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.

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.

8 Great Podcasts for 2017

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Podcasts – what are they?

Podcasts are episodic, usually themed, audio content that you can listen to on the web or subscribe to using iTunes or on your smartphone. They’re almost always free and come in a variety of styles from Audio Drama, How-To Shows and Lifestyle, to Science, Comedy, Music, Current Affairs and True Crime.

Anyone who knows me, reads the blog or follows me on Twitter will probably have noticed my passion for podcasts. I even co-host one with Leah Osbourne – The Joined-Up Writing Podcast, where we interview succesful authors, editors, agents, screenwriters and anyone connected with reading or writing good books.

The range of choice and the quality of this relatively new medium (the birth of the iPod was when things really got going) continues to grow. I seem to find another great new show almost on a weekly basis, but here are my latest recommendations.

8 Great Podcasts . . .

Writing Shows

The Worried Writer – author, Sarah Painter is the self-confessed ‘Worried Writer’ who hosts this monthly show which usually includes interviews with other writers who give the background behind their work and process and offer advice on dealing with the dreaded Self-Doubt.

The Creative Penn – if you are a budding indie writer, chances are you are already familiar with independent publishing poster girl, Joanna Penn and if you aren’t, you should be. Joanna podcasts on a weekly basis and her archive and blog posts offer a wealth of advice and inspiration for independent authors everywhere.

Audio Drama

LifeAfter – a very new 10 part tech thriller that follows Ross, a low level FBI employee who is trying to deal with the death of his wife using a social media platform as a form of digital resurrection. Of course, all is not as it seems. It’s full of twists and turns and I was lucky enough to interview the show’s writer, Mac Rogers for a recent episode of The Joined-Up Writing podcast.

Homecoming – a star-studded cast includes David Schwimmer and Oscar Isaac and everything about this psychological thriller oozes class. The script, acting and excellent sound design help to tell a story about an experimental therapy treatment for traumatised soldiers. This really does show what can be done with the medium and I can’t wait for Season Two.

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My latest binge – Crimetown

True Crime

Crimetown – my current addiction and a superb example of how podcasts can handle true crime stories. Told through interviews with ex-criminals, government officials, police officers and an expertly crafted script, Crimetown is a serialised story of one of the biggest organised crime families in America – in the small city of Providence. Make sure you start at episode one and get ready to binge.

Stranglers – another gripping series that tells that fascinating (but often grizzly) story behind one of America’s most infamous serial killers, The Boston Strangler. Again, start at episode one to follow the story from the beginning and perhaps don’t listen to this one before bedtime, unless you like nightmares.

Science

Science Vs – a fascinating Pop Science show, that tackles topics like Hypnosis, Fracking and even The G-Spot! It never dumbs down, but keeps a light touch in its mission to ‘sift through the facts, so you don’t have to’.

Cinema

You Must Remember This – detailed research and a haunting soundtrack make this an interesting trip down memory lane, focusing specifically on the first century of Hollywood. Each episode tells a different story from Tinseltown’s sometimes glamourous, often mysterious and always entertaining past. Covering everything from the McCarthy Witch Hunts to Buster Keaton and Bruce Lee, this podcast is a must for film fans.

That’s it. For now . . .

I could go on and on and on and you can always check out my post from 2015 for a few more ideas. I’m always on the look out for new recommendations, so drop me a line in the comments to let me know what your latest listening pleasures are. Happy listening!

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.

 

 

Stuck on your WIP? Skip to the end . . .

Stuck on your WIP? Things getting a little like wading through treacle? My advice? Skip to the end! That’s exactly what I’ve been doing after a long spell of procrastination and self-doubt.

Last time I gave you any kind of update, I was still in the honeymoon period of writing my second novel. 25,000 words in. The beginning of the relationship, when everything is exciting and new. Almost a year later, and I’m closing in on 90,000 words, and as we all know, with so much water under the bridge, you have to work a bit harder to keep the magic alive.

Loose-fitting pants . . .

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m a Plantser – I like to have a rough idea of where I’m going but don’t like to spend days and weeks planning every minute detail. These loose-fitting pants have served me well for the current novel (working title: Safe Hands) but, as usual, a couple of unexpected plot events took me by surprise and before I knew it, I’d created several loose ends and was tying myself up in knots. Although I had a vague idea of where I wanted to end up, with every new chapter, I felt I was drifting off course. My output slowed and eventually dried up completely. Anyone familiar with my posts will know that stopping to think for too long kills my momentum and gives rise to the dreaded Self-Doubt. So many times I forget to take my own advice – see Write or Die post from 2014.

Speaking of ‘Skip To The End’ – get to the point!

So, just at the moment I was ready to quit, I remembered my own advice and that of writing friends – WRITE THE ENDING FIRST. As my novel takes place over a week, building toward a heist that my protagonist and his cohorts have been planning, I decided to move directly to the day of the big job and just . . . WRITE. It was slow at first, but as I continued to raise the stakes, the words began to flow freely and without censure (a direct quote from writing friend Maria Smith) and I finally stopped worrying and clung to the fact that I’m writing a first draft. It’s meant to be terrible. The next stage will be editing and I can’t get to that stage unless I actually have something to edit.

