I had a reading at the convention, and decided to read the newly-completed prologue from A DANCE WITH DRAGONS. I've been struggling with this particular chapter off and on for years (not continuously, of course, when a chapter gives me as much trouble as this one has, I tend to put it aside, move on and write something else, and come back to it later with fresh eyes), writing and rewriting it, moving chunks of it around, trying different structures. There's a lot of flashbacks in the chapter -- not just one flashback, but more like four, each to a different time in the viewpoint character's life -- and integrating those with each other and with the present action has proved to be a bitch and a half. I finally did manage to get the ducks all in a row, however, so I thought I'd see how it went over.
FWIW, I have always found convention readings to be very valuable, especially when I'm doing a chapter than I've never read before. No matter how many times you go over your work on a computer screen, somehow mistakes still slip past you... but when you're reading aloud, they leap right up into your face, screaming and spraying spittle. Typos, missing words, double words, tortured syntax, clunky dialogue, you name it. I always try to keep a pen on hand, so I can mark up my reading copy as I go.
And sometimes you see bigger problems too, as I did in this case. The audience seemed to like the chapter well enough, which pleased me. I talked to some of the BWB about it afterward, and was glad to hear that it mostly worked. There are still problems, though. A couple of awkward transitions, a false step and double beat in the middle, maybe too much repetition. Yes, I have reshuffled certain sections of the prologue half a dozen times already, but at the reading it became clear to that I need to look at the sequencing of the flashbacks yet again. I may be close, but I'm not there year. So that's one of the things I've been doing since returning home: polishing, trimming, and restructuring the bloody prologue one more time. For the last time, I hope... but really, who knows?
This, by the way, is the quandary that every writer faces on every book. When is a chapter really done? When is it good enough? We all walk tightropes there. On one side are those who just pound out first drafts, publish them, and move on to the next book. On the other side is poor souls like the character from THE PLAGUE, endlessly revising one sentence over and over in search of some illusory perfection. The best work, I believe, comes from those who stay up the tightrope, leaning this way and that, but never falling off to either side. That's what I try to do... and yes, that's one big reason why the books take so long.
Anyway, I had a great time in Indiana, but now I'm home again, and I have a prologue to revise. Ciao.