Monday, January 5, 2009

Mistakes Were Made




I thought it might be fun to point out some of the mistakes in my first novel, Saragosa. In the writing of any fiction more than a few hundred words, there are any number of things to keep track of: Character names, what they have done thus far, where they have been, who they have interacted with and where they have to go next.

In addition, you've got to remember your setting at all times, where you are, what the terrain is like, does it smell, how's the weather? Does rain make the streets muddy or slick, what could fall over in a heavy wind? Is it hot most of the time?

On top of all that, when you take five years to write the damn book, your memory starts to play tricks on you. What is the proper spelling of the town you created three years ago? How many siblings does that secondary character have? So you spend a lot of time going back over things again and again. Or, like me, you plow forward with overconfidence that your memory is true and you know exactly what you are doing.

Just before I sent the final manuscript off to the publisher for printing, I asked my friend Michele to go over it with her editing hat firmly planted, yes I really just said that, no I can't believe it either. Shall we move on or will some heckling ensue? Good.

Things we caught:

Apparently I have a problem with lapels. I think it stems from lack of trust for anyone who wears a suit coat. There are several confrontations in my book. Different characters who, for one reason or another, find it necessary to have an altercation. Every one of them grabbed their foe by the lapels. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Thankfully I was able to release a few lapels and thus save dry cleaning and ironing expenses for a few characters.

I discovered that throughout the course of my book, one of the character's names kept changing. In the first half dozen chapters, his name was Doc Wheeler. Nice guy, you'd like him. He has a wry sense of humor and wise old eyes. Unfortunately, somewhere around the middle of the book, I changed his name to Doc Weber. Still a nice guy and all but a bit more egotistical.

But the biggest goof was the resurrection. When introducing characters, you try to give the reader a sense of who they are, what brought them to this point in life, what shaped their attitudes and personality. In introducing Sarah, the love interest, I made a point of stating that her father had died when she was young, hiding his illness from her until the very end. Imagine my surprise then, when he suddenly showed up in Chapter Five very much alive and taking a stand against the bad guys. Michele caught this one and informed in one late night phone call. "Hello?" I said. "Bill," she said. "I thought Sarah's father was dead, how the hell can he stay on his horse so well." She's a crack-up, that Michele.

There were hundreds of other things, from misplaced commas words used in repetition to entire paragraphs that were repeated.

Things we didn't catch:

I'll put the big one out there right away. I have a character who disappears and he is not a magician. There is, what I hope to be anyways, a tense scene in my book where this goon, the kind of bad guy you only see in westerns and detective novels, dismounts his horse, walks around the side of a building and is never heard from again. There was obviously a reason he walked around the side of that house, you know? There was more to his story. Or not. What can I say? I had a whole world to keep track of, there was bound to be collateral damage. I won't tell you what character or where it happens in the book, but I have asked several readers after they've finished the book if they spotted the guy who disappeared and so far none have.

A good friend of mine likes to point out that I have our intrepid hero trap and skin a rabbit for dinner, and then stuff the animal into a saddle bag. But dinner never comes. I don't have a scene in there where he actually cooks and eats the rabbit. My friend likes to point out that those saddle bags would be pretty ripe by the end of the book. I assumed the reader would make the leap in their own minds and assume the guy ultimately ate the thing. Your call.

Shotguns are popular in westerns, both movies and books. But it is important to know your guns. The bartender of the Silver Star saloon keeps one behind his bar. Only once does he have reason to brandish the weapon, a .410 shotgun. That's right. A girly-sized shotgun if ever there was one in the testosterone filled streets of Saragosa. Not only would no self-respecting cowboy be caught dead with a shotgun of such diminutive stature. I'm told a .10 gauge is much more manly. The damn thing wasn't even invented during the time period of my book!

There were a couple misspellings in the book after its publication, but so far these are the glaring errors that have presented themselves. Stephen King once said, "You release your books into the world like crippled children, only you are the one that crippled them." I'm proud to say I've done my part.

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3 comments:

dave said...

I have been toying with the idea of creating a private wiki for my current manuscript so I can make sure I have all the information straight as I go, updating every hundred pages or so. I am geek. Hear me roar.

GnuBill said...

I hear ya, Dave. Roar all you want!

Dac said...

In my first novel I had a gelding that turned into a stallion later.