Friday, 31 December 2010

Chapter Synopses

It took three days.  But that was three solid days.  Had i been at work then it would have taken a week - a couple of hours each evening plus the week-end.  Now i have a condensed version of the plot, which is not exactly the map i was hoping it might be!

Under each chapter heading I wrote the following:


This allows me an at-a-glance guide to the who, where, when of each chapter and whether the characters should be holding an umbrealla or licking an ice cream.  Below this i have written two to three short paragraphs on the main action and plot points.  I've also dropped in little bits about character.

At this stage the synopses are based on what i have actually written, not what i wish i had written.  So any ideas i've had about changing plot and character along the way i've noted down seperately (in red).  I think it is important at this stage not to confuse the actual with the could be.  It takes a fair bit of discipline, because every couple of sentences you think oh if i just changed that, and what if he was to just... It's natural to have those instincts and in some places i was desperate to tidy up a bit of clunky prose, but (cliche count:6) in the long run that little change to that sentence there could be a complete waste of time at this stage because you don't know yet whether that part of the story will definitely be in the second draft.  You could just be dressing up a sentence for vanity and nothing more.  Tempting, but think of the time you could save by being strong and resisting that urge.

The next step for me will be to read through the synopses and scrutinise the plot, looking for any holes or any explanations that are too convenient, anything that doesn't ring true.  I'll make notes in the margin of anything that i think needs changing for the second draft.  After that it's into the heart of the story - the characters.

Have a happy and prosperous 2011.  I'll be back!

Monday, 27 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Wow, that was fast! Christmas came, Christmas went.  I cooked, I entertained, I opened presents (great presents - thank you all!), I caught a cold.  Red nose, very festive.  Very runny.  Actually quite sore. 
So, last time out i'd just finished the first draft, and I let slip that the protagonist's name is Amy Swann.  Between then and now i've read the manuscript and look... I'm still here... I'm still blogging.  In short, it wasn't a total disaster.  It has a beginning.  It has a middle.  It has an end.  And it's pacy, really pacy, in fact a bit too pacy perhaps.

As for Amy being a well-rounded character, well, she's probably a bit under weight at the moment.  She could do with eating some of the mountains of chocolate that are piled up next to my desk.  She's got a story to tell, but i think it overshadows her at the moment.  She could be so much more.  Thankfully i get to feed her up now.  Well shortly anyway.

Over the next few days i'm going to re-read each chapter, one at a time, and write a brief synopsis for each one.  By the time i've finished, i'll have a map of the story that shows me where each character is at every point in the story.  Any displacement of character or plot from this point on will be like dropping a stone in a pond (cliche count: 5).  The ripples that spread out from every change will create further changes of their own.  The map of the chapters will give me an at-a-glance guide to what else needs to change further along the line for the story to still make sense.  That's my theory anyway.  We'll see if it works!

So that might take a week.  I'm not really sure yet.  This is my first time.  But i'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

It's Out!

It's out of me.  Finally.  I've finished the first draft.  Everything that's been swilling around in my head is finally out and on the screen in front of me.  It feels good.  As i tapped the last few words, words that i had written down some weeks ago as a fit ending for my lead character, i could feel that i was holding my breath.  I even typed just a little bit slower to make the moment last.  But it was over in a flash.  One minute i was writting the story, the next minute there was no more to be written.  For this draft anyway!

So Amy Swann's story is complete, but is she a complete character?  Is she well rounded?  Is she likeable or dispicable?  Will anyone care about her plight?  Gulp! I don't know yet.  But at least now i've something to read over Christmas.

I'm going to need plenty of paper and ink.  The final word count was ninety-two thousand, three hundred and seventy-two words, which amounts to three hundred and forty-seven pages.  I'm pleased.  I'm really, really pleased to be at the point where i can start to think about editing the story.  There have been niggles at the back of my mind for a while now.  Parts of the story that i want to revisit and reshape so that they fit better; clues that need dropping into the earlier sections of the book; character traits that need developing.

I have a product.  Now i need to make sure that it is the best possible product before i take it to market.  This is where i hope the blog will come into its own and give some valuable insight into the editing process.  I don't know what to expect yet.  I have a plan, but i don't know how it's going to pan out.  But i am looking forward to sharing my experiences with you.

I'm going for a lie down!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Pushing Water up a Mountain

It's ever so close now.  It's creeping up on me and i've nowhere to hide.  A couple of thousand words and that's it.  First draft done.  I've set myself an unachievable task; to write those two thousand or so words over the course of the week-end.  I know it's not going to happen.  I know that this time next week i'll be saying 'just two hundred words to go.'  It does feel a lot like pushing water up a mountain at the moment.  I know what i need to write.  I know what i want to write.  I know i've got to write it.  But that invisible force is grasping my hand once again, giving me a chance to reconsider, asking me if this is really what i want to do.

The answer is 'of course it is.'  And by completing those last thousand or so words i'm committing myself to a great deal of work.

