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November 20, 2008


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I hate books that don't come to some kind of an end!

I think it's a really cool idea to have a YA series set in the same universe as your adult novels. When your YA readers grow up, they'll probably pick up your other work. And your adult readers might like to share your YA books with their teens until they're comfortable giving them steamy romance.

But I really hate cliffhanger non-endings. I don't like to wait months/years to find out how things resolve themselves!

It's not entirely a cliffhanger; the situation is stable, and Chloe isn't in immediate danger of anything in particular. But it's not an ending or resolution of any kind, just an end-of-chapter sort of pause.

I have no problem with stories like that, provided I'm warned about what I'm getting into. I remember someone who was quite angry at CJ Cherryh when the 2nd Chanur book came out because, as he was getting closer and closer to the last page, he kept thinking there was no way she could wrap up everything. She didn't. It was Part One of a trilogy, but readers weren't told. It's not always the writer's fault. Readers wrote to my wife, quite upset that they hadn't been told that her fantasy novel Shield of the Sky was only the beginning of the story. That certainly wasn't her idea.

It changes how a story is read when you expect one structure and you get something else.

I think even books in a trilogy should achieve some sort of plot closure. Resolve a sub-problem of the overall problem or somesuch.

In a way, the problem with The Summoning is that it ended too late: one problem was resolved, but then she went ahead and presented a new problem, which was not resolved. I assume that was conceived as a setup for the next book, but it went one step too far.

Rot-13ed for spoilers:

Gur ceboyrz vf gung Puybr vf chg va guvf ubzr sbe qvfgheorq grrantref juvpu unf fhcresvpvnyyl avpr nqhygf ohg npghnyyl zvtug or fbzr fbeg bs ehaavat rkcrevzrag. Fur naq fbzr bs gur bgure grraf rfpncr, juvpu jbhyq unir orra n tbbq raqvat: grrantref abj ba gur eha. Vzzrqvngr ceboyrz bs orvat frzv-vzcevfbarq erfbyirq; jbexnoyr fgbccvat cynpr. Ohg vafgrnq, Puybr vf pnhtug naq oebhtug onpx gb NABGURE cynpr, jurer gur nqhygf ner fhcresvpvnyyl avpr ohg ner qrsvavgryl ehaavat fbzr fbeg bs rkcrevzrag. Gung chgf hf onpx ng fdhner bar jvgu gur fnzr ceboyrz: ubj gb rfpncr gur ARJ cynpr. V sryg yvxr jr unqa'g tbggra naljurer. Cerfhznoyl gung jvyy or obbx 2.

Susan... the problem with The Summoning is that it ended too late: one problem was resolved, but then she went ahead and presented a new problem

Could it be that the whole 'trilogy' really is one book that had to be broken into 3 volumes, for physical (or lowly pecuniary) reasons? I think George RR Martin had to do that with one of his Sword novels.

I think George RR Martin had to do that with one of his Sword novels.

Yeah, something like FIVE years ago, and the second part still isn't out. Not that I'm annoyed or anything. Oh no. Not like he possibly killed off my favorite character, and the second half of the book is going to cover completely different characters, so I probably won't find out what happened until the book after that. No, no I'm not bitter at all.

AJ... What's holding him up? Writer's block? He lives here in Albuquerque, by the way. So does Mister T.

I dunno Serge, I don't live in his head. I periodically check his updates page, aka the "No, it's not done yet" page where he says that he's working on it and he hopes it will be done.

This is why I have sworn to write my entire series before I start trying to get the first one published.

I read somewhere that Martin was working on turning the whole series into a TV show. Maybe that's what he's been up to.

As for your writing your complete series before offering it for publication... I'd suggest reconsidering, for one simple reason. Don't be surprised if, after writing the whole thing without any break, Inspiration strikes and you come up with something that'd make the story even better, but the change would have to be made in the middle of Book One and force you to redo everything that follows. Plotting the whole thing in advance, on the other hand, might be a good thing, especially when you approach a publisher with the book that you have finished. Anyway. This is just a suggestion. Like my wife and I have said to each other, there is no such thing as the One True Way to writing.

AJ - a YA series set in your adult universe = Star Wars. There's not only YA, but middle-school books there.

I know Charlie was furious when David Hartwell took his first book of the Merchant Princes series and made it into two books. There's no real resolution at all.

