Some while back I said that I’d finished my next book, Very Truly Run After…and then I sent it off to Julie and discovered that I hadn’t.
Most authors have first readers. My process is a little different. As I’m writing the book, I read the new material to my wife Jane and my friend Ian. Reading it aloud is immensely helpful: prose that doesn’t flow sticks out and begs to be repaired, and anything that simply doesn’t work gets caught pretty quickly. But on the other hand, that means that Jane and Ian hear the story over a long period of time, and they aren’t likely to catch problems that are evident during a more normal reading.
By the time I finish the first draft I’ve got a list of small things to fix; and so I go back over the whole thing, fixing the problems and checking for typos, continuity errors, and bad phrasing. And then I’m “done”: I’ve done everything I know to do. And that’s when I send it off to Julie.
And then Julie started diffidently asking me questions. What about this? And that? I didn’t buy this part of it. And that second act drags something awful. Oh, and I liked this and this and this.
There are two ways to respond to this kind of criticism: you can get your knickers in a twist, or (if you trust the critic) you can set out to improve the book and deal with the problems. Now me, I’m a software engineer by profession. I expect feedback on my software. I expect users to tell me what works and what doesn’t work. I expect the testers to do their darnedest to break things. I don’t simply expect it; I rely on it.
So I took Julie’s feedback, and I looked things over, and gosh, she was right. All through the second act, whenever there was an opportunity to amp up the tension I preemptively figured out why everything was going to be OK, and put that in the text. To put it another way, as the plot unfolded I was more or less inserting big flashing neon signs saying, “Nothing to see here! Carry on with your reading, nothing bad is going to happen!” Because, you know, I like my characters, and hate to see them abused. Which might be charitable on my part, but doesn’t make for a good story.
So I’ve spent another two months making things better; and now I’m waiting to see how I did. I can’t wait to learn how it all comes out.
photo credit: By Gleeson, Joseph M. (Joseph Michael), (1861- )? [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons