Monday, July 27, 2009

When Last We Met...

Yesterday we had another rollicking meeting of the Magic City Writers Group. I had submitted my first chapter, The Wizard's Spells..., again for what I hoped would be a final editing pass. I had mentioned before that I had asked the group if they thought it needed another pass, and I summarized their response then as:
The consensus was that while chapter one was much improved it still required one more editing effort by the group. But just one more. A final review to clean up the flotsam and jetsam still floating around in the text. We didn't discuss the details of what was wrong, just that it still has issues. I want to avoid infinitely editing this chapter, but I cannot ignore warnings from the group. I shall resubmit chapter one when my turn rolls around again.
I had believed when the meeting began that the session would be short, a couple of hours at most. After all, this was the third time we had gone over this chapter. How much more was left to be said?

Four-and-a-half hours later I staggered away from the table bloody, bruised, and beaten; a broken man, a shell of my former self. I exaggerate, but the point remains that the session was longer and more grueling than I had been prepared for.

I expected people to point out awkward sentences, poor word choices, and other syntactic fluff. By "syntactic fluff" I do not mean these problems are not important to address, merely that they are correctable by a better choice of single words or altering a sentence or two. I.e. The solution is relatively easy to discover and can be quickly implemented.

In addition to points about syntactic fluff, however, there were also protracted debates about some of the underlying structure. Problems that cannot be solved by changing a word or sentence or even a paragraph, but could require another rewrite of whole scenes. Worse yet, embedded in the areas that have structural issues are elements I either really want to retain, or feel must be there for reasons not obvious to the reader at this moment. Elements that setup important plot points.

This leaves me with a quandary. Do I make major changes that make it hard to keep the elements I feel are important? Or do I ignore the group's warnings about the problem areas? Is there an acceptable alternative that lets me address their concerns while keeping intact what I want/need for later?

I wrote before about avoiding the infinite edit, in which I talked about this particular chapter. As I said then:
It is possible to edit a chapter over and over and never "finish" it. I could reword sentences and rewrite the same scene over and over. Infinitely editing the same chapter, never moving on to the bigger story. At some point you have to draw a hard line and say, "Yes it could be better, but it is good enough as it is right now."
With regards to this chapter, I feel I am close to that hard line where you just fix the most glaring or easily solvable problems and ignore the rest.

I will think on this some more, review the notes from the meeting and listen to the audio recording I made. I will reread the problem areas with a harsh, unbiased eye. I hope to find away to address the bigger problems that does not require a major overhaul. Failing that I may settle for simply reducing the problems so they don't intrude into the story to the same extent they do now. That may be the best solution I can manage.


  1. I know that you were a little unpleasantly surprised by the length of the meeting yesterday. But I think that it isn't as bad as you are writing about here. I know I am the last person to say that, but I stand by my position that I think the next review of this chapter should be done by someone more professional than the writer's group.

    In my opinion, I think that you are in the infinite edit loop. Yes, we talked (mostly) for a few hours last night about problems one or the other of us found in the story. Some were easy fixes, a couple of mispelled words, and the like. The spots that seemed to have the most trouble were mainly changing the structure of the writing, not the substance. One person thinks that this section is a little too 'info dump.' But I believe that info dump can be subjective.

    Keep in mind that this is the first chapter of your story. Like it or not, I think there are going to be info dumps. Especially in a world you created for the story. I also think that you shouldn't get rid of all of them. Some can have a few words changed or interspersed with a little more physical action to make them seem less 'dumpy.' A simple enough fix to keep what some saw as a problem.

    Do what you think is best at this point. Yes, fix the grammatical and spelling errors. But when it comes to dramatically changing something in your story that at this point changes the unique blend of the senses you have corrected, I suggest you listen to the advise you wrote in that previous blog and be very careful about doing another full edit and submission.

  2. Perhaps I did make the feedback sound like an awful experience, which is not the case nor what I intended to say. I think there are still some improvements to be made. But when is that ever not the case?

    There is a line between required changes and excessive editing. I need to focus upon the required changes and avoid excessive rewriting. The problem is in distinguishing between the two.

    I expect when I look at the changes in a deliberative manner I will discover simple ways to address most of the current problems. The trick is not to introduce new problems in the process.

  3. I still say you should take the advice you gave me. Gather up the edits and the recording and file them away. Come back to them at a much later point. Continue on to another chapter for now.

  4. I agree with Kathryn. If it gets to the point where just looking at the chapter or the edits depresses you - move on, and come back to it later.

    I think much of the criticisms (such as the excess of info dumps) were things that could be fixed fairly easily. The structural changes suggested in the first part would be more difficult, but they weren't an indictment of what you've already written (which is very good), merely a comment that the opening might be a hard sell for an editor or publisher. It's perfectly fine to ignore that for now and come back to it later based on what the pros say when you finally submit your work.

    Remember, too, that we've seen this chapter at least three times over the last year or so, and familiarity allows us to spot a lot of things that a new reader wouldn't. Put simply, the more times you read something, the more things you see wrong. Many of our criticisms are down to the nit-picky level now, and I think that's a fairly good indication of how far this chapter has come.

  5. Depresses is the wrong word. I think significant changes to the structure of chpater one raise the danger of causing more problems than they cure. If so, then it may be that I should only make minor corrections to the text and ignore the warning on the structural problems. In either event, I intend to decide only after I look over the comments closely and see if I think the problems warrents significant efforts on my part or not.