The Ignition of Revision (2)

This post discusses revisions made to Vengeance Will Come, my first fantasy adventure novel (revisions in progress). In the first part of this blog post I described what I felt was a fatal flaw in my story construction, too-frequent point of view swapping. Reading the manuscript anew, I re-read the first scene. Somehow, only on the 101st time I read it, I could see the scene had to go.

I’ll let you read it first, and then I’ll discuss it – what I was trying to do with it, what I liked, and ultimately why it’s no longer contributing to the word count.

VWC Deleted Ch1Sc2
The deleted scene

What I was trying to do: #1 Surprise the Reader

The first, horribly jarring thing you may have noticed are the references to the two people in the scene, referred to only as ‘the driver’ and ‘the passenger’.

There was a reason for this: I wanted the fact that they were police to be hidden until the very end of the scene. If the reader catches it, it would shock them and re-frame the entire scene in their mind. Two men killing homeless people (and semi-sentient creatures) was bad enough, but then you find out it’s police doing the killing it makes it even worse. It might cause the reader to wonder:

  • Why are the police killing the homeless?
  • What kind of society is does that?
  • Does this happen often, given the policemen are carrying silenced weapons?
  • While one officer has a conscience, the other doesn’t seem to be phased by it – or chooses his employment as more important than the lives he is extinguishing.

I say if the reader catches it, it does those things. But what if they read-on so fast that the last few words at the end of the scene don’t ‘click’? In that case I have made it clunky for very little purpose. Worse, what if the reader only reads that much and decides the writing style is terrible, and assumes it’s like that throughout and gives up? The very first text should be a hook, a sales-pitch to grab the reader and tell them it’s worth investing dozens of hours to read. And that scene was just too risky, a huge gamble; too little gain for way too much risk.

(I could have given the characters names to make it less clunky but I don’t like naming characters – even a first name – if the character isn’t going to be around long, especially at the start of a book).

What I was trying to do #2: Set the Scene

The shock of killers being police is that it also describes the environment in which the scene is set. That is added to be the description of the environment:

“derelict grey warehouse” … “Not in our life time. What the war didn’t destroy outright it comatosed: buildings and people alike, empty shells ageing slowly towards death.”

The economy is bad and the place is run down; the people demoralised.

“…a job that we’re very lucky to have. … Let’s just get this done and get out of the rain.”

The disassociation of the driver in uncaring about what they are doing, in justifying it, shows how brutal life is. They need the job, and are willing to do whatever is required. The passenger seems to have reservations (but not enough to make him refuse the order); the driver justifies his actions. The fact that the passenger grimaces at the incoming rain when he’s about to kill someone is a value statement.

In an earlier draft of the scene the homeless man was shot in the head. This added to the brutality of it and makes it clear that they want him dead not injured. This was cut (probably) to reduce the brutality so early-on. Likewise I considered removing the reference to the silencer. Doing so would signify the police aren’t afraid of the populace knowing about their violence. It normalises it. Keeping the silencer, however, also suggests that police have occasion to secretly kill people; like the CIA ‘wet work’.

Also important in setting the scene was the introduction of the alien lifeform, the slime-spitting, fast-moving Dugar. It was supposed to be a clear (and entirely blunt) hint to the reader that we’re talking other-worldly. I wanted the reader to be able to orient themselves quickly.

So why did I cut the scene? Firstly, because of the clunky referencing which sounded amateurish, but second because it only tangentially applies to the story. The entire scene can be replaced by a few words to describe the fact that the area has been sanitized. Likewise the reference to the Dugar can be placed slightly further back in the text without a problem.

With hindsight I deduced that the scene was hurting me far more than helping me…and so it had to go.

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The Ignition of Revision (1)

What was it that caused me so quickly to begin a revision of Vengeance Will Come, when it had literally been the farthest thought from my mind?

In the months since putting the manuscript in the mail, I’ve been mulling over how I wrote it. One problematic issue has risen to the surface of my consciousness like foul oil sitting on the top of clean water. The frequent point-of-view (POV) swapping and I’m now convinced it’s a problem.

While some POVs lasted for an entire chapter, there were many, many more far shorter. Someone wise once coined the phrase, ‘a picture tells a thousand words’, obviously that person has never played Pictionary on my team… My lack of drawing skills aside, here’s a picture to demonstrate. (All the yellow highlights are scene changes).

VWC POV changes.PNG

(Wow, even though I knew it was a problem… this display makes it clearer – and me dizzy).

At the time of writing, I thought that the rapid POV/scene changes added to the speed of the novel… but I’ve gradually decided that too many rapid POV-shifts disorient to the reader. Possibly also, my constant POV changes hinted at a weakness in my writing. I believe it’s easier to head-jump than describe the same thing through one character’s brain.

Recognising this flaw, the main change I am going to be doing through revision is cutting down on the number of scenes and POV changes. Small POVs will either be discarded or made meatier.

Do you agree – does frequent and short POVs confuse or annoy you as a reader?

