Discuss "Ruinous Love"

David Trammel's picture

G.Kay Bishop shared her submission to the "After Oil" romance anthology with me and has let me post it here on the GW site.

"Ruinous Love"

Unfortunately she said it wasn't accepted for the anthology, too long.

Please take a few minutes and read it, and post any comments or suggestions you have.

The piece is 17,000 words or so--too long by at least 2 or 3K. I thought about cutting it back, but decided that taking out that many words would remove too much of the 'flavor' so I never submitted it for the contest. But I figured some of the folks here might enjoy reading it.

(BTW the name is G.Kay, not Kay sans G. People are always dropping my G. and then I have to pick it up off the floor, remove all the dust bunnies and tack it back on.(:-)

David Trammel's picture

I had the "G" on the desk and I'm blaming the cat for knocking it off and under the filing cabinet.

add photo: 

...hee, hee, hee. Cats are like that, they are.

..what would YOU have done to edit the story down to below 15K words?
Knock off the beginning and ending?
Remove part of the plot?
Cut the long description of how to cope with an infestation of plague germs?
I considered these but decided against them for the sake of the story's savour.
What else might have been done if you were in charge of editing it?

David Trammel's picture

I'm busy the next two, with a new main page post on Eating Well, and a post on my Shaman blog, but I'll look over it this weekend and see what I would have edit out. What was the original word count?

I really need to get off my butt and schedule a day each week that I write fiction. I funded Shawn Kilgore's campaign at the top level of $25 a month which means I could get him to review a short story or so of work a month. I haven't sent him anything yet.

I do have a humorous tale of a Green Wizard, a village and some problems with gas (of the gastronomical order) about half written I should finish and get to him.

Oh, by all means, finsh your own story before thinking about mine and editing problems. I am already grinning at what your story could be about. Capturing methane from a diet heavy on the beans?

Dear gkb, I have read Ruinous Love twice now, several weeks apart, and I love, love, love it, from the first sentence Pride and Prejudice twist to the jolly denouement. I have to say that the way you twist language to make it sit and stay and lie down and do all the tricks is nothing short of miraculous. The characters are all adorable and have their own flavours and there are no tiresome victims. Perfect. Now.. the tiny bit of bad news.. I don't think it will be only me that reads and rereads and reads again the first section trying in vain to work out what the heck is happening. I had to read a good half of the story before i could interpret that first introductory section. The words glitter so much that they are all but impenetrable. A plea here for a little more explanation... The good news is that it works if you already know what is happening.. but not everybody will read the story twice..
Barring that, I would love to see a bunch of similar novella-style stories all bundled into a collection. Love your style, would love to read more:)

Hi, thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate it. I am glad you got so much enjoyment from it and honored that you gave it a re-read. I wrote this piece in response to the call for Love in the Ruins. Since romance is not my usual metier, I went straight to the Source and stole Jane Austen's plot and many of her characters, disguising them in the garbs of a poky cowtown and an urbane mobile theatrical company with a real-life mission when push comes to shove.

Though my piece is not as long as P&P, it was too long for inclusion in the contest and not quite the sort of material suitable for Into the Ruins (which is to close this summer, boo-hoo!). So your suggestion regarding another venue in which to publish is most welcome.

If you know of other sources for standard tropes that recur in Romance, that would be useful for developing other post-industrial light-hearted takes on life, love, and money. I think G. Heyer's estate is still very protective of her works but some of her *themes* might be deployable without treading too hard on her plot heels or tearing the hem of her carefully crafted Regency ballgowns. Anyone else you recommend for catching the right tone of romantic souffles?

I take your point about the opening paragraphs. Since that part was a parodic ripoff of Austen pure and simple, I can only say what she once said: "I do not write for such dull elves as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves." And then hope that I get the readers who make that little bit of extra effort and enjoy the opening after they get to the ending. But I will take under advisement that future openings should be more action-oriented and have a better 'hook'.

