Monday
May072012

Self Editing, continued

I'm still working on The Dragon Whisperer, and I'm just over halfway through my second pass. So far, all of the changes that I've made seem to be holding together well enough. I'm trying to add some internal consistency to the novel on this pass as well.

All of the training I've had in editing makes it so much easier for me to rework my writing, and not just when it comes to fixing the grammar and finding typos. I'm pretty good at being objective when I go through and edit for structure and content, applying what I've learned.

I'm certainly far from perfect though, and I always wonder if there's something I'm missing; if there's a problem staring me right in the face but I'm just not seeing it. There are always plot holes that I'm going to miss filling, and not because I don't have material to fill them with, but because I just don't see them. There are always going to be descriptions that need expanding.

The problem is that I know the material so intimately that no matter how hard I try to be objective, my brain will always fill in at least some of the gaps in the narrative. It doesn't matter how many times I read it through, I will miss something because I'm too close.

This is why having a second set of eyes is so important. It doesn't matter that I'm a trained editor, I will still always have someone else look through my work. I haven't decided yet whether I want to try to self-publish my work or keep trying to score success with traditional publishers, but I do know that I will always have another skilled editor look over my work first.

One of my clients is actually a colleague, and despite my client being an accomplished editor and writer with far more experience than I have, I still find areas needing improvement. No matter how good we think we are, we always miss something when we edit ourselves because we're too close.

When I'm done this pass of The Dragon Whisperer, I will have the manuscript as close to perfect as I'm capable of making it. After this, I will either find a publisher for it and they will have an editorial team to make it properly shine, or I'll hire a professional editor before I self-publish.

Thursday
Apr262012

The Wind Through the Keyhole

The Wind Through the Keyhole is a good read, but it's certainly not the best thing King has ever written. It's also definitely not the best book in the Dark Tower series. It reveals a lot about Mid-World, a little bit about the Man in Black, and even less about Roland himself, but the tales are interesting.

Yes, tales. This book is, essentially, a book of short stories. Or, maybe more accurately, a novella and two short stories. I feel that this book wasn't necessary at all to the series, but that didn't make it uninteresting. I enjoyed the read, often didn't want to put it down, and it was nice to see old characters in a new light.

There were a lot of things I didn't like about this book, but they weren't enough to make me outright dislike it. I would still recommend it to Stephen King and/or Dark Tower fans. But if you've never read a Stephen King book, this isn't the place to start, despite the fact that it's being promoted as an addition to the series, as well as a stand-alone. I don't feel it's strong enough as a stand-alone, and it's definitely not a strong enough book to pull in someone not a King fan already. I have plenty of recommendations of where to start, if you want to give King a try. And believe me, he's not just about horror. He just might surprise you, actually.

Now, onto the book itself. First of all, it really doesn't answer any questions left from the series, so don't read it expecting to find out anything about the fall of Gilead or the battle of Jericho Hill. This is something I would really like to know more about, and I hope King eventually includes it, perhaps in a book of short stories/novellas, like "The Little Sisters of Eluria" in Everything's Eventual.

But I digress. Another thing about the book that bothered me was that, unlike all seven of the other books in the series, it doesn't have any illustrations. There is a special, limited deluxe edition with illustrations, but there's a lottery involved in getting a copy of that. I always love books, particularly genre fiction, with a few illustrations in them, and the Dark Tower series has been no exception.

Just a note: if you love me and have money to buy the special edition, my birthday is next week. Ha ha!

The final thing about the book that I didn't like is that the point of view changes. We have three stories nested into each other, and one of them is in the first person. I do not like this at all and honestly found it jarring. As a reader, it was distracting; as an editor, it made my head explode. Had I been King's editor, I would have said to keep it all in the third person. The entire series has been in the third person narrative, largely from Roland's point of view, and the deviation bothers me.

The structure is odd, but I don't mind that in itself. The book starts with the quest for the Dark Tower that readers of the series are familiar with, but sadly only occupies about 10% of this book, and that's probably a generous estimate. However, we're introduced to something called a starkblast, and if you're a meteorology junkie with storm chaser tendencies like I am, then you're really going to love the starkblast.

