Wednesday, 28 January 2015

THE WRITING LIFE – THE HOME FOR REDUNDANT CHARACTERS

This post is partly for fun, partly as a procrastination exercise. I had a wonderful meeting with my editor and agent yesterday (more of which next week) and as a result of the thinking I've done since then, I've decided to get rid of one of my characters. When I told my husband, he came up with the wonderful idea of writing a scene where I deliberately let the character go. So I imagined the following exchange between myself and my soon to be ex-character, Graham. So thank you, Francis, for this brilliant idea, and thank you Graham –  you may only be a character and therefore a figment of my imagination, but it's been fun knowing you!

Here is the scene: A man sits on a bench under a wooden sign saying 'Characters' waiting room'. To the left, there is a door with the word Author etched on the glass. The door opens.

Me: 'Come in, Graham, and take a seat. I think we both know why you're here, don't we?'

Graham: 'I know. I'm not interesting enough, am I? I'm not doing enough in this novel at the moment. But listen, I promise I'll – '

Me: (sighing) 'Graham, it's not so much that you're not interesting. You do have your good qualities – why do you think you made it to the end of the first draft? I don't like doing this, you know. It hurts me far more than it hurts you.'

Graham: (Looking miserable) 'You say that, but you authors always play fast and loose with us characters. You don't really care about us.'

Me: 'That's not true, Graham. I've grown fond of you over the last few months, very fond indeed, but... oh dear, how do I put this? Look, it's not you, it's me. I just don't feel strongly enough about you any more; I don't feel I can fully commit to this relationship.'

Graham: 'I'm sure I could do something to make you feel differently.' (he looks up, suddenly quite excited) 'How about if I did something unexpected; or something outrageous! What about if –'

Me: (shaking my head) 'You see, this is one of the problems, Graham. You're just not consistent, are you? Doing something unexpected – or even outrageous – could be interesting, but only if the reader is going to believe that it's within your character to do that. And I don't think you'll convince them. One minute, you're being a macho dickhead, the next, you're Mr Nice Guy; Mr Wise and Understanding. You're all over the place, mate. And let's be completely honest – you're not really a "do something outrageous" sort of character, are you? I mean, you're very nice and all that, but basically, you're – '

Graham: Boring. (He hangs his head, looks sad).

Me: 'No, you're not boring – I loved all that stuff about when you were in the RAF, and how you were injured when your plane was shot down and all that. But I've got to be honest, I brought you in for one specific purpose, and now I've had a bit of a rethink, that scene is going to be cut so you're just... I'm sorry, Graham, but there's no other way of putting it, I don't need you any more.'

Graham: 'You don't need me anymore?'

Me: 'I suppose there are other ways of putting it. You're unnecessary; you're superfluous; you're redundant; you're surplus to requirements; you're – '

Graham: 'All right, all right. I get the message. You don't have to say the same thing four different ways, you know. I may be superfluous but I'm not stupid.'

Me: 'Sorry, Graham. It's one of my flaws as an author – I sometimes repeat the same idea. See? It's not only you who gets things wrong. Now, I don't want to rush you, but there are a few more characters I need to have a word with.'

Graham: 'So you mean I'm not the only one who's getting chucked out of this novel?'

Me: 'Well, there's Catherine – did you meet her? I gave her her marching orders last night, but she's so insignificant, you probably wouldn't remember her anyway. If you take the lift down to the basement, you'll find a collection of other characters that I've had to, shall we say, let go over the years. In fact, there's even another young woman from this novel... oh no, wait – she was before your time. Ah well, I'm sure you'll find someone down there to talk to.'

Graham: (Standing, nodding) 'Okay, I'll go and join the others. Just one thing...' (he looks up, hopefully) 'Is there a chance you might need me again later? Either in this novel, or perhaps in something else?'

Me: 'There's always a chance, Graham.'

Graham: 'Shall I give you a call, then?'

Me: 'I'll be in touch if I need you. You've been a great help, really. You've helped me to understand things about the other characters, and I really appreciate it. Off you go now,  And can you send Muriel in next, please? She's staying in the novel, but I really need to talk to her about how she reveals things to the reader.'

Graham lingers.

Me: 'Sorry to rush you, Graham, but I have a lot of characters to talk to.'

Graham sighs, nods sadly and waits for the lift that will take him down to the cavernous vaults of the Home for Redundant Characters.



Monday, 19 January 2015

THE WRITING LIFE - IT OFFICIAL, THE FIRST DRAFT IS CRAP!

Just a short post this week to keep you up-to-date. The last post was about me celebrating – drinking champagne, no less – because I'd finished and sent off the first draft of my 3rd novel. In that post, I made it clear that I was expecting to have to do a lot more work. I knew there were problems, particularly with the structure, but I'd got too close to be able to look at it objectively.

