I’m trapped in revisions. Help! Because… there’s unnecessary characters. Lots of them. Supernumeraries on every page. Each sentence, even.

That’s the problem with craft books. Yeah, I’m going to blame it on the people trying to help me. I start reading their books, and blammo, I find something else that needs fixin’. This time, I’m going through the pre-planning plot structure and Miss 10 K (Rachel Aaron. I’m very impressed by her, actually) says, and I paraphrase, “consider whether a character is necessary for the story. If you remove a character, will the outcome be the same? Different? Are they necessary?”

This guy is totally necessary for the story, otherwise, there’s no conflict when you go to bed. You ARE going to go to bed, yes? Don’t look, I hear he gets annoyed by bright lights and he has sharp teeth.

STOP READING CRAFT BOOKS, you say. As if your screen can hear you. Harrumph. But the point is that what’s read can’t be unread, although I can certainly forget most of the important things by the next time I’m writing, which might be in fifteen minutes. In this case, I got to thinking, like you do. What are my characters? I have 9 marines, 3 navy guys, 4 cops, and a bunch of other people they run into. And sometimes herding the 12 people around from scene to scene is unwieldy.

The characters necessary for the story are the fireteam, which is only four of the marines. Those other guys… I might just do some revisions where they don’t make it past the crash. But that’s a substantial re-write, and all the subsequent scenes would need a lot of editing, and we’re lookin’ at hours of time. If I’m typing 1500 words per hour, that’s like 4500 words I won’t be typing while I dinker around with removing 3-5 characters with a little writer scalpel.

However, if you’re reading this magnificent thing in the future, and you notice guys dying off at about word 31900…

Yeah, I’ll prime directive you with my photon torpedos

Let’s just say stuff happens. You gotta get rid of all these extras clogging the scenes, demanding arcs, demanding lines, cracking wisely, and hogging the limelight.

This is how a limelight works. You were wondering, now you know. A little O2, a little H, and throw in some Calcium Oxide, and boom, you have a limelight. Now, I gotta rant for a moment. I type in a search for “limelight” in Google Images, and a few pages down, there’s a poster for “Twerk Thursdays,”and some gal’s butt, which presumably is twerking on Thursdays or something. *blink* The print on the poster says something about limelight, so that’s why it’s there, but it seems a pretty loose connection. Everyone else has images of limes with lights. Why, Google, Why??

Do I cut, or run? Yes, yes, I hear you. Write the new stuff. Don’t cut anyone if you don’t have to. Enough with the revisions, already, get to work.

Author’s Dilemma: Revise or Publish?

A.G. Moye over at Lightning Books discussed whether to push through on the four (!) different manuscripts he has in progress, or to go back to the shiny allure of polishing already published manuscripts.

The problem with the revisions is that it does not significantly improve your bottom line of book sales. It is compelling but unnecessary. Do painters touch up old paintings constantly? Some do, I imagine, but once it’s out there, that’s it. They don’t drive to the home of the owner and ask to fix the nose of the subject in the painting.  [n.b. the number of paintings where they discover another painting beneath the first, a recycling of the painting canvas. So scrapping an old work for a new one is not unheard of. This is where our simile departs from sense.]

If you’ve got four stories burning, or even one, you’re better off finishing your works in progress and obtaining the marketing push from having multiple products selling for you, than from polishing earlier works.

Your marketing leverage comes from readers who have already read your previous works and will purchase your new works. Some readers will read your previous works and choose not to read subsequent works. You cannot improve their experience or get them back by fixing your previously published manuscripts, you can only try to attract them to newly published manuscripts.

As a reader, I forgive an author a lot of mistakes if tell a great story. However, I cannot buy books they haven’t published. It’s nice that previous books I have already purchased will now be improved, but I’m not rereading them for a few years, if that. Give me another book to buy, if I like your voice, or better yet hook me with a series.

I appreciate editions where authors fix their comma splices and run ons and passive voice and tyops, and feel free to tell me about it at the beginning of your book so I know that you did this nice thing for me to make your work better. That’s worth an extra star if your work is seamless. But save those revisions for downtime, and understand that it may affect future sales, but it will not affect past sales and what they think of your writing.

