Wednesday, 27 August 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 29: “A tale of two edits”

If there’s one thing more difficult than writing a story it’s editing it. Whether it’s a piece of flash fiction, that third novella in a series or the door stop of a fantasy novel you’ve been writing for ten years, editing is extremely demanding.

Not a Friday goes by where I don’t stress over getting my Flash! Friday entry below that 160 word limit. Cutting is easy; cutting and keeping the story intact can require surgeon like precision.

In the last week I’ve been working on editing two different projects. The first was my entry for the Krampus Cracker project, GLASS OF MILK and the other was my CampNaNoWriMo novella, TATTOO. Each offered their own challenges.



TAKING A CHAINSAW TO A ROSE

I’d already done a couple of edits on GLASS OF MILK. Family and friends had read and enjoyed the little Krampus story that could and, as I mentioned last week, I was pleased with the end result.

On Sunday the 24th I sat down at my computer and decided that I might as well send it in. There were still a few weeks before the September 5th deadline but I wasn’t rushing. I guess I didn’t want it sat there, playing on my mind. That might encourage over editing. Little did I know . . .

Before attaching it to the e-mail I thought it best to read through the entry criteria again just to make sure everything was covered off. Not winning because the story is bad is one thing but if it’s something small with regards to how the piece was entered then that’s much more frustrating. I scrolled down the list;


  • Body of the e-mail must include so-and-so? Check.
  • Must be an original piece? Check.
  • Cannot be published elsewhere? Dito.
  • Must be between 300-500 words? WTF!!!

It seems that my vision had betrayed me when first I gazed upon this festive of writing competitions. I had it in my dense little head that the word count was between 500-800. And I’d used almost every inch of it.

I couldn’t breathe. Suddenly September 5th seemed too soon. How could I cut nearly 300 words from GLASS OF MILK and still keep the story intact? Would it be better if I just started again with another idea? The next hour played out like this:


ME: It’s impossible. 299 words? I’ll never manage it.

WIFE: Don’t be silly. You’ll work it out.

ME: It’s too much. It’ll ruin it.

WIFE: You’re clever. You’ll manage it.

(delete)

ME: 264 words to go!

(snip)

ME: 182 words to go!

(chop)

ME: Wow, 90 words to go. That whole section just went!

(change)

ME: 34 words to go. It’s getting tough.

(tweak)

ME: Done!!!


Now my wife will probably say that I’m over dramatic and sure, maybe I panicked a little prematurely. But I genuinely didn’t think I would manage to cut a third of my story and still keep so many of my favourite lines. I went and sat in the living room, exhausted, leaving the wife to tell me just how bad it was. Ten excruciating minutes passed before she came to find me.


WIFE: Do you want my honest opinion?

ME: I guess.

WIFE: It’s better.


And I think she’s right. Somehow, even with the limited word count of 800 I had waffled, especially in the final third. And the character of Bartel was written badly at the end. I’m more pleased with the shorter version, the one hidden beneath. I checked everything over one last time and clicked send.

I wonder if it was supposed to happen that way.  



FROM THE TOP

After that stress it was time to work on something with a little more meat on the bone and no word limit in sight.

Back onto Scrivener and I began work on the second draft of TATTOO. After reading through what I wrote in July I was starting to form a better picture of the story. As I’m planning this as a series, I’ve been brainstorming subplots and arcs. This, of course, has led to several changes.

The main chapters that will incur my wrath are nearer the beginning. I think I mentioned in the post at the end of CampNaNo that the character of Julie had changed over the course of writing. Some of that change is a little forced, a little rushed. Obviously, at the time ideas were fighting each other but now I need to make the first half of the novella match up tidier with the second half.

I’m planning on changing the abuse side of Julie’s character. It’s not going completely but I don’t think the turn around for her can be dealt with realistically in this shorter work. Maybe if I was writing a novel and the abuse was more central to the plot then I would take on the challenge. However, in something as short as TATTOO, I just wouldn’t do relationship abuse any justice and might inadvertently upset people. That I don’t want.

