Posts Tagged ‘comprehensive reading’


     So yesterday (slash last night, slash this morning), we completed the first comprehensive read-through of Project: Evil Heart.  It was far less of a disaster than I anticipated.  Still, it was a process that took over sixteen hours (minus an hour or two for breaks for food and drink, plus a little of the inevitable unrelated chit-chat), but over all, it was a more positive and encouraging experience than I’d hoped for.

     Also yesterday, before we began working, we attended a seminar where one of the speakers was Patricia G. Stevenson, author of The Dilapidated Man.  Her advice was this:  “Listen to your characters.  They’ll tell you what to do.  No, you would never do the same things they would, and some of the things they do may be appalling to you, but if you trust them, they’ll write your book for you.”  Those were just the words I’ve been needing to hear.

     Since day one of this story, I have had issues with my main character.  He is a violent, terrible, fiendish demon in the flesh, and I suppose I’ve always been a little afraid of being judged for having written him.  This was, as far as I was concerned, just part of the territory though.  In time, I figured my skin would thicken and I would hopefully one day be proud of Mr. Sterling Bronson.  That day came sooner than I expected.  Yesterday, as we read the first ten chapters of the manuscript, I found within the confines of all his wickedness, a rare kind of beauty.  This character, although still all of the terrible things he is, is an accurate representation of the dark side, and having heard his story with a little more continuity, I have to say, I kinda like him.  This surprised me because I haven’t enjoyed writing him and yet, his friend Brytt, who I love writing, is ultimately, much less likable to me.

          The only technical problems we found in the read through were timeline issues and over used “comfort lines”.  What I am referring to when I say “comfort lines” are those expressions and descriptions that the writer becomes way too comfortable using and therefore implements over and over… and over.  In The White Room, my biggest comfort line was, “There was a long stretch of silence.”  Originally, there were so many long stretches of silence in fact, that it was a wonder the manuscript contained any dialog at all.  In An Evil Heart, my comfort (word) seems to be “stiffening.”  A lot of stiffening goes on in this story; stiffening muscles, stiffening spines, stiffening in the boxer shorts… it was out of control and ninety percent of it needs to go.  Kim’s comfort line was, “there was an ache in my chest.”  Her character had so many aches in her chest throughout the first ten chapters that we joked that perhaps the girl needed an EKG.

    All in all, these were easy fixes.  We removed the comfort lines in favor of more original expressions and now just need to tweak the timelines a little.  The difficulty with the timelines is that Kim and I are writing alternating chapters and half the time, I don’t even know what day we are supposed to be on, but there was only one real significant flaw in the timing, and a simple transposing of events will clear the inconsistency right up.

     For all the dreading and worrying I’ve done over this, I’m now very glad we did the read through.  It flowed smoothly and read like a pretty damned good book.  I’m now approaching the second half of the story with a revivified enthusiasm and a heightened sense of accomplishment.  We figure we have about fourteen more chapters to write and the finished project should be done and ready to be looked at by mid-July.  Also, I’ve set the goal of beginning a third book (this one will be a solitary project) by the first of May and having that one finished by the end of 2011, so there will be a couple of months where projects overlap, assuming An Evil Heart runs on time, but I’m not too worried about it.  I still love every minute of this and for me, it isn’t like work at all.

         

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        At some point in the writing of every novel, the time comes when the author (or authors) need to block out a broad segment of time, sit down and read the story from page one to the last page written, and take out their little mental microscopes and search for all the little (and large) mistakes that weaken (or entirely ruin) their stories.  This is called a “comprehensive reading.” 

     Today marks the finish of chapter ten of “An Evil Heart,” the joint novel I’ve been writing with my friend and mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen (Mimi).  I spent several hours at her home yesterday, and a few more hours this morning, finishing up the scenes that we weren’t able to write without the other person being present.  Now that the paths of her character and my character are fully intertwined, me and Kim’s “together time” will need to be multiplied.   Kim and I have chosen to do comprehensive readings about every ten chapters, so I will spend the next week revising and refining the previous chapters so that the story can be read with as little interruption as possible.  

     A week from today, she and I will get together, find a relatively private location and spend the whole day reading what we’ve written.  Because I hate to read aloud, and am more audibly oriented in my learning style, Kim reads and I listen.  This is a tedious process, but it is where all the logic flaws, plot problems, character inconsistencies and previously overlooked grammatical errors shine through.  

     Although this will be the first read-through we’ve done of An Evil Heart, we did several on my first book, The White Room (which is currently looking for a home somewhere in New York right now), so I have an idea of how this works.  It is a process that can take anywhere from nine to thirteen hours.  But it’s worth it.  In my previous read-throughs, I was continually amazed by the blatant errors an author of a novel can overlook.  Worst of all, perhaps, are the logic flaws.

     A logic flaw is just that: a flaw in logic.  During one read-through, I was made embarrassingly aware that a character had taken the last sip of the same beer three different times.  At another point, a crucifix that burst into flames and turned to ash suddenly reappeared in a characters front pocket.  These little things are so easily written but become terribly apparent when read aloud. 

    Plot consistency is another obstacle you’ll contend with during a comprehensive reading. For example, in The White Room, I had created vampires who, of course, could not go out into the daylight.  I can not count how many times a vampire appeared in the middle of the day, totally unaware of the sun shining above.  In writing entities who could only survive in the darkness, I realized I’d placed a terrible restriction on myself and continually had to change the story around to keep consistent with the “reality” of the storyline.    

     Characters also like to lose consistency throughout the duration of a novel, and some characters end up being completely unnecessary.  There was one character I really liked and wanted to give more presence to.  Reading the story through, I realized this character seemed like a kind of strange appendage of the larger characters, and really had no place in the story other than the original two or three lines she was given.  I then had to go back and cut her out of all the scenes she didn’t fit into.  At another time, one of my characters voices changed so dramatically as the story progressed that by the end, he was nearly unrecognizable.  He began as a wise type who used proper English and eventually evolved into the barely educated boy next door.  This was one of the largest problems I had with that story and it took considerable time and energy to rephrase all of his dialog as well as correct his general disposition. 

    Not all flaws are big ones though.  Reading your manuscript through, you could continually find little sentences and phrases that, when heard aloud, just sound ridiculous.  “Bob flicked concerned eyes at me.”  Oh yeah?  And from just whose head did Bob pluck these concerned eyes out of?  And why on earth did he flick them at me? 

    These are just a few examples of the potential corrections a comprehensive reading offers a writer.   If it weren’t for several such sessions of my last story, I could have easily made the fatal mistake of sending a fault-riddled manuscript off to an agent, who would take one look at it and surely deem me unfit to write fiction. 

     I am both excited and reluctant to see what errors we find in An Evil Heart.   I’m learning that we humans, unfortunately, are flawed creatures by nature and we insert a little of that nature into everything we produce.  A comprehensive reading is a good way to spot and correct enough problems that by the time the story reaches the hands of an agent or editor, it is in acceptable and semi-professional condition.  The side effect to this, of course, is that by the end, you’ll be so tired of your own story that you’ll just want to kill every character in it call it a day.  But don’t.  It’s about that time that you know you’re getting close to being done. 

   And no, it will never be perfect. But it can be damned good… and given the right amount of attention to detail, you might even find an agent who agrees.