Why are beginnings so damn hard?

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Everyone who knows me, and some who don’t, are more than fully aware that I’m working on editing the Dark Queen of Darkness. I just finished up the first round of developmental edits, which are back with the editor (Jette Harris). However, I’m not even remotely close to done yet. My process thus far has been to run through her suggestions, pick off low-hanging fruit and then go once through for each of the larger issues to ensure consistency. This usually starts with starting at the beginning. Every time I start at the beginning, I inevitably fidget with the first few paragraphs. It’s killing me.

I wrote the first paragraph to the dark queen almost 3 years ago and it was fucking great. So, naturally, I’ve hated it ever since. The current incarnation is:

There was no mistaking the dark tower. It was the tallest, blackest, and most evil looking tower in the whole of the dark kingdom. Hexe, the dark queen, had built it specifically to say dark queen and sorceress right down to the foundations. She’d even gone so far as to have the words property of the dark queen etched on every stone. The tower was an imposing and unlovely sight, much like Hexe herself, tall, narrow, and nothing but sharp, plain angles.

I think it’s repetitive, not very grabby, and absolutely perfect at the same time. This is not a good place to be when you’re supposed to be editing. At this point, all I have from Jette (the editor) on this is that it’s fine, but maybe not got quite enough hook. As with all of the advice and feedback offered by Jette, thus far, I feel in my gut that she’s quite right. The problem here is that I’m so incredibly close to the work, especially this paragraph, that I’m unable to tackle it with a properly dispassionate approach.

My favorite book openings are those offered by Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and JK Rowling. They tend to be chatty and easy. They give the narrator a minute to bring the reader up to speed before launching into the main thrust of the work. And as I write this, I wonder if examining pieces by those authors might not be instructive – A wise writer once suggested I open a few of the books I like and highlight passages that work. Maybe that’s the answer here. Don’t just look at the words on the page, look at why another author’s intro works.

I don’t know what else to say about this, except that for every book I’ve written, the same problem exists. I hate the intro and also love it just the way it is.

My Tombstone: He died doing what he loved, waiting for Kvothe to get to the point.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by the title of this post, I’m reading (listening actually) to The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Before I press on here, I want to make it perfectly clear that this is a disorganized bit of observation by a reader and also a struggling writer. I do not make any claims that I am better at the craft than Mr. Rothfuss. The story isn’t bad, nor is the writing, I just find myself a bit annoyed.

It may be that you loved or are in love with the book. Excellent. I’m glad you connected with this. I’m afraid I’m struggling. Even though some of his language and descriptions are lovely and make me wish my tongue contained a quarter as much silver, I am now on chapter 51 and asking myself, “When the bloody hell is Kvothe going to get to the point here?” Again, the setting is wonderful as are the excellent descriptions. It’s case-study in description in prose for someone attempting to produce a commercially viable work of speculative fiction. Again, though, I say, is this book going anywhere? This alone is a pretty annoying, but what’s more annoying is that a single, very popular and well regarded book can contain so many of the things people tell authors not to do.

I spend a lot of time trying to improve my craft. I do want to get published some day and can’t get there without improvement. It’s also true that I’m incredibly hard on myself and sometimes just find it easier to say, well, that didn’t work, did it? Nobody can tell you your work is a pile of thoroughly unsalvageable garbage quite like you can. However, in listening to this book I’m finding myself faced with virtually every piece of advice I’ve heard being completely ignored. Some of these tidbits of advice, such as the use of dialog tags and adverbs, I’ve come to regard as absolute nonsense advice. I feel that reviewers point to these as problems, but really it’s just the smoke. The real fire is elsewhere in the writing. I also once got advice to the effect of ‘watch out for passive description’ in a short story that used it once. The Name of the Wind use it in near equal measures to more active descriptions.

I’m not really sure what the point of all this is, except to say that I’m struggling as a writer right now. I’ve hit a moment where I’ve convinced myself the work is absolute trash. The only solution for me is to understand how to improve. Then, when I go to examine other writers’ work, I’m presented with this sort of thing – A never ending story, with lovely descriptions that manages to break every damn rule of thumb for good practice I’ve been acquainted with. It brings to mind the question, are there any actual guidelines to follow? Is there really a way to get better or am I just stuck trying different things until I find my voice? Anyhow, I’ve got no answers or even conjecture on the matter. I’m just annoyed.

Also, I’ve been working on the Name of the Wind for days, listening while I drive, cook and even for two days while I worked on one of those metal earth models. There is no end in sight and I really don’t know if I have it in me to finish.

Progress Report – Wine Bottles & Broomsticks

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I haven’t made nearly as much progress as I’d have liked after the first full draft was completed. My goal was to have it revised by last week, but that just didn’t happen. Work, side projects and working-out have gotten in the way. This weekend wasn’t any different. Yesterday I spent two hours at the gym, then we did a family day – movies & dinner. After a gentle prod from the twitterverse, I got kicked into high gear again and sat down to continue revising. So far, I’ve written 3 new chapters and extended another one by about a thousand words. Today’s goal, after laundry, shopping, and cooking is to work those three chapters in and finish revising and first-round editing the final third of the book.

Considering that the last book I tried to write took about 10 years to finish and I haven’t even thought about hitting it again for revisions, this is excellent progress for me. For those interested, I am planning a second book and there is a lot of material in this one that will feed into the second. For the second, I’ve got a basic outline, a few scenes have been sketched and there’s a theme I’m working around. So, all-in-all, not much to show, yet, but I’m working on it.

When I get this one buttoned up for a 2nd full draft, you’ll hear me crowing all about it. So, back to it…