Monday, April 30, 2012

Want to be an editor when you grow up? :)

This question came to me via my editing page rather than this blog, but I thought I would answer it here.

My wife wants to try her hand at editing. She didn't study it, but has a natural cnack for it. I would like to know what is needed to become an editor, or at least a private editor. Does an editor required to have contacts from the start or can she start by doing the actual editing and building her client base?
Are there any things we need to be aware of before heading this way?

Oh, boy. This might not be the answer you want, but I will be truthful. There is certainly a knack to editing, or an instinct, if you will. I just know that I can see things in the way the words lay down on the page, and things like grammar and mechanics came easily to me. I've had that knack my whole life, but -- and this is kind of the bad news -- it's not enough, on its own, to make someone a good editor. It's an essential start, but it's not enough on its own.

So what else do you need? Hmm. A list.
  • You have to have good eyesight, and you have to be willing to sacrifice it. Eyestrain is a constant issue in this business.
  • You have to be able to read quickly, but it's a very particular kind of reading. Reading for pleasure is not the same as the kind of analytical reading we do with a manuscript. You have to be able to not only absorb the page quickly, but also spot the flaws and fixes very quickly.
  • You have to know when to leave it alone. This is probably the hardest thing to learn, and it can take a long time to really get the trick of editing without interfering.
  • You have to have a truly advanced understanding of grammar. If you have only one set of grammar rules in which you can operate fluidly, you are at a disadvantage, and so are your clients. You have to be able to assess the author's native grammar patterns and know how to correct their errors, which is different from making it conform to your rules. And you have to be able to balance that native grammar with house rules, which is how editors sometimes get wild-eyed over things like serial commas.
  • Above grammar, you have to understand sentence structure in a deep way. You have to understand how and why changing a sentence will change the way the reader absorbs it. It's a matter of controlling impact and pace.
  • Ditto that understanding for paragraphs, scenes, subplots, and so on.
  • You have to be able to correctly identify narrative elements and know how to shift story elements from one narrative element to another. 
  • You have to know point of view cold. I'm not talking about mere pronouns here. I'm talking about the way a character's perspective will influence the text, and how to work within and around that perspective.
  • You need some understanding of market forces and how that affects reader preferences and manuscript choices. I don't edit children's or MG books because I lack the knowledge in these areas to make the editing process valuable and reliable.
  • Contacts and reputation help. A lot. Mentors are essential.
So how do you get these things? I have a degree in creative writing (and another in law, which came in handy for contract negotiation and similar tasks). I built a network while I was in school, and after school, I was fortunate enough to be able to work as a literary agent. This put me in the position of having to navigate a slush pile, and in my opinion, there is no single greater way to learn editing than to make selection decisions. First you have to choose your manuscripts, then you have to get those manuscripts ready for the market -- and that's where you really earn your stripes. It's not so much reading the submissions (which is a great task for learning all on its own) but the process on the whole. You select something because you love certain aspects and are willing to fix other aspects. You work to fix those aspects, and you learn how much work it takes to tackle those particular problems, and you know better next time whether to acquire a manuscript with that particular cocktail of pros and cons. You learn your own strengths and weaknesses as a fixer of books.

In the beginning, especially, it helps to have seasoned bosses or mentors to help you with the process. I was grateful to have people who could guide me. When I had a question about the fixability of a particular issue, I had people I could ask. Later, after I became managing editor and then chief executive editor, I found myself in the position of being the one to help other, newer editors. That's a whole 'nother kind of skills-sharpening process, and it's very different from the way we teach and train writers. Part of what we have to do as editors is maintain objectivity about the book -- we can adore the writers and their books, and we often do develop close relationships with authors, but we can't let love of the book cloud the process, even if it was love of the book that led to the acquisition. It's sometimes difficult to be intimately connected to a project you love, and still, somehow, by some trick of mind and heart, remain separate from it. And I found it was even harder to help other editors find that balance -- and thank god, I had excellent editors on my staff. They made up for my weakness in this regard.

