The Read-Through, and a Plea for Help

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A few weeks ago I finished the initial draft of the third and final book in my Blood of the Southlands trilogy.  Today I begin the final read-through of the draft before I submit the book to my editor at the end of the week.  So I thought that this would be a good time to describe the purpose of this final read-through, and how I go about readying the manuscript for submission.

Whenever I finish a story or a book, I put it away for a while — at least a week, usually two weeks or more.  I’ve found that four weeks is ideal, but with deadlines that’s not always a luxury I have.  The point of doing this is to give myself a bit of distance from the story, the characters, and the prose.  When I’m in the middle of writing a book, I pretty much live and breathe it.  I immerse myself in the book for seven or eight hours every day of the work week.  This is a good thing; it allows me to focus, to get inside the heads of my characters, to see the plot from every conceivable angle.

But there’s also a down side to this immersion.  I become so consumed by what I’m writing that I begin to miss things that might diminish the effectiveness of my work.  For instance, like many writers I sometimes develop bad writing habits, verbal tics of a sort.  I’ll find a certain word or phrase that feels comfortable, that I can fall back on when stuck, and I’ll use it again and again without really being aware of it.  Or one or more of my characters will begin to drift away from himself or herself.  He/she will begin to act like someone else, or (God forbid) like me instead of like him/herself.  Or I’ll just lose track of my worldbuilding and do something that breaks a rule or deviates from something I’ve been trying to do with my world.

Chances are I won’t notice any of this stuff while I’m in the middle of writing the book, particularly as I’m nearing the end, when my writing speeds up and the conclusions of the various plot threads come in a frenzy of creative output.  But if I then put the book away for a while and read it fresh a few weeks later, I begin to see those errors.  The verbal tics are more glaring, the character drift stands out more, the worldbuilding mistakes bring me up short.

I also find that when I finish a book I have precious little sense of whether it’s any good.  Sometimes I’ll finish a book thinking it’s pretty good, only to find a few weeks later that it still needs a great deal of work.  More often (fortunately), I’ll finish a book thinking that it pretty much sucks, and then discover a few weeks later that it’s really much better than I thought.  Either way, the distance provided by taking this time, even if it’s only a short while, gives me some perspective on the book that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

So I’ll read through the entire book this week.  Sometimes I’ll read passages out loud.  I do a lot of this on the screen, but if a section really doesn’t seem to be working I’ll print it out and attack it with a red pen.  I know I won’t catch everything.  This is just the beginning of the editorial process.  I’ll send it to my editor and we’ll go through revisions.  It’ll go to my copyeditor, who will find prose problems and inconsistencies in plot or character that I’ve missed.  And at the end I’ll proof the entire book, as will readers who work for my publisher.  But if I can anticipate a few of the problems with this first read-through, then my editor and I can concentrate on more subtle issues later in the process.

To those of you who are starting out and perhaps finding yourselves stymied somewhere in the middle of the book, I highly recommend this approach.  Even if you’re still in the middle of the book, it can be enormously helpful to distance yourself from the project for a little while.  You’ll come back to it feeling fresh, and not only will you see things that need fixing, you might also be surprised by how often you read something you’ve written and go, “Wow!  That’s pretty good!”

And now, a request for input.  This last book of the series is still untitled.  The first two volumes are The Sorcerers’ Plague and The Horsemen’s Gambit.  I’ve narrowed the choice for this final title to The Blood Curse or The Dark-Eyes’ March.  Which do you prefer?

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17 comments to The Read-Through, and a Plea for Help

  • I am intensely drawn to “The Dark-Eyes’ March”. So evocative!

  • Beatriz

    “The Dark-Eyes’ March” says the stalkerfangirl!

  • Heidi Berthiaume

    The Dark-Eyes’ March. I like the repetition of the possessive in all of the titles

    And thanks for the post – it’s so very helpful to read about how others actually get through the creation of a book at the details level, such as reading aloud and taking a distance break.

  • Brian

    I prefer The Dark-Eyes’ March for two reasons: 1) It sounds like a finale whereas the Blood curse sounds like a first book of the series title. And 2) it makes a nice progression when following the first two titles- Plague -> Gambit –> March.

  • I for one perfer “The Blood Curse”. Dark Eyes March (to me as a read) does not evoke any passion. Who wants to read about a march? Plus, a march to me signifies a transition to something else. Seeing how this is the Grand Finale, there isn’t much really you can transition towards. The end? Bleh… that’s weak.

    The Blood Curse has more power to it and is more intriguing.

  • Amy

    The Dark-Eyes’ March not only fits with the language pattern of the previous two titles, but sounds more professional to me. The Blood Curse sounds more generic and just not as clever and intriguing.

  • I like The Dark Eyes March, David.
    It sounds fresh and new, a title no one has ever used before, yet it also feels old and famliar like a good friend who you find is still full of secrets.
    Faith

  • I guess I am out-voted. 😉

  • Frank

    Aaah! I’m with Mark! Blood Curse, please! I think “The Dark-eyes’ March” is not a very good title at all. But I am a Democrat in TN, so I am used to wasting my vote 🙂

  • Well, I have to say that I agree with those who like The Dark-Eyes’ March — it’s different. No one has ever used that title before, unlike The Blood Curse, which has been used lots. On the other hand, I agree with Mark that “March” is a bad word to have in a title. And both my editor and my agent preferred The Blood Curse. But with reservations. So we’re trying something else — how does THE DARK-EYES’ WAR sound?

  • But the “march” part was what attracted me. It brought home an image of a battle-weary, determined army, marching into the darkness headed for a war that will end it all, but with no certainty of winning.

    I think it’s interesting that the vast majority of people here (I know, that’s not many, but still…) have preferred “March”. Did you tell your editor and agent that?

  • I didn’t tell them that Dark-Eyes’ March was preferred — the contest on my website had these two tied, and others coming in behind them. But I do think the word March is problematic.

    Still thinking….

  • My vote goes for Dark Eyes’ March. I imagine something similar to Misty, a march towards some final confrontation.

    The problem with The Blood Curse for me is it sounds live an urban fantasy/vampire book.

  • David,

    How about the following alternatives?

    1) The Dark-Eyes’ Resolve
    2) The Dark-Eyes’ Answer
    3) The Dark-Eyes’ Courage
    4) The Dark-Eyes’ Valor
    5) The Dark-Eyes’ Descision

    The Dark-Eyes’ War is good but it kinda harkens back to Weavers of War. I’m not sure how much you want to connect to the previous series with the titles.

  • Thanks for the suggestions, Mark. I’ve been casting about for another word other than “March” or “War”, but haven’t come up with one I like yet. Most of the words you offer are a bit too positive in light of what happens…. 😉

  • And yes, CE, the urban fantasy feel is the one thing that concerned my editor about “Blood Curse.” Thanks for the feedback.

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter

    I like the Dark Eye’s March, as it sounds intriguing.

    The Blood Curse sounds too generic to me.