Control Issues in Writing

Control issues.  We all have them. You know I have them from my last post about Amazon defacing my cover.  Most are minor, but big ones cause lost friendships, divorces, misery. Let’s not even talk about current politics.

Control issues invade writing as they do life. And like life’s smaller control issues, we often don’t recognize them.

A Fatal Score early reviewer sent me a note:  “On page one, you wrote of Joe Mayfield: ‘He set down his fork and tried for an offhand smile, which he knew came off closer to a rictus.’ You should lose ‘rictus’. Not enough people know it, and it’s too early in the story to send the reader to the dictionary. Maybe use ‘grimace’.”

But … I was going for rictus.  Knew exactly the expression I wanted. Wanted reader to see the stasis, the fixed nature of the attempted polite grin.  Grimace is too mobile.  I wanted rictus!  Besides, it’s my book!

The reviewer went on, “I think it’s because of its place on the first page. You want to get them pulled in and moving and not stop to try to figure out a word.”

Which led me to reflect on a great session on mystery writing by Steve Ulfelder at the Cape Cod Writers Conference five years ago.  It was at a point in my writing when much about technique was new, and Steve gave me an Aha! moment.  He was helping another writer work fix an excruciatingly detailed description. “At best, your writing tells the reader 60-70% of the story,” he said. “The reader’s life experience, perception, and belief fills in the rest.  In that sense, the reader is your partner. That partnership takes a story from OK to Must Read.”

Aha, indeed.

Next edition will use ‘grimace.’

Oops

I have learned some editing lessons in the last week.  Three, in fact:

  • When they say ‘Don’t edit your own work’ … they’re right. I have read over Fatal Score at least ten times. During those readings,I ignored at least two dozen obvious mistakes.  My copy editor missed them, as well (though at least some were probably caused by just-have-to-do-it tweaks post copyedit).  These are not grammatical shadings, but duplicated words, mixed tenses and the like.  The main problem is that first draft was first person/present tense.  I changed to third person/past tense several rewrites ago.  I didn’t execute all the tense changes correctly.
  • Grammar checkers check only grammar, not the abovementioned stupidities. I know that’s a tautology, but (for me) a painful one.
  • If you employ a copy editor, make sure you mention that you expect a serious reading of the material, not a cruise-through by Word or Grammerly.

I am indebted to early readers of the book, who have pointed out obvious problems. (Ned Froelich, your careful reading is far beyond the call of ARC reader duty.) The good news is Print on Demand allows for changes.

POD does not assuage authorial mortification.