There are only three parts of your story to worry about: the beginning, the middle, and the end

I’ve moved on to my second proof copy of A Housefly in Autumn. This incorporates all the changes I made to the first proof. I normally go through four or five proofs before I am satisfied that the book is ready to be presented to the public.

In the first proof copy I made numerous changes, none of them major. A few of them were actual errors, but most involved making sentences more efficient. It’s amazing, the little things you don’t see until the manuscript holds like a real book.

The first proof had me worried about typographical errors and other embarrassing occurrences. I feel better about that stuff now, but the second proof brings its own worries.

These are big picture worries, about the overall execution of the storytelling.

Beating up the proof copy

My wife’s proof copy is already taking a beating, and she’s only just begun.

If you break a story down into beginning, middle, and ending, that leaves only three parts to worry about. This reduces the number of worries and gives you more time to worry over each thing.

I most recently obsessed about the middle. Before the first proof, I rewrote much of the middle, trying to transform parts that retained too much “telling” into more “showing.” Since this novel has a large oral storytelling component, in which a character literally tells a story, there were some limits to how much of this I could do.

I’m not saying I won’t obsess about the middle again, but since I just finished doing that, the middle will have to go to the back of the line.

For now, I’m focused on worrying about the beginning. It is an axiom of modern fiction that you have to grab the reader by the throat at word one and not let him breathe until he is irretrievably engulfed in the story. This concept is so well revered that a fair percentage of books now begin with explosions or with characters burying (or digging up) dead bodies.

Those incidents aren’t appropriate for this book, so I’m toying with adding a flash forward to an action-packed scene at the beginning. I need to do this without it seeming too much like a cheap gimmick. It also needs to fit with the historical setting, when people began a story at the beginning, regardless of where the bridges were set to blow.

If I can’t figure out how to work in some page 1 fireworks, I guess I’ll have to hope that my beginning is interesting enough. Meanwhile, I’ll worry that it’s not.

I have not spent much time obsessing about the ending. I’m pretty comfortable with it, except for maybe the last couple of pages. I haven’t found time to worry about a mere page or two, but I will at some point.

Do the last lines bring home the points I worked hard to make throughout the book? Or are they relics of the book this used to be, before it matured and added meat to its bones? These are the questions that await my future obsession with the ending.

Maybe that will come with proof copy number three.

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