25 Oct

WCAD Walkthrough: Chapters 7 & 8

Subjects touched upon herein: spectral readers, repetitive word use, authorial voice, loadbearing sentences, foreshadowing, and stage-2 gardening.

If you don’t yet have the book, you can follow along with the associated excerpt.

SpoilerWarning

In which I make a grievous error in judgment

During the final pass of revisions, I decided right about here (Chapter 7) that writing these posts was slowing down progress on the book and I’d be better off making notes for the posts and going back to fill them in later. It stands to reason, since it often takes an entire day to write one of these posts, that book work would progress at a brisker clip without the blogging.

However, what actually happened was that half-assing the walkthrough made me less mindful of what I was doing to the story because it stripped that degree of accountability, and by Chapter 14, I was aware I was doing a less-good job and was consequently dragging my feet about even looking at the book anymore. I don’t want to produce any more books I’m going to disavow later because they’re garbage — especially when I can no longer blame any of the shortcomings on publisher pressure cutting short work that needs to be done. Anything about this book I’m unhappy with later is entirely on my head.

There’s no excuse for releasing a book that doesn’t meet even my minimum standards of acceptability. Even if it’s the best book ever written, it’s not going to solve all my problems the day it’s released. If it’s just one more piece of shit in the endless river of raw sewage flowing from the “volume generates more revenue than quality” writer culture, it doesn’t do me any good to rush it to market without a backlist of a hundred other turds to form a money-collection barge, either. There’s no benefit in haste.

At one point, I thought the book would be published at the end of May.

As I’m writing this post, it’s the first weekend of July, and I’m a mere seven chapters into forty-one chapters of editing.

(The publication date ended up being November 3 — more than five months of additional work beyond that “May” notion.)

I could have uploaded something at the end of May, if I cared more about that deadline than the story. I’d have a little bit of change from Amazon sales in the bank already, which would be handy… but would not be sufficient compensation for the sacrifice of my principles.

Money vanishes; the bloated corpse of slaughtered principles stinks up the place forever.

I knew when I returned from my “Fuck it, I’m done with writing” episode that my objective wasn’t fame and fortune (or even earning a living, which seldom happens even with publisher “support”). My only objective is to write stories I’m not ashamed to have my name (or a version thereof) on. I can’t half-ass it in the final stretch without betraying my one purpose and making all the work up to this point a waste of time.

So after losing a bunch of time because I tried to save a bunch of time, I went back and spent a bunch of time revising Chapters 7 through 14 with blogging oversight and now those chapters suck less and I learned a valuable lesson.

Back pats to your spectre again, Blog Reader.

Stop hitting yourself

When I’m doing edits, sometimes words jump off the page and slap me in the face with their frequency. (In one 50,000-word story, I used “lingering” approximately 20,000 times. My cheeks stung mightily from the abuse.) In that case, it’s lazy writing and I will fix as many instances as possible to spare readers a trip through the spanking machine.

In WCAD, all the repeats that got dinged in editing were intentional. People who grow up in the same place and share history also share a language pool. I don’t do it as often with characters who haven’t known each other forever, but I do when there’s an obvious trigger in order to demonstrate they’re on the same wavelength. It’s not so much a “device” as my belief it’s normal for two reasonably like-minded people to think of the same word when faced with the same stimulus. Lovebirds who constantly finish each other’s sentences aren’t mindreading; they’re thinking along the same lines (which probably has a great deal to do with why they’re lovebirds).

  • four guys in fancy ties/two men and two half-men in fancy ties — Ben and Tally are seeing the same TV show; neither is so knowledgeable about fashion neckwear they’d go into more detail than “fancy.”
  • Ben echoes Wayne’s superstition about viewership affecting game outcome, a form of insanity common among sports fans.
  • I plan on avoiding him like a hornet’s nest covered in Ebola/better to avoid her entirely — Tally and Ben independently conclude avoidance is the sensible, healthy course of action (though Ben’s resolution goes bye-bye the instant it’s confronted by temptation).
  • defenseless — Ben felt this way at the end of Chapter 1; Tally’s feeling it now. They are equally vulnerable.
  • Dammit, why didn’t the station in Sterling put up a sign? — Back in Chapter 1, Shane (who’s also been in the same place forever) said something to the same effect. People getting stuck because the Serv-N-Go is gone happens often enough that everybody in Westard would be in on this gag.

I look for places where I can write an echo because it makes the story more cohesive when every little thing doesn’t happen in isolation. Also, because Ben and Tally have radically different perceptions of so many major events, they need the unity on the little things to create enough common ground to build a relationship on.