There's a Game of Thrones pilot planned for HBO. I'm cautiously optimistic that it will be good, but the sordid past of fantasy TV shows suggests that it will suck.

Serge, you do make a good point about the possibility of inspiration changing my plans... But on the other hand, isn't it even worse if I'm writing book 4, and I come up with a great idea, but I should really foreshadow it in book 1, and oh darn it, book 1 is already *published*? Not to mention, right now I've written myself into a corner with book 4, so I've shelved the entire project and won't touch it again (probably) until I finish my stand-alone novel. As a writer who is also a reader, I know that few things are more annoying than being in the middle of a series and the next book keeps not coming out, and then you find out that the author is working on completely different projects instead!

Oh look. I'm complaining about Martin again.

Oh, and Marilee, I agree re: the lack of resolution by splitting those two books, but given the length of the other books, it makes sense from a consistency point of view. The two books as one must have been about 500+ pages, and all the others are in the 200-300 range.

AJ... isn't it even worse if I'm writing book 4, and I come up with a great idea, but I should really foreshadow it in book 1, and oh darn it, book 1 is already *published*?

On the other hand, you might write the whole series, then, after Book Two has been published, you find a way to improve Books Three thru the End, but that'd necessitate rewriting books that are now out there in the world.

Just kidding.

The bottom line is that you should try what seems right to you.

AJ... the sordid past of fantasy TV shows suggests that it will suck

Did you ever see the mid-1980s's Adventures of Robin Hood, which starred Michael Praed? It has been a long since I've watched it, but I enjoyed it immensely. Of course, for evey show like that, there are things like Wizards and Warriors, which at least was so bad that it was hilarious. ("You might as well know - I'm not wearing a hat.")

Serge, it seems like there are a few different ways to approach writing a series of novels, and definitely no one magical "right" way that will lead to success and a happy author and happy readers. I'd say the most important thing is to just not get so caught up in making it perfect that I sit there and re-write the books 100 times and never try to publish them.

We didn't get a lot of TV channels in the mid 80s (we lived in a very rural area where cable was not an option even if we could have afforded it), so I never saw the Robin Hood show OR Wizards and Warriors OR even the D&D animated show. I was thinking more along the lines of 1990s fantasy TV, which come to think of it, was also on channels we didn't get, and I was in a city with cable by then. I somehow completely missed out on the kitsch that was Hercules and Xena. Wasn't there also a short-lived Sinbad series? And then there was Roar, for which I had such high hopes, and which was so spectacularly bad...

I'm thinking... wasn't there also a very short lived TV series based on the Vampire: The Masquerade roleplaying game? I seem to recall it being advertised in the back of the comic books I was reading in the mid 90s.

Marilee, I consider all of Star Wars to basically be YA. I mean, my parents were pretty conservative when I was growing up, and I was allowed to watch the original trilogy when my age was still in the single digits. I suppose maybe some of the novels could have been more grown-up? I did read some of the grade school books, they were below my reading level at the time, but my brother had them and I was bored. I seem to recall that they were not too bad for kid's books.

Wizards and Warriors was the first show that popped into my head by way of awful fantasy TV shows. I must have seen an episode sometime.

On writing of series: the only editor I've ever discussed the topic with said having another book in progress/finished was a plus, because it indicated that you were not a one-shot wonder but might be someone they could have a long-term relationship with.

I think there was a series based on the White Wolf Vampire game, and another that was an updated version of the old Dark Shadows soap opera. (I don't keep track of TV shows so much as of vampire stuff.)

General comment: I often avoid even starting a trilogy or series until all the books in it are out. I don't like waiting. But I do make exceptions; obviously reading The Summoning was one of them.

Susan, if you like vampires, have you ever read Those Who Hunt the Night and/or its sequel, Traveling With The Dead by Barbara Hambly? I'm not into vampires, but I do like both of those books (I enjoy most of Hambly's writing).

I'm starting to feel the same way that you do about series, by the way. There was one series that I enjoyed as a teen, where the author took 2-4 years between books, so that by the time the 3rd and 4th books came out, I no longer liked her writing style (present tense, why oh why?) and only read them because I wanted to know what happened.

