Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ropes Course Metaphor

So yesterday I was sort of snarky. I considered being less snarky today, but it seems to have fallen out of my range to be nice. Maybe I am channeling characters, or maybe I have become chronically annoyed with my newly needy family, who normally leave me the heck alone evenings, but since the advent of June, just as I jump into BuNoWriMo suddenly need to be taken to this store, have that thing purchased. My daughter wanted to make cookies last night for her forum (that's like home room, and they rotate for snack) and I said (I'm quoting here), “Only if you can do it all alone and clean up after yourself.”

You can imagine how that turned out. Forty-five minutes of my daughter and husband arguing because she had one question and his anal retentive nature then had to direct the process (noisy and annoying)... THEN, do you know what cleaning up consisted of? Putting everything in the damn sink. So my snarky self apologizes that I am taking it out on fellow authors, which I seem to be.

HOWEVER, todays blog isn't MEANT to be snarky. I am learning some serious lessons. Sadly, it is at another author's expense. And HERE I reach my metaphor (not even terribly strained!)


Ropes Course

Have you ever been to CAMP? Or a training seminar? Or a TEAM BUILDING exercise? Psychologists and government employees are frequently subjected to these things, but I feel like reaching back to Camp in High School is more instructive. What I need you to remember or imagine is being in line for a ropes course or an obstacle course.  There are pitfalls, or ways to fail... but there is also a chance to succeed.

The person in front of you GOES, and they go EXACTLY where you were planning on going. And they end up falling in the mud, stung with nettles, stung by a bee and eating ants for survival... or some similar set of tragedies. YOU my friend, now know that the way that looked so promising is full of TRAPS. YOU don't want to go that way. Oh, sure, the other way makes you conquer a fear of heights, use strength you weren't sure you had, and crawl in the dirt a little, but YOU have no lasting wounds. You also have an advantage the guy before you DIDN'T. You got to watch him mess up.


My Current Read

I am reading a mystery/thriller that has a pretty darned good underlying story. Maybe it is TOO GOOD... TOO tempting... I say that because SEVERAL of the underlying things going on are things I have USED/Considered... I think, on reading them in someone elses published book, they are too obvious... It doesn't help that the execution isn't as strong as it needs to be—the wording is more conversational than 'book', the characters are under-developed. But I SWEAR to you I can see the promise!



This poor author needed an editor who really knew the genre to pick the tale apart. But it is to my advantage.


HOW?

Because I am SEEING the traps I might have fallen into, had some agent fallen in love with my great story. Let me describe them...

1)  Too Easy: The MC has witnessed something sketchy... he's not even sure WHAT, but his best friend was involved and is now missing. He goes to the police who don't listen. (no problem so far). But THEN, he immediately finds a cop who gives him the name of a man who gives him a book... WAY too easy. (this was one of my critiques on Legacy--add a few more obstacles)  Oh, sure, he does some mopey stuff in between, but really nothing fails... he doesn't have to proactively do much...  This conversation tells him this, that venture shows him that... SCREW UP, DUDE!

What I would have done was have 'nice cop' warn him away. MC goes to where it happens and tries breaking in to look into it HIMSELF. Nice cop FINDS HIM, sees he ISN'T letting it go and THEN gives him the name. It adds an iteration of trouble, and it give the cop a REASON to give him the info (that is bigger than just seeing he's asked a couple questions—cop could logically think 'well if he won't drop it, maybe I'll give him a hand' but this doesn't WORK for a protective cop without that 'he's gunna do it anyway'.)

2)  Cliches: I really DIG secret cults that are going too far... that get caught up in themselves... Hell, CONFLUENCE features one (sort of), but THIS one, is both too cliched and too general. And the BOOK—a book with hints or answers-- I LOVE that on paper—I totally would have done it if I'd thought of it, but on the page, it was a let down... a book with some answers is just... I'm not sure... maybe if he'd had to rescue some RUMORED book from somewhere—or better yet the hidden case files from a similar case years earlier...

I just feel like a good editor would have gone through and pointed out a dozen places where things needed to be harder or more complex or less cliched, and THEN this could have been not just a 'fairly interesting' book but a really GREAT book.--Oh, sure, the female characters seem underdeveloped, and the emotions fall a little flat, but the MC is okay, and thrillers don't take their energy from character—they take it from plot.


