The UK and Commonwealth rights to The Etched City have reverted to me. I’ve been going through the text in preparation for re-releasing it as an e-book in those countries.
I’m not going to change anything big, or even give in to the temptation to rewrite paragraphs, but I’ve found plenty of nits to pick — nearly 600, in fact. My idea of good writing, and my expectations of my own writing, have changed over time, as is only natural.
I’m just wondering how many changes to make, given that many readers seem to find the book acceptable as it is.
I’ve found a few small glitches in continuity and clarity, and a few lines I don’t like for miscellaneous reasons. There are also a couple of instances where I’m tempted to adjust characterisation a fraction — a word here, a sentence there — just to extract bits of my own moods that wormed their way into characters and perhaps shouldn’t be there. Those are the nits I know I want to squash, and there aren’t very many of them. The other nits, however, are grammatical and stylistic issues throughout the whole text. I’ve noticed:
- Overuse of commas and adverbs
- Underuse of the past perfect and the subjunctive (re the latter, I grew up without using it in speech, save in the case of saying “If I were you”, and had always thought of it as old-fashioned grammar. However, I’ve become a convert to its employment.)
- Slight overuse of the word “thing”
- Little physicality within dialogue, i.e. not much description of actions, facial expressions or tone of voice — not necessarily a problem, and I think the reader’s imagination generally fills in the blanks, but integrating dialogue with the physical world is a skill in which I’ve never scored high, so I fret over the bare dialogue in my writing.
- Inconsistent use of ‘that’ as a conjunction, e.g. “I said I was sorry” vs. “I said that I was sorry”
- Names used rather often instead of pronouns
- Quite a lot of informal writing outside of the fancy passages, e.g. “He went up to the desk” rather than “He approached the desk”; “but” rather than “however”; sundry small inelegancies; a tendency to sometimes write as if I were just talking to someone in the street, in fact.
All that said, I’ll probably leave most of the above alone. I don’t think I should try to screw with the style of the book. If there’s a plain, unpolished quality to much of the text outside the fancy passages, maybe the contrast between the plain and fancy contributes to whatever effect the whole thing has. I remember consciously going after contrast when I was writing it, and if I was plainer and rougher than I was aware of being, I don’t know that I’d be doing the book any favours by giving it a shiny polish now.
Out of the list above, I am inclined to: cut most of the unnecessary commas (sometimes a comma isn’t strictly needed but still works); find a few words to replace “thing”; swap some of the names for pronouns; insert the past perfect in the handful of spots where its absence really trips me up. And pretty much leave it there.
Re the names and pronouns, I’m dithering over this. I used names a lot, even in sections where the characters are male and female and “he” and “she” would often have sufficed. There are places where I feel I’ve definitely used names too often. But where it’s Gwynn and Raule, especially, I think the names help to create a sense of their being unromantic friends, whereas a lot of “he and she” can sound more intimate (maybe? or is that just me imagining things?). Also, the repetition of names on the printed page isn’t necessarily a hindrance to reading — it may even help.
Before I dive in with the red pen, I humbly beseech anyone with opinions on any of the above to share them. I don’t know whether it’s the kind of stuff that most readers notice or remember. I’ve had to learn to notice most of it, and am very much still learning!