The End is Nigh (honestly)

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because I had similar issues with my first novel (still consigned to First Draft Hell). But this is different. It’s a weird feeling. I know I’m tantalisingly close to finishing the first draft, but for once I feel calm and positive about the novel I know this ugly first draft will become. What about you? Do you have to wrestle with self-doubt on a daily basis – ‘of course we do,’ you reply, ‘we’re WRITERS!’ So how do you deal with it? What are your tips for pushing on through to the bitter end? How do you tackle all those plot complications you’ve created along the way? Or maybe you are a planner and merely scoff at all this talk of losing the plot? Let me know in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter.

Why you should be listening to podcasts – grabbing inspiration on the move. 

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My home podcast studio

Podcasts are a great way to multi-task – getting advice on writing from shows like Writing Excuses, listening to the musings of comedians like Bill Burr or getting hooked  on true crime stories like the brilliant Serial. I’ve been listening to podcasts for several years and as of last December, I’ve even begun to produce my own show, Joined Up Writing, with fellow writer, Leah Osbourne. 

Many people don’t think they have time to listen to podcasts, but the great thing about them is that you can have them on your phone or iPod and listen to them anytime – on the daily commute, in the car, during your lunch break. It’s a great way to multi-task and there are literally thousands of shows on every topic you can think of. Personal finance, news, creativity, music, science, comedy, DIY – you name it, it’s been done. 

You can listen to them online, but the most convenient method is to subscribe on iTunes and have your favourite shows automatically appear on your phone or iPod every time a new episode is released. And did I mention that they’re free? 

They can also be really interactive – most podcasters love to reach out to their audience, to hear their ideas and include their thoughts on their shows. You can even help to shape content and future shows – not something you can usually do with national TV and Radio networks. 

I listen to loads of great shows, but hear are just a few of my current favourites. 

WRITING PODCASTS

Writing Excuses – a great quick-hit of regular writing advice and tips – 15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart! 

Narrative Breakdown – Often focuses on different forms of writing, particularly script writing for film and TV. 

Dead Robot Society – quite long episodes, but lots of interesting free-ranging conversation between three genre writers. 

COMEDY, ENTERTAINMENT OR INTERVIEW PODCASTS

Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast – very US-centric and lots of sports talk, but don’t be put off. Bill is hilarious and has lots to say about relationships, modern life and the environment. 

By The Way with Jeff Garlin – Funny and insightful interviews with writers, actors and musicians, recorded in front of a live audience with Curb Your Enthusiasm funny man, Jeff Garlin. 

Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin – more interviews from host Alec Baldwin. Look out for Billy Joel show and John McEnroe. 

Serial – feels like I’m jumping on the bandwagon a little by mentioning this one, but have a feeling most UK readers won’t have even heard of this. It was a massive hit in the US. Brilliantly produced serialised show that covered a true crime story and possible miscarriage of justice. Fascinating stuff and you’ll need to listen from episode 1. 

M is for Maybe I Don’t Need To Know (inspired by Dreams of a Life)

Documentary 'Dreams of a Life' was inspiration for this song.
Documentary ‘Dreams of a Life’ was inspiration for this song.

Another song written with George Odom, ‘Maybe I Don’t Need to Know’ was inspired by the haunting and desperately sad documentary, ‘Dreams of a Life’. You can listen to the song here.

If you are unfamiliar with ‘Dreams of a Life’, it deals with the discovery of the body of young woman, Joyce Vincent, in her tiny London bedsit, 3 years after she died, alone and surrounded by half-wrapped Christmas presents. Nobody noticed that she was missing and the only reason she was found at all was because of being in arrears with her rent. The film examines how this tragedy could have occurred, using interviews with the many friends of Joyce inter-weaved with dramatic reconstructions.

It’s a powerful film that raises as many questions as it answers, including how a vibrant, sociable person could simply disappear without being noticed. It couldn’t happen to you – or could it? I would highly recommend it.

I was inspired to write this song because of one particular character – an ex boyfriend – who is racked with guilt that he didn’t stay in touch with Joyce, believing that he was simply respecting the boundaries of a very private woman. It’s heart-breaking to see him trying to deal with his complicated feelings towards a woman he obviously still cares for.

The post is long enough, without adding the lyrics to the song, but please have a listen and try to seek out the documentary – if you are in the UK, it is still available on 4OD here.

Has a true story or documentary influenced your writing? Have you already seen Dreams of a Life? Share your thoughts below.

This was my 13th post for the A-Z Blog Challenge. Follow the blog during April for more writing tips, inspirational life posts, short fiction, film-inspired articles and more songs with audio recordings. Next post – N is for Night Time of The Soul.

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