No one said this writing lark was easy! Well, if they did they were either lying or delusional.
With lots of ‘life events’ consuming a large portion of 2018, my writing for the most part has taken a backseat. Yes, of course I have dabbled, I have written everyday but not ‘big’ writing. For ‘big’ writing I needed time and headspace, both of which have been in short supply this year.
From birthing puppies (I kid you not), to providing a taxi service for the kids, 2018 has added a few more ‘life lived’ chapters to my story.
With Autumn well and truly ensconced (what a fine word ensconced is), I am getting back into my groove and tap tap tapping away. Dark nights and dark mornings I love them!
Book 3 is back on my desk and I’m editing like crazy. It has been good to step away and come back to it. Amazing what you discover the third and fourth time around!
Now it’s a race to the finish – on your marks, get set… Go!
After the week I’ve had (I know it’s only Tuesday) all I needed to do was to lie quietly in a dark room and recharge. After a super early start and a 5-mile walk with the naughty dog, I sat down to write. It was to be my quiet time, my time to complete another round in my (editing) chamber of hell. That reminds me, my third novel, I’m pleased to report is being tweaked and polished… Again! As a distraction, I wanted to work on something that did not involve a red pen and lines.
For inspiration, I looked through projects I’d begun and not finished. Works which for whatever reason I’d put onto the back burner but didn’t burn. Maybe secretly deep down I hoped they could be resurrected. After all, where there’s life there’s hope, right?
I spend the first hour or so on the internet doing ‘research’ (OK… randomly doing anything but writing), then set to it.
I had two lightbulb moments –
‘who the hell wrote this dross?’ and ‘some of this isn’t that bad.’
The dross has now gone to the log basket to be ‘recycled’ – the rest? Well, the rest is being restored and will be looking for a home in the not so distant future. Onwards people onwards…
Today I’ve been ruminating… Yes, I am feeling quite well, thanks for asking!
A while ago I wrote a blog piece on the believability of character flaws. They are such a big part of a writers remit that I wanted to revisit them. Recently I’ve read a few books where the characters were not believable and it irked me. The books were well written, and the stories could have been so amazing. Yet the characters were not believable. Those books sadly were just words on a page, there was no life in them and I got bored!
Characters need to be equally at home eating a plate of pasta, as running for their lives. Buried deep within the pages they need to live, breathe and come to life.
As a reader, I need to understand them. If I don’t understand them, I don’t believe them. If I don’t believe them, I can’t connect with them and I hang up. I don’t have to agree with them or even like them, but I do need to have a level of understanding.
As I move forward to write book 4 my head is filled with people. Tall people, short people, fat people, thin people – all bouncing through my mind waiting for their moment to connect. Some I’ve already ditched, some I am curious about and some keep me awake at night!
They are ordinary people living ordinary lives…. until something extraordinary happens. How many ordinary lives do you know that are perfectly lived? Exactly!
We, as a species love nothing more than neat little boxes. We want labels on absolutely everything from gender to religion, to leftovers in the fridge (maybe that one’s just me…). We gain a level of security knowing where we are within the world and how everyone else fits into our model.
I, am a walking contradiction. I change my mind more often than not, tell white lies, debate, argue and cry. I laugh at things I shouldn’t and get myself into awkward and tricky situations. Am I perfect – er no! Am I believable? I would like to think so. And that’s the point. It is OK for me to change my mind – I am flawed, it’s part of who I am. It is the same for my characters. They can change their minds too but (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming), as writers, we get so focused on making sure our characters fit into the boxes we’ve created they can become ‘too perfect’. Characters with contradictions, some ‘why the hell did they do that?’ moments grab our attention. Crazy events work well if you understand them. You need events to move your story forward. People are peculiar- not perfect!
Usually, events are character driven, unless you’re a shark, a big great white shark with big teeth! Although, thinking about it, even shark based thrillers require the characters to get into the water!
So lovely people put your characters in the water and watch them swim for their lives! They can swim right?…Cue scary music…
I can hardly believe it was only two weeks ago that myself and four very talented ladies got together for the most magical of experiences. The occasion was a writing retreat, but my lovelies, this was not just any writing retreat. This was a magical adventure, held in the most magical of places.
Heartfelt thanks go to Rosie Longstocking from Greenacre writers who organised the retreat. We were treated to four days at Agatha Christie’s summer home – Greenway in Devon. Yes, that is what I said, I stayed at Agatha Christie’s summer home!!