My wonderful agent and editor both read it quickly – they knew I'd be biting my nails down to the knuckles. Also, I've never pretended this book wasn't proving particularly difficult, so perhaps they both suspected there would be a lot to do and wanted to get a head start!

Anyway, there is a lot to do, as expected. From our initial chats and emails, it looks like it will be a VERY, VERY LOT. More, even, than I'd anticipated. I'll know more after we have a meeting next week, but it seems there's a lot that's not working at the moment. I suspect it won't be so much a case of murdering a few darlings as embarking on some wholesale slaughter!

About halfway through writing this draft (which had already gone through a major change of plan from the original idea – I cut a whole storyline and about 30,000 words!) I began to understand what I was really writing about. And therein lies one of the major problems, I think.

Of course I went back and did a lots of rewriting when my characters began to go in a different direction, but in hindsight, I wonder if what I was doing was the equivalent of realising I'd made a chicken dopiaza instead of a chicken madras and then trying to sort it out by pouring off half the sauce and whacking in the extra spices. What I really need to do is wash all the sauce off, grab some fresh garlic and ginger and start combining the spices again from scratch.

I have lots of ingredients; some of them are good ingredients which are right for this novel; some are good ingredients but need to be set aside for something else, and the remainder need to be binned completely. I also need to bring in some fresh ingredients. Okay, I can no longer bear the screams of that metaphor so I'll stop torturing it. But you get the gist.

On the upside this week, I've been catching up with some reading, including 50,000 words of a novel I started writing a few years ago and abandoned because I got stuck. While I can't instantly see where that novel should go, there's a lot of good material there which I'm sure will form the basis for my 4th novel.

I'm thinking a lot about book three, of course, but am very much looking forward to those thoughts becoming more focused after the meeting next week. There's a lot of thinking ahead, and a serious amount of hard work, but I know it'll be worth it, so bring it on!

Here's a picture that may just be the light at the end of the tunnel – something I hope to see before too long!





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Monday, 5 January 2015

THE WRITING LIFE - FIRST DRAFT SENT!

A big milestone for me today – I have submitted the draft of novel number three, the progress of which many years of you have been following on this blog. It's a strange feeling, because on the one hand, it's immensely satisfying to have juggled and plotted the lives of a number of characters and reached a point where I have a completed story. But on the other, I know that this is only a milestone; it's by no means the end of the journey.

I'm looking forward to receiving feedback from my agent and editor, both of whom have immense skill and insight when it comes to the finer points of storytelling. I am of course very nervous, too. I want them to love it – I want everyone to love it! I don't mean I want them to say it's perfect, because it won't be – beginner writers take note: by the time you take a novel off the shelves in a bookshop, it will have been redrafted more times than you can begin to imagine. But I'm just hoping that they'll share my passion for these characters and what happens to them, even if I have to rewrite, rethink and re-order whole chunks of the text.

So, what has the process of getting this manuscript ready for submission involved in the last couple of weeks? Well, it's amazing how you can think you've done all you can and then find SOOOO much more to do! You may remember I made myself a novel "to do" list, which initially had about 65 things on it. It was wonderful to cross off several of those items each day, but I think the number probably doubled. They varied from bigger things like, 'write an epilogue' to smaller technical things, such as: 'show character getting dressed' (I noticed that the character was naked in one paragraph, and then he was opening the door and stepping outside – he wasn't meant to still be in the buff!)

Then, when I thought I'd done all the 'story' things, I read it through again looking for typos, punctuation errors, extra spaces etc – it seemed like there were millions. Then I read it through again, and found a million more.

I'd written most of this draft in Scrivener, so I then had to compile it as a word document, which was really easy, except that Scrivener refused to accept that my prologue wasn't chapter 1 (even though I put it in a separate folder. Anyone??) Anyway, I ended up having to manually change the chapter numbers – all 50-odd of them! And then I realised I still hadn't written the sodding epilogue. It may be that the epilogue isn't needed, but I thought I needed to know what happened to the characters after the 'ending', so I sat in my favourite coffee shop and bashed out an epilogue of sorts. That will be the most first-draft-y bit of the whole thing!

It's been a lot of hard work, and I know there will be a lot more hard work to come, but I can't tell you how satisfying it was to hit 'send' earlier this afternoon (despite sitting here looking at the screen for a few minutes before plucking up the courage to actually make that click!)



And so now I'm going to have a break for a few days, catch up on some reading, and maybe even let my thoughts roam over a few ideas for novel number four. The immediate plan, though, is to sit and drink a glass of bubbly in celebration. There's still a long way to go, but at least I've reached this significant point in the process. Hubby is having a glass, too – after listening for hours on end to me moaning about how difficult it all is, he deserves it!



Things may go a little quiet on the blog now for a while, but I'll still be blogging about the writing life at least every three or four weeks. In the meantime, cheers!

If you'd like to keep an eye on what I'm up to, visit my website, 'like' my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter @sewelliot