Since this is not my usual style, I wonder if there are other GWs who frequent this site whose writing styles are uplifting and entertaining even if they do not focus on romance per se. Would such a collection be of interest, do you think? Such as humor in the style of P.G. Wodehouse? Or must it be all romance to appeal to the intended audience? I am sure there would be a market for such a volume in either case.

I do have other 'plague' stories that I have been wishing to collect into a volume, but the 'tone' of those does not match the upbeat feel of this one. So I do not think they would be as fun to read, though they have a merit of another sort. And with people so very concerned about real-life issues, it might not be a good time to launch those stories either!

I am just completing a very long novel in the fantasy genre that has elements of sword-and-sorcery, but which does not follow the 'rules' of that genre either. So sales may be a problem no matter what!! Writing is one thing but the skill of marketing writing is another. So thanks again for your encouragement and suggestions.

Hi gkb,

I've got your story bookmarked and it's in the long, long queue of 'to be read'.
As to writing things that don't fall into a specific genre: I do it all the time. Thank God for self-publishing.

I write romance set on a terraformed Mars but I include the class struggle, colonization issues, and the fact that Mars has ZERO fossil fuels meaning that it's a world made by hand. The richer you are, the more access to technology you have. Yet, always, there's Olde Earthe in the background; waiting, lurking, hovering, the doom you can't stop from coming. These are also big, sprawling family sagas with a huge cast of characters and characters show up in multiple books as cameos and walk-ons.

No traditional publisher would ever come near me but my husband will. He's my publisher as well as my editor and book layout person.

Self-publishing is NOT a way to print money. Some people do very well but other people don't even make coffee money. The range is vast.

A new thing we are trying is posting my novels as I write them, a chapter a week at Wattpad. This is first draft material and the finished book can be quite different and considerably improved. You may want to try this method.
It won't necessarily make money or lead to sales but again, some people have developed writing careers because of Wattpad.

Here's'The White Elephant of Panschin' at Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/story/181751952-the-white-elephant-of-panschin.
This is the first draft version but it's free.
I recently published the final version of 'The White Elephant of Panschin'. It's in KU if you use that program as well as available through our website.

I'm currently writing 'The Vanished Pearls of Orlov'. Wattpad is up to chapter 10, although I'm at Chapter 25. Here's the link:
https://www.wattpad.com/story/210012332-the-vanished-pearls-of-orlov.

'The Vanished Pearls of Orlov' is the third book in the series but, again, to make sure traditional publishers won't go near me, the books are separate with different characters. They're almost stand-alones, but not quite.

Wattpad is a way to develop a tiny fan base. I'm also on Archive of Our Own but I seem to get less reads there.

You can self-publish just about anything and you can make your books unique and special in a way that traditional publishing never will. Self-publishing also means YOU do all the work a traditional publisher does for its authors and its a lot of work!

Here's our website if you want to see what we do: http://peschelpress.com/

In the end, writing the book is the easy part. Marketing it to earn enough money to live off of is hard, hard, hard. It's the hardest part for us by a huge margin.

Good luck on your writing journey. Remember that your voice is unique and only you can tell your stories.

Teresa from Hershey
aka Odessa Moon

I was looking for a publisher who can handle making slipcases and I came across these links. It seems that Sourcebooks is allowing people to submit mss. via Wattpad under certain conditions. I did not look into it very far but I thought others might find this a useful avenue if they do not have an agent.

https://www.sourcebooks.com/agile-publishing-model.html
https://www.wattpad.com/stories/submit2sourcebooks

Penguin/Random House owns 45% of Sourcebooks.

It doesn't surprise me that a big publisher is looking at Wattpad. Indie publishing is becoming like the farm teams for traditional publishers. It lets the big firms see if you have a following and can sell.

There have been writers who've made the leap from Wattpad to a contract.

If you do, read that contract with your own lawyer BEFORE you sign. There are weasel areas that might lose you your rights not just to the novel you're submitting but to your characters and your world-building.

Traditional publishing learned a lot from not anticipating ebooks or the rise in audio-books. That's why many old-time writers are releasing their out-of-print (by decades in some cases) backlist in ebook format. They still have those rights, even if the print rights are long gone.

