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11/31: The Editor Is Transformed

For those who contributed ideas, suggestions and lots of great discussion to my editorial dilemma yesterday, I'd like you to know that it was hugely helpful to me--both as an editor and as a human being (which I love to forget I actually am).

I haven't done justice to everyone's excellent advice, but here's how I patchworked all your tips together.

Hi Taliciaem:

I’ve spent some time going over your prologue, and I’m impressed with your story idea and your commitment to the project. You’ve done something not very many people achieve: writing an original novel.

You said that this is a first draft and you mentioned second and third drafts, so I know you’re committed to rewrites. I wanted to offer some general thoughts and a few specific suggestions that I hope will help you in that process. My comments are limited to the prologue.

Villahr is an interesting character. I’m curious about his lineage, who Vicio is, who sent the other vampire to assassinate him, why he has silver blood, how he differs from his vampire assailant, how he has come to live in such a nice place--all kinds of things that you set up in that first scene. I can tell that you have the answers to these questions, and I want to keep reading to find them out. The surprise twist of his magical ability at the very end is wonderful.

You’ve got a good idea of how to set a scene, and above all, you really dive into the action, opening with teeth in the neck and escalating from there. The attacker stands out for me, both alive (or should I say undead?) as a villain, and as a short-lived corpse. Very vivid!

I see three patterns in your writing that I think you’d do well to focus on as you rewrite:

First, you’ve tended over-describe action. This is a common mistake--the scene is vivid in your own mind and you want to be sure you capture every single detail of it. And yet readers--especially readers of genre fiction--have great imaginations themselves and don’t need a step-by-step “how to” of the character’s movements.

For instance, after the fight, Villahr washes his mouth with a glass of liquor. It’s a strong little moment--he’s tasted foul blood and has seen his own brutality, and he needs a drink. While I do want to see that he finds his way to his kitchen in the dark, it slows the story down for me to learn that he keeps the bottle behind the microwave, that he uncorks it, that he pours it into a crystal glass, etc. Most of that seems non-essential to my understanding of his character and the action.

A similar thing happens as Villahr first gets his claws and teeth into the vampire, then stakes him--there’s a lot of show-stopping detail about where each hand is, where he keeps his stake, how he grabs it, and so on.

Second, you’ve repeated some things. They’re important things, but if presented right, they only need a single mention. You reiterate the assailant’s appearance and wounds a couple of times; there are more descriptions of the same blood than are necessary, and ditto the cabinets, crystal, and china.

In paragraph one you state clearly and cleverly that Villahr is not as strong as a vampire. It requires a “sudden surge of strength” for him to make any headway in the fight. That’s really plenty. Further mentions of their relative strength later in the text simply serve to slow the story down.

Third--and this is probably the most significant style issue and the easiest to fix--there’s a heavy reliance on “purple prose”. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a little high-flown description (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!), but you’ve fallen back on it so much that it threatens to swamp a good story. Here are a few examples:

--Epithets instead of plain terms: The dark one, the evil one, the blood-sucker, the night-walker, the monster, the mongrel, the male, the tyrant, the brunette, (among several others) for “the vampire”. I understand not wanting to repeat “the vampire” over and over, but a judicious use of that plus “him,” “his assailant,” “his attacker” and “the assassin” will probably cover the territory. Those terms aren’t epithets (i.e., “name-calling”) but are, rather, straightforward ways of designating the guy doing the unexplained attacking.

Choices like the following. Any two or three of these are fine, but in great numbers they give the prose an overheated feeling.

--“denim slacks” for jeans
--“stolen scarlet vitality,” “essence” and “squishy fluid,” among others, for blood
--“nestled in the muzzle of isolation” for isolated (or lonely, or quiet)
--“hit the ground hard as his back impacted with the shag rug” for he fell on his back, or his back hit the floor. (Note: the shag rug is one of those extraneous details, too.)
--“the long, piercing ivories” for fangs or teeth
--“built as a brick” for strong

I’d recommend viewing this kind of substitution as hot chili powder. A little goes a long way in giving the story flavor. Think of plain, straightforward words as the meat and potatoes of your story.

There are a couple of vocabulary choices that make me think English might not be your first language (and if that’s the case, congratulations! You’ve done an amazing job!)--”protracted” fangs (where “extended” would be the more likely English choice); “whistle” for the sound of breaking glass and china, “sturdy bites” (deep, maybe?); the aforementioned “built as a brick”--these are easily cleared up later.

In terms of structure, there’s only one significant problem: you interpose a short flashback right in the middle of the action. Not only does it interrupt the fight, but it’s flashing back to something like only two minutes ago. It’s great to open on a fight scene, but when you have to stop in mid-staking and backtrack to explain what was happening just before the fight started, that’s a clue as to the REAL beginning of your story.

I think it would be interesting and suspenseful to start with Villahr in his spacious, quiet home, hearing a noise, going to the window, and so on. That way you can set up the scene--his isolation, the distance of neighbors, some of the room’s furnishings that are about to be destroyed, etc.

THEN: in crashes the vampire, smash go the china cups, chomp go the fangs, etc--no need to interrupt all that with explanations.

I hope this is helpful to you. I really want to encourage you to keep working at this manuscript. I think you’ve got a terrific story idea that is well worth the hard work of rewrites.

Best regards,

Though I've already sent this to the author, your comments are still welcome for my own further self-actualization. This has been one of the most valuable conversations I've had in ages. Thank you all.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 10th, 2013 03:43 pm (UTC)
This is an inspiring example of positive, constructive feedback! I want to [A] print it and keep it in my editing binder as a reminder of how to do it well, and [B] send it to a few folks I edit/beta, because those 'areas for improvement' are just so common.

Thanks for sharing!
Oct. 10th, 2013 06:28 pm (UTC)
Wow, cool! Well, it was very much a group effort. Nothing comes up to the product of the collective mind when the collective mind is passionate about a subject.

I've learned a whole lot from this process. And feel free to use it in any way that's useful. After all, you were a big contributor!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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