Music to Your Ears
Apart from “Water for Horses” being the title of an excellent tune by Darshan Ambient, from the album Falling Light, it’s also the springboard for the central idea in today’s blog. If you’d like to have a soundtrack for your read, simply click the Play icon on the Audio Player bar below. As much as I love words and conversation, there are so many other forms of communicating ideas, it would be remiss of me to ignore something as invigorating as music.
Darshan Ambient — Falling Light — Water for Horses
Since I’ve “led” you here, I wonder how many of you will actually “drink.” (Please pardon the tongue-in-cheek jibe.) The point I want to work with you—on several levels—comes from an old idiom, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
Choosing a Course(r)
As a parent, I’ve come to realize the idiom holds true to a huge degree for children. I don’t care what anyone wants to blame it on, in this era it seems most all the good advice a parent wants to impart to their kids falls on deaf ears. In all honesty, though, it’s not Disney’s fault, nor all the distracting influences of the internet, or even peer pressure.
God gives us freedom of will. That’s a good thing. He doesn’t want us to be robotic, reacting like lemmings, blindly following him without realizing why. That freedom to choose him, to choose life, to choose good over bad, is an overarching aspect of all we have available. Then the question begs itself: What are You going to do with this versatility?
Even within the analogy of the horse and the water, there are options and alternatives. The horse does or does not drink. The horse may decide to wade into the water, or gallop along the strand to enjoy the breeze in its mane, or perhaps turn and nudge its guide into the water. The guide could decide to drag the horse into the water, force the horse to put its head down, or—as a last resort—put it out of his misery. If you give it a little thought, you could imagine a host of different scenarios that don’t lock the action into one of two disparate choices.
Remember in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, how the ‘man at the door’ wouldn’t let the quest team in at first? When they finally got honest and stated they were trying to get rid of the witch, he said, “Now that’s a horse of a different color!” And it was. It was an option that seemed reasonable to the events at hand, and it moved along the storyline in a spot it could’ve been stymied.
What Bit Fits?
Why have I brought you here? Because as a Writer, You have to make decisions throughout the whole process of crafting a tale. Ideas can suddenly drop into your lap from unexpected places and you have to decide what works and what doesn’t, to move the story along from its beginning to its ending scene. You are the one responsible to “drink” or “not to drink” from the resources made available to you. You have the final say-so of which inputs, ideas, concepts, characters, events, descriptions, or any other detail fits into your story.
After all, does a Chief Engineer with a Scottish brogue really belong in a detective novel? Or should he be repurposed as a bad guy henchman, without a sense of humor, but rather with a decidedly malicious bent for torturing his boss’s debtors in ingenious ways? Does a mongrel dog that barks incessantly at the Main Character as he rides into the castle add to the effect of the scene, or could some other description of the surroundings be more fitting? Explosions and gunfire. Too much and over-the-top action? Or have you paced the scene in a way that it’s believable with the extent of the mayhem?
The Sound of Hoofbeats
You be the judge (initially), by reviewing it yourself. Wait until you’ve penned The End, give it a week or a month, then come back to your manuscript with a fresh set of eyes. Once you’ve read it through–just the words on the pages conjuring the scenes–do another reading, but this time aloud. You’ll be surprised at how the flow of words spoken can have a decidedly different rhythm than what you intended when written. Remember: You are a storyteller. Heavy on the telling aspect.
If you’re going to engage the Readers, you need to know the horse you’re loaning them is capable of the journey. That means nourishing it, caring for it, and checking that it’s physically capable to handle a ride by a stranger. Once you’re reasonably confident you’ve done all to prepare your manuscript for an outside reviewer, it’s time to let go the reins for a little while.
Judging the Merits of the Mare
Before you go Live with publishing the story, give it to a trusted Beta Reader(s) as a “check-up from the neck up” to determine if it works like it should. Your Reviewer(s) should use a checklist of basic items, just like a judge at an equestrian dressage competition. Don’t be afraid of this. Think how much easier the final task of publishing your story will be if you’ve already assured yourself it’s been honed to perfection.
