The great mortal sins of my books

My friend and fellow writer Kris Butler and I were online earlier discussing some of the less believable injuries from our novels, and it led me to thinking about the things, in retrospect, I’d change about my writing so far. This is going to deal heavily in spoilers in certain areas so consider yourself warned, you spoiler-phobes.

The Ghost at His Back – The Butcher Dilemma

I’ve stated elsewhere that the original draft of GAHB was wildly different. with a politician for a villain with a shrine to the Blight in his basement. One element that bled through to the GAHB’s final draft was basically the hunt for that politician, except it became the Butcher the heroes searched for. In the first draft, the heroes were able to easily find him because a) they saw a rising tower of souls trapped at his house and b) the guy kidnapped Garrett and an FBI character to sacrifice them to the Blight.

The Butcher became something far less crazy – he’s just what his name implies, save that he butchers people, not animals. Except in simplifying him, I also stripped him of the means by which the heroes could find him. Enter Monica Ames, who comes over to the heroes’ house, and in the absolute worst chapter I’ve written and probably will ever write, she helps them deduce who the Butcher is by having Garrett pretend to be the people in the conversations to “help her be in the moment,” or some such bullshit.

It’s godawful. I admit that. In retrospect, this simply could have been fixed with a slip-up by having Murphy listen to the Butcher stutter his way through a conversation, then later have the Butcher stutter when Murphy’s around Jamie Finson, Sr. and listening in on his conversations.

Ugh. You have no idea how much I hate that chapter.

Shifting Furies: I Gave You a Rib!

Garrett has his ribs broken. Days or weeks later, he’s making love to Brianna. That’s really, really dumb. At least in later drafts I make note of it hurting and make the timeline more ambiguous, but in early published drafts, this is wildly stupid.

For All the Sins of Man: Sometimes You Don’t Understand What the Hard Writing Choice Is


So. Rowen dying was a mistake. A huge one. Having Garrett and Brianna try to take care of her and maybe failing or maybe succeeding would have made for a much better angle for future books, but instead, I killed her off. I’m hesitant to label her death a fridging, but it does provide an impetus to Sloan that otherwise would have taken another hundred or so pages. More on fridging in a few.

Also, re: For All the Sins, I wish I had taken the time to draw out that ending. I think the tornadoes are an important enough event that the falling action of that novel really could have gone on another twenty pages or so. Read it now and the timelines are jumbled and confused.

Bone Carvers: Torture

This one is GROSS and it is highly recommended you not read it. No. Seriously. Don’t.

Brianna – or one of them, anyways – is dropped into a pool of bodily excretions and left to die. This torture, called scaphism, is one of the most disgusting, horrifying ways to die I’ve ever come across, a perfect tool for the sick freaks of Hamber to end the love of the series. Garrett loses his mind, seeks vengeance, and before he crosses a line, all is revealed to him but he’s still broken by that image of Brianna’s ruined body covered in flies, shit, piss, and all manner of other disgusting things.

But see, there’s a difference between me knowing what Garrett is seeing and the synapses in his brain shutting down and the reader knowing what the heck is going on. There are plenty of hints, and in a later published draft I did lengthen the scene in which Garrett finds Brianna’s corpse, but I think I should have made it slightly clearer what had gone on. I also think there should have been one more scene of her in the tub before she dies, describing what she’s going through, but that might have been overkill.

Band of Fallen Princes: Lack of Definition

A reader left a review pretty early on for Band that resonated with me because it asked, “But what is it the Band of Princes actually do?” This is another case of me knowing something and failing to deliver that knowledge properly to the reader. The implication was supposed to be that the Band of Princes largely made its money through the high-end coke, heroin, and pharmaceuticals trade, as well as high-priced prostitution, except that’s very rarely mentioned. In fact, there’s no idea of how large their organization is, or what kind of force they wield in the Flats. It’s not a big deal on the surface and honestly this is probably the least of the changes I’d make to my books, but it’s still something to learn from.

Also, anyone who has ever ridden an elevator anywhere knows how stupid the elevator is at the end of the proper novel. In retrospect, I probably should have just said they killed the power to it.

Smyle: Fridging and Killing All Your Gays

Fridging, for those who don’t know, is killing off or detaining characters in such a way that it drives the protagonist to action. Now that’s not entirely what’s going on in Smyle. The deaths that occur are fine, by and large. I’m okay with those. But what I’d really like to go back and change somehow is the “killing all your gays” trope I unleashed on Monica and Sloan. And anyone who’s read the books knows I don’t actually kill them, but they are tortured and raped at the hands of the villains as a means to break the protagonist and draw out Murphy in the process. But that easily could have been done without Monica or Sloan getting involved. In fact, by dropping them from the plot entirely, the whole novel could have been a leaner, meaner affair, with more cat and mouse between Smyle and the Sparrowhawk.

The thing is, though, I actually needed Sloan to get her mojo back for Plague of Life. Having her get her powers back in this book and then disappearing would have been bizarre, so probably the smart route would be to have her and Monica investigating the city while Garrett and his friends are hiding in the Ranch. All I can do now is learn from that mistake and try to do better in the future.

Plague of Life: Nothing. Now:

Again, MASSIVE spoilers ahead.

The first publication of Plague of Life was dreadful. It’s not an excuse but I was in a dire amount of pain, so much so that I would suffer diastolic heart failure a month or two after this was published. The book was a mess of emo and angry, and though I wanted it to be a hopeful examination of what it meant to know there is a life beyond this one when you’re going through pure living hell on Earth, it missed that point by a country mile.

