Saturday, October 27, 2012

October

I'm trying to create some distance between my mind and the first volume of The Quantum of the Past. It will help me edit it later in November.

To do this, I decided to draft the missing chapters of The Sprite. That should take me a couple of days--I got into it yesterday. This seems like a good route to take before committing into Ascension.

What's also helped me create distance is the amount of school work I've had to complete. I'm almost done with Moby Dick--and I plan to write something on it--while reading another of Melville's works, Pierre, which I just now finished. And then there is the work for the Engineering Department...

And I'm fumbling through the art for the cover of the first volume of Quantum. It's all very interesting though I wish I had a better background in the subject.

October is gone! And with it ten years. Ten long years.



LC

Friday, October 19, 2012

Editing, 1, an intro

I told you I would write it! Bartholomew, you had no faith. Here it is, that post on the differences between revising and editing. Except that rather than just ramble on about the differences, I would rather discuss things as they become relevant in my own editing of the first volume of The Quantum of the Past.

Alas! Something this enormous requires an introduction and here it is:


***
Reading the one star reviews about any self-published novel, one thread is common: It needs editing. It is known that Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Smashwords don't assign an editor to "Indie" authors (unless they buy the service packages provided by some of those sites). The result is that most self-published novels available at ebookstores are just revised manuscripts--some so poorly revised that you wonder if the writers even bothered to use their word-processor's spell/grammar check feature. An editor would have helped them, like the reviewers say.

What does that mean though?

It probably means that the reader found an abundance of typos or formatting issues in the text. Since to the world at large the words edit and revise and copy-edit are synonymous, it makes sense to say that a novel needs editing when it is poorly formatted or has abundant typos or when the grammar needs help or when it is so redundant that it is painful to read. To a writer, the words editing, revising and copy-editing encompass different worlds. Crossing the t's and dotting the i's is not what an editor does--not entirely.

Okay, so why not just hire someone who can comb through the manuscript and rid it of those annoying redundancies and other buggers? If I were to hire a freelance editor, I would look for more than someone who can find my typing errors. What's so special about an edit and an editor?

Many authors just haven't had the pleasure of working alongside an editor to improve their novel...

I told you my sarcasm just doesn't come through. That was meant to be sarcasm. Before self-publishing became what it is now, writers would come forward with stories about what it was like to work with editors. Let me share something with you that Tyler Dilts shared with us during a workshop.

The joke goes something like this:


Two men wander through a desert, dying of thirst. One is a writer and the other an editor. In the distance they spot an oasis with a small pool of water. The two men rush to it and rejoice. They are saved!

Before either can take a drink, the editor pulls down his pants and starts urinating into the pool.

Horrified, the writer says, "What are you doing?"

The editor smiles and says, "Don't worry, I'm making it better."


Oh, good, you got that the pool of water is a metaphor for the prospective novel. Harsh isn't it? Just what is it the editor does to arouse such criticism?

In my experience, self-published writers see the editing process as just another version of the revision process, but it is not.

Why? Here are some results of the editing process:


  1. The editor strengthens the vision of the novel.
  2. The editor rejects the initial vision and helps the author reach the potential of the novel.
  3. The editor helps the novel become more marketable.


Yeah, I know what you're saying. This is what the revision accomplished, no?

Consider that when a writer finishes revising, they have created logic or emotional reasoning for each element included in the final draft of their manuscript. The revision of a novel is sometimes grueling. We have beaten away unnecessary elements and subplots and even characters that we fell in love with. So, the revised manuscript an editor gets is often a Pyrrhic victory.

Do you see the problem?

Editors will sometimes make comments that challenge the vision of the novel--that hard earned vision hammered into submission during the revision process. If the writer is the editor, how can they convince themselves that the vision has problems after working so hard to shape it?

This is what makes the editing process so vastly different than the revision process. The writer has built the structure and taken steps to strengthen it. Now an independent survey team comes along to test it. This independent survey team is cold, calculating, and does not care about your work, not the way that you do.

They want to see if your structure is sound and if it isn't they give suggestions on how to make it sound and if it isn't up to par, they will tell you to tear it down and start again.

How many of us would have the heart to tell ourselves THAT after spending so much time working on our novels? Some of you are answering this question. The right answer is, "I would be objective enough to start anew if needed." The honest answer is, "I don't think I have the strength to do that."

But who am I to tell you what you can and can't do? There are all those internet articles on credible websites that tell you that you can and that it's easy to edit if you just follow some simple rules! And I am a hypocrite after all--I self-edited my first novel, Absolution.


What I want to do is demystify the editor and what he/she does. At the same time, I'll tell you what I did while editing Absolution and The Quantum of the Past.

Here are the first couple of requirements of my Editing process: A completed manuscript; an acceptance of the statement.

