VWC Revision: Renaming Characters

Still learning how to write, I don’t always do the right thing at the right time.

The writing luminary Orson Scott Card has rules for naming characters (here and here). The primary rule is that character’s names should not start with the same letter or sound. A sensible rule.

The image below lists all of the named characters in Vengeance Will Come and highlights the problem.

VWC Named Characters Original

(Those in grey are minor characters who don’t get a point-of-view. Some appear repeatedly, and others are only in a single scene).

Too many names?

There are, arguably, too many names and if possible I’ll cull a few of them during the course of the revision by de-naming them.

The reason for so many characters is two-fold. I admit I find it awkward and unnatural to refer to someone multiple times without assigning them a name. Occasionally I’ll give them a nickname (like “Tuxedo” or “Double Muscle”), but doing that too often also feels unnatural – unless that’s a point of view character quirk. Also, like a good fan of Robert Jordan I plan to take a few of the minor characters and elevate them in subsequent books.

Breaking Uncle Orson’s rule

This is a problem I should have fixed much earlier, but better late than never. You’ll also notice in the original image there are a heck of a lot of characters named with similar letters (S, T and M). So here are my proposed changes:

VWC Named Characters Revised

I’m achieving a few goals with these changes:

  1. I’m de-stacking the heaviest use letters.
  2. I’m strategically changing the gender of Teskan (see upcoming post about gender balance).
  3. I’m structuring names in-world. It’s always bothered me that some characters have two names while others only have the one. This was just how it was and I had no good reason for it. Now I do: important individuals (the elite) in the world get two names, whereas everyone else gets one.

The only difficult, and possibly controversial change I wrestled with was “Three”. My opinion pivoted like a see-saw.

On the one hand some reviewers found it understandably difficult, because it’s a real word with a different meaning. It can therefore trip the brain up for a while.

However some respected reviewers liked it and were upset at my thoughts of altering it.

It does breach Uncle Orson’s rule, and is especially dangerous because another major character (Terefi) use the same letter. I can’t change Terefi because of the origin of his name.

But I was also really fond of the name. It’s so different that I think it helps put an “other world” spin on it. (Which, in hindsight, is kind of ironic because we have some crazy names being used on this planet). As I originally conceived it, it is also more than just a name, though that won’t become apparent until later in the series.

So eventually the see-saw motion stopped and Three remained.

A final warning

The other draw back I’ll warn you about is using words that the grammar checker will work itself into a lather over. Because three is a legitimate word, but capitalising it in the middle of a sentence is not kosher, the grammar checker has a perpetual hissy-fit. Even worse (and I’m not sure I should admit this) “Three” started off as “X”. Just a bad move; I don’t think I could get the spellchecker to ignore the single letter.

Hopefully these changes will help to balance out name-usage and make it easier for my readers. Now it’s just a matter of retraining my brain and muscle memory to type the new names instead of the old.


Help over the fence

Want a beta-reader? I’ve been helped in my development process by other beta readers and now it’s my turn to ‘pay it forward’. Each month I’ll read a chapter of someone’s story and comment on it. To be eligible, just comment on one of my posts with “*Review*” in the comment and you’re in the running.

Jumping the Productivity Moat

Although revision on Vengeance Will Come has only just begun I’m reasonably happy with the progress so far.

Revision Work…

Here’s a summary of what I’m looking at:

  • I’m Cutting out superfluous words. Not just the occasional word in a sentence, but also entire sentences. For example, the following line of dialogue:

“Physical muscles are less important than mental strength and wisdom, neither of which is guaranteed by age.”

I originally wrote it as a subtle dig at a character that he was physically weak, to feed a sense of inadequacy. That reference is no longer required and its presence is now out-of-place. It adds no value and causes only distraction. The delete key fixed that.

  • Word choice. Sometimes I’m using the same word in quick succession and that is poor form. (Sidebar: A previous Writing Excuses podcast I listened to mentioned that there are some words you can only use once in a story).
  • Using contractions in dialogue. This, strangely doesn’t come naturally to me. Although I speak with them, for some reason I write long-form. My flow-of-consciousness dialogue tends to be formal and so feels scripted. It was something an earlier version alpha reader detected, and I was trying to fix this… obviously I missed a lot. I suspect the further into the story the less I detected.
  • being more descriptive about motion and emotion; trying to show in a more nuanced way, instead of telling the reader.
  • Evaluating the criticisms of my beta readers, and adjusting accordingly (more about that in another post).

…Meets Productivity Moat

But then my forward progress is halted, midway through chapter 2 (of 29). I’ve hit a piece of text that’s really slowing me down: a productivity moat that’s blocking my path.

