Down in the Weeds

Down in the Weeds

Awesome author friend Brenda Buchanan was shocked that I didn’t have Crime Bake, the yearly Massachusetts crime and thriller conference, on my schedule. I just went to my first one, and wow, what an experience.

What really hit home for me was thinking about editing, the process, the outcome, the skills. I’m in heavy edit mode now on my novel, and am blown away at how exhausting it is to keep the focus needed to abstract from your own prose. We all fall in love with our own writing, with our own characters. The darlings we are exhorted to kill don’t die easily. I’ve got almost 60,000 words to cut to get the manuscript to a publishable length. And it’s putting up a pretty good fight.

But I got some amazing insights in the very first panel I attended at the conference: Hank Phillippi Ryan’s “Great Beginnings,” a deep dive into the importance of your first 100 words. What I’ve found is that there are moments when the novel is just too big for your head (from Walter Mosley’s great Thrillerfest 2018 Keynote I described previously), and you just can’t face undertaking such an overwhelming task as editing the beast. So you have to switch it up and go deep.

She talked about the micro-level considerations you need to have in mind when you put yourself in the reader’s head. After all, your reader wants to find a character to love and care about. We’ve all put down books that didn’t engage us. But the reader also must quickly know what genre they are in, have a sense of action or suspense that propels them forward. We’ve all also put down books where some promise gets broken by the author. A mystery that’s solved Deus ex Machina, or a thriller with stupid technology mistakes (my wife has mostly gotten used to me yelling at the TV when a show screws up some tech issue).

Readers will put up with some bumpy writing if they’re already committed. So the in the weeds edit, starting with that first page, and extending that same care to the rest of the book is what makes it good. It’s what makes the reader want to stay in it for the long haul. So I’m deep, deep in the weeds now.

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