Archive for 'editing'
What Stace had to say on Thursday, January 5th, 2012
I do apologize for not updating for so long; I am fine and feeling great, I’ve just been extremely busy finishing edits on CHASING MAGIC, working on edits of the short Downside story HOME (which will be published on Tor’s Heroes and Heartbreakers website), and working on a new project, in addition to the whole holiday thing.
Which was awesome. I cooked a lot. I made chicken stock from the carcass of our Yule roasted chicken. I made our now-traditional beef bourguingnon for Christmas day. I made a lasagna bolognese from scratch–long-simmered bolognese sauce and bechamel sauce–for New Year’s Day that was so gorgeous I wish I’d taken photos. I made a couple of batches of fudge crinkle cookies; I made Snickerdoodles; I made molasses spice cookies, some with white chocolate glaze and some with orange-flavored white chocolate glaze; I made pumpkin spice cookies with a vanilla-cinnamon frosting.
And we went out, a LOT, to do all of the shopping which had fallen by the wayside because of my recovery and the fact that hubs had to take a lot of unpaid time off work when I was in the hospital.
But it was a lovely holiday overall, a more fun and relaxing one than I’ve had in a while.
Oh! And, I played Dungeons & Dragons for the very first time! See, when I was a kid my big brother was a huge D&D head, but of course he never let me play with him and his friends. And I had the occasional boyfriend who played but generally when I’d go to their games they spent four hours creating characters, at which point I was bored.
But the hubs and I have a dear friend who used to play it with hubs when they were kids and he–the friend–still loves to play (he’s a Dungeon Master, which means, for those unfamiliar, that he “runs” the game), so he and his wife (also a dear friend of course) came over for spanakopita and adventure. He’d even created some characters for us in advance, which was so sweet of him. I was Lola Dragonslut, a warrior with semi-low intelligence but great charisma, and we explored a bunch of tunnels where there was supposed to be treasure. We didn’t finish the game, but we had a blast. Tons of fun; I’m looking forward to playing again.
Also, I got lots of pretty new nail polish for Christmas, so I’m hoping to start the fingernail posts again! This week my nails are peach with sparkles.
And…this morning I had an endoscopy done, a follow-up from the whole surgery thing. I’d warned them about my horrible gag reflex, and they’d promised to sedate me since the whole idea freaked me out. The upshot of all of this was that I don’t remember a thing from “You’ll start to feel drowsy in twenty seconds or so” to “Time to wake up!” But according to the nurse I talked the whole time, although they couldn’t understand a word (she said this with a bit of a giggle, which worries me. Could they really not understand me, or was I saying horribly dirty and rude things?). And according to the “Findings and Actions” sheet I was given, the intubation was “poorly tolerated” and they had to do it a second time, so there’s that gag reflex.
The bad news is the ulcer isn’t completely healed, so it’s back on ulcer meds for Stacia for another ten weeks, and another endoscopy when that ten weeks is over. Which sucks.
But again, the good news is I feel just fine and am back in the saddle. Well, it’s good news for me, and hopefully you think so, too.
There have been quite a few rant-worthy things happening lately, and I may blog about them soon. For the moment suffice to say that readers and reviewers have every right to express their opinions about books without authors responding in comments to tell them how wrong they are. (This also goes back to my posts about how once you’re published you can no longer use the “but I’m a reader, and I’m commenting as a reader” line, but again, something to possibly be blogged about later.)
So for now I’ll just say I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and I’m hoping 2012 is a great year for all of us!
What Stace had to say on Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
You’d think I’d like proofs, since I love copyedits so much. You’d be wrong. I hate proofs.
I’m not sure why, really. They’re just…lame. And rather dull. And I don’t like ‘em.
Proofs are standard sheets of paper, on which the pages of the book are laid out side-by-side, full-size (that is, mmp [mass market paperback] size, or trade size, or hardover size if you have a hardcover, or whatever). So really, when you very first see your very first proof, it’s exciting. I was all kinds of thrilled when I got my UNHOLY GHOSTS proofs and saw the awesome font Del Rey used for my chapter heads (Chapter One, etc.) and the brackets around the epigrams. It was exciting to see the book as a real book, real book pages and all.
But after that initial excitement…sigh.
This is a page proof from UNHOLY MAGIC. (Again, you have to click it, then click again to view it full-size, sorry. It’s too big for the blog.)
And here’s a close-up of some proof edits from that same set of proofs:
The photocopy sent to me for UM was cut off just a bit at the top, so here’s the upper left corner of the CITY OF GHOSTS proofs:
So. Copyedits were originally done on the printed manuscript. I go through them, and two editors–the CE and my own–go through them.
Then the ms is laid out as a book–I believe those Keebler-elf-type folks in the Production Dept. handle that, presumably sneaking out of their hidey-holes under cover of darkness, dancing and waving around little elf-sized flagons of mead, singing happy little work songs as they sprinkle Magic Book Dust on the ms, and leaving the finished product there on a spotlessly clean table for the other employees to discover in the morning. I believe two copies are printed, and one goes to me and another to another copyeditor. But it may be that the proof goes to another CE, his or her changes are implemented, and another proof is made which comes to me. But I’m pretty sure we get proofs at the same time.
Now. Many of you probably already know this, but just in case you don’t, I’ll mention it. Major changes are not supposed to be made in proofs. The deletion of a sentence here and there, removing or adding punctuation, fixing typos or other errors, fine. Deciding you want to add a new section of dialogue? Not so fine.
