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.

 

 

Progress on Horizon Skies (and things I’ve learnt)

Back in May, I was really pleased to have reached a milestone in my writing which you can read about here.

Five months later and yet another milestone has been reached!

Using the luxury of a well needed week away from the day job, I have been able to fit in some pretty decent writing time. My aim was to complete two chapters and possibly a short story.

As I am quite lazy by nature, the short story went out the window and the second chapter I wanted to write hasn’t yet made it to the notebook but I have completed chapter 24, which means I am now six chapters from the end.

I scheduled myself to write 500 words a day, a quantity which is more than achievable and considering I spent the first few days slobbing around, playing Red Dead Redemption on my PS3 and not much else, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever get anything written.

Wise words from my boyfriend, advising me not to “moan about wasting time off”, as I have done in the past, spurred me into action and by this morning I had finished chapter 24 with a total word count of 3,362 which equates to almost 700 words per day (based on a working week). I more than beat my target and it gave me a huge sense of satisfaction to know that I am now three-quarters of the way through; a point I never dreamed of reaching.

If I wasn’t doing the #SoberOctober challenge, I would be looking forward to a glass of wine or three tonight by way of celebration!

However, this now brings me to what I have learnt during this process and I share this with you now.

Read, a lot.

I know a lot of writers say this but it’s so, so true and should be a Golden Rule for any aspiring writer. Reading helps you develop as a writer; by learning how other writers create their work you learn what works for you. Don’t limit your genre either. I’m a huge Fantasy fan but I do have Sci-Fi, Horror, Chick Lit and General Fiction in my collection.

Write, whenever you can.

Another obvious one but if you’ve never written before, how do you start? There are simple ways to hone and develop your skills, before diving into writing your masterpiece. Write a blog, short stories, flash fiction, anything that will help you find your voice and build your audience. The more you write, the less daunting it will seem to get started on your opus.

Plan.

Planning a book involves not just the book itself but the time you can spend on it. For many of us, this means fitting in our writing with full-time jobs, studying, families and social lives. My writing time tends to be in the evenings after dinner when TV is generally quite poor and I have nothing social on that night or at the weekends, as I’m an early riser and it’s nice and quiet. Even ten minutes writing is better than none at all. If it helps, draw up a timetable and stick to it. If you can block book time off, do it.

My Process

I play the chapter I want to write as a movie in my head. Sometimes it plays out very fluid and natural, other times it’s a bit slower. I let this part of the idea germinate for a few days, making sure I jot down any pieces I feel are worth remembering such as pithy dialogue or the environment in which the chapter is set.

Chapters are split into scenes which I have planned out in a spreadsheet. Writing in scenes is a great way to place the action into blocks as I am able to focus on a specific scene within that chapter before moving on to the next.

I write, longhand in a notebook. Even if I’m not happy with what I’ve written, I keep at it, reminding myself that this is simply the first draft and not the finished version. Edits and rewrites can be done later.

Once the chapter is finished, I transcribe into my writing programme. For this, I use New Novelist but there are others out there (check out these Reviews for other programmes). It’s important to find one that works for you. I usually find during the transcribing process that I make little edits along the way or add/remove sections, dialogue etc. that don’t seem to work.

From New Novelist, I copy and paste into a Word document which is formatted to the recommended style of Times New Roman size 12 font.

I keep a spreadsheet of my progress.

I back up my work to a USB flash drive – this is  VERY important!

I am, by no means, a professional writer and I’m sure anyone reading this will have their own methods and opinions. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way of writing but I do believe that unless you find a method that works, you won’t progress beyond those first few pages before frustration sets in and you give up.

Writing is an incredibly rewarding process but it can be lonely and frustrating especially at those times when the words simply won’t come. My notebooks are full of crossings out and half-finished passages and there have been times when I’ve been so stuck on a chapter that I’ve almost given up but I keep my end goal in mind and it keeps me going.

Progress on Horizon Skies

The other day, I reached something of a milestone in the progress of my novel Horizon Skies.

Chapter 20.

Ok, I realise some of you will be thinking, “how is that a milestone?”

For anyone who has known me throughout my life, they will know that as I’ve been writing on and off for decades with nothing to show for it this is indeed, a momentous achievement. It means that for the first time in realising one of my ambitions I am actually sticking to the plan and getting it done.

My problem in the past has always been developing the story beyond its initial beginning. The ideas are always there, I can picture it in my mind’s eye but developing it on paper had always been difficult. I would find the story unravelling, like watching a thread pulled loose in a piece of fabric. My characters would meander, I could never work out how to weave elements together and this would always lead to me abandoning the manuscript and forgetting about it until I felt inspiration strike again.

This time, however, I have noticed a definite trend in a lot of books I have read which I believe has really helped me with my writing.

The dedication of a chapter per character is a brilliant writing skill. Not only does that character develop entirely within their own universe but there’s room for their back story and room for them to breathe within the pages. I’ve noticed it with a lot of writers (Morgan Rhodes and Trudi Canavan for example) and I find it provides a definitive line between each character’s story until such time as their destinies bring them together.

This is the approach I’ve taken with my story. I have five central characters, two of whom are thrown together fairly early on but it’s not until I’ve reached this final part of the story that I’m now at the stage of being able to bring them together which will move the story towards its finale and set the scene for the sequel.

I’m very excited about this; I look back through my scribblings and notes, little doodles in my notebook and feel I’ve done myself proud. When the book is finished I can get to editing and fine tuning and then take the next step on my journey as a writer 🙂