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.

 

 

Not Another Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Dystopia Novel!

I’ve always had an idea in my head for a film about the rage outbreak, as depicted in 28 Days Later. I’ve imagined the opening scenes, time and time again. This idea has been germinating for years.

Like Tina in Bob’s Burgers, I have a complicated relationship with zombies. My favourite zombie film is Dawn of the Dead; The Walking Dead Tina Belcherand Fear The Walking Dead have been part of my life for years (although, I do think TWD has really had its day) as well as another great TV show, Black Summer (visceral and brutal). That’s not to say I like all zombie films and shows, for every good one, there are probably at least ten that are utterly dreadful (Zombie Nation, take a bow.)

Recently, I read an interesting trilogy of books called Plague Land, Plague Nation and Plague World which isn’t really a tale of zombies but a strange infection that physically assimilates humans into its invading mass. How the infection starts, spreads, and how the dwindling humans desperately try to escape made for a curious read. I’ve simplified the story as there is so much more to it, but I’m not a reviewer.

 

There’s also the usual dystopia novels I’ve read over the years. The most devastating being The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a bleak, heart rending story of one man and his son trekking across a devastated US to reach the coast where the father believes they can find safety. The book, like it’s film adaptation, packs an emotional punch to the gut, but is so subtle, the tears did not flow until I’d finished the last page. I’m not sure I want to write something that emotionally wrenching.

The next paragraph contains spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2.

As a gamer, I’ve really enjoyed The Last of Us parts 1&2. Like all good RPG’s, the stories are wholly immersive, gripping, and invoke all sorts of reactions. Part 2 in particular, with its character swap part way through in which the player HAS to play the antagonist plays with your feelings as their personal story unfolds. I may have been #teamellie all the way, but for the hours I played as Abby provided an alternative perspective to the story. Her tale of vengeance becomes clear, you understand why Ellie and Joel are the bad guys in HER world. Whilst I may not have rooted for her entirely, I was able to empathise, and this puts a big question mark over the morality at play.

They say to write what you know. 

As a fantasy writer, I have been well prepared for writing Horizon Skies (my current nemesis) and Sanctuary of Stone (stalled WIP) as most of my library is fantasy fiction. From a young age, when I first read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, fantasy novels have fuelled my imagination more than any other genre. 

I do read other genres though; I have horror (James Herbert) dystopia, science fiction and a few contemporary novels. I’ve read classics (Jane Austen and Charles Dickens), and I love Kathy Lette. It’s important not to restrict one’s reading material, particularly when the goal is to be a writer. I’ve currently got it into my head that I want to read Dante’s Inferno.

All of this, the TV shows, the movies, and the books; all have given me the tools to write this new story. Ok, it’s not an original idea, I’m well aware of that. But, maybe I can add my voice, my take on it, and write something that will appeal. I’d love to join the ranks of female authors who have written successful novels in this genre. 

In less than a month, I’ve written eight chapters, the story continually plays out in my head. I know where it’s going, how it’s going end, who survives, who doesn’t, and a lot of awful stuff in-between. Aside from writing a good story, this is also an opportunity to explore my darker side, a place in my imagination not populated by myth and magic, but with fear and anxiety.

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…

Rejection is the Name of the Game

I’ve been fully prepared for the rejection process since I started submitting my novel back in May. I’ve had a few “form” rejections and a few positive rejections; the best of which came from Curtis Brown and Skylark (nice e-mails from these agents too).

So, I have now joined the echelons of writers who have put themselves in the laps of the literary gods, bared my heart and soul to people who hold my future in their hands.

Ok, that might seem a little melodramtic but anyone who knows me, knows that I have a penchant for theatrics!

So far, I’ve clocked up thirteen actual rejections. Next, I have to look at those who simply haven’t responded at all; but, my list is dwindling. I have twenty-four agents yet to respond and whilst I am fully educated in the nature of rejection (ALL writers, published or not have gone through this experience) I am starting to feel ever so slightly despondent.

Being rejected definitely raises questions.

  1. What wasn’t “quite right” about my story?
  2. Why weren’t they “passionate” or “enthusiastic” enough to take it further?
  3. Am I a terrible writer?
  4. Is it a terrible story?
  5. What’s so wrong with it?

Honestly, I think I could drive myself made with these questions whirling around my head.

I read so many books and sometimes I think, “mine is definitely as good as this”, but what is it about THAT book that made the cut? What made it stand out enough to attract the attention of a literary agent?

I’ve researched that a poor cover letter can be enough to earn a firm “No” but the fact that I am getting responses suggests to me that I must be doing something right. One agent’s response was “Your submission caught my eye so I read it straight away. I enjoyed HORIZON SKIES. It was an intriguing concept. However, I’m afraid I didn’t quite love this enough to take it further.” It was definitely encouraging but obviously not what I wanted to hear.

So, what next? Do I revisit my manuscript, get some new betas, hire an editor? Or, consign my creation to the bottom of the pile and hope that my current WIP makes the grade?

One thing I am definitely sure of in all this; I am NOT giving up on my ambition. I AM a writer, you just won’t see me on the shelves of Waterstones…yet.

Slacking off…again

I feel like, sometimes, I take a visit to my blog and realise I haven’t posted anything in a while. Either through laziness or forgetfulness. Not because I don’t want to; let’s face it, I usually have a lot to say on a variety of subjects 🙂

This time, I’ll put it down to a combination of both the aforementioned excuses as well as the old “life gets in the way sometimes” adage.

Life hasn’t been going so well these past few months, (reasons I won’t go into), I’m battling another bout of depression which has severely depleted most of my motivation and I simply don’t know what to do with myself.

I’ve made a return to AmDram after being completely absent from it for almost a year but it was still hard making myself go. I am glad I did though. I’m looking forward to being involved in something with likeminded people. It’s fun and it certainly takes my mind off things.