My goal was to complete the first full edit of my historical thriller and to tighten and rework the first few pages.
Having never met the other writers I was apprehensive. In the days leading up to the retreat, I wondered why I had been so cavalier in signing up, but as they say, he who dares and all that. Maybe I am not as introverted as I like to think!
My worries soon disappeared on meeting these fine ladies. They were funny, friendly, and oh my, so talented!
We shared meals, taking it in turns to cook (who knew you couldn’t make rice pudding with Basmati rice??). The rest of the time was self-directed.
What followed were periods of procrastination involving – long walks, visits to the boathouse, a scoot around Agatha’s house, another visit to the boathouse, discussions concerning impending snow, attempting to find a phone signal, yet another visit to the boathouse – you get the picture… until….. finally…. I began to write!
It worked! Whether it was Agatha sending me good vibes, the wonderful company, or the location I know not. What I do know is that it was my perfect storm – I wrote my heart out. I was spurred on by receiving news that one of my short stories had been shortlisted in The Fiction Factory short story competition.
I can happily report that my edit got completed and my pages got tightened (nowhere else will you ever hear me say those words). And here’s the best bit ….. it was fun!
Between us, we created an environment that was supportive, encouraging and creative…. I think Agatha would have been pleased. Her sanctuary for those few days also became ours, and we flourished.
Episodes of Poirot
Laughing a lot
Playing story cubes after several sherbets!
Reading with the girls
Writing some more
Finding Ingrid in the bathroom writing!
Continuing to write
Ladies in the gift shop
Got ya! There were no murders, well not real ones!
There really were so many special moments.
Our adventure continued when we came to depart. As had been predicted, the snow came. A frantic half hour ensued. We debated whether or not to ‘wait and see’ and risk getting snowed in, or to depart. I think it was Agatha’s way of trying to keep us there… ‘Five Get Snowed in at Greenway’… Logic got the better of us and we left. The snow continued to fall… heavily, and so began the long haul back to our own worlds. We got stuck on a snowy hill, stuck trying to leave Torquay (roads closed due to snow), snow, snow and more snow fell. Thankfully we all made it home safe and sound.
There really is nothing finer than writing – except perhaps reading. Both provide food for my soul. There are times when the words refuse to come, so I read. Then, there are the times when all I want to do is read, and so, I don’t write. They are two sides of the same coin, intrinsically linked by my imagination which flows to and from the words on the page and, as much as it pains me, I love it with all my heart.
Yes, dear reader, it pains me – big deep unabashed stabbing pains of self-doubt and inadequacy fill me. A sense of never getting it quite right sits on my shoulder in judgment as I type away. I often wonder where the words come from and at times am left questioning if it really was me that put them there! Perhaps the words are using me, not I them? A conduit by any other name but a conduit no less. Weird? Not really. Who knows where the words come from. All I know is they burn images and sentences within me that do not abate until they are released.
Each day is a battle to continue, to sit and know that most of what I will write will be dross and disappointing, yet it is because it is dross that I continue. It was Beckett who said ‘Ever Tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’, and that is what I intend to do ‘fail better’.
Don’t get me wrong there are victories, small quiet ‘pat myself on the back’ victories and it is these that make my heart sing. Moments of self-congratulation, however, do not stay long, they are fleeting and come crashing to the floor at every given opportunity.
Sometimes the words I smugly admired not 24 hours before have, overnight, magically transformed into the worst sentences I have ever written! On rare occasions, the opposite is also true and I dance for hours, complimenting myself on such skillful wordplay. But…. when I am there, like really there, in the zone, allowing myself to freefall into the words, there really is no place I’d rather be. It is food for my soul and I love it!
Boom! Shake – shake – shake the room! Where did this week go? Sorry for bringing the DJ Jazzy Jeff ear-worm out to play (I bet you can’t get rid of it now…. apologies). So this week…..did it really fly? Perhaps it was my time spent up in the clouds that prompted today’s post (have a look at my lovely photo)
I found myself quite literally blue sky thinking …see what I did there? You would think a smooth flight, time on my hands, me, a captive audience of one would provide ample opportunities for those words to flow.. eh.. No. As Dr Seuss so skilfully put it ‘Oh the things you can think’. Therein lies my problem – too much thinking! Whether it was the recycled air or the lack of adequate leg room I’m not sure, but thoughts raced through my mind at the speed of… well, the speed of Concorde (yes, I’m old enough to remember Concorde). Ideas whizzed around my head so quickly they didn’t stop long enough for me to capture them. A good problem to have. Usually, staring out of an airplane window results in, well…just staring.
