Thursday, July 28, 2011

Where do I start?

Back to writing about writing.  I've digressed more than enough about death and stuff.  I began the blog to chronicle the process of going from an idea to a published novel, and what happens in my personal non-writing life is relevant but not directly tied to the subject at hand. 

The subject at hand is quite frustrating today, though.  I've been waiting on the results from the editor, and now I have them.  Well, I have part of them, to be precise.  The editor I chose to work with creates two sets of results, as I knew going into the deal.  First, there's a line edited manuscript, complete with glorious red scrawls across each page.  I say glorious because I've spent many hours as an instructor making those scrawls, and so I have built into my psyche the idea that the scrawls are the ultimate marks for learning, the blazes on the trail toward truth.  As I make those marks on the paper for my own students I smile, content in the knowledge that those who really yearn to improve will find their corrections revealing, the red marks forming directional signals on the path toward intellectual greatness.  Sort of.

I'll reconsider that stance, certainly.  In fact, I may never use red again.  That's without me even receiving that part of the results back yet, slow as the postal services are. 

The part I've received is the overall edit report, a copy of which the editor e-mailed me.  It's fourteen pages long.  Fourteen pages, single-spaced, I must add.  It's eight thousand words.  For the sake of comparison, that's one tenth the length of my entire novel, at least for now.  The sheer thickness of the document, once I had it printed out and weighing my hands down, made me want to sob, releasing my tears into the Pool of Notgoodenough.

Ten hours, one very large beer, and a frank conversation with my wife, who has represented a significant part of the creative force behind the effort, later, I'm not sobbing.  In fact, I'm on quite the opposite side of the emotional gridiron.  It's actually good news.  The editor approves of my plot, for one thing, and is pleased with the overall premise.  She says, "what is really working well in the novel right now are what I think of as the big things--the essential plot, conflict, structure, and the genre-specific world you've created.  All of these elements are straightforward, solid, and executed well."  The stuff I really worked at, then, I did well at.  Hey, for a first attempt at a novel, I think that's pretty dang good. 

What I lack, apparently, is some finesse--and some length.  "A novel should be just long enough to tell the story," the general consensus seems to say.  According to the report, the novel doesn't tell the story.  The good news is that it's still relatively short, as fantasy novels go.  Thus, I can afford to add some pretty significant word count in the needed addition to the storytelling. 

The thing about storytelling is that it's hard to do.  I originally told the story in about 68,000 words, as I recall.  Honestly, I don't need to recall; the blog post from March 20 titled "Finis" lists the ending word count as 67,895 words.  Since then I've fleshed out areas of the story I didn't even realize needed fleshing out.  I've gotten some great advice from friends, too, who were terribly confused on some significant points on the story.  I fixed the confusion points, and the editor was still confused by some of them.  The discussion with my wife was key to understanding that, since many of the points the editor brought up were things she had asked, too.  I had answered her questions, of course, but not in the story I was writing. 

The storyteller knew the answers, but the story readers had no way of knowing.

So, as the editor warned me as her review was ongoing, I have a lot of work ahead of me.  I have to surgically add to the story the bits and pieces that will help readers connect with it.  The report from the editor is, so far, worth its weight in gold, because of the recommendations it gives me.  Those recommendations, though, are just conceptual comments.  It's my job, as the author, to weave new prose in seamlessly with the existing prose to form a cohesive story.  It's an exciting challenge, but--where do I start?

To accentuate the question, I'll add that the report has a lot of overarching commentary.  It also has a piece that lists specific pages and the problems associated with the prose found there.  Coming soon is the page by page redlining.  I opened the document, on version 4, and saved it to version 5, and started looking at where to start.  Unfortunately, I'm still not really certain.  There's no neon sign flashing a "hey dummy, add this text here" on top of the page.  Honestly, I'm glad there's not.  At some point being an author has to be challenging, has to have a fair amount of effort-ful creativity associated with it. 

Till I'm ready for that, then, I ask that you have a safe and wonderful evening.  As will I, but the document revision will come after.

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