Novel Writing – Editing and The Ripple Effect

Another 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.

Last week was all about getting my productivity back on track but the theme for this week has been trying to keep the story itself on the rails.

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The Ripple Effect

My second draft continues to take shape and a huge part of that has been the structural overhaul I’ve been pushing ahead with. It’s all about the ripple effect for me this week. What do I mean by that? Read on . . .

I finished the new chapter between Mickey and his estranged son, but also spent a lot of time editing other chapters and continuing to refine the structure of the book.  Well, for anyone that’s used Scrivener to write their books, you’ll know one of its biggest strengths is giving you the ability to easily drag chapters and scenes around to change the order of things and generally play with the structure of your story. But what you don’t tend to think about are the repercussions involved.

Great Scott, Marty!

Honestly, I feel like I’m involved in a remake of Back To The Future or Twelve Monkeys – thinking about how one change to an event in the past will ripple down through time changing everything in the present. And it isn’t just in terms of practical things, like keeping an eye out for when characters refer to an event that may now not be happening for several chapters – or actually happened two chapters earlier – but also maintaining the emotional consistency of your characters. For example, in my novel, Mickey loses someone close to him. Originally this happened very early in the story and had an effect on how Mickey behaved and felt in the subsequent chapters.

After analyzing my structure, I realized this event would have more impact later on in the book – but now all the chapters in between need to be tweaked to reflect that change in Mickey’s emotional state. It’s complicated, thought intensive work but I know my story will be better because if it. This is just one of the reasons that many authors plan their stories meticulously before starting to write a novel. In the most recent episode of The Joined Up Writing Podcast, I chatted to Thriller author, Rachel Amphlett about her writing process. She, like me, describes herself as a ‘Plotser’ (actually, I always preferred ‘Planster’, but you get the idea). Either way, when I start work on my next novel, I think I need to put a little more emphasis on planning and structure.

That was the week that was . . .

So, it’s been a busy week as I’ve tried to wrestle the book into some kind of shape. It’s getting there, slowly but surely. I was 30 minutes off my 3 hour target again this week, making it two weeks in a row I’ve failed to make the grade. Note for this week: MUST TRY HARDER.

Meanwhile  my writing buddy, Maria Smith, has been achieving her goals despite doing her best to sabotage her own plans! Head over to First Draft Cafe to see what I mean. 

What about your writing? How do you approach structural changes in your story? Do you use Scrivener in the same way? Maybe you do all of the grunt work before you even get started? What sort of issues have you faced during the editing phase? I’d love to hear about it, so let me know in the comments or drop me a line on Twitter @MrKelly2u.

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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.

New Year Goals – don’t say the ‘r’ word!

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New Year’s Day is for nursing hangovers and banishing the regrets of last year, which is why I’m writing this on January 2nd. Yes, it’s that time again. Time to lay out my reso – NO! DON’T SAY IT! Let’s use goals, targets, milestones – anything but the ‘r’ word. Call me superstitious but any time I make a new one of those, it’s nothing more than a distant memory by Valentine’s day.

As this is mainly a blog about Writing, I’ll save all my empty promises of more exercise and less food for my loved ones. Bearing in mind I have to fit my writing around a full time job, here’s a run down of what I want to achieve this year.

THE NOVEL

I will finish a major rewrite (2nd draft) of my WIP by next Christmas. This means having it in good enough shape to either go to a professional editor or be ready for beta readers. This will be no mean feat. I’m currently up to 94k words and I’m pretty sure it will be well above 100k by time I’ve gone back and filled in gaps to complete my first draft. I do this in full knowledge that I will probably lose around 20k after the first major edit. It’s not the most efficient way to write a novel but it seems to be the only way I know how!

SUBMISSIONS

I want to sub AT LEAST one thing every month – to average at least 12 subs over the year. These will include short story submissions for competitions and publications.