I've started to think about the next stage.  Really i should be concentrating on the task in hand, but i can't help it.  The second draft is looming now and i'm getting anxious.  Anxious about the task, but equally anxious to get on with it.

So what will i do next?

Firstly i think i'll rest for a week.  Leave the story somewhere cool and dark to mature.  Then i'll have an initial read through, no corrections or re-wrties at this point.  I want to see if the story flows, if the characters are believable and three-dimensional, if the pace is correct, if the story unfolds in the right order, if it all makes sense at the end.  What is really important, obvious though it seems, is that the story has a clear beginning, middle and end.

After that i'll read the story again, a chapter at a time, writing a brief synopsis of each chapter as i go.  This will give me an at-a-glance understanding of the structure of the story and where my characters are at any given time.  Then i can start to re-write as necessary.

Hopefully this is when the blog will become really interesting and useful to anyone following.  Please feel free to post any questions you have as i start to go through the editing process.  I want this blog to be part of your writing toolkit; somewhere you can come for advice or to share your frustrations.

As the blog progresses i will reveal some of the details of the story i'm writing.  I've already divulged the working title.  Maybe next time i'll reveal the protagonist's name.  Keep reading.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


I have followers!  I feel a great sense of responsibility now to keep this blog updated, so thank you to everybody who has paid a visit.  I hope the blog is of interest to you and i hope you will continue to visit over the coming months to see how i fare in my quest to get a novel published.

I read an interview with Wilbur Smith on Sunday (Live, Mail on Sunday, Dec 5 2010).  Two of the many pieces of advice he gave were to 'be disciplined' and to 'believe in yourself.'  I'll come back to being disciplined in a moment.  We've all heard a hundred times the importance of believing in yourself; of having thick skin; of the need to take rejection and use it as a motivation.  Wilbur Smith's first novel, The God's First Make Mad, was 180,000 words long - all that sweat and toil - and it was never published.  He didn't let that stop him.  I imagine that i will be distraught if my novel doesn't go anywhere.  I guess the true test of my character will be whether i bounce back from rejection and start from page one again with a whole new set of characters and ideas.  Actually, i have a plan...which i might reveal...later.

As for being disciplined, it goes hand in hand with self-belief.  If you have that belief then all you need is the discipline to finish what you have started.  If you don't have that discipline then you'll never get past halfway.  Rejection isn't failure.  You can't be rejected unless you have suceeded in writing your manuscript.  So as i said in an earlier post, just keep writing.  Good, bad or ugly, as long as it keeps the story moving forward, just write it.  Nobody's going to say okay, stop, finished, you can't make any changes.  Remember that the manuscript is yours to nurture until you decide to release it to the wild. 

I want to explain the name of my blog site, Blog of Whispers.  What does that have to do with writing a manuscript and sharing the experience with others?  Well...simple really.  The working title for my manuscript is 'Book of Whispers.'  I wanted the blog to be about the process of writing the book, so it was a way of keeping me focussed on that.  Discipline.  Speaking of which, i'm slipping into debt again. 

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Have a Plan?

Read various interviews with different writers and you'll find that there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to preparing the ground for your novel.  Some plan meticulously, write notes, chapter layouts, character boigraphies, back stories for the alternative or future universes they are creating.  Others work more loosely, planning a little, but letting their characters shape the story rather than making them conform to a set path.

I fall into the second category.  I started with a rough idea of the kind of story i wanted to tell, where and when it was going to be set, a couple of characters and took it from there.  All very loose and laid back.  I got about a hundred pages in and realised that the characters weren't working.  I wasn't happy with the story that was unfolding around them, so i stripped the manuscript back to about page twenty, dropped one of the main characters and completely changed the shape and feel of the story.  It took a lot to delete those eighty or so pages.  But one of the 'rules' of writing is not to be too precious about what you have written.  Inevitably you are going to have to edit your manuscript, take bits out, change bits around.  That beautiful passage that you sweated over, that scented, sculpted adonis of prose that was going to win you literary accolades just doesn't fit in with the story you are trying to tell.  It has to be cut.  You'll be devastated, but in the long run (cliche count: 3) your manuscript will be all the better for its exclusion.

I've gone off track a little.  Maybe its because i know i have that daunting task ahead of me.  I'm already mourning the loss of certain passages and snatches of dialogue.  So planning comes down to a couple of things really.  Firstly, the type of novel you are trying to write.  Crime novels and Thrillers need planning, every twist must have a viable reason, every character must be in the right (or wrong) place at the right time.  Jeffery Deaver, a bestselling crimewriter said recently in an interview in Writing Magazine (Nov 2010):

'When i come up with an idea for a book, that is just the starting gate.  I then spend a great deal of time elaborating on that by doing an outline and i don't write a single word of the prose until the outline is completely finished.'

Secondly, the kind of person you are.  I'm the kind of person who doesn't read instructions.  My planning was fairly loose.  It got me into trouble at the outset as i've described, but as the manuscript grew from those ashes it gave the characters room for development and threw up some unexpected outcomes.  It meant i could lie in bed at night and imagine the character's next steps and how they would react in a particular situation.  It gave me total freedom.  The downside is that it feels as though i've been writing this first draft forever.