I have the fifteen chapters all planned out now. It’ll be easier working the second draft which is becoming more like a rewrite. Now that I know the destination so well I can mould the chapters precisely. The characters too are being more fleshed out now. Hopefully all this will help me form the beginning better than the slap dash original.

Meanwhile, at the other end, things are looking pretty good. I’m still happy with the final few chapters and only small things need tweaking.

Every time I read the final chapter, the one I didn’t even discuss in the CampNaNo post least it spoil anything, it makes me want to start work on the next book. I know I need to focus on book 1 but, in planning the long game for Julie, I keep getting ideas that I want to write now.

So at the moment it’s all about TATTOO with the occasional UNCANNY TALES: vol 1 for a break. I’m going to start pushing myself now and part of this is thanks in no small part to some fellow writers I follow on Twitter. Their regular posts about their writing and editing progress or updates on shorts story and flash fiction competition makes me envious that I don’t make more time. I worry that these guys are going to make it one day soon and I’m going to be left behind as just a wannabe.

Must keep writing.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 28: “Only 108 days ‘til Krampus!”

Well, this is awkward. I normally have something to talk about. Maybe it’s a progress update or a specific subject like last week’s talk about book covers for indie authors. I think my weekly CampNaNo updates have caused me to get into a pattern and now that that event is over it’s a little . . . um.

Too be fair I haven’t got much writing done in the last week. After CampNaNo I felt like a break from the big stuff and wanted to get back to my short stories and book cover designs. Even that seemed to pass me by as the week sort of took over. And if I’m honest I may have gamed a little much over the weekend (wife folds arms in disapproval and nods).

But I did get a nice boost, a little shot in the arm the other day. I was just browsing through my twitter feed liking this and retweeting that when I spotted a tweet from a fellow Flash! Friday-er mentioning a flash fiction competition.

Now, apart from the SFX shorts from a couple of years ago, the Zombie short this year and the regular Friday flash pieces, I’ve not really made an effort with doing stuff with my writing. Sure I have the goal to get something in electronic print before Christmas but I see posts and tweets for competitions all the time. Instead of looking into them a bit more I tend to just skip over them.

Not this time though. I don’t know why I ventured forward but venture I did. The link took me to here and then it was another tiny step to here. Krampus Crackers; colour me intrigued.



Image from www.wall321.com


So I started to think that a nice piece of flash fiction, 500-800 words, shouldn’t be too taxing. That’s not to say that flash pieces are easy; I’ve been doing it for a couple of months now and it’s a real challenge fitting a story, a good story, into a confined space. But the word limit on the competition allows an easier edit; less errors to look out for, less characters to control (or be controlled by) and a more narrowed focus.

Yesterday I spent some of the day researching Krampus which is something I’ve not done before. I did a little bit of research on prisons when I rewrote IMPRISONED and incorporated a few facts into the plot but that’s about it. Because I’ve never got past a good first or second draft on my longer pieces it means that going into detail has never come up.

I began by reading a wiki entry about Krampus to learn its history and then found some other sites that had interesting facts about the celebration I had only just discovered. I perused some images while each picture, each fact, moulded the story inside my mind. It almost felt perfect.

I sat down in my work canteen (different to the one I used to write in – we’ve moved buildings!) and started writing. Just as pen edged ever closer to paper, as the ink reached out from the tip to force its dark mark on the page my brain tapped me on the shoulder and said “what if you change this to this?”

“Interesting,” I thought. “I like it.”

So I wrote. I stopped and hated the last third of the first page so I started again. This time I zigged instead of zagged and got through the little bog of poor plotting and carried on. This time I got to the end. Three pages of A4 lined.



Image from www.krampus.com


And as sometimes happens (that’s sometimes and not always) I really liked what I wrote. As with CONDOLENCE I’m not bragging that it will win but I’m really happy about where I took the prompt and how it turned out.

Tonight I’m going to type it up and get it printed off before the weekend. I’m going to need those trusty beta readers again (sorry guys, I promised you TATTOO next but this has a deadline of 5th September) and then I’m going to send it off.