It’s not happened to me, but it’s my understanding that if an author makes over a certain amount of changes to their page proofs–major changes–they have to pay for the additional typesetting/conversion/whatever it is (those elves require a LOT of mead to keep them happy and productive). I don’t believe that’s a canard along the lines of “If you don’t earn out your advance you have to give part of it back,” which people who have no idea what they’re talking about like to trot out and parade in front of aspiring writers, usually in order to sell them on a vanity press. I believe that making major changes at this stage is actually something we have to pay for.
So we need to be damn sure everything is the way we want it before we mail those copyedits back.
Changes are made much like in CEs, though:
and here’s one where the editor who went over the proofs or the data entry/whatever made an error (or we all missed it in CEs, which does happen. It’s harder than you think to catch every single mistake, because you tend to see what it’s supposed to say rather than what it does):
So. I make my changes, and send the proofs back. I have now “signed off” on the book, which means no further text changes should be made at all.
There is at least one additional proof, however, which is done in-house. I believe another CE goes over it, and I know my editor goes over it, but I don’t see it. That’s the proof during which they make sure that all of the necessary changes have been implemented, that the book is ready to be printed, because that final proof is exactly how it will be printed.
Why do I hate page proofs so much? I don’t really know, honestly. After that initial excitement fades, really, they’re just…tedious. Which sounds bad, because it is after all my own book(s), which I love and worked hard on and believe in and am so proud of. But actually physically reading them in book form enthralls me (at least once; I don’t read them repeatedly, no, but going through and reading them as actual books is pretty exciting), so I don’t believe that’s the problem.
I think the issue is what I said above: you have to make sure you see what’s there, now what you think should be there. So you’re not just reading for pleasure, enjoying the story and the sense of accomplishment and all of that. You’re inspecting every word and every line. You’re paying very close attention. You’re seeing a bit here and there you should have worded differently, now that it’s too late to change it (this is always a problem in reading my own finished books). And you’re–at least I am–afraid you’re going to miss something, and your book will have–gasp!–a typo.
Seriously. I mock, but I loathe typos. I hate them. Just like I make it a point of pride to turn in my mss as typo/error-free as possible, so I am with the finished product; even more so, for obvious reasons. I seriously live in fear of getting one of those “There’s a mistake in your book” emails a certain type of person apparently likes to send out. I get annoyed when I see them in other books, and would have a fit to find one in mine.
Because the book is it, you know? It’s all people have to judge me by. And I hate the idea that it’s going out into the world as one of those “But I see typos in books from the Big 5 all the time” type of novels that some people seem to think justifies their own lack of care and attention to spelling/grammar etc.
A typo in my finished book is a big piece of literary spinach between my front teeth. It’s embarrassing.
So I really go over those proofs; I mean, I read them slowly and focus hard on every word to make sure it really is spelled right and punctuated correctly and reads correctly and all of that. This is the last chance I’ll have to correct any errors, at least unless and until the book goes into a second printing. Errors can be fixed for the new print run, but generally only if they’re deemed important enough (which a single typo is not) or, I guess, if the error was with an editor or data person or whatever who made changes after I signed off on the book. And the books with the mistake are still out there, of course; they can’t be recalled or something. (Books do get pulled and pulped, but generally only if a significant error was made, it’s plagiarized, or somebody sues/someone important threatens to sue.) So my typo is obviously not cause to do such a thing.
So I find proofs tedious, and unnerving, because I’m always worried that I might have missed something, I probably did miss something, damn it what if I miss something? It’s just me, some paper, and a pencil; I could very well miss something. And then the typos or other errors would be my fault.
It’s possible not everyone gets this many proofs, and a lot of people get digital proofs, which I hate. My PERSONAL DEMONS proofs were digital. PDFs, actually, which meant I had to make a separate list of errors (I did that for DEMON INSIDE, too, but that’s because the paper proofs came during RT and I didn’t have time to get them back, so just emailed the document).
So. Those are page proofs, and they’re the last I see of my book until I get ARCs in the mail–if I get them–and my author copies, which come around release time.
Once again, any questions? And does anyone have something else about the editing process they’d like to know?
What Stace had to say on Monday, February 7th, 2011
Since I didn’t do a lot of planning for this particular little series, I’m not actually sure what I’m going to cover. Should I talk more about the working-with-my-editor process, or…?
So what I’m going to do today, anyway, is discuss copyedits. (This is a long, image-heavy post, FYI.)
After edits are complete–often several rounds, including line edits–the ms is printed, and the printout heads to a mysterious, homicidal, troll-like basement-dweller* known as a copyeditor. I always picture them chained to a floor, wearing rags and snarling over desks held together by Duct tape and rage. The copyeditor’s job is to inspect each and every word with a magnifying glass, using at least one grammar reference book, nitpick the hell out of your ms. with the Pencil of Doom, and examine everything with “What if I were a totally stupid person?” and ask questions thusly.*** (For more on this, check out my series from August about the publishing process: How Babies are Made parts one and two.) People often think copyeditors use a red pen; nope. They use a pencil, not always red, and you have to respond in pencil, too. But not a #2 pencil. A colored pencil. As a result, I have colored pencils and artgum erasers all over the place. I digress.
