably tops the list. Sometimes, I fall in love with a fancy bit of phrasing or a long, flowery paragraph that simply has no place in the story. Sometimes, the thing that needs cutting is the scene that was the inspiration for the whole chapter, or even one of my precious cool things. It’s hard for me to cut those things, even when I know I should. That’s why, in addition to self-editing, I also rely on outside readers for valuable feedback. My writing group doesn’t know or care how many hours I slaved over a particular paragraph. All they know is that the paragraph breaks up the flow of the story, and needs to be removed. When I see that fat red Sharpie “X” scrawled across the section in question, my heart can finally accept what the back of my brain knew all along – and I can, with one last wince of hesitation, finally hit the delete button.

The second article, “Picture Books: Plan, Polish and Publish,” comes from children’s author Dori Chaconas. She takes you through every step of the creative process, from the initial birth of an idea, all the way to the final polishing of the story prior to submission. Chaconas shares her own personal strategies for self-editing, complete with wonderfully-vivid “before and after” examples. She demonstrates how to refresh boring clichés and really make your language sparkle with originality. She shows you how to trick your brain into thinking you’re reading your story for the first time (and not the fiftieth), and even discusses her policy on accepting criticism from her writing group.

I came across this article years ago and instantly saved it on my computer because it was just so chock-full of useful strategies and tips. It was written as a guide to picture book writing, but the bulk of the information applies to all forms of writing, and authors in any genre will be able to find something to take away from this excellent piece.

So, go forth and read! Take notes! Copy and paste! Figure out what your self-editing weaknesses are and how to overcome them. Learn how to take a seed of an idea and turn it into the most original, sparkling and polished story you are capable of writing.

And then…submit it :).


Mentalist Review: Episode 5×22 “Red John’s Rules”

Review of Episode 5×22: “Red John’s Rules”
by castiello


Previews are misleading. My favorite shows keep trying to teach me that, yet apparently I still haven’t quite gotten the message. The previews for this episode were brief and vague, focusing primarily on an image of seven smiley faces and a brief shot of Cho running. My mind quickly jumped to “Red Sky in the Morning” (multiple smileys in one place) and I have to admit I was a bit less than enthused. The Season Two closer was a decent episode, but they completely skipped over some of the most interesting parts, including Jane’s rescue from the warehouse. I worried that the Season Five finale might suffer from the same shortcomings. I worried that the team would be rushing around after Red John the whole time, and we’d miss the little character moments in between. I worried that I wasn’t going to love the season finale of one of my favorite shows.

Thankfully, all that worrying was for absolutely no good reason. “Red John’s Rules” is yet another example of underwhelming previews leaving me completely unprepared for a stellar episode that I would happily rewind and re-watch – repeatedly.

Jane: The character revelations…wow. I mean seriously, wow. We’re used to Jane strolling around, all buttoned up in his little vest, keeping his past and his secrets chained and padlocked inside his heart…and then we get an episode like this, where we find out so dang MUCH all at once. It feels like being in an avalanche. All these details about Jane’s life and his history and his most hidden thoughts just come roaring down the mountain at the same time, and I can’t help but be swept away. It was “Cackle-Bladder Blood” all over again. There’s a reason that episode’s in my Top Five, and probably my Top Three. I remember feeling amazed while watching “Cackle-Bladder Blood” – we had rarely seen Jane so raw, we had never seen him so open. He talked with Lisbon about his wife, his carnival days, his wedding. It took my breath away, and so did “Red John’s Rules.” What looked like an action romp actually turned out to be a dark and twisty character piece peppered with wonderful friendship moments as well as some genuinely disturbing psychological scares.

Who’s a happy fan? **castiello raises her hand exuberantly**

Okay, so, the avalanche:

We discovered that Jane’s “happy memory” is a little girl named Lee Lee Barlow, balancing on her father’s outstretched arm. We learned that he spent some time in the care of Child Protective Services (no surprises there) and it wasn’t good time. We found out that some carnie families, like Patrick and Alex, only keep up the “psychic act” around marks, while others, like the Barlows, present themselves as clairvoyant at all times. We saw that Jane actually can snooze pretty soundly, if he’s sleep-deprived enough (Did you see how cute and tousled he looked when Lisbon finally woke him up?) And we learned that Jane still refuses to believe that anyone – including Red John – could actually be psychic, no matter how creepy and convincing the evidence is.

