Category Archives: draft story

Princess of Stars Update #6– Crawling back into the sunshine….

Princess of Stars is now at 30,000 words, one-fifth of my rough estimate of 150,000 words. In the unlikely event anyone has noticed, it has been about six weeks since my last update, largely because I spent most of that time not writing Princess of Stars. Kinda logical, when you think about it….

Why I wasn’t writing is complex. Chiefly I was going through one of my periodic funks in which I find it hard to exercise the daily discipline of getting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. Usually I get through it, but this spell took a little longer than normal to run its course.

Why was I finding it hard to write? That’s where the complexity comes in. A new, physically demanding temp job, personal life issues, and financial worries all contributed. The biggest factor, though, was an emotional certainty that my writing really doesn’t matter. I’ve blogged about this before, and it’s something with which I have often struggled. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming, at least for a while, and I just grind to a halt. It becomes a deal easier to play a computer game or watch a movie than it is to get words down.

In a way, writing is a bit like faith. Sometimes, you just have to practice it, no matter how you’re feeling at the moment. Yes, it is a discipline, and being disciplined about it is usually the hallmark of a professional. By that standard, it’s pretty obvious that I still have things to learn about the craft. No surprise there….

Along with that, I think it’s helpful to pay heed to the work of others you find inspiring. Personally I can hardly watch any halfway decent production of Shakespeare without feeling inspired and motivated about my own work. In this particular case, I think it was a movie that helped recharge my batteries– sadly, not Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two. That, and listening to James Newton Howard’s soundtrack for the picture. Music has always been an important aid to my writing, sometimes helping me (I think) to a higher level. The soundtrack for Mockingjay Part Two captures its epic proportions, and reflects something of what I’m trying to do with Princess of Stars. That sort of resonance is priceless.

It is also helped when I remembered that I am, at bottom, doing this for myself– not an audience (which I don’t have) and certainly not for any critics. I’m not looking for the approval of editors or literary gatekeepers. I want this story told, and only I can tell it. However imperfect or inconsequential it may be, I still want to complete it.

So, once again, back to work. Like faith, the writing process has its mountain-top moments and its long trudges through the dark valleys. Bring your persistence, and your favorite music.

Later.

PRINCESS OF STARS UPDATE #5– It’s a strange business we’re in….

Princess of Fire is now at 22,000 words and change. If I had maintained my desired pace over the last few days that total might have been a couple of thousand words higher. One of the odd things about having so much time on my hands is that I hardly ever get anything done with it. Yesterday was particularly hard– I spent most of the day playing PC games, when I wasn’t sitting down for a Skype interview or preparing for an adult education class I’m leading. Whatever was happening with my mind-set, it made it seem almost physically impossible to drag myself to my writing, although it would have only meant logging off the computer game and starting Word. It wasn’t until just before bed-time that I managed to get a few hundred words down, even as I was nodding off over my keyboard.

The Skype interview probably didn’t leave me in a very good mood. It was with a rep from a placement company, and, somehow, it very quickly went from “We’ve got a hot prospect we need to fill now” to “We’ll put your name in our pool and see if we can find something that fits you.” It’s probably an unworthy, paranoid thought that the shift came when the very young rep saw the gray hair and baggy eyes looking back at him in the Skype window. I have to avoid assuming my age is the central reason I haven’t landed a day job yet– if you go down that road, then every disappointment becomes a conspiracy. That way lies ruin.

In any event, it took me a while to gin up enough energy to write even a few words. Hopefully I can get back in the groove soon (did I just date myself? Oh, well….).

As for Princess of Stars itself, I realized that one piece of business I just put down will not work– Kathy has to meet with a delegation of Val come to Earth, and the way I got them there (in the face of what could be some pretty fierce political opposition) is more than a little cockamamie. I will have to come up with a better excuse/rationale before the final draft.

I would be far from the first person to observe that writers are engaged in a strange business– the detailed depiction of the lives of people who, for the most part, don’t exist and never will. Even historical and ‘autobiographical’ novels to some degree or another fictionalize their characters. It’s one of the reasons why writers are sometimes looked askance by non-writers.

