Obsessive Writing Compulsion (Paladin Rewrite Update)

So I’ve been on a bit of a writing binge lately (we’re talking over 12K words in a week, which for me, is like, crazy, yo), and I finally feel like I can give you a leedle update on how my rewrite is going.
Side effect of obsessive writing compulsion: sleep deprivation. Side effect of sleep deprivation: mild insanity. You have been warned.
So yeah. The rewrite. I was stuck in a rut for a few months for a few reasons (one being my love life…met a wonderful guy, and he was distracting. But! He moved away. Sad for me, good for my writing). Besides that, I’ve been generally lacking in motivation.
Finally I think I’ve gotten into the groove with this new version of the story. The story is coming much more easily now (before it was a struggle just to come up with a couple hundred words, and now my fingers are struggling to keep up with my brain).
I’m about 25K words into my rewrite, and I have to say, I’m pretty happy with how it’s turning out. I can tell my writing has improved and I’m confident the dialogue is snappy.
BUT…because everything with writing must have a but…I’m nervous. Nervous how all of y’all who love the version of Paladin I have up on Wattpad will receive it.
I didn’t realize, I think, how dramatically different the rewrite would be. You all know that I was asked to add in new layers and characters and subplots, and that has had a very significant impact on the pace of the story. To put it into perspective, I’ve written 25,000 words, and Sam just ran away from Haywood in the most recent chapter. She hasn’t decided she wants to become a Paladin yet (that’s coming) and the road between Haywood and The Center (renamed, btw, because “The Center” is a lame name for a capitol city) is not a straight one.  We’ve already met Tristan, but Braeden is still a good 5-10,000 words out of the picture.
When I’ve talked to folks about the rewrite in the past, I’ve told them to think of it as a prequel. If I had to guess, I think something like 60-70% of the book will take place before Sam and crew head west for the Diamond Coast.
But a prequel is not an entirely accurate description. The sequence of events, out of necessity, has had to change. So have some of the character motivations. And the introduction of new characters and plot threads has had more consequences than I anticipated.
For example: Sam’s mother isn’t dead at the start of the story. That majorly affects Sam’s relationship with her father (the duke) and perhaps more significantly, her view of love and romantic relationships.
Sam also isn’t completely friendless. In the Wattpad version, I described her as having few friends—which I think is still true—but I didn’t think it was realistic that she’d spend 18 years in Haywood without making any friends. She’s weird, but she’s a good person. Even outcasts have a friend or two (I’m speaking as a former outcast). So I’ve introduced a friend for her, Will, who has a minor but important role. I have to say, I’m getting a kick out of his character. I really like the dynamic between them.  Here’s a quick snippet:
She slung an arm around Will’s shoulders. “Cheer up.”
He shrugged her off. “Don’t you ever get tired of winning?”
She grinned. “No.”
“Well, I’m tired of losing. It gets depressing, you know.” He looked at her sideways. “I suppose you don’t know.”
“You defeated Owen just yesterday,” Sam pointed out gently. “Handily, too.”
“I did, didn’t I?” He threw her a lopsided smile.
D’oh! I went off on a tangent. The point is, the first 25,000 – and possibly the first 50,000 – words are entirely new content. Not reworded content, new. You will meet the people who enable Sam’s escape from Haywood…
Emont’s coach waited for her a mile down the road from the castle. The peddler himself leaned against the carriage, watching her approach. He had lit a lantern, but his clothes were so bright she could have seen him without it. He was taller than she remembered, thin all over but for a slight paunch. A fading bruise across his cheek served as the only remaining evidence of the bandits’ attack. “Lady Samantha,” he said. His voice was no longer hoarse, but sonorous and full. “I half-hoped you wouldn’t come.” (FYI, my agent hasn’t edited this paragraph yet. So it could change.)
…And you’ll witness her journey with them. You’ll also get a lot more detail on how Sam learns to fake being a boy. The Paladin Trials won’t be a quick chapter anymore; they’ll take up a relatively significant portion of the book.
So why am I nervous? Well, I’m afraid that a lot of you are going to freak the !@#$ out. I’m afraid the story will be so different you’ll hate it. I’m afraid you’ll be upset when some of the most memorable events from Paladin are delayed until the second book. I’m afraid that this story won’t stand up to the original.
I personally think that the story I’m writing now is stronger (and Mommy Slater agrees! That’s one!). But I’ve also come to realize that I’m essentially writing a new book. A book that has the same characters, the same feel to it, the same major themes, the same general direction…but a different story to tell. There will be overlap, but for better or for worse, most of the story will be new to you.
I’ve still got a lot left of my rewrite to go (oh, a good 80,000 words…), so who knows where the story will take me. I hope people see the book as an opportunity to read a new story about characters they already love. After all, the original version of Paladin remains up on Wattpad for anyone who wants to read it. So it’s kind of like a bonus, right? Right?

Style and Grammar – Rethinking Black and White

Rather than starting this blog post as I always do—with a groveling apology for my long absence (I’m sorry! Really and truly, I’m sorry!)I’m just going to dive right into it.

