Monday, 29 September 2014

How many drafts?

So you've written a novel, you might have proofread it or done the second draft, so how many should you do? When does editing and tweaking finally get to a stage where you can be happy to stop? Answer is, there is no right answer. Some people might only do three drafts, others ten or more. It will vary from story to story.

Something I've found that helped me focus was Larry Brooks advice on fiction writing, in particular...

The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling that define novelist heaven

1. Concept – the central idea or proposition from which you create a landscape upon which to tell the story; weak premise, weak story…

2. Character – checklist-driven criteria for developing backstory, arc, inner conflict and the essence of a hero’s quest…

3. Theme – the elusive meaning of your story and how it affects readers on multiple levels; in other words, why they’ll care…

4. Story architecture – a four-part story structure riddled with segments missions, milestones and standards that keep the story growing and moving…

5. Scene execution – if you can’t boil water you can’t cook up a buffet; this is the crafting of efficient, tense, visceral scenes and narrative…

6. Writing voice – the assemblage of words you summon as foot soldiers with the mission of carrying your structural strategy to victory.

For me the first draft is just getting the story down. Don't worry about mistakes, I don't even try to plan too much or think, I just write and write some more. It's like getting yourself a great big lump of clay and adding a bit, then a bit more.

Second draft, now you've got this big, lumpy piece of clay it needs to be moulded. Taking a notebook and pen I read through and make notes to begin with. This is where I find the plot holes and try to fill them. Character development happens here too, you can really start to get to grips with all these new characters that have waltzed into your life.

Third draft, now it's really starting to take shape. Those typos might still be slipping through the net, keep catching them and putting them right! Start getting some detailed editing in, take a closer look at sentences and work on it until it flows as well as you feel it can.

Fourth draft, there might still be the odd grammatical error or typo slipping through, keep setting it right. it might also be a good idea to have someone you trust give it a read through. I've found my local writing group an amazing influence and help. Like minded individuals might be just what you need at this point. Doubt creeps in at the best of times, even when you've had some success. There's a definite worry there that you might not achieve that level of success or recognition again.

Fifth draft, now surely we must be getting to the end? Yes, we could well be by now, but it really is down to how you feel or if you have an agent or editor what they think at this stage. Are you completely happy with what you have written? Could it be better? Is your cast list essential? Remember that unless the characters or events move your plot forward they don't need to be in there. Remember, at the end of the day, the suggestions offered to you are exactly that, suggestions that you can choose to use or not to use. Others may want to take your story in a different direction to the one you're taking it. Whilst others may notice something about your plot or spelling that you might have missed. A fresh pair of eyes is essential.

Write, read, edit, write, read, edit and you'll get there. Just stay focused and set yourself time to write every day/week and stick to it. It's okay to take breaks but make sure you set yourself targets/deadlines and work towards them, there's nothing more satisfying than achieving that goal!

Happy writing :)

Thursday, 18 September 2014

All The Bird's Singing

I seem to be reading more than writing at the moment, but then reading helps my writing to improve so it's all research really :)

This week I have read Evie Wyld's All The Birds Singing. I struggled to get into the book to begin with, it took some time to adjust to the timelines. There is the present day,  and past events, but the past ones were told backwards in the sense that the nearest to present were told first until the conclusion of that time thread was the protagonist's teenage years.

I'm glad I perservered as I did enjoy the book. I have never read anything quite like it, I suppose the only thing I can think that is similar might be the earlier books of Martin Amis.

Evie Wyld has a fresh voice and a way of storytelling which I enjoyed. The pace was good moving a long quickly with flashbacks telling the protagonist, Jake Whyte's checkered past, and how she came to be the character she is in present day.

I really liked the book, and would certainly read others by this author, but I did feel let down by the ending. I found it far too ambiguous for my taste. Personally I would have preferred either a more defined resolution that provided more answers, as I had plenty of questions! Or an abrupt ending more in keeping with the pace of the book, possibly even ending a chapter earlier than it did. But that is just my opinion, everyone brings their own ideas and thoughts to a story regardless of the author's intentions. Readers will always read a story in their own way, and take something from it that perhaps the author did not intend or foresee.

All in all, the book had an unsatisfactory ending that left me wanting more than metaphors. Despite this I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book and Wyld's style of bringing the characters to life. I would recommend reading All The Birds Singing for it's dark yet refreshing voice that keeps you hooked, drawing you deeper into Jake's past and present, wanting to know more about this mysterious, often distant and troubled individual.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Simon Says!: He said. She said.

Excellent piece on dialogue by Simon Whaley...

Simon Says!: He said. She said.: At the NAWG Festival of Writing last month I attended a couple of workshops led by the crime writer Veronica Heley. ( http://www.vero...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

What I'm Reading!

To keep my brain from completely melting down I like to read a very wide range of styles and genres. I have a system in place that I like to think keeps me from going too soft on my noggin. I like to alternate between children's and adult's fiction. So when I've just finished a hard going very grown up book, I like to get stuck into a world of magic or steampunk, or maybe both or not those at all. I just like to have something I can escape to and enjoy. Of course I can do this with grown up books too, but this is just my system and it works for me.