Interestingly (to me), the lead dinger had no issue with a single character being repetitive and only harped on cross-character repetition, whereas I feel cross-character has a purpose and single-character is just sloppy — her reasoning being people in real life don’t strain themselves rephrasing their thoughts; mine being stories that strictly adhere to what people think in real life would suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. (Sometimes in real life, my thoughts are just a loop of “Damn, I want some bacon” for, like, twenty minutes. A story can only survive so much realism.)

For your safety, all books will come with a mouth guard and visor

I used to covet a lyrical prose style. According to past editorial feedback, my style is more “blunt-force trauma to the face.” I tried to change (every time I wrote a book under contract), but I’ve arrived at the conclusion that style has a great deal to do with personality. Lyricism requires a certain circuitous, loose manner of being. That’s not who I am. I’m straightforward and wound tight. I don’t dance around what I mean. I say it straight or I keep my mouth shut; I don’t bullshit about anything. It disturbs me to use twenty words to say what can be made clear in three, to be figurative when literal works. I’m never going to sound like a poet, and at this point in my life, I’m fine with that. It doesn’t go over very well with a lot of people in real life, so I expect it won’t be wildly popular as a writing style, either, and I’m also fine with not being wildly popular (the one thing public schools prepared me for).

I’m never going to write “The door — a single oaken plank dating back to the days when trees of massive girth were a common sight in the now-barren landscape — opened silently on well-maintained hinges” because I don’t give a damn about the door (unless it’s magical). It could be important that it opens quietly if the person opening it is on a stealth mission, but in that case, it would be better if the sentence actually involved a person on a stealth mission performing a stealthy action. The now-barren landscape might be a nod at worldbuilding, but unless it has immediate bearing on the opening of the door, this isn’t the place for it. The materials used in the construction of the door and the maintenance thereof… Nope, I can’t, off the top of my head, think of any reason anyone should care (unless they’re magical).

I’m only interested in what’s on the other side of the door, so I’m going to write “He opened the door” and get on with the part that matters, and thereby get twice as much story within the same word count as the person waxing poetic about a piece of dead tree that pivots and other inconsequential set pieces.

Without a lot of surfeit words, I’m better able to direct a reader’s focus where I want it. I’m not hiding behind pretty words. I’m not hiding anything. Even when I’m trying to do something mysterious, the truth will be right there on the page — it will just be overwhelmed by other truths on that page if I don’t want you to give it much attention right then.

I’m not saying all pretty writing is hiding lack of substance in profuse words. I have several passages by, for instance, Meredith Duran copied into a journal because they’re beautiful and emotionally moving, and those couldn’t be whittled down because every word is necessary to create that effect. But when I try to write in that kind of style, it’s garbage because I’m embellishing after the fact the blunt thing that was really all I had to say. I can make the most sincere, heartfelt thing sound slimy in an attempt to make it pretty, or it can be blunt, crude, and honest. I choose ugly honesty.

… except when I embellish

Okay, look. This is common of my rough-draft writing (from a different story):

Fr: Pfft

I know to whom that “sentence” is attributed and the precise expression of exasperated humor indicated therewith, but that stunning piece of writing doesn’t tell you a damn thing. For the purpose of comprehensibility, I have to use more (and actual) words in the version of the story that gets to your eyeballs.

Even if the words make sense, sometimes they’re kind of crappy. From not-the-final draft of WCAD:

Her toes felt terribly naked.

“Felt” and an adverbed adjective? (Insert give-me-strength sigh here.) I wouldn’t throw my Kindle across the room if someone else wrote it, but I’d start skimming for dialogue because I can see the narrative isn’t going to be anything interesting or inspiring or deftly crafted.

I don’t have delusions that I’m going to dazzle you with every word, but I aspire to write competent enough sentences that you won’t be compelled to skip 70% of them. Even with the limitation of a style like a two-by-four to your teeth, I do look at every single sentence and attempt to make it bear more weight.

Rough drafts are all about putting something (occasionally even real words) down to get from point A to point B. Even in the final draft, some sentences exist only to move you to the next sentence, and that’s fine if they’re expressing something simple and transition is all they need to accomplish (“He opened the door”).

But in this particular instance, Tally knows a thing or two about being naked, so that original weak sentence (which thoughtfully supplied “naked” as a prompt) is begging to be fortified with some characterization. Thus, it became in the final:

Only her footwear had changed since their last meeting, so she blamed her bare toes for making her feel defenseless as her first time on stage naked.

