One of my Kickstarter contacts put me in touch with an editor, who read my first novel, The Great RPG Contest. This is someone who knows the genre, the market, and has seen it all, and he gave me a couple of hours of his time in a video chat whereupon sage advice was handed down.
First and foremost, they seemed to genuinely like my book. They said the story was fresh, would have appeal to many readers, that the text was clean and well-written. That was a tremendous relief, and I was grateful for their praise. For me, criticism is a greater sign of respect, so I focused on critiques.
The biggest change he suggested was to add more dialog. I’m good at dialog, but I’m such an advocate of pushing plots forward that I have a bad habit of summarizing exchanges between characters to “keep things moving.” I was inadvertently squeezing flavor out of the story. The editor said, “If the dialog is working, readers won’t know or care if the book is a little bit longer.”
I invested another rewrite into my book, adding another month of work. With regard to the dialog, I’m currently fleshing out the conversations and I cannot express how much of a difference that it makes–and it’s not making the scenes or book any longer than what I’d originally started. It was a great improvement.
He suggested that I increase the stakes of the story and put the protagonist more on a hot-seat. In retrospect, it seems like an obvious decision, even if my story was working even without the added tension. I followed his advice again and it made the story more interesting.
He advised me to purchase MasterClass.com, a video service that connects artists and students with the most successful people in a given field. Having purchased a $40 Amazon Fire Stick, I can say the monthly subscription to MasterClass is worth it, so dutifully I’m grinding through the classes. I watched courses taught by authors including Aaron Sorkin, James Patterson, Dan Brown, and David Balducci’s class. While I’m not always a fan of their work, some of the advice is quite good and they communicated aspects of writing that I previously missed.
For example, James Patterson illustrates the importance of the first sentence, describing it as a contract with the reader about what to expect from the book. James read examples of good opening sentences and it resonated. If the author can write a synopsis in a clever way, it’s a promise to the reader that more cleverness will follow.
James’ advice was more specific than just saying, “Have a good opener,” and it convinced me to revisit my first paragraph. This is what I came up with:
“I wouldn’t have guessed that my struggle to survive a fantasy-game universe would begin with The Trials of Air Travel.”
I tell the reader what the book is about while throwing a non sequitur about air travel. The capitalization plays with formalizing the pain dealing with the airlines, suggesting that it’s so common that it deserves a proper name. The mention of the airlines appears to be a curveball until I reveal the protagonist’s anxieties of leaving home and making it on his own. Missing a simple domestic flight is just one of the unknowns he must face. It is an obstacle that many of us take for granted, but it reveals his immaturity and harkens back to the nervousness we first felt when leaving the nest.
I’ve finished the second pass of my second book, The Plans We Make, and am happy to report that it was cleaner than the one before it. It only took me one month to complete (an improvement of 3 weeks), so I’m seeing major strides in my writing. Still, there were so many changes, book 2’s next pass will probably not be its last.
The great thing about having more than one book to edit is that it gives me distance, so whenever I revisit my copy, I have a fresher set of eyes. I’m looking forward to beginning the 3rd book on January 1st.