I’m a guest at the Novelists, Inc. blog today: Sometimes You Need Comics.
I have another “Fresh Meat” post up at The Criminal Element, this one on J.T. Ellison’s new novel, Where All the Dead Lie.
I was recently discussing a story-in-progress with someone. I ventured to hope that it didn’t suck. I was told there was no way it could suck, given excerpts she had seen.
Au contraire! There are degrees of suckitude. (That is a technical phrase which I have just invented.)
The Degree of Suckitude, or D-Suck, cannot be determined objectively. It is rather a subjective quality (suck-jective?) that varies depending on both internal and external factors. Internal factors are, for the most part, internal to the writer of the Sucky Story, though the reader’s state of mind might also cause a given story to Suck more violently than it would under other circumstances. External factors influencing D-Suck include rapidly-approaching deadlines, printer jams, and reviews of previous stories by the same author.
For example, the story I mentioned above. It was in progress as one type of story. Then I needed to change it to another type of story. While I was in the process of doing so, perfectly adequate draft scenes were suddenly no longer suited to their original purpose, so their D-Suck skyrocketed, exacerbated by internal factors including “why didn’t I leave it the way it was?!” Thus, when a new, cobbled together draft was completed, I still felt that the story Sucked. The draft was Done (and Done is Good) but at the same time, like Schrödinger’s cat, it was Sucky. Or might have been.
Hey, it all makes perfect sense to me.
Via Spitalfields Nippers as photographed by Horace Warner.
Via Spitalfields Nippers as photographed by Horace Warner.
I took these examples of revisions from a story I’m still working on. The first version is dated August 15, 2010. The second version is dated February 26, 2011. Between those two versions, I began changing this piece from a novel to a much shorter story, though that probably won’t be evident in these small examples. What will show is how, as I read over my previous work, I often make small edits along the way, before I start on a new section. Sometimes I’m barely conscious I’m making these changes, but they’re very close to changes I make deliberately, usually working from a printed copy of the manuscript.
Tanneken Claes stabbed the German guard deep in the heart. Her strike was clean; he made a choked sound and collapsed forward, his helmet sliding from his head and his rifle from his hands.
Tanneken Claes stabbed the Boche guard deep in the heart. Her strike was clean; he made a choked sound and collapsed, his spiked helmet sliding from his head and his rifle from his hands. Blood bloomed on his gray uniform.
I removed forward because it weakened the verb collapsed. I changed German to Boche because the latter is more in character, and is a cue to the time period. I added spiked as an additional historical detail. I added a sentence to change the paragraph’s rhythm as well as indicate that the uniform is gray, another historical detail.
Two men sat at the table. The elderly bearded one froze with his hand in the air, a rook dangling from his fingers. “Who are you?” He had the sense to speak quietly. From his shabby wool suit, she guessed him to be the town’s schoolmaster.
Two men sat at the table. The old bearded one froze with a rook dangling from his gnarled fingers. “Who are you?”
He had the sense to speak quietly. From his shabby wool suit, she guessed him to be the town’s schoolmaster. It was his misfortune that respectable persons such as he were most often taken hostage by the Boche, to ensure the good behavior of their towns.
I split this paragraph into two, to emphasize the line of dialogue and set it apart from its sequel, which is Tanneken’s thoughts upon the old man. I added a sentence to provide additional historical information. I also tightened the second sentence, removing a clause that weakened it, changing a word to better fit the pov character’s voice, and added an additional indicator of the man’s age.
These examples demonstrate two of my most frequent revision issues. When drafting, especially when I’m writing very fast, my sentences tend to ramble more. A little thought can usually tighten or clarify a great deal of what I’ve already got down. And when I’m writing historical or fantastical worlds, or for that matter any genre, I’m always looking for opportunities to unobtrusively slip in more relevant, distinctive detail that will make the story richer.
To a Soldier in Hospital
Courage came to you with your boyhood’s grace
Of ardent life and limb.
Each day new dangers steeled you to the test,
To ride, to climb, to swim.
Your hot blood taught you carelessness of death
With every breath.
So when you went to play another game
You could not but be brave:
An Empire’s team, a rougher football field,
The end—perhaps your grave.
What matter? On the winning of a goal
You staked your soul.
Yes, you wore courage as you wore your youth
With carelessness and joy.
But in what Spartan school of discipline
Did you get patience, boy?
How did you learn to bear this long-drawn pain
And not complain?
Restless with throbbing hopes, with thwarted aims,
Impulsive as a colt,
How do you lie here month by weary month
Helpless, and not revolt?
What joy can these monotonous days afford
Here in a ward?
Yet you are merry as the birds in spring,
Or feign the gaiety,
Lest those who dress and tend your wound each day
Should guess the agony.
Lest they should suffer—this the only fear
You let draw near.
Greybeard philosophy has sought in books
And argument this truth,
That man is greater than his pain, but you
Have learnt it in your youth.
You know the wisdom taught by Calvary
Death would have found you brave, but braver still
You face each lagging day,
A merry Stoic, patient, chivalrous,
Divinely kind and gay.
You bear your knowledge lightly, graduate
Of unkind Fate.
Careless philosopher, the first to laugh,
The latest to complain,
Unmindful that you teach, you taught me this
In your long fight with pain:
Since God made man so good—here stands my creed—
God’s good indeed.
–Winifred M. Letts
On my recent overnight trip to New York City, it turned out that one of my tourist desires matched up with the places I needed to go, so I stayed at The Jane Hotel.
“Completed in 1908, the American Seaman’s Friend Society Sailors’ Home and Institute was designed by William A. Boring, the architect renowned for Ellis Island’s immigrant station. Originally built as a hotel for sailors with cabin-like rooms, the landmarked hotel was lovingly restored on its centennial in 2008.
In 1912, the survivors of the Titanic stayed at the hotel until the end of the American Inquiry into the ship’s sinking. The surviving crew held a memorial service at the hotel four days after the ship sank.”
Besides the general coolness, I also wanted to stay there because of The Duke and The Pirate Queen…after all my research into ships, it just seemed appropriate!
I had one of the very tiny “cabin” rooms. It’s a good thing I’m not taller, or the bunk would have been too short! Though the bathrooms are shared for those rooms, the fixtures were exceptional, especially the shower, and I didn’t have to wait at all for my turn.
The bunk had two drawers and an open space beneath it; a rod with brass hooks hung on each wall, so it was easy to hang up clothes in the narrow space; there were also brass hooks on the back of the door. An old-fashioned (only in design) fan was attached to the wall, near the ceiling, and the air conditioner was concealed behind a carved wooden screen. All of the wallpaper and colors had a turn-of-the-century feel, and a support post was wrapped in rope, presumably to add nautical flair.