AJ... The Robin Hood TV series has been released on DVD, and might even be on NetFlix. Here are 3 excerpts and montages, and yes the music was by Clannad:

excerpt 1

excerpt 2

excerpt 3

AJ... Susan said "...the only editor I've ever discussed the topic with said having another book in progress/finished was a plus..." and she's very right. For all that the editor knows, while a writer's first book might be absolutely brilliant, it might be because he/she spent a decade writing and polishing it, and may be incapable of writing the next installment in a shorter period of time.

It occurs to me that one problem with writing a complete series in advance is: what if the editor likes the series enough to buy it, but requires drastic changes that actually will improve the story, but might force you to throw almost all of the original out? That's where it might be better to plot everything in advance. I only mention this because of some of my wife's own experiences. (Thank goodness that, when she plotted a new 3-book fantasy series earlier this year, she wrote only the first 3 chapters of the first book because she was told there was no market for that kind of story right now.)

I tweaked your comment to make your excerpts live links.

Oh, yes. I love a lot of Barbara Hambly's stuff, and I've certainly read her vampire duology. I also like her Darwath books a lot and for non-F&SF historical fiction I love her Benjamin January mysteries (set in 1830s New Orleans).

I also used to collect vampire novels back in the 1980s, so I have a few hundred of them from that era and back, including some hilariously bad ones from the early 1970s that I just adore. You can see me slam some of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's recent work in her Saint-Germain series, which used to be a huge favorite of mine, here, here, and here.

(And, for Serge, the TV show that currently intrigues me, though I haven't read the books, is True Blood on one of the big cable channels. I caught a bit of one episode at Saloncon.)

Susan... Thanks for tweaking the links. Catching the excerpts last night makes me want to watch the series all over again. As for True Blood, isn't that the show with Anna Paquin? It's not available here, so I haven't seen it. There a vampire TV show a couple of years ago that was based on some Tanya Huff stories, but I thought it was so-so so I never really paid much attention beyond that one episode I saw.

I don't know who's in it; no one I recognized, but that doesn't mean much. It's on Showtime or HBO or one of the other premium channels.

The Huff-based show was Blood Ties, based on her Blood series (the books were all called Blood something). I bittorrented half the first season and enjoyed it in a moderate sort of way, mostly because I've read the books and enjoyed seeing a lot of their essence transferred reasonably well to the screen, albeit with some amusing changes: the vampire character (male) became a graphic novel artist rather than (as in the books) a historical romance writer. I guess the latter wasn't considered manly enough for TV! I never got around to torrenting the rest of the show.

Susan... I seem to remember that we never stuck with Blood Ties because my wife thought the vampire hero was too much a pretty boy. As far as vampires on TV are concerned, I'll confess that we used to watch Toronto-filmed Forever Knight.

I've seen part of Forever Knight and wouldn't mind seeing the whole series (three seasons, I think). I've enjoyed Geraint Wyn-Davies' acting in the theater as well.

Susan, I enjoy Hambly's Benjamin January series a lot, too! My favorite book of hers is still Dragonsbane but I really dislike all of the sequels to it, they're downright depressing.

As for Yarbro, it sounds almost as if the character wasn't speaking to her anymore, and then she forced him to, to satisfy the demands of readers or editors or something. And I had never heard/read the word "esurience" before (and in fact, Firefox's built-in spellcheck is flagging it as not a real word), so I had to look it up. I guess that means I learned it second-hand from one of her sex scenes. I feel a little dirty now ;)

Serge, very interesting point re: editor input on the future of a series. I wonder how often this becomes an issue? I've already written three (and started the fourth) book in my series, although only the first one has gone beyond the first draft stage. It would be annoying if I had to completely discard the other books I've written so far. If, for instance, the editor really liked the character Cait, who plays a major part in the first book, and wanted the series to focus on her, I'd have to go and completely scrap books 2 and 3, because she only plays a minor part in 2 and only shows up for a few pages in 3, before becoming a major player again in the fourth book.

Food for thought, to consider while I'm working on my stand-alone book.

I also liked Dragonsbane and also did not like the one sequel I read. That was enough to stop me from reading any further. Some books just should not have sequels.

I was happy with esurience the first time I read it; it's a nice, rippling sort of word and I do like new vocabulary. But after I noticed she used it in just about every book, it got more than a little tedious. And then it got to be a joke.

