The second draft of Princess of Fire, both Pass One and Pass Two, is finished. It is now a complete story, without major gaps or substantial narrative inconsistencies. One or two minor timeline issues remain, a couple of small pieces of business need to be added, and the location of a particular minor character in the narrative needs to be resolved. But this is the point at which (I think) a reader could go through the whole story and not be thrown out of the narrative by gaps or incongruities. To put it another way, I would not terribly shy about letting an editor see it in this state. That is, if I had an editor. All I’ve really got is me.
Is the story ready for publication? Not on your dog-eared copy of Strunk and White (at least, I hope you have a dog-eared copy of Strunk and White). Now comes the very close and intensive line edit, which I do with a hard copy. This is where I cut the extraneous and resolve the little consistencies and stupidities– for example, the fact that a character is named George in Chapter 2 and Fred in Chapter 5. The hard copy line edit is where I screw down my prose those last few millimeters. It’s where I will catch those pesky “felt”‘s and other bits of vague language, as well as sentence structures that would leave a Byzantine confused.
Will Princess of Fire be ready when the line edit is complete? Negatory. I have a couple of more filters to run the novel through, including my beta-readers, before I call it finalized. But I’m a long step closer now.
Now that I can see the definite outline of the book’s final form, a question comes to mind– is the novel any good? After all this long, long struggle, is it readable, enjoyable, decent?
Beats the crap out of me.
Writers are generally not the best critics of their own work. We understand the gap between what was in our head and what is on the page. Sometimes that gap is considerable. Hardly anyone ever gets 100% of their original concept on paper.
Princess of Fire, at the moment, feels to be about 55 to 60% of what I originally had in mind. There do seem to be some pretty good bits here, but I can’t judge how engaging it will be to a reader who isn’t me. Maybe I can tweak this puppy up another 5 to 10%. But it’s a truism that even successful novels are, to some degree, imperfect.
One thing that I will not try to do, however, is attempt to leverage the story toward perfection. That way lies bankruptcy and madness. Just one example– George Lucas came close to destroying the original Star Wars trilogy with his special and super-special editions, which basically boiled down to him second-guessing himself. The end result was weaker, not stronger, than the original.
At some point, a writer has to call a halt. Someone (and I’ve seen this attributed to several different individuals) said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. At some point I will stop tweaking Princess of Fire and publish, and then move on to another imperfect project. This is just the way it is.
Not yet, however– there’s lots of work left to do. But this book is definitely, by the grace of God, coming together.