Moving steadily on

Another chapter edited/rewritten today, and another taken a good look at.

So now in part 3 of Gods V Heroes, there are twelve chapters, of which five have been revised, one is in progress and six remain to be looked at.

As I edit each scene now, I try to focus on who’s telling the story. What is their take on the action? How do they see things change around them as a result of their actions? How do they themselves change as a result of their actions?

As ever, it’s the awkward one of the guild whose voice comes through clearest. He has a definite attitude problem, and his grumpiness translates well to the page. The others aren’t quite as clear, but they’re beginning to develop.

I know this won’t be the last revision, but the cleaner I get this last part, the easier it will be next time round. Each round of editing is teaching me more about the writing and editing process.

And with the other novels agitating and stirring in the background, I really need to get this draft finished, so I can get back to another.

 

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Meet Annie and Betty

I have already talked about Annie before. She’s a voice that sits inside me, the one that’s childlike (I talked about her as my inner chimp).

I’m a great fan of transactional analysis as a way of understanding people, and thinking about Annie in relation to that made me realise there must be another voice as well, so I started listening for her. She’s Betty, and if Annie is my Child’s voice, then Betty is very definitely my Parent’s voice. I hadn’t noticed her before because I’d thought it was my own adult voice, but now I’m aware I can tell the difference between the three voices.

For example, it’s a dark cold morning. I tentatively suggest a run. Betty will immediately point out how dark and cold it is, and how it’s likely to rain, and how I have plenty of work to get on with. But if I listen carefully, I’ll then hear Annie saying how actually it sounds like fun, she doesn’t mind getting wet and she thinks it’s a great idea. If I’ve given her that chance, then I can take the two opinions and decide that yes there is work to do, but I also need exercise, and I know that however cold and miserable it might appear, I always enjoy myself when I get out there. At that point Betty will cave in and admit that the exercise will do us all good, and off we go. Annie then takes over and enables me to enjoy the run, while Betty feels satisfied that we gained enough benefit from the experience.

I’ve noticed this when out on parkrun especially. Betty will whinge and whine on occasion, but once we get out there Annie thoroughly enjoys herself and is disappointed if we don’t come back covered in mud and soaking wet.

The easiest way to get anything done is to get both Annie and Betty to agree to it. If we’re all pulling the same way we’re unstoppable, but if those two start fighting then things grind to a halt and we achieve very little. If I go too much one way for too long, the other one will sulk big-time, and I have to find a way to placate her.

If I go anywhere new, then Betty is often in charge. Betty is quiet and withdrawn, and will observe rather than taking part. But once I settle and relax, then Annie can come out to play, and that’s when I start growing more confident.

It’s a pain at times: Annie craves new things, while Betty’s afraid of change. Betty is suspicious and cautious; Annie will charge in without thinking, and sometimes cause problems. I’ve paid less attention to Annie than I could have done, because she does occasionally say really stupid things, so I stopped listening properly. But I’m starting to realise that I’ll get on much better if I listen to her, because she balances Betty out, and if I hear both sides of the story I can come to a balanced decision. So armed with the power to recognise the difference between Betty’s voice and my own ideas, I’m starting to ask for Annie’s opinion more and more and to respect her suggestions. The outcome, I hope, is a more balanced life, with both of them having an active hand in decisions but with me firmly in charge as referee and final arbiter.

I do find transactional analysis fascinating, and if you haven’t read about it I thoroughly recommend the books The Games People Play and I’m OK You’re OK. The power gained by recognising the three states, Parent, Child and Adult, and by being able to identify issues caused by them, is amazing.

 

When characters fight back

Since nano, I’ve been struggling to get back to my novel. I’ve tried editing the opening so many times but it just hasn’t felt right. I got to the point where I wondered if I’d simply taken the wrong approach to the story altogether.