I don't have the impression that editors get involved to that level of detail unless it affects the overall quality of the book. Actually, given the level of content-related nonediting some stuff I've read lately appears to have undergone [cough, Yarbro, cough], I may be optimistic about actual editorial involvement. But I think it would be more along the lines of telling you that books 2 & 3 were not working because of [X] where [X] would be an actual element, not a lack-of-element, and leaving the details of the fixing to you. One of my friends who's working on the third book in a series (first two already published) is making it mostly about a minor character from one of the earlier books rather than continuing to follow her main characters from before, and the house (Tor) seems happy enough with the results that they've already purchased the cover art.

Disclaimer: I am not an editor, and I'm not chatting up any editors on a regular basis lately, so take all my comments with a salt shaker at hand. But if someone let me loose on some of these books [cough, Weber, cough] I would be soaking the entire ms. in red ink and shipping it back to the author for rewrite.

True Blood is on HBO -- I saw that on today's WashPost, although I don't remember why.

Susan... I've enjoyed Geraint Wyn-Davies' acting in the theater as well

Hey! I thought I was the only person who knew of Geraint. I quit on Forever Knight when they brought in a new cast, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

AJ... Food for thought, to consider while I'm working on my stand-alone book

Again, this is just my opinion, from being married o a writer, from knowing some writers, and from knowing people who know writers, but again it is just my opinion. No matter which approach you take, go for it!

No, he has a respectable acting pedigree on the stage.

Isn't it interesting how certain words stand out to us? Since you had to look "esurience" up the first time that you saw it, you'll always remember it, but if she had used "hunger" you probably wouldn't even think about it. I also sometimes notice authors over-using a single word or turn of phrase in a book, but I figure that I am reading it a *lot* faster than they wrote it, so it surely stands out more to me as a reader than it would to them as they write it. "Oh, I do love the word 'esurience' and since it's been 20 pages, I suppose I can use it again."

I also find lots of typographical and plot-related errors in published works (the best example being a short story in the Children of Cthulhu anthology, where the narrator mentions at the start that his parents died right after he was born, and then shortly thereafter mentions his significantly younger siblings, and no explanation for this is made in the course of the story). It really seems like most books just do not get the sort of editing that they need and deserve. Even the best author is going to make a silly mistake now and then.

AJ... Well, this IS about the Children of Cthulhu.

Serge, and if there had been something about his younger siblings crawling forth from his mothers' grave, or being adopted from some decadent tribe of Deep Ones, I would have shrugged it off. But no such explanation was given, so it clearly falls into the realm of poor writing/poor editing. Given the quality of the rest of the stories, I shouldn't be surprised. There were one or two gems, a couple of so-so stories, and a lot of drek.

AJ... if there had been something about his younger siblings crawling forth from his mothers' grave

Meanwhile, at the Day Scare center...

Susan... if someone let me loose on some of these books [cough, Weber, cough] I would be soaking the entire ms. in red ink

I find myself thinking of that scene from Serenity where River is standing on top of a heap of dead Reavers, and blood is dripping from her axe.

So THAT's where editors get their red ink...

Yes, that's it exactly. Some day (hah) I will manage to write that post about that Weber novel and you will see a distinct similarity in my attitude. Some writing stunts just make me hostile.

AJ... When I met Susan at Denvention, she expressed her feelings about the Weber book quite eloquently. A post about it would be... ah... interesting. I was very amused by her description of space battles, which makes it sound like sex, what with missiles frustrated from reching their targets. Safe sex in space?

That was a different Weber novel. The one that makes me froth would require a review that incorporates phrases like editorial malpractice and ho, ho, Mr. Weber made a funny! and like coating a chocolate truffle with mucus.

According to his brother, Weber is no longer copyedited.

I think this blog is in serious need of some Weber reviews! (Is he the one who writes those Honor Harrington novels?) The Yarbro reviews were entertaining, but these sound downright vicious, and I like a good vicious review.

Yes, Weber is the guy who writes those Honor Harrington stories. By the way, how does Honor manage to keep her alien kitty from shedding on her black uniform in spite of its sleeping on her shoulder?

The treecats do shed - it's mentioned in at least one of the books. They're from a cold planet, so in warm temperatures they shed like crazy. Maybe it doesn't stick like cat hair? And in any case, she has a personal attendant who could remove cat hair as part of the job.

