Last month, Jeff Ambrose and I had an agreement. We would not check our sales in December, instead waiting until January 1, 2012 to do so. If either of us checked during the month, that person had to write a guest post on the other person's web site. I caved first, lasting only two days before I checked. Jeff made it a little longer, but he still checked, and so I now have a guest post.
If you don't know it already, Jeff had a major impact on the outcome of the Miscorrection stories Panacea, Awry, and Sundown. So, I thought it would be interesting to get his take on his involvement and thoughts on the Miscorrection series. I knew it wouldn't be all roses (or Willows for those of you who are fans of the series), but I didn't care. Jeff obviously ... well, I'm not going to say it. Read on to see his thoughts.
Sometime in late March or early April of 2011, I tweeted how much I hated proofreading my own work. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it, and that the one person in my life who could do it — my wife — was just too busy with major work issues. B.C. Young tweeted back, offering to help. I accepted and agreed to to proof his next Miscorrection story — Panacea. Over the next month, B.C. proofed my stories and I waited for him to finish his. Then he did, and it arrived in my inbox.
Now, my job was to simply proof his work. That is, look for typos and dropped quotation marks and other such things. But as I read, I knew I had to do more. I’m a teacher by nature, and charity dictated a deeper responsibility than just highlighting the manuscript’s surface-level mishaps. So I emailed B.C. asking if he’d like a full critique. For some reason, he agreed.
I spent the next few days reading and making notes, and in the end sent him three documents. The first, using MS Word’s comment feature, was a line-by-line edit of his 70-page manuscript. The second was a three-page critique. And the third was what I called a “deep edit.”
Why so many documents?
Writers all take up the craft with a mixed bag of skills. Some of us have a knack with language. Others know people and can develop great characters. Others are skilled with place and setting. And others have a knack for developing plots full of twists and turns. But if we’re strong in one area, we’re usually weaker in others.
B.C.’s strength is plotting. This makes perfect sense. He came to writing after the television show Lost inspired him. Miscorrection has the same feel: episodic, lots of twists, lots of questions, lots of reveals and false reveals.
But plot is just the skeleton. We readers aren’t interested in the skeleton. We want the flesh and blood of characters, setting, motivation, all of which come to life through vivid language. Reading Panacea was like looking at a skeleton. You knew he had something solid, but perhaps not as interesting as it could be. So it took me a while to explain what I thought he needed to do to improve.
And what did I think he needed to to? Well, that’s not for me to say. But I can say that he did improve. I helped out with the next next Miscorrection stories — Awry and Sundown — and was rewarded by watching a writer develop.
Now here’s the thing. I’m not B.C.’s target audience for Miscorrection. This says nothing about his work. I’m not Stephanie Meyer’s target audience for Twilight, but millions have found deep satisfaction with her story. Also, via an email conversation, I learned he had set up certain rules for himself of how he’d tell the Miscorrection saga (at least in the first several stories), and some of these rules really annoyed me. Again, this is simply a personal preference. A friend once read a story of mine, A Bag of Strawberries, and when I asked if he liked it, he said, “No, not really.” Then he qualified what he said: “It’s well written, and it works as a story, but I don’t like those kind of stories.” I could respect that. I’m not sure I like the kind of story “A Bag of Strawberries” is. My friend is a bit odd in that he understands stories on a deep level and can analyze the heck out of them; he’s smart enough to make the distinction between looking at my skill of the craft and his enjoyment of the story as a reader. Same thing is true here. I saw improvements in B.C.’s writing, but as a reader, I couldn’t help be feel frustrated with the overall story. I kept wanting to rewrite it, change things, write it my own way. Which would’ve destroyed his vision for it. And since it’s not my place to toy with his vision of his story, I focused all my critiques and advice on ways to make that vision sharper, more engaging.
Working on the Miscorrection stories, I was eager to try something else out by B.C. So I read Running To Keep Her — and wow, was I blown away. Within two paragraphs, I knew the guy had exploded as a writer. I knew he’d taken almost all my advice to heart about showing and not telling, about getting deep into a character’s point of view. It was fun to read, and did I feel validated and proud. I wanted to say, “Hey, look at this, I taught this guy how to do this.”
Which isn’t exactly true. All I could do was say, “Here’s how you need to improve.” He was the one who sat down and got to work.
Once, we spoke about him possibly going back and rewriting the earlier Miscorrection stories — Sunrise, Arrogation, and Felix Culpa. If I recall correctly, I told him not to worry about those old stories, to press on, that you only get better as a writer by writing new stuff, not by rewriting old stuff. And if I recall correctly, he had already decided to do just that. Bravo for him!
He tells me he’s now returning to the Miscorrection universe and working on a novel. I’ll be interested to see how he’s improved as a writer in general, and how he’s improving Miscorrection in particular.
Thanks again, Jeff. Not only for this post, but for pointing me in the "write" direction to continue to improve my craft. And don't worry, I won't correct above what you may or may not correctly recall, because honestly, I don't know if I correctly recall either, and I'd hate to make a miscorrection.
About Jeff Ambrose: My name is Jeff Ambrose, and I’m a writer. My love affair with science fiction, fantasy, and horror began when, as a young boy, I used to watch old monster movies down in the basement. When I was ten, I saw the American Express commercial with Stephen King, which made me curious enough about the King of Horror that I pulled one of King’s novels (Rage, of all things!) down from my mom’s bookshelf and read it in a few days. That turned me on to reading, which, in turn, led me to try writing my own stories.
Besides writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror, I also write mystery and crime fiction under the name Mark Sled, romance fiction under the name Robin Kirkwood. And sometimes I’ll commit literary fiction and publish it under the name Scott Elder.
I live in North Texas with my wife and four children.
To learn more about Jeff Ambrose visit writerjeffambrose.com.