It's an epic fantasy, which means the internet has told me the finished product should be 100-120k words. I've caught myself worrying how Blind Guardian would ever fit inside the magic 120k word box. Complex threads must weave together. Necromancer tyrants must be overcome. A man must learn to be a hero. It seems impossible for it to all fit!
I'm not worried any more.
I just received a critique on chapter 1. From someone other than my girlfriend or sister. From a fellow wordsmith who also happened to be a complete stranger.
The good: I "did not fall prey to many of the classic beginner mistakes".
The bad: I fell prey to a host of other mistakes:
- over description
- in the form of prepositional phrases
- too many actions
- repeated words
- unnecessary prose
- I did not "kill my darlings"
- a profound lack of pronouns
- stilted dialogue
- lack of contractions
- long blocks of words rather than quick exchanges between characters
- fully formed thoughts
- "As you know, Bob" dialogue
- incorrectly punctuated dialogue
- little character development
- protagonist comes across as wooden
- poorly executed "in media res"
- possibly the story started in the wrong place
- flashbacks are difficult to weave into a story
- I turned an event into a long section of "tell" (as in: show, don't tell) through a flashback
- POV shifts in the form of narrative information that the POV character could not know
If the first 3.5k words of my story suffer from those problems, what did I screw up in the other 41.5K? Also, if those aren't beginner mistakes then what qualifies as a beginner mistake? The road to finishing my manuscript is going to be long.
Not all those suggestions are superficial. Some go to the heart of how I told the story in chapter 1. It's no fun to receive that kind of criticism. It's agonizing to realize the criticism is spot on and that it's time to rebuild the chapter from the foundation up. And it's funny to think about how much time I spent sweating over stuff that will be cut. There is going to be a lot that gets cut.
The nice thing is that no matter how badly I wrote chapter 1, it's entirely within my control to make myself a better writer. That list of criticisms is a tool for improvement as much as it is a barrier. On the other side is the story as I want to tell it.
And that is an empowering thought.
Upcoming blog entries will address these issues one-by-one as I wrestle with them.