I was unable to parse this sentence I found on Bill's Career Indie website: "Writing is an art, but getting paid to spending money wisely to keep writing is a business." Some kind of typo?

Thanks for asking! Bill (my editor, publisher, and husband) doesn't always check what he writes before pressing 'publish'.
He's fixing that badly written sentence, hopefully making it clearer.

Hey, I have finally paid a visit to the link you provided and – after struggling with the unfamiliar format – read a sampling of the story in its freebie incarnation. I did not get far due to my cordial dislike of the web format (more on that below) but from what I did see, I was puzzled to understand why mainstream publishing has not been an option for you. I should think they would find you a treasure – or at least a small, workable gold mine.

You write about human beings in stuations that readers can relate to, with just enough spice and tang of unfamiliarity from the setting on Mars to give piquancy and a flavor of the exotic to liven up classic conflicts, wihtout taxing the brain to figure out excessive and distracting novelty. It is relaxing and engaging, just like Heyer’s blend of Upper Claahhss exotique with love and money problems we plebs can understand.

Your work is readable for a wide range of ages and tastes. Short, pithy sentences that deliver clear meaning with a quick jab and carry plot-moving force with each punch. Characters develop via many modes: sometimes through internal discourse; or their relation to the strangeness of the created World; or their interaction with other characters.

Your plots (so far as I got) are based on real-life levels of intricacy. You do not have that nasty post-modern habit of sneering at your characters from an Olympian Nose-holding Urban Elevation; these are people you and readers can share by caring about what happens to them.

All according to Cocker as the math coves are wont to say.

Now, why on Earth (or any planet) would not a rational trade house wish to exploit (pardon the blunt truthiness there) the evidently prolific and potentially profitable resource of your production capacity? Or maybe they would if you were not canny enough to employ a lawyer to keep them from jumping your claim, so to speak, and making you work down the mines for their benefit.

I suspect that the reason why you are neglected is that you are cross-genre and they have so tightly compartmentalized their marketing schemes as to box you out of the running. You have too much science fiction to appeal to the rich googorbs of pure Romance and too much romance to appeal to the oil, metal, guns, and guts crowd of War Exploits Exported Inc.

You hang out in the shaded portions of Venn diagrams. You confuse the issue. You are not Pure and Simple and Cheap. Complexity troubles the simple commercial mind. Your work cannot be reduced to Formula, mechanized to remove the Human element, and reproduced in Mass Quantities suitable of being Pushed by Hype.

You do not praise to the Martian skies the supremacy of the All-Knowing Computah. Your people use typewriters, for the Log’s sake! You have too much nature-love and systems thinking to appeal to the simplistic mindset of any set, but especially the Urbane Among Us who disdain algal fungus. Or maybe – just maybe – trade publishing has lost its collective mind.

I was unable to cope with the wattpad format for very long. I have sharply limited amts of bandwidth, so not being able to secure a good, solid long chunk of good old dull grey pages was a disappointment. Besides the cost of downloading extraneous objects, I find the continual intrusion of a cluster of faces, avatars, ads, and whatnots between the pages of the stories to be decidedly irritating. I do not desire reading a book to be a static imitation of commercial TV. Nor do I enjoy the frantic-antic flap and furor of a certain vaporous enterprise that primarily markets Faces as its sole product. I could not get a word-count estimate of the length of your chapters because the format would not allow me to save or copy the text for analysis. Perhaps you would not mind telling me what your typical chapter length is?

Anyhow, I enjoyed as much as I could get of White Elephant, finding it comparable to the pleasure of reading a Heyer novel with spicy sauce of Old Solar Sytem scifi, and a dash of good gardening techniques for extra flavor.

Thanks for your kind words!
I really enjoyed writing the 'White Elephant of Panschin'. People are people, whatever their location.

Each of my chapters (41 in all) runs about 6,000 words (+/- 1,000). The first four chapters were the shortest. The finished book (in both eformat and in trade paperback) runs about 235,000 words.

