Proofreading and Critiquing.

I recently added a “BiPs” tab, where I explain what I’m currently working on (in the Novel sphere. My freelance writing is something else entirely). I’m literally working on three novels at once (the second Soren book is on the backburner. Probably until the first one is published, so I won’t be touching that little piece for a while): one Urban Fantasy/Horror hybrid (themes of both, though nothing gratuitous. Like looking at a Beksinski painting), one Modern Fantasy on a parallel world (this one has Two Mile High Magical Trees!), and an adventure/romance story with fantasy elements thrown in (he’s a little loose in the head).

I’ve worked on the Urban Fantasy for nearly two years now: after I wrote it the first time, I rewrote it, sent it out to be proofed, rewrote it again before sending it out to agents/publishers, and in the meantime rewrote portions a third time. Now I’m looking at it, and I’m removing more (cleaning the wordiness: I’ve learned a lot since my previous rewrite).

At the same time I’m rewriting the Modern Fantasy for the first time: aligning bits and portions of the story to fit together, adding “flair,” and removing needless diatribes about something unimportant. The voice of these two novels are similar in that the main characters are in magical worlds with similar themes, and everyone’s trying to survive.

The third, unfinished work is what’s scaring me a little. With the other two, the story drones on after a while–strong conflict pitting people against themselves and the setting–yet it all turns into a buzz if you stare at it long enough (maybe it’s just me: I’ve been short on sleep lately). The Romenture (Romance-Adventure) novel is sexy. Like, the Urban Fantasy has sexy. Bits and pieces. The Modern Fantasy is about a bunch of thirteen year olds: no sexy there. But the Romenture is a dance between two very different people. It’s like a secondary cyclone spinning about in the hurricane, and it’s really, really hot. Plus, the thing just rolls. I proofed it for two days and already halfway done (53k. about halfway finished with the whole book). I’m finding places to snip and shorten, butdamnit gets stuffy in here.

Why it scares me is I have two finished products and I’m seriously considering finishing the Romanture. My fiancee will vouch for this: I don’t stay on a topic long enough to get it published. It’s my greatest weakness when it comes to writing. I am perpetually inspired, and if I had my way, I’d write all day. Non-stop. Forever.

No writer’s block. No lack of information/topic/subject material. It’s just hot. And the main character is so far from myself, but I love it. He’s shallow as hell–the female is the mature one of the two–and I’m just devouring it like some kind of twisted romance fluff novel for dudes.

Anyway. That’s where I am right now on my work: Urban Fantasy on fourth rewrite, Modern Fantasy on first, Romanture gearing up for a full smack in the face.

Critiquing Your Novel 101

So I recently finished my fantasy YA novel, and I’m cracking my knuckles to start. What do I do first?

1) I break every single chapter into its own file. This way I can move about the book quicker, surgically remove/control the content (I write in a very action/reaction style: Character has a minor conflict, pursues conflict, resolves conflict by the end of the chapter). If the chapter isn’t needed, I can remove it entirely. No harm done.

MUCH easier to handle than the full 225-page document. I get lost easily otherwise.

So I have 32 chapters and 32 files. I can clearly see where the drama is lacking, where the minor conflict has nothing to do with developing the character or story, and I can remove if needed.

2) Make a list of all loose ends/all ideas that have come to me between the end of the story and now. This list is VITAL to my restructuring, because it often adds the details required to flesh out the story (an example: David needs to receive a letter from his father halfway through the summer camp. I forgot to add that in in the initial writeup, so I have to make a point to do this now). This list works BEST as written on a sheet of paper so you can PHYSICALLY look at it and mark things off. Nothing more vitalizing to a writer than making progress on a checklist.

I tend to do a lot of passive research while writing, about certain concepts/ideas (like how a block 5 school system works), and I gather a lot of information in the meantime. It’s a great thing to have ready when I begin my rewrite (I changed scenery from El Malpais in New Mexico to a fictional island off Oregon, mostly because my environment had a lot of rain, and New Mexico only has a rainy season).

3) Begin rewrite. As I go, I do what my best friend Marty did in high school when he read a book: write up a list of all the characters I come across, major or minor, and keep that list updated. Again, put this on a loose sheet of paper so you don’t have to alt-tab every time to write something down. It breaks the rhythm of the read.

These characters are important, because sometimes I write about characters that disappear as the story progresses. Also, if I have a lot of characters (as this book does), I confuse the dialogue easily by not placing as many dialogue tags. These names are literally symbols for your characters, and their personalities should stay consistent (or decidedly progressive) throughout the story.

4) Take a break after every 2-3 chapters. Grab a bottle of water, take a quick walk, shoot some bad guys (but not too many) on the video games, and return to work: studies show that a person’s mind works the best in 20-30 minute spurts. I’m certainly not saying to distract yourself if you don’t want to: if you feel inspired, dive in.

My fiancee doesn’t let me work more than 45 minutes at a go before she taps into the room and wants a hug. When I’m writing, this is kryptonite. When I’m proofreading my work, it’s a godsend. Let your environment invigorate you.

5) Some of my best writing has come during my rewrites. Don’t be afraid to add paragraphs, scenes, chapters to the book. I always, always prefer to overdo input than underdo it. I can always trim the fat.

My first rewrite is always about tying loose ends, adding detail, and finishing the fundamental, physical level of the book. Themes, complexities in story, shining the shoes of plot  all come in the second rewrite.


Drawing Of The Three, Stephen King

Before I go into my critique/review of a horribly outdated book (1989, I think), I just want to say…

When you translate Absinthe from its original French, you get Wormwood. I found an book called Wormwood at the local antique store, and now, no matter how dry it is, I want to read it. (Get the pun!?)

Okay. Second book in Stephen King’s Masterpiece du jour, The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three was crap.

I could end it there, I guess. I’m not much of a critiquer of the things I don’t like. There’s a lot. Perhaps it’s just dated, and that’s why I dislike it so. Perhaps it’s the amateurish writing that made me infinitely jealous that he got this stuff published, while I’m constantly polishing my work on a barber’s belt and still getting form letters of rejection–if I get anything at all. Perhaps I’m spoiled on his later stuff.

No. None of that’s it. It’s the inconsistency of the characters that throw me. The story starts off with a bang. Roland, the gunslinger/knight/Dirty Harry gets two of his fingers bitten off in the first chapter by a nasty three-foot long crablobster. I was excited as you can imagine: an author, cutting off a gunslinger’s two most important fingers in the FIRST CHAPTER? I was riveted and ready.

The story continues with a whimper. I loved the plot. I loved the western themes presenting themselves here and there (in fact, I’m a sucker for it). Unfortunately, the characters and the setting digressed throughout the story. I think Mr. King fell in love with his character Roland somewhere along the line, or else he grew soft–I don’t know, but the gunslinger, a hardened force-of-nature that willingly sacrificed a boy to kill his nemesis in the first book, cries like a pansy for nearly two whole chapters at the end. I’m getting to that.

This book’s got no shortage of guts, violence, profanity, drugs. I liked it. Mr. King doesn’t understand the finer points of sex in this novel, I think, but I can overlook it. Sex does not a good book make.

Quick overview of the book: Roland is given a Tarot reading by the Man in Black at the end of book 1 saying Roland must draw three others from other worlds to assist him if he wishes to succeed in his trek to the Dark Tower, his ultimate goal. So, this book is dedicated to–as the title states–Roland drawing his three. That’s it. He goes to Earth, pulls someone out. Goes to Earth, pulls someone out. Goes to Earth… you get the picture. The plot is weak due to the entire book being dedicated to pulling people out of doors–not with ease, of course, and these characters come with their own baggage–but it’s ALL HE DOES. It’s part of a series, yes–BUT IT’S ALL HE DOES. The plot is New York in different time periods–cool, I guess–and a sandy beach with crablobsters that can eat him in two snaps.

Spoiler Alert. The plot is strong because the characters do all the work. All of it. Roland is strong with his violent, no-nonsense gunplay. Odetta is strong with her multiple personalities (spoiler). Even Mort is powerful in his shell of a self. Every character works its tail off to survive, and in this the plot is strong.

It’s weak because, as I said earlier, the characters are too inconsistent. Roland’s dying most of this book. He has a wicked infection and he’s dying 99% of it. The last 1% he’s crying like a baby. Roland doesn’t cry. Doesn’t say things like, “Even the damned can love.” No. Somewhere, Mr. King decided to get romantic on Roland, and it did something to ruin the character for me. Why is Roland emotional? No idea. He’s no closer to where he’s supposed to be. He’s no stronger a person. In fact he’s weaker because he lost fingers and a toe.

Odetta is apparently schizo (again, here’s where the dated material comes in, perhaps). She acts schizo, she does all the schizo things, and JUST when she’s supposed to do something, she does it on her own and she’s healed. I know better than this. My suspension of disbelief is broken. Too far suspended. ESPECIALLY since upon these characters’ backs the story rolls. And Eddie’s an idiot. He ignores Roland’s commands repeatedly to–as I suspect–simply move the plot forward and draw the tension higher. It ticked me off. Do not give a half-lunatic a loaded gun. He does. Do not let your guard down. He does repeatedly.

He’s untrustworthy (“never trust a junkie”) and he’s weak. Yet I’m supposed to believe he’s strong and composed of Gunslinger steel. I don’t. Odetta, after she is “healed,” becames a total BA, I’d think, but it’s the healing that makes me sad. If I wrote that for my critique group I’d have fifteen people jumping down my throat with an, “Ah-hah! Un believe able! Fix this! It’s weak!”

The themes are incredible. I see where he gets some of his later storywriting ability. The ideas are incredible. The setting is awesome. The idea is fantastic. The execution is something I did in high school.

I judge books based on whether I could write them better. I could write this one better. I give it a 1.5 out of 5.

Yet, I WILL read book 3. I’ve read 4 HP books. I can read this Gunslinger series.