Before and After

Here’s another short example of a first-round edit to a chapter hook — the bad before and mediocre after.

Here’s the before (128 words)

Frigg watched sparks fly from the hooves of the two goats—Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher—who hauled the cart through the sky. The skies rumbled like a rickety bridge beneath the wheels of Thor’s cart. At first, he was a speck in the sky no bigger than a distant bird. By the time she’d climbed down to the ground, Thor was overhead.

He circled the hilltop once, twice, leaning out over the rail as he peered down, and then guided the cart down to a bumpy landing. He stepped from the car, freed the goats from the traces so they could wander, and then in a booming voice said, “Why was the Gjallarhorn sounded? I see no army at the gates nor any trace of an enemy within miles.”

Matt Bishop, Dark Grows the Sun

What’s wrong with the above?

Nothing grabs you because:

  • Frigg is “watching” — inherently passive and boring.
  • The scene is about Frigg but the attention is on Thor.
  • Thor gets all the action, such as it is.

And here’s the after (107 words)

Frigg climbed down from Heimdall’s tower to greet the arriving Thor. The skies rumbled beneath the wheels of Thor’s cart as he circled above the hilltop, one hand raised in greeting. A pair of goats pulled his cart—Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher. Their shod hooves hammered sparks from the air.

Somber, Frigg raised her hand in reply. Thor wouldn’t know why he’d been summoned. He’d flown faster than the news had spread.

The hilltop boomed first beneath the cart as it landed and then again beneath Thor’s voice. “Why was the Gjallarhorn sounded? I see no army at the gates nor any trace of an enemy within miles.”

Matt Bishop, Dark Grows the Sun

What’s better about it?

  • Frigg is more active; she’s doing something
  • We’re more in her head — she’s somber, there’s an inkling as to why Thor is arriving…which the reader knows but Thor clearly doesn’t.
  • It’s a little shorter

What’s wrong with the revision?

  1. The second sentence is clunkier than Thor’s cart.
  2. It’s still more about Thor than it is about Frigg.
  3. I’ve basically just reorganized the existing text. The transitions from ‘graph to ‘graph feel stilted.
  4. I think I’m cramming too much into that first paragraph. The bit about the goats needs to go, maybe. Frigg knows their names, so that’s an infodump that could either wait till later or just never be provided. It’s not relevant to the scene.
  5. It’s still boring.

I suspect I’ll end up ditching the last two sentences of the first paragraph and/or rewriting the entire hook. Either way, I’ll let ye olde subconscious work on it for a bit.

8 Days Out

I have eight writing days until my deadline (the 19th). Yes, that math doesn’t work, but I typically don’t write on the days my wife works.

Eight days works out to roughly 30 hours of writing (assuming I hit my average hours writing per day). That’s not a lot (especially considering I dropped ~16 into one scene). I could probably scrape together another ~8 hours, but I can’t count on that.

The good news is that the work I’ve transitioned into is mostly “editing.” For me this means going through each chapter. Repeatedly. Here’s a short list of what I’m doing.

Revising chapter hooks

I make sure that the first sentence of each chapter begins with:

  • The POV character’s name
  • An active verb
  • A decent hook.

This can mean considerable rewriting…or not. Depends.

Tip: If your opening paragraph is passive / boring, skip down a couple paragraphs. That may be where the “action” starts. Put that bit at the beginning and either delete or splice in the original chapter beginning. Usually does the trick. But, it takes some work. In my case I often end up “killing my darlings” … which are almost always purple. Or just bad.

Revising chapter endings

Search “how to end chapters” and you’ll get a bunch of hits with advice on how to end chapters. Personally, I can’t keep all that advice in my head at once.

I just try to do two things:

  • Always end in the character’s POV
  • Have them doing/thinking/saying something cool (that relates to the plot, etc.).

Then I move on — which leaves me where I am now: going back and working out the kinks.

Tip: I also try to tie the closing words / concept / thought / action of one chapter into the opening of the chapter right after it. Doing so can help pull the reader through from one to the other. I’m pretty crap at this.

