Monthly Archives: February 2013

Editing Progress Report – February

In this post, last month, I set out my plan to edit my first NaNo novel, The Phoenix Fire. I planned to post an update on the last day of each month, so here we are.

February_calendar

The plan for this month was simply to read through and make some notes. I was looking for big-picture faults and I tried to go into it open to anything – changing characters’ genders, adding or removing characters, altering the POV, amending the plot and adding subplots… anything you could imagine. I finished doing that yesterday and along the way I’ve had some useful revelations.

1. The POV needs work but is probably the right choice.

I wrote the story in a close third person style, in other words “Adam did this” but with a strong bias on what Adam experienced and how he experienced it. Occasionally, the text wanders away from this, seeing something Adam couldn’t have seem, and that needs fixing. I also need to put a little more distance between the narrator and Adam in places, and I’ve been reading “How Fiction Works” to learn how to better achieve that. But fundamentally, it is Adam’s story.

2. The Plot needs beefing up

As I mentioned on Monday, the plot needs more to happen: more tension and drama, more suspense and interest. I’ve thought of a couple of ways to do this, including introducing a new character for Adam to play off against, but also, bizarrely, I’m hoping to achieve this adding richness partly by cutting. Specifically, two things.

a) I have a habit of writing EVERYTHING that happens. You know that saying that nobody ever goes to the toilet on TV (except to have important conversations at the urinals)? Well, Adam goes to bed and gets up about 50 times in this novel and it’s BORING. So I need to have the confidence to drop him at the end the interesting part of a day and not pick him up until the next interesting thing happens, even if it’s hours or days later.

b) The first third of the novel drags. And isn’t very interesting. Things only really get going around the mid-point and actually the most interesting and well-written part of the novel is a massive tangent about his niece. Either that needs cutting, or it needs to take on a new importance. I’m going for the latter and starting the novel there(ish).

3. The Themes are all over the place

I’m a little suspicious of anyone who suggests that novels need a central Theme, or a Hypothesis, or whatever other words they choose to use. A lot of great novels don’t have this, or only have it in the sense that somebody has clearly come along after the fact and announced that it’s all about whatever.

However, TPF doesn’t have anything resembling a theme, or a point, and it’s poorer for that. The writing style isn’t too bad, but it’s impossible to tell anything about the target audience or what you want them to get out of it. If I had to give a one sentence summary, it would sound like a Romance, but the writing fails at that on several fundamentals and it’s not what I wanted. So as part of stripping out the chaff, I’m cutting much of the romance and making it a novel about the Phoenix Fire. Which is helpful, because that’s the title!

4. The writing isn’t bad

Most of it isn’t actually badly written. Apart from the specific problems I’ve mentioned above (and a few over-used words where I’ll need to do a find/replace sweep later), which lead to me having written “BORING” next to various paragraphs, it’s actually OK on a writing level. Even the sex scenes are less cringe-worthy than I feared, and I *know* I’m cutting them!

What it needs is a lot of big-picture work.

Still, that’s what this edit was all about, and I’m brimming with ideas on how to fix the problems. It will take a lot of new writing and some difficult edits, but I’m ready. Next stop, some planning away from the text!

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Friday Fiction – The Perfect Gift

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This week I’m posting my FF story early, just to see what difference it makes to my reading stats and to my own ability to read other people’s stories! Prompt courtesy of Rochelle and taken by Beth Carter – thanks ladies!

No edits this week – the story came to me complete, and the first draft was 102 words, so all I did was take out a couple 😉

home-made_car

The Perfect Gift

“So, I found the perfect car for Sarah to buy her boy when he turns 17.”

“Oh yeah? I thought she hated the idea of him driving?”

“She does. But he’s got his heart set on a car for his birthday, and you know she won’t deny him what he wants.”

“Well then, tell me about this car.”

“It’s perfect. Leather seats, fibreglass body … it’s stick shift, but that’s a useful skill to have these days.”

“Engine?”

“Engine?”

“Yeah, what’s the engine like? How many cylinders?”

“You gotta be kidding me. Sarah wouldn’t buy him anything with an engine!”

