The Error of my (Old) Ways

I’m trying to tell myself this is a good thing.

After all, it means I’ve grown as an artist, as a wordsmith. That’s a very, very good thing.

But, oh boy, is it a giant pain.

Back in 2007, I wrote the first Wolf Dasher novel. It was called The Armageddon Clock. I wrote five drafts of it and had it ready to submit to agents when I realized it was very much a Cold War thriller and might not resonate with modern audiences, especially Millennials, who weren’t alive for much of the Cold War.

So I abandoned it, and wrote five more Wolf Dasher novels that have a much more modern-problems feel to them.

Three or four years ago, I conceived of a long-term plan for the series. I’d published two books in it (State of Grace and Red Dragon Five), and I had worked out a six-book arc that would conclude with The Armageddon Clock. I’d make a few updates to the original book and use its apocalyptic story to close out the line. After all, I had the whole book written. It just needed to be tweaked to fit into the series as Book 6 instead of Book 1.

That hasn’t been nearly as easy as it sounds. I’ve spent the last week reading and editing that eight-year-old manuscript (the fifth and final draft was completed in 2008), and I’ve only made it a third of the way through.

There is a lot of work to do.

First of all, updating this novel to fit into the current arc is proving difficult. The Armageddon Clock was written before I conceived of any of the events in the subsequent books, so there are a lot of places where I have to change things because, well, Wolf has changed. He’s not a devil-may-care, womanizing, action hero anymore. After five novels of horrible things happening to him and the people he loves, he’s thoughtful, cautious, and world-weary.

That means whole passages have to be cut or changed, because he just wouldn’t do the things I wrote anymore. He’s not the same guy.

Moreover, Wolf Dasher, as I wrote him in 2007-8, is much more callous. He’s crueler and haughtier. He’s really very impressed with himself. Even in State of Grace, before Wolf is blindsided by the horror of working in Alfar, he’s got more depth than that. The Wolf Dasher of The Armageddon Clock is more of a cardboard cutout than the one we meet in State of Grace.

So there’s a lot of red ink on my manuscript pages, even though I’m only a third of the way through the book. There are a lot of changes I’ll have to make, but that’s not the worst of it.

The writing is awful.

It’s hard to believe I would have thought this thing was ready for someone to publish. It’s no wonder I struggled to find an agent for my work before I became an indie author.

The most frequent comment I write in the margins is “Show; don’t tell.” Boy, do I do a lot of telling. I tell you how characters feel. I tell you what they did or are going to do. I tell you what they see.

But I don’t show it often.

Worse, I spend a lot of time doling out information that could have been shown with action. I’ll come into a scene in media res and tell the reader what’s happened up to this point. Why do that? Why not show it happening instead? After all, that might be more exciting or interesting.

It’s amazing what we don’t know about ourselves. I desperately needed an editor. I needed someone to tell me I was writing badly.

But until I got an editor (because I wise enough to know someone has to edit a book before it can be published), no one did. No one pointed out the obvious errors of craft I was making.

I run into this issue every time I pull out an old manuscript and try to publish it now. I find a really good story buried under bad writing.

The Armageddon Clock will be an excellent end to the current story arc, but the manuscript as it exists is really only good as an outline. I’m not sure how much of the text is actually usable. I’m pretty certain it won’t even be 50 percent. It might not be 30.

But this is a good thing, right? It shows how much I’ve grown as an artist. It means I’ll publish a good book when it is done.

That’s not much consolation now, though. There’s a lot more work to be done on this project than I was expecting.

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One thought on “The Error of my (Old) Ways

  1. Pingback: The End? | John R. Phythyon, Jr., Author

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