I love Tolkien.
I’ve loved his work since I first discovered his stories when I was about fourteen. After that first time I broke the spine of The Fellowship of the Ring, I’ve read LOTR every year (sometimes more than once a year) until around 2013 when Kayla was born. Which reminds me, you know. 😛 It’s time to read them again.
Anyway. I lived in Middle-Earth like I live in Thedas now – obsessively. Sometimes exclusively. Those books gave me my favourite escape throughout my teen years, and carried me through some of the most difficult times in my life as a young adult.
The impact these stories have had on me is more profound than I guess I’ll ever fully understand, and even inspired me to write. To be even a tenth as good as Tolkien. That’s the dream. So I’ll keep working and learning about writing, until I hopefully level-up as an author.
Luckily, the master never stops teaching. In the past week or so, I received another Tolkien-inspired lesson, all about neekerbreekers.
Anybody out there can tell you how vivid Middle-Earth is. Everything is described in so much detail that the world becomes tangible, so it’s easy to lose yourself in letter-painted landscapes.
And I’m about to blaspheme about the father of fantasy here, but sometimes, the descriptive exposition becomes too much. *hides under desk* Please put down your pitchforks!
The truth is though, as I was following the Fellowship on their epic journey, there were moments where my eyes glossed over just the slightest bit. The place that always comes to mind is in the Midgewater Marshes. Here’s our company of battle-virgin hobbits, carrying this enormous (ha) burden to someone who can hopefully do something about said burden – not that they really know the way to these helping folks – after they’ve just met a tall and dangerous mystery man, who claims he can help them, but with Gandalf missing, can they trust him? The stakes are super high and your fingers shake a little as you turn the pages.
Then, we get a description of the marshes, so detailed that we have a name for the sound the crickets make. Neekerbreekers, as dubbed by my glorious Sam.
This has become an inside joke in my house. Anything that’s more than you needed, but not necessarily in a good way, becomes a neekerbreeker. For example, Uncle Joe’s teary recollection of that first time you rode a bicycle in his speech at the wedding is full of neekerbreekers. As is your economy professor’s lecture on microeconomics first thing on a Monday morning.
Last week, one of my beta readers mentioned some neekerbreekers in my manuscript.
Not fun, four drafts in. I didn’t want to change too much of the story this time. I wanted to fix basic errors and prepare to send the story to the editor lady for the last time. So, when most of the betas started pointing at the same things, there was a moment last week when I wanted to throw out the entire manuscript.
Drama aside, I really, really didn’t want to have to rewrite anything at this late stage of the game.
I had a choice. I could either leave my fancy ass calendar in the story, with new, strange terms for weeks, months and years, leaving my readers utterly confused, or I could take the time to change the fancy terms to things the readers already know (thus screwing up my entire timeline, but OK 😛 ). By removing any confusion about silly little terms I was being precious about (but, precioussssss) the story could be streamlined, simpler to understand, and I could be using the words I’d need to explain the fancy calendar to fix the other, more urgent issue in the story.
And that’s the lesson I’ve learned – being precious about little stuff helps no-one. The reader might not understand the weird, though creative, terms, might not like the history lecture you so painstakingly worked out, or might not be as swept up in the colourful description as you thought they would. If it’s not totally necessary for the plot to progress, or for the world to be real, you probably don’t need it.
The thing is, if you lose the reader on the little crap, they might not turn the page to read the big plot-twisting reveal. By putting a reader off of the story with a neekerbreeker, you lose a reader. And for us indie folk, that’s about the same as authorial seppuku.
Ironically, when I realised the neekerbreekers had to be cut, I also gained the confidence to make the other core-altering change. The truth is, one of the biggest story arcs was failing, with ten out of ten beta readers having some or another comment about it. After long discussions and many tears (note to self, do not revise while in the grip of PMS) I realised that this arc had to be refined for it to work.
So. Draft five is happening. And I’m feeling good.
Besides, one day when I’m famous *Yolandie laughs forever* I might get away with using my complicated calendar in another story. That’s how it works, isn’t it? When you have a big name you can do whatever the hell you want. 😛 I’ll just be here, under my desk.
Have a good one,