I think I’ve got how to introduce the character who’s giving me trouble. It means going back to an earlier version of him, but a more consistent one.
It helps that in the month between handing SE over to BRAWL and receiving crits, I started writing the sequel. 40,000 words of sequel mean that I’ll have a running start on that draft — and, even better, much of what I’ve put together can be used to patch up SE. It also became clear when I was writing one scene that it really needed to be in SE rather than later . . . and, going by the crits, it’ll be perfect to add about 3/4 of the way through.
Over lunch, I start working out some new introductions, based a little on the crits and a little on what I’ve worked out for the sequel. Halfway through this, I draw a map. It doesn’t fit on the page. I’m not big on maps for my own work, mainly because the map of Boston sufficed for the Evie books, and my short stories rarely need that reference. Plus, there’s a part of me that resists sticking a map at the front of the novel. (Even though I do sometimes re-read the Atlas of Middle-Earth.) But a major critique that came through was the lack of a clear sense of who’s where and what this means. The map probably won’t make it into the book, but I need one for myself.
Half a page turns into a full-page map, which still doesn’t fit. It’s also gathering notes such as “this border was practically walled off for ~150 years to avoid devastation” and “road cuts through mountains; monasteries on either side.” Neither is relevant to the novel, but both act as a reminder of the history of the world.
Work out more notes in the evening — how many characters can I kill off early? And would that mess things up for later? And how can I add another action scene? — then succumb to Portal 2. I’ve been assured that I am an excellent test subject.
Spent a couple of hours going through the written crits, summarizing each point, and sorting them into two long lists: Minor and Major Issues. There’s a lot of repetition in the Major Issues list; the problems people noticed were generally noticed by everyone (although, in one case at least, there were different responses to the problem, ranging from “this character needs to have an understandable, real arc and motivations” to “please feed this character into a set of rotating blades and then burn what’s left.” I’m going to summarize this as “make the character less of an asshole.”)
This is the part of revision that feels less like working and more like staring out the window a lot. Writing up the crits and rephrasing them — sometimes more harshly, sometimes not — means that I face them and internalize them. That’s great; now I know what’s wrong. Knowing what to do about it is another matter.
Which is why there’s a third list in that document: Potential Fixes. Some of these became apparent as I was getting the crits — swap out the current introduction of one character for something with more explosions and action — or were directly suggested in the crits themselves. Some only become apparent as I’m writing up the list. And some won’t come together for a little while…and, of course, each one means a cascade of other changes that’ll need to be made.
At this stage, I’m usually walking around and talking to myself, making notes, muttering about “well, if this attack happens then and the invasion gets postponed…” I’m not a big fan of “waiting for the Muse” but this really is a stage where I have all the pieces and need to let them come together.
The whole thing is made more difficult by the copy of Portal 2 on the coffee table, sitting there and giving me sad looks whenever I pass by…
Reread the crits, then compiled all of the edits made on the manuscripts into one manuscript. This part of the process feels a little like having strips of skin peeled off me one at a time — it’s hard to hide from these comments when I’m recopying them, and these are the instant reactions people have to the text — everything from “huh?” to “okay, I see what you’re doing, but [long explanation of why it’s not working]” to “oh God, not this again”. Each one makes me cringe a little. But I don’t want to hide from them; if I don’t face the problems with this book, it won’t get better.
Next step: put together the Big List Of What I Did Wrong.
Having received a heap of critiques from BRAWL and elsewhere, I’m ready to sit down and fix a novel (currently designated as “SE,” though I really do need a new title even before I abbreviate it). And, in what may be a really dumb decision, I’m going to try to blog about it. Day by day — with a few missed days, very likely — I’ll post a quick blurb about what I’m working on, ideally as a checklist for myself as well as notes on how I’m going about it.
A few things about what I’m working on: this novel is currently not for a contract, so it may never see the light of day. It is, however, a setting and world and cast of characters that I’m excited about, so I’ve got plenty of reasons to persevere. BRAWL has taken it apart and given me some very good critiques, all of which I hope to incorporate. I’m going to be a little vague about plot and character details in blog posts, and some of them will probably be in incomprehensible shorthand. But this is the Internet, after all; nothing has to be completely understandable.
This blog experiment may fail worse than the Titanic crashing into the Hindenberg while Florence Foster Jenkins sings the soundtrack. But, if nothing else, it’ll be a look into my revision process, as well as a spur to keep me going.
I’ve got a post up at Supernatural Underground regarding romantic leads and how my tastes in them are kind of skewed. This should not be a surprise to anybody.
Also, a quick question for those reading this blog (both of you): I’m about to embark on a really big revision, and I’m considering posting updates as I go. In theory, this’ll give you some idea of the process as it sets checklists and benchmarks for me. In practice, well, it could taper off or explode spectacularly. Thoughts?