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The Importance of Being Edited

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Miles’s chair squeaked, just a little, when he pushed at the floor with his foot.

He found the squeak comforting when he was trying to write.

Objectively, he supposed, he would have to admit that it was an annoying sound. If Illyan were here, Miles would already be on the receiving end of his commanding officer’s worlds-famous impassive stare. Ivan, at the other extreme, would moan and complain and eventually take himself off to find company that was more entertaining and less rhythmically squeaky (unless, perhaps, bedsprings were involved).

His mother, now—she would simply conclude that he was projecting or displacing or some other Betan -ing.

She would probably be right.

While he was leading a mission for the Dendarii, Miles was Admiral Naismith, with all the charisma and influence and adrenaline that went with that title. But afterward, back in his old bedroom in Vorkosigan House, he was nothing but Lieutentant Vorkosigan of ImpSec writing up his mission report for an impatient, sarcastic, and entirely too perceptive commanding officer.

And Lieutenant Vorkosigan of ImpSec was all too easily distracted. The squeaky chair, in some way that Miles didn’t completely understand, helped keep him focused.

Until his commconsole chimed.

Miles turned to face the display with a rapt grin. That was the chime that signaled a typed message. Unusual in these days of vid projections, of course. But ever so traditional in ’net fandom, where anonymity was everything.

It could only be a message from his beta-reader at Forever Bold.

There was a lot of time in space, was the thing. Even being Admiral Naismith and having actual adventures still left Miles with plenty of hours to kill. At first, he had amused himself during his night-cycles by merely reading Vorthalia fanfic. But after only a few short weeks, he realized that he could write stories at least as good as the ones that the Forever Bold beta-readers were letting through onto the site. All that vid-watching he’d done as a kid had given him a firm grasp of canon, and thinking up escapades had never exactly been a strain. And so, he had tried his hand.

And now he was hooked.

He’d been lucky, too, when he’d been assigned to a beta-reader. TheWatcher was an old name in the fandom, with plenty of his own stories posted at the site, going back a decade or more. He did tend to focus on the secondary characters, which Miles thought was something of a shame—writing Vorthalia himself was so much more interesting than inventing backstory for sidekicks and enemies and random incidental bystanders. But TheWatcher had a sharp, crisp style and an undercurrent of subtle but acid humor that Miles rather enjoyed.

Miles reached for his pad and his stylus, tapping impatiently until the message filled his screen.

MountainMan:

This is a good chapter overall, and moves the plot of your story forward. I’d recommend that you add some more dialogue with Vorharrison in the second section to flesh out Vorthalia’s motives for challenging the old village headman; on the face of it that doesn’t strike me as something that Vorthalia would do, so you need to make it plausible.

“Picky, picky,” Miles grumbled. TheWatcher was tough; it was impossible to get a story past him without a significant edit. To be fair, though, Miles had to admit (when he was being honest with himself) that the editing did make his stories better.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to suggest that you make your sentences shorter. I know we’ve had this discussion before, and I know you like the sense of excitement you get from a really long and twisty sentence. But I think your action scenes in particular would be much more vivid if you made the sentences much shorter. Always remember: Short sentences, clear ideas, bold impression.

Miles scowled. This was a different matter. He and his beta-reader were never going to agree on the long-sentences thing. Why couldn’t TheWatcher see how they sped up the pace of the action? Miles never gave in on this point, though. The complexity of the situation justifies the complexity of its expression, he would argue—as he always did—and keep his long sentences just as they were.

Otherwise, though, the beta-reader’s comments seemed mostly reasonable. It wouldn’t take long to edit that second section and be ready to submit the fic for posting.

Except—

He sighed.

He really did have to finish writing up that Dendarii report for Illyan before he let himself get caught up in fic-writing.

Miles pushed his foot against the floor again.

The chair squeaked.

It was going to be a long night.

~*~

The following morning found Miles in Illyan’s office, standing at parade rest, suppressing a most unmilitary urge to fidget while Illyan frowned at his report. Given the amount of coffee he had consumed after his late night, though, at least yawning wasn’t a problem. (Yet.)

“You have quite a talent for spin,” said Illyan dryly. “The Dendarii do come off rather well in this account.”

“They did well,” said Miles stiffly. “Sir.”

“‘Took rapid evasive action and paused to regroup,’ eh?” Illyan looked up at him. “That means, ‘retreated’, I suppose?”

“Temporarily retreated to obtain a more solid tactical advantage, sir.”

But Illyan picked up his stylus and scribbled something anyway. Miles managed not to scowl.

“You know, Vorkosigan,” said Illyan wearily, “most of your sentences are just too long.”

Not you, too. Miles rolled his eyes, since Illyan wasn’t looking anyway.

“Here’s a little motto you might wish to keep in mind,” Illyan went on, his own eyes still on the report. “I find it very helpful: Short sentences, clear ideas, bold impression.”

“The complexity of the situation justifies the complexity of its expression.” Miles responded before his brain had caught up with his mouth. “Sir.”

But then it did. Catch up, that is.

Jaw hanging, he stared right back—at Illyan’s equally horrified gaze.

~ fin ~