A corollary to the essential non-existence of our characters is the difficulty we face in making their lives logical. This is particularly acute when writing genre fiction, romance, mystery or detective fiction, science-fiction or fantasy– the more elaborate the plot, and the further we get from the everyday, linear storyline of most lives– “She is born. She loves. She dies.”– the harder it becomes to create a internally consistent and logical narrative. Even great literature sometimes contains logical flaws, moments when the reader is at risk of being stopped in their tracks and wondering, “How does that make sense?” or “Why did they do that?” There are whole Youtube channels (for example, here and here) that are largely devoted to pointing out the logical flaws of movies.

Now, some authors and film directors, frankly, do not give a rat’s effluvial emission about logical consistency (Michael Bay comes to mind). These are writers and directors whose works are obviously about the spectacle or action, for whom logical consistency would simply gum up the works. Most of us, however, do care to at least some degree or another about getting the logic of the story right, simply because we want our creations and characters to have verisimilitude, and because we want to avoid throwing the reader or the viewer out of the story and make them start to say, “Wait! Stop– what?” All-too-often, that disruption is a kiss of death for a book or movie.

Now, if there’s a golden rule on how to do this, I don’t know what it is. All I do is rely on my sense of the story as a reader to tell me whether something makes sense, and then my skill (ha!) as a writer to correct it. This is not always easy; correcting one logical flaw may entail restructuring and rewriting the story in major ways. This is why ‘tightly plotted’ is usually a high compliment in genre fiction. It’s a skill at least as important as characterization.

It’s just too bad some people ignore it. Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, Mr. Bay….

Princess of Stars Update #4– The Slug’s Pace….

Princess of Stars is now at 17000 words, which is about 11% of the estimated (guesstimated) total of 150000. Yes, I missed a day last weekend, and daily production averaged around 500 words. As I’ve said previously, that daily word-rate is not unusual for me.

I am considering different means of helping me increase my daily average. One thing I considered trying was NaNoWriMo. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo– I’ve been writing and completing novel-length pieces for the last twenty or so years, so its motivational aspect didn’t seem really pertinent. Having an external expectation of daily word production, though, was appealing, and 1667 words per day is at least normally within the realm of possibility for me. I went so far as to create an account.

In the end, however, I decided not to commit. I anticipate the coming month (and the month after that) are going to be filled with a number of everyday life issues that are going to demand too much time to allow me to just eat, sleep and write. Among those issues is one that’s on the verge of going critical. I have not worked in six months. My personal economy is tight and getting tighter by the day. Figuring out that little problem will have to be a priority, and while I think I can maintain 500 words a day while dealing with it, more than 1500 words is probably way out of reach.

As for the story itself, I’ve reached the start of the action. In the process I discovered another logical flaw, but not a particularly egregious one. I can deal with it on the fly. With any luck I should be able to clear 20,000 words by the end of this weekend, about 13% of my estimated total. Writing a novel is like a marathon– if you think about how far you have to go, the immensity of the task may paralyze you. However, just getting through the next five hundred or a thousand words, day-by-day, divides the immensity into manageable chunks.

PS— After I created this post I added more than 1000 words to Princess of Stars. It helps when you get the writing done before you start playing World of Tanks….

Princess of Stars Update #1 – And so it begins….

I now have a very, very skeletal synopsis for Princess of Stars in hand, and it has already paid for itself in revealing a gobsmackingly huge logic flaw in my initial conception. Some serious rethinking will need to be rethunked before I get too far with the draft.

But the operative word about the synopsis is “skeletal”. In plain truth, there are large sections of the novel in which I do not know what happens. I know the beginning, and I know the end, right down to the last sentence of the book, but most of the rest, nope. I just can’t make it up ahead of time. It’s not in me. I have to discover the novel by writing it. This appears to be an irreducible truth about how I write.