Never let it be said I do not give value for money.

The difference between the ebook and trade paperback formats is artistic. Ebooks have limits on file sizes and on art placement so we eliminate art. After all, if I'm asking $15.95 for the trade paperback as opposed to $4.99 for the ebook, I need to offer value besides having a real, paper book that you can hold. Thus, the trade paperback is crawling with terraformers as fleurons, as footers, and clouds of them around the chapter title images. There are pictures of domes and a bookplate (which I made myself) showing the six domes of Panschin. There's other stuff too, none of which is in the ebook.

We can't do any of that stuff in Wattpad or Archive of Our Own (where I also post). They are first draft material only. The annoying adverts pay for the site.

My website is https://odessamoon.com/ I've got additional background information on 'White Elephant', 'Bride from Dairapaska', and the Steppes of Mars in general. I've spent a lot of time developing my Mars.

As to being self-published:

Traditional publishing WANTS to keep writers in their lanes because it's so much easier to sell the books. It's also MUCH easier for bookstores to stock the books. A bookstore has to use a system so both customers and clerks can locate books quickly. If you look on the copyright page of a book, it has an ISBN and information about the general subject of the book helping the bookseller (or the librarian) to correctly place the book so the reader interested in that type of book can find it.

Self-publishing is great for cross-genre writing. Traditional publishing, not so much. They're just not set up for it.

Thanks again!

Ah, that would explain it as I have long suspected I am a dull elf.. I don't know that you have to worry too much about appropriating other people's plots, if this is an example to go by. I wouldn't have twigged the Austen connection if you hadn't started the piece with that exact sentence. I wait in breathless suspense for a Heyer plot to make an appearance in the post-industrial ruins:) I must admit I am not a romance reader, other than Austen and Heyer, so have nothing to offer there that you are not all over already, and furthermore have to confess I am not generally a fan of sci-fi, fantasy, or indeed post-industrial future fiction scenarios, but what I LOVED about this story is the irreverent tone of extreme hilarity. There is just not enough post-industrial comedy around..
Have you read O.Henry's short stories? I am getting a little flavour of him here, a real sense of the land you are writing about. What about a collection of short stories or novellas linked together by that landscape, or even a set of short stories with the plot device of the travelling theatre troupe turning up in a number of different towns? Or, a set of stories exploiting the tropes of different genres but in post-industrial settings? You've already done romance, now you could do classic crime. Agatha Christie's Body in the Library.. at the Temple. Actually AC did her own masterful example of cross-genre writing in Death Comes as the End - Ancient Egyptian historical novel with bodies and much sleuthing.
All the best with your current editing project - I am doing the same right now, it is painful but probably good for my character development or something.

LOL, yes painful editing is good for one’s Character and also one’s character development. Your ideas for a generating a series of novellas with a light-hearted, or intellectual crime tone are very workable, I believe. I think it is possible to go Heyer one better by creating characters, settings, and situations that pose real-life issues that can be resolved not only by a Great Love but by love, period: love of children, of pets, of liberty, of community, of the land – and on and on. There is a great deal to love and a considerable deal to drag us down in this old world.

And you have touched on an idea I have long wanted to work out: the travelling theatre troupe that comes into town or village and helps the people there to resolve some hard knot of emotional tension by means of their dramatic improvisational skill. Did you know, that was what the Commedia della Arte actually did in its heyday? I agree with the need for more humor in post-indy art. Comedy has a more cathartic effect on me than tragedy. It is, alas, much harder to write.

Once I have put this Big Novel to bed I will take up the challenge and look about me for a way to implement a series. However, being a bit of a dull elf myself, I am going to ask the community to suggest themes and problems as seed crystals for my mind to work on. Sort of like a Mad Lib.

There is a/an _____NOUN in a/an _______LANDSCAPE who has a _______RELATIONSHIP with _______NUMBER other _______JOB TITLE and who wants to ______ADVERB ______VERB the _______EMOTION of the ________GROUP

Ex. There is an OUTLAW in a FOREST who has a RUNNING FEUD with TWO other SHERIFFS and who wants to ROYALLY TWEAK the GIGGLES of the VILLAGERS.

