Novel Writing – Back on Track (again)

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Obligatory Clichéd Track Photograph

This is one of my weekly updates on the progress of my debut crime novel, Safe Hands, about an ageing safe cracker forced out of retirement for the sake of his dying wife and a son that hates his guts.

In last week’s post I laid out the reasons for my poor writing performance (lack of planning) along with some idea of how I was going to turn things around (making a plan). Seems obvious and simple, because it is, really.

And it worked. I definitely achieved a whole lot more in the last 7 days, than the previous week. Did I achieve everything I wanted to and spend all of the time I’d alloted? No. But I was pretty close and I’ve got 1200 new words down and a lot of restructuring done.

Aside from the extra planning, the other reason for the improvement was linking up with writing buddy, Maria Smith. Our mid-week check-in by email really helps us both to stay on track. You should definitely follow Maria’s journey over at First Draft Cafe, where you can also pick up loads of tips and inspiration to help with your writing.

That Was The Week What Was

Here’s how I got on compared to the objectives I set . . .

  1. I will complete the structural overhaul – specifically removing all of the chapters that will now not make sense in the current draft.

COMPLETED FOR FIRST DRAFT. I cut thousands of words and a number of redundant sequences of the book.

  1. Based on the critique received from my writing group on the opening chapter, I will complete the edit of Chapter One.

NOT COMPLETE. I’m saving this job for the next phase of edits.

  1. I will write a brand new chapter, containing the minor character I feel is now needed to flesh out the back story of my antagonist, but to also add more tension and conflict to the main narrative.

NOT COMPLETE BUT . . . Instead I wrote 1200 new words of a key scene in the novel, between Mickey and his son. The location of the original scene was changed and I did a complete rewrite from scratch. The initial response from my critique group was positive and I’m confident that the novel will benefit from the new chapter.

The Week Ahead . . .

I’ll try something different this week and will share with you my target for the amount of time I will spend on the novel and just give a general overview of the areas I’ll be working on. I’ll spend a minimum of 3 hours on the novel – aiming for six 30 minute sessions over the course of the week. This was my target last week and I finished 30 minutes short of my target.

In terms of the areas I’m working on, I’ll definitely attempt the chapter that introduces a brand new minor character. This isn’t some arbitrary decision based on wanting to write a new person into the story. It came from the work I did recently, using character monologues – specifically the monologue I wrote for my main antagonist, Graham Southey. The new character arose as part of his backstory and will now allow me to more elegantly solve a narrative issue I picked up in the read through of my messy first draft. I need to illustrate the extent of Southey’s dark side and just what depths he is capable of sinking to. It should add extra tension and suspense to the story.

I will also complete the chapter I’ve been writing this week, where I have to finish a difficult scene of conflict between Mickey and his son.

Once again, it’s been great to get inspiration from a successful author, from my little bonus chat with Crime writer, William Shaw who passionately believes the secret to improving your writing is to . . . well, WRITE! That podcast episode will be released over at Joined Up Writing in the next couple of days, so be sure to check it out.

In the meantime, let me know how your own writing projects are going. What are your tips for making time to write? All at once or little and often? Let me know in the comments.

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Novel Writing – Fail to plan . . .

Last week I talked about the work I’ve begun on redrafting the beginning of my novel, ‘Safe Hands’ – focusing specifically on my opening chapter and prologue. This week, the ‘plan’ was to complete the structural work on the novel – by discarding the current end section and working out how and where to add a new minor character I feel the narrative now needs.

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The more observant of you will notice I’ve placed the word ‘plan’ in quotation marks, because the fact of the matter is, other than the scant few sentences I devoted to it in last week’s post, I failed to really outline what I intended to do and – more importantly – I failed to schedule in the time to actually make it happen. And as we all know . . .

Fail to plan, plan to fail

I won’t bore you with all the reasons/excuses – but the lack of progress has really brought everything into sharp focus for me and made me realise I have to get back into the habit of planning my week ahead and specifically scheduling in my writing time. Like many of you, I’ve got a very busy day job, this podcast, my family and everything else to fit in and the fact is . . . if I don’t plan when when I’m going to sit down to work on the novel then it simply won’t happen. So this week has been a wake up call and after a chat with my writing buddy, Maria Smith over at First Draft Cafe, we’ve both made a pact to get our shit together and make ourselves more accountable. That accountability will be two-fold. We will be accountable to each other – a forfeit system of having to get the coffees in and other sanctions is currently being formulated – but also through our blog posts. In other words, I’ll share with you what I want to achieve on a weekly basis and I’ll be brutally honest if and when it doesn’t work out. Deal? Will you prod me and spur me on through thick and thin?

