Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fixing that hot mess

The scene I revised on Sunday night was a hot mess. I knew it was a mess when I wrote it, but I kept plowing on and figured I would fix it in revision. (definition of hot mess at urbandictionary.com, the "attractive" part being the long-term story elements I got to lay out in the scene.)

Well, there I was. Revising. Time to pay the piper.

By coincidence, part of this scene turned up in my Lucky 7 meme a few days ago. I thought I would blog some more about it, maybe talk about clarity or the revision process... but it was too much mess to just pull out a chunk and try to analyze it. On a sentence level, the writing was meh but the real problems were large scale.

Poorly structured event
This scene was supposed to take place at a parley between the king of the besieged city and an envoy of the enemy army outside. Both sides have to demonstrate a little trust -- however superficially -- and be polite in exchange for a chance to suss out the enemy's true situation.  My besieged city was not going to surrender, but it was a chance to talk to their inside man in the enemy's army. The army wasn't going to lift the siege, but it was a chance to see the situation inside the city and maybe slip an agent in.

Shuffling everyone into proper places as befitted a formal event changed most of the conversations, where the scene started and how the action played out. 

Extra character
Because of world-building details that were later resolved, I had an extra character who was unbalancing the scene. If he was there, he should've been involved in what happened. But I couldn't allow that, at the same time, so he was just noodling around in the background. Fortunately, I could edit him out entirely and other people could fill his shoes when it came to a few bits of information.

Missed lines of action
This made my hair curl. People just appeared when they were needed. The main part of the meeting wasn't the focus of the scene, but that didn't mean people could pop in and out at will. The king doesn't get to just suddenly leave the negotiating table, even if there's a commotion outside. He sends the captain, or he decides the envoy's trying to pull something and has him wrestled to the ground.

A lot of this came down to what I call "background tracking", too, those little notes of someone being here or there, doing something, that keeps the background of the scene in motion. Badly lacking in the hot mess.

Illogical dialogue
Dialogue is not usually a problem for me, so I'd like to take this opportunity to fall flat on my face.

“Am I part of the city’s mettle, then?”
“Let them wonder,” he said. “We’ve our own plans, in this. Are they always so late?”
Sir Theo, standing on my other side, said, “One’s client is never late.” 

What? >>delete<<

Meh writing

Kiefan set his boot on Dennode’s ruined chest, bones crunching further, and tore the man’s head off with a hard twist. He slung it and the envoy caught the bloody thing in his belly, falling back was knocked onto his ass from by the impact.

Kiefan took spun BĂ­den around by the collar and shoved him toward Captain Rostislav. “Put that filth on a horse!” The captain took the lead and was less than gentle in obeying hauled him off to the waiting palfrey without letting the old man catch his balance.

There was plenty more, but I forgot to copy out the previous text so I could show my edits. And now that I've rewritten it and written a post about it, I can barely see it anymore and I need to put it aside for a while.

What was the last hot mess you had to revise?

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