"Completed" means that I have revised and refined the manuscript to the best of my abilities. This is a point that many of my contemporaries do not understand. An edit requires a whole structure.

The "statement" is this one: I acknowledge that no matter what I do to the manuscript from here on out, I will NEVER succeed in bringing into existence more than 70% of the mental image I have of my novel.

That means that regardless of my skill and willingness, the novel in my soul and the novel I publish will only be 70% identical. The novel I publish will always lack something. It is a sad reality that no writer is so skilled that they can perfectly transcribe that ideal novel that lies on the border of here and there--that place at the tip of your tongue; that edge that borders on consciousness.

And if you ever come across a writer who says otherwise, pity them; they are unaware of this fact or in denial or blind with arrogance.






LC

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Good tidings

With the month of October more than halfway gone, it seems a fantasy to say that the first volume of The Quantum of the Past will come out at the end of November. I might be finished with all the necessary elements to publish it--completing the cover; finalizing its revision; editing and copy-editing--but alas!

My publicity efforts would come up short; the people who run the Blog Tours require time to prepare. This is understandable. It's a set-back though.

It is also another fantasy to assume that I am working on Ascension as of yet (which I should be already). But do not think me a lapse individual; I am gathering the elements necessary to make that novel work. The more of this preparation I complete, the easier the revision will be.

Set-backs, set-backs, and here I titled the post, "Good tidings." What good tidings are these? Well there are some.

I learned the other day, purely by chance, that the iBookstore--which I had completely given up on--now carries Absolution!

Yippie!

And here is a most pleasant bit of news: The library I work in deemed Absolution worthy of its collection, so now it will carry two copies of its in its stacks. I will be grouped with other local authors, which is a rare treat. I was shocked at first, but now feel a glowing joy.

I leave you to do the happy dance.


LC

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Revision, 3

And here we are again, you and I. My time is like one of those pie charts, with little slivers going to many different places. Therefore, though I should have finished this sooner, it was impossible to do.

Very soon I will begin to post about my progress in drafting Ascension, all the while I edit volume one of The Quantum of the Past. And then, in November, I will publish that work. And in between all of that is the series of posts about the Editing Process.

And so, here is my second revision.

***

The Second Revision


As you recall, my manuscript was rough around the edges after I trimmed thirty-two pages off of it and several chapters; all to give a total page count of 498.

Well, the task shouldn't be so difficult now, right? All I'm really doing is repeating the first revision steps.

No.

That's not what I do during a second revision. Naturally, it involves reading. Lots and lots of reading. I read the manuscript of Absolution about forty times before I published it (not an exaggeration)--mostly during the Copy-editing Process, which left me with a novel 99% free of typos and other like blunders.

The second revision focuses on the following areas:

  1. The elements of style
  2. Analyze the story, refine the plot as needed
  3. Presentation

This doesn't mean that I'm abandoning the steps in the first revision; errors will still pop up every now and then. It means that my concern has moved to other areas of storytelling. I will return to the steps of the first revision, but only when I have a working draft.




1. The elements of style

No, I don't mean the book by William Strunk Jr. later revised by E. B. White. I mostly use that book for its tips on grammar usage and composition (I personally avoid that last chapter, An Approach to Style, which is nothing but a collection of preferences).
Here I have to finish what I started in the drafting stage. It's time to worry about more than the grammatical correctness of the language. This is where the novel becomes my work--the refining of the author's voice.



NARRATIVE STYLE

Consider The Hunger Games and Pure. The voice of one novel is almost indistinguishable from the other; they use a garden variety narrative style. But anyone who has read both works knows there are differences: The way the authors use their narrative voice to present the story.

In my opinion, Suzanne Collins is far more effective in The Hunger Games. This doesn't mean I will emulate her. I want the voice of my novel to be as unique to me as the story elements.  

In the section of this blog called Chasing the Coyote, I have shared more than one version of the prologue of The Quantum of the Past, and they were not all in the same verb tense. Why? Style.

It had to have these: Grave, not dark, descriptions; a sense of immediacy in the events; a devastating look at war. It was an introduction to the way I would later approach action, setting, and events within the main plot. Of course, it also kick starts the plot, but that seems irrelevant--almost.

Here is an earlier version of a piece of the prologue:


A flood of stimuli. The searing heat suffocates him. The ringing in his ears is like the scream of a banshee. In the air is the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh. This prompts his eyes to open and before him spans a desert as vast as the universe. And when the pain on his every muscle and bone finally registers, he convulses and vomits. A feeble groan dies in his throat as he tries to let out words. But what words can express any of this? 

Everything crashes back into place: The thunder of the machine guns from other Humvees; the guttural commands soldiers shout into the ether; the buzzing of bullets everywhere that is so much like the sound of mosquitoes that he tries to swat them.