The copyeditor focuses their nasty little eyes on the pages, and starts marking it up with odd and obscure lines and squiggles–some of which I suspect are made up just to fuck with writers–while giggling maniacally.**** They’d rub their hands together if they weren’t so busy drawing bizarre alchemical symbols on the ms.**** Once they’ve sufficiently scribbled all over the book, they send it to the editor, who sends it to the writer.
So. Here are some of my actual copyedited pages. These are from UNHOLY MAGIC (which, as you’ll see on the first page, was originally titled DOWNSIDE GHOSTS. Then we decided to find a new title, and they started calling the series that, but there you go). This is the ms that was sent to me, that I went through page-by-page, printed from my original file–the one I emailed my editor and she approved (I write my books in 12-pt. Dark Courier, so that’s what you’ll see; they don’t even change my font). The copyeditor fixes any minor grammar issues I may have, clarifies things, suggests minor changes,points out factual errors or mistakes, stuff like that.
I had the hubs scan these and send them to me as jpegs, so if you click them twice they’ll go full-size and be very easy to read. You’ll be better able to see them that way, and I’ve added comments to each one to explain what everything is. Sorry, but there are so many images I really need to keep them smaller. I hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience.
Title page (my explanatory comments are in blue, and any explanations of my responses are in red): Read the rest of this entry »
What Stace had to say on Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
I hadn’t actually planned to start my little series on editing today, but this topic came up last night in email with a good friend of mine, and it annoyed me, so here we go, and we’ll do more next week (including copyedits, which will be fun, I think, and of course I’m going to use pages from the original mss of UNHOLY MAGIC and CITY OF GHOSTS to illustrate, which, again, will hopefully be fun).
Anyway. My friend and I were discussing edits, and the fact that someone she knew got a set of edits where the editor actually wrote in new dialogue.
Editors are not supposed to do this.
It is not their job.
They can tell you that conversation/line doesn’t work for them. They can maybe suggest new lines, by saying “Maybe you could try having Character A say he hates that, and Character B can say he knows, and that might make the joke clearer?” But anything beyond that is them trying to write your book for you, and you shouldn’t let them do it.
It seems to me that, especially when you get into the micropress/epress area, the favorite excuse of lame publishers for why an author might be upset with them is “S/he refused to accept editing.” “Oh, Author A is only saying we’re a total high-school clique house because she refused to accept editing so we dropped her.” “All those authors are mad because they’re prima donnas who refused to accept editing.” That sort of thing.
And I think that atmosphere, that sort of Red Pen of Damocles hanging over every writers’ head, permeates the world of writers’ forums etc., and leads many to the belief that they have to accept all suggested edits, no questions asked. If the editor says “Change this,” it better be changed.
Sadly, I also have no doubt that at some little crappy places, that is indeed the case. I know I was required to fight tooth and nail about factual accuracy, against an editor who believed people in the medieval period used hieroglyphs to communicate in writing. I’ve heard similar horror stories from small- and micro-press friends; maybe not quite as bad as that, but lots of tales about style and voice being removed and replaced with plodding paint-by-numbers writing.
Then there’s the matter of “house style,” which in a lot of cases can be downright lousy, and sometimes doesn’t make sense at all. “House style,” though, is unfortunately the one thing you’re probably not going to be able to fight with. You may be able to keep a comma here or a semicolon there if you can make a good enough case for it, but beyond that you’re going to need to let it go.
“House style,” though, isn’t generally messing about with your actual writing. It may be ridiculous things, sure, like completely interrupting the flow of a sex scene by inserting a hard break to indicate a POV switch (because we’re all so paranoid about “head-hopping” that we refuse to accept that readers are not in fact stupid, and are perfectly capable of dealing with one POV switch), or being forced to change every “start” in your book to “begin,” or whatever, because someone thinks “start” sounds “common.” But usually it’s just a few little bits here and there.
Editing is different, and editing is up to you.
It’s your book. You wrote it, and it belongs to you, and your name is on it. Yes, there is a line. An editor can refuse to accept the book, thereby requiring you to give back your advance and lose the contract, if you won’t make any changes at all. I’ve never heard of it happening, but then, most writers I know believe–as I do–that editors are generally awesome, and that it’s fun to work with them, and that they’re right most of the time with their suggestions.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a line, and it’s a line you do NOT have to cross. It certainly doesn’t mean they’re right all the time. You do NOT have to accept every edit, every suggestion, every wording change. You certainly do NOT have to allow anyone to re-write part of your book for you, absolutely not.
Working with an editor is just that–working with an editor. It’s the two of you–and maybe your agent, or maybe the editor’s assistant might have an idea, or a friend of yours who’s read the mss might come up with something you like–working together to make the book as good as it can be. It’s not you handing your work over to someone else to change it and turn it into something that isn’t yours.
There’s a difference between edits, as in your editorial letter, and edits, as in line edits, too. When I get edits from my editor at Del Rey, it’s in the form of an email or Word doc with all of her thoughts, good and bad (I firmly believe a good editor tells you what they love about the book, too; they don’t simply assume that you know they like it since they bought it. A good editor wants to talk to you about your book and the things they love about it).
I go through and implement her suggestions, basically. I may disagree with one, and discuss it with her, but so far I can think of only one editorial suggestion I dug my heels in over, and that ended up working out just fine–a quick change of something else, and it became a moot point. Really? There shouldn’t even be many issues if any, because you should agree with most of your editor’s thoughts. If s/he’s a good editor, and you’re not a Speshul Golden-Words Snowflake, most if not all of the suggestions should fall into the “Oh, riiiiight!” category.