So, this is Day One of what will most likely be another very long process. I have already doodled about 3000 words, including the excerpt I included in Princess of Fire. I am going to try to make this more of a straight-through draft of the story, instead of hopscotching all over the place, as I did with PoF. Maybe I can avoid the chaos of that book. I certainly hope so.

My productivity may vary a good deal, in large part because of real-life issues I’m dealing with. Chief among these is my continued lack of a day job, which is getting pretty critical. That, obviously, will demand a certain amount of attention over the next few weeks, and will doubtless impact my ability to concentrate on the novel. Hopefully, though, that particular problem will be resolved soon.

As I did with Princess of Shadows and Princess of Fire I will post updates at irregular intervals. My one prayer is that I can give Kathy a good concluding chapter. She deserves it.

Later.

An experiment in tense– An Incident on Franklin Road

I’ve been reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I was lured to the novel by the BBC mini-series, and I’m finding the book pretty compelling. That’s quite aside from the subject matter, which is one of my favorite periods of history– the writing itself seems very clean and direct, but with striking turns of phrase. Mantel also, somehow, manages to get away with blocks of exposition that would kill other books– in fact, she dares describe the attributes of Thomas Cromwell, the viewpoint character of the novel, in one long paragraph that appears designed to set off ‘show, don’t tell’ alarms across the literary world. You hardly even notice, though, because it works with the rest of the text.

And it’s all done in present tense. I’ve never tried writing in present tense to any extent, but it seems to have worked in Wolf Hall. I understand that some people consider present tense in fiction a passing fad, or the mark of the amateur or the mediocre. As may be; I make no judgments. But I’m going to try a little experiment. I’ve had this opening scene for a detective novel in the back of my head for a while. Detective fiction isn’t normally my cup of tea, although I had my John D. MacDonald period some years ago, and Sherlock Holmes, well, Sherlock Holmes, but this scene keeps coming back to me. Interestingly, the world I’ve started to build around it has some distinctively slipstream, or even magically realistic, aspects to it– altogether different styles for me. So I’m going to give it a whirl in the present tense, and see what happens.

Warning– there’s language and serious violence, so sensitive readers beware.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel
****************************************
It’s hot down at the road’s edge. The asphalt seems sticky underfoot. He wonders whether, if he stopped for one minute in one place, his shoes would weld themselves to the road surface.

Ten men, sweating in their prison jumpers, ply double-edged weed cutters, slicing down the tall grass overgrowing the shoulder of Franklin Road. Dust and chaff rise in the heated air, enveloping them. They work steadily, in silent rhythm, only a few words now and again. The guards stand well back, before and behind their line. That’s just in case one of the cons decides to take a swipe at a guard with his tool. Every bull carries a shotgun, butt-plate on hip, to discourage any sudden insurrection. They don’t let the cons talk a lot. They’re here to work.

Cutting grass along a country road isn’t one of the prison’s plum jobs. That’s the license plate makers and the colonial furniture makers, for the trustees who get to use the power-tools and presses. Out here are the unskilled, the screw-ups, the cons a couple of clicks away from losing their privileges because they were slow to move or gave a bull a stare one second too long. They get to sweat and spit out grass stems and worry about rattlesnakes.

He’s a screw-up. He knows that. He carries it with him everywhere he goes. In a way, the heat and grass and sweat are his purgatory, and he’s all right with that.

“Dunn, goddamn it,” Officer Gaskin says, “get that fucking sunflower. What are you, goddamn blind?”

“Sorry, boss,” he says, and he cuts the tall flower off at the root. In truth, he had thought to spare it, because it looked healthier than he did, and sunflowers remind him of his sister.

There are benefits to working on the road-crew, if you like sunshine, fresh air, and occasional surprises. You find all sorts of things cutting the grass alongside a country road– hub-caps, blown tires, mufflers, windshield wiper blades. Some things are better than others– it is, of course, Screech who finds the dead raccoon, rotting and maggot-writhing in the heat. The scrawny bastard spends five minutes puking, with Officer Brandt growing exasperated. On the other hand, there was the day, enshrined in road-crew legend, when Blake found the unopened five-pack of lubricated condoms. He had never seen the big man so happy.