Multiple editing passes

DGtS happens over a nine day period & that’s how I’ve organized my Binder in Scrivener. Each day consists of multiple POV chapters.

In my first “editing” pass I stick to one POV per book-day. Example: Odin has 2 chapters during Day 5. I’ll edit his consecutively rather than go: Odin > Frigg > Loki > Odin. This helps me keep the POV voice consistent from chapter to chapter.

During my second pass, I will work consecutively through each chapter so I’d edit Odin > Frigg > Loki > Odin. In this pass I’m more focused on the chapters flowing smoothly from one to the other.

Throughout these passes I’m looking at words: Are these the best words? Which words can I remove? Can I use fewer words to say the same thing?

But I also try not to get too nit-picky b/c that’ll slow down the overall process. And my editor will do that. But the cleaner my copy, the better her edit.

Wait, what?

I’m also looking for inconsistencies, plot holes, opportunities to improve clarity, etc. .

Here’s an example. A bunch of rebels get captured in one of my early scenes…and are never referred to again. That makes no sense because in two later chapters Odin interrogates one rebel and then another.

So, I had to figure out a simple way of weaving in a reference to that first group of rebels. I can’t write a new scene b/c I don’t have time and it’d detract from what I’ve already written.

My solution: A two-ish line reference by Odin that essentially said “those bad guys were questioned but had no actionable info.”

Follow that thread

I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but there’s always a chance that when you change even a single line you have to fix everything else associated with that line. Just goes with the territory. I’ve chased quite a few already; hopefully won’t be too many more.

Overall, I’m confident I’ll hit my deadline. I’m at the point where more time won’t help…I’d just end up futzing with it. Gotta move forward!

Sixteen hours and counting

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been having trouble rewriting a scene with Frigg in Ifington. I’ve (mostly) figured out the geography & layout of the city and its environs — enough to write about it, at least.

Scene Goals

The bigger issue continues to be the scene’s goals. Frigg has two plot arcs in DGtS. The first deals with Hodr. The second deals with Baldr.

The goals of the scene, then are to:

  1. Transition smoothly to the 2nd arc.
  2. Make Frigg feel guilty about saving Baldr.
  3. Tie into what’s going on with Odin
  4. Worldbuild without forcing it and/or infodumping

So, pretty standard stuff. But in this case, for me, tough. So far, I’ve spent at least 16 hours working on this scene.

I’m working! No, really

That’s not all pure writing, of course. A lot of it is:

  1. Staring at the screen, thinking
  2. Jumping off on short research tangents — e.g., I had to give Frigg a matronymic that made sense. Another one is finding names for minor characters. Ordinarily I’d skip this step but I’m doing it now b/c I have to deliver the book to my editor in less than a month.
  3. Looking for new music to listen to
  4. Getting up & moving around
  5. Writing, rewriting, editing

Right now, the scene’s at ~2,400 words. Back in March 2019 this same scene was ~1,300 words long. None of those original words are in the current scene which is fine b/c the original scene was pretty craptastic. Here’s why:

  1. It was passive. Frigg was either listening to people give reports, or describing events from a distance. The original scene began with her literally flying over the city and describing what she saw. /yawn
  2. It didn’t advance/complicate the plot.

Fixin’ stuff

Here’s how I’m trying to fix these issues.

  1. Make Frigg active from the get go. In DGtS I’ve done a much better job of starting scenes in medias res but it’s still not second nature.
  2. Getting her active in the scene’s events. My next pass will focus on making this better. I’m trying to believably make her start feeling guilty about Baldr b/c it helps make what comes in later scenes more impactful. That’s my working theory, at least.
  3. Advance the plot: Still weak here. Maybe by working on the prior point I can make the scene more effective.

Over the next week or so I’ll probably spend another four hours (at least) reworking this scene. Lotta effort that I hope pays off. All told I have roughly 42-ish hours of writing time before I send the book off. Many other things to work through in that time besides this one scene.

ATM, DGts is ~92K words. Kinsmen Die clocked in around 175K words. Which is nuts. Having written that huge book this second one feels a whole lot shorter (cause it is) and as a result, a whole lot more manageable.