Category Archives: Writing

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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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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A Poem for World Poetry Day (updated)

 

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?

“What do you do?” they asked, 

Eyes open wide.

“Not what I imagined,” I said,

“It’s come as quite a surprise.

Let’s see…

I’m a chef and a chauffeur

A gardener, a maid

A social worker, teacher

A ‘Jack of all Trade.’

I’m a builder, a cleaner

An accountant, a nurse

Having so many skills

Can be quite a curse.

I’m a mechanic, an entertainer,

A negotiator, a clerk.

I have time for little else

Other than my work.”

“Wow! You do such a lot,”

They chorused in awe.

“You must earn a fortune,

You’ll never be poor!”

“Hmmmm, well…

There’s no holiday, no pension,

No perks and no pay,

There’s no company car

I’m never allowed a sick day.”

“What sort of a job is that?

They cried, unimpressed

“Surely you get something,

You must get some rest?”

I smiled at the children

So young and so free

And instead of replying I asked:

“What would you like to be?”

Their answers were eager,

They aimed to be best:

A footballer, a pop star,

A forensic scientist.

“So no one would like

To do what I do?”

They all shook their heads, 

Determined and true.

“You’ve got to be kidding!

No way, Jose, have no fear!”

They chimed altogether

As I grinned ear to ear.

I considered their faces,

Full of innocence and hope

How could I tell them

The truth? 

How would they cope?

For to be a parent,

The most rewarding job of all,

Other hopes and dreams

May well take a fall. 

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30 Days ’til 40 #8

This one comes with a deep breath and is actually related to what this blog was set up for in the first place…to write about my writing journey… So, today on October 8th we have…

#8: I paid for a Professional Edit on my first novel.

When I started writing this children’s novel 4 years ago I had not a Scooby Doo what I was doing. 4 years, 174 million re-writes and edits later, and now a professional eye cast over the work, it seems I still don’t have a clue.

I am pleased I paid for a professional edit, very pleased, because I could have continued to flounder around in the dark writing more aimless rubbish. I haven’t written a great book. I knew that anyway, even without an edit, but I desperately needed to know what and how to fix it. Every single thing the editor I hired has put in the report I received back today, is absolutely spot on and so I am for that extremely pleased to have invested my £600.

However, it’s only an investment if I do now continue to work on it and aim to be published, surely? None of the outcome of the edit or my thoughts around it alters the fact though that I have been an amateur about all this for too long. Writing has been a hobby and I wonder really if I am cut out to be a writer of fiction novels at all any way. There must be a reason I became a teacher not a writer.

Firstly I think this because I only have one real idea and even that one has taken me years to get so completely and utterly wrong.

I may sound disheartened or negative, but I’m not especially. I just know I am going to have to do a hell of a lot of work and scrapping and re-plotting to get the past 4 years work like anything up to scratch, (and even then I might not get it right) and so I wonder if it is worth it. I wonder if I should just leave novel writing to the likes of Matt Haig and Rick Riorden. To those who actually have a talent for it. Let’s face it there’s enough shite out there without my trying to compete.

But…I love working on this story. I love the story, I love the characters.

I guess the real decision is: Do I just want to write my story and keep it for me? Or do I really want to be published as I once thought was what I wanted?

The main issues at the moment are: its suitability in some of its themes and characters for middle grade readership, and that I don’t have a strong plot driver in volume one.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Right now, there’s a huge mountain to climb and I feel a little overwhelmed by it.

However, I do need a goal as I enter into my next decade…so perhaps I need to knuckle down and get serious.

Watch this space…

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30 Days ’til 40: #25

I feel grumpy today. Really grumpy. Not because there’s only 25 days left of life in my thirties. Not because it’s Monday. I just do.

So I’m going to keep today’s top 30 achievements of the year short and sweet and slightly in keeping with today’s low mood. (Because I’m in a can’t be arsed mood, but I told myself I would blog-celebrate this year’s achievements so…)

In at…

#25: Submitted my Novel Three Times

Anyone in writing will tell you that’s a pathetic amount of submissions and yes, I suppose it is. One was to a publisher who actually showed signs of wanting to publish it (you can read more about that saga here).

The other two submissions were my first to agents.

Needless to say they were rejected. However, I did submit and that is quite a hard process in itself, what with writing synopses (one which had to be just three lines long! Tough gig. What’s that about?) and writing a covering letter introducing who you are etc..etc…)

So I class making submissions as an achievement, even if they came to nothing.