The best editors I know have all put in long hours in agencies and publishing houses. They've come up through the ranks, learning from seasoned pros, and most of them have degrees in literature or rhetoric or writing. A surprising number of them have teaching experience, too, which is more valuable than you might guess. I don't know how to substitute for that kind of background. Are there inexperienced people outside the publishing ranks with a talent for editing? Yes. Absolutely. I have no doubt of it. But it's how that talent is honed and developed that takes it from instinct to art.

And I just don't know how you get there on your own, without the help of seasoned mentors. Or, maybe I should say, I know I wouldn't be where I am today without the help of others. Maybe others could do it on their own, but man, that is not a task I envy anyone. You know the old saying, you don't know what you don't know? That's the trouble with a craft like writing and editing -- you can be excellent at one or more aspects, but if you haven't been exposed to the ones that don't come naturally, if you haven't had someone take you in hand and show you what you missed, how can you learn what you don't know? There are books, certainly, but there's really no substitute for working on a manuscript with someone smarter than you acting as your fallback. Theory is all fine and well, but it's the application of the theory that matters most.

So this is to say, I don't think anyone should start off as a private editor. I think that's something you grow into. A good starting position would be as an editorial assistant or an assistant to an agent, something that would put you in a position to be able to read and read and read some more. Raw work, not finished books. There are also quite a lot of digital presses who will hire new editors, but they generally pay wages that make their editors envious of children working in third-world factories. But it's a great way to get a lot of experience very quickly, so in the right circumstances, it might be the way to go.

Good luck! And have fun -- this really is a fun job!


Friday, April 27, 2012

Exchanging slackitude for attitude

Sometimes a passage or scene feels "slack" to me-- without tension. And often it's not the action or conflict, but the sentences. And you know, I think I can pinpoint one common problem, easily remedied: using "and" as the most common conjunction between clauses.

He was late again and I let him get away with it.
He was late again and I let him have it.
He was late again and it was his mother's fault.
He was late again and it was too late for the movie then.
He was late again and that wasn't usual for him.
He was late again and he appeared disheveled and distracted when he appeared.
He was late again and it was usual for him.
He was late again and I had texted him to remind him of the time.
He was late again and it was really late this time.
He was late again and I was too happy to see him to be mad.
He was late again and that was after I gave him an ultimatum.
He was late again and I found my way to the theater.
You getting the point? "And" is occasionally the right conjunction, but usually something else will indicate more of the relationship between the two clauses. That's what conjunctions do. They "conjoin," but they also connect. Whenever we opt for "and," we're pretty much saying the only thing connecting A with B is proximity.
Let's try to imbue some attitude and take away the slackitude (note the comma before the conjunction... that's 1) correct punctuation, and 2) gives that pause that emphasizes that connecting word):

He was late again, but I let him get away with it.

He was late again, so I let him have it.

He was late again because of his mother.

He was late again, making us too late for the movie.

He was late again, which wasn't usual for him.

He was late again, appearing disheveled and distracted when he got there.

He was late again as usual.

He was late again even though I had texted him to remind him of the time.

He was late again, really late this time.

He was late again, but I was too happy to see him to be mad.

He was late again even after I gave him an ultimatum.
He was late again when I found my way to the theater.

So if you're getting comments that your voice isn't distinctive, or that your action scenes aren't very active, look for "and" as a conjunction. Once in awhile, it's the right conjunction. But often it's unrevealing and tension-less. Why are these two clauses connected? Can you show that connection? That will infuse a lot more power and urgency into your sentences.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012


In the old days of paper manuscripts, there was an editing shorthand, "R.U.E.," that found its way into the margins of many manuscripts. That stands for
Resist the
Urge to

This is essentially a problem of redundancy or repetition, as we'll see in a moment. But first, let's talk about why this is a problem. Any time you pause the flow of the narrative to explain something to the reader, the pacing lags. This can happen in ways both big and small, from large backstory dumps to tiny repetitions. But it's not just a pacing issue. It sends a subtle message to the reader that the author doesn't trust her own skills enough to communicate something clearly the first time through. It builds boredom and uncertainty into the text. Not a desired outcome, right?

