Monthly Archives: November 2015

Talk Talk

In my last post I wrote about the first problem the editor I hired had encountered with my manuscript. This was all to do with the target audience, and how I was a bit, well… off target with it. You can read about that here.

For the second in this series of blog posts, post professional edit, I’m going to talk about…well…talking – or rather dialogue – and how this impacted on my manuscript feedback.

Talk Talk. 

Anyone who knows me knows I am a bit of a chatterbox, and that most of what I say is long winded. I am verbose. I know I am. I use twenty words in the place of one, and if retelling a story of an event I go off at more tangents than Steve Davis playing at The Crucible. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you’ll know this verbosity extends into my writing too.

So why should this be any different in my fiction writing? Well surprise surprise, it wasn’t! Although the editor’s criticism wasn’t as broad as stating I was verbose or even that the manuscript was too long. No, the problem stemmed it seemed from my use of dialogue. The sheer volume of conversations my characters were having which didn’t do much of the following:

  1. Reveal Character
  2. Propel the Plot Forward (this was the key problem)
  3. Set the tone of the Story (or the scene)
  4. and Reveal Off-screen Information

(I have taken this list from Drew Chial’s most recent blog post: “What first dates can teach you about writing dialogue.” Give it a read if you are starting out in writing. There are some useful tips and hints here which I’ll be bearing in mind for my re-writes.)

So back to the problem with my use of dialogue which my editor highlighted for me.

Most telling was the fact she said: “While dialogue is important to bring scenes to life, you seem to over-rely on dialogue in the place of action, and it seems to me this might be because you’re more confident in your dialogue than your action writing.”

Well, quite. Yes, I am probably more confident writing dialogue simply because I’m one of those verbose, wordy people rather than a woman of much action. I have always held words in higher esteem than actions, despite the fact that I do now (with the grace of age and wisdom) recognise that actions speak louder than words. But it doesn’t surprise me one iota that this particular aspect came out as a criticism.

“Much of the novel is taken up with character dialogue” (I think I held a misconception this was the best way to show character and move plot forward!) “often where characters are musing on events that have happened or may happen, or what they should do next.”

Obviously this over-reliance on dialogue creates a problem with pace, but more than that it means the story isn’t moving forward.

This comment was then followed by a hilarious – I couldn’t help but laugh- chapter by chapter synopsis, highlighting exactly where the novel wasn’t going and it was all down to my over-reliance on dialogue. Although hilarious, it was also difficult to read and digest at first. It meant pretty much everything I’d written was pointless. Well it felt that way then.

Eventually though, once I had digested this part of the edit, I was bowled over by her astuteness in realising that my over-reliance on dialogue  is because I do find it easier to write than action. I find it easier to think about how characters will speak and what they will say in a situation than what they would do. I find it easier to show who my characters are this way. Why I have this bias, I’m not entirely sure. It’s odd though, because I see so many writers saying they struggle with writing dialogue and then here’s me with too much of the stuff, but which unfortunately is surplus to requirements. (It makes me wonder whether I should write scripts instead of trying a novel! I’ve always enjoyed writing plays and assemblies for school in the past. As dialogue is key there, I wonder if I’ve taken too much of that into novel writing? Hmmmmmmmmmm.)

So, anyway, I was very conscious of working on this problem in my new version of the story. But guess what? In the first few drafts of the first few chapters I found myself falling back on developing the characters through dialogue! Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgh!

However, this time I’m at least aware of my tendency to do this, so I am able to fix it and work away from that now. I am currently tightening up and working on writing more ‘action’ or at least getting to know the characters through what they do/how they react rather than solely relying on what they say.

Of course dialogue remains a useful and necessary tool to writers to help propel plot forward, to reveal character or ‘off-screen’ information and to set the tone. However what I’ve learnt from this is, there are other ways to do those things too and I need to work on mixing those up a bit more in this new version.

Coming up in future posts: the problem with pace; inconsistency in character; point of view; showing not telling and…The big one: (lack of) Narrative Structure.

Yes, you may be beginning to see why I am still a novice and why a complete re-working of the original idea was necessary!

Until next time… 🙂

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Filed under Editing, Writing

Target Audience

It’s been a while…but, yes I’m back.

Why the silence? Well many reasons, but mainly because I’ve been beavering away on a total re-write of my book, which will no longer be entitled Prophecy of Innocence.

If you recall I paid out quite a few hundred pounds to have a professional edit done on the book which I had been writing for 4 years. My epic ‘children’s’ fantasy tale, Prophecy of Innocence. I’d also written the second in the three volume novel, though this was not sent for editorial feedback.

I have spent the past month and a half having to totally re-think my approach and I thought the best way to update on this (as this blog is all about this writing journey) is to take all the editorial points in hand and talk about how I’m tackling each one in a series of short posts. So here’s the first:

Target Audience.

