Sarah Avery (dr_pretentious) wrote,
Sarah Avery

Why I've Gone To Ground, What I'll Do When I Surface

The moment I was done with conference stuff, I hurried home to print out hard copy of the Big Book. I hadn't looked at it in six months, and I figured I ought to give it a quick proofreading pass, just in case the agent liked the partial enough to request the full. (No answer yet from the agent, but I wasn't expecting to hear from her until May.)

Quick proofreading pass. Yeah, right.

Remember how, back in August, I said that if the Big Book went to press exactly as it was, I would not be embarrassed? Ha.

I don't feel too bad about the typos. Everybody has typos, and there aren't all that many of them. It's not just the excessive dialogue tags, though it's dismaying to see how many I missed back in August, considering that I was making a point of looking for ones I could cut. It's the continuity errors.

The problem with writing a book over the course of three years is that the actual text doesn't always keep up with improvements in the author's understanding of the story, and that some bits of the text improve faster than others. When I put in the new middle, not all of the details in the endgame chapters got updated.

The error that made me yelp with alarm when I spotted it was the one in which one of the commoner political dissidents is trying to figure out whether to trust a particularly disreputable aristocrat, and the dissident notes that they barely know each other. Well, in the first draft that was true, but in the current draft this follows hard upon a conspiracy in which the two of them commit a major act of sedition together.

So, for the past three weeks, I've been combing through the Big Book, hoping to catch all the yelpworthy mistakes. It's been a long three weeks. All 900-some pages are marked up now.

My main consolation is that Teresa Nielsen Hayden's magisterial essay "On Copyediting" exhorts copyeditors to watch for exactly the sorts of things I'm fixing. And if Nielsen Hayden needs to tell professional copyeditors to track continuity errors, that means such errors routinely turn up in books that have already been accepted for publication. Otherwise, why mention them?

Yesterday I sat down to enter the changes I'd marked, and got through repairs to the first 400 pages in about three hours. Considering how long it took to identify the problems, it's a little shocking how fast the fixes go. Most of the fixes are just a word or two in, out, or changed. Amazing how much that word or two can matter. Only about a dozen fixes are on the scale of the paragraph. Today I can hope to knock out maybe 300 pages more, and tomorrow I'll be done.

The Little Book is less satisfying on a structural level--since it is, well, Little--but I was a much better writer when I sat down to start that one than I was when I sat down to start the Big Book. Sometimes limiting myself to just one viewpoint character has felt like trying to sculpt marble one-handed, and I still believe that an ensemble cast is always inherently more interesting than a one-woman show. Refusing to let the Little Book open out and breathe is physically painful some days. Some days I've hated the book almost as much as I've hated the stupid, market-driven, false necessity of keeping it down to 100,000 words. But. Considering how little I let the Little Book do, it does what it does more crisply than the Big Book does anything. For the first time, the prospect turning my attention back to the Little Book feels more like a pleasure than like a settling for second best.
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