So let's look at a couple of examples.

The Unnecessary Summary

Carla slipped into her raincoat and grabbed her purse and umbrella. Then she turned her back on the front door, and starting on the right wall, made a full circuit of her house. She checked all the light switches to be sure they were off. She unplugged the stereo, looping the cord across the top of the cabinet so it would be easy to reach the next time she wanted to listen to music. In the kitchen, she turned each stove burner as far to the right as it would go, and she made sure the toaster and coffeemaker were both unplugged. Carla never left the house without checking all plugs and switches. She was very cautious about doing anything that might start a fire.

Okay, it's a boring example, but it illustrates the point. We have action to start the paragraph. The final two sentences summarize what she did in the action sentences at the start of the paragraph. First, we watch her actively check the plugs and switches. Then, the author tells us that she checks the plugs and switches. It's repetitive, and we don't need that final bit of restatement that summarizes all the preceding action. Dump it.

The Double-Down

"I'm going to make a pot of coffee." Carla made a pot of coffee.

Sometimes, an author will reveal a trivial detail twice, using different narrative elements each time. Here, we have dialogue followed by action. Both accomplish the same task, to inform the reader that Carla is making coffee. Unless these are magical coffee beans or laced with arsenic or something, there's no reason to place this much narrative attention on them. And even if the are magic or poison, it's better to replace one of these redundant statements with something a little different. Maybe something like,

"I'm going to make a pot of coffee." And she'd make sure that bastard swallowed every drop.

The Blow-by-Blow

"But wait!" the new writer says. "How will the reader know she actually made the coffee if I don't say so? She said she was GOING to make it. She didn't say that she MADE it. Different things, right?"

This cuts right to the heart of the confidence problem I mentioned above. If the character says, "I'm thirsty," in paragraph one, and then is holding a glass of ice water in paragraph five, the reader will understand what happened there. No need to show the character getting the glass, cracking the ice tray, running the tap, and so on. If the ice water is thematic or symbolic, you might want to give it this kind of narrative attention, but for the most part, there's no real point to super-detailed explanations of trivial actions. Hit the high points, and trust your reader to understand what's happening. You don't have to explain every minor step along the way.

What other things do you see in manuscripts that might fall under the "R.U.E." category?


Friday, April 20, 2012

Editing a Sample at RU

Today at Romance University, we take a look at a sample that needed a bit of a scramble to fix the pacing and focus. This is the kind of edit that walks the line between content and line editing. Take a look!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Precision increases plausibility

You know what connects sentences with characterization?
Precision.  When you're precise in your word choice, we'll believe that you really know this character.

Vague words make us doubt whether this person exists, because if this person listens to "a song," or just picks up "some book" or puts her socks in "a bag", well, maybe someone who uses such generic stuff is generic herself.

You don't have to get too ornate here. Just think. If you're in Paul's POV, and he scrolls down his playlist and chooses "a old goldie song," well, you know, the real Paul would know what song he chose. 
And if Paula puts her socks into a bag, well, it wouldn't even have to be in Paula's POV. Anyone who can see her action can see whether she puts it into "her handbag" or "a plastic bag" or "her suitcase."

And if Mike picks up "a book," he might pick up a paperback or a Bible or road atlas, or a red book or a blue book....

Theresa talked about "spark," and for me part of this is diction-- word choice. You have control here. This doesn't require a huge vocabulary, but rather observation (or invention).  Without this level of precision, prose sounds slack, without tension, without "snap."  With precision, it'll sound like there's a real person there, not just ink on paper.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Antitrust law suit against publishers/Apple for price-fixing

I'd like to echo Kris Rausch-- we really can't tell what this antitrust suit will mean. The issues are so complex even attorneys and judges don't understand everything about these lawsuits. But here's her take on it, and she has a link to a site which explains more of it.

But already everyone in the bookworld is nervous, not that I blame us. I mean, the industry gets pneumonia whenever anyone sneezes. And Apple being involved complicates. (It's always hard to tell if Steve Jobs fans are actually just against anyone against Apple, which is, we hear, now the richest company in the history of the world... who knew? Anyway, Apple doesn't need our pity... this won't set them back one fraction of a percent of stock price.)

