Prose in Motion – Progress Report – 10/6/13 4


Not in this novel, buddy.

Not in this novel, buddy.

This is week # 1 editing the novel and it’s already been an interesting ride. I tweeted about this but after editing twelve pages I saw my total page count had increased by two. Suddenly I had visions of Zeno’s paradox. I was Achilles and the manuscript was the tortoise, always one stupid step ahead. But we live in the days of calculus so Zeno holds no fear for us. Right?

Anyway, on to the metrics. . .

Page Count For The Week: 21.

This equates to three pages a day. Not ideal, when I’m aiming for four-ish, but there is time to make it up later.

Total Editing Page Count: 21.

This is the first week of proper editing and it was just a little bit daunting. It’s the problem all writers have – the beginning. How do you make it 100% perfect? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone knows, but there are guidelines and rules of thumb. It took a bit of time to make the beginning feel ‘right’ to me, even though I was pressing all the right buttons. Never mind.

Moving on then, to the progress chart for “EDITING – PHASE 2:”

 

21/ 226 (9.3%)

 

Repaired Faux-Pas of the Week:

I’ve already mentioned this one before on the site and in the podcast but the first *scene* ends in some people trying to escape into hyperspace and there is action on the bridge of the ship, action that involves running around and grappling with computer terminals and lots of Trying To Look Intense And Scared. This scene was written before the command came down that there would be no artificial gravity.

Now the scene is fixed and in line with the canon. It wasn’t that hard to fix, and I don’t think the scene suffers terribly for it. There is still dynamics and movement, but it comes with a greater risk of death and pain than before, and who doesn’t want THAT in their novel?

BONUS! Realised Faux-Pas for later repair:

This one is a howler and I’m a little bit embarrassed about it. But not embarrassed enough to not want to share it with you.

Ok, here goes
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(ok maybe borderline not wanting to show it to you)

I was sweeping the kitchen floor when I realised that I had some combat scenes in a zero-gee ship that involved a character going into the prone position to sight up his rifle. Further, his wounded limbs were dragging a bit and his weapons were dropping lower and lower. But in zero-gee the limbs wouldn’t do that. If he loses the streng to hold them in place they’ll start to float up to their neutral buoyancy point, not sink to the floor. Further – how do you get into the prone position in zero gee???? Do you have magnetic jackets and elbow pads?

*groan*

Fortunately I don’t need to worry about that for a few weeks 🙂

Edititation of the Week

Yes, it is a word. Because I said so. I thought everyone might be interested in the actual process of editing that I am going through, so I’ll give a few examples of ‘before’ and ‘after’. This isn’t the final polished version, but an improvement over the basic ‘draft’. Let me know what you think. Is this of interest to you out there? I will do my best to use examples that are as spoiler free as possible, but there is always the risk a snippet might sneak in. If no one is going to read this section I won’t continue it on, but if people find it interesting I will keep going. I’d also appreciate feedback. Have I actually improved things in your mind or just bogged it down?

Draft

EBL was standing over the galactic map when the lieutenant entered. EBL ignored him for a moment, instead watching the holo-display rotate and highlight _____ and Achenar. The distance between them was vast. It was a long distance to travel in a short time, unsupported. But hopefully he wouldn’d be forced into the course of action.
“Report,” EBL said without looking up. “Did Oberon reach home?”
EBL didn’t look up but he could feel the lieutenant fidgeting. The scape of leg pants past each other, the light from beyond the door dancing across the holo-display like a flame.
“What happened?”
“Pirates.”

Revision

The Braben was standing over the galactic map when the lieutenant entered his command cabin.
It wasn’t a full galactic map of course – humanity had only colonised around one percent of the galaxy – but neither did it focus solely on human space. Some of the stars glowed, holographic news articles hovering above the galactic cloud like the bulletin board’s of angels. The Federation Times, the Imperial Gazette and many other more local media feeds that would be the first to jump on any breaking news.
The Federation Secretary of Defence was not mentioned anywhere. The Braben half expected that from the Federal Times – A cover up would be near guaranteed. The biggest surprise was that of the Imperial Gazette, the Prince’s fly fishing prowess the biggest news article out of the Empire.
Not one media feed mentioned the Thargoids.
Another day had passed since their last efforts to open the eyes of humanity and nothing to show for it.
His lieutenant continued to stand by his side, waiting diligently at attention. “What do you make of it, Lieutenant?” The Braben asked, sweeping his arm across the map. “Burying their heads in the sand, pretending the problem doesn’t exist.”
The lieutenant gave the map a cursory look, glanced at the headlines then shook his head. “You can lead a horse to water, sir, but you can’t make it drink.”
The Braben’s gaze returned to the map. Achenar also shone brightly. It was a long distance between the Empire and their location. Too vast a distance to travel in such a short time, unsupported, unready. But hopefully he wouldn’t be forced into that course of action.
“That is where you are wrong,” The Braben whispered. “You can make anyone drink anything. You just need to know which buttons to press.”
He shook the dark thoughts away. He needed something else to think about. “Report. Did Oberon reach home?”
The Braben didn’t look up but he could feel the lieutenant fidgeting. The scrape of leg pants, light from beyond the door dancing across the holo-display like a dull flame.
“What happened?”
“Pirates.”