So this morning as I took myself to the cafe for my usual Friday morning breakfast and writing session, I asked my main character just what her problem was. This is what she said to me:

The trouble is, you’ve made me too conventional, expecting to follow the norm, and then provided no justification for me breaking from the norm except one that puts me and my baby in danger. You need to think much more clearly – why do I go against the norm? what problems does it cause? Why would I be so stubborn and awkward when I’ve always been one to do as I’m told?

I thought for a while, and then answered her:

Because you were always like that. Because you followed the norm while hating it. That side has been squashed your whole life, and Matt brought it out. Matt made you feel alive, and now that he’s gone, his baby gives you the courage you needed to reveal who you really are. That’s why you want to hold on to him.

So now I guess I need to sit down with her some more and have her tell me some stories of her childhood, and meeting Matt. Stories that might or might not be used in the novel but will at the very least help me get to know her better and understand why she behaves the way she needs to in the story.

 

And we’re off!

I was constrained this morning by having an hour set aside to write but no computer available at the cafe, so I started the morning by making notes about settings. I got a few things clear in my head about how things work in my world, and I discovered a few new characters. I got to thinking about different characters and the part they play.

I often get a TV show in my head, and will watch and rewatch episodes from that show, as background while I work (that way it’s actually better if the episode is very familiar rather than new to me). My current favourite series is Numb3rs, a US TV series about an FBI agent and his mathematician brother who use math formulas as a tool to solve crimes.

Each episode features a crime, and some maths problems, but they also contain snippets about the family, and when you watch a series often, especially back to back episodes, the crime arc can take a back seat to the character arc, or maybe better to say that the crime offers a mirror to reflect and build on the character arc. The family is Don, the Agent, Charlie, the mathematician, and Alan, their father, but there’s another very important member of the family – the mother. She actually died a year before the series even started, but she is still present and very much felt by the family in almost every episode, as her influence is felt in their relationships with each other and how their childhood was shaped.

At school when we were in the “Make a play and perform it to the rest of the class” mode, one group made a play in which everyone on a ship was complaining about the captain and each had a different reason to hate him. In the end they all turned on him and killed him together, but the captain himself was never seen.

In both these examples, a character who is never seen onscreen plays a vital role.

I thought it would be fun to do that, in part, in my novel. In fact I did something like it before, for a fanfiction story for the TV series Bones, where the absence of a character and how the rest react to his absence was the main thrust of the story. So I’ve decided I’ve got two characters in my novel whose presence I intend to make readers feel as important, even though they play no active part, because their influence will be seen in the way that my main characters behave. One is a woman grieving for her dead boyfriend. The other is a woman who had a difficult relationship with her mother, but grows to understand her better as she becomes a mother herself.

I also thought about my writing group, and the questions they had asked about my novel, including asking about the role of men in my world, so that brought in another few characters. In fact, at some point I might consider all the different influences on my writing, to see where each has come from and what it has brought to the cooking pot. So many times something occurs in real life that ends up being amalgamated into part of my writing.

Having returned home, I realised I still had to adjust scrivener by moving previous pre-drafts to the research folder and setting the word count to 0 (in fact it set it to around 25, which is the standard gumph on the title page). I’ve set the session target to 2,000 and the project target to 50,000, although I’ll probably end up with far more than that, and I’ve started writing.

I’ve already tried out the first scene, but I didn’t cheat and copy it, I just remembered what I’d done and wrote another draft, with more detail and taking the story on further. It’s not good, but it’s written, and I know it’s not good, and I expected that and am prepared to keep working.

I’ve now gone just beyond where I’ve got to before on this scene, and probably completed the first chapter. I stopped at 2067 words, and updated my nano wordcount. I’ve got to update the spreadsheet as well, which gives me lots of pretty graphs, and then I’m done for the day. Feeling pretty pleased with myself so far, but I know that the first few days are easy; it’s when you fall behind, or reach 10,000 words and feel yourself slowing down, or you decide that the last two chapters are absolute rubbish but going back and fixing them would waste precious time and words. One year I just changed tack halfway through, merging characters as I had too many, and continued as though they were the same ones I started with. This year I hope that my planning will help me avoid major issues.