Anyway, I was remembering perhaps the most important legal case since Brown vs. Board of Ed-- the AT&T antitrust case. I remember everyone back then was muttering, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," about "Ma Bell's" longstanding  monopoly. And yet, I look back on what telephoning was like before that and marvel.We put up with that? I remember when it was ILLEGAL to have more than one phone in your house. Yes, illegal. My granddad was afraid my grandmother would be upstairs and have heart trouble and not be able to get downstairs to call an ambulance, so he somehow got a second phone--- really, you couldn't even buy a phone back then... you could just rent one from ATT, and they let you have only one-- and he spliced a cable and hooked up a phone up in their bedroom.. and a few weeks later, the police came as the phone company had noticed this and filed a complaint against Grandpa.... somehow I doubt that company would have willingly let us all have throwaway cellphones.)  So maybe this new lawsuit will hasten the demise of cheap paperbacks or lead to even more editors being laid off... or maybe it will lead to something amazing.
The Web, cellphones, even fax machines would never have happened without the forced breakup of the ATT monopoly. (The technology for most of that existed, of course... but was suppressed.) Our world was quite literally transformed by that lawsuit. And no one could have predicted it at the time. All that was clear was that progress abhors a monopoly.

I doubt anything so transformative will come out of this case. After all, the genie's out of the bottle-- we already have open access to our own sources of publication (which really was suppressed for decades by the gentleman's agreements among distributors, publishers, and booksellers). So all we know is it's unlikely to go backwards-- we're never going to go back to a model of publishers utterly controlling access to the marketplace. And if Amazon gets more pissy and starts strangling royalties, well, Amazon has gotten pretty powerful in 20 years, but it doesn't control the internet (yet :).  There will now be other options. The sad thing about this lawsuit is all it really shows is how desperate the big publishers are to keep control, and yet how impotent they are, having to use one behemoth (Apple) in the war against another (Amazon), and not even getting it right, as usual, a day late and a dollar short. (Better to use that dollar to PAY WRITERS.) 
Anyway, I do look back at the ATT breakup (which most of us thought was bad at the time) and realize how much came out of that, and it's cautionary, that's all. Who knows. But progress, once allowed, can't be stopped, and interestingly the ones progress empowers tend to be the ones without power earlier. (That is, writers.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012


There's a debate going on over whether the term "pre-published" is annoying, crazy, accurate, or a harmless affectation. What do you all think?

I have no problem with it generally, but I do think if I heard that in a pitch ("I'm a pre-published author and...") or saw it in a query, I'd probably first think-- mark of an amateur!-- and then shrug as all that matters is the book really.

Some are adamant that "author" means published and "writer" means unpublished, but I call myself a writer and I've been post-published for decades. :)

Methinks these distinctions are going the way of the buggy whip anyway, but hey, life is short. No need to borrow annoyance.  But I teach in college, and there are many "pre-professional" majors, and I don't have a problem with the notion that it takes a while to get to be a professional, and there's nothing wrong with being in that time period.

Anyway, terminology. Just words. What about the attitude? I'd say "ingratitude" is the attitude that actually does annoy me-- the people-- writers, students, whatever-- who think that they should be ostentatiously not grateful for your help because "it's your job" or "you get your jollies this way."

Alicia working herself into a rant so as to avoid a mess of grading-to-do

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Alicia and I have been talking between ourselves about spark, that know-it-when-you-see-it factor that makes a book worth reading. Actually, it would be more accurate to say we've been discussing lack of spark, and how prevalent it seems to be these days. This conversation wasn't prompted by any specific book or manuscript, but rather, by an aggregate of experiences.

For me, it started two months ago when I got my kindle fire and started browsing the kindle store. I was excited about my new toy, and eager to load it up with fresh titles. I went straight to the fiction lists and started browsing sample chapters. But one after another, every sample chapter I read failed to capture my interest as a reader.