The cover art for the Commander's Log podcast

The cover art for the Commander’s Log podcast

Commander’s Log Podcast

Episode # 6 hit the newsstands earlier this week, and by newsstands, I mean iTunes and this website. Thanks to all those that have downloaded and listened. I would like to hear back from you about the slight tilt toward more ‘audio drama’ components. I’m angling for a story for you to listen to as well as me discussing the latest news on the novel. Does it work? Do you want more? Or based on what happened at the end of Episode # 6 are all these thoughts irrelevant anyway? (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then listen to the the podcast.)

I’ve been getting some advice on microphones and I think with a bit more practice my next recording should not have any of the problems of episode # 6. I also brought a pair of DJing headphones (you know those big 80’s ones) to listen to the recording so I can better master the sound quality.

What all this means is that hopefully future podcasts will sound better!

Newsletter

What, did you think I had forgotten about you, my awesome newsletter pledge tier supporters? No way!

The next newsletter is pretty much done. It’s got a new section in it (I’ll leave it as a surprise) plus the usual sections. I’m adding some more to the engineering section for a) completeness and b) interest. It was quite fun doing the calculations and researching nuclear reactors (curious? You’ll have to wait to read the newsletter)

So a bit more content to insert and then a proof read and it will be ready to send out. Last time I sent through both PDF and Kindle versions. Who uses what? Did anyone use their Kindle for the newsletter? Happy to keep putting it in that format if it helps people, but would like to hear back from you.

Writer’s Forum

Awfully quiet. The last post was on the 4th June, if that gives you any indication. I have been in contact with Frontier Developments but over email. I imagine others might be as well.

Nothing else to say, sorry guys.
EDIT: Allen Stroud bumped a thread and I asked another question. No response to either.

Man, check out those tumbleweeds . .

Writing in Motion

A rather strange subtitle to most people, perhaps, but something that most writers will know about.

Humans are designed / have evolved as a hunter gatherer mammal. Historically survival was based on our ability to see prey, follow that prey and capture/kill it, but simultaneously watch out for predators and stay away from them.

The key here? MOTION. We are biologically programmed to watch for motion in nature. Anything that moves is intergal to survival. Is it trying to kill me? OR Can I kill it for sustenance?

Similarly, anything that is changing also attracts our attention. Think changes in brightness, colour, behaviour, anything.

Motion rivets our attention.

The same concept is in play with prose.

Sentences and paragraphs that are filled with static verbs are likely to bore the reader. They are the sentences that are likely to get skipped or sped read over. Verbs that are strong and dynamic are more likely to grab the readers attention, to pull at them by their eyelids and say ‘You need to pay attention to this!!!’ Because dynamic verbs put the subject into motion you get a better picture of what the subject is and how it interacts with its surroundings. With the static verbs all you get is a painting, and a rather boring one at that.

So what do I mean by all this exactly? Well perhaps some examples might help.

When you use the word ‘was’ or ‘to be’ you are writing a static sentence.

“It was raining.”

Hands up if you thought that sentence really grabbed you. Keep the hands up if you got a solid image in your mind of that rain.

“Rain smashed down from the heavens, like a stream of bullets, thousands of tiny explosions rippling across the sidewalk, a blanket of noise that muted the arguing from across the street.”

Well I just made that up on the spot so it is unlikely to win any awards, but hands up if you were more interested in the second sentence. Keep those hands up if you got a pretty concrete image in your mind of the rain.

I think most of you will find you didn’t have your hands up for the first sentence, but you did for the second. And that is what you want from your writing.

So what ‘rules of thumb’ should you try and follow?

1)Use strong verbs. Did he walk into the room or muscle his way in? The weak verb is vague, the strong verb is specific.