I paid for an editorial for two reasons. One I have never had any specific writing training. None. I started writing this book simply because I had an idea once upon a time. Also because I wanted to have it published, whether that be by a professional publisher or by myself. But I needed to have professional opinion on it, and so that is what I sought. I am glad I did, despite the initial gut-wrenching desire to throw in the towel and give up!

So, I thought Prophecy was definitely a children’s story and I stood by it as such. I ‘sold’ it as such and the edit was done bearing in mind I’d said it was for middle grade readers.

And therein lay my first problem.

The story I had written had a bunch of stuff in it that middle grade readers wouldn’t be remotely interested in.  Hard punch to take when you work with said demographic on a daily basis!

I hadn’t written specifically enough for my target audience. Although the editor acknowledged there was “much about the novel suitable for the middle grade reader”  it seemed that there were more things which were not than were!

Here are some of the points made:

  • “There’s a lot within it that isn’t necessarily suitable for the MG audience  and much of the novel is concerned with adult characters and their journeys – again not ideal.”
  • “While the beginning is wonderfully dramatic, especially chapter three and the destruction of the factory, so much death isn’t appropriate for your intended readership.” Ooops! (Though I’d argue and point out it was of generic non important characters as a whole and not detailed in descriptive gore!)
  • “For me the title Prophecy of Innocence doesn’t sound like an MG book title, and I don’t believe it will reach out to your audience in the way that it should. It sounds very old – adult- in fact.” Yes, novice writers out there if you pay for an edit be prepared for harsh truths! My new novel has no title as yet… 🙂
  • “The story becomes focussed on romance and marriage.” (Guilty as charged, your honour!)
  • “Toddington’s job – running a factory – makes him seem adult and therefore the reader will probably struggle to engage with him and his experiences.”
  • Summing up: “I wonder if you’ve allowed the story to get carried away with itself, and forgotten your audience in the process.” (And there, dear reader is a lesson in plotting and planning instead of pantsing your way through a novel! Though in my defence I did just start writing this for fun. I never had any ambition much at first to be published, so I just wrote a story and enjoyed it.)

Now I could have taken the view that okay, I could just re-write it based on the other editing points for a YA audience to whom some of these themes would be more suited. However, it wasn’t that simple. All the things wrong with my novice writing attempt tie in together and so I didn’t feel this was the best course of action, though I did consider it.

So what did I do? Well once I’d ironed out a few of the other issues which didn’t work with the book, I set about firstly having my main character as a contemporary child rather than one of (or a few of ) the elflings underground. Basically, I changed main character and viewpoint  and this made me focus much more on being the child. This isn’t an entirely new idea as Book 3 was due to fast forward to the modern age and some contemporary child characters. I guess what I’ve been doing for 4 years is writing an origins story. A history book!)

Then I have been reading lots and lots of Roald Dahl and David Walliams books to my nephew. Not that I am writing humour, you understand, but actually it’s no good me reading only my adult books (not that kind!) if I’m writing for children. I needed to get a grip on how to write for this audience as really I’d never properly considered it before other than in a very vague, generic way.

Secondly I interviewed some ten  and eleven year old girls and boys at the school I work at to find out if my main character needed to be a boy or a girl. This sounds ridiculous. Surely I should know, but there were a lot of things in my plot that I needed to know how boys react versus girls to certain situations. I also had a voice in my head and needed to see who fit it best. Then I wanted to find out about how they behave generally, what are their motivations, what do they do in their spare time, what kind of language do they use, because the type of colloquialisms I used at eleven are not going to be the same 30 years on.

So I did that and that has helped no end in thinking about how my main character reacts to certain events which I’d already plotted out.

Then I wrote the first three chapters in the first person so I could really get inside the child character’s head. This is something the editor suggested I do to help me with viewpoint and sticking with one. I have since changed it to third person (as I prefer this for the type of story I have) but it did really work for me. It might sound laborious, but it isn’t as though I need to do it for the whole book. I might still dabble into it if I have problems later on, but for now I am happy I am in one head. (I will talk about my problems with viewpoint in another post!)

And since then I have simply been writing and playing around with and re-writing and re-writing the first  four chapters and getting to know the two main characters so far.

I’ve also forgotten about aiming to be published. For now. I’ve decided I just want to learn more about the art of crafting a good novel. Maybe joining a writing group/course would be best for this, but I don’t think those types of things are really for me. It’s more fun finding out for yourself and trying different things.

As well as this I’ve also started plotting rather than pantsing! And I’ll talk about this in my next post.

What about your own experiences as a novice novelist? What problems have you encountered/did you encounter and how have you/how did you fixed them? I’d love to hear any thoughts from both novices and those with more experience!

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

 

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Filed under Editing, Plot Development, Publishing, Writing