This blog post is inspired, at least in part, by a friend I’ve been “helping” with editing her manuscript. “Helping” is in quotation marks because frankly, I’m not quite sure how helpful I’ve been.
You see, I’m a grammar Nazi. Everyone tosses that phrase around, and I think it’s lost some of its impact. Let me be clear. I am a grammar fascist.  A grammar dictator. A grammar tyrant!

Taken from the Oatmeal. This comic is genius: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon
Here’s my necessary disclaimer: my grammar isn’t always perfect. I still am learning new rules by the day. Certainly when I’m typing casually (like in this blog post), I slip up, either because I’m not paying attention or because I don’t care. This is a blog, people. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.
I also have to switch back-and-forth between two schools of grammar. At work, I use AP style, which is the style guidelines used by the newspaper industry here in the U.S. In the book publishing industry, most people use The Chicago Manual of Style. The differences are subtle, but they exist just the same. I know significantly more about the rules of AP style than I do Chicago Manual, and sometimes I screw them up. 
Disclaimer aside, I think my grammar in general is better than your Average Joe’s. I used to tutor kids for the writing portion of the SATs (for my non-American readers, that’s one of the two main standardized tests American kids have to take to get into university), so there was a point in my life when I could give you encyclopedic definitions of dangling modifiers and parallelism issues. Unfortunately, I’ve gotten dumber in my old age.
I like to say that for me, correcting grammar is like a nervous tic. It takes every ounce of my willpower not to say something about a missing hyphen or inconsistent use of the Oxford comma. I’ve been known to rant about the death of the double-spaced sentence. I got in trouble at my last internship for editing a senior-level executive’s email without being asked (what? The grammar was wrong!).
The truth is, incorrect grammar really takes me out of a story. My reader brain shuts down at the first sight of a comma splice, and my snobby writer brain takes over. Do I think everyone reacts the same way? No – just take a look at Motorcycle Man by Kristen Ashley. It has a 4.5 rating and 17,695 votes on Goodreads, and enough run-on sentences to make my eyes bleed.
So I’ve started to wonder … When I rip into someone’s grammar, am I helping them or am I killing their voice? How much leeway should we give writers to break grammar conventions? After all, writing is about creative expression, not what some might consider arbitrary rules. I mean, I know I sometimes purposely break the rules for effect, particularly with sentence fragments. Here’s an example from my rewrite:
The only person she had left was Denya. Denya, who couldn’t be bothered to show up at the funeral of the woman she’d watched over since birth. <–Second sentence is a fragment.
I’m having the same inner debate about style. Writing style obviously has much more flexibility than grammar (with grammar there is clear right and wrong. Not so with style), and is also much more transient. If you compare the style of a book published during the early 20th century to a book published today, they will be vastly different.
I am perhaps shockingly conventional when it comes to writing style. I try to follow modern style, which means I hate on adverbs and adjectives and flowery prose. Use similes and metaphors sparingly, the style gurus of today tell us. Don’t use rarefied words.
My literary agent definitely subscribes to modern style rules. In his latest edits, he told me to kill the word “apoplexy” because it was too unusual and pulled the reader out of the story. Same deal for “maw” (that one made me sad. I love that word). I was also told to avoid using the word like, and to stop using so many damn metaphors (the damn was from me. Harry’s much too polite to curse). For example…
What I originally wrote:
Her face, paleas milk, glistened with tears, still wet. Sam ran her thumb over her mother’s damp cheeks. The skin was cool—too cool, like all the heat had drained out of it. Her fingers ran south to the pulse at her mother’s neck, or where it should be.
Bad Sally, bad. Here’s how I was asked to change it:
Her pale faced glistened with tears. Sam ran her thumb over her mother’s damp cheeks. The skin was cool—all the heat had drained out of it. Her fingers ran south to the pulse at her mother’s neck, or where it should be.
You tell me which one is better. Personally, I think Harry’s right. He usually is.
When I review other writers’ work, I critique with the same lens that my literary agent uses on mine. I’d like to think I can still appreciate that every (good) writer has his or her own voice, and that naturally results in differences of style. But I think that writers can go too far in terms of bucking convention. I’m all for experimentation, and when it works, it works. When it doesn’t, it really doesn’t.
I also don’t think today’s style rules are totally arbitrary – it’s not like fashion where pink is in on Tuesday, and Wednesday it’s all about plaid. Adverbs are lazy. I’m not an adverb fascist – I still think they have a place in writing, and I probably use too many of them – but I do think that excessive use can distract from the story, or come across as more telling than showing. I feel the same way about similes (though I am also guilty of simile abuse). I think everyone’s writing can be made better by simplifying.
But…maybe I’m narrow-minded. Maybe by trying to enforce the style rules I’ve been taught I’m suppressing expression and creativity. I have never been a fan of flowery prose (although I think mine is somewhat flowery? Am I crazy?), and maybe I’m incapable of objectively editing a style or genre that’s so drastically different from my own.
Long story short, I’ve started to second-guess my objectivity. I think I might be a writing bully.