Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Getting back to basics

Before rushing into another re-write or starting another project I am taking a bit of time out to study. Following on from my 'Can a pantser become a plotter?' post and having received my NWS report, I think the answer is, in my case, yes, you need to become a plotter.

Many of the points for improvement in my report may well have been solved if I'd started out with better plans. I've just finished reading Elizabeth George's Write Away. It's an excellent read and I haven't quite got round to comprehending all the advice (I will be rereading in the future.) It is a book that advocates planning and I can see why, in a project on the scale of a novel, you need to plan to some extent. Because this novel wasn't planned, in a kind of retro fitting, I've tried to add the pace at a later stage and it shows.

So I need to learn how to plot in advance and work on developing characterisation ahead of starting the project. To help me to learn how to do this I am going to go back to the start of this novel and write out character sheets and a new plot. Its an exercise I feel I will learn from ahead of going onto the next project.

I'm also reading up on the craft. I have library books galore that I have dipped in and out of but I taking a couple of weeks to do some solid reading. Alongside text books, I'm reading books by authors my reader recommended. I know it will be helpful but I will be despairing at the fact I will never be up to those standards.

All of this is an attempt to get a tighter grip on the basics, in the hope it will benefit me long-term. I'm sure it will. I'll try and ignore the self-doubt that creeps up inbetween!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The NWS report!

Today has thrown me an unexpected left hook. Although, comparing it to a punch isn't quite the simile I want. More just to point out the fact I was totally surprised when my NWS report arrived this morning.

I was caught off guard for two reasons. Firstly, I expected this report to take at least six weeks as my submission was later than planned and would be amongst the August rush. Second, I was merrily wondering what was in the white envelope and only twigged when I spotted my own hand writing on the label. I'd sent my submission in a brown envelope so I spent several moments blissfully unaware of what I was holding.

It has arrived back in less than two weeks so I was half expecting a report with the word 'RUBBISH' in capitals across the front but that's just what's been happening in my nightmares. Of course the RNA is a professional organisation who wouldn't do such things to their budding novelists and I was pleasantly surprised to find a very comprehensive report.

This is my first year in the New Writers' Scheme so I didn't know how much detail the report would go into but it is extensive. It covers all the aspects mentioned on the RNA website and really allows you insight into what you need to do to improve. My report includes several areas I need to work on. Here's a summary of those points, or rather my interpretation of them:
  • I haven't sussed the synopsis. I need to engage rather than just summerise.
  • I need to get me some beta readers. I didn't have time to read this out loud so I let too many dyslexic tendencies/mistakes through the net which, if I'd had the time, could have easily been picked up.
  • I need to consider market more.
  • My characters are a right pickle. The three main characters don't work and aren't likeable and they all need fixing! You would think this might have me crying in despair but as I read the report I was just nodding in agreement. Somehow I knew this had gone wrong and adding extra points of view later on has been far too much like crow-barring them in and it shows. If the story is to be successful this will be the biggest area to work on.
  • Motivations, along with character need to be sorted. I feel like I've been a half-a-job John. Next time, these will all be planned beforehand, I think!
  • Sometimes I tell instead of showing. I do this without always knowing and am passive on occasions so this needs work. This is, so I've read, classic novice behaviour and it really helps to have it pointed out to you. I've done my best to avoid it but without knowing it creeps in!
  • Under tagging - I've read several writers' guides during this and I feel a bit overwrought with the advice at times. I read about over tagging but have ended up going too far the other way and under tagging.
So those are the major areas, I think. There may be more but I won't write any more up for fear of depressing myself when I am still feeling decidedly buoyant.

The reason for my cheeriness is because in amongst the not-so-great news was much encouragement from my reader. My style and pace are good with a summary that's chalked up a happy smile. So to quote, here is my summary:

'I feel this is an author with a great deal of potential, however I would advise the author not to submit this mss to a publisher or agent at this point in time. The writer is clearly talented and I hope this critique is useful and the author does not feel downhearted by this report. There is much to praise in her work, a nice writing style, good voice and some lovely segments of mss which clearly show her potential as an author. I have made several comments on the manuscript to try and assist the author and illustrate some of the issues raised in the report. I wish her every success in the future and feel sure if she continues to work at her craft she will be successful.'

I must say a big thank you to my reader if by any chance they are reading this. The advice is just right and in no way discouraging. I know I'm not the finished article and am truly thankful to the RNA for this brilliant service.