It would be fun just to hear the kinds of problems people come up with and fun to try to solve them. The crime mode or the twists a la Saki/O.Henry can be mad-libbed as well. This could be a fertile field of comedic invention.

Thanks!

"Comedy has a more cathartic effect on me than tragedy. It is, alas, much harder to write."
True words. I have discovered this in my first novel attempt. I have had to delete several scenes that dipped perilously close to the histrionic. So deliciously easy to write, though..
Restrained satire a la Austen is very, very good. I also very much appreciate comedy teetering on the edge of tragedy, or comedy applied to serious subjects. I think Pratchett did that so well in Thud and Snuff where he explored the themes of religion and slavery respectively (and also parodied Austen and classic crime fiction so satisfactorily in Snuff).
Anyways, your comedy is marvellous. Don't stop!

I just remembered an old story I was never able to place for publication, called Survivial Trait. It has a lot of wisecracking humor you might like. I posted it just now on my web page if you want to read it.

http://gkaybishop.weebly.com/purple-orb-process.html

gkb - So, I have now been nosing around your website for a while and have to inform you that Monster Soup is my new favourite short story ever. Great Nanna is adorable, and so are the monsters. The shrieking one powerfully reminded me of one of my daughters, age 4. Everything about this story is perfect, and everyone should read it:

http://gkaybishop.weebly.com/constellation-33/monster-soup

I guarantee that this will be a lovely interlude and panacea to all the hideous news flying around the internet right now.

Ok, so let's talk about Survival Trait. For a start, the INTJ thing is a hoot. I am pretty sure my partner is an INTJ but haven't brought it up yet because life is too short. He would totally volunteer for a solo mission to Pluto. He would finally be able to settle to some coding then without anyone interrupting him (he already lives in a cabin on a mountain and doesn't see another human being for a week at a time. But still, people phone him. The nerve!).
I like this story. I like that the plot turns on the development of the protagonist. I like that she is 2.67m tall. Ceilings must be higher in the future. I was again a little confused by the opening scenes. I guessed that the story was set on the moon, because the moon is mentioned frequently, but on re-reading i see there is a beach. I guess there is not much beach on the moon. Although if the moon had been terraformed, there could be beaches, which could very convincingly be called New Tampa.. you see why I avoid sci-fi? There are so many world building possibilities that literally anything can happen at any time. Same with fantasy. Deus ex machina all over the place, unless the limitations of the putative world are very sharply defined.
Still, I like what you did here, and I loved the INTJ narrator and her internal turmoil:)
PS - Are you an INTJ? I am an INFP and create internal turmoil in the mind of my poor dear partner all the time. So far it works because we live a half hour's drive from each other.

Greetings, and thanks for the feedback on Survival Trait. LOL about the high ceilings. Yes, there has been a lot of destruction on Earth at the time of the story and people have mutated a lot due to radioactivity and other stresses. Lots of different shapes of people which is why Angel seems unremarkable among the biker crowds. People on the Moon tend to grow really tall and thin like the plants they grow there, and have trouble adapting to Earth gravity when they manage to wangle a trip home. Their bones settle and they ache and stoop a lot until they rebuild muscle mass; but buildings are adapted to people by people, for people, so high ceilings help with high heat in an uncomfortably tropical world. INFP’s are, if I recall correctly, the people who are unassuming and pliable yet manage somehow to make themselves indispensable to those whom they love. Also they are rock solid and immovable when they feel themselves to be doing what is right. I do not know what I am, I have never been tested. But the stats say only a fourth of humanity is introverted and INTJ’s are only 2% and it is even rarer for women to have the personality type.

