The Deepest Cut

Maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but for a long time, I’ve resisted making major cuts to Horizon Skies. It’s my baby, why would I want to hurt it?

With, what I hope, are the final round of edits and revisions, I took a look at one of the opening chapters. A piece of critique I’d received from a literary agency a couple of years ago came back to me. They suggested the first chapter weakened the main protagonist as she’s just a baby with her first appearance. At the time, I resisted the idea, the readers need to know how she came into her family’s life, don’t they? Nope. Their idea was to weave her origin story throughout the book. With my level of inexperience at the time, all I could think was “how on Earth am I going to do that?” I had a finished book, wasn’t it perfect enough as it was?

Actually, no.

With the benefit of hindsight, time away from the manuscript, I look at some of the earlier chapters, and my inexperience shows. I wrote it with a very linear storyline, there are a couple of flashbacks, and every character has their own chapter; telling their individual stories until their destinies begin to merge in the latter third. I’m still happy with the structure, that doesn’t need to change.

But, the literary agency critique was right. Ava’s first chapter really just amounts to padding. I realised, her origin story can be told through snippets of conversation. I also concluded, it takes away some of the mystery as to her connection to another character. This really is an example of telling instead of showing, which writers are always told to avoid.

If you’re unsure what show don’t tell, means, it’s simply a way of allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the story through the actions and expression of the character. For example:

Angry – balled fists, red faced, growled responses.

Scared – rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, the hairs standing up on the back of the neck.

This allows the reader to fully conjure the image of that character in their mind, thus creating engagement with the story, and empathy.

That being said, it won’t serve the story very well to show every aspect. Some elements do benefit from telling. For example, if your character is getting ready for bed, it’s not necessary to describe them having a bath or shower, towelling off, dressing in pyjamas, brushing their teeth, drying their hair, and then getting into bed. It’s a mundane activity that doesn’t need a deep level of commitment. The reader will simply get bored. In this instance, telling is preferable to showing.

After her usual night-time rituals, Bethany settled into bed, a book propped open on her knees.

By telling in this case, we’ve established the character’s actions in a single, succinct statement. The reader knows what’s happened, without getting bored, and the story can move on without slowing the pace.

After reading chapter two again, it became apparent to me, there was too much telling, and not enough showing. It had to go. I’ve already worked part of it back in to later chapters, and feel that works better. My character’s origin story still gets told, but in a more natural way that doesn’t do a disservice to her character arc. I’m hoping, it will enhance it.

Whilst cutting isn’t a fun prospect for writers, we know it’s a necessary evil. It helps tighten up the narrative, gets rid of clunky paragraphs that might be slowing the story down, and keeps the reader engaged to the final page.

 

 

It’s All A Bit Woolly.

Having been vegan for more than three years now, I consider myself, if not an expert, at least well informed on the subject.

What amazes me though, is how many vegans are still ok with wearing wool. I use wool as an example due to a recent post I made on Facebook that sparked a debate amongst some members of the group about wool.

Citing wool then, why is it not ok for humans to use this product?

1 – This goes against the very first rule of veganism as defined by The Vegan Society: Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose

2 – Sheep are being raised in ways to produce more wool, their coats end up causing them pain, their skin can get infected so they “need” shearing. This is a direct link to the farming industry, if sheep weren’t being raised this way, the “need” for shearing wouldn’t be there. And why do humans keep sheep? So we can eat their babies.

3 – To ensure a high turnover of wool, sheep are not treated gently, they are thrown about, manhandled, pinned down, cut and hurt throughout the shearing process. If a farmer can shear 10 sheep in 10 minutes , why would he take time being gentle with just one sheep for 10 minutes? (I don’t know how long the shearing process takes, I’m using these for illustrative purposes). This would impact directly on any profits to be made.

4 – Supply and demand. Keeping up the demand for wool for clothing perpetuates the supply chain. Sheep will continue to be farmed, their babies will continue to be taken from them, murdered at just a few months old for humans to eat.

5 – Alternatives. There are lots of great alternatives to wool out there, it’s wrong to assume that just because something is natural, it doesn’t have some kind of environmental impact. In fact, wool is pretty bad for the planet according to The Ecologist.

I guess it boils down to your reasons for going vegan. For me, it was always about the animals. I love animals more than people, they have more right to live on this Earth than we do. For one thing, animals don’t destroy their environment in the name of progress, and they don’t exploit and enslave others in horrific conditions for food or entertainment. Only humans commit those sorts of acts.