This of course is just my experience as someone who has not yet published a novel.  To get a broader view read some interviews with published writers and see what they say about the writing process.  They're the ones doing it on a regular basis and getting paid for it.

So what did i start with?  Well, i knew my main character, i knew my setting and i knew i wanted to write 90,000 words.  I've made notes as i've gone along.  Little sketches of thought, an intersting scenario, a reminder of the loose ends and plot threads that need pulling together.  But these are changing all the time, not massively, but subtley.

And if i could start all over again?  I would probably write an outline.  It would still be brief and it wouldn't be legally binding, but it might help me get the story down on the page a little quicker.  At the end of the day (cliche count: 4) it's up to you, because only you know how you work best.  You may be a planner, you may plough straight in.  Whatever you do just remember to give your characters space to breath and to grow.  After all it's as much their story as it is yours!

By the way, 4,500 words to go (ish).  I'm getting nervous.

Friday, 3 December 2010

No Traffic

There's not a lot of traffic outside, and absolutely none on this site.  If i keep on writing then it's purely for self-gratification.  But then again, isn't all writing?  In essence I'm talking to myself.  Should i be worried?  Best not to dwell on that.  Instead i shall press on, confident that somebody will eventually read this. 

A little background perhaps; to me and the project.  My success in writing thus far equates to two short stories.  The first, Suns and Mothers, was published by Big Finish in 2008 in the anthology 'Short Trips: How the Doctor Changed My Life.'  The Second, You Were A Rose, was published in Writing Magazine, also in 2008.  Both pieces were competition entries.  There was a third piece - oh that fated third piece - but the publication in which it was going to appear never materialised.  Now it's like a hot potato.  I send it out and it comes straight back.  Just because a piece is accepted with great enthusiasm by one editor does not mean it will be readily accepted by others.

I work full time, which means i have to fit my writing in as and where i can.  Evenings and week-ends.  It's hard to find the motivation some days.  After the stress of a full time job i don't always feel like sitting down at the computer and having to think.  So i look for distractions.  I check my e-mail, surf the net, read a magazine article, anything but write.  And then i feel guilty.  And after that the self doubt creeps in.

The other bad habit i have is re-reading what i wrote the previous evening.  It's the ultimate stall tactic because i can justify it by saying that at least i'm working on the manuscript.  I correct grammar, improve dialogue, beef up a description.  Deep down though i know i should be writing.

And that's what it's all about.  It seems a bit obvious, but all you have to do is write.  I aim for 500-1000 words an evening.  Some days are beter than others.  Somedays i will get swept up in a situation and bash out more than my target word count without really putting much thought into it.  And then somedays i will sit and type in spurts, struggling to find the next thread, caught in transition between events.  Those are the days when you think, actually this is rubbish.  Who am I fooling?  I've had those days, loads of them, but they are tempered by those extra special days when a plot line falls into place, or a character sparkles on the page, or the dialogue makes you laugh out loud and you think, you know what?  I'm pretty good at this!

It's hard, it's draining, it's an emotional rollercoaster (cliche count: 2), but it's what i want to do.  It's what you want to do.  So do it.  Decide a daily word count and write.  It doesn't matter how good or bad it is at this stage, because you can re-write it.  It's not chiseled in stone for all to see, it's hidden away in your notebook or on your computer and only you decide when it's ready to be seen by others.

Yesterday was a good day.  I exceeded my word count.  5,500 words to go!  

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Golden Cherubs

Golden cherubs are dancing on the windowsill, their tiny bells ringing as the wind pushes the falling snow past the window.  The day is full of distractions and I dangle a mere seven thousand words away from the completion of the first draft of my novel.  I've done the crossword, braved the snow drifts to fetch bread and eggs from the local supermarket and cleared the snow from the creaking flat roof.  And now i've started a blog.  Talk about stalling!

In all seriousness though (cliche count: 1), I do feel an invisible force resisting my instinct to crack on and get this draft finished.  Maybe it's a bit of self doubt creeping in.  Maybe it's because I don't want to say goodbye to my characters.  Or maybe it's because I'm dreading the next stage:  The re-write(s)!

I wrote a novel once, in my early twenties.  A small publisher had agreed to read it, and so i rushed to get it finished, didn't re-write, sent it off badly formatted and inevitably received a rejection. They were gentle and encouraged me to keep on writing.  But that novel, that slab of sweat and tears, still sits on my shelf unedited and unloved.  It serves as a constant reminder of what happens if you try and rush things or cut corners.  I don't want it to happen again.  I don't want to end up with a whole shelf of forgotten words and mocking titles.

So I've started a blog to run alongside my re-writes with the intention of keeping me on track, but also to give anybody else trying to finish or publish their first novel a bit of moral support, and possibly even guidance.

Don't give up and don't get distracted.  I'm a thousand words in debt today and there's snow excuse!