NEW WRITING

I want to write 4 brand new short stories by next Christmas. Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much – infact, it sounds pathetic! – but the novel really has to take priority this year. In 2016, focusing on the novel was great, but it was at the cost of my new work and I didn’t write any new short stories.

WRITING PODCAST

With the help of my co-host, Leah Osbourne, I’ll be producing at least one new full-length show of The Joined-Up Writing Podcast. We feature interviews with guest authors, screenwriters, editors and agents. We began the show back in 2014 and it’s going from strength to strength, with 50 full length episodes and more than 30 episodes of our Two Minute Tips (TMT) series. We’re always looking for new guests and ideas for topics to cover so feel free to get in touch. The full archive is available here and you can subscribe on Stitcher and iTunes.

SCREENWRITING WORKSHOP

In addition to all that, I need to write and deliver my first writing workshop to the members of my critique group – a bunch of people I have huge admiration and respect for. No pressure! The working title for the workshop is ‘Screenwriting Tips For Non-Screenwriters’ and I’ll be delivering it in March.

So, I think that’s enough to be going on with – at least a good baseline. Anything else will be a bonus. Who knows what 2017 will have in store for us, but I’m sure with a bit of positive thinking and alot of hard work, we can make it a happy and productive one.

What are your plans for the year? Are you sharing them with the world? Any hints and tips you want to share? Feel free to share links to your own goals and blog posts in the comments below and I wish you all good luck for 2017.

 

 

Giving myself a stern talking to – Write Up to Date #5

Get a grip!
Get a grip!

It’s time to give myself a stern talking to.

It’s been a few weeks since my last update and that isn’t good enough. I detailed the reasons for my malaise in that post, and won’t repeat them again. In any case, it doesn’t matter. For ‘reasons’ read ‘excuses’. The time for procrastination has passed.

In terms of actual fiction writing – putting pen to paper, or type to screen – my output has been non-existent. Poor show. This will be rectified this week.

I did write another blog post, which means I at least hit one of my targets. I have also submitted TWO stories to the Writing Magazine Crime competition. They both required heavy edits to fit the word count, but I’m confident that they are both all the better for it.

On a positive note, our regular weekly podcast Joined Up Writing, is going from strength to strength, with a growing listenership and loads of exciting developments coming up. If you haven’t already, please head over to have a listen and subscribe.

So, this week I am going to ease back in to some Wordsmithery with a little free writing – just to get the juices flowing again and to limber up for some more strenuous activity. No hard word count goal this week – the aim is to JUST WRITE SOMETHING! If I don’t pull myself out of this creative lethargy in double-quick time, I’m in danger of losing all of my momentum.

Finally, I want to give a big thank you to my literary sparring partner, Maria Smith for giving me weekly jabs (via email) to make sure I’m not laid out for the count. She too is feeling the rigours of everyday life jostling for your writing time and always makes time to check-in on her writing friends.

I’m lucky to have a good network of writers and creatives around me to keep pushing me to run that extra mile. I’ve been down, but I’m not out. (What a delightful collection of mixed metaphors this post has been!)

How have you all been faring in my absence? How do you deal with creative dips in your life?

Time for ACTION! Writing Goals – Write Up to Date Post Number 1

Time for ACTION!
Time for ACTION!

This is the first of my ‘Write up to date’ posts. These will be weekly updates and in addition to my regular blog posts. The idea is for me to better plan my writing activities, become more accountable and to bring you ‘Write up to date’ with my progress. That accountability is key – your comments and interactions will keep me honest and give me a better chance of success. So, no pressure.

Long-term Goal – Finish first draft

In last week’s post I laid out my current dilemma around the completion of my WIP, “Let Sleeping Gods Lie”. Thank you for the comments, help and advice you all gave me. Throughout the week my resolve has wavered and I have changed my mind several times. However, the time for dithering is gone – positive action is needed.I have made the decision to push on from where I am at the moment, ignore my doubts and write the last part of my novel. Only when I have reached the end of this ugly brute of a first draft can I psychologically move on to outline Novel Number Two.