I am so pleased that you like Monster Soup. That is one of the Talurian Tales from the same world as the Gladdis of Rowanswood stories. I am still working on content editing for the Big Novel in that series and have not managed to get out to wattpad yet. One of my email services locked me out of my account for no reason and that has taken time and snarling too. Oh, and I just discovered that the graphics program I use called GIMP does not have a color model suitable for print production!!! All that work I did on the Novel to create artistic chapter headings and they are only good for e-book distribution! Unless I take the time and trouble to learn yet ANOTHER software thingy that converts from RGB to CMYK and look at the proofs because colors made in Ink are nowhere near as gaudy and blendable as colors made of pixelated points of light. This business of self-publishing is a lot of work.

Hi, Teresa, this is very helpful info for me and other writers. I already have you and Bill bookmarked somewhere because I have long enjoyed his footnotes to Dorothy L. Sayers’s Wimsey series. Now I know where to go to read your current output, so thanks for that.

The pleasure will have to wait just a bit because I am tearing my hair out at present over the unexpected issues I found during Content Editing of my Big Novel (1350 pgs at last est.) You never said a truer word about doing all the work a trad publisher does! I will have half a million questions to ask Joel when he sets up his Author website, and I will try to soak up some of your confidence and methods for outreach when I finally have the text whipped into shape.

My book design is crude but serviceable; my leading is tight and my plots are loose; but by crackey, I WILL get this thing into the public eye someday soon! Thanks so much for providing a handle to hold and blazing a trail for all of us in this wild new frontier that publishing has become.

Do you think any of your previous romance works could be re-printed in a collection of the sort Blueday Jo described? Or would your Press be interested in collating romance works that premiere here or on Wattpad, for a hefty percentage of the sale price? But there may be too many formating problems with a bewildering variety of digital platforms, etc. that make too much work when you are full up with your own projects already. Just trying to think of ways to meet a market 'demand' that already exists and at the same time get ideas into the world of how to cope with deindustrial decline in a loving way.

We've got too many projects to publish anyone outside of our household. We've got projects going out for ten years (as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers come out of copyright). In addition, I've got 20-some novels in 'The Steppes of Mars' roughly blocked out, plus there's that other space opera series (10 books in all) that I've got roughly outlined. And, we're prodding Dear Daughter to get the lead out and get that encyclopedia of Cryptids done and, and, and.

The real problem with publishing someone else isn't the time though. It's the contracts. We'd be taking a huge risk printing anyone else because there's never any guarantee that we'd make money. We can't pay an advance. Instead, we'd do something like a 50/50 royalty split with a five-year contract. We'd still be on the hook for covers, editing, layout, blurbs, marketing, etc, etc, and our time. If the book doesn't sell, you (author) lose your time and effort but you aren't out any $$ and at the end of five years, you get all your rights back. If the book doesn't sell, we lose much more. We lose money that could have been spent on our own pitiful efforts.
Traditional publishers have plenty of overhead bills to pay. They count on blockbusters to pay for the rest of the line. They also pay minuscule royalties but, more importantly, they HOLD ON TO YOUR RIGHTS. Never, ever sign a contract with any publisher without YOUR OWN LAWYER vetting the contract and explaining it to you. If you see ANYTHING that indicates you lose control of your world, characters, etc, in perpetuity for platforms current and yet to be developed, RUN. DO NOT SIGN.
Because traditional publishers hold onto your rights (they learned because they lost tons of money when ebooks were developed), if, decades later, your novel turns into a blockbuster movie, they make the money. Not necessarily you.

Let me take a moment now and say an advance is a LOAN against future royalties. If the book doesn't sell and you don't earn out, you'll never see another penny from the publisher. You'll also never get as large an advance again. You may, if your book sells poorly, never get another contract with that publisher under that name.

Kris Rusch writes a 'business of writing' column every Thursday. She's excellent and is well worth reading her back issues, especially about contracts, negotiating with agents, and intellectual property. Here's the link: https://kriswrites.com/category/business-musings/

She can be long-winded but she really knows her stuff. Once you get an idea about intellectual property, you'll understand how much money there is floating around and why you need to maintain control of your rights.