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This week’s plan

So . . . this week, the novel work will be as follows. I want to do six slots over the course of the week and spend a minimum of 30 minutes on the novel each time. I know – it probably doesn’t sound a lot to some of you, but it’s 3 hours over the course of the week and I’m hoping that making it a daily habit will get me back into the swing of things and on some days that half an hour will become an hour or more. Think of it as me warming up, doing my stretches.

In terms of the specifics . . .

  1. I will complete the structural overhaul – specifically removing all of the chapters that will now not make sense in the current draft.
  2. Based on the critique received from my writing group on the opening chapter, I will complete the edit of Chapter One.
  3. I will write a brand new chapter, containing the minor character I feel is now needed to flesh out the back story of my antagonist, but to also add more tension and conflict to the main narrative.

My writing goals are only one part of an overhaul of the way I divide and plan my free time. Outside of the scope of this blog is the work I’ve been doing over at Joined Up Writing Podcast – including my recent interview with author, William Shaw – not to mention my day job and other committments. However, I’ll continue to audit how much time I have and try to focus on what’s important. What are your Time Management and Productivity tips? Share them in the comments or tweet me @MrKelly2u

Novel Writing – Opening Chapters and Prologues

This is the latest of my weekly updates on the redrafting of what will be my debut novel, ‘Safe Hands’. You can find the story so far in this previous post.

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The beginning of your book is the start of a journey

This week was all about revising my opening chapter. Like many of you reading this, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about whether my book now starts in the right place. During the messy first draft, it’s best not to dwell on it too much, and it’s certainly not worth worrying about. However, as I push my draft on towards completion, it’s now something that needs to be addressed.

In addition to the dreaded FIRST CHAPTER CONUNDRUM, I’ve also toyed with the idea of a prologue. I know, I know, it’s a dirty word in some literary circles. I may be deluding myself, but to my mind, what I currently have isn’t actually a prologue. It’s a single tone-setting paragraph, with no historical context and will have a single word title: OPENING. And that is literally what it is . . . an opening to the book, an a description of the opening of a vault. What it does do, is give the reader an immediate sense of tone and a practical description of what my protagonist, Mickey Blake, can do – namely, crack a safe with only his bare hands and an acute sense of touch.

I made more revisions to the first chapter too, adding in a reference to a phone call that Mickey has just concluded as the novel begins. It sets the context for how he feels in the opening scene, but as the reader is left in the dark as to the specifics of the conversation, it raises a question and, I hope, provides the first ‘hook’ of the story.

I wanted to start the story in media res – come in late, get out early as the adage goes – and I think beginning the story with Mickey’s first meeting of potential antagonist, Parker, is a good way to do it.

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Dialogue scenes should be realistic

After making the revisions, I took the piece to Phoenix Writers, the critique group I belong to, and got lots of useful feedback – particularly on the dialogue in my scene. It was clear that it’s currently a little too testosterone-fueled and needs to be paced better. In places it suffers from ‘ping-pong’ syndrome, with characters simply delivering one complete monologue after another, with few interruptions or pauses. I should know better. In my own ‘Big Screen Writing’ workshop, I advise ‘break it up’. Real conversations are fragmented and often nothing more than a series of interruptions – especially when there is conflict in a scene. Armed with the invaluable feedback of the group, I will be redrafting the chapter this week.

Dialogue tweaks aside, however, the group seemed satisfied with where I’ve chosen to start the story and they loved the OPENING section, so it seems I can at least put that issue to bed for the time being.

In addition to redrafting the beginning of the first chapter, this week I’ll be adding in some additional narrative elements brought about by my structural work. A new minor character and scene will be added and the current end section of the novel will be almost entirely discarded! Stay tuned.

What about you? Where do you stand on the whole ‘Prologue/No Prologue’ debate? Are you confident your story begins in the right place? Have any tips you want to share? Drop me a line in the comments below – I’d love to hear how you’re doing.

While you’re here, you might also want to check out the latest bonus episode of Joined Up Writing, the weekly writing podcast I host. This week, Matt Johnson talks about authenticity in Crime Fiction.

My Debut Novel, ‘Safe Hands’ – The Story So Far

I have mentioned my debut novel from time to time on this blog, but it’s been a while so in preparation for my upcoming weekly updates, I thought it might be an idea to bring you up to speed with what it is and where I am.

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“Cracking a safe doesn’t mean dynamite. No oxecetyline torch. And definitely no fucking stethoscope. It’s laying your hands on cold steel, feeling the tingle in your fingertips, caressing out each part of the combination.” – MICKEY BLAKE, SAFE HANDS.