I’m not happy with the paragraph of text and are indecisive about wording and positioning. Several times I have opened up the document and sat there looking at it, as though it were written in Swahili (which I can’t read). After an annoying ten minutes of staring, my enthusiasm begins to wane. Stupid moat. I’ve tried to skip it and move on, but it’s like I know it’s there like an enemy at my flank and it’s on my mind.

I have a new strategy. To be honest it’s not much different from my previous strategies, but often I’ve found writing is a mind game. So if my slightly modified strategy works – hooray. They say you need an edge over your enemy: not a whole new weapon, just an edge.

I’m going to:

  1. Highlight the paragraph, admit to myself that I currently lack the ability to solve it and I can’t allow it to slow me down.
  2. Write some extensive comments: what I think is wrong with it (why I am having difficulty) and any possible options I can see to fix it in the future. I’m going to try to be descriptive e.g. “Z might work but that would require Y (which I don’t have)”.
  3. I’m going to move on, having done everything I can currently.
  4. At a later date, either at the end or when the answer presents itself, I’ll go back and fix it.

The productivity moat may cause a change in strategy, but it won’t stop me.

Revising Vengeance Will Come, Again

Previously I stated it was my intention to not further revise my first novel, Vengeance Will Come unless of course a publisher decided they wanted it. (Not that I’ve sent it out yet).

That decision was born of the knowledge that many first time authors get stuck in an endless rewrite cycle, and I didn’t want to be one of them. Especially considering how long this project has taken.

However since making that decision I’ve learned that professional authors can regularly do 6+ revisions. (Granted, some of these would likely be under the direction of publishers and editors).

My beta readers have also alerted me to the fact that there are numerous improvements to be made. This new-found knowledge of my novel’s shortcomings means there are two options:

  1. I revise, or
  2. my book goes in the bottom desk drawer, never to see the light of day again.

I realise that I’m still learning the writing craft (very much so) and my novel won’t be perfect. Ever. However, I’m not willing to let the book out into the world with simple things I know how to fix. It’s about quality control, and respecting my readers to do the best I can.

And so, the revision process begins anew.

PS: I’ve taken “The Hostages” off my progress chart. I’m still very committed to writing it, but it’s not going to progress any time soon, hence it’s disappearance.

My Beta Reading Experience (Part 1)

As Vengeance Will Come is my first novel it stands to reason that I’ve never had beta readers before. In this post I describe what I did, how it worked out (part 1, anyway) and what I’d do differently.

Who to choose as beta readers

Listening to the Writing Excuses podcast it’s pretty clear that the who and why of beta readers varies from author to author. Some authors want industry insiders to beta read and other authors want average Jill-and-Joe reader.

Ideally I was looking for people who would cover off on some of these criterion:

  • could be relied upon to give an honest assessment. Liars, be they ever so motivated by noble sentiment in this instance, will not help me improve my craft.
  • well-read in my genre. Not only do they read a lot, they also read in fantasy/sci-fi so they can compare or contrast, and have some kind of benchmark or knowledge of common norms.
  • people who are likely to provide the most valuable feedback. More than just a thumbs up or down; detail behind what they liked or didn’t like.
  • grammar aficionados. Although I was more interested in the sweeping narrative than the minute detail, I’m also happy for someone to spot errors.

To be honest I didn’t feel like I had an already assembled go-to group. Quite possibly this is something I need to remedy. Maybe some of my time online needs to be spent on genre forums. Decision made: I’m going to try it getting into a few fantasy forums.

Without a go-to group, I just about begged passersby. I did manage to pull together a group of people who were willing read for me. It helps to remember that these people were doing me a favor. They were taking time out of other leisure activities to read a first novel (with all its inherent problems). Good people.

How I managed the Betas

beta readers

In the interest of focusing the feedback I inserted a page at the beginning of the book with some directions for my beta readers. By putting it in the book it meant that it was always available for them to refer to, not something separate in an email that might get lost or deleted.

Inserting a ‘due date’ is also a must. The last thing I wanted to do was leave it wide open. I didn’t want to be delayed by a well-meaning but continual, “I’ll get it to you soon.” I gave my readers two months, which I thought was a reasonable timeline. While setting a date I correctly guessed that it would be pushed out, but at least there were still goal posts. One beta reader returned it super fast and others around the due date.

I also gave my readers an ‘out’. The last thing I wanted to do was harm friendships or make it a heavy chore. Again, generous volunteers should not be abused.

I’ve also heard of some authors providing templates or more structure for their beta readers. I likewise have ideas for a number of tools that I’d like to be able to implement in the future.

I received feedback from only a portion of my beta readers, and I think that is to be expected. Life happens and sometimes unavoidably crushes everything that stands in its way. It’s also a reflection of my choices: I knew some people read less, and in different genres than were ideal.

It’d be naive to think that some readers didn’t just got bored and hit the delete key, too-kind to tell me.