Then come line edits. (My last few books, my ms has been sent back to me with an editorial letter and some notes made on the ms, so it’s like a combination of the two.) Line edits are “This line makes no sense,” basically. I often get “What the hell is Bump saying here, because I can’t understand him at all,” but of course, that’s me. Line edits might also be “This paragraph is overkill,” or whatever. This is where “kill your darlings”–advice with which I disagree, frankly–comes in. Lots of those overkill lines? Yeah…those are probably the “Stacia knows this is probably too much but look how good that sentence is!” lines. So those have to go. (I often stick them into a special Word doc in case I have the chance to use them later. Of course, then I never open it and re-use them, but whatever. I still have them, my poor deleted darlings, and I can go frolic in the midst of them whenever I choose.)
There may be some typos tossed in throughout there, too. There usually are. No matter how hard I try to make the ms perfect, there’s always going to be something I miss before I send it to my editor, mainly because I’ve read the damn thing so many times I see what should be there, not what is.
There will also probably be some story inconsistencies or whatever to clean up, from my own edits. If I decide to switch from having two ghosts to one, for example, I need to make sure I’ve done what is called “Following through on the cut,” and removed every reference to “they/them,” “the two ghosts,” whatever. I often miss this stuff too, again, because I’ve been going through it so much/so many times.
My editor also catches the occasional repeated word, as in “Slowly the ghost moved toward her. It raised its arm slowly, the knife in its spectral hand catching the moonlight and sending it right into her eyes, blinding her.” I don’t always notice these when I’m actually writing, and while I catch most of them when I’m editing before I turn the book in, again, I can’t find everything. I hate repeated words, actually. They bug me almost as much as sentences that begin with participial phrases (dangling or not), which I loathe with a fiery and all-devouring passion, and will never, ever use, because they’re so awful I can’t even find a way to describe how awful they are. (Let me just say, though, that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you find them in the mss of newbie writers, because they think that sentence construction is “writery” or professional, thus making them look very smooth and clever. It’s not, and it doesn’t.)
Anyway, enough of that rant. The point is, edits are something you do with your editor, not for or in spite of. You get to make the choice, and there is nothing wrong with doing so. I’d say when it comes to “regular” edits–as in editorial letter/line edits–I probably accept pretty much all of my editor’s suggestions, because I trust her, and because in most cases I agree with her. With copyedits it’s probably more like 50-75%, depending on how good the CE is, of course.
An editor is there to help you, and to help make the book as good as it can be. They are not there to rewrite your book themselves, and they are not there to remove your voice and turn it into something a third-grader would have written.
I can’t remember who said it, but I read an awesome quote a little while back. It basically said, “The only rule of grammar a writer needs to follow is to make himself understood. Everything else is style.”
It may not be true all of the time–well, it isn’t, not ALL of the time–but it is most of the time. You don’t have to let yourself be treated badly, you don’t have to let control of your work be taken from you, and you don’t have to agree to every edit.
What Stace had to say on Monday, June 1st, 2009
Ooooh…and this new coffee I just bought is delicious; Ghirardelli organic Cinnamon Chocolate Almond, especially when I add some French Vanilla creamer to it. Now, I take my coffee black a large percentage of the time–when I drink it, which isn’t a lot–so don’t jump all over me about my hideous oversweetened tastes. Sometimes I like to try something different, is all. And this stuff is seriously yum. I can happily drink this all day, oh yes.
And why am I drinking so much coffee?
Because work time is upon me.
Today is June 1st. I have thirty days to finish DEMON POSSESSED. So if I am rather scarce for the next month, you know why. I shall try not to be scarce, as I’ve been so scarce the last few months, but I can’t guarantee my presence. Deadlines are deadlines, and I have me one of them.
I’m having fun with it, though. Which is nice. Getting back into the Demons world after so long–it’s been almost two years since I’ve written these characters–was a bit of a challenge at first but once it clicked again, it clicked again, and I’m really enjoying myself. We’ve had some sweet moments and some funny moments and some sexy moments, and I’m about to start the lead-in into the Moments Which Might Make You Want To Kill Me. Um. Yes, some Bad Things happen in this one. But you must trust me.
Anyway. In the midst of plotting and giggling and worrying, copyedits for the second Downside book arrived; the one which used to be DOWNSIDE GHOSTS and is now UNHOLY MAGIC. Which, btw, is up on Amazon!!
No cover yet–you know I’ll share that with you guys as soon as I get it, and I’ll post the blurb then as well–but the listing is there, and I’m excited about it.
Especially since…well. I’ve had a bit of a change of heart about that book. It was my Problem Child before, for several reasons, which I will outline for you now:
* It followed UNHOLY GHOSTS, about which I was more excited than I’ve ever been about any book I’ve written
* It followed UNHOLY GHOSTS, which I considered, and still kind of do, to be the best book I’ve ever written
* It was written while UNHOLY GHOSTS was on submission, and I was terrified it wouldn’t sell, which made it hard to write the sequel
* It was the first book I’ve ever written that required extensive edits (more on that in a minute)
Second books are hard. When you write the first, you have the thrill of discovery; you’re creating a whole new world, and whole new people. It’s exciting as hell, seriously.
