A Complimentary First Review

So the first non-me reader of my novel has finished it, and gave me a pretty solid compliment. She said that she loved the concept, and wished there was more to the book because she was enjoying it so much.

Okay, so the reader is my wife, which perhaps makes her review a little less than perfectly objective. She does have several notebook pages of notes compiled, though, and pointed out some errors that I overlooked, and some that I downplayed in my own mind despite the fact that they are actually pretty significant.

In short, a mixed review, which is actually exactly what I was hoping for. Good news is she didn’t feel it was a waste of her time or mine, in fact just the opposite. She told me it would make a good movie, and that it would do really well as a series. All the things a wife is supposed to say to her husband who is thrashing around in the riptide trying to find an artistic identity.

In fact, her feedback couldn’t have come at a better time; I’ve started working on my next major project and, much though I love the raw rush of creating from nothingness, it’s leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. Maybe bitter isn’t the word for it: I tried to describe the sensation to my wife, and the best I could come up with (though I actually rather like the simile) is oatmeal.

Writing the new project, at the moment, is kinda like eating oatmeal. The right things are happening, I feel like I’m building a solid foundation for the story to come, and in general the development of the project feels good. But it’s lacking flavor, and I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m writing the story explicitly from one character’s point of view, but I’m writing it in the 3rd person. Like, if I got into the character’s headspace, I could develop her voice with a bit more flair and verve, but from outside, I’m stuck describing events simply as they happen, and it feels… well, like oatmeal. Also, there’s the fact that I haven’t 100% decided exactly where this story leads — I know some major landmarks along the way but I don’t yet have an ending in mind yet. As a result, I’m moving through it a little tentatively, and that makes me nervous to take risks, which leaves the writing feeling… yeah. Bland.

So maybe I’ll toy with some 1st person perspective over the next couple chapters, or then again, maybe I’ll hold off, since the action is about to start crackling. Blerg. Should I be focusing on infusing a bit more flash and style into this piece to complement the story, or should I just focus on the events first and nail down the delivery later?

I would have thought that, having written a 90,000 word draft before, I’d know what I wanted to accomplish in this new story when I tried to come around and do it again. But apparently not. I blazed a path through the jungle only to discover that writing the next novel will be a hike across the endless desert.

Writer problems. I complain, but these are good problems to have, because the words are flowing, and a lot of writers can’t say that. Nothing to do but press forward. No way out but through.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

Lingua Caca

Today was a day of great pain and sorrow for me, because today I made a pass at cleaning up the language in my novel.

I really feel two ways about this. On the one hand the language, most of the time, feels natural and right and perfectly at home in the book where it was. On the other hand, I’m willing to accept that, perhaps, foul language is a crutch that I maybe lean on a little too much.

Want numbers? Here are numbers:

  • The novel as a whole is ~97,000 words in its current iteration. (It probably still needs trimming, but we’ll see what my first round of readers thinks.)
  • 37 were Fargos. (7 of those in my notes to myself. I’m a bit of a self-abuser in my own editing.)
  • 53 of those were Sharknados. (only 3 in my self-abuse notes. Also, and I’m rather proud of this, 7 of them came in one sentence. It was a good sentence.)
  • 1 Ash. Not a word I use a lot.
  • 48 Haberdasheries. This one makes me laugh a little, because its usage irks me in popular shows. If you watch Once Upon A Time critically, as I like to do (who am I kidding, it’s also a lot of fun), you might notice that they lean on the phrase “what the hell” or “who the hell” or “how the hell”. I can usually count 3 or 4 iterations per episode. Well, 90% of my offenses came in the same flavor. That old adage about the man in the mirror being a big, fat jerk comes to mind.
  • 7 Clams. Again, not one I overuse. 2 of them were directed at myself. This is within acceptable parameters.

So, after a few surgical strikes with the delete key, what did I accomplish?

  • There are no f-bombs left. It hurt me, but in every instance I was able to find a way to say what I was trying to say, only, y’know, with less fargoery.
  • There are 2 sharknados left. The ones still standing are really fargoing funny, and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t find a phrasing any sharper than a well placed s-word.
  • The ash is gone. I didn’t feel strongly enough about it to fight my ego-writer for it. No great loss, there.
  • The clams stayed. I figure if a person can handle a couple of sharknados, they can clam sure handle a few clammits.
  • The haberdasheries… well, I’m addressing those tomorrow. I can probably cut most of them, but again, for emphasis, a little haberdashery is hard to beat.

So how do I feel about all of this? I’m conflicted. The Fargos and Sharknados were easy enough to trim out. Those are the biggies, that people really seem to take issue with. Higher on the hierarchy, if you will. In a novel of almost 100,000 words, I think a couple of profanities are well within reason.

Aren’t they?

My wife argues (probably rightly so) that my novel may lose some of its appeal for younger audiences with the profanity intact. To be more precise, with the profanity in place, the book could get labelled in such a way that might make it hard to sell parents on letting their children read it. (As a teacher, I can assure you that a stray f-word or worse does not bother the average whateverteen-year-old in the least.) And I guess that’s a consideration worth … considering. Then again, the language is as natural to me as breathing, and I think that removing it from my characters’ mouths (and rarely from the prose) is a little like the aliens taking the nose off the Sphinx. (What, you don’t think aliens built the Sphinx? LOOK AT THE FACTS.) Maybe it looks better that way, but still, it feels … off, somehow. Certainly it feels like adjusting my style for an external factor, regardless of how relevant that one factor may be. One character in particular was exceptionally foul-mouthed in the first draft. Like, it was an integral part of what made him unlikable (I thought). The character works without having a sailor’s vocabulary, but knowing what he was, he feels like, I dunno, maybe 80% of what he could be? 85%?