The one positive, I guess; is that I have finally made my submission queries to literary agents (yay!).

But wow, that’s a whole other ball game!

You can’t just submit your manscript and cover letter to every agent you can think of. Different agents represent different genres and types of writers. They all have a very specific idea of what they want. Also, the submission requirement itself varies a great deal. From agents who want a brief synopsis and the first 10,000 words to those who want a two page synopsis, the first three chapters and a cover letter with a sales pitch. There definitely is no “one size fits all” scenario. Submitting to just three agents, I found, could take up most of a morning.

I have targeted a group of agents from the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2018 and narrowed them down into two groups. First and second choice. First choice agents are those whose entry jumped off the page at me, the second choice are those where the entries really don’t give much away. What I have found out however, is that a lot of my second choices are those agents with some rather successful clients on their roster.

It’s not enough just to go by the book though. From there, I visited the websites, read the agent bios, looked at the authors and books being represented, then decided if I should send my manuscript. I’ve had to adapt everything depending on the requirements with those agents so I hope I’ve done everything right.

I have had three rejections so far. Two written and one non-response (their threshold was 4 weeks). My first rejection came back within a week of submitting (I have no idea if that means they were initially interested) and one was from JK Rowling’s agent (I knew that one would be a long shot!) The responses so far have been polite and pleasant, I’m grateful for that because I know there are agents out there who can be very derisive.

So, all that remains now is for me to wait for further responses (or not, as the case maybe) but I am working on my second WIP at the moment. Still untitled but it’s coming along quite nicely.

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!

I’ve Written A Book…Now What?!

A week ago today, I placed my pen down, closed my notepad and realised, “I’ve done it. I’ve actually written a book!”

How anti-climactic it felt, this huge achievement, that there was no fanfare, no ticker tape and, more importantly: no wine, (an oversight that has now been rectified). I wanted to cry with joy both at finishing the damn thing and completing it in the most ordinary of places: the sofa.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during the writing process is that the first draft isn’t perfect, it’s never meant to be perfect. The first draft exists as the progenitor to all other drafts that come. It bears the main crux of what the story is about, who the characters are and where they’re going. What I will need to work out over the coming months is how to expand on that story further, flesh out the characters, trim the fat and tighten it up into a real page turner.

I have written the story I would want to read; that much is true. The characters who have taken up residence in my head finally have breathing space and purpose, they’re free to run amok and create chaos in the world I have created for them.

I have written 37 chapters, two of which are the prologue and epilogueNotepads, 90,820 words (80,000 original target) over three notebooks (I write long hand) and dedicated as much time as I could over the last five years to getting my book written.

My story has had many incarnations over the years. When it first popped into my head in my mid 20’s  it had a very different plot but the characters were basically the same. I used to write on a digital typewriter so the pages were there instantaneously but, life, as you know, has a habit of getting in the way on occasion so I dipped in and out of writing for years before really getting down to it.

Even as a kid I used to write but I was very plagiarist back then (even though I didn’t know it). I once wrote a story called The Secret of Sarah Willow which was directly influenced by the fabulous Wolves of Willoughby Chase but at least I was exploring the ability to write. Who knows, I may return to that story one day and write it from my own imagination and not that of someone else.

I digress…

What next? According to my research and other writers I’ve connected with via places like Twitter the main consensus is to have a break from the book (someone said two months!) so I can go back to it with a completely fresh outlook. I’m not sure I can wait that long as I’ve written in such fits and starts over the years that sometimes I’ve left it more than two months between chapters so I’m thinking a couple of weeks might be in order. The prologue was written in 2012 and having glanced at it recently, I’m pretty sure that it will need an overhaul as will most of the very early chapters.

But, how many drafts and rewrites should I do? Do writers get to a point where they think, “That’s it, I can’t do anymore?”  or do they keep going?

Should I find an editor first or beta-readers? An agent or a publisher? (I’m thinking to try for an agent first). Is self-publishing better than e-publishing? What’s a good way of marketing my work?

So many questions!

It’s safe to say however, that, if I ever had a bucket list; then writing a book would definitely be on it and I can happily tick it off

 

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 🙂

What’s In a Name?

Quite a lot it turns out, especially where the name concerned is the book title.

When my story first took shape in my imagination many moons ago, the title of Red Sky Dawn was always there and at the time it seemed to fit very nicely with the story arc I had in mind.

Over the years, however, as I’ve started, stopped and started again the basic plot has remained the same but so many elements have changed that as time wore on, Red Sky Dawn began to feel rather hackneyed. I guess, as I’ve grown older and worked on my writing skills the book has grown with me but it outgrew the title.

I realised, I would be doing the story a massive disservice to keep the original title and it was on my way to work one morning this week that I began throwing titles around.

I commute to Cambridgeshire every day and having only lived in the area for less than a year I still feel rather charmed by the beautiful countryside. Rural England is a part of the country lost in a bygone age where, away from the smog and smoke of big city living, one can truly appreciate beautiful green vistas, endless skies and the most stunning sunrises. It’s a rare morning that doesn’t see the sky awash with pink and orange swathes of soft clouds, where the sun is a bright, golden disc on the horizon bathing the earth in shimmering amber.

That’s when it struck me. Endless skies, infinite horizons with promises of the unknown and thus, Horizon Skies was born and Red Sky Dawn was laid to rest.

This simple change has actually rejuvenated me. I no longer feel I am working on something old and tired but something new and fresh with the real possibility of finally getting it finished!

To finish this book would be the completion of a labour of love that has seen me go through myriad life changes and perhaps the title is also a reflection of a place I was in at the time it first germinated. The new title has a more positive feel and a brightness and I shall take to the remaining blank pages with renewed vigour.