The second? Well. It’s still exciting, but that little extra oomph that comes from building a world from the ground up is gone. You’re playing in an already-created pond. You’re revisiting familiar characters. While that has its own rewards and thrills, they’re different. It’s awesome to expand the characters and take their stories further. It’s awesome to write “what comes next.” But it’s not as easy as writing the first, at least not for me.
UNHOLY MAGIC was hard to write. It was a second book. It was a second book in a series I wasn’t sure was going to sell–I believe I was around 2/3 done with it when we got the first offer–which made me wonder, as I wrote, if there was even a fricking point. And it was heartbreaking, because I was (and still am) so violently, deeply in love with the characters and the world that I couldn’t bear to think I might not get to introduce other people to them. I had an agent, and that was extra pressure; what would happen if the book didn’t sell? Could I produce something else he’d like as much? Nobody ever talks about how scary it can be to sign with an agent, in that suddenly someone else expects things of you, but it can be a little nerve-wracking.
You all know I’m a pantser, not a plotter. Well. All this stress and worry made UNHOLY MAGIC veer off into odd tangents. It took me something like 13 weeks to write, which is longer than any book has ever taken me. Eeep! It didn’t just flow! UNHOLY GHOSTS flowed; I wrote the first draft in seven weeks (well, eight weeks, but for a week of that time we were out of town or I was sick, so techinically it was seven weeks). So if UNHOLY GHOSTS flowed, and I love it so and think it’s great, then maybe the non-flowy book is…um, not great?
Things got worse when I got into edits. I ended up cutting over 30k words from that book; a gargantuan amount for someone who rarely cuts more than a few thousand here and there. Whole sections of the book were ripped out, rewritten, and restitched; it was kind of terrifying. I didn’t know what I’d written, I was too close to it. Trapped in it. All I could think of was that UNHOLY GHOSTS was good and easy to write, or rather, it came easily and was a deeply exciting challenge, whereas UNHOLY MAGIC was blood, sweat, and tears every step of the way, and not what I’d hoped it would be.
And that is the way I’ve felt all along. At least until I finished CITY OF GHOSTS, the third book, which true to form I now think is probably just not very good. But UNHOLY MAGIC was the real sticky one, the one I just could not warm up to.
Well. I finished the copyedits last night. It was the first time I’ve read the book all the way through since…geez, since line edits, seven months or so ago.
And you know what?
I liked it.
I did. The book doesn’t suck. It really doesn’t! It’s pretty good, I think. It held my interest. I didn’t want to stop reading it. I found some good lines in it, some writing I was really proud of. Some nice character moments. Some scary bits and sexy bits; I was surprised, actually, by how sexy the sexy bits were.
My point isn’t to brag about The Wonders Of Me or to convince you to preorder UNHOLY GHOSTS and UNHOLY MAGIC right now (although, of course, you could. Y’know, if you wanted to). It’s not to pat myself on the back. Really.
It’s to share a little bit about my editing process and thoughts. And to say that even though I generally hate my work, I do eventually find a place where…I don’t. So those of you who also hate your work? You too will probably eventually find a place where you don’t.
You are really not necessarily the best judge of your work. I’m not the best judge of mine. My agent, my editors, my cp pals, have been telling me UNHOLY MAGIC is a good book for months, while I frown and bitch and whine and envision readers coming after me with torches and sticks because they hate it so much and I’ve let them down so horribly.
I feel better about the book now. I think readers will like UNHOLY MAGIC. I think it’s a good sequel, it’s a good expansion of the story and world; similar enough to work, but different enough that it doesn’t feel like a carbon copy or like I’m working from a formula (I’m not, of course.)
So there you go. A full year after writing it, I finally like UNHOLY MAGIC.
CITY OF GHOSTS, on the other hand… Sigh.
What Stace had to say on Sunday, March 15th, 2009
I was going to blog today–well, tomorrow, actually, because it’s 12:25 am right at this moment–about pantsing, and how sometimes really cool stuff just appears, and I’ve had two incidences of that in the last two days and it was awesome. And I might go ahead and blog about that at the League in the morning; I probably will.
But right now…right now I feel awful.
I just finished the book.
It should be a good thing. And it is, really. Finishing a book is a Good Thing. We *should* finish books. Especially contracted books.
But this one–new title DEVOURER OF GHOSTS–is the third Downside book. The last contracted Downside book. And I have no idea if I’ll get to write more.
I certainly hope I will. I hope the series is popular enough, sells well enough to justify another contract. But there are no guarantees, as we all know; especially not in this business.
So right at this moment, instead of celebrating, instead of gleefully sitting back and having a cocktail, I am bereft. Totally and completely.
Sure, I’m not done done. I have edits. I have a subplot to strengthen and a Baddie to make badder. I have copyedits for DOWNSIDE GHOSTS. Heck, I have edits and line edits and copyedits for this book. It’s not like I never get to visit this world again, or play with these characters I love so much–and I do, I really, really love them. I’m looking forward to actually reading this book first page to last, as I haven’t done that yet.
But I don’t know how much more playing I’ll get to do. I don’t know if I’ll get to create new stories for them, to expand what’s there. I have some scenes already waiting in my head, some plot twists and moments and scares; I have no idea if I’ll ever get to write them. I have full plots for the next two books, in fact, including an entire weeklong ceremonial celebration complete with blood sacrifices and roaring fires and haunted streets…and I might never get to write any of it.
Intellectually I know I’ll get over it. That after a few days I’ll have found something else to work on–I’m actually 17k into a new project and I am looking forward to making some heavy progress on that–and, hey, if things don’t work out I can spin those ideas into a new world and it just might work, right?
