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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Scalpel, hacksaw, sutures. Meditate

I have been introduced to the arcane art of OCR (optical character recognition software) thanks to Expat @ Large, and am no longer retyping Thagoth from printouts of screenshots of my ebook. This is good.

I hate my book. This is less good news, though perhaps to be expected. After all, it was written almost ten years ago, and it was my first novel, and it shows.

This evening I converted almost 10,000 words to manuscript format (OCR is not good with 'w' or 'I' or 'mr' recognition, and confuses , for . as well as often missing " so there's quite a bit to fix. It also does not catch paragraph breaks. For all that, I'm still moving a lot faster than transcribing by hand.)

The thing is, it started off as over 15,000 words.I took a hacksaw to a major subplot of the novel.

Why? Because it was cheesy, it didn't add anything except a bit of (trite) characterization, it slowed down the pacing, and I hate it with a fiery, hate-filled hate that gives me heartburn. I have no idea what I thought I was doing when I wrote it.

I also took a scalpel to a whole lot of sentences. Needless dialog attributions, unnecessary filler words, snicker-snack, the vorpal word-processing highlighter cut them right out.

Thagoth was, if I recall correctly, about 86,000 words. The complete version of the rewrite will likely not break 80,000. And that's quite alright, as long as every word counts.

First meditation: Every word of your manuscript should pull its own weight. Too much of Thagoth is seriously dead weight. I am tempted to pull it all apart and start from scratch, but that way lies madness.

And the thing is, it's been so many years since I've looked at the book in its entirety, it's almost as if I'm some disinterested observer. Parts of what I've edited so far, I actually got a bit excited about re-reading. "Oh, yeah, the part where she meets the naked old tatooed man and the freaky ghosts. Cool!" Stuff like that.

Those are the parts, the set pieces that were the most fun to write, I realize, when I was sitting in that 24 hour coffee shop across from the University of Texas, chain smoking, wired on caffeine, chuckling to myself. The bits that drag? Those were the times I was just knocking out my apportioned word count. Thagoth never got the second draft revisions it needed, for all that it was looked over by a real live New York editor. (I suspect she knew she was on her way out, and just sort of phoned it in.)

Second meditation: being done with your first draft is not being done. You need to let that baby simmer, then stir some more. Just try not to let a decade pass.

I'm also inserting a few continuity points here and there, since Thagoth (renamed The Thief Who Spat In Luck's Good Eye) will soon be the second book, chronologically, in the Amra & Holgren series (The Blade That Whispers Hate being the first, unless I decide life is just too easy and write a pre-prequel.) It's the little stuff you have to keep an eye out for when you retrofit a novel. Stuff like when Character A says they've never been to Character B's house, but in the prequel they visit often.

Well. Anyway it's late here. Enough babbling.


Mark K said...

You words scare me to my very core. I despair at the croc-pot I've been delivering on my blog, and I cringe knowing you have been reading it.

David L. Shutter said...

You're a far nraver man than I.

Going back to revise and rework my first novel!

I think I'd rather go through the trap-door, slide-o-matic into the Rancor pit.

Michael McClung said...

We're always our own worst critics. That's good when it spurs you to do better, but not so good when it saps your will to create. I know. 8 plus years of writers block in one form or another was due in large part to that. I hope the takeaway from this post for everybody is to not be satisfied with good enough, and the happy fact that it's never too late to make a piece of writing better.

expat@large said...

I liked it. So shoot me.