Film can do incredible things.
It can make you believe you’re seeing dragons fly, or a Jedi Knight battling Darth Vader.
But as impressive as that is, novelists can do something even the best filmmakers can’t. They can make you feel the beat of the dragon’s wings, or the heat of the light saber humming in your hands.
No technology can build that kind of direct connection between minds using nothing more than words.
But to pull that off, the novelist must eliminate every barrier she can between her brain and her reader’s. Any sentence that doesn’t get the idea across must be rewritten until it does. If a line’s meaning is vague or unfocused, it must be clarified and sharpened.
You do not want your reader to have to stop and decipher your work.
The instant she does, you’ve thrown her out of the story. Do that enough and the illusion of reality will shatter. She’ll lose interest in the story.
There are a couple of tricks I use to spot illusion-breakers. First, I let the book sit a couple of days after I finish. This allows me to read with fresh eyes, searching for logic holes or sentences without impact.
I particularly target lines longer than twenty words. The longer a sentence is, the more likely the reader is to lose its meaning.
Here’s an example from my current work in progress:
“It’s not just the death of the Magekind — the whole fucking planet is going to end up under that Fomorian’s boot if we don’t do this.”
That line is twenty-six words long, and its structure is convoluted and awkward. So how do I fix it? By looking for places to cut and simplify.
The first thing that jumps out at me is, “It’s not just the death of the Magekind…” “The death of the Magekind” is a passive construction — that is, death is something that happens to the Magekind. We want the Magekind to do something: “The Magekind will die.”
Here’s the result:
“Not only will the Magekind die, the whole fucking planet is going to end up under that Fomorians boot if we don’t do this.”
Another problem: the sentence lists the consequences of an action before its cause. “If we don’t do this” needs to be moved to the front of the sentence.
“If we don’t do this, not only will the Magekind die, humanity will be ground under that Fomorian’s boot.”
Notice I changed “end up under” to “ground.” It’s always better to use one concrete verb than a string of vague words. “Ground” creates a mental image of something being crushed, giving the sentence more emotional bite.
Too, the final image of a sentence has the most impact – think of it as the punchline. I want to put the mental image of humanity being crushed at the end of the line.
Now I’ve straightened out the order of the sentence, but there are still places to cut. One that jumps out is, “if we don’t do this.” Do what?
“If we fail, the Magekind will die and humanity will be ground under that Fomorian bastard’s boot.”
“If we fail, the Magekind will die and that Formorian bastard will grind humanity under his boot.”
(Which kills the passive construction of “humanity will be ground.”)
Now the rewritten sentence lays out the consequences for my heroes’ failure. It’s also just seventeen words compared to the twenty-six of the original.
By the way, I never do this kind of editing until the third draft. The first draft is just for getting the story’s events onto the page. The second is for punching up scenes with description and sensory detail. I don’t let my OCD out to play until the final draft.
You do not want to begin this kind of obsessive editing too soon, as I learned years ago.
As a beginning novelist, I’d rewrite the first chapters of my books until I sucked all the joy and energy out of them. Then I’d get so disgusted, I’d never finish.
You can’t make a book fly until you’ve built the wings.
Then check out Angela’s class starting April 28!
Master of Valor
Handsome Afghan war veteran Duncan Carpenter barely survived a horrifying IED attack that cost him his legs. He gets a second chance at life when he agrees to become an agent of the Magekind — a vampire sworn to protect humanity. The spell that transforms him also heals his broken body and gives him incredible new abilities. Now he must pay for that gift, because the Magekind is preparing for war with powerful magical enemies. But first he must complete his training with a Magekind witch, Masara Okeye. Problem: He’s falling for his mentor, even as he struggles to deal with life as a vampire.
Masara finds her apprentice deliciously seductive — a little bit too much so for her peace of mind, because he brings up memories better left buried. But when Duncan and Masara are asked to help a werewolf cop investigate the murder of a jogger, they’re targeted by the same vicious killers. The fight for survival drives the couple together, despite Masara’s determination to keep her distance. Then the case turns even more horrific and mysterious. What turned a couple of loving werewolf grandparents into vicious killers?
And what’s with the flying rabid zombie rats?