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.

 

 

Revision, Revision, Revision – Please Let This Be The End!

I must admit, I’ve been dipping in and out of Horizon Skies for the last few weeks and realising that, despite all the editing, the book I presented to agents is still not completely finished.

The notes from my editor are incredibly helpful but have raised more questions about my work.

World building and my magic system are two areas that still need expansion. I honestly thought I had built my world quite nicely. Apparently, it reads as rather generic with no unique markers to differentiate the various locations. Weird how, what is in my head has not necessarily translated that well onto paper.

Luckily, she has been complimentary overall about the book, the story and my writing style so at least that’s an affirmation of my ability to write.

After spending a few hours on Horizon Skies yesterday, I achieved very little. I’m focusing on the minor revisions such as, what people look like and adding in a bit of detail here and there. When I get to an area that needs a major overhaul, I’m terrified! In my head, I’m thinking, “I spent YEARS writing this, I can’t face it again!”

So, giving it some thought this morning and I think I’ve come up with a battle plan:

  1. Work through the minor revisions first
  2. Print the chapters off requiring more of an overhaul
  3. Get the old notebooks out again and revise by hand (I prefer writing this way)
  4. Expand upon the magic system

I think the magic system will be quite hard. The basics are already there but I have to consider the following:

  1. Type of magic i.e. elemental, chemical etc.?
  2. Are magic wielders born with it or is it taught?
  3. Are there levels of magic?
  4. Does everyone have an ability or just a select few?

Elemental magic is a very common trope in Fantasy, mainly because it is an incredibly easy system to write. People with the ability to manipulate fire, earth, air and water are seen quite often in the books we read from this genre.

I’d love to be able to have the ability to create different magic systems the way Brandon Sanderson does. He manages to create something different in all his novels, they are all unique to the planets within the Cosmere (his universe for the uninitiated). From swallowing different metals (Mistborn) to Lashing (The Way of Kings) Sanderson cleverly demonstrates that we don’t have to rely on tried and tested tropes.

I lean towards elemental, it’s in a lot of books I read plus, as a bit of gamer, I’ve seen it’s very common in RPG’s. The earlier Final Fantasy games had characters specifically gifted with one of the elements.

There are some very handy charts and diagrams all over the internet explaining magic systems, some of these are very intricate but I don’t want to borrow from anyone else. Let’s face it, a lot of fantasy stories have very common themes, especially in Young Adult so it’s important that, as writers, we do create something unique. Something that will make the story stand out just that little bit more to an agent.

Here I go again…

Editing: A Necessary Evil

Since putting my pen down, tidying the notepads away and sitting back with the smug feeling of having written my book; I am now at the stage which has filled me with some trepidation.

Editing.

I follow lots of writers on Twitter, many in the same boat as me, we’ve sailed the river of writing our fast draft but now find ourselves alone, navigating the choppy seas of editing. I must admit, a lot of writers have made no bones about the fact that editing can be a labour intensive, boring process but one that must be done to get the book into a more cohesive, second draft.

I have waited three weeks since downing the pen and revisiting my manuscript and I enter the process as a complete novice. The thought of cutting words, whole paragraphs, characters even is a scary prospect and I must admit, I went gently with the first couple of chapters!

However, today’s editing process felt a little different. Chapter 3, a good chapter (I believe) but which the direct influence of LOTR was screaming out of it, demanded changes and those changes have been made. Maybe not as brutal as it should have been but I don’t want to do anything too drastic and alter the tone completely. The story is still my story and the 3rd draft will provide further opportunity for more changes.

So, for anyone reading this who is perhaps still working through their 1st draft and worrying about it being any good: don’t be. Your 1st draft is the outline, an introduction to the world you’re creating and the characters within it. It’s the first stepping stone on the way to completion.

This is an old article but it is very useful and this is the guideline I’m working with as far as the editing process goes:

Writers’ Digest – How To Edit Your Book

In the meantime, feel free to add your comments about editing here, learning from other writers is invaluable!