This past couple of weeks I have read Alex Marwood's crime thriller 'The Wicked Girls'. Here's the blurb: One fateful summer morning in 1986, two 11-year-old girls meet for the first time and by the end of the day are charged with murder.

Twenty-five years later, journalist Kirsty Lindsay is reporting on a series of attacks on young female tourists in a seaside town when her investigation leads her to interview funfair cleaner Amber Gordon. For Kirsty and Amber, it's the first time they've seen each other since that dark day when they were just children. But with new lives – and families – to protect, will they really be able to keep their secret hidden?

I haven't read much crime for a while, I've been guilty of reading more than my fair share of fantasy and magic of late, so it was a pleasure to return to this genre. It's a taut, fast-paced book. I enjoyed the hopping from different points of view to glean a cohesive arc of the plot as it unfolded. Once I'd got to grips with the flashbacks and present day, I enjoyed piecing together which old identity belonged to the two main female protagonists.

The book reflects the prejudice of a nation, and mob mentality that is endemic within our society. It's a dark and disturbing book that makes you stop and think about your own views and morals. I would definitely recommend this to any other fans of crime thriller, and even if you're not it's worth a try to push your boundaries!

The second book I've just read is Cressida Cowell's 'How To Train Your Dragon'. I'm guilty of watching both films, and seeing the TV series first. But after visiting the Seven Stories exhibition this summer at Wolverhampton Art Gallery - A Viking's Guide To Deadly Dragons by Cressida Cowell, I thought I really should get round to reading the actual books. Not to mention seeing the fantastic illustrations, I'm a big fan of illustration. I trained in Fine Art, after a brief stint in fashion I specialised in Painting and Printmaking, but part of me regrets not doing Children's Book Illustration, which was also on offer at the university.

Bit of a blurb frim Amazon: Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III was an awesome sword-fighter, a dragon-whisperer and the greatest Viking Hero who ever lived. But it wasn't always like that.
In fact, in the beginning, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III was the most put upon Viking you'd ever seen. Not loud enough to make himself heard at dinner with his father, Stoick the Vast; not hard enough to beat his chief rival, Snotlout, at Bashyball, the number one school sport and CERTAINLY not stupid enough to go into a cave full of dragons to find a pet... It's time for Hiccup to learn how to be a Hero.

How to Train Your Dragon is a fun tale, and the first in a series. It's completely different from the films and TV series, in both plot and appearance so reading the book afterwards wasn't an issue after all. Easy to read, and now I'm keen to read the rest of the series and find out what else happens to Hiccup, his dragon Toothless and the rest of his Viking tribe The Hairy Hooligans. I enjoy a flawed hero, in this case a very un-viking like viking, who is scared and not very good at anything heroic. Humorous for both adults and children, and I shall be sharing Hiccup's adventures with my own children during bedtime stories :)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

NAWG Festival of Writing

Last weekend I attended the NAWG (National Association of Writing Groups) Festival of Writing at Warwick University. Having never attended any sort of writing festival before, and arriving on my lonesome I was a bit nervous and unsure what to expect. I couldn't have hoped for better.

I arrived at the same time as one of my tutor's, crime writer Veronica Heley. Which was fortunate as neither of us had been before and helped one another navigate from accommodation to venues. She was also kind enough to offer to read the start of my novel before I attended her courses. She provided some very useful and helpful advice both at that time and throughout the weekend. Including how to do away with 'He said' 'she said' altogether from writing and keep the plot moving along at a faster pace. Just replace '... said' with an action and the writing flows smoothly.

One workshop in particular I found helpful was 'How to Write and Sell Short Stories' with Jane Wenham-Jones. I've always loved Jane's approach and style, and found her Wannabe a Writer a must for any aspiring writing. Wannabe a Writer We've Heard Of is just as fantastic and filled with helpful information. I am not ashamed to say I was very excited getting Jane's autograph, see below!

Whilst I've had some success with short stories in the past, it took Jane's workshop to make me see that I was missing the essential point to a short story. By the end of a story the protagonist must have changed. It doesn't have to be life altering, but a definite development and change needs to have occurred by the end of the story. So simple, yet I feel I have missed that with some of my own writing. 

Another top tick from Jane, when entering competitions avoid death and mental health issues, it's been done to death. And definitely no stories told by a dog, or cat!

I had a great workshop again with Jane but jointly with David Nobbs, writer of great comedy such as Reggie Perrin. With two comedic geniuses in the room it couldn't fail to produce some fantastic and hilarious results. David also gave a witty speech at the Gala dinner. If David is ever giving a talk you can attend I strongly recommend it!

There are so many other aspects of the weekend that were brilliant from the food to the company. Considering I arrived alone, I never stayed that way. There were always many new friends to meet and network with. 

Saturday night was very exciting with the Gala dinner and awards. There was a 100 word mini-tale to write over the weekend, won by writer Simon Whaley. I myself was excited to receive a commended certificate for my YA story 'Tomatoes' see picture below :)

The food was delicious and company wonderful as I sat with new friends and writer/tutors Paul Dodgson and Judi Goodwin.

All in all, the weekend was fantastic and inspiring. I made many new friends and writing connections. It was so good I booked for next year before I even left. So see you all next year in Warwick for the 2015 NAWG Festival of Writing!