U is for Un-

 

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Uninteresting, unbelievable, unfair.

Reading the first draft of the best debut novel ever written by me, I bumped into all three of these ‘un-s’.

A lot of the novel’s narrative was based on personal experiences and real events. Tall tales of high times in Prague and Budapest.

These were vaguely amusing to read about for those  present at the time, but uninteresting for anyone else. Minute detail about the journey from one part of the city to another, was nostalgic for me, dull for others. Uninteresting.

“He wouldn’t do that!” I had pebbledashed the manuscript with muesli. I had made Sean, the hero, do something that moved the plot along, but did not fit with what the reader knew of him as a character. Unbelievable.

A couple of characters were inconvenient. They had served their purpose in plot terms, but were a loose end. I invented a flimsy premise to remove them. Reading the passage, it felt like a cop out; which is exactly what it was. Unfair.

These three ‘un-s’ and a few others will quickly turn off any reader.

A good novel is built on trust. A trust that is built up through the book. A writer abuses that trust at his or her peril. Don’t let an un- turn your reader off.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

K is for Kill

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Calm down. The wife is not under the patio.

‘Kill your darlings’. William Faulkner no less. (Back to those great American writers again.)

Writing the first draft of the best ever debut novel written by me, the challenge was to get all of the words out of my head onto the page. All of the advice that I read was to write; to get on with it, just get on with it…

I stumbled across National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)Check it out.

NaNo is the extreme end of ‘just write’. So, I wrote and wrote and wrote. No looking back, no editing, always moving forward. The writing took on its own rhythm.

When November ended, I printed out not one, but two manuscripts. As advised, I hid them in a drawer and collapsed in a contented heap. I may even have had a glass of wine or two. 😉

Two novels. Done.

I took the rest of the year off.

Late in February, I judged myself ready to edit. You know, tidy up a few bits of grammar and the like.

The drafts were awful. Prose that was wonderful as I wrote it was dreadful and overblown as I read it back. I needed to kill a lot of darlings.

E is for Editing

editing

‘Editing? That’s just checking the spelling and grammar isn’t it? Computer does most of it, doesn’t it?’

I honestly believed that.

In my posts for C and D, I wrote about creativity and deadlines. Once I set myself some writing deadlines and got my inner creative out, the words flowed all over the page. I had not planned the book as such, I was just letting it flow.

As instructed, I left my drafts alone for a while. Locked them in a drawer. After a few months, I pulled them out to read them. I felt pretty certain that the odd grammar issue would have slipped through.

“Hmmmm.” I mused.

“This is crap.”

Approaching a novel with no clear plan works for some people, I’m told. I thought that it worked for me. I now have two chunky wedges of paper that are clear testament that unplanned novel writing produces well… unplanned prose that wanders off in all sorts of directions.

Editing for me is about bringing some order and direction to the prose. Helping the story make sense. Two people have helped me enormously in this area – Anne Rainbow who runs a fantastic web course on editing over at her blog www.scrivenervirgin.com and my writing buddy Amanda Fleet who gave me some fantastic insights into her planning process, which thankfully, is flexible enough to be used retrospectively.

Editing my second novel will be so much easier than my first – at least I will have planned the second before I write it.

 

Editing – Where to start?

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I have been doing some editing. I mentioned it before here. I am implementing a ‘Red Pen’ approach to editing. I have been receiving newsletters from, and attending webinars at, scrivenervirgin.com

I cannot recommend Red Pen enough. Anne Rainbow is a writer with a broad experience. Her system is logical, methodical and straightforward.

You can get onto the newsletters free of charge, and in themselves, they are an excellent resource. If, like me, you see the benefit, you can sign up for some webinars. They are far from expensive.

Anne has given me an approach to editing and an understanding of the process.

One thing that is immediately apparent is that an eye for detail is a real advantage when editing.

Regrettably, an eye for detail is something that I lack entirely.

Fortunately, help is at hand.

ProWritingAid is editing software. I access it through the web, although I believe there are ‘bolt-ons’ for Word and Google Docs. There is a free version, and then a paid version.

Without getting into all of the options, I copy and paste text into the webpage, press go and the software does an analysis for me.

It looks at spelling, grammar, how many adverbs there are, sentence length; the list goes on.

Put simply, it’s brilliant. In a few seconds, it highlights multiple things that require attention. In some instances, it might suggest alternatives.

It does not claim to replace the human process, nor should it. It does have an option to have a human look at the work for you (at a cost of course). For me, its value is in automating the ‘eye for detail’. Faced with the highlights, I must still decide how to deal with them, but at least I know that I have made a decision, not simply missed something.

It costs $35 a year. I will renew.

One thing that neither the Red Pen process, or Pro Writing Aid have been able to help with is WAS. WAS is my new acronym for Writing Avoidance Strategies.

It has got to the stage that I have even resorted to writing to avoid writing. I’ll explain what I mean next time…

 

 

Editing

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That is the Danube flowing between Buda and Pest.

I have two first drafts. Catchily titled “Sean 1” and “Sean 2”. The first was completed in a burst of writing in October. The second is my NaNoWriMo novel; blitzed out entirely in November.

I suspect that they are both quite crap. I am reassured that this is almost invariably the case and that the real work comes, not in producing a first draft, but in editing and rewriting until that draft becomes a polished bit of writing.

I have had a couple of weeks off and Sean 1 was done and dusted a month and a half ago. I have some distance. I feel ready to think about some editing.

I have been taking a course in editing with the fantastic Anne Rainbow. Well worth looking at her site for information on Scrivener (excellent software to write on) and Red Pen Training (Anne’s approach to editing).

The first question that I need to address is:

“Do I have two first drafts or, two halves of one first draft?”

I had intended to pose this question here in the blog, on twitter tonight at #writingchat, and by email to Anne. However, in looking out the photo above and writing this post, I arrived at the answer all on my own.

Buda and Pest were born as separate cities. As more and more bridges were built across the Danube, they became interdependent, until at last they came to be known as Budapest. So it is with Sean 1 and 2.

Right now, I have a big chunky first draft that needs some pruning.

Time to get to work.