Honestly, I'm somewhat more interested in the treecats than the human characters at this point.

I'm not talking about copyediting, though that would no doubt help with problems like the character whose name changes spontaneously in mid-page. I'm talking about more like a global search-and-replace for stupidity.

(But, um, why isn't he copyedited anymore, one wonders?)


she has a personal attendant who could remove cat hair as part of the job

...who probably would have to follow her everywhere to make sure her black unform remains pristinely black. This sounds like something from the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan.

a global search-and-replace for stupidity

"Doctor Susan, I beg you not to activate that Device!"
"I must!"
Thus did Civilization as we know it collapse.

Ok, I've never read an Honor Harrington book, but I have a "friend" who does, and he is very enthusiastic about everything he partakes in, so I've heard some rather eye-rolling bits about them, and that's when he tells me stuff that he thinks is COOL.

Can I have one of those personal attendants, please? With two cats and two dogs, I am constantly covered in fur of every color. I miss my black clothes...

(Oh yes, and said "friend" is coming over tonight. I should start a betting pool as to whether he will talk all night about World of Warcraft, the Rifts roleplaying game, the Berserker anime and manga, or the latest movie he's seen, which I will not have to see, because he'll mention every cool part about it, even if I say "Yes, we're hoping to see what this weekend.")

AJ... Your friend sounds like the kind of person who, after seeing Citizen Kane for the first time, would tell everybody else who Rosebud was.

Serge, that is about the size of it! When he still lived in Tucson, Chris and I would often feel like we had to go see movies as soon as they came out, because otherwise when we went to gaming on Saturday, he'd tell us about every single funny line and cool moment.

Thankfully, he has plans tonight, and my husband can't get any time off of work, so he'll only be coming over for a very small window of time to see our new house and new dogs.

AJ... Phew! We're hoping to go see Quantum of Solace tomorrow evening ourselves. I'm sure Sue will enjoy limping all the way to her aisle seat. She'll probably groan when she sees Star Trek's coming attraction on the big screen.

I've read most of the Honor Harrington books. I skip or skim large chunks of them, but there are some good stories under the hardware porn and mind-numbing pseudo-French-Revolutionary politics. Unfortunately, there are fewer good stories than there are books at this point, and there's only so many times you can reuse the same story.

The movie I want to see soonish is Milk. No suspense there; I know how the story ends, and so will anyone else who reads a review or knows their gay rights history. It got a fabulous review in the NYT today, and it's very timely in the wake of Prop 8.

Oh, yes, Milk... That one is definitely on my must-see list.

Ah, yes... Milk definitely is on my must-see list.

(My apologies for the duplicate. The first one wasn't showing up so I thought I hadn't hit "post".)

I actually quietly fix these little problems if I notice them before they're commented on. :)

Weber, like a lot of other very well-selling authors, don't get copyedited because people will buy their work anyway. This happens in other houses, too, but Jim Baen actually said he doesn't edit this kind of author. Let me see if I can find the quote... Bah. It's on Usenet and Google doesn't have that archive available. I'll see if James has it.

Milk got a great review from the WashPost, too, so I'll add it to my Netflix queue when I have an open spot.

Okay, I got it from James. It's quoted on Usenet, but is originally from:

page 195 of Science Fiction Culture:

JIM BAEN: It's been my experience that editors of that sort do
as much harm as good...It's also the most time-consuming thing we attempt
to do. So in general, if someone were not sending a book I want to publish,
I don't publish it. Occasionally [we will make suggestions but]... we
take a fairly strong position, that "thou shalt not edit. The author
gets to publish the book she wrote.

Said friend is over and we had a nice chat for a bit, then he started talking about World of Warcraft, a game which I despise, so I said I had to "go finish the work I need to get done before the game tonight." ... responding to blog posts is work, right?

Serge, I hope you two enjoy Quantum of Solace. We'll probably wait for DVD.

There was a rather telling thread with Eric Flint on rasfw about one of Weber's less readable books. Unfortunately I don't recall the details well enough to related them here and I am pretty sure it is buried in a megathread I have no desire to revisit.

There was a rather telling thread with Eric Flint on rasfw about one of Weber's less readable books. Unfortunately I don't recall the details well enough to related them here and I am pretty sure it is buried in a megathread I have no desire to revisit.