Told in first person, ‘Safe Hands’ is a crime novel about an ageing safe-cracker, Mickey Blake.  For the sake of his dying wife and a son that hates his guts, Mickey is forced out of retirement to rob a run down casino in Skegness. Between Chinese and Russian gangsters and a crooked undercover cop . . . it’s going to be a tough week.

How it came together . . .

What began as a short story, has wound up being a messy first draft of over a hundred thousand words, with a few too many plot complications, an under-used character or two and some obvious structural issues. The good news is the rewrite is underway and I’m beginning to see the wood for the trees. Using Scrivener has meant that I can easily move around my scenes and chapters and anything I ‘throw away’ can be saved for another project or re-used somewhere else in the book.

I completed the first draft back in the spring of 2017. Since then, I’ve transferred my chapters onto index cards. Yes, it’s a little ‘old school’ and I could do this digitally in Scrivener, but I wanted to employ techniques learned from my experience in scriptwriting and doing it the old fashioned way has necessitated a much deeper analysis of my story. Structural issues became obvious and the inconsistency of my antagonist stood out as something that needed to be resolved. On that last point, I decided to write a character monologue from the perspective of my antagonist. It was a rambling couple of thousand words but left me in no doubt as to who my character was and what he really wants. It also created at least one new plot development that will definitely improve the story.

This week . . .

This week I’ve written a new scene between Mickey and his wife and have re-written a number of later scenes in the book. The plan for the coming week will be to introduce a new sub-plot that arose from the character work I’ve been doing with my antagonist.

I’ll report back on my progress next week, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear how you’re progressing with your own WIP. At what stage of the process are you? Have you discovered new techniques? Perhaps you are struggling and would like some help? In this week’s episode of The Joined Up Writing Podcast, ex-policeman and now writer, Matt Johnson has lots of help and inspiration for new writers.

As always, I’d love to hear from you, so do leave a comment below.

How Hosting a Podcast Has Changed My Writing Life

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Hosting a podcast is changing my writing life.

I know, I know. We’ve been here before. Me talking all excited and motivated. Telling you about how I’ll be blogging every week. But this time I mean it. Honest. Wipe that smirk off your face and get with the programme, will you? I’m trying to be serious here.

Joking aside, for the past couple of months I have been putting out regular content, with my weekly podcast – Joined Up Writing. Originally conceived with and co-hosted by Leah Osbourne, the show began in 2014 based around the idea of two aspiring writers talking about all things writing. Over time it developed to focus on long-form interviews with established writers, from the world of Traditional and Indie Publishing. After a sporadic release schedule at the beginning of the year, Leah decided to move on and I relaunched the show in August with a packed roster of guests and new quick-hit bonus episodes called The Epilogue, which run between the longer interviews.

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The ethos behind the show – and the inspiration for its title – was always to connect with and promote other writers and share their stories and advice with other writers to inspire them on their writing journeys. It’s now expanded to include promoting other creatives, like book bloggers, with a new feature called Book Blogger’s Corner. I’m still on the lookout for more ideas and topics to cover so if you have any tips, do let me know in the comments below or over at Joined Up Writing.

On a personal level, going solo has thrown the focus back on to my own writing and my show introductions now include a quick update on the progress with my debut crime novel, ‘Safe Hands’. I realised this is what I used to do on this very blog and have gotten out of the habit. So, in line with the weekly releases of the podcast, I’ll be giving you an update of where I am with the book in the hope that you’ll be able to identify with some aspects of my journey, but also to make me more accountable for my progress.

However, it isn’t just talking about my own writing that has inspired me, so much as the guests I’ve been lucky enough to chat to. Guests like Thriller writer, Simon Toyne talking about how he took a risk and gave up a lucrative day job to write his first novel. Or Angela Ackerman and how she set up the One Stop For Writer’s website to help other writer’s achieve their goals. Nathan O’Hagan shared his struggles of fitting his writing around a pressured job – something many of us can relate to – and Melanie McGrath told me how the tragic death of her father inspired her to write. There are many more recorded conversations, that will be released in the coming weeks and months – chats with Indie Publishing guru, Joanna Penn, crime writer William Shaw, literary author Claire Fuller and ex-cop turned Writer, Matt Johnson.

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It was my recent chat with Joanna Penn, in particular, that made me realise I have to start knuckling down, stop procrastinating and actually commit to getting the book out into the world. In fact, look out for Joanna’s episode in November, for an important announcement about my novel.

Speaking of the novel, my next post will bring you up to speed with where I am and what I’ve been up to, but for now I just wanted to lay out my manifesto and give you the ‘why’ behind my decision to start posting again on a weekly basis.

So what about you? Where are you with your writing projects? What’s inspiring you and getting you back to the page? Share your stories and comments below. I’d love to hear from you. In the words of my podcast . . . let’s get ‘Joined Up!’

 

 

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