No doubt I will dread hitting that send button again when the time comes but it’s something that I’m going to need to get used to. Send entry to competition, send query off to agent, upload eBook.

Wow, look at that. I found something to write about.

See you in seven

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 27: “Cover Me, I’m Going In”

With my recent novella, TATTOO, sitting comfortably in first draft form I’m taking a short break from it before I dive back in with fresh eyes and new ideas.

As well as returning to my short stories for UNCANNY TALES I thought it would be a good idea to use this time and start working on the cover for TATTOO.



WHAT THE WEB SAYS

I’ve kept my eye on cover design for the last couple of months, reading articles and checking out different sites that can make it easier to do. One common theme I’ve spotted is that a lot of people say that you shouldn’t do it yourself, that the cover will draw in the potential reader and needs to look as good as any non-indie book.

To me that makes perfect sense. You want your cover to look amazing. Unfortunately I have one very tiny problem with that; money.

There a lot of sites you can go to for great cover designs (see foot notes) and not all of them will need you to sell your car to pay something good. But for me, right at this moment in life, even the smallest of costs is outside my price range.

So I feel that, despite the advice given by experts, I’m left with no choice but to create my own books covers until I can afford to seek third party assistance.



PREVIOUS WORKS

Now, I’m no pleb when it comes to design. I studied Art and Graphic Art at college and I’m not planning on just chucking images at a page and seeing what sticks.

A couple of months ago I used Microsoft PowerPoint and created a couple of covers for my UNCANNY TALES short stories as a sort of practice. I wanted to know what I was capable of producing for free using only computer software I already owned. I feel these went well (you can see the ones for IMPRISONED and CODOLENCE in the top right of this blog page). I think they turned out better than I expected.

It was particularly challenging with CONDOLENCE as I was struggling to find any free stock images on the net for zombies. Instead of giving up though, I turned to ‘zombifying’ an existing image of myself (yes, that’s me on the cover). And why the hell not?



IDEAS AND RESEARCH

So what have I got planned for TATTOO? Well, first off it’s going to be a series of novellas. I don’t know how many but I do know that there’s more to reveal about the world Julie has now found herself in after TATTOO: THE SYMBOL FOR STRENGTH.

Because there will be several books I really want a continuation in the designs across all the books. There are two book series that I’m drawing inspiration from when designing my covers; Garth Nix’s ‘The Old Kingdom’ trilogy and Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy.

I’ve been doodling a lot while writing my novella and something I kept going back to was the designs for the tattoos and the old language it represented. Remembering that I would struggle to draw people or get decent photos of characters to use, I thought about these two book series and how well their covers worked, not just individually but across a series.




I love the all black covers with the striking design in the centre of Suzanne’s books. The three images are individual but clearly linked and the fonts match the colour scheme.

This is similar to Garth’s books but they have a slightly more detailed background image.




My tattoo designs are a little closer in style to the images from ‘The Old Kingdom’ books but will include the more simple overall cover design from the ‘Hunger Games’.



TOOLS OF THE TRADE

While I may go back to PowerPoint for the final version as I found it incredibly easy to use (this might not apply to everyone – I’ve spent a lot of time using Microsoft Office programs for work), I’m currently using a website called Canva.

It’s a very, very simple design tool that can be used for a variety of purposes, one of those being Kindle book cover design. They have an abundance of free images and fonts you can click and drag and it also allows you to upload your own images.




Above are just rough ideas I’ve been working at and the tattoo designs themselves are not finished and hence, not included. But you can see what I’m aiming for. The book 2 design was simply copied from the book 1 design with the title being amended from ‘Strength’ to ‘Speed’ and key colours changed from blue to red.

Once the tattoo designs are ready they will sit nicely in the centre. I may still tweak things like the font and the colours but it’s not far off what I had in mind when I started.