And here is how some of that in the prologue after an obsessive second revision:


Stimuli awaken his senses in bursts--not all of it is understandable. The calidity of the air bathes him and he thinks that he is either in a furnace or his soul is forever damned in hell. The heat prompts his eyes to open and before him spans a barren landscape as vast as the universe. The sickly sweet smell of burning flesh comes next, surely from the casualties near the Humvee, but is actually the product of the burns that now cover most of his body. And when the pain finally registers, he convulses and vomits.


I removed the reference to the ringing in his ears and added the detail about the burns on most of his body. Why? The first version was acceptable and I could have published it like that. But my inner writer's voice said it wasn't right. Now, that nagging voice is a little quieter about the prologue...



OBSESS OVER THE LANGUAGE

During the second revision, I obsess over removing redundancy. Here is an example from my book:


Every step was fire that dried their throats and eyes and drained them of vital fluids.

Do you see what's problematic about this sentence? Here it is revised:


Every step was fire that dried their throats and eyes.


It was redundant to add that the heat "drained them of vital fluids." Here is another example:


Half of the Sprite’s face had rotted off and what flesh remained was leathery, with the white of the skull showing in places and only ripped pieces of his wings remained. The bedridden man turned to Miles and he extended a healthy hand to him and a decrepit smile formed.

I underlined the problematic aspects of that passage and highlighted an unwanted repetition. Here it is revised:


Half the Sprite’s face had rotted off and what flesh remained was like leather, poorly concealing his skull beneath. The bedridden man formed a decrepit smile and extended a hand to Miles.


By eliminating needless information, like that "he turned to Miles," the sentences became less redundant. Also, by eliminating the second instance of the word "remained," I added variety to the phrase.


CLICHES AND OVERUSED ELEMENTS OF WRITING

Cliches are generally seen as unwanted elements in a narrative. I am not so quick to judge these. Depending on certain elements of fiction, a cliche could enhance a text.

In daily speech, we make use of cliches to carry our meaning across when other forms of explanations fail or are insufficient. I consider this when writing dialogue and sometimes include a cliche if I feel it is within the boundaries of characterization (would this character use a cliche?).

I try to avoid the most obvious cliches when writing Third Person. For stylistic reasons, however, I may include them. What does that mean? There is a difference between including a sentence like, "She took the bait, hook, line and sinker!" and elevating a cliche into a theme or an extended metaphor.

For example, a theme of many Romance novels is actually the elevation of a cliche: Of love, better late than never. But you will rarely see one of these novels blatantly write it out (maybe in other ways towards the end)--wasn't it Hawthorne's advice in The Scarlet Letter to be true to your heart? Another example of elevating a cliche is the title of my novel. The Quantum of the Past is a reworking of the very common cliche: Don't cry over spilled milk.

In First Person POV, the use of cliches depends on whether I feel the character would use cliches. Again, I try not to just include cliches. In Absolution, the main character uses cliches in his narration and dialogue because it is thematically relevant.

What about those long lists of terms and phrases that you should avoid because they are overused? You've seen them on websites that offer writing advice. The payoff for searching and deleting/substituting these is not enough for me to justify the work. How does my novel benefit from eliminating the word "pleasant" or "Big/little" or "kind"? I guess I could go nuts with a thesaurus, but why? To appear sophisticated or verbose? Come on...

What I always consider when looking at those lists is my voice. Worrying about using "a lot" or about the number of adverbs per page hinders the development of my voice.

Note: If I know ahead of time that an Agent/publisher dislikes certain phrases, then by all means I delete them, only because it's part of the publishing game.


2. Analyze the story, refine the plot as needed

The plot is the sequence of events in the story. To me, the story is not the same thing as the plot. I may revise plot elements, but the story remains the same. It follows that if I revise the story, the plot must change.

There are several version of The Quantum of the Past. I mentioned that I wrote it last year when I meant to send it in to publishers. That version of the novel is obsolete. Now, I want to include subject matter considered taboo, like I did with Absolution. Why would I do that? To be original? As a response to reviews of Absolution? Social justice?

No. Because I can. I can satisfy my creativity without restraint. That's the beauty of self-publishing. (I will post about this lack of restraint in the future).

The reason Quantum was giving me such a headache was because of a shift in story. I had to revise some of the plot--erase some characters, create others, adjust events, settings, and characterization--in order to align the novel with this new vision. It is a shitty thing to do to a novel nearly complete, not just because of the extra work it created for me; it is a procedure that can go awry very easily.

But it has been done with legendary results. Herman Melville's Moby Dick is said to have been influenced in such a way that two distinct novels were the result (an amalgamation of text). There is debate about whether this is true and who or what influenced Melville to alter his novel into what it became. The romantic in me likes to think that Melville tried to do something different with the novel at a late date and the result is what you read in English classes today.

