Off to the reader

Well, for better or worse, I have begun sending chapters of The Sleep of Reason to a reader who has graciously consented to bring her art history expertise to it. This means that I’ve finished the read-through rewrite and more or less consider it to be “finished” for now. (I know I’ll be tinkering with it nearly constantly in the days to come — I even spotted a reference I think is wrong that links a couple of parts in the story, so I’ll need to look that up and fix it.)

I am no authority on Western art through the ages, though that does play an important part in the plot. I suppose I’m a tiny bit more informed than the average person since I researched so much to write this novel, but I’m hardly the aficionado and expert that my characters are intended to be, thus my first reader is one who can remedy any deficiencies in this area that I bring to the story.

I noted here in a very early post that I was once part of a writers group. We read and critiqued each others’ stories, and I think for the most part we were a bunch of pups who were using all of the new terminology we had recently learned in our creative writing classes and seminars to feel that we ourselves were actual “writers.” Looking back, I don’t think we knew at all what we were talking about and really just wanted to hear ourselves saying these writerly words, finding fault where there may not have been any in each others’ stories just so we could bring to bear our erudition and authority. We were like children playing dress up in adult clothes. (Still, meeting monthly as we did — or was it weekly? — did compel me to write more than I might have on my own.) I see a lot of this kind of thing in some of the writing blogs I read (or used to read). Mere spouting of conventional wisdom, much of it from such dubious guides as The Elements of Style or this or that successful novelist’s printed rants about “how it must be done!” (I’ve spoken of the Seduction of Rules here recently.)

All of this blather leads to my next brilliant point: I’m not sure whom I will ask to be a second reader of the novel draft. There are some writing groups in town, but from what I can tell based on a cursory investigation of them, they are conventional-wisdom-spouters. The fact is that most readers of a published novel are not going to be versed in the mechanics and conventions of creative writing. They are going to approach a story from their side of the fence, and it seems to me that the input of a reader might be more pertinent in the end than that of a writer, at least after a certain point.

I saw one commentor on another blog state how much she hates split infinitives. She says she cringes every time she comes across one, finding their grammar offense unpardonable. The fact is that a split infinitive is not bad grammar. There is no rule about this, and the commentor’s knee-jerk response is a learned behavior, an incorrect learned behavior. That is what I fear would happen if I gave the chapters to a writing group to critique. I’d get a lot of commentary about the deficiencies in the grammar (I love me some sentence fragments — quite powerful when used right) or some mechanics of the writing or such that only makes sense to rule-bound writers and that are unimportant to readers.

So stay tuned. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Humble efforts, Sleep of Reason

One Comment on “Off to the reader”

  1. Brian Keaney Says:

    That whole split infinitive nonsense came about, I’m told, because grammarians writing rules for the English language based their ideas upon books of Latin grammar and in Latin the infinitive is a single world (e.g. amare – to love). So they concluded that the two words that make up the infinitive in English should always be used together. And people are still kowtowing to this totally arbitrary precept hundreds of years later.


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