I will end with more simile (a better effort than the punching lark.) I'm finding being a writer, is like being a juggler. My report was broken down into eight sections. That's eight balls to juggle and that's before you've even started to consider actually getting published. I've found during this first attempt at novel writing I haven't managed to keep hold of all eight of those juggling balls. You begin to think you've got into the swing of it but then you drop one and have to start all over again. But the only way you'll learn to juggle all eight is to pick them up and try again... Or study the one you keep dropping. That's what I'm planning on doing whilst I take stock.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Can a pantser become a plotter?

Every writer has their own style when it comes to their approach to writing. Generally it is possible to group those approaches into two categories: The Plotter or The Pantser. A plotter will have their storyline planned ahead of starting to write. This will normally include character profiles and scene plans. The pantser will have nothing planned, other than an idea. They will sit down in front of the keyboard and type away (or 'fly by the seat of their pants, hence pantser.)

I have to confess to being a pantser and there were several times during this first attempt at novel writing when I thought, 'Surely, there is an easier way!' I think much of that stems from having completed NaNoWriMo and then cutting the vast majority of that plus changes to the storyline/title/just about everything. In truth, when I started out I really didn't have much of a clue as to what I was up to but just getting on with it proved to be a massive help with the learning curve. So now, ten months later, at the end of the first, I must consider the second and decide what I consider were my mistakes and what were part of my process.

Part way through this and before the Festival of Writing, I read Plotting the Novel by Michael Legat. It helped me write a synopsis in preparation for the festival and I did wonder if I had written the synopsis earlier, would it have made the whole process easier? I re-wrote the synopsis just before sending it to the NWS as the plot had changed again so I also wonder if I write a synopsis, is there any hope I will actually stick to it? To see if it is, for my next project I plan to do one ahead of starting to write and then find out if the end project bares any resemblance when I'm finished. Presently I am reading Elizabeth George's Write Away and she is an advocate for planning so I will also follow some of her advice. Who knows if the pantser can become a plotter?

So are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you ever tried a different approach to your writing style?

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Postcard & The Plan

I've returned from a few days away in Margate to the welcome sight of my returned postcard confirming my typescript has arrived safely. The thought of someone else reading my work and providing feedback is proving to be nerve-wracking. I've been concentrating on getting the manuscript into a near presentable state and even though I have done it to the best of my present capabilities, I know it still has a way to go. So it's time to refocus...

The postcard

In the first year of this blog I carried out bi-monthly check-ups on how I was getting on with the goals I'd set myself. This year I decided I needed to concentrate on my large projects as much as possible. Seven and a half months later, I have far fewer items to cross off the list, but the achievements are much bigger. I thought it was about time I did a review of how I'm getting on:

                        Complete first draft of ‘The Shortlist’
·         Complete second draft of ‘The Shortlist’
·         Complete final draft of ‘The Shortlist’
·         Send ‘The Shortlist’ to agents/publishers
·         Complete final draft of ‘The White China at Rose Cottage’
·         Enter ‘The White China at Rose Cottage’ into some competitions
·         Get 10 writing ‘hits’
o   Number One  100 Stories for Queensland - In A Jiffy - Short Story
o   Number Two Prima Magazine Tip
o   Number Three Prima Magazine Tip
o   Number Four
o   Number Five
o   Number Six
o   Number Seven
o   Number Eight
o   Number Nine
o   Number Ten

The Shortlist has changed beyond recognition and is now called 'Between Us.' It is not quite in its final draft but it has been revised a third time so I've crossed that goal off all the same.

The second project is a one-act play I wrote last year and it needs a final polish and it is something I will look to do soon.

The ten hits I discussed in my post here. To class as a hit it should be paid work and I was worried this was so low but I figure if anything happens with 'Between Us,' I will count that as five hits.The three above are not the only items published and I've had one long-listing but not quite in keeping with the criteria for a hit!

Now I need to continue with a few smaller projects before starting novel number two. I hope to have a chunk of that started before the first is returned from critique. With any luck I may get my whole list completed by the end of the year!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The New Writers' Scheme submission - It's in!

I'm presently doing cartwheels! Not real ones, that would be silly, but mentally I am! Today I have taken the trip down to the post office and submitted my manuscript to the Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writers' Scheme. It is the novel I started last October and it has undergone many changes following the Festival of Writing back in March and a chapter review from Sue Moorcroft as a result of Authors for Japan.

Getting it ready this morning, I had the same nerves that jangled around on the morning of my wedding and now it's sent I feel it's truly time to celebrate, so to get you in the mood:

It will now be sent out to a reader within the RNA and they will complete a critique of my work before it is sent back to me. It's a brilliant scheme and I'll looking forward to the feedback as however it turns out it's much better than a rejection and may end up preventing some. I really hope my reader shares my sense of humour, if it makes them laugh at least once, that's enough to make me happy!

