I’ve had a few minor bits and pieces to deal with the last couple of weeks including a short story now squared away, which leaves me with no alternative but to tackle a third draft of Half the World, curse it. Few weeks ago I was talking about work on the second draft, which focused on getting the arcs of the two central characters right, adding a couple of key scenes and setting a few things up better, and doing a lot of general cutting. That’s now been done, read by my first readers (mum and dad, bless ’em), and reacted to.
Reader reaction is always an interesting, even a slightly challenging thing to take on. Your gut reaction to the first mild critique usually varies somewhere between you’re wrong and fuck you. Working as a TV editor – where you often have to accept changes from others and use them as a jumping off point to making things better from your point of view as well as theirs – helped me overcome some of this instinctive reluctance to change things, shall we call it, and experience over the past six books has helped me overcome a lot of the rest. These days I ignore my initial reaction and try to listen, absorb, and mull over. Things that one reader says but the other doesn’t necessarily, I many act on if I see a sensible way, but may ignore. Things that both agree on, I’m likely to act on at least to some degree. Things that cause the strongest resistance on my part are often the ones that I later find myself agreeing with most, and if we’re all agreed, I better attend to it. Once you start considering and acting on comments you often find that a few quite minor changes or additions can shift emphasis or clarify or flesh out in a way that subtly answers a point that might have seemed like it would need major work.
In the case of this book there’s really one serious issue throughout – my laser-like focus on getting the two central characters and the relationship between them right has led to a bit of a spotlight effect in which a lot of the secondary cast are lost in the shadows and not really coming through very strongly. Not enough screen time, and what time they have isn’t making an impact. At the same time I’m labouring the point a bit with some of the development of the central two. In particular one is training to fight, and there are too many scenes of training which are a little repetitive and also maybe detract from the impact of actual violence when it occurs. So, cutting of some training, cutting of some repetition, to leave room for some development of some of the secondary characters, including a bit of backstory, a few recurrent concerns and personality features, some more arresting and distinctive mannerisms, some work on their looks. Once you get stuck into this kind of thing you often find they strike interesting sparks from each other and from the central characters too, making the whole interplay of the group more arresting.
A second issue is a bit of a lack of clarity in the politics, the background issues, the importance of what the characters are doing, the stakes if they succeed or fail, with a consequent loss of tension. So some more spelling out of those things, preferably done in such a way that it fulfils some of the previous aim of fleshing out some of the secondary characters while I’m at it. Two birds, one stone. The end is also slightly weak right now and maybe needs some attention to give it a bit more punch.
Aside from those there’s a lengthy checklist of specifics to tweak and details to introduce. Some of this is setting-related, and may get rolled up into a separate pass where I’m stuck into the setting specifically, both the world building aspects (creating an interesting, vivid, coherent backdrop for the action that ideally impacts on the way the characters think and behave) and the smaller scale issues of bringing in vibrant detail that makes the locations feel real, even if only in passing, thinking about lighting, giving scenes some weather or landscape that enhances the action, this type of stuff.
When all that’s done we’ll have a third draft which is getting reasonably close to as good as I can make it without further outside input (though the details of the language will still need a fair bit of work towards the end), and it’s time for it to go off to the editors. Four of em, all told, in this case…