As to editing. Don't pay an editor to fix penny mistakes. Run spellcheck. Run grammar check. Print the manuscript out (double-spaced) and edit with a red pen. It will look different than it does on a screen and you can see some mistakes better. Read the manuscript again on an ebook for the same reason. You'll catch different mistakes. Read the manuscript out loud, making sure you say each word. If the dialog sounds wrong read aloud, fix it. Beta readers can be useful if you get someone who reads in your genre and is willing to read the manuscript closely AND tell you what they thought didn't work.

Make a style sheet with all your character names, place names, specialty words, relationships between characters, etc so YOU have a definitive list of who, what, when and where in the manuscript. Editor will want to see this, by the way.

Once you've done all the self-editing you can do, then you may want to pay for professional editing. Get recommendations! Get references! Don't use an editor who doesn't work in your genre because they won't know the tropes. Don't take the editor's responses as correct. They may not be. Do not, do not, do not ever use 'Global Accept'. If Editor made mistakes, you just accepted them.
As tedious as it is, you have to read the entire manuscript again, accepting or refusing each and every one of Editor's suggestions. My husband edits me and we have long, boring talks about our relationship and the manuscript. I do NOT feel duty bound to accept every one of his suggestions. Sometimes, he just doesn't get what I'm going for. Other times, I can see that since HE doesn't understand, I need to rewrite.

Hope that helps!

Teresa

It does help, and as far as I can tell at my stage of the process is entirely accurate. If it helps fellow writers to know this, Jane Austen herself sometimes felt a kind of disgust with her writing. This is a phase we all have to pass though, I fear. At least it is if you are the kind of writer who polishes and perfects.

Teresa, these are great suggestions, and I have employed them all, except, so far, paying for a manuscript assessment. I am very lucky in that one of my beta readers is a published novelist, but also an editor at heart - she asks excellent questions of my characters' motivations and also places where I have taken leaps in the dark - how could my character have known this? Good question. Another explanatory sentence required. So far 3 out of 5 readers haven't liked the last scene so i scrapped it, much as I loved it, because the readers were right of course. It fit the story that was in my head, but not the story as it was written.. I love that other eyes can see what I don't.
Your suggestion of reading out loud is gold. I read to my long-suffering partner and stop and correct as I go along. There is nothing better to make the words flow as reading out loud, especially dialogue.
And just a couple of weeks ago I discovered what a style sheet is. What a useful document, especially as I have written a story that spans 70 years and i am not good with numbers..
Well, all the best to us all with our projects which seem to be of the 'bitten off more than we can chew' variety, but how dull would life be without that? I am currently editing one novel, plotting another and writing an article about building a DIY polytunnel for a gardening magazine:)

Well, gods' truth, I am of course procrastinating and not doing any of those three things because internet.. and on Saturday I will be leading a discussion on procrastination at my writers' group:):)

I learned about style sheets about two years ago and now I use them for all my writing. Bill, who's been writing for decades and been a newspaper copy editor for decades, had never heard of them.

You can make your style sheet as complex as you like. You can make multiple ones so your entire series has a master style sheet, listing only the most critical, novel spanning names and details, while still maintaining a style sheet for each individual novel in the series.

Any detail can go in your style sheet from names to relationships to street addresses to specialty words. It's up to you. It remembers for you.

Even a short story should have a style sheet, in case you stop writing for a few weeks and go back and forget who's related to who. Very useful if you regularly have gaps in finishing a story!

Your style sheet will also tell you if you have too many characters whose names start with the letter 'P' or if your names are too similar in appearance on the page, thus confusing the reader. What is the difference between Belinda and Melinda? They look almost identical on the page. Do Alberta and Melinda look different enough to prevent confusion?

My style sheets can get complicated!

The Style sheet on paper is useful for many purposes (page divided into 4 or 6 blocks with A-B C-D headers) but for really long works, I recommend an electronic spreadsheet using data functions like Auto Filter so you can assign as many categories as you like: Alpha, SETTING, HORSES, FOOD, MAGIC, TECH, RELATIONS, TIMELINE, MOON PHASE, CHAPTER, etc.