Anyway rejections are  fine. After all, I hadn’t gotten myself an editor back then…

TTFN

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Pinocchio: An FP inspired short story.

The FP (Friday Phrase, check out the hashtag FP on Fridays for micro fiction fun) this story came from was one I wrote a long time ago, even before the weekly themes came about. It’s a little bit of fun with the idea coming from the familiar fairy story of Pinocchio. I haven’t written a short story for a while, so forgive me if it’s a bit on the not-so-sharp side. But it’s been good to get some practise in. 🙂 

 

So here it is, an FP inspired short:

PINOCCHIO

“Peter.” The stranger stated his name confidently and extended his right hand as though he knew for certain I would take it. His left hand casually rested in the pocket of his trousers causing the matching suit jacket to flick up slightly, revealing a well toned thigh. That much I could tell, even through the fabric.

I offered him my hand in return, intrigued by his assertiveness.

He took it in his cold, smooth, firm one and, instead of shaking it, he held it up to his lips, not that this surprised me much.

“Christie,” I said, wondering why I was giving this stranger my real name.

I wasn’t one for being stopped dead in my tracks by a well chiselled jaw, I was too long in the tooth for that, but Peter was, how shall I say, different. Oh, I know it sounds trite, but there was something unique about him that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I pulled my hand back. Not quickly, but deliberately, reluctantly almost, and ran my fingers through my hair.

“Your finest champagne, please,” Peter said to the barman. Ryan took it upon himself to roll his eyes on my behalf. I wasn’t a stranger to being chatted up in this way. Ryan had seen it a hundred times though and it simply amused him. He was gay of course, otherwise he’d have tried it on with me, despite being half my age. He’d told me as much. Thousands of pounds on plastic surgery meant that even now, into my fifties, men found me attractive enough to try their luck. It was tedious at times. The same old chat up lines, the same lack of originality. But this one, despite the usual conventionalities, was different. Something in me melted, and it wasn’t my enhanced cleavage or botoxed cheeks.

“Thank you,” I said, as I took the champagne flute and we clinked the crystal together.

“Here’s to new acquaintances.” Peter smiled, and I couldn’t help but notice how every single physical feature he possessed was so perfectly formed.

“He’s had as much work done as I have,” I thought, and smiled back.

We spent the evening chatting, drinking and, unusually, laughing. He was easy to talk to, and despite his slick, obviously well-worn, moves, he was refreshingly childlike in his outlook on life. Perhaps on account of being no older than thirty-five. He suggested we go bowling and ice-skating, though not that night, “maybe we could do that on our first date?” he boldly suggested.

When the jazz band came on, he took my hand and led me to the dancefloor. He held me close, those well toned thighs pressed hard against mine, and it was obvious, from another of his protruding body parts, where the night would lead.

I think I might have whispered something suitably cliched in his ear at that point. Something along the lines of, “Is that a piece of wood in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?” and he laughed. Not at me, but with me. And then he looked into my eyes and leaned in for a kiss.

The sudden blaring of the fire alarm brought us both to our senses and halted the kiss before it had even started. “Everyone out! This is not a false alarm,” I heard Ryan’s voice call, as we were shoved and shunted towards the exit. Thick smoke bellowed into the intimate space Peter and I had only moments before shared. I found myself clinging tight to Peter’s fingers. Long and smooth and slender; a reassuringly strong grip.

A sudden cry of terror ripped through the air from somewhere behind us. Peter froze on the spot and turned his head back. As he did so his fingers slipped from mine and I was pulled away from him through the crowd towards the fire exit.

“Peter!” My voice was strangled, and I coughed through the smoke.

But he didn’t hear, or didn’t seem to hear, and he disappeared from my sight towards the back of the club. As I moved closer to the front exit with the crowd, I glanced back. The kitchen door flung open and a tsunami of flames tore up through the bar and licked at the ceiling over our heads. I tripped out onto the street, wondering how the dream had turned so quickly into this nightmare.

Then a man, an old man, appeared through the swirling black smoke, coughing and spluttering. He hobbled towards the exit and collapsed, as two firefighters ran to him and dragged his body out onto the pavement. There he gasped for air.

“My son,” he choked the words out. “My son, you must save my son.” The firefighters ran back in, ducking under the flashover and disappearing towards the kitchen.

Only a few seconds passed, though it felt to me like minutes and in those seconds I caught the old man’s watery, grey eyes staring at me.

Suddenly, the firefighters emerged with Peter from the back of the club. He was wheezing and gasping, his face blackened from the smoke. The two firefighters hauled him out and he collapsed next to the old man on the ground.

