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July 2014

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Continuity Pass

I should never promise anything "tomorrow." Most of the time, the universe conspires with itself to make a liar of me...as it did this time.

Anyway. I have just completed the second pass through Ten Gentle Opportunities. It's what I call a "continuity pass." The goal is to ensure that the story makes reasonable sense, taking particular care to repair "plot holes." It's not really a polish pass. In a very real sense it's a tech edit, like those I used to do on magazine articles and still do on book-related material from time to time. Here are some of the things I watch for, and fix when found:

  • People, things, or ideas introduced early in the story but never mentioned again. We all know that stories grow in the telling--but they also contract, and in doing so early elements sometimes get squeezed out. This is especially important in stories (like this one) that took a long, long time to tell.
  • Things introduced later in the story that are not "foreshadowed" and thus may strike the reader as a complete surprise, or (worse) deus ex machina.
  • "Jumps" in a character's emotional state. Growth and change are important in characterization, and have to be done out where the reader can watch them happen. If a character changes too abruptly, or off where the change can't be seen, it sounds hokey.
  • General inconsistencies in the ways people and things are treated early on in the story vs. later in the story.
  • Finally, to make sure that all the made-up words are spelled the same way throughout. (This isn't trivial when the story contains proper names like Ttrynngbrokklynnygyggug and Jrikkjroggmugg.) I originally coined a lot of proper names from Stypek's universe that had no vowels in them at all, but in workshopping chapters I found that nobody thought this was amusing but me. (Maybe I was a little too impressed with the famous 90's gag about Clinton air-dropping vowels on Bosnia.) I went back and added just enough vowels to suggest a pronunciation.

There is still polishing to be done, and here and there some stiff rewriting. I simply don’t like Chapter 57, for example. I intend to rewrite it from scratch once I get a little emotional distance from the story. As it’s only 1200 words, the rewriting won’t take long. The rest of the polishing to be done involves watching for “echoes” (words used more than once a little too close in the manuscript) and probably eliminating some adverbs, though I think the current campaign against adverbs is a deranged fetish perpetrated mostly by bad writers and people who teach writing without writing much of anything themselves. Polishing is a separate pass and my next challenge. Much of the first half of the book has already been polished (I’m a compulsive polisher) so the pass won’t take long.

I've sent the story to my beta testers, and now I'm waiting to get some reactions. In the meantime there's a root canal in my future this Wednesday morning. It's nothing I haven't known about for some time, and I've been through enough of them to have a reasonable idea what I'm in for. One peculiarity of my biochemistry is that the nitrous oxide gas used as a calming agent by some oral surgeons simply doesn't work for me. The surgeon doing the procedure has an office with an interesting gimmick: flat-panel TV sets in the ceiling, so that while he's drilling out your molar you can lean back and watch Raiders of the Lost Ark. As for the inevitable anxiety in the runup to a root canal, I suspect that ativan steps in where nitrous fails. We'll find out on Wednesday.

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