We are stronger when we work together so I have teamed up with fellow writer Maria Smith from First Draft Cafe and we have made Sundays our check-in day of the week.

My goal is to have finished the first draft by the end of June – including the missing chapters from the early section of the book.

Writing Plans this week

1. Write minimum of 1000 words of novel – I know, this seems like I’m going easy on myself and maybe I am, but it has been some time since I wrote anything on my WIP and I want week 1 to be achievable. It’s also not the only writing I’ll be doing.

2. Write minimum of 1000 words on my short story (working title ‘Cops and Robbers’) – This ‘short’ story seems to have a life of its own and I am writing the first draft without limiting myself to a specific word count.

3. Submit 2 short stories for competition or publication – I am part of a submissions group and our monthly meeting is on Saturday April 18th. I have already subbed 2 other stories and want to have 2 more subbed before the meeting.

4. Record new episode of our writing podcast, Joined Up Writing with Leah Osbourne – this week’s episode is all about collaborating with other writers on large scale projects. I need to have the episode edited and uploaded by Thursday.

5. Complete Phoenix Writers challenge – our critique group challenge for this week is to re-write a cliche. Not as easy as it sounds!

See you next Sunday?

Ok, that’s it for Write Up To Date Number 1. I have a busy week ahead – including 2 gigs with my band and a rehearsal, not to mention my day job. Next week I’ll report back on my progress and outline my plans for the following week.

In the meantime, let me know about your writing plans and feel free to share any tips you have for setting and achieving your creative goals. Happy Writing!

A to Z Blog Challenge 2013 – My List Unveiled

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Happy Easter to you all. Tomorrow is April 1st, which brings with it this year’s A to Z Blog Challenge. A blog post every day (except Sundays), prompted by letters of the Alphabet, starting with A tomorrow, B the next day etc.

I have already extolled the virtues of getting involved with the challenge in my previous post (you still have a few hours to sign up!) but today I am unveiling my list of topics, so have a look at the list and make sure you follow the blog in the coming days and weeks for posts on Writing, Life, Music, Rants and lots more – including some audio recordings.

Here’s the list I have so far:

A is for Action! Stop waiting for permission for your life to start.
B is for Bananas! Go Bananas to beat Writer’s Block.
C is for Cooking. Cook your stories. Don’t rush new ideas.
D is for Death and Loss. A monologue with audio.
E is for Emotional Content. Write with feeling.
F is for Films. How thinking cinematically can improve your writing.
G is for Gold! Why I love ‘The Treasure of The Sierra Madre’
H is for History. Don’t forget the ‘Story’ part.
I is for Imitation. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Honest.
J is for Jokes. Being funny is no laughing matter.
K is for Keep Moving – Write or Die!
L is for Lies. Go Home and Tell Some Lies (song)
M is for Maybe I don’t Need To Know (song)
N is for Night Time of The Soul. (song)
O is for On My Own. Why we all need time alone.
P is for Pigeon Hole. Why does everything have to fit in to a box?
Q is for Quiet. It’s always the quiet ones who write.
R is for Red, White and Blue (song)
S is for Satisfied and why you shouldn’t be.
T is for Thief. There’s no such thing as an original idea – make it your own.
U is for Uncommon Courtesy. A Rant.
V is for Vinyl. Needle On The Black (song)
W is for WIP – Work in Progress
X is for X-Ray Music (song)
Y is for YOU, dear reader.
Z is for Zero. The word count no one wants to see.

As I am only part way through the actual writing of my posts, please don’t try to hold me to the above list! My mind changes more frequently than Lindsey Lohan changes rehab clinic.

If you are taking part, have you planned your posts? If you are just hoping to read lots of blogs, what do you think of my list – enough to keep you interested? Let me know what you’re up to, give me a follow or just say hello.

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