The starkblast is a lot like the eye of the storm in the movie The Day After Tomorrow. If you've never seen that, then the starkblast is a lot like a hurricane, but it hits more suddenly, and think of a hurricane at 40 below zero (before the windchill). It's a monster to say the least. A fascinating monster. For me, the starkblast (and there are two of them in the book!) makes the read worth it on its own.

Wind is a central theme in this book, as there is a starkblast and a raging simoom in the other two tales nestled into the Dark Tower quest. I read this book during that Nor'easter that just went through, and that really helped bring a sense of authenticity to the book, with the wind howling through my imagination, as well as in real life.

So the gunslinger and his ka-tet settle into the ruins of an old village to ride out the storm and he tells them a story from his past while they're there.

And so we enter into story number two, into the gunslinger's past, and into the first person narrative. He recounts a tale of how he's sent to investigate a shapeshifter slaughtering people in an outlying mining town. This story gives little insight into Roland's past, but probably only takes up 20% of the narrative. Halfway through this second tale, the young gunslinger tells another tale to a young boy who is one of the few survivors of the shapeshifter's carnage.

This titular tale within a tale takes up the bulk of the book. It's a fascinating read about coming of age, domestic violence, the value of storytelling, the man in black, dragons, muties, Maerlyn the magician, relics of the Old Ones, betrayal, redemption, bravery, and another starkblast. The part about the dragon at the end of this one makes me a little sad, and I'm not sure I buy it, but I still really enjoyed this story.

The resolution of this tale is woven back into the tale about the shapeshifter, called the skin-man, and despite the change in point of view, the transition is fairly smooth. The end of the tale about the skin-man finally sets the gunslinger on the path to healing over the death of his mother, but there's little else about his past to be found here.

With the end of the skin-man tale, the storytelling ends and readers are brought back to the present quest, which is quite brief before the book ends.

There are overlapping themes, many of them previously mentioned, and some parallel scenes between tales, with the howling wind as a constant throughout. I liked this book, it was entertaining and had some real depth, but it still lacked the emotion of many of the others. It didn't grab me by the soul the way some of his other books (especially in this series) have. I guess it's a bit fluffier than the rest of the series.

I could talk about this until I'm hit by an actual starkblast, as the Dark Tower is one of the few things I can geek over endlessly, but I know most people won't have read it yet, and so saying anything else would entail revealing some massive spoilers, and I seem to be the only person in the universe who likes those.

But that's a blog post for another day.

Friday
Apr202012

Anticipation

I've been sick and so I haven't read anything since finishing Storm Front, but there are only four sleeps left until the release of Stephen King's newest book in the Dark Tower series. While I'm mostly excited about The Wind Through the Keyhole, I have mixed feelings about this mid-quel (as it's being called by some) because the series, technically, is finished. I wasn't completely satisfied with how the series ended though.

I thought that the actual ending itself was a perfect fit and exactly what I would expect from Stephen King. The last three books felt rushed, and I suspect that they were since they were all written close together. I think they were written not much more than a year apart, if that, while all of the other books had many years between them.

There were a lot of questions left unanswered about the gunslinger's past, especially in regards to what happens to him between the events of Wizard and Glass and when we first meet him in the first book of the series, where he sets out across the desert in search of the man in black.

If you haven't read the books, that probably didn't make a lot of sense. Time is a bit wobbly in this series, and while, for the most part, the series is in roughly chronological order, Wizard and Glass is set almost entirely in the gunslinger's past.

I look forward to new material in the series, but some of the press releases I've read have me wondering if it's going to answer any of the questions I had, or just leave me with more. I'll find out in a few days!

Sunday
Apr152012

Storm Front

I just finished reading the first book in the Harry Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher and I really enjoyed it. It was a good mystery story, even if I more or less figured it out by about the middle of the book. But I almost always figure it out, so that doesn't necessarily mean that too much was revealed too soon. I can't write a mystery to save my life, but I can figure them out in a hurry.

But I digress. The book had an interesting twist with all the magic mixing with real life, and just the right amount of humour. There were a few lines that I would definitely label as brilliant smart-assery. Yes, I just made that word up.

I've had a few friends recommend the series to me, and one of them loaned me a copy of the first book, Storm Front. It was the first time in a long time--since before Christmas--that I sat down to read someone else's fiction outside of work. It was so refreshing to read something new and purely for the sake of reading. I plan on continuing the trend.