If readers do the work for you, great, utilize them.  There are people who find it compulsory to fix problems, and I’m one of them. I highlight books as I go through them on my Kindle if I see obvious errors, and I’ll send them to the author as a courtesy. It’s the author’s prerogative to act on that or say, “sodoff Baldrick” and that’s that.  If a book was published more than six months before and typos still abound, that gets a downgrade in my opinion because surely someone has read it and commented on the typos, and if so, the author doesn’t care enough to update their manuscript to make simple corrections. This is purely based on perception! It’s tough for you as a writer to fix every little thing, but fixing outright errors must be done. Ultimately, your book is your business suit. How it looks tells me volumes about you.)

fromoldbooks.com –                     Some guy named Charles Dickens. I’ll bet he never polished his old works. He got paid by the word. It’s a good gig if you can get it.

So, yes, polish a little to fix the glaring stuff; that’s professionalism. Reworking plot points and rewriting? It won’t gain you sales from your existing readership, but may gain you sales for future readers who tackle the book.

Infodumps and your personal opinions

I’m finding that I like to go back and do revisions on a piece as I go, rather than waiting for the End.

I look for tense problems, awkward working, MRUs, conversation that seems stilted or out of place, observations that do not contribute to flow of the narrative, infodumps (even microdumps) and the dreaded author’s opinion peeking out.

Using the cell phone standard which Dave Koster kindly tossed out at On Writing Dragons http://onwritingdragons.com/2015/01/29/thinking-about-the-information-dump-2/, the essence is that your reader needs to know only as much about the tech as an average ordinary person would know about, say, a cell phone.  We don’t know how they work, except you need a signal, there’s cell phone towers, and that’s about it.  Why explain more to your reader than necessary? An infodump or a pulpitdump both interrupt the narrative with non-flowing information or opinions which contribute zero to the process.

With that in mind, you wouldn’t write a story thus:

William looked at the phone in his hand. It’s amazing that this thing is a 4G phone and allows me to download so quickly! It was a difficult transition from 3G, but it’s really a great standard.

Yes, even in his thoughts, William is awkward. Some people think that way, but the average ordinary person might do this instead:

William looked at the phone in his hand. A text! He opened it. “I can’t wait to see you tonight, baby.”  This was unexpected. He didn’t know the picture or the name, but whoever she was, she was dynamite looking. Time to text back. “Where are we meeting?”  A moment later, the return chime signaled a response. “Who is this? William? I don’t no U. Don’t text me again.”

Raise your right hand and take the oath:

“I, state your name, solemnly swear I will not infodump if I can avoid it.  My text will only serve the purposes of the narrative. I will advance the narrative with only the information the reader needs. I will have my characters supply the information if I can, and it will not be awkward. So help me, God.”

You can put your hand down. Don’t you feel awesome?

Right, now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about your politics and religion.

If you’re writing fiction, I should not be able to tell who you voted for in the last election. No special reason, although I don’t care comes in pretty handy for it. Your characters should not be you, and they should be written fairly. It’s no fair to put in a strawman and belittle the other side through your fictitious characters.  And there’s a fantastic reason why.  (“Why, Pontius, why!” you chant.)

Here it is. It is a disservice to the reader. I am not reading an opinion piece, it’s fiction. If you write your character beautifully, I may connect emotionally and maybe I’ll agree with their sentiments. That’s the beauty of it.  If you’re writing the book Pol Pot Goes to Hogwarts, then make me see through Pol Pot’s eyes and understand that even though he’s a vicious mass-murdering muggle, he still had a reason and a drive to wipe out thousands of his countrymen and then attend the premier wizarding institution in Britain. It isn’t writing a character that is easy to agree with that makes you shine, it’s the characters that are disagreeable and nasty and mean and immoral and who aren’t you who show your talent.

You can use a character as a mouthpiece, but we’re going to call you on it if you do. It’ll take your writing down a few notches and add it to the slush pile of average to barely adequate writing.  The narrow-minded villagers with pitchforks, a.k.a. Amazon laymen reviewers, will also come for your work with torches and burn it and you.

The next time you write and you start to pontificate, shut up.  Write substantively, eliminate the pontification, the moralization, and the opinions.  The only opinions I want to hear is your characters, and that done honestly. If the politics of the world you show are so messed up, let me draw the conclusions for why through the thoughts, speech, and actions of your characters.  I’m not stupid, and I will do the work necessary to see the entire canvas you’re painting without you drawing on it in black paint saying “see this part? Their politics suck.”