Tag Archives: the EPOS

Project Projections: 80% Chance of Bloodbath


My current project may kill me.

Not because it’s awful, like my protagonist’s assignment in Accidentally Inspired. Not because it’s just too much work, either, like that pile of stuff in your garage that you keep meaning to sort through and clean out.

It’s going to kill me because much like the weather here in Georgia, it’s alternately the best thing ever and the worst thing imaginable, and I don’t know how many fluctuations I can take before my lungs fill up with phlegm and my sinuses explode in protest.

The good:

While I was writing it, I had the feeling that it was terrible. I kept changing things in the middle of the narrative, the plot and characters congealing like a quivering pile of multicolored unidentifiable mystery meat in a school cafeteria. But reading through the story again this week, I’m pleasantly surprised. The plot needs work, to be sure, but it’s more multi-knotted rescue rope with the odd loose end than formless hairball of half-digested tail fur.

Also, there are some lovely turns of language in it — especially toward the beginning. I love a good simile or metaphor like I love a third slice of cake — but like the third slice of cake, I have to wonder if I’m not overdoing it. Trying too hard, indulging in fripperies because they feel good right now, rather than because they’re what I need. Not so much in this book. The language is playful and sometimes poetic, though always a little off-the-wall — kinda like me.

I found a note that Past Me left for Future Me (now Present Me) to “have fun with this story” — my previous story’s protagonist spent most of his time in a smothering haze of self-doubt — and I seem to have followed that advice pretty well. In this story, there’s adventure! Robots! Murder plots! Secret agendas! Double agents! Explosions! It’s not clicking like a finely-oiled machine, yet, but the pieces are there for the clicking, and it was actually already fun for me to read even in its first form — AND YOU HAVEN’T SEEN ITS FINAL FORM YET.

In short, there’s already a lot of good going for it. Of course, that brings me to the flip side of the coin —

The Bad:

A lot of the language that I so enjoyed at the outset dries up like a California reservoir after the first third of the book. Not coincidentally, that’s about where I started making major changes to characters and plots and had to spend all of my fargoes keeping those balls in the air. But that now means I’ll either have to trim it back in the first third or surgically implant it into the latter parts, neither of which is likely to feel natural.

Some of the rewrites on order are massive. I’d guess offhand that maybe a third of the book needs a ground-up rewrite and another third needs a heavy dose of some terrifying, unnameable, especially pointy and sharp editing tools. I know, I know. The editing is supposed to be the hard part. But this particular EPOS feels like it may be bigger than the last one I climbed. Daunting.

The last one, I don’t even want to say. It almost hurts too much. But I can’t avoid it.

I lost the ending of the book, back when I lost the flash drive that had my most recent first draft on it. Only the last 5000 words or so, but still — that one bit of stupidity continues to haunt me, like I went and built a house on an old Indian burial ground. Now, the ending needs — as all endings need — some serious tweaking and tuning, so the loss itself isn’t that bad. But the fact of the loss is pretty damn demoralizing, and leaves me with a grungy feeling as I get ready to step into my rubber gloves and galoshes and slice into this thing.

But the slicing is inevitable anyway. Just means I go into the work with a little bit of gudge already on me.

So. Kill me?

On second thought, I don’t think so.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results. This week? Maybe not so productive.

 

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Flawed Instrumentation: First Thoughts on a Late Edit


I’m starting another round of edits on my novel, and the pain just comes washing in.

With early edits, that pain was the raw, gnarly hurt of recognizing that I’d written a broken thing; a creature whose own limbs would pull it off balance if ever it tried to walk. The narrative was fragmented. Timelines didn’t add up. Characters would vanish for no apparent reason and reappear just as suddenly with no explanation. Look, no writer sits down and creates a perfect story out of nothingness in an afternoon. (Though, somehow, that’s certainly a misconception I’ve held, and I imagine others do too — that the greats just sit down and pour unicorns and fairy dust out of their heads and onto the page, and send it off for immediate publication.) But it’s a hard pill to swallow when you look at your own work and it’s so … let’s not say bad, let’s say, in need of improvement, the way a trauma victim with a sucking chest wound is in need of improvement.

With the latest edit, though, I’m feeling a different kind of pain. Not so much anymore the pain of oh god, what is this monstrosity I’ve created, but more the sharp sting of disappointment. That feeling you get when your kid tells you they did fingerpainting in kindergarten: you expect to see a painting that’s a little blotchy but still a reasonable facsimile of a house or a fish or a dog or a person, but in actuality all you get is a sad, mottled smear. It’s like, yes, you created something and that’s fantastic and adorable and isn’t it wonderful but at the same time, wow, I mean WOW, it’s obvious that you have no talent whatsoever. (Don’t lie and say you haven’t had that thought about your kid’s artwork. The only shining light is that he’s never done anything before, so he was basically guaranteed to suck … you were just holding out hope that maybe your kid was special but surprise, he isn’t!)