Still, I’m having fun, and that, really, is all that counts.

How about you?

PS this blog is 839 words; does that count towards my total for the day? ūüėČ

A novel approach – hearing voices

So I’ve got three main characters in my novel. One is a little more low-key, but we follow the story arcs of the other two more closely. Eventually the three arcs meet. This leaves me with two very prominent characters to bring to life. I’ve done mind-maps about them, I’ve considered their characters, their backgrounds and the influence of their respective childhoods. What I was struggling to do was to hear the characters themselves.

I’ve written first drafts of passages introducing each of the characters. The first was in my normal sparse style. For the second I worked a little on the idea of psychic distance, and started with an overview of the scene and then zoomed in, to provide a description (something I’m really bad at remembering to do) and then looking more closely at the character and what she thought.

Then I decided to try a different approach. I wrote the same two passages again, but in the first person instead of third person. Suddenly I could hear their voices much more clearly, see how they reacted to things, what they thought about them and felt much more in touch with them.

I probably won’t write the whole novel in first person, although it is an option, with each chapter told by a different character. I do think that would limit me a little, but it’s an exercise I can try every now and again if I feel I’m losing the sound of their voices.

Meanwhile I need to look at the aeon timeline and my scrivener file ready for Friday’s nanowrimo start, making sure that the scrivener file contains the skeletal structure that it needs in order to get me at least a large part of the way through the novel – always remembering that while nanowrimo is about the challenge of 50,000 words, I’m in it not just for nano but with the full intention of finishing the full draft, completing as many editing stages as needed and getting to a complete, finished and polished manuscript.

What I do with it after that? We’ll have to see.

Can I beta read my own work?

Right, I’ve cleared my current beta read projects. I’ve learned a hell of a lot from reading other people’s stories. I’ve probably learned more from unpolished stuff than from the cleaned up, edited, proofread versions that get published (well, usually they’re like that!).

My big question is: can I take an old nano novel, that I wrote over a period of 30 days or less a few years ago, and beta read it as though it were written by someone else? Can I use what I’ve learned about how writing can falter and lose its way, and apply that to something that was at one point my own baby?

I think one thing I’ve really started to understand is that what hits the bookshelves isn’t – or shouldn’t be – the first draft, or even the first plot, that comes to the paper. That once you’ve got the first draft out of the way you need to analyse it, pull it apart, rework it, rewrite it, figure out what you want to say and how to say it better, then leave it again for a while, then rinse and repeat until you’ve got rid of all the weak spots and you have a novel that’s as strong as you can possibly make it. Then you ask for someone else to read it through, especially if you’re inexperienced as a writer, and the whole process runs through again, for as many times as it needs to be done.

After all this reworking, and editing, and polishing, maybe you’ll finally have something that’s worth making publicly available. But it’s no good reading the first draft and deciding it’s rubbish. It probably is, but what have you learned from it? What is there in it that’s usable? Is the plot strong enough? Are the characters clear enough? Does each character have their own individual voice? Can you figure out who’s talking from the words alone? Can you figure out who’s doing an action, or the narration, just by the words and phrases they use? Is each character driven to act the way they do? Does their behaviour drive the plot forward, or do things just happen to them so they’re always reacting rather than acting? Can you imagine the setting from the description, or is the picture in your own head doing all the work? Or are you stopping to describe the background in so much detail that the plot falters and stutters?

So much to consider once the first draft is done. I think it’s time to go back to my first draft – which is after all of a plot idea I feel driven to write about – and see just what sort of gold glints among all the dirt.

 

Writing exercise 1.15

Just looking through my notes, I found this piece, which I believe was written for an Open University exercise. I know one reader who might remember the event it was loosely based on!