Most of what you find is junk and contraband, and the bulls don’t care. They just tell you to shove off the road. Sometimes it’s different, though. The story is that last summer another crew found a wallet with five thousand US dollars in it. The guards instantly confiscated it, to “return it to its owner”. The consensus among the road-crews is that the owner never saw either wallet or money again.

He wishes he could find something that nice. Not that he’d be allowed to keep it. He’d just like to hold something in his hands that reminds him of a life elsewhere, where they sell condoms and people actually have wallets with money in them. Just for a moment.

They sweat through the morning, the sun increasingly their adversary. All of them are sweat-drenched and covered in bits of slaughtered plant life. It’s a relief when Trippe calls a halt for lunch.

The bulls are in a pretty good mood today; they let the prisoners sit in the shade of a couple of locust trees to eat their meal. They get cheese sandwiches on stale white bread, a pickle each, and all the lime kool-aid they can drink. It’s always lime kool-aid out on the road crews. No one knows why. They hate it, but they drink it. It’s the only liquid they have.

He sits with Blake and Gopher as they eat. The bulls made Gopher scoop up the dead raccoon and dispose of it in the drainage ditch. He is still muttering about it. “Stinking bullshit, man,” he says. “I’m always the one they’re picking on. Man, I can’t hardly eat, that thing stunk so bad.”

“You could always give me your sandwich,” Blake says.

“Shut the fuck up,” Gopher says, and he takes a bite of his sandwich.

He notices the one man sitting by himself. “Check it out,” he tells Blake. He indicates who he means with a lift of his chin.

Blake looks. “Sumbitch,” Blake mutters. “Six months and he’s still holding himself apart.”

Gopher looks, too. “Who’s that? I ain’t seen him on the crew before.”

“Newbie,” Blake says. “No, he ain’t been until now. Musta screwed up somehow.”

“But who is he, motherfucker?” Gopher says.

“Name’s Sanger,” he says. “Got sent up for mail fraud, or something stupid like that.”

“I heard it was an online scam,” Blake says.

“Not sure,” he says. “One way or the other, they got him.”

Gopher looks puzzled. “That’s it? Why ain’t he doing time in minimum security?”

“The way I heard it,” he says, “he threatened a bunch of people.”

“He threatened a bunch of people, Jack, ‘cause his daddy is some boss over in Archerport,” Blake says. “And I don’t mean some guy running an insurance brokerage, neither. The sort of boss you don’t want to get cross-ways of. Apparently Mr. S there thought mentioning his daddy would scare some folks, get him off the hook. Instead, they tacked on some hard time and told him to shove it.”

He looks at Sanger, wondering why, if his father is such a powerful man, Sanger is doing any time at all. The dark-haired youngster turns to look at him, as if feeling eyes on him. There is a deadness behind Sanger’s eyes. He turns his head away, chilled.

Too soon the bulls are yelling, “Everybody up, get up, ladies, c’mon, you lazy twats, move your asses.”

The cons get up, muttering, cussing under their breath, groaning. They step back out into the sun, picking up their tools.

It takes a while to get back into their previous rhythm, but soon enough the cons are cutting through the grass as before. The sun declines toward the west. The heat doesn’t lessen, but the day is heading toward its end. He pictures showers and his bunk back in the cell-block.

All day they have seen only the occasional car along Franklin Road. Once or twice trucks have passed, buffeting the cons with wind and swirling up chaff. “Sumbitches,” Gopher mutters to him.

A van comes along the road, up from the south, just as Blake slices through a bramble. “Well, look at that,” he says. He bends down. As the van passes the cons he bends down and picks up an un-opened water bottle. The plastic is scratched from its contact with the asphalt, but the bottle is unpunctured and the seal around the cap intact. “Lucky me.”