2)Avoid (where practical) use of ‘was’ or ‘to be’ or ‘had been’ They are static and lead to repetition which can become quite irritating for the reader.

3)Use active verbs with extra detail. The rain example above shows this quite well.

4)Try and use verbs that show the character’s emotional state. This will be more engaging to the reader. E.g did he ‘look’ at her, or did he ‘frown’ at her?

On note 2) above I said ‘where practical’. Obviously these are rules of thumb. In general they improve the writing. Sometimes though ‘was’ is the perfect word. It can deliver a sledge hammer conclusion or show something in a way that although static, works best for the flow of the text. This leads to another rule of thumb:

“Flow trumps everything else.”

Don’t disrupt the flow of the story to fit some stupid rule in. Say it with me again: “Flow trumps everything else.”

So if you are editing a story I would recommend that you use the find function to highlight every use of the word ‘was’. You can then analyse each one and ask yourself ‘Can I justify this or should I rewrite it?’

Good luck 🙂

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Cheers,

John


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4 thoughts on “Prose in Motion – Progress Report – 10/6/13

  • T. James

    Hi John.

    Brave, brave man, putting early drafts out for public consumption.

    Note to readers: as another writer I can guarantee the quality of early drafts in NO WAY reflects the quality of the final novel! Ever.

    The writing tips were solid – I need to watch ‘was’ myself – your second rain example read very well.

    As for the edited excerpt, I have to concur with many of Captain N’s conclusions. The second draft flowed better, but lost some of the first draft’s immediacy. I also think you are within your rights to say no to a character name if it affects the quality of the story – I read ‘The Braben’ and it snapped me straight out of the narrative. As you say, ‘Flow trumps everything.’ Frontier approve our submissions, and I think it’s our right to do the same. Negotiation time, maybe?

    As for the sayings, Drew mentioned this on the forum about being ‘time appropriate’. Horses in 3300 as a common Imperial cultural reference? A saying based on the actions of terrestrial ostriches? Some sayings may survive time, but should be chosen with care to preserve reader immersion. Also, too explain-ey of the tech in places? Just some thoughts to be ignored at your leisure.

    Otherwise the scene carried tension and action. Now, I must go on a religious quest to find all my ‘was’-es. Doh!

  • John Harper

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    I probably should have put up a proviso/reminder that this is only the first edit of four and the goal of this edit is to add value. And although you could argue some of the stuff added wasn’t “value” per se, the point is trying to flesh bits out expand it where I think it is needed.

    For example the comment I made to myself which prompted this change was a concern that the scenes with this guy are too short and I need him to be a balanced POV so you get inside his head. He isn’t a faceless bad guy. He’s a guy, with hopes, dreams, fears, that kind of thing.

    Edits 2 and 3 will be going through and analysing very slowly and painfully the words and sentences and making each one sing (and removing redundant metaphors!) I wrote this revision at the same speed I wrote the draft.

    In saying that you have highlighted exactly why I will be sending the novel out to alpha readers. Some things slip through the net, and some things that I think are cool, are not appreciated by the audience.

    Re T.J – Yes, brave and maybe even a little bit stupid, but people paid good money for this novel, so I really want to ‘give back’ to the people. What I should do in my next edit is to show the same scenes again and see how they change from step to step to step.

    Re Naming. ‘The Braben’ is another place holder, you’ll be happy to know, and not a backers name. I got sick of looking at ‘EBL’ at his name and decided to have some fun (because its my novel and I can be dumb if I want to). There is also a Commander Drew kicking around as well 😉

    Re Triple Cliche with extra cheese; Each of these would need to be looked at when I get to that edit. Just thinking about it right now, my train of thought is:

    Horse to drink – well this has been around for over a 1000 years, I would imagine it would still be around in another 1000 years, though perhaps in a slightly changed format, so I’d likely modify but keep

    Ostriches – agreed, that should go.

    Buttons – well buttons is appropriate but its a yucky cliche so it would probably go too.

    Thanks for your feedback guys. Come back next week to see the next batch of prose upgrades.

  • John Harper

    Thanks Jason. All feedback is appreciated and considered, no never hold back on me. The more points of view I hear back on the better the novel will end up.

    Re horses. I do agree with your point. What I am afraid of is making all metaphors/sayings futuristic and it ending up a bit ‘campy’ the people don’t spend their entire lives on starships. They still eat and breath and talk and spent time on planets which have flora and fauna.

    A difficult balancing act.