Kids today, they’re so badly behaved. I mean to say, I met a couple of young louts yesterday. At the castle, it was. We had such a lovely day. The flowers were just perfect. Well, most of them, but there was one bed that had been so neglected it was a crying shame. “Look at that, Ethel,” I said to my friend, “such a crying shame.” Of course, Ethel’s garden isn’t much to speak of. How she lives with it, I don’t know. Her arthritis plays her up, I know, but still, you would think… anyway, I was telling you about those appalling louts. We had been in the shop, and then realised we didn’t have much time to get back to the coach before it was due to leave. And that driver can be so miserable! When we had a sing song on that last trip, he was so rude!

Where was I? Oh yes, getting back to the coach. They run what they call a land train, to ferry people between the castle and the car park. Well, when we got there, it was already full, and I thought for one horrible moment we would have to walk all the way, but then I saw these two youths taking up the front seats, looking smug and comfortable. Just fancy, two hulking great lads like that riding, while poor Ethel’s arthritis was playing up!

“Come on boys, we need those seats,” I told them, and do you know, for a minute I actually thought they would sit there and refuse to move! One even had the cheek to claim they’d been queuing for hours, obviously trying to play the sympathy card. I was just about to go and fetch the driver, who I could see was gazing into space instead of doing his job, but one of the boys spoke to the other and they slowly climbed off. I pushed Ethel on, and then climbed on myself, and as the train moved off I saw the boys talking to a woman. I just hope they weren’t going to mug her for her bag! Nasty pieces of work, they were. One even looked as though he was pretending to cry, no doubt trying to distract her while the other grabbed her purse.

That train was terribly slow, I told the driver as we got off that if the coach driver was grumpy all the journey home it would be his fault for making us late. I didn’t hear what he said in answer, but I accepted his apology anyway.

 

 

Time to develop a plan

Image of my timeline planningThree chapters posted of the story already, and I’m only just starting to plan? Well, truth be told, so far most of what I’d done was just¬†novelization¬†of the episode, including an extra scene or two that was missing from the original. It’s interesting to note the differences between stories that are told in images and stories that are told in words, and the different techniques used and messages conveyed. Now, with the characters starting to take over and direct me, it was time for me to draw a rough map of my intended route through the story.

The trouble with fanfiction is that like nanowrimo, there’s little time to go back and revise. With chapters posted as they are written, it’s easy to write yourself into a corner and find that you’ve set up situations in earlier chapters that given hindsight you would have rearranged.

And so I set out to plan the events and timeline that the story needs to follow.

First I went through the original episode, which I had already transcribed (it drops off iplayer tonight and my DVD set isn’t released for another three weeks) and wrote down the order of scenes, categorising them into Merlin/Arthur, Camelot and elsewhere. This enabled me to see the flow of the episode and how the three areas of activity intertwined.

I numbered these, giving each a multiple of 10, following original computer programming convention. This served two purposes: first I could easily tell which were the original scenes, and second I could add in other scenes, with the intervening numbers, and had enough numbers between original scenes to allot to them. I also needed to work out which extra characters I would need to develop to carry the story through, tying it with previous episodes where I could and trying to stick to the style and structure of the original characters and storylines.

I then had a rough list of events, and the order they needed to occur in. ¬†The next job was to colour code these to show who would narrate them, as my story is written in first person but jumping from character to character for each section, each clearly prefaced with who is speaking. The challenge is to work out who in each scene would tell the story best. Sometimes there is an overlap between chapters, as the same scene is told from the POV of two different characters, but only where I feel the second POV adds something to the storyline, or where I need to paraphrase to skip past a bit we’ve learnt about from someone else already.

I’m finding generally that my way of writing changes a little with each character, as I hear their voices in my head and picture them on screen. Even the vocabulary can change. This gives more interest to the story, but I still need to learn how to get deeper into their heads and I know one weakness of my writing is lack of description.

Ah well, I can’t guarantee a story update every day, but now I know where it’s going things seem to be going fairly smoothly.

The story is over 6000 words so far, by the way, with each chapter over 1000 and the longest chapter so far being 2250.

 

They escaped…

My story was going to be a roadtrip story, with Arthur and Merlin telling the story alternately. The trouble is, they had other ideas.