Intellectually I know I feel this way when most of my books end. It’s worse for the non-series books, when you really *are* done with those characters when you write THE END. I’ve never cried after finishing a book until now, but I usually feel like it. Writing a book takes an enormous amount out of a person, or at least, out of me. By the time it’s done I’m usually sort of a drooling goon, unable to think or talk about anything else, unable to see anything else, I’m so focused on bringing a good ending home; my eyes burn, my hands ache, my right arm is sore from moving the cursor, my knees stiff from being folded in one position for so long. I haven’t gotten a solid night’s sleep in a week; I wake up three or four times, jerked from dreams in which the characters act out scenes in my head. It’s always like that for me as the book starts wrapping up, but this one has been worse.
So I know all this. I know I’ll get over it and be okay, that I’ll go to sleep now and wake up feeling much better and ready to start editing. But it doesn’t help, not right now. Not when I’m facing saying goodbye. This is the series that got me an agent and my first NY deal; the one that paid for us to go back home in a few weeks. And I just love it so much and I feel so lonely and uncertain.
The part that was up to me, the real heavy lifting, is done. I know pretty much what needs to be done in edits. Aside from the subplot and strengthening it’s just fine-tuning: fiddling with sentence structure, eliminating redundancies, etc. I’ve done what I can do, what I needed to do, and I’ll continue to do so, but soon it won’t matter at all. It won’t matter what I think or how I feel. Because the book will be out there, in the hands of readers (um, or not, which of course is the real fear), and what they think of it will make all the difference. That’s scary. Very scary. This is a very dark series, about drugs and poverty and ghettos; in this climate, are people really going to want to read about my punk-rock ghetto no-hopers? I sure hope so, but there’s no way to tell, is there.
So there you go. My unvarnished thoughts on finishing a book, specifically this book, which is the last book under contract. I hope I get to write more. I want to write more, desperately.
But I might not get to. And it’s hard to think about and it makes me sad. And that’s where I am at this moment; just sad. And hopeful, and nervous, and scared, and wishing I could start it all over so I don’t have to say goodbye.
Sorry, everyone. I’ll have cheered up by Thursday, I promise.
What Stace had to say on Wednesday, February 11th, 2009
So, here we have the final act. It’s the easiest to write, but the hardest to write about; at least, I think so.
Again, before we go further, remember: this is my way, and the way of a few writers I know. It is NOT the way of every writer I know; it is not the only way; it is not an iron-clad rule or something which requires complicated flow charts (although the post Patrice Michelle linked to in comments for the last post, which was a post she wrote about, essentially, keeping a flow chart, is a great post and a great method for people who can work that way) or strict word-count deadlines (I’m using a 90k book as an example, and ending the acts at 30k, 60k, and roughly 90k, but you may vary by as much as 10k words or whatever and that’s fine). No secret gun-toting Writing Police are going to show up at your home in the dead of night and arrest you for not doing this or not doing it properly or whatever.
These are just guidelines. It’s the way I keep the story from getting away from me and the way I keep my pacing on-target. It’s not something to obsess about. It’s not something to force yourself to do. As Patrice said, if you’re writing your first novel or your second or you’re still feeling your way through this writing thing (which we all are to some extent, really, no matter how many books we’ve written), don’t get all tangled up in this. You can always go back later and see how you’ve done and fiddle with it then.
So. We’ve now written our first act, in which we laid out all of our clues and introduced our main characters, and we ended that act with a bang. We’ve written our second act, where we deepened our mysteries and conflicts, and added depth to our subplots. We also ended the second act with a bang; hopefully a hell of a big one, which turned everything around, but again, this depends on the book.
Our third act is about solving our problems. Whodunnit? What happens with our detective Jennifer’s grandma in the home and her ex-lover? Does she end up with him again, or is she suddenly realizing she’s got a thing for one of the cops or the drug dealer or whatever? What deadly jeopardy is Jennifer in–or about the be in–when the second act ends, and will she survive act 3? Will anyone? In comments to the last entry Patrice and I discussed how the information a character receives shouldn’t come easily. It’s not true for everything but for most of it; well, that’s where your story actually comes from, right? The difficulties and complications of getting necessary information and/or aid? It wouldn’t be a very interesting book if in Chapter Four Jennifer found an eyewitness who told her exactly what happened, and then they just went and caught the Bad Guy, right? (Unless you’re going for courtroom drama, of course.)
Anyway. Patrice suggested that sometimes information is paid for in lives, or in giving up things which are important to the characters. And that’s very true. So the question of whether everyone survives to act 3, and whether everyone will survive act 3, is a pretty big one. What is your MC going to lose in the climax? What will she gain? Is what she gains going to be worth it?
I digress. The point is, Act 3 is where everything comes together. All those subplots we started, and all those clues we planted, all those threads we expanded on? It’s time to wrap them up.
And it’s fun. The tricky thing about the third act, though, is making it fun and interesting for the reader as well. Oh, sure, they’re going to be interested in your climax and the solution to the mystery or resolution of whatever the conflict is. (Personally, I adore those big Agatha Christie-esque “drawing room” scenes; I don’t need a lot of action, I just want to read those slowly and savor them.)
But they’re not very fashionable anymore, so usually what we end up with is a big action-filled climax, and I love those too. But you have to have raised the stakes high enough. And you have to keep enough tension going, enough conflict going, that it doesn’t feel like you’re ticking things off a list.
