A very long time ago (twenty years maybe?) I read a manuscript by a friend. Well, I read the first 160 pages before I gave up. I handed it back to her and said, “I quit reading
I think that’s tattooed on my brain now because, of course, I say the same thing when people suggest that every word of my first act is not genius, GENIUS I tell you. But I really thought of it this time because I was going through Act 3 and thinking, “Okay, now this is getting good.” That’s only 84,000 words into the novel. I’m sure readers will stick with it that long to get to the good stuff.
Just kidding, I’m getting out my ax now.
There are two difficult things about reading critiques. One is that they’re telling you that parts of your baby are ugly, and there’s nothing you can do about that because the truth is, parts of your baby are ugly. So you let the feedback rest for at least twenty-four hours so you can get past the knee-jerk my-baby-is-not-ugly response, and then you look to see what you’ve got. This is also when you fight back the urge to explain what people didn’t get (if you’re not going to stand in every bookstore and explain that to everybody who buys the book, explaining it now will not help) and to rationalize why things are in there in terms of what you need for the book (if the reader doesn’t need it when she encounters it, you don’t need it either).
Having fought back all the knee-jerk stuff and accepted that yes, those parts of your baby are ugly, it’s time for the second hard part, translating feedback into action.
So first I go through and find the things that a majority of people agree on, like things to cut–Hotels (18 people said so), Bad Ass Socks (6), Aliens/Alf Flashback (4)–and cut them. If they’re important, I’ll put them in later.
And then I look at the things that taken together mean something that’s not mentioned directly but that needs fixed.
Nita’s not working for a lot of people (“all over the place”) and since she’s my protagonist, that is not good. Comments: Nita needs to meet Nick faster, Nita’s
One of the problems with Nita is that her character shifted in the three years I’ve been writing this sucker. What I’ve ended up with is a woman who desperately wants to be normal and just isn’t. That kind of woman does not have psychic gifts because she’d repress them, so no more seeing blood on guilty peoples’ hands. That’s also the reason (once I put it on the page) that she rejects the supernatural. So she’s practical, hardworking, and repressing her emotions, especially her anger. A woman who is repressing her emotions is tough to make sympathetic, so it’s going to have to be in the way she interacts with people (she’s a good person) and in her vulnerability (which I have to put on the page).
As far as getting her and Nick together, I’ve cut 2,000 words out of the first two scenes, so that gets us to the
I didn’t get a lot of feedback on Nick, possibly because his low emotional
Some people found Button annoying, but I like her, so while I’m scaling back her criticisms of Nita, she’s still going to be exasperated and career-driven. I cut a lot of the “new” repetition
This is where a lot of the world-building takes
I also cut back the use of italics in some of the dialogue (4 people said to do that).
A lot of people said Jason could be cut, but he’s necessary so I just have to make him more interesting. I’m ambivalent about Jeo and Daphne, but I can cut that back. People said that Vinnie should be more freaked by Nick getting shot, but Vinnie’s drunk and upset about Jimmy, so I can see him being slow to put it all together; he’s described as red-faced by both Nick and Nita, not sure if that parallelism or repetition. Belia’s phone call stays and so does the short scene with Max, although I cut them both back;
Three people said there was too much exposition, too many characters in Part One, and I cut a lot of it. Others said there were too many characters in the breakfast scene, and that’s a problem because I wanted the diner to seem crowded with Nita’s responsibilities, a microcosm of her life. So that one I’ll have to cogitate on. And I need to get a better grip on my police organization and hierarchy, which I don’t really care about but which does have to be plausible.
And that’s where I am right now, have slashed the first part and ready to move on to the rest of Act One. I’m still looking at comments as I go and VERY grateful to everybody who played along, so thank you all very, very much.