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Adding More Filling To The Pie

Approaching the end of February, and I’m desperately trying to finish my first read-through of The Phoenix Fire, in accordance with my editing plan. I’ve just taken a week off to spend time with my best friend who came out to meet Sebastian. I don’t regret that at all, but it does mean I’m going to have to knuckle down to finish the read-through by Friday.

However, I’ve already made an important discovery in what I’ve read so far: there isn’t enough plot. The draft is long enough, maybe even a bit too long, in terms of word count, but there is nothing like enough happening to sustain interest for a full novel. It’s probably a symptom of this being the first novel-length story I’d written (not counting a romance I wrote in school), but I don’t suppose my recent spate of flash fiction writing is going to help me fix it.

Novels keep you reading because you want to know what happens. Not just to the main characters, but also to a bunch of minor ones. And you have to believe something will happen, that the author isn’t just giving a long-winded description of a boring life. Although I reckon that description would apply to a few classics, I don’t think I can rely on that to carry me through – Remains of the Day, anyone?

What this story needs are more themes, sub-plots, twists and turns, tangents and probably lots of other tricks. Yes, most novels can be boiled down to a one or two sentence plot summary, but they have to be much more than that when you read them. A “Beef Pie” isn’t generally tasty without the gravy, vegetables … and enough beef (or horse, if you’re British) in the filling.

I think the challenge of re-writing TPF is going to be harder than even I thought!

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Friday Fiction – He promised me a white picket fence

It’s Fictioneers time again! This week’s picture (the top one) is from Janet Webb, via Rochelle. It’s an intriguing photo and I hope you feel I’ve done it justice. I’ve finally managed to achieve my goal of following Rochelle’s advice to use it as inspiration rather than illustration – the illustration for the story is the second picture below, although I hope you’ll agree I’ve taken more than one element from the first image.

The edits are back – but for those without time or interest to read them, the final version is immediately below the first picture. Edits are then in reverse order after the second one.

copyright-janet-webb

He promised me a white picket fence (Genre: Historical Fiction)

He promised me a white picket fence. And that we’d go blackberrying in summer. He promised that our boys would be strong and dependable, our girls pretty and sweet. He promised me my dreams.

But the brambles grow all year round now, and yield nothing more than thorns. Our boys will never be and our girls cannot smile.

He promised he’d come back. He promised he wouldn’t get shot down, or captured, or killed: that he wouldn’t, under any circumstances, go Missing.

He promised me a white picket fence. Now we have one, but it is nothing like my dreams.

War Cemetary

Version 1

He promised me a white picket fence.

He promised me a white picket fence. And that we’d go blackberrying in the summer. He promised that our boys would be strong and dependable, our girls pretty and sweet. He promised my dreams. He promised me the world.

But the brambles grow year round now, and never yield anything more than ants and thorns. Our boy will not speak and our girls will not smile.

He promised he’d come back. He promised he wouldn’t get shot down, or captured, or killed: that he wouldn’t, under any circumstances, go Missing.

He promised me a white picket fence. Now we have one, but it is nothing like my dreams.

 

Version 2

He promised me a white picket fence.

He promised me a white picket fence. And that we’d go blackberrying [I hesitated over this, in case it’s an English phrase. I feel this story is American in nature, because of the picket fence. But apparently soldiers in the American Civil War called truces to “go blackberrying” to ward off dysentery – the things you learn! – so I’m good to go. I just hope you guys use “bramble”]  in the summer. He promised that our boys would be strong and dependable, our girls pretty and sweet. He promised my dreams. He promised me the world.

But the brambles grow year round now, and never yield anything more than ants and thorns. Our boys will never be and our girls cannot smile. [I felt this was a young, newly married couple, so the idea that they already had three children didn’t fit that. It felt more heart-breaking that she would never have a son, and maybe the girls are twins – still very young but old enough to know Daddy isn’t coming home.]

He promised he’d come back. He promised he wouldn’t get shot down, or captured, or killed: that he wouldn’t, under any circumstances, go Missing. [I thought at first this was a story of abandonment. Then I realised her resentment was actually grief. I wrestled with a feeling that it was set during the American Civil War, even before I found the blackberrying reference, but ultimately stuck with a more recent period of history.]

He promised me a white picket fence. Now we have one, but it is nothing like my dreams. [The story didn’t feel finished in version 1, so I added another line to tie it back to the beginning.]