*sigh* I thought the first attempt to post had not gone through.

Marilee... thou shalt not edit. The author gets to publish the book she wrote

It's hard to argue with success, and Baen was quite successful, but I'm nothing if not argumentative - my boss would agree. I'd have asked Baen if his attitude went for each and every author, provided their story isn't total drek, or if by pure coincidence it happened to apply to those whose books people will buy no matter what.

James Davis Nicoll... Can you tell us the gist of it?

AJ... I hope I enjoy it too. Most of the movies I've seen this year haven't fully satisfied me, when they haven't left me actively dissatisfied. One movie I'm planning not to see is The Day The Earth Stood Still.

responding to blog posts is work, right?

Yes, actually, at least for the hostess. But it's a fun sort of work, though the more successful Rixo grows the more time it consumes keeping up. This is not a complaint! I'm actually all burbly about my expanding comment threads and the ever-higher peaks on my daily page view graph.

I am faintly becroggled at the idea of an editor who doesn't believe in editing. I guess "editor" for some people is a term of art for "book buyers and cheerleaders" rather than one that means what it literally means. It also seems to suggest that Baen only published people whose mss. arrive in whatever he considered a publishable state. That must be hard on new authors who have potential but could use a little guidance. If it's a general industry policy it explains a lot about some of the dreck that gets published, too.

But what do I know? I'm just a reader.

I should note, however, that the book that irritates me so much was published by Tor, not Baen, so Jim Baen's policies are not relevant except in that they may have established expectations on Weber's part that he doesn't have to permit any editing at all. This affects my opinion of Tor, and it directly influenced my Hugo voting this year.

re. Gerant Wyn Davies:
It occurs to me that I'm going to see him on stage in less than two weeks - he has a role in Red Bull Theatre's Women Beware Women, which I am seeing with my mother on December 9th. Given Red Bull's past accomplishments (The Revenger's Tragedy and Edward II), I am expecting great things.

The third and fourth posts on Rixo were about those two productions.

Serge, movies this year have been a decent experience for me. I enjoyed Hellboy Vs. The Evil Steampunk Faeries and Wall-E and Iron Man. I can't remember what else I've watched this year, though.

Susan, my opinion is that no matter how good an author is and how well his or her books sell, an editor should be going through and checking for grammatical/typographical errors, names changing mid-page, little continuity goofs, whatever. After all, we're all only human and even the best author is going to make a goof or two. And we, as readers, deserve to have the majority of these goofs fixed before the book hits our hands.

I see it as an insult to a writer's loyal fans to suggest that they'll buy and gobble up everything said author produces, whether or not it's been given even a modicum of quality control.

I suspect it's a money-saving tactic, in some ways. Get the book, print it up, and put it on the shelves as fast as possible to make some easy cash, and meanwhile the authors are free to put the polish on the books of less-famous authors who need to have a quality product to hook new readers.

AJ... True, there was Iron Man. My mom-in-law was here to help with my wife's recovery so we popped in the DVD and she loved it so much that she's going to put it on her NetFlix queue to watch again.

AJ... it's a money-saving tactic

Heck, why spend money that you don't have to spend? Right. Besides, the author may not like being edited and if he/she walks away because of that, you'll have even less money in your coffer.

Serge, sounds like you have a cool mom-in-law ;) My MIL is a big fan of comic and sci-fi movies, too. She loves when we come to visit, because she actually has someone to see the sorts of movies she likes with.

And as for editing and authors, I can understand an author not wanting an editor to suggest that they make changes to the plot of their book... but seriously, you have to be pretty conceited to think that there's no mistakes that an editor could catch, to polish up your book.

What you describe above is the copyediting side, I think, and doesn't even have to be done by a high-level editor. You just need someone literate and good at details. It can be farmed out to freelancers. I can hardly turn out a blog post without a typo, myself, let alone anything longer! (I usually post, then find the typo and go back to edit it out.)

But I keep reading books that really do have potential to be quite good, but they're clunky in places or have gaping plot holes or inconsistent characters. I read them and wonder how exactly any editor could let the book get out the door in that condition when it seems to me that the problems are fixable. Aren't they embarrassed? (The author, having produced the prose in question, presumably didn't notice the problems.)

