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 – 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.

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.

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!’

 

 

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.

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