I spent part of my Saturday helping someone prepare to “flip” the first draft of their novel. In the process, we tapped this sort of quasi-checklist I bust out when stressed a/o distracted and need to self-edit. The list got built back in my editing days as an actual process I would follow through the developmental stages all the way through to line editing.
Parts of the checklist hit writer-friend right in the brainpan. She said “You should do a web series about this”, and since I had no idea what to blog about this morning, guess what? I’ll pluck one topic from the checklist and post about it.
(I’m also working on a highly abridged version of the checklist as a formatting project for the Freebie page. It’ll go up as soon as the formatting’s finished.)
So. The first self-editing topic falls under developmental edits.
What the hell is lore, you ask. “Lore” is a set of rules established for the reader early in a story.
Lore is important because with these rules established, the reader has been given something to long for, to fear, to dread.
Lore rules are absolutes; once they are stated, they must be:
- Proved to be true on the page.
- Paid off in some way
Take vampires, for instance. Lore has taught generations of readers that vampires must consume blood to stay alive. The craving is sometimes unbearable. They can’t enter a home without an invite. Holy water, stakes through the heart and sunlight kill them.
Audiences also know that werewolves turn during full moons, and silver bullets kill them. Jedi and wizards can go bad. Time Lords don’t die, they regenerate. One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them. One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. That darn ring cannot be destroyed unless some short dude drops it into a volcano. Oh, and by the way, Bilbo might not be the only one obsessed with that ring.
Zelda gets kidnapped a lot. Captain Jack Sparrow might be a little unreliable, Neo might be the one, and the Olympian Gods really have their Jones on for mortal women. Adrian wishes Rocky would stop fighting. Kids might not love their favorite toys forever. Capulets and Montegues don’t get along so well; neither do Seinfelds and Newmanns. Nakatomi Plaza’s safe has a seven-stage lock, and Hans Gruber must never learn Holly Genero’s married name. There can be only one. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
Lydia Bennet flirts too much. Certain adventurous college professors don’t like snakes. The boy won’t get the girl unless she fits the glass slipper, or kisses the right frog. Artists sometimes hide things in their work. Waking up in a tub full of ice is bad. Some people really like white whales. Lord Revan and Lord Malak weren’t always Sith. Egyptian tombs are cursed. Stay away from bridges in Sleepy Hollow. Stuff happens when a Delorean reaches eighty-eight miles per hour. Respect Vito Corleone, or else. It’s not safe to go back in the water quite yet. Buttercup loved her stable boy, and fire swamps have three dangers.
Don’t mess with Klingons or Reavers. Don’t make Bruce Banner angry. Don’t touch Melman’s stapler. Don’t cross the streams. Don’t accidentally drop a house on a witch. Don’t get Mogwai or Daryl Hannah wet. Don’t go into the light. Don’t make friends with rock stars. Don’t talk about fight club. Don’t fall asleep on Elm Street.
So many rules, so many awesome stories. Try to imagine any one of those stories without their unique set of historical rules. Some would have been greatly diminished. In many cases, there would be no story at all.
Lore, however, adds no value to stories unless it is “paid off”. A rule must be broken, or a threat implied by a rule must come to pass. What happened when someone fell asleep on Elm Street? What happened when Romeo and Juliet crossed enemy lines? What happened when Tom Riddle went bad? Did Bruce Banner ever get angry? What happened when Serenity encountered Reavers? Was Neo the one, or wasn’t he? What happened when others came after the one ring?
It is impossible to overstate the importance of lore and payoffs in commercial fiction, so authors must burn some daylight on this during developmental self-edits.
- Does your story have any lore?
- Has every piece of lore been paid off in some way? Is it the best or only way?
- Is there lore attached to both characters and world-build? Can there be?
Focus on lore and payoffs, but be careful not to get carried away. Like everything else in fiction, too much of—or overreliance upon—any one thing can turn ‘satisfying’ into cheesy.