He is standing to Blake’s right; on Blake’s left, Sanger has stopped his work. The youngster is paying no attention to Blake; he’s watching the van– which has slowed, which has stopped. The back doors of the van open. Sanger throws down his weed cutter and drops to the ground.

“Blake!” he yells. He reaches for the big man.

The van doors open. Fire lances out from the darkness within.

Blake is hit even as he touches the sleeve of his jumper. His head explodes. He drops, pulling him down with him. The water bottle falls to the road and rolls away.

On the ground, he sees Officer Gaskin, standing behind Blake, the true target of the first burst, falling, a startled look on his face. Officer Brandt spins toward the van, his shotgun coming down, and bullets rip him and he falls backward into the drainage ditch.

The road crew is scattering in every direction, across the road, leaping the ditch and sprinting into the field beyond. A shotgun blast; Trippe is on one knee, firing. He pumps the shotgun, the empty shell twirls through the air. He is hit. He goes down, screaming, clutching his leg.

Two men climb out of the van. They wear bandannas over their faces, carry automatic rifles. They come and they pick up Sanger. The three sprint for the van. They climb in. The doors close. The van speeds off, its tires squealing.

He doesn’t want to move. He wants to stay right there, next to Blake, Blake who hadn’t had a chance. He will wait until someone comes to tell him to move.

But Trippe is still screaming. “Help me! Help!”

He wants Trippe to shut up. “Dammit.” He gets up.

The officer is gripping his leg. There is blood all over. He sees the blood pumping out between the officer’s fingers. “Help!” Trippe says. He’s already pallid.

He kneels down beside Trippe. He fumbles for a moment, unsure. “Tourniquet, tourniquet,” he mutters, like a chant from an ancient, forgotten tongue.

With shaking fingers he unbuckles the shoulder strap from Trippe’s gun belt. He wraps it around the officer’s thigh, high up near the groin. He ties it and pulls it taut. Trippe screams, but the blood stops pulsing.

“Call somebody, boss, call somebody,” he says.

Trippe lifts a shaking, blood-stained hand, plucks the radio mike from his belt. “This is Officer Trippe, Number Tango-5631– officers down, officers require assistance, we need ambulances at milepost one-five-niner on Franklin Road. For God’s sake, get here as quick as you can.”

Trippe drops the mike, panting. He looks faint.

“Hang in there, boss,” he mutters, holding on to the strap.

That’s all he focuses on– for how long he cannot say. The sirens only slowly intrude on his perception. It’s only when tires scream on the asphalt that he looks up.

Officer Weiss jumps out of the car, levels his pistol at him. His face is white with terror, or rage. “Get your hands up!”

He doesn’t move. “Boss,” he says, “if I let go, he’ll bleed to death.”

Weiss stares, and then it’s as if he actually sees what he’s looking at. “Oh, sweet Jesus,” he says. He lowers his pistol, runs to them. “Hang on, Jason, hang on!”

Weiss cradles Trippe’s head in his lap until the ambulance comes. The paramedics take the tourniquet from him; he pushes himself back and sits on the side of the road.

Then there are many officers storming about. They make him lie on his belly with his bloody hands on the back of his head. They’re taking no chances. He lies there as the ambulance takes off, its engine roaring.

Finally, they tell him to turn over. Officer Kincaid holds a shotgun on him, and Vice-Warden Phelps stands over him. “You see it all, Dunn?”

“Yes, sir,” he says. “Is Officer Trippe going to be all right?”

“He’s on his way to the hospital,” Phelps says. “That’s all I know. Brandt and Gaskin aren’t so lucky.” To Kincaid he says, “Get him back to the facility. We have to get his statement.”

Weiss comes forward. He pulls him to his feet. “You hurt anywhere?” Weiss asks.

“No, boss,” he says. “None of this blood is mine.”