I’m about twenty pages in, and my fingers are aching from squeezing the pliers on all the rotted teeth; the blowtorch is sputtering, running out of fuel from searing off all the calamitous verbosity. (Calamitous Verbosity is totally the name of my new band.) I’m reading along and … man, I think the story’s good, but it’s just so cumbersome. So much junk language. So many rambling, do-nothing sentences. So much that’s vague or obvious filler or even worse, a ham-fisted attempt to sound poetic or clever or profound, like an NFL linebacker trying to dance in Swan Lake. It’s like, I can see what you’re going for there, but … no.

What freaks me out is that I already did a polishing pass at the end of my last edit. I read all this over several months back, thought, yep, that sounds like I want it to sound, and stamped it for approval. So now, I’m faced not with the regular, looming specter of self doubt that goes along with all writing, but with the deeper, insidious doubt of wondering whether I ever doubted myself enough in the first place. I once thought this thing was good, and I can now see it was not.

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That’s a harsh pill to swallow. I feel like I’m flying in an airplane, and I can look out the window and clearly see the ground a few hundred feet below, but all the instrumentation is telling me I’m thousands of feet up.

Two ways, then, to look at this situation, I think:

  1. My instrumentation is flawed and not to be trusted, ever.
  2. My instrumentation is flawed but improving.

Maybe I got a bad reading before, but I’ve got a better reading now. Maybe when I did those first edits, I hadn’t allowed enough time to pass to get a real, solid, objective look at the thing.

Or, maybe (how dare I even dare to think it) I’ve gotten better in the interim, and I legitimately am looking back at the admittedly inferior work of a fledgling writer, having learned a few things, having a little bit stronger sensibility.

Or, further maybe still, maybe the thing really is just a steaming pile of sharknado.

Difficult to say at this point.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: The Butcher’s Shop of Edits


So, you’ve got a draft in the bag and you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, this feels good. No, this feels awesome. I wrote a BOOK. I deserve a cookie.

And you do, maybe. But there’s a danger in that line of thinking, and the danger is in thinking you’re in any way done.

It’s easy to do. Typing the conclusion to your story has a lovely ringing finality to it, especially if you’re particularly dramatic (like me) and brazenly type an all-caps middle-finger-to-the-tribulations-of-the-draft “The End”. And certainly the draft tires you out like a machete-hacking slog through vine-tangled jungle. The problem is that when you hack through the jungle like that, you leave a path of carnage behind you, all broken stalks and fallen branches and trampled flora. Sure, you left a path. One with wrong turns, with dead ends, one that doubles back on itself like a stuffed bear hunting woozles.

And if you wanna do anything with that story, you’ve gotta fix that thing up.

Time to shift metaphors.

(OMG a metaphor post. I LOVE A METAPHOR POST. METAPHORS BE WITH YOU. OMG STAR WARS IS OUT SO SOON OMG.)

Sorry.

The draft, magnificent as it may be, is untamed, untanned, raw, like a side of beef fresh from the slaughterhouse. It can one day become a dazzling array of savory filet mignon, perfectly marbled ribeyes, staggering sirloins and lip-smacking ribs, but you can’t just toss the thing on the fire and expect it to come out delicious.

Maybe it calls for the hatchet.

Separate the poor dear into its component parts. Look at how this part connects to that part, then level the axe and hack it away. Dice the monster up into bits, first torso-sized, then leg-sized, then hand-sized, then bite-sized, ready for stewing. Examine each bit for disease and rot, weed out the tainted, and package up the rest for market.

Perhaps the knife.

A more delicate approach, but a more elegant one. Your story is riddled with extra fat, extra gristle, and before it’s fit for consumption, it needs trimming. So you go to work. Shave off a bit of overdone character development here, open up a gash in some disarticulated plot points there. Maybe a thin gash all through that one vein of a ridiculous MacGuffin you planted to let the rancid blood out. You slice, you shape, you shave, and send the leaner, comelier carcass on down the line while repackaging the trimmings to send to the dog food factory of your future projects.

Or maybe the Rocky treatment is more your style.