Speaking of Red John: Jane has finally narrowed down his suspect pool to seven people. Nay, seven men. Early on, he eliminated women. Eventually, he also came to eliminate people he’d met before his family was murdered (Why???), and people he only had a brief interaction with (I repeat: Why???). So now it’s down to seven. Both Bret and Brett are on there, as well as weirdo Kirkland, William-Blake-quoting Bertram, freaky Visualize guy Hafner, and a couple of dudes who were probably in a few episodes but their roles weren’t big enough that I recognized their names. Still no way to know if Lisbon told Jane about Hafner’s Visualize membership and his possible presence at the red barn, but at least creepy Ray made the list.

Jane’s reaction to Red John’s message at the end of the ep mirrored my own feelings of spiraling defeat: Jane put all that work into narrowing down that list, and it may have been for nothing. Red John might not even be on there, and even if he is, he knows exactly what Jane knows. Red John isn’t just five steps ahead – he’s fifty steps ahead. Every time Jane thinks he has the advantage, the rug just comes flying out from under him. I felt that more in this ep than I ever did before. Red John has never seemed smarter or more powerful, and it left us with an angsty cliffhanger and the promise of a thrilling Season Six.

Lisbon: Jane didn’t want to tell her the suspects’ names because she would start acting weird in front of those people and end up tipping them off. He strengthened his argument by including a dead-on, laugh-out-loud impression of Lisbon trying to put on a front. Some great, much-needed comedy in an otherwise shadowy episode. I love the funny moments between Jane and Lisbon almost as much as I love the intense, serious ones. In this ep, we got beautiful examples of both. Each little Jane/Lisbon scene was like tearing the paper off a birthday gift – surprising and wonderful in equal measure.

Interestingly enough, Lisbon is willing to entertain the idea of Red John being psychic. On the one hand, it would be cool if the show went there. Jane is so utterly and stubbornly convinced that nothing beyond his understanding could possibly exist. It would be a humbling moment for him. A huge turning point for his character.

OTOH, a psychic Red John would be a bit of a cop-out. Like, the writers realized they had no other way of explaining how Red John knows what he knows and does what he does, leaving a supernatural explanation as the only remaining option. I’d like to see them at least try to figure out a way to piece it all together in a clever, compelling, and real-world-believable way.

So, Lisbon was “lying in bed, thinking about Patrick,” eh? I don’t think I’m going to touch that one. I’m sure the fanfiction authors are already having a field day with that, so I’ll just let the party continue. I will say this, though: I loved how Lisbon and Jane were both more concerned about the other person than they were for themselves after their very disturbing encounter with Sean Barlow.

Cho/Rigs/Van Pelt: Weren’t in it too much, but I have a hard time complaining about that when we got so many fabulous Jane and Lisbon scenes. I did have to snicker when Rigsby tried to confess his and Van Pelt’s relationship to Cho, only to have Cho be like, “I already know. You and Van Pelt are having sex.” It was so sweet when Rigsby felt the need to clarify that they are also in love – not just having sex. Cho seemed to have a small but genuine reaction to that. He is happy for his partner. Long live the bromance! 🙂

Sean Barlow: Successfully redefined the word “creepy.” Everything from his physical appearance, to his mannerisms, to his voice – not to mention all the stuff he said.  Seriously, I shuddered. Multiple times. Jane’s old friend said Sean Barlow might actually be Red John. After seeing the guy for myself, I am so not ruling it out.

Lorelei: It was eerie to see her again – like a voice from beyond the grave. I imagine Jane felt the same way. (Major points to the wardrobe people for remembering the bandage on her arm, btw.) The ease with which Red John got her back under his control is scary to the nth degree. She was totally complacent – almost contrite – as she followed her Master’s final instructions. I mean, sure, he had a gun pointed at her. Sure, she was trying to spare herself hours of pointless torture, but still…I got the feeling she would have cooperated anyway. That even with the knowledge of RJ’s involvement in her sister’s murder, Lorelei never did fully break free of his control. I also got the feeling that she was, above all, genuinely sorry.