I did intend on sending a reminder email to my betas at the halfway point, but didn’t do it. I didn’t want to harass them. In hindsight a single (or couple of) reminders really isn’t that much hassle and may have increased the number of returns I received.

Going back over the text, I question if it was too early for beta readers; a heinous crime. The goodwill of potential betas shouldn’t be exhausted with three-quarter-baked reads. Choosing and working with beta readers is absolutely a skill that needs to be developed. Beta reading is also a skill (one that I don’t possess myself). Undoubtedly as my skill improves for picking betas, and writing, others will become more interested, improving the fruitfulness of beta reading.

Nobody talked me down…

I’ve had a mini break from writing (dangerous, I know). But it’s been a time of enjoyment and productivity (albeit in other areas), so I don’t regret it.

Firstly since no one talked me down, I’ve been doing some coding in Java. It’s not a writing program yet but the framework to support it (at about 75% completion, to pull a number from the sky). And while I’m making up numbers let’s also say its a thousand percent under budget. (Speaking of budgets – the Australian budget is out tonight and here’s an excellent article on the immorality of spending the next generation(s) money). But I digress…

For my framework I’ve gone with what’s called an internal frame application because it allows maximum flexibility to the user. You can stretch the application over multiple monitors and position and size any number of internal windows to your preferences.

Writing Framework1

Each window can then have any number of panels added to it. (For example a writing panel, a character attributes panel, a todo panel…)

On other matters I’ve also been enjoying more time in the kitchen, having fun preparing a few more meals. (This gives both me enjoyment and my beautiful wife a break: wins-all round).

But now that I have some feedback from my beta readers it’s time to get back to writing and Vengeance Will Come. My next few posts I plan on writing about how I work through those beta reader comments.

Revising The Rebel Queen

I’m finding revising my second novel The Rebel Queen is very different to the first Vengeance Will Come.

Vengeance Will Come was written more by discovery writing whereas The Rebel Queen was plotted in advance. In some respects I think this means there should be less structural changes, but I’m always wary of that being a false assumption.

I also have to be aware of several of my own biases. I like the protagonist because I wrote her and know the plot and character arcs. But does a new reader like her as early in the book as is needed to have them emotionally invested?

The Rebel Queen also runs parallel to aspects of Vengeance Will Come, with some cross-over of characters. That means I have knowledge of both books, and need to make sure that the necessary knowledge is contained independently in both stories. I can’t accidentally reference something in the other book.

One of the other issues that is concerning me is length. Vengeance Will Come was around 110k words at first draft and cut down to 86k words. Although it was sad to see so many words cut (which represent many hours worth of work), I knew that the trimming was worthwhile. Not only was I sharpening the text, but I was also making the length a more attractive proposition for a potential publisher.

The Rebel Queen, by contrast, started at around 65k words. (When I was writing it I had always intended for it to be a shorter length). Now however, if I cut to the same level it will be very short indeed. Or do I add more text to compensate? But I don’t want to do either cut or add too much.

I guess the answer is that at each point I cut or add, whatever improves the quality of the story. If only I had more experience I’d feel more adequate to make those decisions. But I guess that’s how you get experience…

Writing Plan for April 2017

Can you believe it’s nearly April? As a child I’d always heard adults say that time gets faster the older you get. Seriously, it gets so fast it’s ridiculous. I can’t imagine the warp-speed it must pass at when you’re into your 50’s, 60’s and beyond. Talk about time travel!

Back in February I made a slap-dash writing plan with the structural rigor of a house of cards. Realizing my mistake, I quickly retracted it. Just to be clear: a writing plan is excellent, as long as it’s well thought out. If it’s not well thought out then chances are you won’t succeed, and it will be just another reason for self-flagellation. (Of the non-erotic kind, and hopefully only metaphorically. What’s wrong with this world that I need to make those two caveats?)

So let’s look at April with some thinking behind it.

April2017EstimatedUsing my Excel basic writing calendar (which you can download here) I estimate that I’ll have 47.5 hours of writing time in April. Note that I’ve factored in my known other commitments. I’ve also been a bit pessimistic with this – only times where I have a >= 50% chance of writing get put down. So in reality I’m hoping to exceed 47.5 hours… anything more than that is a bonus. (And I will be releasing a cooler version of the writing calendar when I get around to making it. Knowing me, probably soon).

Now I think I can write at about 700 words an hour, or revise about 500 words per hour. I’d like to say I can do more, but until the data supports it I can’t. So with those figures in mind after 47.5 hours I should have revised 23,750 words.

Naturally it’s not quite that easy. As part of my revision I’ll be writing new scenes, but I’ll also be doing blog posts etc. And not all of that time will actually be spent writing. Undoubtedly I’ll hit problems or mind-games that will have me pondering, undecided or back-tracking on my work. Rounding down, by the end of April I hope to have revised 35% of The Rebel Queen.