But it still felt a little bit like work, unfortunately, and I was tempted to get out a red pen and start marking up the book. I think the only thing that really stopped me was that it wasn't my copy to mangle. Also, that would have slowed down the reading, and I was hooked and needed to get through it as quickly as possible. It was a page-turner.

I enjoyed it, it was a page-turner, but it was a poorly edited page-turner. The substantive editing was excellent and I didn't notice anything out of place in that regard. The pacing was excellent for revealing clues, and there wasn't anything there that shouldn't have been there, nor was there anything missing. Everything came together nicely at the end.

The copy-editing, on the other hand, was less impressive. This doesn't necessarily mean that the copy editor didn't know what he or she was doing. I suspect it was more a case of a tight budget with little time to properly refine the text.

It wasn't outright terrible, but it was enough to be distracting and in one part it was even confusing. For the most part, there were just problems with the punctuation. A lot of problems. These problems were limited to commas that should have been full stops and full stops that should have been commas and some missing or extra quotation marks. Still, it was frequent enough to distract me.

The confusing part came around mid-book. Harry Dresden, the hero (and wizard), has until Monday to solve the gruesome murders or he will likely turn up dead as well. He talks about having roughly thirty hours left to sort it out, but then not long afterward the narrative describes it as being a Friday night. There are indicators other than the math that it is, indeed, Saturday night, but I am less than stellar at math. I ended up flipping back and forth through the pages to confirm that it was Saturday and that the mention of Friday was an error.

This is a seemingly small thing, but it's also a fairly big thing. Readers shouldn't have to pull themselves out of the world of the story to sort out what's going on. Once immersed in a tale, a reader should stay there until outside influences force them to put the book down.

The copy of the book that I have on loan appears to be an earlier print version, so I hope some of the errors are dealt with in later print runs. Errors aside, I'm certainly looking forward to reading the second book, and I expect to add a copy of this to my permanent collection.

If you like modern day wizards, a hero who is an occasional smart ass, and mystery novels, then I think you will enjoy Harry Dresden in Storm Front.

Sunday
Apr082012

Self Editing

For the last few days, I've been spending most of my free time revising one of my more recent novels. The basic premise of it started circling my brain in the middle of high school and I had about two scenes written out, but had no real plot and no idea what to do with it for a long time.

When November 2009, and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), drew near and I still didn't have a solid idea, I took a closer look at this novel, which I eventually titled The Dragon Whisperer. The details emerged rapidly and over the course of the month, the novel took shape.

Aside from those two brief scenes I'd written in high school, the rest came out in November during NaNoWriMo. It wasn't even 55,000 words long when I completed it, which isn't very long considering my other novels average around 120,000 words.

I've revised it a couple of times since, adding more plot points, fleshing out characters and enriching the view of the world in which the story takes place. I workshopped it with some local writers and fellow NaNoWriMo participants and came back with some great ideas for further improvement.

Now, with a little bit of spare time before yardwork season gets into full swing, I've been tackling it again. I haven't touched it at all in about a year, so my perspective on it is a little fresher, which often helps. I've also learned so much as an editor in that short span of time, but it's still difficult for me to edit my work. I now have the skills to fix the problems I can see, but I'm too close to my work and can't see all of them.

And then there's one major problem that I don't know how to fix. No one has commented on it, so it might not actually be a problem, but it still concerns me. All of the other problems have been concerned with character development, world building and the overall flow of the novel. I rearranged the chronology and added over 5,000 words of details about characters and the setting. This one problem is a little more difficult to solve though, because just over halfway through the novel, there's a shift.

Not to give too much away, but at that point, my main character goes missing and another character, her husband, has to step in to her role as protagonist. He has a prominent role through the first half of the novel and some of those scenes are written from his point of view, but I worry that the shift hurts the story. Fixing the shift would entail either shifting the first half so that the husband is the main character, which makes little sense, or an entirely new plot, and I rather like where this novel goes.

For now, I'm going to leave that problem because there are plenty of other things left to fix. I have a dragon society to finish building, new scenes to write, characters and relationships to develop, and tension to add to the climax. Then one more pass to make sure the dialogue is doing what it should and that the changes I've made flow properly. Once I finish that second pass, I will be submitting this novel to publishers.