Did I succeed? I still have time to decide that.



3. Presentation

The main goal of the presentation step is to analyze the manuscript and transform it into a novel. So, I dot the i's and cross the t's. It involves analyzing.



ANALYZING CHAPTER CONTENT

If you remember, I mentioned in The Revision, 2, that the chapters I had compressed would be messy. During the second revision, I had to clean them up. One of the tasks involved is looking closely at chapter content. This takes time since you have to consider all the events in a chapter and whether they carry a tone across. If one or more events disrupts the balance within, it's time to relocate them; I may need to move content up or down a chapter.

I will summarize one instance of this in Quantum. There is a chapter titled The Battle of the Raven Mountains, which includes fighting between armies. But in a previous draft of the chapter, there was content of a different pace, interactions that developed the dynamics between the characters. So, I moved this content to an earlier chapter, which had a similar pace. It wasn't hard work and the overall effect is that the The Battle of the Raven Mountains has a darker, uniform tone throughout.



THE FORM OF THE NOVEL

It is a misconception that the novel has to be linear; that is, the events cannot linger away from the plot; and the presentation of content is out of the ordinary/experimental. But some of the most memorable novels in literature are non-linear. Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, and James Joyce's Ulysses are examples of non-linear forms.

Creating an effective non-linear form is tricky in a genre novel; too much deviation kills momentum. For example, The Quantum Thief includes interlude chapters that deal with events that take place prior to the events of the plot. These are confusing; only a second reading of the novel helped me appreciate their usefulness. And even that didn't help me connect with the main character any further.

This doesn't mean it can't be done: The Fellowship of the Ring starts off with an aside about Hobbits and The Return of the King ends with a "history" of the fates of the characters involved in the trilogy; G.RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire introduces a flurry of linear forms instead of just one, each colliding with others at different points in the story.

Why complicate things further by messing with the form of the novel? I mean, The Hunger Games is a vastly successful work that doesn't stray even an inch from a traditional form.

This is where writers differ. For a writer like me, who is not content with common modes of storytelling, creating non-linear elements is a must--one of my mottoes is to write the fiction that challenges my creativity.



ANALYZING THE STRUCTURE OF THE MANUSCRIPT

Creating a skeleton of the novel helps me do this:

Section #: Title
            Prologue:  Title                                     pg#
            Chapter #: Title                                     pg#
            Chapter #: Title                                     pg#

And etc. all the way down to the Epilogue. Examining the novel this way gives you an appreciation for volume per section and volume per chapter. It's a bird's eye view of the whole thing that reveals areas of bulkiness and areas starving for content. This would help me if I sought a certain uniformity in content presentation--like if I wanted all the chapters to be 10 pages long.

But the true value of the skeleton lies elsewhere. How many pages after the climax is the end of the novel? If the number of pages is excessive (as defined by a careful observation of other like novels that are successful), then it is essential that I trim content. I don't want the novel to end 200 pages after the climax.

Also, using the skeleton I can highlight events that help build up to the climax and see if there are wide page-number gaps between these--the goal is to have a steady progression of tension.

Note: I could have done the Presentation step during the first revision, but that would have been a waste of time. During the first revision and most of this second revision, the manuscript is in flux and it only solidifies during this step in the revision process.

What does it mean when I say that a manuscript "solidifies"? Well, it takes on a different identity and I treat it differently as a result. After the Presentation step, what I'll have is the novel, for better or worse.

Note: There is one more thing I like to do after the novel solidifies, which is also part of the Presentation step; reading content aloud and looking for areas where I pause. My philosophy is that the first 50 pages should be as smooth as silk--I also read important places in the story. But because I'm self-publishing, I'll save this step for the Copy-Editing Process.

***

After a strenuous second revision, The Quantum of the Past came out with 71 chapters (two more than it had before I completed the first revision), but it only gained 5 pages total--now it is 503 manuscript pages long.

What I'm left with is what I call a Working Draft. Because I'm publishing this myself, and in three volumes, I split the Working Draft.

Now in the Works in Progress page, it shows that each volume is only at 75% complete with the second revision. Wasn't the novel solidified?

Yes. This only means that there is additional work to be done. But it is very precise. I already have areas in mind to refine: Specific chapters; battle sequences. Only serious errors would motivate me to destroy its integrity.

The key word after completing the Presentation step is refine. Whatever ideas I come up with from here on out won't alter the elements of the novel but refine them. For example, the prologue, which I've toyed with incessantly, already dissatisfies me; I'll have to go back and look at that first paragraph again.

And so, the revision process will settle down to make way for editing.




LC

PS: This is a work in progress too. This means I'll add subjects as time passes.