Now this book was published at a small, regional press—they probably don't have the BUDGET for expert editors in many different genres--I mean the GRAMMAR is fine, there are no TYPOS--the LINE editing was FINE... it is the big picture editor who needed to step in. But I think if I can spot all these holes, a peer published author CERTAINLY could. I can actually HEAR Elizabeth Spann Craig as I'm reading, “so how would I add more tension to this scene?” So even with my lack of success, I feel like I could give a helpful peer reading.


Lesson One Farther

The OTHER thing this makes me realize (which oddly enough gives me some compassion for Stephenie Meyer, who I lambasted yesterday) is once a book is OUT there, it is OUT THERE--too late to improve it. And you will be judged by it. If a version of your book makes it, people will think THAT is your skill level. Do you want to be judged by a cleaned up second draft? Or do you want a dozen eyes to give you serious critiques, perform a couple rewrites, get a couple more critiques, polish and THEN get a book out there that people say, “WOW, this author can WRITE!”

I think high concept stories may suffer from under-editing. I think self-publishing suffers from under editing even without being high concept. I'm not saying DON'T DO IT. I'm not saying there aren't great books that get published this way. I'm just saying A LOT of books that get out there that way will eventually embarrass any writer who wants to be taken seriously because we HAVE TO believe in ourselves.


I am debating writing to this author... telling him the book was PRETTY GOOD, but that I felt it was under-edited, and does he have anyone he is working with on later books. I'm not sure how he'd feel about that. I'm not sure how I'd feel about it if it were me. But when the potential shines through, but the publisher clearly isn't covering there end... isn't it a FAVOR? I'm just not sure.

And because I know you care... BuNoWriMo update:  Tart is at 6036 words... pretty pictures on Saturday!

18 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Is this his first book? He *should* already know he's got some issues...if he's written more books. This *isn't* the kind of book he needs to rest on his laurels about, clearly--hope he's continuing to work on his writing.

It sounds an awful lot like a book I read last year about a cult that went too far. And *that* book, after having a fantastic start, got very boring about midway through and never recovered.

Watery Tart said...

I think it IS the first--it looks like there is a second--no clue how many there are AFTER that that just aren't out yet. It was just fairly surreal to watch him fall into pits I had considered and realize that while there was something appealing to the idea, care had to be taken to keep it fresh, and that no matter HOW great the idea, execution was still necessary to make it RIGHT.

I am about 60% through and it hasn't gotten WORSE. In fact I hope it surprises me, as all the problems so far REALLY feel like an editor (someone other that his own eyes) REALLY should have caught them, because they are all new author mistakes.

Jan Morrison said...

oh that is my fear - manuscripts that needed an editor and for some reason didn't get one or one with...ahem...balls enough to get the writer to straighten it up. I'm afeared it is one more thing we'll have to make sure of ourselves if we want our books to be the best they can be. I usually note the publisher and avoid.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Never been to one of those camps - thank God!

And I think the author would appreciate your thoughts.

Watery Tart said...

Jan-I think the key is LOTS of early readers--the variety willing to be honest with us. I think you may be right about it falling to us.

Alex--the camps are actually really fun! I will have to see if I can draft a letter that is encouraging, but gets across I think the book could have been seriously improved with a few more sets of eyes...

Sugar said...

first *sticks tongue out at miss tartikens* (for the word count) way to go! I'm only at 2000.. It seems I die at exactly 1000 every time..idk..the weekend is coming..I hope to catch up then...
I am scared now..I may have to be edited so much, I'll end up with a short story!

Deb and Barbara said...

Man, did I relate to this post (in every way -- dirty dishes, catching problems in other work, and letting those guide you for your own). Awesome!

I'm writing a screenplay at the moment that my (almost 20 year old) daughter was proofing. It has some (to my mind) great and gutsy elements. She was loving it, but she also made me see when a scene I wrote was too "easy". And those scenes were generally too easy because as I was writing, I knew I was getting to another really juicy part, so I didn't feel the pressure to make things harder right then. This lesson reminded me that for the reader (audience), they don't know they're going to hit dramatic pay-dirt in a bit, they need it to be there every step of the way.

Her help was amazing -- but she still doesn't do dishes without a lot of coaxing...

Good luck in the writing, Barbara

Watery Tart said...

Sugar--ALL writing has to be super edited! Don't let that scare you! And you can do it--1000 words a day isn't a bad pace, especially if you can do more on the weekends... think of it this way--1000 words a day is STILL 30K words at the end of the month--that is half to 1/3 of a BOOK and a book in 2-3 months is FABULOUS. So keep working at it, keep trying to hit goal... but know your pace is nothing to snarf at!