“All right, then,” Weiss says. He takes him by the elbow, almost gently, as if unsure exactly what he is, and leads him to the squad car.
****************************************
Hmm– I have to say, the jury is out on whether this is more effective than a past-tense approach. I had to think about what tense I was using and caught myself automatically slipping into past-tense several times. That’s not surprising, but one obvious problem is that it is not always clear in the narrative which he “he” is referring to, since the viewpoint character never refers to themselves by their name.

But I’m glad I got this down. It’s just the opening scene of what could be a very interesting story.

And waiting…a brief Princess of Fire update

This is perhaps the very hardest part of editing a book– waiting for the beta-readers to return their feedback. I’ve gotten a response from one reader on Princess of Fire, and I’m waiting for input from two others. Patience is a virtue, or so I am told….

In the interim I’ve gone ahead and started a fourth reading of my own of a new CreateSpace PDF proof I’ve created. This one is mainly to make sure that my pagination, spacing and page breaks are all in the right places. I assume (hope) that my remaining beta readers will not find anything major at this point, and that there are no important changes left to be made. Still, I’m holding off calling the text finalized, just to make sure.

You may notice that I did not say completed— that’s not a word I use a lot about my books. Over time I’ve come to accept the truth of the saying, which I have seen most recently attributed to Harry Crews, that novels are never finished, only abandoned. There comes a point at which you simply need to stop diddling with the damn thing and either publish it or send it to an agent or editor. That moment is fast approaching for Princess of Fire— in itself, a cause for rejoicing, considering that at times I damn near despaired of ever completing this novel.

In the wake of publishing Princess of Fire I will not immediately start in on writing Princess of Stars. At the moment I know how the book begins, and very precisely how it ends (right down to the last line), but the middle is a largely undiscovered country. After the pantsing disaster of Princess of Fire, I intend to take some time and try to get a better feel for the guts of Princess of Stars— if not a full outline, then probably a pretty detailed synopsis. I anticipate this book will be big and cover a lot of ground, so I want to have a firm foundation before I actually start.

In the interim, I will probably be spending some time expanding the partial draft I have for Horse Tamer, which may need a new title. It’s a story close to my heart, but I don’t anticipate completing it any time soon– when I try to think about a possible word count for it, the number “500,000” keeps coming to mind (don’t scream– there are bigger novels out there).

Beyond that, I plan on expanding my blogging efforts, which have been lagging lately. I have more movies to review and more unsubstantiated opinions to bloviate about. Of course, and hardly least, there is still the nagging need for me to secure a day-job, another project that has been in the doldrums lately.

But I am close, so close, to publishing Princess of Fire. The sense of liberation is going to tremendous. You might want to stand back….

Later.

As I sit here, waiting….

…for my beta-readers to digest Princess of Fire (and I stand by with antacid), I’m going forward with further changes that I know need to be done. These are the kind of fiddling corrections I thought the third draft would deal with– the small inconsistencies and errors that creep into any lengthy work of fiction. Want some samples? I thought you’d never ask–

1. Where’s Kathy’s glasses? Believe it or not, whether or not Kathy’s got her glasses on her nose is important (this was particularly true in Princess of Shadows, where they were a major plot element).

2. At the moment I have Kathy telling two different people to do the same thing in three different places in the narrative. If you don’t straighten that sort of thing out, at the very least your protagonist looks, well, challenged.

3. At different locations in the book I call a certain physical space a situation room, an operations room and an operations center. I think Emerson said something negative about consistency, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what he was thinking of.

4. Throughout the book I have three sets of running numbers that anchor much of the action. I have to do a find on the critical word for each and make sure they increment correctly and come to the right total at the end. Normally, I’m not this anal, but I have a terror of some reader coming back and saying “On page 321 you said fifteen thousand and sixty-three, and on page 425 you said fifteen thousand fifty-three, can’t you count…?” C’mon, authors are only human. No, I mean it, we really are.

So, this is how I’m keeping myself occupied while I sweat out waiting for my beta-readers. This is always a nerve-wracking time for me– my baby is being looked at by strangers for the first time. Well, not actually strangers, but eyes other than mine. It makes my hands shake, especially since I’m not too sure the little tyke is actually that appealing….