I screamed. Peter’s feet were alight. They were actually alight.

“Somebody help him, for Christ’s sake!” I yelled. The flames licked higher, smouldering through the fabric of his trousers. And therein lay the strangest thing. As the grey sheen of the trousers disintegrated, underneath there was no burning flesh. There was no bubbling or crackling of skin and there were no screams from Peter. He didn’t so much as flinch as the fire danced and burned up his legs and charcoaled the wood that replaced the flesh.

Peter caught my eye, and he smiled just as he had when we had clinked champagne glasses.

“My son! You must save my son!” The old man coughed again. But this time he was not addressing the firefighters or the paramedics who were now rushing across the street to Peter with blankets and medical equipment. No, he was looking at me, with the same steel-grey eyes Peter was.

“Kiss him,” The old man choked. “Kiss my boy,” he said just as a paramedic put an oxygen mask over his mouth.

Confused, I looked again at Peter. The man who had captured my heart in one evening of utter madness. How much more madness would kissing him be now as his body burned?

“Someone, please, help him!” I screamed again.

One of the paramedics threw a blanket over Peter’s legs and rolled him back and forth, but the flames resisted the smothering and continued slowly cremating both the blanket and his wooden legs.

“Christie, please. Only you can save me,” Peter said. “I need you to kiss me, You must kiss me.”

The paramedic swung his head round to the firefighters. “I’m going to need help here! This man’s legs are wooden and won’t stop burning!”

I went over to Peter and dropped to my knees, behind his head. Peter tilted his head towards me.

Another paramedic took out an oxygen mask, and pulled back the elastic.

“Quickly” Peter whispered to me. “Before it’s too late. Before all of me burns.”

I leaned in just before the paramedic could put the mask on. “Please, Madam,” I heard him say “Now’s not the time!”

I ignored him. It was now or never, whatever ‘it’ would turn out to be. As our lips touched, Peter’s whole body shuddered. I kept my lips locked there, and felt his face, so rigid and taut, suddenly soften. His shoulders and arms relaxed by his side. I stepped back, and watched, wondering how one kiss could have so much power. His breathing slowed and his chest rose and fell with the ease of a sleeping baby. He touched his stomach and pushed the soft flesh inward. Peter sighed and a small smile crept over his face, until the smell of burning wood turned suddenly to the acrid stench of burning flesh. The paramedic reeled back.

“What the-?”

Peter screamed as the flames now seared his brand new flesh.

“The blanket!” I grabbed it from the stunned paramedic and, wrapping Peter’s legs in it, I rolled him side to side. The flames went out and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Peter’s breathing became more shallow and the paramedic placed the oxygen mask over his mouth.

“Thank you,” Peter mouthed through the mask. “Thank you for giving me my life.”

I grabbed Peter’s hand and squeezed it. It felt different. Warmer and softer than when he had first taken it all those hours ago at the bar.

“I don’t understand any of this,” I said.

The paramedics lifted Peter onto a stretcher.

“Are you coming with him, madam?”

I looked at Peter.

He shook his head, and in that moment I knew. I knew I’d been used.

I went home, tossed my heels in the trash, pulled down my hairdo and removed my mask of make-up for the last time. I looked into the mirror and saw my naked features through a new lens. I guess there’s no real way to tell a liar, and killer looks aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be.

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Ode to Social Media

(With no hint of irony at all…)

Oh social media, how I love you
Your silly, modern ways.
A place to be a socialite
Across the World Web waves.

To check in your location
Refresh the News Feed page.
To tag and crop a photograph
To create your very own stage.

A place to share and have a laugh
Or for sympathy to seek.
Make of it all what you will
Any day of your long, dull week.

A world to stalk celebrities
From the comfort of your own home.
Or just to find that other folk
Have a life as ordinary as your own.

Status updates, like and link
A profile for all to see.
Nothing’s sacred anymore
But who cares? It’s all for free.

Tell whoever wants to know
All about your life.
Communicate your deepest thoughts
From the sofa to your wife.

Collect up lots of friends like stamps
How many follow you?
How many do you even ‘like’
Of all your Facebook crew?

Be certain that you always
Try hard not to offend.
Be politically correct
Lest your followers should un-friend.

Acronyms a plenty
May drive some up the wall.
O.M.G and W.T.F
You haven’t heard them all??

Now social media, it may seem I loathe you
For wasting all my time.
But if you were not in my life
Then where would I share this rhyme?

A great big thanks to all who continue to read this blog and engage with my mixed up mind on social media 🙂

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