If you eat a vegan diet, but wear any animal byproduct such as wool, silk or leather, you cannot call yourself a vegan. This is not my opinion, but a simple fact. You are plant based because your clothing choice still links to the very industries veganism is against. Like vegetarianism, going plant based is a step in the right direction, but as I realised a few years ago, it’s not enough. If you are comfortable with your choices, good for you, some contribution is better than none at all.

I see a lot of new vegans cropping up, which is fantastic. Lots of questions being asked, and guidance sought. What strikes me about some (not all) new vegans is the lack of research undertaken into what veganism is about. There is a bit of a misconception that it is simply about the diet, when it is so much more than that. To be a true vegan is to adhere to the guidelines as set out by The Vegan Society. This is a lifestyle, and a commitment.

Of course, we all make mistakes, none of us are perfect and occasionally, you’ll fall off the wagon. I did. I bought Kellogg’s Cornflakes a while back, and completely forgot that the Vitamin D in the ingredients comes from sheep’s wool. The packet was already open when my boyfriend said “are you sure they’re vegan? I thought we’d stopped buying them?” That was a proper Homer d’oh! moment right there. Should I flagellate myself with a bunch of asparagus as penance? Of course not, it was a little blip, not done on purpose. I haven’t made the same mistake since though. One of the benefits of veganism is the opportunity for education.

I’ve used wool as an example in this post, just to maybe make you think about or question your current choices. There are so many more examples I could use. Are you a new vegan, still finding your way or are you more plant based, comfortable with your choices? If you’re looking for guidance, feel free to comment with any questions, I’ll be happy to reply to the best of my knowledge. 🌱

 

Keep Reading

The header is a quote, all writers should be familiar with.

Stephen King may not have been the first to coin such a phrase, but it’s the one I come across most often.

Understanding the importance of reading to be used as a tool when writing is absolutely vital, particularly for any budding writer.

Aside from the obvious pleasure reading brings, the education a good book provides is invaluable:

  • World building – excellent examples of this can be found in Brandon Sanderson’s work; he even invented an entire universe, named the Cosmere.
  • Magic systems – from the simplistic tropes of elemental magic to more complex practises, creating a unique type of magic will help your writing to stand out.
  • Structure – is there a clear beginning, middle and end? Are loose ends neatly tied up or left open for a sequel?
  • Pacing – do the chapters flow or jar? Does the momentum continue at a steady pace or do you find yourself struggling to read past the first few chapters?
  • Characterisation – there’s nothing worse than one dimensional characters. This maybe fiction, but characters should have personality, quirks and foibles. Can you empathise with the mc?
  • Vocabulary – seriously, I make a note of any words I come across in a book, look up its meaning, and look for a way to work it into my own writing. Better than any thesaurus.

These are just a few examples of what you can learn from reading in order to make a better writer.

Other things to consider:

  • Who, or what, inspired you to write?
  • Has a particular writer or book grabbed you in such a way, that it lit that fire inside?

I can remember clearly, the first time I thought about writing. It was after reading a book titled The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by the late Joan Aiken. An alternate history set in the mid-19th century in which England has been overrun with wolves, and two young cousins fall into the clutches of an evil older cousin. I loved it, and my first attempt at writing was to completely plagiarise the story. I was still in junior school then, and didn’t know you couldn’t pass off someone else’s story as your own…Obviously, it’s never seen the light of day.

Nowadays, inspiration comes to me from all sorts of sources. The books I read, films, TV shows or the voices in my head. Honestly, sometimes they just don’t shut up!

Horizon Skies, my debut, currently languishing in the “please finish these final edits!” area of my head space, has been doing the rounds in my head since my early 20’s. It was a story I simply had to tell. I don’t know if it will ever be published, it may forever be consigned to the rejection pile, but at least – I did it. I wrote a book. 

If it hadn’t been for all those stories of my childhood, including books by Noel Streatfield and Monica Hughes, I may never have discovered the passion for writing I have now. Reading remains my number one pastime, my books have always been a constant in my life. When the crap has really hit the fan, diving into a Terry Pratchett or James Herbert has rescued me, allowed me to live a different life for a few hours.

So, if you’re wondering how to be a writer, make sure you’re a reader first. The knowledge and experience will enrich your world.