I thought maybe it was a genre issue -- I read across genres, and sometimes I'm just not in the mood for one or another kind of book. So I started browsing other lists. Mystery, scifi, fantasy, genfic, romance, litfic -- no matter where I roamed, I failed to find anything that screamed, "Read me now!" I did download a few titles, but none of them felt so compelling that I had to keep reading right then and there. Most of them felt vaguely familiar, competent but not entirely fresh.

This went on for weeks. Of the hundreds of books I sampled, I've probably downloaded no more than twenty. I really thought it was just me, but then a friend of mine, Tracey Devlyn, handed me an ARC of her first book (A Lady's Revenge, out last week). I've read this book several times in the past few years, so the characters and plot were already familiar. Yet when I started reading the first page again, I was just as hooked as I had been the first time I read it. I gave it to my mom (anything but an avid reader), and she stayed up until three in the morning reading it. She described the first chapter as "almost too scary." That book has spark, and it reminded me of what all those other hundreds of titles had been lacking.

What makes for spark? This gets to what Alicia and I have been discussing. We've been trying to decide whether it's possible to teach spark. I think (and I suspect Alicia agrees) that spark comes naturally to some writers, and others have to fight to find it. And maybe you can find it, but maybe you can't. It might be innate. I don't know -- I'm sort of undecided on that, because I think we can identify aspects of spark and figure out how to incorporate those.

So what are those aspects of spark? Just brainstorming a list here, spark is --
  • Bold
  • But not silly or contrived
  • Lots of sentence-level tension
  • Strong, clear character emotions
  • Those emotions make sense and are in proportion to the events
  • Obvious external problems to solve
  • Unambiguous world-building, in the sense that setting details are relevant
  • Occasional surprises in the way details are presented
  • Active text without a lot of "telling"
What would you add to this list? What makes spark?


Monday, April 9, 2012

Question from the mailbag

We do answer questions sent to our email address (, and I would have answered this one a couple weeks ago but for an astonishing chain of tech issues chez Theresa. Thanks for the question, and sorry I've been so scarce, but the mercury retrograde smote my communication devices with a fire sword of vengeance.  (Yeah, I watched Game of Thrones. Two computers, three phones, and a truck died, but my cable still worked. *ggg*)

So here's the question from Coleen.

I know PPP’s are dear to your heart, so I have a question regarding them.Recently I found the following two examples in my wip:

1) She hesitated, groping for something to say.

2) She craned her neck, trying to catch a last glimpse of him.

I’ve tried rewriting the first as:

She hesitated.


She groped for something to say.


She hesitated as she groped for something to say.

As an editor, which sounds better?

Is example 2 a cumulative modifier?

Let's take the second part first, because that's the easy one. No, that is not a cumulative modifier. There are two actions in that sentence: craning and trying. The first action serves the purpose of the second action. It's the reason she cranes her neck. So I would replace that with an infinitive phrase:

She craned her neck to catch a last glimpse of him.

I would kill the weak verb "trying" unless the fact of the trying is relevant to the action. Usually, it's only relevant if it results in a failure. That is, if she tries and fails to catch a glimpse of him, then you might want to keep it.

She craned her neck to try to catch a last glimpse of him.

I would expect this sentence to be followed by a reaction to the failure to see him. The first rewritten example might be followed by a reaction to seeing him depart. So it's all in what you want to emphasize, her reaction to his departure or her failure to connect with him one last time.

Okay, so that's the second one, and it's a fairly easy, clean, routine sort of line edit. This kind of edit becomes easier to spot with practice, and it won't take a huge amount of thought to correct. But the first example might require a bit more work. The original is:

She hesitated, groping for something to say.

Now, before I get into my comments, I have to point out that we know nothing about the context. This could be a fleeting moment in a dynamic scene, or it could lead into a long passage of introspection. It might be perfect for the moment and the context -- but in my experience, this kind of sentence usually sounds better in an early draft than in a finished scene. It's a conceptual issue rather than an editing issue.

