davidbeem

A Novel Bucket List

In Abyss of Chaos, books, On Writing on March 16, 2011 at 12:13 pm

There are easily a hundred things to do to in the manuscript before Abyss of Chaos is ready for public consumption, and just when that number gets chopped down to something more manageable, there will be a hundred more that spring back up.  I’m talking, of course, about my novel bucket list: things to do before it’s out of my hands forever.

My bucket list can be broken down into the two realms inhabited by the copy editors and the content editors.  For the independent author, these two things alone can break the bank.  Hiring a good copy editor to scour your manuscript means a bit more than assuring your i’s are dotted and your t’s crossed.  Grammar doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  The talented copy editor comes to work and does what God does.  He/she finds rows upon rows of Frankenstein-esque sentences, then reanimates them into beautiful elegant, living creatures.  (Imagine what that sort of service is worth financially and you’ll get an idea of why this can potentially break the bank.)

Content editors, on the other hand, does what your mother does.  She scours your manuscript with an eye towards pointing out what an idiot you are.  (OK, OK, OK.  That’s not really the motivation…)  In large publishing houses, there are several editors behind an author, all working to make sure that, not only is the data right, but it is also mined to its fullest potential.  While all error ultimately falls on the author’s shoulders, the content editors are there to help ensure the novel isn’t crushed under the magnitude of that weight also.  Just like ol’ ma, the content editor wants to see the novel off into the world armed and ready to face its cruel challenges.

My novel bucket list includes dozens upon dozens of items that would fall under the purview of each type of editor.  When I find something grammatically challenged, my first instinct isn’t to go for beauty as much as functionality.  A second pass may impart the wax and shine.  Self content editing is more stressful.  You can’t possibly be an expert on everything you’re writing about.  Instead, you try not to break the contract of suspension of disbelief with the reader by answering the implausible points before they think to ask.  The standard comic book tool for this is radioactivity and/or gamma rays — those magical rays that give every superhero powers, and are impossible to reproduce.  We figure, “Oh, he has the power of the spider because he was bitten by a radioactive spider.  I’m glad Stan Lee included that part, because I was all set to reject this out of hand.”  Finding that fine line of plausibility can be tricky, but not terribly worrisome.  After all, you’ve already identified the issue in that component of your novel just by thinking along those lines.  The stuff that really keeps you up late is the obvious stuff you may have missed.  So you review, and you review, and you review some more.  Then you set it aside for a time until you can’t take it anymore, pick it up and review.

The novel bucket list breathes in tandem with its creator.  It grows and shrinks in size.  In infancy, the novel bucket list should never be looked at directly in the eyes.  It’s too huge; you will despair.  Far better to sneak up on it when it isn’t looking.  Gradually, the size of that list diminishes into more manageable jobs, but it’s never entirely gone and the shrinkage is never in one direction.  Give it time, and it will grow again.  You’re never done with it.  Until you say are, at which point you pretty much kick it to the curb and call, “For sale!”

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