Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fixing a Flat

I’m going to quote Stephen King today, because knowing a successful author at the top of his game still has to deal with writing problems makes me feel better. In an interview Uncle Stevie once described writing as akin to digging artifacts out of the ground: sometimes you get the whole pot or bowl, sometimes it comes out chipped or cracked. Sometimes it comes out completely broken. Sometimes you only get shards. Your job as a writer is to excavate as much of the book from your head as you can, and get it out as close to intact as possible. Even if you do your best, slipups do happen, and the book that looked so bright with promise when you started digging at it comes up with a nasty crack, or finally reaches the surface only to crumble in your hands.

I have before me a stack of papers (yeah, I’m old school) that represents my latest archaeological dig. Overall I’m happy with it. However, I’m not overjoyed. It was going along fine until I got near the end, then suddenly went off the rails. Months of digging (I write really slow) and I brought up a pot with a crack in it.

How did this happen? Could be several things. I’m a pantser, so I plot on the fly. Maybe the ending I came up with isn’t the one that belongs here. Maybe I don’t know the characters as well as I thought I did. Maybe I’m trying to rush something through that’s not ready to go. I’ve already let it sit for a bit and come back to it, and the cracks are still there. Not as wide as they were on first draft, but you can see where the pattern doesn’t match up. Or maybe I’m the only one who can see it. I just know it’s driving me nuts.

Here’s where beta readers come in handy, or a really spectacular editor. A new set of eyes can work wonders. I’m too close to my story right now. I can't hear what my subsconscious is trying to yell at me. I hate to send a broken story out to market, or even one with a crack. On the other hand, at least 80% of it is how I imagined it, and after close to a year I’m so sick of the thing I couldn’t do workable repairs anyway. Sometimes broke is as close as you get.

My solution: I’m going to do spot-edits, shore up the cracks, polish it up until the glue sets (or at least doesn’t show) and send it on its way. With luck, either an editor or future readers will tell me where I went wrong, so if I pull up another pot with the same flaws I’ll know what to do about them. Pity you can’t hurl a broken book at a wall. Papers just don’t make that satisfactory crash.

These things happen. All you can do is your best, and try to learn from your mistakes. Maybe I’ll reread some Stephen King, and see if I can spot the cracks he was talking about.


Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, if you want, I'll read it and see if I can offer anything useful.

Pat C. said...

First I have to type it onto the laptop to make it emailable. I know what I'll be doing next week.

I think I know what the problem may be. The bad guy maneuvers the leads into a no-win situation. Instead of them confronting him, the male lead arranges for a third party to come in and deal with the bad guy while he protects the woman. Hence, there's never any direct confrontation between good guys and bad guy. Like Star Wars, where Luke and Darth don't face off until the second movie.

I think that's what's bothering me. My comic-book-trained mind wants the female lead to face off against the bad guy, even though I know she wouldn't win. She and the hero are miles away when the bad guy gets what's coming to him. I'm going to go ahead and send it out anyway and see what Siren's editors say.

In fact, that might be an interesting experiment. I'll send it to them AND you guys, then compare editorial notes and see if we all agree. That'll give us an idea of our collective editing skills for when we start pubbing the Talbot's Peak stories.

At least the bad guy dies on camera. Another lesson from comic books: if you don't see a body, they're not really dead.

Pat C. said...

Oh, and I've still got your story. I meant to send my comments, but the death of the laptop threw me off-balance. I'll get it to you on Monday. Hope you saw that blog on serial writing; I think that should answer your questions.

Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, I did see that blog and read it. It was good and educational. At the same time, I'm not up to joining a spanking site right now to see how they handle their serial stories, as far as titles, etc.

Not that I'm against the erotic use of spanking... not at all! I just don't care for how its presented in some stories, or the attitudes behind it.

Savanna Kougar said...

Hmmm, that could be what's niggling at you, how the bad guy is handled. Okay, so your heroine couldn't win... what if she tries and the hero saves her, and together they win?

Pat C. said...

I think I may have come up with an answer. The plan the male lead comes up with is unexpected because it goes against his character as presented in the story. However, it would be right in character for the female lead. If she's the one who comes up with the plan, that gives her more control over the situation and makes her less of a victim. The male lead adds the bit about the third party. He's got a grudge against the third party, and he wants the bad guy stopped; why not kill two birds with one stone and let them slug it out? If either or both of them dies, the male lead still comes out ahead. I'm going to rewrite the scene that way and see if it works better. It already feels better to me. I should learn to trust my subconscious.

Pat C. said...

Oh, and thanks for reposting my Aztec pic! Looks good!

Savanna Kougar said...

Pat, that makes more sense from where I sit.

And, you're welcome.