Red John: Seems to know a lot of things he should have no way of knowing. Some things are explainable, if you dig deep enough. Other things, not so much. So, let’s focus on what we do know:

The Happy Memory: Red John appears to have stolen a memory right out of Jane’s mind. Something Jane never told anyone about. If Red John isn’t psychic, how is that possible?

Option 1.) Red John was actually present at the scene all those years ago, when Lee Lee’s dad was holding her up. He witnessed the happy moment right along with Jane. It was a happy memory for Red John, and since the two men are eerily similar in many ways, Red John knew that the memory would be significant for Jane, as well.

Option 2.) Hypnosis. Jane told Red John all about the happy memory, but doesn’t remember doing so. Jane and Red John were alone together in “Red Sky in the Morning,” a perfect opportunity for Red John to hypnotize Jane, extract whatever info he wanted, plant whatever suggestions he thought might be useful down the road, and leave Jane none the wiser.

By far the superior option, #2 goes a long way to explaining why Jane and Red John used practically the exact same phrasing when describing Lee Lee’s murder: Jane: “It’s as if Red John reached into my mind, took my happy memory, and killed it.” Red John: “I am going to take a happy memory, something you’ve never told anyone about, and I’m going to kill it.” Also, remember how twitchy Jane was after RJ had him in that Saran Wrap chair? For the first half of Season Three, Jane was flipping out whenever people touched his shoulder. Kinda reminds me of how cagey Rigsby was after that bad lady in “Russet Potatoes” (sorry, can’t remember her name – it was four seasons ago) turned him into a hypnotized minion. Rigs had no idea he’d been compromised, and the same could be true for Jane.

The Handshake: Red John knows what Lorelei said about the handshake, even though the words appeared to just rush out of her in a moment of anger. I didn’t think she even realized she’d said it. Neither did Jane. If she didn’t know she’d let something vital slip, how did Red John get that info out of her?

Option #1.) Lorelei really didn’t realize she made the slip, but Red John used hypnosis to take her back through all of her interactions with Jane, and she was able to recall accidentally revealing the handshake clue.

Option #2.) Lorelei is a great actress, and let the clue slip with full knowledge of what she was doing. She wanted to give Jane a little piece of the puzzle. Later, under Red John’s torture, she revealed to The Master what she’d done. (And he was “really mad.”)

Option #3.) Lorelei is a great actress who let the “clue” slip out on Red John’s orders. It was a false piece of info planted just to drive Jane nuts. Red John and Jane never did actually shake hands, and Red John is not even on Jane’s list of suspects. The Master gets the last laugh, as always.

The List: Red John successfully guessed every name on Jane’s list. If RJ can’t read minds, then how the crap did he do that?

Option #1.) Red John is actually that brilliant. He is actually that good at figuring out the inner workings of Jane’s mind. Starting with the handshake clue, Red John was able to comb through Jane’s history and select the candidates Jane himself would zero in on. (A highly unlikely scenario, bordering on impossibility.)

Option #2.) The names were easy to narrow down, thanks to a nice long gander at Jane’s private attic bulletin board. We know for sure that Kirkland’s people broke in, and others might have, too. Several of the suspects even work right in the building **cough**Bertram-and-Hafner**cough**. Even Jane knows that someone violated his space (thanks to the toothpick alarm), so he shouldn’t be too shocked that Red John has hijacked his research.

Option #3.) The names were planted in Jane’s mind by Red John himself, during the aforementioned Saran Wrap Chair Hypnosis Session. Everything – including Lorelei letting the clue slip – was part of an elaborate scheme to screw with Jane’s mind. Red John set this whole thing in motion years ago.

Final Thoughts: There are different kinds of finales. Some wrap up the season’s main storylines, giving viewers a sense of closure. Others dive headlong into edge-of-the-seat cliffhangers guaranteed to make fans tune in next fall. The very best finales, however, manage to do both – and “Red John’s Rules” lands squarely in this last category. The Payoff: After more than half a season of educated guessing and wild speculation, we are finally rewarded with the last seven names on Jane’s list. The Cliffie: Red John has decided to abandon a state of semi-retirement to become an active serial killer once more. He has issued a challenge to Jane, and the stakes have never been higher – or bloodier. I have no idea how many people will die next season, but one thing’s for sure: Jane and Co. are – and always have been – playing by Red John’s Rules.