What's the problem with the concept? Often, this kind of sentence signals that the writer didn't know the character's true response in this moment. The sentence describes the writer's frame of mind during drafting more than the character's frame of mind during the scene action. Often, after some contemplation and revision, the passage containing this kind of sentence will be revised so that the character does have something to say. In the finished scene, if this were followed by a line of dialogue, it would be clear that she had figured out what to say. Again, we don't have a context, but just for example's sake, let's say it is something like--

She hesitated, groping for something to say. "Nigel, I need you to trust me. I can't explain why I was at the bank this afternoon. I made a promise, and telling you more would break that promise."

In this case, it's clear from the dialogue that she can't say  exactly what she wants or needs to say. This makes the first sentence redundant, which means it can be cut.

"But wait," you say. "Maybe we need to indicate a pause before she speaks."

Okay. Maybe so. Do it with an action beat.

She curled the long paper from her straw around and around her index finger. "Nigel, I need you to trust me. I can't explain why I was at the bank this afternoon. I made a promise, and telling you more would break that promise."

The action is futile in that nicely symbolic way that supports the dialogue -- wrapping that paper around her finger is ultimately as meaningless as the words she speaks. The paper is disposable, and so is the explanation she gives him. Her promise to someone else is more important than her need to explain herself to him. And so on. Using a resonant action beat will add subtext to the moment, and it will still indicate the pause we wanted to preserve.

So my advice, with this kind of sentence, is not to tinker with it at all. Get rid of it. Look at what happens around it, and decide if you should replace it with something stronger. But if you really need this sentence -- chances are, you don't, but if you do, replace it with this:

She groped for something to say.

The act of hesitation is implied in the groping.

Good question! Thanks for sending it in!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Taking tone OUT

I might not be the best to say this-- notice the capitalization in the heading-- but I'm noticing that one all-too-common and somewhat anachronistic trend is perhaps overused, causing too much "tone."

That's capitalization. I was just reading a student paper that felt like a rant to me, but as I read it over, I realized that the content was appropriately contained and the word choice neutral. So why did it seem so rant-y?

Capital letters. Too many. The student was perhaps using an old usage guide, or capitalizing what he thought was important, or assuming that most nouns were proper nouns. Anyway, a sentence would be like this:

When I entered The University in the Fall, I immediately knew that I wanted to study Political Science, so that I could learn more about the Founders of our Nation and how they protected the rights of  The People.

The only letters I'd capitalize in that sentence are "W" (to start the sentence) and "I".

Each capital makes the reader sort of lurch forward and emphasize that word. So we're focused on the specialness of something. What's special about this university above all other universities? (If "university" is part of the title AND the whole title is there, yes, cap-- the University of Chicago-- but not when the rest of the title is missing, and pace Ohio State alums, but capitalizing the before "university" shows a certain fear of inadequacy, sort of like wearing a codpiece.)

To me, this reads as some perhaps adorably naive, very freshman-ish. (It was from a graduate student, alas.) It's the equivalent of dotting your i's with little circles. And when coupled with an even vaguely political slant, it comes off as a bit rant-ish. The People, you know? You mean, uh, us?  Oh, no. You don't mean "us," you mean The People who deserve better than the rest of us, huh?
You don't actually mean that, so don't capitalize a common noun.

As long as we're on the subject, I realize my overuse of "air quotes" (just like that, and you know, I ought to admit I overuse parentheses too), which I think is both amusing and precise, is probably in actually arch and annoying.

So...  confess now. What's a typographical or punctuational -thing- you do that you can't give up, but might cause an unpleasant and unplanned tone?
(I almost put "" around that last word. Arrgh.)


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Things we have trouble doing

What do you find hard to write?  I mean, just within a passage. Just the "business" part of narration, maybe.

I have trouble writing it when a character enters a room, and is supposed to delay before noticing something (like another person). You know, Mary enters the dining room, and she doesn't immediately notice her ex-husband there among the other diners. I can never make it plausible that she wouldn't notice right away. (Need to put things in the way-- distractions, etc.)

Also I have trouble with getting the character to do something minor while something else more important is happening. Like I had a character coming out of a store, and she's thinking about the interaction, and carrying the object she bought. And then, you know, two lines later she's parking the car. Ooops! She has to get in the car, but really, that's not important enough to have the actions narrated and I don't want to give it too much focus.