So, why am I telling you this? Yes, why indeed. Because sometimes, it’s OK. It’s OK not to capture every idea, every phrase. It’s OK to let the heat escape out of the roof. By allowing my ideas to come and go I felt I was just allowing myself to think in no particular way, about no particular thing, and do you know what? I felt more refreshed stepping off that plane than I had done in ages. Some people call it daydreaming, perhaps it was. What it wasn’t was planned, focused or structured!
It’s now Friday, my to-do list has grown and I haven’t written very much at all this week, but that’s alright, tomorrow is just around the corner. As if DJ Jazzy Jeff wasn’t bad enough, I shall leave you thinking about those immortal lines from Pharrell Williams:
We have all been there haven’t we? You are merrily munching your way through the first few chapters of a book that has sat on your TBR pile for a while and then it hits you…. boredom! Yep, mind numbing ‘I’d rather be anywhere but here’ boredom. Like a beautiful car which has been filled with the wrong fuel, the story splutters and then comes to a grinding halt. I have kicked myself so many times for playing the martyr and plowing through to the bitter end only to kick myself a bit more for even bothering to finish it. On reflection what a lot of these books had in common was simple – a soggy middle. At the beginning I’m intrigued, the writing is good and has me turning the pages with glee and then, somewhere, somehow, the tension is lost and the story becomes like a slow moving stream, no I correct myself more like a stagnant pond! Nothing is moving, the characters are not under any sort of pressure to do anything or see anyone, they are just… well they are just there! I don’t know about you but I don’t want ‘just there’ when I’m reading a novel, I can watch TV for that. I want empathy and commitment, as much from the characters as from myself. Commitment comes from making decisions, if nothing is happening no commitments are being made. All of this equals boredom for me, the reader. Don’t get me wrong I am not proposing that there should be twists and turns on every page but the story does need to move forward. Sadly this vacation I have read two such books.
Sitting here in the Mallorcan sun (photos to follow), I am struck by how important and methodical the editing process needs to be. I don’t want my books to be considered boring and I definitely don’t want a soggy middle! I am the first to admit I write too many words sometimes. Which is why I need to be strong and robust (like a good cup of coffee) when it comes to editing my own work way before an editor gets sight of it.
I’m sitting poolside trawling my way through the draft of my next novel and three things strike me:
– Who the hell wrote this?
– Oh, that’s rather good
– What a load of tosh!
It’s the ‘what a load of tosh’ that is bothersome. These are the sections where I need to channel a high court judge and become harsh but fair! Sometime the ‘tosh’ can be salvaged, sometime not. If there is a meaningful reason for the words to be there I will play around with them. If, however, they are acting as fillers for the main act then they have to go. No ifs, no buts, they must be crossed through with a red pen never to be seen again.
I have asked myself the same question over and over today – what would happen if the words weren’t there? If I can not defend them then they have to go !
I am doing well arguing with myself, although the lure of the pool is proving powerful! One more chapter then time for a swim….
Now then you lovely ones, whilst you lot have been busy sunning yourselves I have been chipping away at the iceberg that is book 4. I am pleased to report progress is good. Book 4 is turning into a beaut. I’m over 70,000 words and estimate another 20,000 and I’ll be finished. Slashing and burning comes next (no it’s not a horror story), courtesy of a rather large red pen. Standing as judge and jury as each word fights for its right to be included is my least favourite part of the writing process. My approach of ‘harsh but fair’ should serve me well as I critically eye each phrase, each beat. Yes, these are fine words, the reality my friends is less so. Thing is, I’m a big softy. Each word will have me fighting for it too easily. The game of ‘keep or kill’ is never easy. It may take me some time, perhaps years, don’t hold your breath!
A quick glance backward confirms this has been my most challenging adventure to date. Let me explain, book 4 is a historical thriller. And your point is what? I hear you ask. I have never written anything vaguely historical unless you count writing about the 1980s in which case I’m an expert! Thrillers are my bag but not historical ones… yet. I have found a new appreciation for authors who write in this genre. In my small Devonshire world, I have elevated them to Godlike status. The sheer amount of research and tenacity needed is overwhelming. Book 4 has been a fascinating and exhausting experience.