Monday, August 8, 2011

An exclusive... with Jane Lovering

It gives me great pleasure and much excitement to welcome, Jane Lovering onto the blog.With an exclusive peek at Jane's upcoming release, Starstruck! Take it away, Jane...

Hello.  It’s me again.  Gosh, I like what you’ve done with the place since my last visit, walls are always a nice touch.  And a waterproof carpet..ah, you know me too well...
Anyway.  Before I start rambling...oh.  Too late.  Well, never mind, I’ll just have to get on with it.  I’m paying this short visit.. more of a visitette, I suppose, a visitina... to tell you about my latest novel Starstruck (out on 01 September from those lovely and tolerant people at Choc Lit) and also to drop another clue (or more) for the hugely popular Competition (which I know you are all foaming at the mouth to be able to enter).
So.  Starstruck.  I expect you’ve all been over to and checked out the blurb and the cover (and a truly lovely picture of me) so I thought I’d give you a sneak preview of a snippet...

I didn’t have a long wait.  Fe shook his head hard, like a horse that’s been bitten by a fly, then looked at me with dead eyes.  ‘You stupid little bitch,’ he said.
‘Fe, I didn’t…’
‘Didn’t what, lover?  Didn’t do it?  Oh, maybe not, but you wanted Gethryn Tudor-Morgan, and you’ve been fooling around with Whitaker for anyone to see.  If you’d had any sense you’d have stayed clear of the both of them but, no.  Skye sees, Skye wants, Skye takes.’
‘That’s not fair!’
‘But they weren’t playing, were they?’  Felix had both hands bunched by his sides, his words were coming out in short bursts like verbal punches. ‘They weren’t falling for the poor little girl routine.  Maybe they saw right through it, saw the real you underneath this whole “I’m so damaged” act, maybe they saw you for the manipulative, self-obsessed whore that you really are!’
‘Hey.’ I looked up and Jack was standing beside us, unlit cigarette between his fingers.  ‘It’s a misunderstanding.  No need to take it out on Skye, Felix.’ In one smooth move he turned away from Fe, caught me by the elbow and half-dragged me out through the doors into the yard outside, my shoes still hanging from my finger.  Once in the open air he lit his cigarette.  ‘Why did you tell him?  In the middle of all this?  Couldn’t it have waited?’
‘It had to come from me, Jack.  That was only right.’
There was a noise behind us.  Felix was standing a few feet away, hands on hips.  He’d taken off the fur coat and his T shirt was sweat-drenched.  His hair had flopped from its spikes across his forehead and his eyes were almost dark in his pale face.  He came fast, before either of us knew what he intended; his compact body hit Jack in the midriff, shoulder first, sending Jack skewering down onto the dusty ground, then his fists followed up with a poorly-aimed double blow to the face.  But Felix was drunk and Jack was fitter and taller.  He sliced to his feet underneath Felix, pushing him over until Fe thumped onto his back, lying sprawled and breathless with fists still balled.  ‘Don’t,’ Jack said, straightening up.  ‘Really. Don’t.’  He retrieved his cigarette and blew the dust off the tip.  ‘Bugger.  It’s gone out.’
I looked up and saw a small crowd beginning to gather in the doorway, all staring out into the yard, where Felix lay trying to get his breath back while Jack, looking rumpled, frantically tried to relight his cigarette.  I wanted to say something, anything to make this all right again, but I couldn’t think of a bloody thing.
Lissa rescued us.  She arrived at the front of the crowd, looking spectacular and thin and bringing with her two of the burliest security men.  ‘Okay, nothing to see, guys.’ She spoke over the speculative rumblings.  ‘Just a private matter?’  The question was aimed at Jack, over my head.  He did the twisted-mouth thing again and blew smoke high into the air, and she marshalled the security team to push everyone back inside the diner.  Just before she followed, she hissed at Jack, ‘just take your bar-brawl somewhere else, Ice, yeah?  Go play out the jealous boyfriend performance where no-one can see, I can’t hold this forever.’
Jack jerked his head at me and I followed as he walked further out into the night, stopping when we got past the circle of lights which described the edge of the car park.  Felix came with us at a wary distance.  This wasn’t over.
‘Okay.’  Jack leaned against the tree under which I’d met Gethryn.  ‘What’s this really about?’
I shook my head.  ‘Felix is angry that I hung around with you and Geth, he thinks I blew the quiz.’
But Jack wasn’t looking at me.  He was looking at Felix, whose head hung forward as though it was too heavy for his neck, the soaked T shirt had pulled out of shape and twisted around his body and his carefully trendy jeans were caked with dust.  He was crying, lumpy tears streaking down his face and rolling onto his chest.  I thought back to what Lissa had said, about watching for the real Felix, behind the drugs and the nymphomania.  Was that what I was seeing now – the real man?
A slow, uneven headshake and a long sobbing intake of breath.  It didn’t even look like Felix any more, this leaden, hunched figure.  His hair had gone flat, and the old Felix would have been frantic, teasing fingers through it to spike it back.  This man just stood, unaware.
‘Leave him a minute, Skye.’  Jack’s voice was surprisingly gentle, considering that Felix had tried to beat his head in.  ‘Let him settle.’
Felix collapsed forward, landing on his hands and knees then crouching back so that his legs were against his chest and his arms encircled them, pulling himself in.  He laid his head on his updrawn knees and continued to sob, white-knuckled.
I felt sympathetic tears prick my own eyes and gulped past the wideness in my throat so that I could speak.  ‘Is this drugs?’
Felix spoke then, his voice harsh and torn.  ‘No.  It’s you.’
Jack, showing extraordinary courage I thought, crouched beside him.  ‘Felix,’ he said softly, ‘losing the quiz prize doesn’t have to be the end of it, you know.  I’m writing a part, not huge but pivotal, Seran Vye.  I think you’d be perfect for it.  I’ll recommend you.’  Then he looked up at me.  ‘Course, the price of that is that I have to complete Vye’s story arc.  That’s at least three more scripts.’
‘You’d do that, just for this?’  I stared at him.
 ‘Hey, it’s still my show.  I can do what I like until I hand over.’  A steady look.  ‘It’s partly my fault you lost out.  I should have known.  I should have stayed away from everyone, like I usually do.  It was just…’ He lowered his head and hid his expression.  ‘So, yeah.  Making amends.’  He reached out and rubbed Felix’s back gently.  ‘But this, this is more.’
Fe looked up then.  ‘Yes,’ he said.  ‘It’s more.  It’s fucking everything.’  Jack waited.  A few seconds passed and Felix reached out.  Grabbed Jack’s hand and held it.  ‘I’m falling apart.’
‘You’ve been holding it together too long.’  Jack blew a ribbon of smoke.  ‘Let us in, Felix.  It’ll help.’
Their joined hands were white with pressure from Felix’s fingers.  ‘Fe.’  I bent down too, letting the dress sweep the dust.  ‘If it’s me, if it’s something I did, I’m sorry.’
A muffled laugh.  Felix had his mouth pressed against his knees now, as if he was afraid words would leak out without his permission.  ‘You!  It’s all been about you, hasn’t it?’