        I flipped it over to see the little key. Slowly I walked out, turning the box this way and that. Something metallic rattled inside, but I waited until I was in a safer area before I pulled over into a McDonald's parking lot and unlocked the box.
Here's what I did, hoping to sneak it in there. 
        I flipped it over to see the little key. Slowly I walked out to my car, turning the box this way and that. Something metallic rattled inside, but I waited until I was in a safer area before I pulled over into a McDonald's parking lot and unlocked the box.

Anyway, what's hard for you? What's a difficult sort of little narrative task for you, and how have you done it?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

More about the ending and resolution of conflicts

So am consulting on a book approaching the ending. Here's the scenario:
College football player learns to commit during a terrible season. When he commits, he helps the team win the last game.

The big climax is of course the game and the victory. That wraps up/resolves the internal conflict about the young player's refusal to commit. He commits, and it works out.

Okay, so there's another event which is sort of a culmination of a subplot, the sort of sentimental interest of an old NFL coach in this raggedy team (donating old equipment from his NFL team, etc.). As it is, in the end of the second-to-last chapter, he calls the young player and says, "I like your spunk, kid. I'll give you a tryout on my pro team if you like it-- no promises, but you can show your stuff."

Now what's interesting is the placement. The writer had it preliminarily placed before the game climax, just before, in fact, so that the young player goes into the game with this on his mind. I pointed out that to me that just opens up a new conflict for him (as he has plans to take a job in Europe for the summer when the tryout would be). And posing it on page 282 and resolving it with a yes or no on page 294 might feel, well, too pat. Too "wrapped up."

I suggested experimenting with putting it at the very end, after the big game. That way it wouldn't really be a new conflict (no time to debate), but rather the validation that he was right to commit to football. No matter what he does, this shows that he's "made it," done the right thing. It's actually an answer, not a new question.

Anyway, it felt that way to me, that placing the very same event a dozen pages later-- at the end of the final scene rather than at the beginning-- would give the reader satisfaction and not disorientation.
What do you all think? Can placement make that big a difference? What if he never makes a decision (which he wouldn't if the request comes at the very end)? Do you think that having it early would let him make a decision and thus close something? Or is it better ro leave the reader unsettled, with an earlier "demand" but no decision?

 That made me think, btw,  of that great sports story Rocky. I have always thought that the ending of the first film was one of the aspects that made it so much better than all the other films. You remember that Rocky doesn't WIN the big fight; rather he gets a split decision. The champ wins (they wouldn't let a challenger back then win on a split decision), and with his last breath, says, "No rematch!" (Of course, they do have a rematch in the next film.) That was Rocky's big victory-- he conviinced one judge that he'd won, and he sufficiently intimidated his opponent that Apollo didn't want to fight again. That was a satisfactory ending without being too "wrapped up." He just wanted to prove he wasn't a stupid thug, and he did that.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wandering eyes... and other body parts

Sometimes  certain constructions strike me as amusing. This week I keep coming across sentences in my reading which have wandering eyes. (Please contribute others if you find them!)

Here's one:
(There was an officious policeman in the vestibule. ) (In previous paragraph)
Holding his eye, Connor said, "We'll have some company soon."

Now it just happens that there's someone in this book with a glass eye! No kidding. So for just a moment, I envisioned a man with his hand cupped and in it his glass eye.

Then I shook of that idiocy and thought maybe the policeman had beaten Connor up and Connor was cupping his hand over his own eye in remembrance of a black eye.

Then I realized the "his" must refer to the policeman, and Connor was looking at him and "holding his gaze," maintaining the eye contact between them. It was the policeman's eye that he was holding!

We sure use all the permutations of vision in all sorts of interesting ways. "I see...."

Anyway, that was one. Here's the other. This is a dangling modifier, but whenever danglers involve body parts, they end up hilarious:
Coming down the Spanish Steps, his eye was caught by a mime performing up on the stone wall.

This time I imagined an eye bouncing down the steps, and a mime reaching out (silently, of course), to grab it.