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I was writing up a note for my Thinking Sideways project when a topic came up that I wanted to talk about here as well, and in more detail.

When I discovered Internet writing communities, I was hammered with a bunch of "thou shalt not"s, as are most writers, no matter where they stand on the experience scale.

Even though I had written a ton by that point (two novels, easily 50 short stories, and a couple novelettes, plays, and poems), because of my isolation, I was vulnerable to peer pressure. I figured that I'd been hacking my way through, making it up as I went along, and so must have picked up a ton of bad habits. If the "Internet" says it's right, I must, therefore, be wrong.

To this day, I'm still fighting the impact of that period in my writing career, and to some degree, I'm still vulnerable and carrying out "thou shalt"s that if I took a step back and looked at them, are insane.

Ones I've conquered include "thou shalt not use the verb 'to be'" and "thou shalt not use 'that'" (which has the dangerous companion of "thou shalt replace 'that' with 'which' at every opportunity where 'that' cannot be purged," something resulting in broken grammar on top of unintelligible sentences).

My father broke me of "that" simply because he could not comprehend my sentences and wasn't willing to jump through the elaborate hoops expected so we can avoid a perfectly good word that (note ;)) happens to stand out when overused.

However, this concept has recently hit me on two fronts. One of the processes suggested by Holly Lisle in Thinking Sideways contradicts the "general rules" and is actually something I used to do before facing those same rules and bowing to them.

A while back, a friend edited a book for me that had two separate voices, one omniscient and one close third. She said choose one...but more importantly, choose either. I had a strong omniscient voice when I started writing that was crushed out of me, so I've substituted with a super close third. Now that change I regret with a vague sadness, but a close third is more of what the market is looking for and I'm happy with the new style, except that my third is SO close that it sometimes confuses people. SIGH.

But it's a more recent happening that brought me to writing this post.

I am in the process of collecting the crits of From the Sea (Selkie) into a single document so I can evaluate the trends. First of all, if the OWW trend of controversial stories succeeding holds true, I've got it made :p. I'm working on the third of four and there's significant disagreement about certain characters and situations :). But that's beside the point.

In going through this story and seeing their comments, I realized, had a full-on DUH moment, that I'm still crippled by one of those "thou shalt not"s.

Some time back, I was told not once but repeatedly that it is a point of view (POV) slip to say someone smiled because they can't see their own face. This started an endless round of arguments and warped my writing FOREVER!!!!! Okay, drama over, now that I've realized it, I can fix it too.

Instead of avoiding the act in the POV character, I went about coming up with ways that made obvious what we all know, which is that we KNOW when we smile. So I have smiles curling lips and pulling cheeks and...(sounds familiar? ;)) It's too much. It's ridiculous. It's annoying! I do not question why my critters pointed it out in the feedback. I question how I could have continued on this vein without realizing myself that I'd been had.

Double SIGH.

So I have my work cut out for me in this edit, in the edit of everything written prior to this moment, and in the writing of everything ever after, but I will break myself of this bad habit. I will rise above the "thou shalt"s and just write.

It seems to me there's a sense among writers that every opinion must be validated to hold weight. It's not enough to say this seems awkward to me, but rather some rule must rise from the deep to put authority behind the opinion. Only trouble is that the opinion gives writers a choice whether to adopt the change or stick with what they have. These manufactured rules, though, either make the critter seem foolish or can scar the writer for some time to come.

There are rules about writing. Grammar rules that are fixed (or mostly so) like capitalization and putting an end punctuation mark at the end of a sentence. What people need to remember is style rules are not rules. They're at best guidelines and at worse yokes around the necks of people trying to succeed.

The only rules I've heard that stand firm for me are these:

1) Thou shalt not confuse the reader (unless it serves a plot purpose).
2) Thou shalt entertain.

And, as you can see from the parenthetical phrase after the first, even those have caveats.
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I've been slowly working my way through the second crit for Shadows and completed that step by the end of last week.  What remained was to do the significant changes run.  I've identified 2 brand new scenes I have to add, 1 scene I have to split into two, 9 scenes that require major changes, and 1 scene I just need to move from one place to another.

The new scenes are the result of having made a significant change that I didn't think through all the way.  I moved a character's introduction earlier to give readers a human to cling to.  That seems to have worked very well.  However, I gave Martha the first scene and made no other changes.  This meant it was 200 pages until she showed up again, leaving these newly introduced readers to wonder what the heck was going on with her :p.  Sigh.  So now, I'm splitting the first scene into two, which spreads her introduction a bit, and adding two more scenes to reveal a little of her issues and keep her in the reader's mind.

The changes are anything from adding more depth to grounding a creature that I mention but never show.