Later.

Boy, am I glad that’s over…The third draft of Princess of Fire

I have finally, by the grace of Almighty God, finished the third draft/punch-list edit of Princess of Fire, and copies are going out to my beta readers. As with every other aspect of this novel, this phase of editing turned out to be a lot more arduous than I anticipated. So much so, in fact, that I am questioning my usual editing process.

My normal way of editing a story or novel, which I have discussed before, is to draft the novel and then perform successive read-throughs and make changes and corrections until I have a coherent story and a clean narrative. Over time I have added a punch-list edit and beta readers, but it’s the same basic process– re-reading the manuscript and winnowing out the problems. The theory is that, by the time I get to the third and fourth drafts, I should be dealing with mostly minor issues.

This time around, however, reading through the novel for the third time, I found myself stumbling over all sorts of serious problems– bad grammar, passive language, convoluted sentences, inconsistent place and proper names, dialogue that did not serve the purpose I intended, repetitious information and, most critically, issues with the action in the middle of the book, in which important events did not link together properly. If I didn’t know better, I might have sworn that I hadn’t even touched the manuscript.

But of course I did, and I’ve got the ink-stained pages to prove it. At a later date it might be productive for me to review the red-pen changes and compare them with the third draft changes, to see if I can discern what I did catch and what I didn’t, and why. Short-term, such a review will not help me much with getting Princess of Fire finished and launched out into the world.

Aside from the distinct possibility that I am just a terrible editor, I think a large part of why the manuscript was still so infected with problems may lie with the haphazard and disjointed way the first draft came together. There were parts of this story I attacked four or five times, from different angles, trying to get it pulled together, and I think that left its mark on the draft.

On the other hand, it may be that my initial read-throughs were ineffective because I knew that I would be reading the novel much more closely on the third pass and I didn’t push as hard as I should have. Either way, it may be that I need to seriously rethink my editing process. More on that in future posts.

The positive aspect of all of this is that I am confident I have now created a very clean, close-to-final draft. Assuming my beta readers find nothing major, I probably will need to double-check a few items, and possibly tweak one minor character, and then I will be ready to publish, probably at the end of this month or in early August. For a novel that has gone through so many ups-and-downs, that is a very happy thought.

Editing truths

I am waist-deep into the next phase of editing Princess of Fire, in which I work up a punch-list of errata. As this basically entails re-reading the novel for the third or fourth time, it is also another opportunity to catch remaining text errors and lingering bad grammar that I somehow missed on my first two passes.

There are certain truths to editing any long work–

1. Spell-check is a problematic tool. It’s basically stupid– you have to tell it what’s acceptable (mine doesn’t recognize words I consider perfectly correct– e.g., “snockered” and “annal”), and then fight off its attempts to correct grammar that is just fine (thinking in a regional dialect is a hindrance here). On top of that, it will fail to catch correctly spelled words that are out of place or used incorrectly. I cringe when I hear new writers talk about spell-check as if it’s the beginning and end of their editing process. Nope, not even close.

2. Instead, you have to re-read and re-read and re-read your work until you can’t stand to look at it anymore, and then re-read it again. Read it to see how it flows, read it to see if the plot holds together, read it word-by-word to see they make any sense whatsoever. Each time you do, you need to find some way to see it with different eyes, even if it’s just hanging upside-down off the end of your kitchen table. Read it out loud, or sing it to the tune of “My Favorite Things”. Anything.

Personally, I’ve found that making a Createspace digital proof PDF of the manuscript really helps me spot lingering text errors and weak sentences–

proofpdf1

proofpdf2

Apparently seeing the novel in something resembling book format is helpful for me. No, I haven’t analysed it– I just know it works.

(By the way, in the latest edit, I’ve fixed the justification on the Robert Burns quote. No need to yell at me about it.)