KNOW YOUR LIMITS

So will this hinder me because it was knocked up for free by a non-professional? Maybe. But like I said near the beginning of this post, at the present I don’t have much choice. I would love to get to a place where I could hire a skilled artist and it not empty my bank account or devour any profit from a previous book.

For now though I will do my best to make good looking covers that make you want to read what I’ve written. Fingers crossed I guess.

See you in seven.





Useful sites:




Wednesday, 6 August 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 26: “Home from Camp(NaNo)”



When I started CampNaNoWriMo at the beginning of last month I honestly thought I would smash my target. I only aimed low (less than 50% of the standard NaNo target) because I had a lot on and didn’t want the writing to get stressful. But stressful it got and the end took a while to come into sight. In fact I wasn’t optimistic until the last few days.

What matters though is that I did it.  I hit my 20,000 word target within two hours of posting last week’s blog post.






CAMP UPDATE

As I finished my first draft of TATTOO: THE SYMBOL FOR STRENGTH, there were highs and lows. I was exhausted but so, so happy that I’d managed to do it, thanks in part to the support of my wife. I even called her in to ‘watch’ me cross the finish line (sad, I know but I wanted to share it with someone).

I’m extremely happy with the ‘extra’ ending I discovered only two days from the end. I really hope it does what it needs to and begs the reader to return to the world. That’s right; there will be questions at the end of this novella. But who doesn’t like questions. They lead to delicious answers.

On the down side, a twist I really wanted to have in the story got lost along the way. Sure I could fit it back in on the rewrite but it doesn’t work as well with the new ending. Could always go into book 2 I guess. We’ll see.

I’m going to take a break from the story for a couple of weeks and then go straight back in and start editing before handing it out for assistance (has anyone seen my pesky beta readers?).


DAY 30 – 1364 words

This was it. The end was in sight and I refused to get stuck or distracted. I powered through almost missing the crucial moment I passed 20,000. It was all about finishing Chapter 15: Ink and the moment where everything goes even more wrong than it had so far. And once I’d tied that all up there’s Chapter 16: *** ******. I would love to tell you about it and I know there have been spoilers before today but this one is a big one and I would really like to save it for my readers. The rest of the novella has room to change and some of what I’ve divulged will fade away. But Chapter 16 is staying. Hope you all like it.


DAY 31 – 303 words

Sometimes when I finish a NaNoWriMo month a couple of days before the end I take a break. And to be fair I could have done with one but I just felt like adding a little bit more. I went back to the barely started Chapter 1: History part 1 and found what I was looking for, a way to better tie things up with Kirsty.






FLASH! FRIDAY UPDATE

Another week and another Flash! Friday has come and gone. Good news for me this week as I got another Honourable Mention.



A big thank you to Craig Anderson for his kind words once more. Its feedback like this that feeds us writers. We crave the knowledge of another person reading, enjoying and responding to the output we produce. This one paragraph alone was enough to keep me happy for the rest of the day.

Thank you to those who read my Flash Fiction either here on the blog or over at the Flash! Friday website. I promise that, while all I’m giving you right now is starter after starter after starter, a main course is on the way.

Please feel free to leave comments on any of the posts; positive or negative. One makes me smile and the other helps me learn.






SCRIVENER REVIEW

I can’t really explain why I feel like I need this program but I do. I’ve now used the compile feature and, while it’s a little fiddly, it gave me a nice copy of what TATTOO will look like as a book. It made me feel all warm inside.

At some point in the next 24 hours I will be purchasing it. You hear that Scrivener? I’m having you.






And with that the beginning of the second half of my first writing year is over (did you keep up with that?).
So how does the rest of the year pan out?

Obviously continuing with Flash! Friday; loving that at the moment and I can almost taste the win. That prompt, that picture that will give me victory over my peers is out there and the second it shows up I’m going to write my best Flash Fiction yet or die trying (death optional; added for dramatic effect).

Apart from that I will be working on the cover for TATTOO while I take a break from the story. I’m also going to get back into my short stories.


I’m also hoping to get back to following my fellow writers out there. I feel like I’ve been neglecting you. 

And now, back to writing.

See you in seven.