As usual, these changes will have the impact of adding more word count to a book already on the heavy side.  Once I finish this phase so that all the contents are there, I'm going through backwards in the hopes of identifying places I can cut words.  If I cut approximately 25 words per page, I'll get it down into the 120k range, but I doubt I'll be able manage that on a global basis.  Still I'd like to see how close I can get.

And finally, I'll do a proof edit to make sure I didn't break anything new.

After that it's just doing the submission package and sending Shadows out into the world.  The goal is to have the first batch out before the end of the year, but it's more important to be ready than to make an arbitrary deadline.  This year has been a case of life interfering big time, so I'm trying hard to be flexible.


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Well, I've gone through the first of two critiques, much to my delight and dismay.  As is usual, there were things I didn't agree with or can't apply, and things that just clicked right off.  For example, I made a change to the beginning that brought a character's POV to the front, but then failed to change the initial starting place.  This means you meet her in the first chapter, and then nothing for the first 40k.  Sigh.
So, my hopes of "yes, it's perfect," were dashed horribly and I haven't even read all the second crit yet :).
On the other hand, there were wondrous moments when the comments made it clear that I was successful in tormenting the reader along with my characters.  If there was ever an argument for "reader-focused" comments, this is it.  I have no doubt about what worked along with what didn't, and got the thrill of knowing it not just worked but worked well.
The end result is that I still have some work ahead of me, but it's nothing in comparison to previous edits and shouldn't change the integrity so much that I feel another crit pass is necessary.  Though I do have to wait until I finish reading the second crit to know for sure :).
And just to give you something more to chew on than just a status report, here's one of the quibbles from the crit that I agreed with but still dismissed.  There's no good answer that I can see :p.
The question was regarding the use of male and female to designate the characters when not repeating their name, similar to how we would use man and woman as an alternative if they were human.
Now, man and woman were out simply because my characters are alien.  Not only would it bug my sense of accuracy, but it could also make readers complacent about the alien cultures so that when things happened that are somewhat non-human, they'd stand out more and distract the reader.
The alternative of offering "native" words that filled the same purpose hit me on the accuracy once again.  If all words are translated except those that have no equivalent, as they must be because the book is not written in the Nismorani language, then it implies that their genders are somehow different than human ones, which in this book they are not.  Additionally, the structure would have to be introduced in the beginning, where readers are already hit with a number of foreign words and concepts to absorb.  This last bit opens a concern that readers would be drawn out of the story as they tried to remember if this word meant the plural, the male, the female, or singular of the people.  The male and female would be noticeable in context assuming a she/he followed soon after, but whether it's a people or a gender would be less clear as either could be there.
I asked my boys for suggestions, because I couldn't come up with anything better than the two above.  My oldest came up with a wonderful suggestion.  Since the first sapient group the reader is introduced to is monkey-like, why not use the gender terms for monkeys?  This would have two benefits: it would solve the problem above, and fix a monkey image in the reader's head.  So, I went out and researched the monkey terms.  Guess what they are?  Male and female :p.  Bah.
So anyway, while I agree that male and female sound odd at first and take some getting used to, I had to ignore the issue because the cure was worse than the disease.  Have any of you run into this trouble?  And if so what did you do about it?
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I certainly didn't mean to drop off the map like this after doing so much better about posting at least once a month. I wonder if anyone is even listening anymore ;). Life happened to me in a big way on the health front, and summers are not the best time for me in any case because my main job becomes chauffeur across state lines.

Now here's the good news :D.

My main project for the year, Shadows, was in others' hands as you might have remembered. So all that life happens stuff that I'm now recovering from did not affect my progress :). Sometimes the luck is with you even when it feels like it's as far away as humanly (or not so humanly) possible.

So, the update on Shadows is this:

Both crits are back into my hands. Both critters have indicated I should not throw up my hands in despair and set the manuscript alight so I can dance on its ashes.

Beyond that? I'm afraid I don't yet know, but I have hopes to crack open the files this week and start planning my next move :), one that will, I hope, involve more consistent updates here.
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This novel is my main project for the year, and a smidge behind in the schedule, but Shadows has now advanced to the next step.

So far this year, I've done a deep edit pass, a proof edit, and a spell check. The novel is, as of about a minute ago, in the hands of the two critters who volunteered for the job. One of the critters has read the novel before (and is still willing, and eager, to go again (go figure)) while the other is brand new to this story with little foreknowledge at all if any. Between the two, I'm hoping to get what I need to polish and send Shadows off to find a new home.

And for the curious, the final word count is 135,117. I tried hard to keep the word count down in this edit pass, and cut a significant amount, but there was that much and more to add. Still, I was thinking I'd be looking at 140k-150k, so I'm happy.

Just to prove how chaotic life has become, I wrote this on the 4th...and am posting it now. So far I've seen some positive comments about the book from one critter, very general, but still positive, so there's hope that I haven't broken it :).


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Margaret McGaffey Fisk

April 2017

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