Didn’t I promise someone at some point that this wasn’t going to devolve into the ubiquitous “writing blog”? I think I might have, so I’m going to try to keep this nonsense to a minimum. But when you spend a week burying nearly every moment of one’s free time into editing a manuscript, you tends to build up a few thoughts about the whole process.
First off, what, exactly, am I doing?
Good question. In a nutshell, I’m going through the rough draft with a fine-tooth comb looking for all the places where Last Year Me was a bad writer. Now, this “bad writing” business can rear its ugly head in a number of ways, including, but not limited to:
- flat or inconsistent characterization
- illogical plot flow
- narration filters
- too much “show”, not enough “tell”
- straight-up bad language usage and/or poor grammar
There are, of course, plenty of other things that could be wrong. For instance, the entire core conflict could be just dumb. Maybe nobody cares if Don, Magical Fairy Pony finds the Glittery Grain Sack before the nefarious Commandant Cow. But overall, I’m happy with the plot line, and it generally managed to follow the direction of my original outline, so I’m going to assume we’re good there unless early readers tell me I’m stupid.
Which is, of course, entirely possible.
Of the things in the list above that I’m trying to stamp out like a twitchy meth-head doing an erratic Texas two-step on a swarm of imaginary spiders, the ones that are giving me the most trouble early-on are the third and fourth bullets. Sure, there are instances here and there where the language is too flowery or unnecessarily intricate, but that’s easily fixed. Really, for the most part, I’m happy with the phrases turned. And while the characters aren’t all as colorful as Captain Ahab, they aren’t generic Stepford wives either.
What I am finding in the early chapters is an not insignificant amount of the work where the stupid writer (yes, that’s me) did a lot more telling than showing, and filtered it through the main character.
What does that mean, you ask?
I’ll give you an example to help illustrate. Let’s say most of the manuscript is written from the point of view of Don, the Magical Fairy Pony. Having a third-person, limited viewpoint can invite the narration to dig too deeply into Don’s head to tell you what he’s thinking. Like this:
Don watched the other pretty ponies frolic in the setting sun. He wanted to frolic too. He liked to frolic and dance and play, and was angry the other hateful ponies wouldn’t let him join in the fun. So instead, he seethed angrily by himself, plotting various “mishaps” to teach them a lesson.
Looking down at the ground, he saw a stone and considered chucking it at them. He picked it up and felt it’s warm, pebbly texture as he turned it over in his hooves.
See, in that sample, there’s a bunch of telling, but very little showing. I tell you Don likes to frolic, that he’s angry and considering chucking stones at the other ponies. What I should be doing is showing those thing to the reader. It helps connect him/her more intimately to the story. There’s also a bunch of filtering, which basically means the narration isn’t direct to the reader but is instead filtered through the character’s other senses. “Don watched”, “he saw, “he felt”. Getting rid of this kind of foolishness is important for the same reason, to better engage the reader (or so I’m told).
Isn’t this better:
The other ponies frolicked, giggling, in the setting sun. Don frowned, his face flushing an ugly orange . “Stupid jerks,” he muttered. “Just because I’m a yellow pony, they never let me play. Someone should teach them a thing or two.”
Below him, nestled in the grass, an apple-sized grey stone gleamed in the dusky light. Don whinnied and grinned. Plucking it from the ground, he caressed its pebbly surface, warm from the day’s sunlight. “This’ll do it,” he sneered.
See? Same basic information, but the second passage doesn’t come right out and say that Don is pissed and about to start chucking rough stones at the other pretty ponies. It lets the reader infer that, tightening the bond to our admittedly misguided protagonist.
So why is this an issue for me? Well, I started working on the novel a year and half ago, and in the time between then and now, I learned an awful lot about the craft of writing fiction, not just the act of it. In other words, I wouldn’t have written the early chapters now they way I wrote them then.
Kinda like when you think back and wish that High School You knew what Current You knows, because then you wouldn’t have sulked for three weeks over The Big Stupid Breakup that so “ruined your life”, but ultimately turned out for the best. Or wish you would have told that prissy beast Sally Miller she was going to be a fat McDonald’s assistant manager in 15 years?
What I’m getting at is that while I’m by no means Mature Writer, I know better at this point. Unlike High School Me, the mistakes of Early Writer Me can be fixed now that I’m somewhat less Novice Writer. And if I want this to be published, someone’s got to correct those amateur hour mistakes.
Unfortunately, neither the meth-heads nor the damned local Oompa Loompas seem interested in doing the work.
So I guess it’s up to Current Me then.
I’ll tell you this, though, if I ever get my hands on Last Year Me, I’m going to wring his stupid neck for Chapter 5.