Flash forward to the republication. I added in a snappier opening, with a man getting killed by the Tamawo (who really did need more of a part in the novel), I changed Rick the Prick’s role entirely and made him quite possibly one of the more intriguing minor characters of the series, at least in my opinion, and I ditched Brianna’s pointless meandering to center more on the emotions and events from other people’s perspectives. I also changed a few minor details about the ending, specifically Stephanie’s flash-forward, which became less cynical and more hopeful. I also changed the way Daniel and Garrett’s story ended, with the conversation between Garrett and Grunty getting ditched entirely in favor of a reception scene between Garrett, Brianna, Daniel, and Isabela. I think it’s a far better ending.

That whole book is something I really, really love as a whole, actually. I know not everyone likes the direction I took with it, or the fact that the villains are essentially a joke. But I wanted Brianna, Sloan, and Monica (and to a much lesser extent, Tom) to win a fight so completely that it seemed effortless. They deserved it. They needed it. And in the context of saving a child, I don’t think there’s anything more satisfying than the idea of three women not fucking around and just getting it done. Writing about Sloan smashing the Tamawo’s heads in with logs and boulders left me, no joke, actually tingling. Here was my character finally allowed to be the complete badass she was, and Brianna breezily gutting the other two satisfies my soul.

Adamanta: Whoops, I Accidentally Duplicated a Movie’s Scene

If you haven’t read them, I wrote a few parts to a multi-author thing called Adamanta, a sci-fi actioner in space pitting humans against some damn dirty bugs. One of the novellas features a scene where a ship captain sacrifices herself by jumping her ship into light speed and ramming into an alien vessel.

Sound familiar? Yeah. I had no clue it happens in Star Wars: Whichever the Middle New One’s Name Is. And it’s certainly not a new idea either. We’ve seen it in war movies and other science fiction, but I thought I was actually being quite clever with that. Turns out I was (unwittingly) borrowing the trope.

How could it be changed? Simple. A suicide run of a different sorts. The ship still has its guns operational, and darts out ahead of the heroes’ ship to make one last desperate run, dropping not just all their ammunition on the alien ship but their life vessels and anything that might make a dent. Easy to see in retrospect, but sometimes writers just don’t know that they’re writing a trope. It happens.

Forever and Farewell: That Last (Real) Chapter Should Have Been Two

Again, MASSIVE spoilers ahead.

So, at the end of Forever and Farewell, Aubrey has left Lauren behind and split for Oregon so that Daddy Winslow won’t unleash the horrific sex tape her teenage boyfriend made of her as he abused and used her. With the whole town reluctantly backing Daddy Winslow now as he consolidates his power for one last town hall meeting before he gains control over the county commissioners, Lauren decides to stand up to him and deliver if not a scorching speech then at least a damning one, knowing full well that her sex tape is going to be revealed to the public. This agoraphobic woman, who at the start of the novel can barely go outside without facing down very real terror, has become the town of Fairwell’s one true hope for salvation.

Here’s where the problems happen with that chapter. Keep in mind, I love that ending. It just needed more to it.

Technically, Lauren isn’t the only one fighting against Daddy Winslow. Milo is running for the county seat and has reluctantly taken on Daddy and his surrogate, a deputy in the sheriff’s office. But the surrogate undergoes a change of heart, unfortunately one that plays mostly off the page, and winds up confessing everything to the town hall, making it unnecessary for Lauren to have to tell off Daddy Winslow and have the truth revealed about her horrific past. Except she chooses to anyways, a wildly courageous choice, and faces down the indignity of him revealing she was in a sex tape only to find the town supporting her through it and yelling Daddy Winslow out of the room as he’s arrested.

All that is great! Except for that one bit – the surrogate’s guilt needed to be played out more on the page. And all of this scene takes place months after Aubrey and Lauren have broken up. Why didn’t I stick in another chapter detailing the surrogate deciding to man up, perhaps revealing he’d made some tapes or something of his boss blackmailing him and strongarming others? Why not show Lauren breaking after Aubrey leaves only to rebuild herself with no one else’s help? Because… well… I don’t know, actually

A Shot at Us: Nic, or the Case of a Writer Liking a Character Too Much to Give Him a Turd Moment

Okay, Garrett sleeping with Brianna after his broken ribs was bad, but this might give it a run for its money. In order to make Nic, an established dealer and best friend of the protagonist in A Shot at Us, seem like less of a bad guy, instead of getting arrested for dealing, he turns himself into the police AT HIS HOME like they’re a taxi service so that I can more easily give him a winning, pleasant character arc later. Nic should have been busted. That’s a fact. The way it comes across right now is hammy and stupid.

I also think constantly about that tornado chapter, but I don’t think I’d change it. It gives it some of “my” flavor and I like the idea too much of this couple in Rankin Flats struggling to make it to change it to another city.

Fundamental Obsession: A Problem with Timelines

This one’s fairly straightforward. The timelines on Fundamental Obsession sometimes don’t jive or don’t come across easily to the page. I don’t know if it actually comes across as a mistake on the page or not. I’m too close to the novel to analyze it. But there are, at least in my head, several questions about when people move in with each other, how they can afford a house at a young age, et cetera, et cetera. Nothing is really glaring, especially if these young ones have parents with money, but still, a stronger timeline outside of the novel would have helped tremendously.

Whew, that’s it. Have you read any significant glaring errors from any writer (not just my dumb butt) lately? Writers, anything you’d change in your own books?

Author: therealcamlowe

Writer, occasional victim of pug crop-dusting.

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