It is set in 1912, a period of time which until recently I knew very little about. I had given up studying history at 16. My class had been too busy obsessing about the Tudors to pay any attention to something only a hundred years ago. As my protagonist kept piling on the pressure (‘are you going to write this book then or what? type of thing), I cast my eyes heavenward and set to it. My wish was and still is that my novel would be able to conjure up a real sense of the time and the place in which it’s set. I want my readers to get under the skin of the protagonist and use her eyes to see into her world. It is a world she has slowly been revealing to me. I had the story, a good plot and a very willful lead character, what I lacked was the historical accuracy. If I was serious about this book I had to do it justice. I threw myself headlong into every piece of historical anything I could find from 1900 to 1920. I wanted to immerse myself. If it hadn’t been for my protagonist Virginia Penrose taking up residence in my head and refusing to leave I would still be clueless. If like me your knowledge of this time period is woefully light then take a leaf from my book (yes, deliberate pun intended) and read everything you can. It was a time of great change, a time when women had the courage to stand up for themselves. It hadn’t happened in isolation. The volcanic eruption that ensued had been bubbling away for centuries. My book is completely fictional, however, the time line is real. I have had to walk a delicate tightrope of marrying my ideas with the age in which they are set. Did people really think like that, what were the personal challenges, what were the expectations? I wanted to make it as realistic for the time as I could. Some things made the cut some did not.The joy has been watching not just my protagonist grow but also myself. Trying to get into the mind of a twenty something is never easy. Coupled with a backward time jump of over 100 years could be compared to how our younger generation of teens now views anyone older than 30. We have grown up in a different age, with different world views and collective opinions, some would say a different language too IMHO – see what I mean!
I have felt privileged to have the magic of a new book birthed before my very eyes. The most surprising part has been the challenges it has thrown my way. I have been challenged to re think assumptions which I had held without care or consideration. I watched them crumble and fall as I realised they were incorrect. It has been wonderful. I hope before long I will be able to present book 4 to you, red pens and editors permitting.
Now then what of book 3?
Soaring ~ My collection of short stories is due later this year. It is bright and bold and would make a perfect Christmas gift. Christmas, did I mention Christmas? Shameless, absolutely shameless!
I like a good bit of dialogue, a bit of banter, a bit of he said she said but…. and it is a very big but (not mine, although mine is rather large and has 2 t’s) only in small doses! There I’ve said it. Dialogue that goes on for pages bores me and can slow the pace of a book no end. I do not profess to be an expert, I just know what I like. As a general rule three sentences are about right for me before the red mist descends. If you have a character who is angry or needs to speak for longer try to break it up either with another character cutting in or action. What’s their body language saying, are their arms flailing, is their face reddening? You get the idea. The point behind dialogue is to make it seem real.Now then, whilst we are on the subject of dialogue another pet hate of mine is name calling.You want your character to be believable, yes? So why continuously use their names? Here’s what I mean. Meet Alan. Alan works with Jan and has done for five years. Whenever Alan speaks to Jan this is what he sounds like:
‘Hi Jan, how was that restaurant last night?
‘Well Alan it was really nice’
‘ I’m glad to hear that Jan’
‘Yes Alan I would highly recommend it’
AARRGGGGHHHHH…….. No, no,no,no,no. Unless you are writing comedy (in which case it is funny and reminiscent of Gavin & Stacey) do not do it – it is not real! It sounds wooden and flat and well… yuk! Remember, less is more. If in doubt speak it out (oh, I quite like that). If it doesn’t sound right to you think about how it’s going to sound to your readers.
OK, so now we’ve sorted out Alan & Jan here’s a question for you – Do you need it? The dialogue that is. Is its presence warranted? As with all things bookish it has to have a reason to be there in the first place. So, with your hand on heart should it stay or should it go? To help you decide here are a few questions to ask before letting yourself lose with the scary red pen:
Are you advancing the plot? By that I mean building suspense, revealing something new that was not known before. Well, are you?
Are you introducing, revealing or changing your character’s relationships? In Forbidden Colours, Midori Yates talks about her family a lot. It was a way for me reveal the importance of her family. Dialogue is a great way to add depth to your character and reveal sides to them not yet seen or known.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my take on dialogue. Here’s to dialogue being sharp and to the point – I know, I know, time to leave! Next week I shall take a look at small touches that can make a big difference to dialogue. D is also for dog and mine is biting at my heels wanting to go on an adventure. So, for now, I bid you adieu…
Please feel free to comment and/or share 🙂 Have a great weekend people!