I think an attitude (if it exists) of "why bother editing, people will buy it anyway" would be obnoxious and contemptuous of the reading public. I do in fact stop reading series that go seriously downhill (cough, McCaffrey, cough, Anne Rice, cough, post-MZB Darkover, cough, Laurell Hamilton, cough). I wish more people would. But judging from what gets published, maybe people in general aren't very sensitive to bad writing? Someone buys all those terrible romance novels, since the same authors keep churning out more of them!

If I wrote a piece of fiction, I'd welcome the attention of a good editor to help me improve it. I'm quite sure I'd need it!

(Note: I had to go in and edit out a typo in this comment after it was published. Sigh.)

Let me do a little research first, so as to avoid committing libel.

Susan, I have to wonder if editors get rushed and/or have too much of a workload and don't give books as much attention as they should get. Or if they've grown tired of authors who complain every time it's suggested that they clean up the problems you mention seeing with plot and character.

I'd be interested in picking an editor's brain about this.

AJ... I'd be interested in picking an editor's brain

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Igor, would you mind telling me whose brain I did put in?
Igor: And you won't be angry?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I will NOT be angry.
Igor: Abby someone.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Abby someone. Abby who?
Igor: Abby Normal.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Abby Normal?
Igor: I'm almost sure that was the name.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven and a half foot long, fifty-four inch wide GORILLA?
[shakes and grabs him]
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE TELLING ME?

Huh. Apparently my last comment got zapped as comment spam....

Sorry, James, Typepad sometimes gets oddly protective. I released the comment from purgatory.

If that happens to anyone else, do speak up here or in email to me. I don't have much of a spam problem, so I rarely check the filters to see if they've caught anything.

James... he literally didn't have time to write a short book, so he wrote a long one instead.

Interesting. It sounds like, when he starts his books, he has a vague idea of how the story will start and possibly how it will end, but not how one will lead to the other.

I understand that Leigh Brackett never planned her books and, when her hubby Edmond Hamilton found out, he exclaimed that this was a Hell of a way to write a book.

All the Harrington novels end roughly the same way (big space battle with hardware porn, followed by a short epilogue to tie up some loose human ends), so it's not like it would be a big surprise. It sounds to me like he just sort of scribbles it out without doing any self-editing. I envy that ability to just pour out story, but that doesn't seem like a good idea.

Stephen King once referred to those who plan their stories as hacks. That he doen't plan might explain why Needful Things and The Library Police have such similar solutions to the defeat of Eeeevil.

About hardware porn... I'm reading the latet issue of Realms of Fantasy, where one story has a character decide to pass time by reading some "Baen porn".


"Baen porn"


Elmore Leonard once mentioned in an introduction to a Charles Willeford novel that neither Leonard nor Willeford plan their books beforehand (Well, "planned" for Willeford). I like both authors but they both had books where you can see the plot leap the nearest fence to make a run for the horizon while the author stands there,leash in hand, looking sad.

I do like how Leonard handled a set-up I generally find tiresome: charming criminal gets romantically involved with female law enforcement officer. In the end (Spoiler, rot13ed) fur qrzbafgengrf n ernfbanoyr yriry bs qrqvpngvba gb ure wbo ol fubbgvat uvz.

Heh, I like that ending. And great image of the escaping plot.

I don't have much opinion on how stories ought or ought not to be planned; whatever works for the author. I'm a hyper-planner for my nonfiction writing, but that's a different kettle of fish.

But I do think it helps to look back at a finished story and see if it all makes sense. I can understand not being objective enough or having enough distance to do this very well with one's own work, especially at first. That seems like about where an editor ought to come in.

Maybe I'm just an idealist about publishing, or suffering from some sort of golden-ageism in thinking that things like this seem to have gotten worse in my reading lifetime.

Welcome to Rixo, by the way. I feel like I already know you from years of lurking and occasional posting on rasff!

Susan... a different kettle of fish

Dare I suggest that it's a different school of writing?

I like James's description of the runaway plot too. My approach is somewhere between hyperplanning and making it up as I go. I know the starting and ending points, but I also know the intermediate steps. I'll make things up as I go for how to go from one intermediate step to the next. That approach has served me well as programmer, and it should if/when I write.

(Meeanwhile, I came out of Quantum of Solace feeling like the first half was being written as they were filming it.)