You’ve got some seriously pent-up rage from your trip through that disastrous first draft. The story came out hard and angry, like a kidney stone on methadone, a tight-wound spur of bone and tendon and agony. It needs tenderizing, and you’ve got a prize fight coming up. Time to tape up your knuckles and take out your aggression on the story’s knotted bits. Overly preachy villain? Bam, a gutshot to take his wind out. Malformed plot-lines? Skrak, a wicked cross that scatters their teeth across the stain-resistant cement. Mushy middle? Wap-wap-wap-wap, a flurry of undercuts to punish the soft flesh, and the bowels turn to water and the poison gushes out. You punish the knotted, sinewy flesh to a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth buttery consistency, which serves the double function of icing your knuckles and venting the anger and hurt and frustration you’re nursing from the draft.

(Funny sidenote: run a google image search for “Rocky punching meat” and you will find the above image, again and again, in varying color washes, resolutions, and sizes, like a bizarro Sylvester Stallone stained-glass mosaic, as if it were a painting from the 1300’s.)

Whatever tool you choose, the thing to remember is that the draft, as incredible as it may be (and it is incredible; for god’s sakes, you wrote a fargoing book, how many can claim that?), is not a finished thing. It’s a step along a path, the first few miles of a marathon, a pit stop at the moon on your way out to Mars. Whatever tool you use to get on with the fixing, you must wield it fearlessly, recklessly, even brutally.

Which is not to say you shouldn’t stop and take a moment to appreciate the draft, as imperfect as it may be. Do that. Put the pen down and appreciate for a moment the story you’ve built for the thing of beauty it is. Some of its imperfections will serve to make it perfect. Most of them will not. Stand back, have a drink, and bask in the magnificence of those imperfections.

Then put the story on the block and start lopping those imperfections off.

This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Too Much Think


There comes a point all things significant in my life wherein I find myself thinking way too much. I thought too much about marrying my wife, about buying our first house, about having kids… and I am definitely thinking too much about the edit of my novel.

I started out, if anything, not thinking enough. Not really wanting to tackle the tough choices, not really wanting to rejigger the narrative, not really willing to tear out the skeleton of the thing to make the changes that are necessary. But it grew on me, and I started to realize that not only are there tough choices to make, but that I often needed to take the harder of the two paths for fixing the problems in the story. And I started hunting down the problems in the narrative like  Indiana Jones seeking golden idols in the depths of Mayan temples. Each new problem solved gave rise to another, bigger conflict I could fix. Each prospective fix, not necessarily right for this situation, took on new significance, grew wings and started looking for problems to apply itself to. And then, a little stymied after a hectic work week, I threw myself at the edit again yesterday and spotted a white whale just lazing about below the surface of the waves on the horizon. A prize so massive, catching her and bringing her in could alter the trajectory of the narrative like a moonshot. It was a job too big for a single day, so I put it on the EPOS and marinated on it overnight.

And I realized something. Drafts of a story are like prototypes before a product launch. None of them is perfect, but each one gets polished to a point where it at least looks and functions more or less as intended. There may still be bugs on the inside, but to an outside observer, it looks like a complete thing. And my edit of this story resembles not so much a prototype as a cluttered workshop after a hurricane and a flash flood. The narrative is in pieces. Loose ends like frayed wires are protruding out of the armholes, eye sockets, fingertips. Entire limbs of the story are disjointedly stuck on with duct tape while other vestigial bits are still cluttering the margins like piles of unswept sawdust.

I’ve been so focused on fixing every little problem along the way that I never bothered to stop, clean up, and see if the thing as a whole is still working as intended. There’s been so much thought about making this little thing fit into its niche that I’m not paying attention to the fact that I’ve stitched an alligator arm onto a panda bear torso. I fear that there’s been so little big picture focus that I’ve created a Frankenstein’s Monster doomed to self-destruct in a boiling froth of unresolved plots and half-baked new characters. In short: I fear that I’ve somehow managed to make this second draft worse than the first.

But you know what? Maybe it is, and maybe that’s okay. If nothing else, it’s time to stop making huge conceptual changes, clean up the dust and debris, and see if this thing can even stand on its own two feet. The first draft did. It was shaky, but it stood up. This second draft? I honestly have no idea. I think it will, but I haven’t tested it properly with a read-through to see.

So it’s time to stop thinking so much. Time to stop trying to fix everything and start making sure that the fixes I’ve made already actually work. Which means no more breaking the story into pieces. No more new characters. No DELETING existing characters. No more rearranging story elements. I need less chainsaw, more chisel. Less dynamite, more sander. Time to sweep up the workshop, put the tools away, and just sit and have another good look at this thing I’ve built. Get a second opinion. Take a bird’s-eye view of the whole scenario.

And then, you know, with fresh perspective, maybe it’ll be time to lop its arms off.


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.

 


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