Sunday, May 21, 2017

A comment about the editing of "Snaked" from Dave that I thought I'd address here.

"So, these module swappings (code-speak) are they temporally based? Or character introduction/explanation rearrangements? Or plot flips? Or?

I recently wrote this in which I discover that my purely sequential story plot detracts, rather than adds to a story:

Can you give us a glimpse into the reasons what this editor has done to improve your book?"

Many of the swappings are temporally based. This is always confusing either to me or to the reader. I do it intuitively, (as you say, purely sequential story detracts, rather than adds). But when enough readers and editors insist that the sequence doesn't make sense, I bow to their will.

Thing is, so many of these events are happening at the same time, or near in time. I'm more concerned about juggling characters and action/non-action and theme and so on. I've always felt that people can adjust to things being slightly out of temporal order--especially if the book is the book.

In the editing phase, though, people always notice.

Anyway, they're the boss. (Or rather AJ, is. Editor in Chief Amanda Spedding at Cohesion.)

The biggest change comes in the second half of the book. After the first half sets up the danger and mostly concerns the plague of black sea snakes, the second half kicks off with a tsunami. They felt I was letting the momentum fade by the way I placed the chapters.

I point blank asked them to suggest the sequence they thought was right, and thankfully they did. This is one of the hardest things for me--once I've written the book in a certain order, it's all pick-up-sticks after that if I mess with them.

Now that they've suggested an order, I will move them as requested, and then make sure the transitions work.

When I first presented the manuscript last year to Geoff Brown at Cohesion, he liked it, but thought I had dropped the black snakes too much in favor of the tsunami. I agreed and wrote four chapters in the last ten chapters that concerned the snakes.

It very much improved the book, and he accepted it.

In this rewrite, they want even more snakes, including a plot twist that I hadn't thought of but which I think works really well. It will require me writing a couple of new scenes, which doesn't scare me. (I'd rather write new scenes than try to completely rewrite an old scene, frankly.)

I had a subplot that they thought took too much of the book and slowed down the action. This was the change I had the most trouble with, because I thought this subplot was the heart of the book. But you know what? When I got to the chapter they were referring to, damned if they weren't right. I cut the chapter in half and it improves the pacing tremendously.

There was a major character that they thought I had phoned in and who wasn't convincing. Once again, they were right when I looked at it, and I tried to make her a stronger character. Another character who acted out of character, which I changed.

Lots of other suggestions in the course of the manuscript which I am addressing one by one. What seemed overwhelming when they first got back to me now seems much more manageable, now that I've wrapped my brain around it.

As I said, this is really the first time I've had a publisher do "content" editing, and not just copy-editing. (Hell, most of the time, I don't even get line-editing, but then again, I've paid for my own editing, so perhaps the writing is in line.)

The biggest surprise to me about writing these books is that people really don't seem to have trouble with my "writing." Oh, there is passive writing here and there, lots of mistakes and so on, but those things can always be improved, and I'm perfectly willing to accept suggestions. (I find I accept about 95% of line-editing, no matter who does them, because they usually are seeing the obvious.)

What people have trouble with is consistency, story pacing, and plot twists. Or more simply, the story. This is what people review, whether they liked the story or not. Never a mention of the craft.

Craft is taken for granted, I guess. It's the starting point, the bare minimum. They expect competence.

So story it is. Story, story, story.


Dave Cline said...

Thank you for your explanation Duncan. It was helpful.

In the programming world this process is formally known as "refactoring". "Module-swapping" was a way to introduce it. But most programmers who have earned their salt know that refactoring is a necessary part of their everyday life. It's the reorganization of code, the coalescing of code, the removal of redundancy, the elevation or transcendence of code objects into first-class participants (rather than have them spread thin everywhere they're condensed and given a prominent spot in the hierarchy). But the analogy stops there.

Narrative writing is so not like programming.

Although both are creative and artistic (at times), where you want intrigue, tenuous allusions between mentions, references that tease the reader, revelations that give the reader joy in discovery -- in programming you want none of that.
Clever = convoluted.
Obscure = confusing.
Nuanced = vague and misleading.
All things you do not want your code to be, which in general is: drop-dead-obvious.

However, I see that if one, as an author, can write stories in modules that *could* be refactored such that rearranging them could change the story -- alter its pace or engagement quotient -- then writing narrative like a programmer might help down the road when a publisher wants you to flip the thing on its head.

If you can do this with Snaked, then it would appear that you've already mastered this aspect.


On craft; I've become accustomed to your voice and style, having read a bit of your work. I would agree that your craft is set. With your speed of production I wonder if more time spent designing, rough outlining, sampling the story in a broad context might not be a way to test a story before it's written.

Dave Cline said...

Ran across this today:

McGuffin : the origin