Barbara-that is an EXCELLENT observation! It could very well be how that happens. As a READER it feels like 'well the MC need this now, how should I do it?' and a taking of the easiest solution, but I can totally see how adrenaline can make you want to skip ahead. I have a rewrite on my agenda and one of my plans is to mix up scenes, so hopefully it will catch things like that!

*giggles about daughters and dishes*

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I did an obstacle course like that, kinda, and I was generally the one who found the wrong way to go but they were super fun so the metaphor (although I see it) gets lost on me cause I had crazy fun finding the wrong way. o.O
I do, however, relate to the reading. I have read a few things where I was like hmm, scratches head, where was the editor? How did this slip through? I chalked it up to how often I am a beta and over think stuff, like I am always in critique phase (making BuNO hard). But I do think that sometimes an editor just lets it slide and once it's out there it's out there like you said and up for our scrutiny and praise. That has to be scary for some authors. Reading a review and thinking why didnt I catch that before printing.
Now I want to go on a rope course instead of doing work. (poorly timed)TRUST FALL!

Readers Dais said...

Hey! this blog teaches me a lot...thanks freind

Jan O'Hara (aka hope101) said...

Hart, love the new background! It's perky. If you're spiffing things up, can I make a suggestion that would help *my* eyes? I'd prefer not to have polka dots behind the text. I find it hard to read, especially since your font size is tiny in my browser.

Now, as for providing critique, I'll just ask one question: is that the best use of your time? I don't know. I'm just askin'. But a good part of your post was about being torn in several directions. IF it will help you - either in terms of understanding story structure, feeling like you've helped someone, whatever, then go for it. In reality, though, the writer might not be open to your suggestions and even respond defensively. I dunno. Your call.

As far as the wordage, awesome!

Watery Tart said...

Erica-in real life I actually get a kick out of going the wrong way, too... but I don't want it recorded for perpetuity so everyone ELSE can see I went the wrong way--ifyouknowwhatImean?!

Now turn off your inner editor and WRITE!

Readersdais--THANK YOU! Both for coming by and for saying you are learning something here--I can be a little crazy, but I DO try to usually have a point!

Sister Tart- Now I am questioning what this looks like on other browsers! For me, I have medium font and barely dots... but I KNOW different programs can wreak havok... I do have plans to reformat to the PERFECT space, but I have trouble FINDING good stuff--thus the perky side dots I stumbled across... But I don't want anyone not able to read, so I will start looking...

As for the critiquing... actually it helps me SKILL a ton--I don't mind doing peer reviews at all, as I get something to apply to my own writing every time... the second part though... approaching HIM with it... that issue I am much less clear on...

Talli Roland said...

I've never been to one of those camps - yikes! And something inside me rebels when I'm told to 'work in a team'! That's bad, isn't it?

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

I'd go for it, Tart. Write to the author. If it was me I'd be appreciative that some actually cared so much to help out!

Watery Tart said...

*giggles at Talli not playing well with others* I actually CAN enjoy the team stuff, but it depends what it is... usually I want to be the boss. The camp challenge stuff though, is pretty fun.

Jessica--Okay... put on your BOYBRAIN. NOW what do you think? I am going to wait until I'm done I think--if he ends strong and it really COULD have been significantly improved by what I've seen so far, I will write--if there is even more wrong, I don't think I want to be that harsh.

Helena Soister said...

Sometimes it doesn't matter if a book is put out by a major NY publisher, because it still might be poorly edited. A friend recently complained to me about a serious literary novel that was also a bestseller; she said it was poorly edited, and when I read a few online reviews of it, those readers too had the same opinion. And I've read complaints by big time editors that they're not allowed the time to seriously edit. Kinda scary -- we writers might be more on our own than we realize. So we have to get serious, critical readings from friends and others long before publication? Maybe that's the solution.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Here's the rub on self-editing--no matter how good we are at seeing the mistakes in another author's book, it is often difficult to see them in our own. If a writer plans to submit to a small publishing house that only provides a copy editor, then he would do well to pony up the bucks to hire a good content editor before submitting. Even a detailed critique from another writer is better than no editing at all.

Watery Tart said...

Helena--I second you on asking peer readers to look really closely. I think deadlines make people overlook a LOT.

Patricia-It's REALLY true! Our own work is too familiar and we see what we know SHOULD be there instead of what IS there.