3. In that same vein, it is essential that at some point you get someone else’s eyes on the work– and not your mother, nor your spouse, unless they are the sort who can tell you the unvarnished truth and not care that they’ve left you a pitiful, blubbering wreck on the living room couch. In an ideal world, those eyes would belong to a professional editor. In the real world I live in, most professional editors– in other worlds, editors who actually know what they’re doing and charge accordingly– would be competing for my money with my medical insurance. And that means they’d lose. If you can afford a professional editor, by all means, hire one, and then seriously consider their advice. But not everyone has that kind of wherewithal.

Instead, I have to rely on beta readers. I have a couple of very good readers, and I’m recruiting more. It’s not a perfect approach, but it’s considerably better than nothing. One way or the other, there just is no substitute for the feedback of someone who has not read the novel five times and whose familiarity with the text doesn’t exceed their familiarity with their own spouse.

The point– other eyes multiply your success.

4. Be merciless. Even in the later stages of an edit, you will find material you don’t need, or which can be cut down to size. Kill or shrink as needed. Trimming excess from a text, even late in the game, should give you a warm fuzzy. If it doesn’t– if you get sentimental and defensive about every word you’ve written– then, Grasshopper, you have a serious problem as a writer. Please, please, re-thunk your thinking.

5. Eventually, you have to quit screwing around with the damn thing and either send it out to an editor or agent, or self-publish. Here’s a hard truth– it’s never going to be perfect. There are authors who fiddle and fiddle and fiddle with a work, and never overcome the terror of being imperfect. Eventually, you have to surrender to the fact that your piece falls short of what you had in your head. Embrace that short-fall– it just means you’re human. Send your work out into the breathing world scarce half-made up, if you have to, and move on to the next project.

That’s being a writer.

A not-so-short note re: Princess of Fire– a milestone passed….

I have finally, finally, finally finished inputting the hard-copy changes for Princess of Fire. This should not have taken three weeks, but it is done. In the process I re-wrote a major piece of action from scratch, and substantially tightened another section. Net word count didn’t change much– about 134,000 to 133,000– but the end-product is, I think, a good deal tighter. The book is now, essentially, in its final form.

There are a few formatting issues I need to deal with before going to the next step, chief among them removing all hard-returns I inserted as breaks between sections. Such extraneous hard-returns cause problems with Kindle formatting, so I have to go through and remove them, and use after-paragraph spacing instead. It’s a tedious task, but it has to be done.

(Why didn’t you do it while you wrote the story, Mr. Daniel? Because when I’m writing I’m flying too low and fast to worry about precise formatting issues. Besides, I generally don’t know exactly where section breaks are going to fall before the red-pen changes are done. So there.)

Once that’s done, I will create a paginated PDF via Createspace that will allow me to pin down lingering issues (“eek, a soft-return!!!”). From the PDF I create a punch-list of errata for correction. There may also be a couple of small additional scenes– a couple of hundred words each, at most– that I may want to insert, if I decide they enhance the story. This phase will essentially constitute my third complete read-through of the novel. As far as I’m concerned, reading your own work until you can’t stand to look at it anymore is essential to getting it right. Easy? No. The life of a writer is never easy. Give up that delusion right now.

Once the punch-list is complete, the novel will go to my beta-readers. Assuming they are not completely revolted and demand massive changes, it will be a few short steps from inputting the beta-corrections to publication. One lingering task that will need to be completed before-hand is for me to write an excerpt from Princess of Stars for inclusion in Princess of Fire. I’m in the process of pulling that together right now. Once it’s done, I may post it on WordPress for feedback.

Whew. To sum up, I am probably more than eighty percent through a long, painful process. There are a few more miles to go, but considering that there were points last summer when I thought I would never finish this novel, I’m feeling pretty good. If the Lord tarries and aliens don’t invade, Princess of Fire should be online on Amazon sometime before September.

Hopefully….

***************

PS– already found a soft-return in the process of removing extra hard returns–

Softreturn06122015

These hidden little disasters play merry hob with e-book formatting, as they insert a generally unwanted line-break. They must die….