I generally up the pacing in the third act, which I think helps; shorter scenes. More active ones. A little less internal monologue. The reader feels the tension building, even if they’re not conscious of it; they know something is coming, because the shorter scenes move the book along faster, and of course they’re aware of how far into the book they’ve gotten, but it’s pacing and increasing conflict which really works magic when we near the book’s climax.
To me the third act is like knocking down dominos, for lack of a less-cliched image. I’ve set all these things up; I have loose threads waving in the breeze. Now I start grabbing them and tying them together.
In act 2 we had Jennifer place her grandmother in a nursing home, which happened to be run by the mother of one of the victims. Now is the moment when one of the nurses at the home can make a casual comment which rings a bell in Jennifer’s head; perhaps Jennifer realizes the nurse had a heretofore unguessed motive to kill the first victim. And the second. (I feel guilty making a nurse the Bad Guy, btw; my mother is an emergency room nurse. Sorry, Mom. For the record nurses are AWESOME.) And of course, she had access to the drug which killed them both.
Now Jennifer has to figure out how to get out of the room and call the police. Perhaps the nurse twigs on to Jennifer’s newfound knowledge? And insists that she take Jennifer’s grandma to get a spongebath or something? And the director of the home, who of course has no idea, backs her up. Now Jennifer’s grandma is a hostage, and Jennifer knows the nurse will kill her. Maybe the nurse thought Jennifer had figured it out before, and slipped something into Jennifer’s drink.
This is all well and good; we have a climax. But we have other subplots which need to be tied up, and we need to do it before we get into our climax; not all of them, necessarily, and of course if we’re writing a series we need to leave some open-ended questions, but some of them.
How you do this is up to you (hey, I warned you the third act was hard to write about.) For a 90k book, I generally start the real run-up to my climax at around 70k; in the above example, this would be when Jennifer arrives at the home. That way we’re around 75k or so when she gets drugged and solves the mystery; it gives us some room to play. Your runup may be longer; my climaxes tend to be longer, involving as they do complex rituals and secrets and abandoned asylums full of zombies.
But if you’ve set up your first two acts properly, really, the third will essentially write itself. Honestly. You’ll have some scenes and resolutions in mind; you’ll have arranged events in such a way that logic will move you smoothly from one scene to another. And that is extremely important. The last thing you or anyone wants or needs is one of those blink-and-you-miss-it climaxes, or one where everything just falls into place and it ends up being more of an anticlimax than a climax. We’ve all read books like that, where we fly through 320 pages of excitement and then the hero shoots and kills the bad guy and that’s it.
You don’t want to do that. You want to make sure you planted enough seeds, and grew them, in the first two acts, that there’s plenty of stuff to work with at the end. You want to try and tie at least one subplot directly into your climax; in PERSONAL DEMONS I had the msytery of Megan’s past; it was a minor point throughout the book but without it the climax never could have happened, and it figured prominently therein. In our Jennifer example, without Grandma and her poor health we wouldn’t have solved the murders. Perhaps Jennifer’s ex is involved here somehow too? Maybe he calls her and she says something, an old private joke, which warns him she’s in trouble so he can call the cops? However you do it, the key (IMO) to an interesting and fulfilling climax is to bring as many story threads as you can into it, and end them all with the biggest bang you can muster.
Here’s the thing about structures like these. Whether you’re using a three-act structure or a four-act structure or a twenty-two-act structure (NO, I’ve never heard of that and know nothing about it, ha) is that at some point, you have to stop setting your book up.
It has to stop. Your book cannot be 300 pages of setup, a climax, and an ending. Well, okay, if you want to look at it a certain way, that’s what all books are, but you know what I mean and don’t pretend you don’t.
The longer your subplots are part of your story, the more interesting and surprising and satisfying their resolution will be for the reader. The more danger you put your MC in, the more exciting the climax will be for the reader.
A book where subplots and plots do not carry through all the way feels episodic; it’s not a story, it’s a selection of vignettes. This why I stop adding new subplots to the book after the first third (again, I may make an exception if a new character is introduced, but chances are that’s actually more of a setup for the next book). Because at some point you have to work with what is already there. You have to deepen and expand what is already there. You have to sink into your story and work at it from the inside, rather than throwing more stuff at it from the outside.
And that’s the other big thing (aside from pacing) this structure does for me. It forces me to work with what is already there. I can’t write a deux ex machina, because I have to work with what is already there. I can’t veer out of the story and suddenly decide to change the focus, because I have to work with what is already there.
It keeps my books focused. It keeps my mind focused. It keeps my pacing even and makes sure my middles aren’t long saggy stretches of not-much-happening. It gives me discipline, and discpline is tremendously important for a writer.
So there you go. Like I said, I think the third act is very difficult to write about, because what it essentially boils down to is ‘finish the book’. Pick up the seeds and hints and clues you dropped and make sure they have a solid place to land. Make sure you keep the tension high. Make sure you use everything you can in the climax. Remember that if you’ve written your book logically, so your climax and resolution will also come out logically.
And then you have a book.