So, there you go.  A tiny peek at the HERO, our HEROINE, a bit of NAME dropping...  WHAT more could you want?

Thank you all for having me.  Er.  Not that you did, of course.  Have me, I mean.  No.  I’m just smiling because I’m happy...

Jane Lovering is the author of three novels (Starstruck will be her fourth), mother of five children, owner of cats, dogs and chickens, and will maintain with her dying breath that she is human – she’s got certificates to prove it and everything – despite persistent attempts to beam her off the planet for the good of humanity.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Re-Writes - Stage Four

Warning: Blogging has resumed!

It's been so long since I blogged I thought this post should come with a warning. The problem is I've learnt so much during this whole process if I attempt to sum it all up in one blog post it will be a big mishmash of information that will only make sense to me. In fact, the last part of that sentence may apply to my whole life but I'll try not to dwell. I'm going to try and break down what I have learnt into handy bite-size pieces across several blog posts so I don't scare the blog (or anyone else) into hiding!

  • Know the difference between re-writes and edits.

I have heard the words "re-write" and "editing" used interchangeably but they are different things, I think.
When I was twenty-one and at University I had my first bash at writing a novel. It really was only a bash because I didn't have a clue. When I finished it, I then edited the story. But it really was only an edit. I checked my spelling, sorted my grammar and changed a few paragraphs about but I never even touched on the essentials. I was at the point where I was too precious over my story to want to change anything and that's not a great place to be because I wasn't being objective.

What I didn't do back then, amongst other oversights, was to really look at the overall story and structure. I never questioned if the actions and outcomes where right for the story or the readership. In this project I have really looked at these things and have completed a proper re-write.

Having said that, of course, if you are re-writing, you will be editing at the same time. So they do go hand in hand but they're not the same thing. If only I'd known that ten years ago.

Jynx safe-guarding my chapter breakdown.

I now have highlighters and red pens at the ready to start a final round of edits before sending the typescript of to the New Writers' Scheme. Fingers crossed!