With clipboard in hand, your Reviewer should determine if your introduction provides a suitable hook. Does the first sentence, first paragraph, the set of first few pages draw in the Readers and make them want to keep going to find out more? Have the Reviewer check the viewpoint in the story. Did you use a single viewpoint, or is your story told by several characters? Equally important, ask your Reviewer if you kept things in perspective. Did you maintain first-person or third-person perspective throughout, or did you stray from omniscient to limited if you used third-person? Your Reviewer should tell you if each of your characters voices stayed true as they talked. They are your actors on the stage of your story, so ask if each one sounded consistent delivering their lines. Is there a smooth story arc / character arc? Your Reviewer should provide an opinion that you can discuss, rather than just tick off boxes on the checklist.
This next bit could be handled by the same Reviewer, or you may want someone who’s more detail-oriented to perform the next step. Because there is a huge difference between asking someone to copy edit your work versus doing a line edit. Copy editing is checking for spelling, punctuation, and grammar (SPAG), to ensure there are no ‘physical’ errors in the document. Line editing entails all that, as well as suggesting rewording to make the information vibrant and easily digestible. Again, it comes down to a choice You have to make. Do you want a passing fair piece of work, or do you want your story to be on the lips of all who read it and recommend it to others?
A Final Grooming Before the Show
I’ll mention this last thing in a cursory manner, because I want to handle the final stages of self-publishing with Amazon Kindle Direct as a separate treatise. Besides, the song is about to end.
When Readers pick up your book, it’s their first impression. You need to ensure you’ve made it count. What’s the overarching word here? Formatting. In all its guises. The cover of your book needs to be eye-catching and enticing, not garish and unprofessional. The images should have an appropriate bearing on the story within, not overly cluttered with samples of each scene, but perhaps drawing upon a single highlight of the tale. Match the font styles with the genre and the topic of the story; get designer fonts if your word processor / publishing venue doesn’t have what you desire. And for goodness sake, have several people give you honest opinions on what works and what is off-putting between the combination of images and fonts. They must work together.
Your prospective Readers will likely move on to read the back cover and / or the slip cover synopsis. It’s where they get a sense of what you’re offering them, and a preliminary glimpse of how you use your words. Your synopsis of the story should be concise, not telling everything, rather whetting the appetite so they feel compelled to explore further. Wouldn’t it be great to watch a prospective customer be enthralled enough to then start flipping through the pages?
What will a Reader see at a glance? The formatting, the layout, the extra little touches you may have added to the entrance of each chapter. On a macro scale, their eyes will notice if the text is justified or ragged. They’ll take in how each chapter break is situated, whether it’s named or numbered, or if you’ve added filigree or pictures. Subconsciously, they’ll also note if the majority of your pages are narrative discourse or if there is an abundance of quoted conversation. They’re likely to peek here-and-there within the book, so it should look inviting and easy to read.
Corralling the Herd
Let’s do a quick recap of the concepts here. 1) You have a lot of latitude and flexibility with what you want to present to the public. 2) You are solely responsible for what your story contains. Make good choices about what fits and works well together. 3) Take your tale out for a test-run. Read it aloud and determine if it flows smoothly and sounds right. 4) Get some help. You won’t catch every little mistake, so having a trusted other set of eyes on the material will save you grief later on. 5) Once the words are right, spend some effort on polishing the presentation. Formatting properly makes reading a breeze.
Finally, you still need to decide which way you’re going to publish. Will you go the traditional publishing route, with agents, editors, and a host of other support personnel, so you can showcase your book as if it were in a dressage competition? Or will you self-publish, doing most of the work yourself, and enlisting the aid of trusted Reviewers to help, then letting your story out into the world to run like a wild stallion?
“Ride like the wind!”