(Next writing-related blog post, I’ll show you the first ‘real’ scene of chapter 1 and explain why it’s now lying on the cutting room floor).

Well, I didn’t see that coming…

Just a week ago I wrote that I didn’t want to spend any longer on my novel Vengeance Will Come. As I discussed, it had been sitting idle for months.

And then I began to read it…

…and I fell in love with it all over again (if I can use the term loosely).

But the months of “resting time” (as they say in cookbooks) has made me aware of some of it’s flaws…

So now I’m going to start do (another) final revision of it. And this one – I promise – will be the last revision that I will initiate. (You may have noticed that I left enough room in that statement for a parade to pass through…). A final revision and then I plan on releasing *somehow* as an e-book.

I may be late to the party but I have started to use Scrivener, and although it isn’t entirely intuitive to me, I am starting to like it. I am very appreciative of the generous try-before-you-buy program of 30-days of actual use. Sure, it doesn’t have everything I would want but it’s a pretty good product. I’m 99% sure I’ll be a customer before the end of my trial period. I’m also keen to try out their mind-mapping product Scrapple.

It’s Hammer Time

In the beginning of Vengeance Will Come I have a made-up saying, a piece of wisdom:

A bar of steel is of limited use

But if it endures flaming trials

And is pounded upon by adversity

It can be shaped into many powerful things…

forge

Vengeance Will Come has been in the fires too long and I have too many other projects I want to progress. To continue the forge metaphor it’s time that some serious hammering occurs.

To that end I’m suspending all work on any other project until the current revision of Vengeance Will Come is complete. No other writing (excluding blog posts) and no programming, no matter how enticing the idea may be.

Ideally I’d like to finish by the end of July, but I’m not sure that’s realistic (based on past experience). In any case, I’m aiming to finish as soon as humanly possible.

And so, it’s hammer time! (Millennials won’t get the pun).

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.

A break from work to write

Yesterday I had hoped to have finished revising Vengeance Will Come. The goal was always ambitious but at now 50% it’s clear to say I missed it.

But I’m still going to use the break from work to churn through the editing in the hope that I can complete it – if not according to my target – as soon as possible. I’m now in the second half of my story and it does feel like I’m on the downhill run.

So aside from the occasional domestic duties and giving my beautiful bride a rest by cooking each night I hope to do a lot of writing in the next few days.

vwc-progress

Ugh-hoo-doh

It is the sound of layered feelings and emotions: tiredness tinged with joy, covered by a sad but inevitable postponement.

Let me paint the scene:

Ugh: It was the last night before a return to work after a long and relaxing holiday.

I had good intentions of getting my body clock back into work-sync; early to rise and early to bed. They were however just intentions, and de-railed by binge watching of seasons 1 & 2 of the great* scifi show “The 100”. (*I would call the show excellent if it weren’t for a few issues, detailed below).

So instead of getting to bed at an early but regular 2130 it had been closer to 2300 for the previous week. Rising had been anywhere from 0645 to 0830, a far cry from the required 0445 that was rapidly approaching reality.

Hoo. (As in, woo-hoo) I was in bed at 2200, still fairly awake when the beautiful Mrs Ezard returned home.

“A surprise,” she said, “I have for you.” One of my trusted and respected beta readers had returned hald of Vengeance Will Come, my first novel.

“And it is filled with tonnes of comments.” She annotated.

I remained in bed for all of about 13 seconds before announcing, “I’ll just have a quick look.” and sprung up with the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morn.

True to my word I only skimmed for about 15 minutes. In this I showed epic restraint. I tried to get a decent night’s sleep but the die had already been cast. Many of you will understand how excitement kept me awake, and woke me early (0330).

Doh. And let’s not forget that while it waits for me at home I must now go and spend the day at work, not-writing. Which I believe adequately explains the title ugh-hoo-doh.

‘The 100’: Just Great, not Excellent

  • I’m all for a bit of character evolution, after all, your character’s should have arcs. I love a well done transition from good guy to bad guy. But I can’t stress enough these things should happen over time. Evolution takes time, a lot of time – not within the space of a single episode.There are far too-many character’s having too-quick changes for my liking: reckless to responsible, responsible to reckless; pacifist to psycho, psycho to pacifist; patient to rash, rash to patient. It’s the characters are playing musical-mood-chairs.
  • It has touches of Lost (which I hated) where they need something new, and they put it in without foreshadowing (e.g. giant ape). Foreshadowing is important… otherwise it comes off looking like a tacky plot element.
  • In the same mindset: there’s a girl-on-girl kiss that reeks of popularism (“everybody’s doing it in TV so we should too”). There is absolutely no foreshadowing that it was ever on the cards. Not to mention the character is kissing-back the woman who just killed her boyfriend an episode or two ago…
  • Also, I don’t think a main character has died since S01E03, which is unrealistic considering the challenges they’ve faced. Yes, it’s scifi but don’t over abuse my willingness to dial-down my disbelief.