Saturday, March 31, 2007

Reading my novel for the first time

My month of rest from the novel is over. The first thing I'm going to do is just sit down and read the thing. It may sound odd--after all, I wrote the book, have edited it multiple times, dream about it at night--but none of that is the same as plain old reading.

A recent critique group meeting drove this home for me. One member sent out a "doorstop" of revised material. In this case it was the first 200 pages of her novel with some significant changes. I picked it up on a weekend, sat down, and read. My pen was at hand, but I didn't use it much.

It was enlightening to see how much of the flow and construction I had missed going through chapter by chapter. In this case it actually made the book much stronger, which is saying something given how much I enjoyed it a piece at a time. However, there's a whole class of issues that could exist that wouldn't show up with at a chapter per week pace.

Sitting down and reading through is also a specific piece of advice that Stephen King gave in On Writing. If you're a writer, I'd highly recommend that book, regardless what you think of Mr. King's other work. I listened to the audiobook, and that was even better--the man is an amazing story-teller, both on the page and verbally.

Anyway, he suggested spending some reading time with your book after the initial draft. See how it feels. What do you like? What don't you like? Did that chapter seem perfect in your head, but slow down when you read it now? Does it build the way you'd like? Did your character's name change halfway through (only partially joking there)?As the author, you'll always miss something, but that step back into more of a reader's perspective is important, and I've never done it before.

I'm hoping between the month's distance and spending the time, I'll get some insights into how I can tighten up the manuscript. Then, and only then, will I embark on the next deep editing push.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


I've been recently confronted with the challenge of creating action scenes in my rewrite. This is excellent since prior drafts suffered from a slow, dragging pace, with the "climactic" ending the only real action the whole time. Now I'm finding half a dozen action scenes in the book, but it has revealed how hard they are to do right.

I'm obviously no expert, but here's some basics that critique group has highlighted about writing action:

  • Keep it short: The most obvious rule--keep things short. Punchy. Snappy. Never use a big word when a diminutive one will suffice... This rule has been easy enough to internalize, but still takes editing passes to root out the wordiness.
  • Clear players: In several scenes, my main characters are attacked by people the reader has never seen before. Establishing clear identification for those assailants and using it consistently is extremely important. Unless it's crystal clear or has another purpose, use of synonyms for those additional characters confuses things in a hurry.
  • Clear choreography: Similar to character identity, surroundings should be crystal clear. This doesn't mean filling out every detail, but it does mean sharp, unique descriptions to ground the reader. Keeping it simple helps. I had a map of one building's layout to help me choreograph the characters' movement. When I get done, though, the read shouldn't need the same thing, whether the picture in their mind is identical to my map or not.

Clear, brief, snappy writing... sounds so simple, but it takes skill to pull it off.

Another tactic I've been taking to learn about this is reading (or in many cases re-reading) some action-oriented authors. Right now I've got the following on my docket:

What authors stick out in your mind as the peak of solid action writing?