There’s still a “feel,” which is not ideal, but it’s overall a much worthier sentence. It references her history as a stripper and lets you know that wasn’t all fun and games for her. It acknowledges the passage of story time and circumstance. It hits that “defenseless” echo from earlier.

Since it took a paragraph to explain the function of that one sentence, it’s working hard enough to earn its place in the story.

Mystery woman

Will asks Ben about Tally, and Ben tells him nothing, not even her name. He doesn’t “share” Tally with anyone until much, much later, after he loses her (I warned you about spoilers with a big freaking sign), when she’s no longer “his” to either save or spend. He thinks he hoards her attention because she’s “special, worthy of protection,” which is part of the truth, but the other part (“at least until their love was strong enough to withstand the reality of friends and family”) is fear of looking bad, of not being good enough, of losing, and there’s not really a place for that in mature love. If you have so little faith that your love can survive life that you have to keep it locked away in a quiet, dark, private place, it’s too flimsy to be anything but a figment of your imagination. Love is as strong as the trials it passes.

I’m not saying throw it into the gladiatorial arena five times a week and twice on Sundays to make it prove how big and strong it is, but you shouldn’t treat it like an invalid, either. It will cut its teeth on plenty of garden-variety bullies before it gets to its first tiger fight, and if it survived those, it will kick that tiger’s ass.

And if it dies because someone’s mom made one bitchy comment over Thanksgiving dinner, it was a lightweight and you deserve something stronger, anyway.

Omens, portents, and prophecies, oh my

  • he wasn’t sure he could resist the urge to punch the bastard and show him what it felt like — expect Ben’s urge to punch the father of the girl he loves to be a past-present-future issue
  • self-inflicted punishment — perhaps actually bad judgment and impulsivity in Ben’s case, but Tally genuinely is punishing herself in her abuser’s absence
  • Circle-of-life shit is harder to get over than losing because you fucked up. — expect whatever tragedy Will has had that was worth mentioning here to come up later because it will be important to Ben
  • He had always cared more than she did. — expect him to be oblivious to feelings she doesn’t trumpet (and that she won’t trumpet them)
  • Liz sent you a picture. — expect to get a look at that picture
  • bad things happened where they damn well pleased, and they thrived in quiet — expect bad things to happen in silence and learning to speak up to break that cycle
  • The only defense was to expect bad things to happen all the time and stay braced for impact. — There’s the explanation for Tally’s doom-centric mindset. Expect that to be extremely difficult to escape.
  • Someone was always looking out for them, protecting them from ruin. — expect Tally to take some of that looking out and protecting of the golden boy upon herself
  • somebody at the school will probably let you jump on — expect Ben’s search for web access to lead to the school (that’s the first explicit scene setup we’ve seen in a while)
  • no cause had ever been better than getting Ben out of Westard — expect getting him out (to get him away from her) to progress similarly to getting him out twelve years ago (to go to college), with similarly heartbreaking results
  • When had getting her hopes up not resulted in disappointment? — expect a determined effort to keep hopes down to avoid more disappointment
  • blowjobs were a universally effective distraction — expect her to use sex as a diversion to avoid intimacy

Tending the sprouts

  • In Chapter 1, Ben’s alternative sleeping arrangement was the Back Seat Inn  — now, the twin bed in his old bedroom looks as short and narrow as the back seat of a car. (This isn’t plot-relevant and could just as well go under the repetition heading instead of being filed under growth.) The former was in the rough draft; the latter didn’t appear until the final pass when I was trying to add setting details in a way that didn’t make me want to scream, “THE FURNITURE ISN’T RELEVANT SO WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE HERE?” How do you lend an irrelevant piece of furniture a wee bit of relevance? Loosely stitch it to a related concept of some importance, such as “I’m not sure where I’ll be sleeping tonight.”
  • In Chapter 4, Tally mentioned Ben has always had modest aspirations — now, he considers himself fortunate to get one bar on his phone and doesn’t set off on a quest for more, and that contentment with simple blessings keeps him in the optimal position to make a move he would have missed if greed had taken him in a different direction.
  • Earlier, Ben said Tally wasn’t a blurter — now we know she’s trying to find the “perfect” thing to say (to make somebody happy, to escape the conversation, to keep from being hit); speaking the truth doesn’t matter to her as much as speaking whatever gets the desired result (which is always, in one sense or another, safety).

This one got to epic length again. Questions? Allow them to fall vertically as if they have a high temperature. Otherwise, on to Chapters 9 and 10 and, what the hell, one more excerpt in honor of release week.