What Stace had to say on Thursday, November 27th, 2008
So, first, happy Thanksgiving everyone! We’re celebrating here, of course; turkey (all they had was a fifteen-pound behemoth, so we’ve got plenty of turkey, oh yes), mashed potatoes, cornbread, green bean casserole, rolls, corn, cranberry sauce, and of course, homemade pumpkin pie. Ahhh. With fresh whipped cream. (We can’t get Cool Whip here, and call me a philistine, but I love Cool Whip and don’t care that it’s made of inorganic substances. It’s not like we eat the stuff every day.)
And of course, we’re watching the news and keeping an eye on the terrible tragedy in Mumbai. And we’re horrified, and distressed by it.
But you know what? We’re still having Thanksgiving. I’m still blogging (and doing line edits for Unholy Ghosts, yay!) We’re still going to watch Jaws and L.A. Confidential later–our traditional Thanksgiving movies–along with Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
And I refuse to feel bad about that.
Just like I refuse to feel bad about getting caught up in whatever the internet scandal du jour is when the economy is having problems and there’s a war on or whatever. Just like I refuse to feel bad about doing Christmas shopping when there was a tsunami. Or about taking my girls to the park or the play center when…well, insert-very-serious-issue-here.
I’m sure you’ve seen this, too. A little conversation starts on some blog or something about, say, Michelle Obama’s election-night dress. Or Britney Spears. Or any one of thousands of inane and silly–but fun and diverting–discussions. And there’s always got to be some grumpyass, more-intellectual-than-thou person who comes along and chides everyone for “wasting [our] time” talking about clothing or recipes or whatever, when “the economy is in the toilet/there’s a war going on/people are dying/seals are being clubbed/whatever.”
And oooh, does that ever piss me off.
You know what? I’m perfectly aware that there’s a lot of misery in the world. I’m perfectly aware that thousands of people go to bed hungry, or that right at this moment someone could be dying, or losing everything they own, or someone could be measuring themselves for a pretty white seal-sin jacket. And yes, it bothers me. I hate it. Of course I worry about those things, of course they upset me.
But I cannot spend my entire life focusing only on Serious Issues. And neither can you, or anyone else. We’re human; there’s only so much we can take, you know?
Not to mention, even those topics cannot possibly take up entire days and weeks of conversation. You cannot spend your every waking hour writing, talking, or thinking about those topics because they are simply not complex enough to require it.
And what would be the point, anyway? I don’t make government policy and neither do you (well, maybe you do; I know I have some readers in the DC area. *waves*) So we can spend our every waking moment involved in serious discussions about rainforests and ice caps and indigenous peoples, and it won’t make a damn bit of difference–oh, except, apparently, to make us feel superior to others and prove how intellectual and above-it-all we are.
Because really, that’s what’s behind those comments. I love it when people inform me that my interests are silly and my conversations a waste of time–taking time out from their busy schedule of Judging Others and Improving Their Minds, it seems, to drop in and educate the Little Stupid People on what we should really be concerned about. Um, hey, if you have so many Serious Issues on your mind, why are you dropping by here anyway? Did you think perhaps over at the TalkAboutBooksandClothes blog (which I just made up) conversation has suddenly turned to terrorism and its root causes, and your input is sorely needed? Don’t you have anything better to do, like maybe setting up a soup kitchen in your backyard and learning how to weave fabric so you can sew fresh clothing for everyone who needs it? Or maybe you’d prefer to make yourself some clothing–a t-shirt that says something like “I am superior to you in every way, as I only think of serious issues and am very, very smart. This makes me a total boor, but I don’t care because I’m above all that too.” I mean, that is the message you’re trying to get across to us all, right? That you’re better than we are because you’re smarter and more serious, whereas we’re a bunch of flighty idiots? And how dare we have discussions that don’t meet your criteria, or interests that don’t coincide exactly with yours?
I am a human being, and so–I presume–are all of you reading this. And you know what? I have a very wide range of interests and opinions, and I imagine you do as well. I think we ALL do. And while some topics may be more serious than others, I don’t see any reason at all why we should all force ourselves to sit gloomily around, staring at each other and occasionally talking about unemployment.
We NEED diversions. We NEED things to remind us that life goes on. That the world is more than just a vale of tears and misery. There’s good things, too, like high heels and french fries and great books and silver nail polish and action movies where the good guys always win and comedies where you laugh so hard tears roll down your cheeks and music and beer and fast cars and…any one of thousands of other things. That things might be bad now, but that doesn’t mean they’re never going to get better–and that maybe they’re not as bad as we think. We need to remember that even in the midst of tragedy, one of the amazing things about being human is our ability to feel complex emotions; we can laugh through tears, or wear a bittersweet smile. We are perfectly capable of discussing many things, of feeling and thinking many things, all at once.
We’re not one-note beings. And there is nothing in the world wrong with that, just like there is nothing in the world wrong with visiting Go Fug Yourself for some diversion from the misery we see on the news. Just like there is nothing wrong with trading gossip with friends because it’s fun and we need a little break; something to take our mind off our problems.
Just like there is absolutely nothing wrong with being thankful today, even as we spare a thought for the victims in Mubai and their families. And there is nothing wrong with sitting down to a big feast today. There is nothing wrong with planning to go shopping tomorrow to take advantage of all those sales.
Because we need the break. We need the relaxation. We need the comfort of having our families and friends close to us. We need a laugh. We need to remember that in the midst of the bad, there is good, and that we can still laugh and talk and smile; our hearts can still lift, our heads can still clear, and above all, there is still hope in the world.
Because life goes on. And quite frankly, if you don’t know that…maybe you’re not as clever as you think.