I actually write outlines, ranging from an informal list with subpoints to full-scale formal ones with numerals and letters, depending on how complex a piece of writing it is. For Kickery, I also make a list of the sources I will cite and pull out any entertaining quotes or helpful pictures I might want to incorporate. Some of those posts take several hours to research/write/code.

The outlining habit is deeply engrained: I did my first "term paper" (on dolphins) when I was about seven, and we had to go step-by-step through a detailed procedure: notes on index cards, sorting by subject, preparation of a multi-level outline, writing of an introduction, conclusion, and separate "chapters" for each subject, bibliography, and a nice cover illustration. At least they didn't make us learn about footnotes!

I was using roughly the same process all the way through college, though I did stop using actual index cards in favor of color-coded lists on sheets of paper (this was pre-personal-computer, for the most part, though I did do my senior thesis on a dm1521 terminal linked to a mainframe instead of using a typewriter. Ah, the days of dot-matrix printers!)

Susan... At least they didn't make us learn about footnotes

And footnotes within footnotes?

I think I learned to do things the way I do from my dad. That's pretty much what we did when I was a teenager and I helped him turn the loft into separate bedrooms. It served me well here and here. True, neither those projects nor computer programming are like writing, but it worked out even though the physical world is quite unforgiving.

Two more links:


It's very interesting to see how different authors approach issues like planning out a book ahead of time.

I don't start writing a book until I know what it's going to be about, who at least a couple of major characters are, how it's going to start and a few things that will happen in the middle. A vague idea of the end is nice, too, but sometimes I start without that.

However, I've reached a point in my current book where my little file of notes on plot ideas isn't enough, and I'm going to have to write a timeline to keep everything straight. I have too many subplots and characters converging in one area and I don't want them to get all tangled up.

AJ... My wife likes to plan everything in advance. Sometimes she runs into a brickwall and I try to convince her that she should go for a lame stopgap solution in her outline because otherwise she'll lose all momentum. Besides, by the time she has to actually write that passage, she'll have come up with a better solution.

James, that was the thread I got in the search, but then Google refused to cough up the actual thread. I wonder if Flint got permission from Drake to quote him. Thanks for the research!

Serge, I'd love to get my husband to help me with my plotting issues, but the problem is that he hates to read my work while it's in progress (he gets impatient), and I don't want to tell him the plot points I'm having issue with, because that will lessen his enjoyment when he finally reads the story.

(Besides that, I like him to not know the plot going on, so I can see how long it takes him to guess it. If he figures it out right away, I know it's too easy, or he's reading my mind)

AJ... he's reading my mind

Have you thought of wearing something like Magneto's dorky helmet?

That being said, yes, I can see how you'd want to keep him in reserve as a reader of the completed story. I take it that, where you live, there isn't somebody to plot with who is not your hubby. My wife is so lucky to have someone who is a reader and a co-plotter. Coughgagsplutter.

Have you thought of wearing something like Magneto's dorky helmet?

No. I hate hats ;)

For a time, a friend of mine who I met in writing class was helping me out by reading and critiquing my writing as I went along (and I did the same for her), and I could bounce ideas off of her. In fact, when I was ready to start the current iteration of my current book, I told her the basic synopsis and the trouble I was having (that is to say, I had the plot but I wasn't feeling the characters) and she asked me some *great* questions that helped move me in the right direction. However, in the last year she's become very busy with a new job and going to school, so she's now just offering cheerful encouragement.

My father is also a writer, but he hasn't read much of my stuff in the past couple of years, because he's too busy writing his own (there is no emoticon to properly express my opinion on this).

Tucson seems to be chock full of writers, so I should probably crawl out of my cave and go find a writer's group to solve these problems.

he's reading my mind

If I recall correctly, I have read this was how Leigh and Walt Richmond collaborated. He would sit in his chair telepathically beaming stories at Leigh. She would then type them up. He trusted her powers of reception so much that he never double-checked her work.

LOL James!

Serge, AJ's dad has an unusual speciality for his stories, so they can be hard to read even when you're related.

Actually, I don't mind reading my Dad's stories. They're lighter than I like, but they're also very brisk (I can read one of his NaNoWriMo stories in a single sitting). So while I wouldn't pay money for them, they're a good way to pass an evening.

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