Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure

I've been deep into Areia this week (and last). I realized after I had completed the book that I'd used the first 300 or so pages to really get to know the character and the way the world worked. I mean, by the end of the book, I'd completely reworked the laws governing magic during these pages, changed Areia's opinion on the Temple of Shadow and Light where she's currently training, and added new, very key secondary characters, which altered Areia again. While fascinating for me, this is not so great for the audience. The pacing was flat, the character growth elongated through too many repetitive encounters, and the enemies were too late coming on the scene. Plus, Areia was reading too perfect. She's not perfect. She's a moody fourteen-year-old girl chosen by the goddesses to work with magical power--a power that starts to fail her, too. So she's got problems. Lots of them.

Thus, my task has been to make those problems and Areia believable, make the magic rules completely soundproof, build up character relationships better, and all the while not bore the reader with too much extraneous information. Which means I've been hunting and pecking through 300 pages (well, 200, since pages 1-100 were already sorted through for chapters 1-5) for the juicy bits and adding in filler as needed. I did my first run through for this chapter by hand, editing the printed pages and writing the new scenes in a notebook. Now I'm typing it all up and I find myself thinking back to the Choose Your Own Adventure novels that I used to read when I was in the sixth grade. You know the ones where there would be a page of a scene, and at the bottom it would say something like:
  • To throw Bobby off a cliff, turn to page 44.
  • To rescue Bobby with a giant hammock flown in by a helicopter, turn to page 92.

Only I can't remember now if it revealed what the next scene would be or if it was more mysterious:

  • To have Bobby go down the left trail, turn to page 84.
  • To have Bobby experience something he's never done before, turn to page 72.

(I'd definitely go to page 72 in this choice.)

So that's how my rewrites have been going: Skip from page 289 back to 144, add in the text marked "triangle with a circle plus an X through it*" in my handwritten notebook, then skip to page 201. (*I make myself reference notes on the printed pages that refer to my handwritten notebook by using hieroglyphic-type marks like the triangle with a circle plus an X through it. That way I don't get confused by numbered notations. Also, I get to doodle for a moment.)

But I'd forgotten another thing about the Choose Your Own Adventure novels: after the first two or three, they became boring. I always wanted more story. I hated that so many plot lines led back to the same ending. I wanted a longer book. I wanted more character development. Which is why I stopped reading those books. So, while patching together this chapter scene by non-linear scene has been interesting, I'm looking forward to the second round of edits where page 20 will be followed by page 21. And as far as wanting more, well, I've got another 1,000 pages to go.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Importance of an Editor

I think that people tend to forget the importance of editors. They read a really good book and forget about the people that helped polish that manuscript into its final masterpiece. They presume that editors are only there to check for commas and capitalization, to make sure the correct affect/effect was used, and at best, to clarify confusing sentences. But there's so much more, so many big-picture items that really need an editor's eye.

Case in point: Succubus in the City. I just finished the mildly painful debut novel by Nina Harper. The concept of the novel was very interesting (Satan as a girlfriend; the main character a succubus that is doing womankind a favor by, well, killing bad men--or bad men in bed--by doing them), and Harper knows her fashion and name brands, so the obvious spin off from Sex and the City worked. What didn't work were the parts that I would expect from a first-time novelist, but not a published, has-been-through-an-editor first-time novelist.

There were the paragraphs in the first chapter that repeated in the third, fifth, and again in the final chapters of the book that could have been cut and pasted from the original. There was the incessant beating the reader over the head with the same knowledge over and over again. (Trust me, I'm going to remember the escape clause for the succubus in her deal with the devil. I don't need to be reminded every other chapter. I'm not dumb, and I want to like the book. Give me credit.) There were the character details that kept cropping up at the needed time with no foreshadowing and no subtlety. (Hum. She should have dated before, shouldn't she? Maybe we'll just stick that in here. No one will notice that there was no mention of this character before...or since.) There were also the secondary characters who didn't really have their personalities described until two-thirds of the way through the book. There was the obvious overlaid theme of friendship lasting forever, men lasting until they're turned to dust. Themes should be a little more subtle than last minute tack ons to meet an expectation. It felt like Harper realized as she was creating a synopsis or a query letter that her book should have a theme, and she scribbled out a few paragraphs and called it a night. (Theme? Hum? Well that's obvious. Girlfriends rule! Get me another glass of wine! Oh, but wait. How should I put it in? Maybe I'll slap a two page intro about girlfriends being the best thing ever, assume the reader is just going to take as long to read the novel as I did to write it, then take the same intro and rework it for the epilogue, because no one will remember they read the same thing earlier. I didn't! Then, voila! I'll have a theme that ties the book together. And now that that's done, I can go shopping! Ohh! SHOPPING!) There was also the very obvious ploy for a series, or at least a sequel, by not tying up the romance. Unfortunately, the book needed that romance tied up. There was not enough build up for a sequel and too much build up for no conclusion. The result: a very contrived ending. Isn't it convenient that book two comes out only nine months later? Any later, and this book would have been long since forgotten by most people. Of course the main characters are going to get together. Of course the succubus is going to be freed of her contract. There's not much of a cliffhanger there, just dissatisfaction.

These are all the fallacies of a book that I would expect an editor to notice and help the author change and improve so that by the time it was published, I could read the story and never feel like I was observing a work in progress.

But the shining example of why a book needs a good, final editorial pass was glaringly obvious: Pages 217 to 264 were missing! Missing! And in their place were pages 99 to 146 of the American Heart Association: To Your Health! "Living Lean" edition. I kid you not!

Nina Harper, you got gypped!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Carpe the Scissors

I took a break last week (as you may or may not be able to tell from my sporadic postings). First my cat got sick, then I got sick, and I just needed some time off. To do what? Well, pretty much nothing. Basically, I gave myself permission to not complete my usual five hours minimum of writing work last week. I still did some (it's really hard not to, since I like what I do so much) but definitely not five hours.

I can't remember if I've mentioned this before, my five hour minimum. I know--it sounds puny, right? Five hours of the 168 we have every week isn't a large percentage. But when you subtract time for work (the one that pays), sleep, eating, prep time, errands, and chores (not to mention non-writing fun time), five hours starts to sound more reasonable. Some weeks it even seems like too much. Other weeks, well, it's a minimum number; there's no max. So I'm very happy with my five hours a week.

After my week of recovery, where am I at? Impatient to sell Madison, eager to start the next one. Impatient to be done with Areia edits. Ready to sell it. Ready to start the next one. I'm also reminding myself to enjoy the process, to be in the moment. Actually being back in the writing will help.

Thus, in the back of my mind, I'm ramping up for another 50,000 words in 1 month for the next Madison book. (It would be lovely to sell two or three at once.) I don't think I'll wait until November for the official National Novel Writing Month. I think it'll be sooner. In the meantime, I've returned to Areia. There's nothing quite like working on another project to make the dormant project come to life. And there's nothing like a quick 80,000 word book to make the 400,000 word one seem ridiculously long. The scissors are coming out soon, folks. This book needs trimming. It's time to embrace the moment.