Friday, August 6, 2010

One month and counting. . .

When you are writing, do you ever take the easy route? By that I mean do you come to a scene and, instead of sweating over how to make it as good as it can be, you rush through it? Or maybe you sneak a little bit of “telling” in when you should really be “showing”? Maybe you whitewash over it when you ought to be getting the easel out and experimenting with the full palette at your disposal. Perhaps you use flat language when you really need to reach for that perfect metaphor. Or you ignore pacing and tension just because you want to get to the intense action scene in the next chapter where you get to describe the battle between the robots and the mole-people.

I’m guilty of doing all these things because there are times when I simply don’t feel like doing more than the basics. Sometimes I’m tired or bored and just want to move on to a more interesting bit of the plot. I do it hoping that noboody will notice. I stand there whistling a nonchalant tune, with my hands in my pockets and my freshly-waxed halo tilted at a jaunty angle, and I push a dull, half-baked, uninspired piece of prose under the carpet. After all, who is going to care if the rest of the writing is to a reasonable standard? Who is going to care if I skip a little polishing and sweep a little dust under the rug? Everyone, that’s who is going to notice.

Some years ago, a colleague asked me to read his completed novel. It was an epic science fiction fantasy in the vein of Star Wars. He had spent many years working on it, and he was rightly quite proud of his achievement. He had previously shown me a few extracts and I was impressed. The writing was rich and flowing. The scenes were captivating. I couldn’t wait to see the finished product. Then one day he announced that it was finished and I volunteered to have a read. I was so disappointed. It contained scene after scene written in the style I had encountered in my earlier glimpses, and yet the novel did not work. The problem was not with the exciting scenes, but with the bits in between. It was as if he couldn’t be bothered to worry about the “boring” parts because he wanted to get to the interesting stuff. The end result was disastrous. It was like looking at a diamond mounted on a soda can pull. The diamond was still beautiful, but all you could see was the piece of scrap-metal it was mounted on. He sent it off to be edited. I don’t know what they told him, but he was not happy. He moved on and I’m not sure if he ever revised the manuscript. I hope he did. I hope he listened to what the editor had to say and applied it because I’m sure he would have found a publisher one day if he would just go back and do some more work.

The reason I mention this is because my story is currently at the end of the editing process. The person responible for this daunting task is Cathi-Lyn Dyck (or Cat for short). Cat works as a freelance editor and also for Splashdown Books. And, boy, she is thorough! When I received my first set of comments from Cat, I realized that not only had she lifted the carpets to check for dust, she had also pulled out a magnifying glass and done a full forensic CSI thing on it. Looking through her comments, I soon realized that all of of my moments of laziness had been spotted and dragged, dazed and blinking, out into the open. Luckily, there weren’t that many, but she spotted them all. I remember thinking while I was writing those parts: “that’ll do.” Let me tell you, they won’t do. I’m currently listening to a best-selling science fiction author. This morning I heard something that dragged me right out of a particularly interesting part of the story simply because he told me something rather than showing me, and in such a blatant way as well. By the time I got back into the plot I had lost a few seconds of dialogue and had to rewind and try again.

I’m still learning the craft and I’m aware how much I don’t know, and I think that’s important. Problems start when you think you know enough. Cat has taught me an awful lot through this process. There were things I didn’t really understand and she was happy to explain them to me until I did understand. Best of all, she “got” my story. She understood what I wanted to achieve and then helped me to get there. And she spotted things that I would never have seen in a million years.

So with a month left to go, Alpha Redemption is almost ready with just a few more bits and pieces to sort out. I’ve learned from experience not to count my chickens until they’re running around the yard in a squawking flurry of feathers, but everything is currently on track for September 1st.

And if you are looking for an editor, I can’t recommend Cat enough. She is professional, thorough, patient, and supportive in equal measure. Details of her services can be found on In Cat’s words: “My inbox is always open for general questions or hellos, and people are welcome to contact me through, Facebook, or email (on the sidebar at the blog’s mainpage).”