[Changes to get this to the final version above are purely word-count related. I took out the first line because the repetition felt unnecessary, especially when it’s at the end as well, but I might have left it in if word count had permitted, so it became the title (which had originally just been Promises)]

 

 

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Inspiration Monday – Name From A Hat

Here’s my story for Inspiration Monday – others will be posted on the host site on monday. This one is just a little scene – I found the prompt challenging and making time to write something even more so this week, so it’s not a story in itself I’m afraid.

Selection Process

The Head was droning on about playground games. Sarah nudged Gavin and whispered, “So, what are you doing for Valentine’s?”

“Just chocolates and a card,” Gavin replied. “Flowers are such a rip off in February.”

“Last of the great romantics. But I meant for them.” She gestured to the rows of heads in front of them. A few were whispering and fidgeting but she let it go for now.

“Oh. Names from a hat, I guess. Bit like Secret Santa.”

“Better than car keys in a bowl, I suppose.”

“Or spin the bottle!” Gavin laughed. “Actually, that’s how I met Alice. Did I ever tell you? Never did get the stains out of the carpet – my Mum thought it was blood!”

“Blood?”

“Ketchup. It was fine until the lid fell off!”

Sarah noticed two of her class pushing each other. She tapped the closer of the two on the knee with her foot and shook her head when they looked up. They looked a little sheepish and stopped. “I thought you were supposed to use a bottle of wine.”

“Probably, but our parties … shhh.” Gavin smiled at the Head who was now glaring at him. Sarah leant down and pulled on the blazer of one of the boys who had been pushing, although in truth he’d stopped after her foot tap. It got her out of eyeballing the Head anyway.

120px-Valentinesdaytree

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Happy Family Day!

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Friday Fiction – Mirror

This week’s picture comes from David Stewart via Rochelle and the Fictioneers. I’ve included some previous drafts, although as ever if you just want to read the story itself, that’s cool too.

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Mirror (Genre: Modern Fable)

The artist called the sculpture Mirror. The critics were perplexed. Some described “A man, reaching toward his destiny, held back by his personal demons”, others talked of “One man, dragging another out of the gutter”.  “If it’s a mirror, it belongs in the fair. The man is elongated and distorted,” said one, refusing to be drawn on meaning.

Years later, the sculptor finally broke his silence. “In itself, it means nothing. A mirror doesn’t change,” he said. “But show that mirror to a thousand men, they will all see something different … and they will all see something of themselves.”

 

V1

The artist called the sculpture Mirror. Critics were divided: many questioned the choice of name. “If it’s a mirror, it belongs in the fair,” said one, picking up on the strange perspective of the piece.

Describing it, some talked of “A man, reaching toward his destiny, held back by his inner daemons”, others of “One man, dragging another out of the gutter”. “The Chinese figure is depicted standing on one leg, the other elongated and buried in the sand behind him,” said The Times, refusing to be drawn on meaning.

Years later, retired and fading, the artist finally broke his silence about the sculpture. “In itself, it means nothing. A mirror doesn’t change,” he said. “And yet, show that mirror to a thousand men, and they will all see something different … and they will all see something of themselves.”

[The hardest thing about this piece, once I’d come up with the idea, was the order of it. Because it doesn’t really have a beginning, middle and end, I wasn’t sure what to put where. So many of the changes are to the order. I’m still not sure it’s entirely right. Interestingly, this is also a problem i’m having with my novel editing, although for slightly different reasons.

The other problem was length, this is 140 words, and didn’t feel as though it included much fluff.]

 

V2

Critics were divided. Some described “A man, reaching toward his destiny, held back by his personal demons”, others “One man, dragging another out of the gutter”.

The artist called the sculpture Mirror. “If it’s a mirror, it belongs in the fair. The man is elongated and distorted.” said the art critic for The Times, refusing to be drawn on meaning.

Years later, the sculptor finally broke his silence. “In itself, it means nothing. A mirror doesn’t change,” he said. “And yet, show that mirror to a thousand men, they will all see something different … and they will all see something of themselves.”

[Almost on point for length, this still didn’t feel quite right for order. And the emphasis seemed to be in the wrong places. Hopefully, the final version feels more balanced.]

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