I was trying to work out how the next chapter would go. It should be Arthur’s turn next, but he wasn’t completely sure he could tell it right. ¬†Merlin was willing to go again, but then a quiet voice spoke up: the third character who was present, who kindly offered to tell the next part from his point of view.

And so just three chapters into my story the characters have taken me hostage and are starting to write their own story. It’s hard to describe what’s going on when that happens: it feels like I’m not writing the story but channeling it. ¬†Like the story already exists and it’s telling itself to me, for me to write down. I might feel like I’m in charge, and I might be able to influence it, but if it feels hard it’s because I’m heading the wrong way, or telling the story from the wrong POV, or just not listening properly.

That’s the magic of storytelling for me, and the feeling I’ve been chasing without knowing how to find it. Now it feels like I’ve pulled a loose thread and my brain has come unravelled, throwing up story ideas so fast that I can hardly recognise them as such, let alone deal with writing them down. As though they’ve always been there, lurking in the corner, but now the light has been turned on I can see them, and they’re clamouring for attention.

Apologies for the mixed metaphors; the stories may present themselves to me, but it’s my responsibility to vocalise them. This is where I need to call on and develop my storytelling skills, so that I tell the story in a way that others can follow, my description skills so that others can picture the story as I picture it, my vocabulary so that I can find the right word to conjure up the sensations reactions effect I want.

I think this is part of why I’ve avoided writing for a while: this feeling that my life has been taken over, that I’m a slave to the story, that there is either me or the words, and no place where the two can exist comfortably side by side.

Or I’m just a melodramatic idiot who likes to pretend these things ūüėČ

 

Weekend

Strangely, Mondays weren’t as bad as you might suppose. ¬†It was Tuesdays that were the worst. ¬†Somehow, she could coast through Monday on the strength gained from the weekend, but by Tuesday the weekend effect had worn off and the next weekend seemed far too far away to be of any comfort. ¬†She would stumble from boring lesson to boring lesson, trapped indoors gazing longingly outside through windows that let in baking heat in summer and chill in winter, sitting idly colouring a small square for every minute spent there so that she could at least see some progress through the day, burying herself in a book during the interminable lunch break so she didn’t have to feel the pain of silence amongst the chatter.

Wednesdays – well, Wednesdays brought the same monotony, but were at least that much further through the week, and by Thursday the light was faintly visible glimmering at the end of the tunnel, as she at last felt able to consider the pleasures that lay ahead almost within reach.

Friday dragged far more than was justified, and she would drag out all the coping mechanisms she could find, until the bell went for the end of the last lesson and she was caught up in the crowds hurrying towards the buses that would this time take them home for longer than  just a few hours.

She would fall into bed on the Friday evening, feeling the relief of the weekend flood over her with the welcome of a gasp of air to one who was drowning, and early on Saturday morning she would awake eagerly, put on her old clothes and wheel out her bike, heading for the stables. ¬†Here she would spend the whole weekend caring for the horses, helping excited young children onto ponies for their weekly riding lesson and teaching the new volunteers who were willing, as she was, to trade several hours’ labour for a couple of hours’ riding. ¬†Here she would finally be able to relax and feel comfortable with her surroundings, spending most of her time outside or sitting chatting in the tackroom with the others, the only people in the world she felt were her friends.

By Sunday lunchtime, however, the cloud descended again, and by mid-afternoon she could already feel the weight of the next week lined up¬†oppressively¬†in the shadows waiting to dominate her life. ¬†The rest of Sunday evening was spent in sullen silence, as she did her chores and made ready for another week’s pain.

She told herself, as she always did, that one day it would end; that one day she would be free to choose how she spent her days, and would no longer be trapped somewhere she hated, doing work that seemed pointless, and buried so deep in work that there was no time for pleasure, but at the same time she felt, deep inside, that it was a lie, and that she was doomed forever to be trapped in this tedious existence, where even the fleeting pleasures were spoilt by the knowledge that they would soon be over.

Little did she know that very soon the time was coming when she would long for this existence, when it would seem idyllic compared with what was to come her way.