TEARS OF BLOOD:
Or How I Learned to Take It Like a Man
Whelp, I finally got my first draft edits back for book two of my Sleeping Legion Series and it wasn’t pretty. My novel came out at just under 90,000 words and was accompanied by 27 pages of edits and critiques. Yes, and Tim C. Taylor even wrote the edits in red ink. It looked like my manuscript was bleeding profusely from wounds sustained defending the old fortress. I guess my characters, the ones I’ve joyously tortured along the way, have finally gotten their revenge, or I’ve gotten my comeuppance. It made me a might bit sad, even though I knew it was coming after we made a last minute decision to cut the plot in half and turn what was a footnote skirmish into the battle it deserved.
The decision to split book two in half, in large part due to the grand scope of my outline, caused change that rippled throughout the novel. Because we knew this would be an issue, we decided to simply finish it and fix it with the first round of editing. I mention that to illustrate that I KNEW my editor and mentor Tim C. Taylor was going to punch me in the nose (metaphorically speaking) and even then it still hurt. I died a little inside, but then I remembered that Uncle Sam removed my last feeling at Fort Benning’s School for Wayward Boys. The Army might call it the Infantry School, but those of us in the know, well……
Now, to understand how the book went off the rails… let me tell you the story. Once upon a midnight dreary… wait, wrong story. Okay, so I was deep into the plot for book two and proudly sent BossMan a copy of my outline so he could see where the series was going. When he looked at the outline, he caught that what I did the book would be too big, Tolkien-esq in proportion. I have that problem; I tend to write to much and it has to be cut into multiple books. My first book ended up getting split into a prequel novella and a novel. With that in mind, it was determined to split it in half and focus book 2 purely on one aspect of the plot and end it there. The other parts of the book, as outlined, would become book 3. This meant that I would need to make some radical changes to the plot arc and bulk out parts that had been relatively minor. Add in other bits to keep them alive and see the book with tidbits that would be key later. Foreshadowing my plans going forward, even if some of it wasn’t important to the reader now. We made the decision to fix all of that in the first round of edits, rather than get bogged down which meant that the end result was me crying tears of blood when I saw all the red on my first draft.
One of the biggest effects of my military training on my writing is my use of sand tables. With the eight years I spent in the Army, especially the time I spent in the infantry as a sergeant and team leader, I plan my battles as if they were real. This means I have an outside source prep the map of the terrain (The Mom) and I react to it in as tactical of a fashion as I think is appropriate. Keep in mind, I was an infantry sergeant and this does NOT make me an expert tactician and general. If you think it does, reference the errors of 2nd Lieutenant Napoleon and later Corporal Hitler, who rose above their skillset and it ultimately cost them. (I know some will quibble about my comments on these two, but for the sake of brevity lets acknowledge that there is SOME truth to it and move forward with my main point). I don’t want to repeat those mistakes, so I DO consult veterans and friends who were sergeant majors and senior NCOs at the upper echelons of the Army chain of command. The end result of this method is that sometimes my battle scenes seem more like a report to my boss then literary entertainment this makes them sometimes dry and boring, and I have to go back into the human interest piece I might not always list how John felt when Joey died, but I can always tell you what you did for where in the particulars of their military endeavors. I hope to improve this method of describing battles, so more of it is done in the first draft. Basically, if the reader never cares that Johnny died and I felt as a writer.
Another related aspect to my style of describing battles, is that I tend to have too many characters. I like to tell about it from both sides so I often jump back and forth between points of view strategically taking them from all areas of the battlefield so you get the whole scope of the larger battle. Ultimately, my editor believes this is too hard for reader to follow and it makes it hard for them to know who care about. I don’t know how to fix this in the first draft, what I end up doing is combining viewpoints in the rewrite. I will still have more characters than many writers, but when you write military sci-fi on a grand scale how else would it, could it be? Ultimately since my first novel is with the final beta readers, it will come down to what the audience likes and can handle. Unlike some, I never want to assume my reader is too stupid to follow. Often, I will assume that if they don’t understand the failing is mine and adjust accordingly rather than dumb down the idea. Again ultimately I need to make the reader care and if I don’t I failed as a writer.
Yet another critique from this review, was more general. Seems I have what are known as writer’s tics. These are habits that I repeat over and over again, such as overusing the word and or having characters nodding to each other during dialog. An further example of this involve my repetitive use of the same sentence structure. While I will try to improve on this, to become a better writer overall, I am not sure that I would be able to. As I’ve mentioned before, I suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during my time in Iraq. One too many IED’s, and then my luck ran out. Realistically, my brain injury gets in the way of a lot. I rely heavily on my two first-line editors before my book even makes it to BossMan. First, my wife makes sure I use the word I meant to use and explain things more clearly when I am confusing. Then my mother edits the horrible grammar, partly a product of a public school system that cannot teach it, and tries to catch anything my wife missed. We then send things to BossMan for his final edit, and hope that he understands my issues. I’m hesitant to say ‘disability’ because I have my pride, but there it is. In summary, at least for this topic, all I can say is “God Bless Editors!”
As a consequence of splitting the book the way I did, was that I had several plot holes. Consistency issues, character mismatches and the like. Because of my memory issues, related to my TBI, I depend on my outlines. I keep it outlined in my story Bible, where I update each character with what they are doing — basically list their life story. When I forget, I can refer to this to help me out. Maybe someday these detailed notes will be published for everyone else to enjoy as well. I am sure this get better, given that I will go back to more detailed outlines in the future. I’ll even start including character arcs as part of that outline, instead of strictly a timeline of events.
One slightly more confusing critique of book 2, was that the author felt I had too many ‘logic bombs’ in my text. If you googled this term, you will find definitions of it in relation to coding in computers. However, my editor was using it to say that the plot holes in inconsistency issues will ultimately blow up in my face at the end of the book. The faulty logic blowing up, hence the bomb analogy.
The last critique of my text, one most writers fall prey to, is the ‘Curse of Knowledge.’ Sometimes you write things as inevitable because you know how they will end. This makes for a very dull story, sadly. I tend to do this a lot, and then fix it during edits. Rewriting can be a pain in my gluteus maximus but it helps save me from myself. I also use the infamous critique partners to help me with this issue. This is hard for me to use right now, since I am writing in someone else’s universe with nondisclosure agreements and the like, but I plan on taking full advantage of this when I start my own series. In the meantime, I keep everything in-house.
I hope you enjoyed me showing you how the sausage was made and think no less of me for it. Please give me your thoughts on this process. How you do you avoid pitfalls. To be honest, I almost didn’t write this. I am no expert on writing as a craft, I just do what comes naturally. It is why my blog doesn’t focus on just writing tips like so many other authors, because I’m not qualified to give that advice. I can help people develop military cultures, talk tactics and generally nerd out with them but don’t ask me about commas and colons and the like.
Until Next Time,
PS: I wrote this post with my Dragon Pro software, so I’m making slow progress on that goal!!
–> All images came from Google’s list of imagery which is labeled for reuse.