Back to: On finishing | Forward to: A long weekend

The working rhythm ...

So I had another birthday (they're coming faster, these days) and then spent yesterday and today on a death march, checking the page proofs to the next Merchant Princes novel. (It's "The Revolution Business", and it's coming out in hardcover from Tor next April.) One of the side effects of this job is that you don't pay much attention to weekends and public holidays. Next up on the block is an actual vacation — I'm taking a long weekend in Amsterdam (to do the Bokbierfest and kick back). Then I've got two jobs to occupy me for the rest of the year, and a bit beyond: (a) writing "The Trade of Queens" (next up in the Merchant Princes series) and (b) fixing the first-draft errors in "The Fuller Memorandum" (a lower priority, unless one of the publishers suddenly decide they want to pull it forward a year or so from the current schedule).

I suppose I should mention something about the process of revision at this point. When a novel is finished in first draft, it's not yet publishable. Never mind spelling errors, there are usually internal inconsistencies. So you either re-read it interminably, looking for them, or let other trusted readers — your agent, or friends — check it over. Sometimes they're small: one of the flagged errors in "The Fuller Memorandum" is our protagonist saying that he's leaving work at 6:40pm, but meeting someone in a pub outside the office at 8:30pm. And sometimes the mistakes are major: the most terrifying thing someone can say about your new novel is something like, "I enjoyed it, but I didn't understand why $VILLAIN did $LYNCHPIN_OF_PLOT. Wouldn't it have been a lot simpler if they'd done $SOMETHING_ELSE instead ..." where $SOMETHING_ELSE is something so obvious and trivial that it entirely undercuts 50,000 words of elaborate action: if you start hearing that response from more than one reader, then it's a sign that you need to go back to the drawing board.

And it's not just the plot development and action that's vulnerable — if you're dealing with a character you established over the previous few books, and your readers are hooked on the series, you can't have them suddenly behaving in a ways that's even partially inconsistent without the emotional or character development to support the change. I've got plenty of the first type of snag to fix before TFM is ready to send to an editor, but I don't think any of my test readers have identified any fatal flaws in the entire novel. We shall see.



What about stupid villains? (or protagonists for that matter) - I haven't noticed you doing this too much, but that seems to me to be one of the weak points of most fiction writing, to get the "interesting" plot points or scenes to happen, someone has to behave like a moron, usually the protagonist. Sad, really.


if you start hearing that response from more than one reader, then it's a sign that you need to go back to the drawing board

...or write for TV, where this kind of plot hole seems depressingly common.


Jason @1: the technical term for this is a Stupid Plot, i.e. it revolves around someone being stupid.

I try to avoid them like the plague, except when writing characters who are specifically intended to be stupid (and even then, to make it clear to the reader that it's intentional).

Seth @2: most TV scripts get chewed over by a committee before they get anywhere near production. Something to do with a typical prime time TV series costing up to US $10M per hour to film these days ...


I've read pretty much everything you have published

and I think you have done a damned fine job. And you

always acknowledge all the people "behind the scenes"

that are involved in getting a book out.


Congratulations on your recent birthday [checks Wikipedia] on Saturday.

I've actually seen websites where people track continuity errors in an author's work-- usually for longer series format, but occasionally even for stand-alone stuff. It must be strange having your work read by people who study it with an intensity a Talmudic scholar.


James: at risk of a spoiler, my current thinking for book #4 of the Laundry series is a Modesty Blaise spoof. So what did I find, via Google, but this?

It is, indeed, scary what the fans will get up to (but usually in a good way) ...


Thanks for the notes on revision, Charlie.

I expect in the next few days to transition from Finishing The Rough Draft Of My First Novel, to Revising My First Novel, and I'm a little intimidated by the new frontier, but your post actually put me somewhat at ease.


Hey Charlie, do you find that leaving your drafts to "bake" for a while after writing them helps in the editing process? I know King recommends that in On Writing, but I've never gotten to that point with one of my aborted novel attempts. :)


See you at the bokbierfestival!


Interesting window into the author gig.
As far as the TFM being drafted, that is music to my ears. Here is hoping that we'll see it sooner than 2010.