Then again, maybe my wife is right, and the language is a barrier to more readers than I think.

It’s weird; usually I can bring an issue here to my dumping ground, marinate on it for the forty-five minutes or so it takes me to pinch off a blarg post, and come away with some clarity and feeling a little lighter. But on this one I feel even more conflicted than when I started.

What to do? Leave the salty language intact and ask my beta readers how they feel about it? Or proceed with the edited-for-TV version and ask, at the finish, whether foul language would read better?

Is the language a part of my authorial voice? Or is it a crutch getting in the way of my voice?


Milestones and Doubt

I think I finished my second pass at the first edit last night. I say “I think” because I’m feeling a tremendous urge to throw out all the rewrites that I’ve completed over the past six weeks or so, and in fact to toss the entire document in my computer’s recycle bin. Which would, technically, put me back in the re-writing process, although more at the even-before-the-starting-point-of-square-one point than at the fixing-what’s-wrong-with-it point.

I’m pretty sure this draft is worse than the first. Tsunamis of doubt about the changes I’ve made are pummeling the coastline of my confidence in this project. I thought last night about how bizarre and awkward it felt writing the necessary changes into the end of the book. Then I thought for even longer about going back and deleting all my new changes and reverting to the first draft I finished with in July. Then I had a drink and consulted with my wife and decided to let the changes breathe for a little while before doing anything drastic (which is probably always a good policy on both counts: consulting with the wife and letting things breathe).

After pondering on it for a night, I’m going to let those changes stand for this pass. I’m going to take one final pass on the story to address my remaining notes and clean up the language, and then it’ll be time to pass it along to some readers. I’m thinking that can be done by the end of January. I’ve missed my goal to have this first edit done by the new year, but given that I had no idea how much time the edit should take in the first place, I’m not unhappy about that.

I recall, now, thinking back at the beginning of this process that I had no idea how to attack it, and I think the process that I blundered into worked … well enough. That would be a process with three legs:

  1. Read the draft, taking notes on major plot points, inconsistencies, character tracking, and anything else that needs fixing.
  2. Rewrite it, smashing the broken bits to pieces and building it back bit by bit. Crowbar in the changes that need to be made and hack out the stuff that’s taking up space.
  3. Read it again, cleaning up language and fixing any lingering errors.

As has been pointed out multiple times on this blarg, I’m hardly an expert, and I don’t know what I’m doing. However, I spent a lot of time hemming and hawing about how I was going to approach this edit, and if I can have this method in mind for the next time I need it, maybe I can save myself a couple days of strife.

So, on Monday, I start on the third leg. I was going to read with a scalpel in hand, but I think after my last post about how bloated the thing has become, I’m actually going to be using a hatchet.



The edit continues.  Hard to give a status update; it seems like I’m moving more quickly through the book but not actually getting all that much accomplished with it.  I try to deal with the notes I left to myself in the draft, but I feel like I end up only leaving more notes for further future mes to deal with.

That said, occasionally the notes I left to myself back then brighten my day here in the present.  I came across one yesterday that made absolutely not one stonking bit of sense.  “Nope, but good try.”  Stuck in amidst a not particularly compelling bit of dialogue, not referencing anything in particular, certainly not communicating any sort of useful message, it lurks there in the margin, taunting me, daring me to puzzle out what it means and what it’s doing there, like a cat turd on the kitchen countertop.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about the edit how time especially is an issue that vexed me in the draft, and continues to vex me in the edit.  Time is so crucial to the plot of this thing and it is so often referenced that nailing down the times that things start and end, and the times during which things are happening in the background, has become one of my primary giants to slay.  My Past Me’s notes to my Present Self grew more and more frantic from about one-third of the way into the book right up until the end, but today something different happened.  Rather, I found something different which happened several months ago.  The note was actually in the text itself.

Characters are arguing.  Things are happening.  And there, jammed into the story like one discolored brick in a mosaic, is a note to myself lurking with the story itself.

“His agent met him out front with a haggard look on his face: it was, after all, nearly midnight on a Whaturday.”

Not italicized, not asterisk’d or otherwise cordoned off like any self-respecting note; just there, hands on its hips, tongue sticking out, thumbing its nose at me.  With its third hand.  (I don’t know, it’s a word, it doesn’t even have hands.)  At least I remembered to capitalize it.  I can picture my Past Self typing furiously away, realizing I was about to have to remember what day it was supposed to be in this tangle of time and deadlines, then saying, “Fargo it, it’s a Whaturday.”

It cracked me up when I stumbled upon it because I can recall the frustration I was feeling and the complete lack of fargos I gave about trying to sort out the problem at the time.  But I wonder if I didn’t accidentally name a thing that needs naming.  These last few days, with my wife and kids out of town, with the regular punctuation of the day scattered to the winds, one day feels very much like another.  Is it Tuesday?  Thursday?  Monday?  Does it matter?  What day is it?  Whaturday.

This goes doubly for the summer, when as a teacher, I don’t even have a regular work schedule to anchor my time.  The summer becomes one long unbroken string of Whaturdays.

Then I take that last step too far, start really breaking down the word itself, and realize that it’s got the word “turd” right there, unavoidable and undeniable, as turds always are.  And turds are always funny.  Well, the word is.  Turd.  Word.  Wordturd.

God, editing a book is hard.  Please let this Whaturday be over soon.