A friend of mine pointed out that there was a gigantic hole of this sort in Hellboy II. Completely ruined the movie for me, even though I initially loved it. Sigh...

You'd think that movies would have enough money at stake that enough eyes would be employed to remove all the plot holes, but somehow it's the reverse: the bigger the budget, the less anyone seems to care about things making sense.


Sam @12: What was the big hole in HB2? I have a habit of suspending disbelief in movies I want to like. But now can't think back to what the huge plot hole would be.

And Charlie...I'm a friend right? Right? I mean the minibook...ok no that went badly...forget that. And me getting you a beer at Novacon - wait, can't make that either. Shit. I the Slaadi reference in Halting State!?

Aw who am I kidding!

Just out of wonder - do copy editors pick that kind of stuff up too (I mean the pro ones the publishers use), or will they just throw it aside if there are way too many holes to count?


Likewise, congratulations on your recent birthday!

Fans can be scary in a bad way too, unfortunately:


If I follow that link, does that mean that I'll actually have to read something typed by Mercedes Lackey?


EdKed @15, yes. Very long with lots of all-caps words. I paged down and read what Firebird wrote.


Serraphin@13: My girlfriend once had a job as a copy editor for a place that was about halfway between vanity publishing and professional. Her editing rules pretty much amounted to this:

1. Whatever the author intended stays, even if it's unbelievably stupid.

2. The copy editor fixes clear typos, simple grammar errors, punctuation, bad OCR, that sort of thing. Basically, clean up the text and format it to publisher standards.

3. If the copy is so bad she can't figure out what the author intended, or if she finds some sort of contract violation, she included a note to the editor.

Believe me, she had to repeat rule #1 to herself over and over sometimes...


Hi. I just finished The Merchant's War.

The ending was rather, shall I say, unsatisfactory.

I'm seriously considering taking out a contract on your kneecaps unless you wrap the damned story up! (Two more books? Two? You are a cruel man, Charles Stross.)


Off-Topic, BUT

The world's working rhythm will change if THIS
technology proves to be practicable on scaling-up.
A second link to the subject is HERE


Modesty Blaise? Squee! Been collecting them obsessively for just over a decade - generally from second-hand shops - and have finally managed to get all the books.



Is test reader a job that someone could actively pursue? Not necessarily for you specifically, but more in general in the publishing world? Is it even possible to get paid for being a test reader?


Alex: nope, it's not a paid post. Too many amateur volunteers, basically. There's something analogous in the role of freelance copy editor, but to get in there you really need to have prior professional publishing experience and contacts. There are publishers readers who are paid to read and report on unpublished manuscripts (not slush -- this is the stage after the slush is weeded out) to tell an editor whether it's worth their while to devote time and energy to taking on a new author and whacking the book into shape, but again, a background in publishing or reviewing is essential (along with contacts). Also, it's badly paid piece work. Can you read two or three novels in a day, every day for a week, and write reports on them? If not, it's not for you.


Alex @21, to add to Charlie's note: A lot of the volunteer test readers do have a good knowledge of literature, grammar, punctuation, etc., so although that's not their job, they're still very good at it. It would be impossible to get a paid job when there are such skilled people doing it for free.


Serraphin @13: If it's the plot-hole I'm thinking of, it's along the lines of "She could've done that about an hour earlier in the film."


one of the flagged errors in "The Fuller Memorandum" is our protagonist saying that he's leaving work at 6:40pm, but meeting someone in a pub outside the office at 8:30pm.

Only careful readers will take note of what turns out to be the key to the fifth book: The protagonist never learned to tell time. ("Big hand? Little hand? All gibberish to me.")

@18: I'm seriously considering taking out a contract on your kneecaps unless you wrap the damned [Merchant Princes] story up!

My view, for what it's worth, is that there is no particular reason the MP story ought to stop anytime soon unless the author wants it to.


something so obvious and trivial that it entirely undercuts 50,000 words of elaborate action

Yeah, they could just fly on those goddamned eagles and throw the Ring into Mount Doom airborne, but hey, the battles were neat.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 20, 2008 5:58 PM.

On finishing was the previous entry in this blog.

A long weekend is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog