Conflict-averse protagonists

It’s been a little while since I wrote about my own writing – sadly that’s because I haven’t been doing a huge amount of it. I’ll get back in the saddle soon I’m sure.

One of the problems is that I’m a little stuck in all of my usual go-to projects, and I don’t want to start something new as I’ve got so many juicy (albeit stalled) things under way already.

I can’t remember what I last posted about my novel A Calling-on Song so I’ll do a quick catch-up: I had it all nice and finished, sent it off to agents with no luck; I paid for a professional critique from one of the market leaders in such things; feedback was very useful and identified a few things which I’d been sort-of aware of and hoped had been buried beneath awesomeness.

The main issue highlighted was my main character, Robin. He still came across as too passive or stand-off-ish. One of the things this meant was that it’s unbelievable that the people who tag along with him and lend assistance would actually bother. This stems from the very initial draft and, rather than pluck the problem out and solve it, I wrote around it. I came up with motivations and reasons to excuse it all that fitted neatly into the narrative. Four drafts on and it’s much more daunting to tackle!

In the mornings before work I watch 20 minutes of a TV show. Over the years its been everything from an episode of The Simpsons or Friends to a smidge of The Wire to a variety of costume dramas. Right now I’m part way through a rewatch of Pushing Daisies, half-episode at a time. If you haven’t seen it I can’t recommend it highly enough – it’s not a big commitment as there were only 2 relatively short series. Just like Firefly it left me wanting much more, and just like Firefly it’s excellent.

The general premise is that the MC, a piemaker by trade, has the power to bring anything back to life with a touch. A second touch will permanently kill what was brought back. If something or someone is brought back for more than 60 seconds then something else close by will die in its place. He uses the power to help a private detective solve murders (obviously). The whole tone borrows very heavily from Amelie and it’s a lovely, romantic, funny and touching confection.

Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that the MC is very risk-averse, both physically and emotionally. He is stand-off-ish and often reactive rather than proactive. He wants, by and large, a normal life and to be left alone. And it works very well. This desire for a smooth ride causes tension among the other characters and, due to his use of his power, leads to secrets and intrigue. The characters that surround him are all very proactive, from the private detective starting new cases to the MC’s brought-back-to-life childhood sweetheart who wants to make the most of her new lease of life.

I’ve tried for a similar set up – my MC keeps the causes of some of his strange behaviour to himself, hoping his life will return to normal. Around him friends and colleagues poke and prod and investigate and suppose as they try to help or further their own agendas (or both). 

So why isn’t it working for me? 

A couple of considerations: maybe the critiquer is ‘wrong’. This is a dangerous door to open – disregarding what someone thinks of my novel is not something I intend to do, particularly if they’re a professional in the field! And it’s something I was deep down aware of to boot!

Perhaps its down to likeability? Despite his stand-off-ishness The Piemaker is very likeable thanks to a combination of both the script and performance. I may need to work on my MC, as I don’t have a top actor to rely on…

Another consideration is that the viewer doesn’t solely follow the Piemaker in Pushing Daisies. My novel is 3rd person, but we only follow the MC. Is this too much of a halfway house? Maybe committing to 1st person or pulling the ‘camera’ back to follow other characters would bring the dynamic that I’m lacking.

The Piemaker is pulled into scrapes partially because of his work with the detective. And he is only useful to the detective because of his power. My MC doesn’t really have a power or useful quality that his friends are lacking. So maybe that’s a key. They should need him for something as much as he ends up needing them…

There’s always the possibilty that it doesn’t work in Pushing Daisies. I mean, I love it of course. But it was cancelled after 2 short seasons so can’t have been wildly popular at the time. Could it be that I have a predilection for these kinds of characters, but popular appeal isn’t there?

And one final thought – maybe these kinds of characters are better suited to a visual medium. Characters who are ‘numb’ generally work better in film than on the page. Perhaps it’s the same for the risk-averse.

If you’ve got any suggestions of books featuring stand-off-ish characters trying desperately to cling to a normal life do let me know.

@BornToPootle

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Due to that all-too-frequent excuse of life getting in the way, my writing has taken a back seat for a couple of months. On the plus side, both me and my wife have nifty new jobs that involve writing and analysing others’ writing respectively.

Now that’s all settled I’ve been trying to get back into a writing rhythm but struggling. The main reason is that I’m at a bit of an impasse with a couple of projects and at the early stages of another where it’s hard to pick it back up  again just like that – it’s not ingrained in my brain enough yet.

Fortunately I received an email from some newsletter or other I’d signed up to about a short story competition and something sparked in my head. Check out Create50 – they’ve got a horror comp on at the mo and it’s a variation on the usual. While I’ve submitted a short story (max 2000 words) they’re also open to creepy music and art. The panel, and they seem like a high profile one, will pick their top 50 and that amalgamation will be published together. Quite how that works with music too I’m not sure, but I like the idea.

In addition to being open to other media, there’s a great community vibe going on. As part of entering you have to pay (a fiver) but you also have to provide feedback on at least 3 other entries. This feedback can then be used by the author to redraft their submission once or twice if desired.

It’s a cool system that seems like a good way to build a community around the Create50 projects. So far I’ve received two bits of feedback on my story, both of which are really positive but highlight the same element as a weakness – that of course gives me a great idea for how to redraft and resubmit.

There is the potential, as there is in any crowd-based idea, for things not to work out. If many people highlight the same weakness then how can you be sure they all read the piece rather than copied an earlier review? 2000 words is pretty short which should encourage people to do it properly, and I get a supportive vibe from looking through profiles and the like.

Also, what if someone’s mean about my story? Well, the likelihood is they’re also a creator themselves so it’s more likely there’ll be some kind of constructiveness in there… right? We’ll see!

Another odd thing is the star ratings – when leaving feedback you have to give the piece a star rating out of five. I’ve received two 4s so far, which is nice, but it’s hard to know what they really mean. According to the competition blurb, the judging panel disregard these ratings which is good – otherwise it could turn into a popularity contest with social media campaigns trying to get chums to block vote. The idea of the star ratings is under discussion by the Create50 team at the mo, so perhaps they’ll disappear.

I’m going to take a look at a few submissions tonight and give feedback, so hopefully I’ll discover some nifty new horror.

The comp is open until November so there’s plenty more time for submissions and redrafts – I’ll let you know how I get on. If you’ve entered then let me know and I’ll have a read of your submission. Or a listen. Mine’s called The Cut if you fancy taking a gander.

Alternatively, if you’ve entered this kind of thing before let me know of any great or terrible experiences in a comment below.

@BornToPootle

Terry Pratchett: There Are No More Words

A few years ago an author who’d had a big impact on me as a child died. I found out about her death about a month after the fact and felt gutted. Really gutted. I’d reread a few of her books over more recent years, having met and married someone who’d stayed more of a fan than I had, and they were joyous. It was Diana Wynne Jones, a truly wonderful writer.

I didn’t have any way to get the emotion out, other than write a short story. It wasn’t massively original and I haven’t done anything with it over the intervening few years. I’ve ploughed on with my novel-shaped projects and largely forgotten my short stories.

Today Sir Terry Pratchett died. And I found myself thinking of the short story. It doesn’t come anywhere close to doing justice to the influence he’s had on my life. I honestly would be a different person if I’d not read any of his books. But it’s all I’ve got at the moment.

Deep In The Forest

Deep in the forest, beyond where the foxes and rabbits and crows venture, past the uprooted oak and near the old smuggling cave, a figure sits on a rock. It is a tall figure, with shaggy hair hanging down as it holds its head in its hands. The figure has goatish legs and a tail that flicks this way and that like a lion on the prowl. The figure lifts its head up to what little brave starlight filters down through the leaves. Tears gleam on its face.

The figure opens its mouth and lets out a ragged cry, a wordless scream that could be understood by anyone or anything, at any time or in any place. The figure stands, panting from the exertion of emotion. It starts to run, hooves gouging at the ground, tearing great chunks free. All the creatures that thrive in darkness, the small hiding ones, the clawed hunting ones, they all scuttle away from the figure as it thuds onwards.

#

High in a tower made of black stone that echoes with terror, a young man stares out of a solitary window. The room is filled with all the busy paraphernalia of youth, the thousand things that have piqued his interest today and the thousand more that might tomorrow. His spidery hands grip the window ledge until stone cracks. Tears roll down his face, kicking up metres of dust as they hit the hungry earth far below. In silence he turns and leaves the room. He runs down spiral staircase, taking the steps first one at a time, then two, then more. He flicks his hands just so and he’s flying down them, spiralling round and around and around again.

#

The figure with the goatish legs pauses as it reaches the edge of the forest. Its eyes, yellow and pointed, flick left and right, left and right. Pace by pace it continues on, building into a run once more. Over dark plains of grass it goes, through fields of wheat and corn and earth. It reaches a road where indiscriminate cars whine past, and leaps it in one single bound. It can see the lights up ahead now, the hazy place where it has always feared to go.

#

The young man flies out through the door of the tower. Great splinters of wood and iron stab the night as he continues onwards and upwards. He is oblivious to the cold as he embraces the clouds. He ducks down to study the black patchwork spread beneath him. Blisters of light pock the land spoiling the mysteries of night. A plane glides through the air near him, but the shades are down, the passengers oblivious. With a surge of energy the young man flies faster, ever faster.

#

The figure is almost there. It pounds down pavements, hooves starting to split under the concrete pressure. The streets are empty, the night-people instinctively knowing to stay out of the way. A tall building rises ahead of the figure, and it quickens its pace further still.

#

Down the young man flies, gaining speed as he does so. The bright haze becomes a series of lights, becomes a network of roads and houses, a map that is unreadable by the young man. There is a tall building in the centre of the map though, and this, he knows, is the place.

#

The figure stumbles. It falls to the floor. It tries to stand but its legs won’t work. It lets out another cry, thrashes with its arms and starts to claw its way forwards.

#

The young man suddenly loses control. He is tumbling now, not flying, and the ground welcomes him to its bosom in a bone-shattering embrace. He skids across grass and paving until he hits the wall of the tall building. He opens his eyes and sees the figure with the goatish legs crawling, scrabbling forwards.

They lock eyes, these two. Sworn enemies since time began, they have fought each other and they have been brothers. They have seen every triumph and every humiliation they thought possible. But here, on this day, all is forgotten, all is irrelevant. In that shared moment, every death is forgiven and every betrayal understood. Each sees fear on the other’s face.

The figure stops scrabbling and lies still, panting no more.

The young man closes his eyes and slumps forwards.

Above, on the top floor of the tall building, the author breathes out for the last time. The machines are switched off, the sheet is pulled up. No surprise resurrections, no last-minute potions.

The story is over.

Writing Competitions

I haven’t mentioned much recently about how I’m faring in trying to get published because, well, there’s not been much news. However, while trawling the internet for opportunities I’ve found that there are a couple of great writing competitions for debut/undiscovered novelists on at the mo – I thought I’d share them just in case anyone’s interested and hasn’t spotted them yet:

Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize 2015

This one actually has my local bookseller – Bookseller Crow – as one of the judges, which is pretty cool. I’ll be taking bottles of whisky in on a weekly basis until the shortlist is announced.

The Word of Mouth Prize

This also looks good and has, amongst others, the owner of Dulwich Books as a judge – also not a million miles away for the purposes of bribe-delivery.

I might actually send different novels into each one. For those who’ve read a few of my previous posts you’ll know I’ve got one novel ready to go (in my opinion) and another one well under way. The second of the competitions allows for works-in-progress, and I’m pretty happy with the first half of my second novel, so might give that one a whirl. The deadline isn’t for a while, so I’ll give it a bit more thought before committing either way though.

I also spotted this short story competition today, specifically looking for speculative fiction on the theme of First Contact (not necessarily extra-terrestrial). I haven’t written a short story for a while, but have a stack awaiting an airing. Maybe it’s time to try sending a few out…

Good luck if you’re going in for any of them. Anyone know of a good resource/blog/twitter account that reliably collates these kinds of things? I’m thinking of the novel ones specifically really, and ideally UK-focused.

@BornToPootle

NaNoWriMo Hacks – Part 2

Nom nom nom words words words nom nom nom

Nom nom nom words words words nom nom nom

Welcome to part 2 of my NaNoWriMo advice on how to make it as easy as possible for yourself to keep your word count high. These aren’t writing tips per se, just some ways you can help maximise your productivity without going nuts. I’ve been a NaNoWriMo devotee since 2009 and after a rocky first year have ‘won’ every time. On with the tips!
4. Social butterfly.
I had thought that NaNoWriMo would become about staying home and making no plans whatsoever, but I actually found that counter-productive. When I tried that I went stir-crazy and became unable to concentrate on anything at all. What I think is important is a) picking your engagements wisely, and b) planning for some writing time around them. As my Birthday is in November, there’s always the worry that crazy Birthday shenanigans will hamper creativity. Last year though, my other half bought train tickets for a day trip to a really cool town that happened to be two hours away – two hours of writing there, two hours of writing back and a lovely day out too! The other day I went to a couple of exhibitions, one about Gothic fiction and the other about witches in art – both incredibly inspiring for what I’m writing. So time out from physically writing, but great food for my writing brain.
5. Planning
This could be a tricky one, as some people just refuse to plan much. And that’s fine, whatever works best for you. But me? I started out as a pantser, writing whatever came, following that white rabbit wherever he led. Which was, most often, to a dead end. And having redrafted a novel I pantsed, most of it was unsalvageable. Since I’ve started planning, in really quite a lot of detail, I never have to stop and think about what’s happening next – I’ve done all that work in advance and can concentrate on wrestling those words into the right order, knowing that they’re going to end up just where I want them. I love this chap’s approach to story structure – really helped me get my head around planning.
6. Leave it to someone else
And by someone else, I of course mean future you! You NaNo novel will not be publishable. No disrespect to you, but however well it’s going it will need redrafting at least once. And most probably a number of times. That’s the writing process. Embrace it. Don’t keep going over sentences trying to polish the language. Move on. Get a first draft finished, then worry about making each sentence the very best it can be. Who knows, when you reread your novel, you might need to remove a scene or completely rewrite it so there’s no need to get every word publication ready quite yet. Make it the best you can in the moment and move on!
7. Writin’ Juice
If all else fails, a tot of whisky isn’t the end of the world to silence your inner editor and let you get on with it! Or pour a slug o’ hooch into your coffee (a hipflask carried around can liven up a turgid Starbucks Americano too). I don’t need it to write though. I’m fine, really. I just like the taste. I don’t know where that other bottle has gone. Why’s the room spinning?
Hope some of these are useful, feel free to let me know any hacks you employ to maximise productivity.

@BornToPootle

NaNoWriMo – My Experience

The first of November is rolling around, a date that has indelibly been stamped into my mind for the last five years. Not due to Halloween-induced hangovers or the fact that it marks a fortnight until my Birthday, but because it’s the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. I thought it worth a quick pre-NaNoWriMo post in case I sway one more person into taking part, because (spoilers!) I think it’s awesome.

Picture the scene. It’s September 2009. I’ve written a few short stories. I’ve got the first few thousand words of a couple of different novels languishing a long way short of complete. One of them, at fifteen thousand words, is the longest thing I’ve ever written. And then my wife discovers NaNoWriMo. I grumble that it’ll distract us from finishing what we’re working on, that it’s better to keep our heads down rather than start new projects. She, fortunately, ignores me, and I eventually see sense.

With no planning, and no idea of what I’m trying to say, I write a complete first draft in a month, mainly on my phone on my commute and lunch breaks, and scribbled in notebooks to be typed up later. It’s about 40,000 words, so shy of the 50,000 target, but it’s the longest thing I’ve written and my first attempt to structure a longform story. Unsurprisingly, when I read it a few weeks later, it’s Not Great. Very Not Great. But there are some interesting things in there, and having completed a first draft I begin the process of redrafting for the first time. It’s the obligatory post-apocalyptic coming of age novel, of course.

A year later, and this time I’m a bit more prepared.As well as massive supplies of tea, I have an idea of the general plot and characters for my steampunk opus. I write about 60,000 words in the month and finish it off in December with another 10,000 words or so. Upon reading it, it’s also Not Great. But I have some thoughts on why, and look up more about how to structure a plot. How to plan a novel. How to develop characters.

Next time it rolls around, rather than start a brand new project (which is what NaNoWriMo is supposed to be about – honestly though, who cares as long as it gets you novelling) I turn to the idea that’s been burning at the back of my mind all this time. One of the novels I’d started before NaNoWriMo came into my life. I spend a month plotting and squeezing my brain and then spend November completing the novel. The planning paid off – it’s a lot more coherent than my previous attempts, though needs a lot of work still.

The next year is spent redrafting that novel, A Calling-on Song, and I give NaNoWriMo 2012 a miss, but when the Summer version, Camp NaNoWriMo, approaches in 2013 I decide to take a break from redrafting. I spend a couple of months preparing a new novel, The Lord of The Dance, then kick it’s ass in a month. I write the first three quarters of it, but it’s already 80,000 words. I leave it there, happy to draft the last quarter when I’ve shored up the rest, and return to redrafting A Calling-on Song.

And now, as I’ve been blogging about, A Calling-on Song is being chucked at agents in the hopes they like it and I’m in the process of redrafting The Lord of the Dance. I’ve learnt a hell of a lot about writing, about me as a writer and about what I want out of life along the way.

Will writing a novel in a month make you a successful author? No.

Is it hard work? Yes. Oh god, yes.

Will you have to make changes to your routine to accommodate it? Yes.

Could it be the most awesome thing you ever do and change your life? Yes.

Let me know if you’re tackling it. Good luck!

@BornToPootle

Creative Distractions

Or, the play’s the thing. Unless the novel’s the thing.

My latest mash-up attempt. High culture and Firefly (or, as I would have it, HIGHEST culture)

My latest mash-up attempt. High culture and Firefly (or, as I would have it, HIGHEST culture)

I mentioned in my last post that I had, for a little while at least, stalled while redrafting the novel I’m working on. The good news is that I’m back up to speed, but this post is about something a little different. While I was stalled my brain threw up all kinds of things to distract me from the task at hand. And fortunately I’ve been in such a routine of writing that some of those distractions were creative. So over the period of a couple of days when I was supposed to redrafting I wrote a play. Don’t worry, I was as surprised as you.

Despite training and working as an actor for a few years, I’ve never really had the inclination to write a play, so I was quite surprised when an idea popped into my head almost fully formed that had a nice bow tied around it reading ‘for the stage’. Odd how ideas instinctively seem to know what medium they’re going to be in.

Well I wrote it, a nice half hour two-hander set in the cockpit of a spaceship, and then gave it a quick redraft. And then… I didn’t really know what to do with it. It feels so different to writing a novel – I’ve spent the last few years teaching myself about that process, and suddenly felt adrift.

The thing with a play is that, unless you’re going to direct and star in it as well, other people are going to get their grubby little paws all over it. Reading it after the redraft it became very apparent that I needed to hear it out loud, in other peoples’ voices, or I wouldn’t have a clue how it actually came across. Fortunately I know some awesome, super-talented actors, so I assembled my crack squad of two, both rather handily with experience in writing and workshopping material they’d created, and on Saturday I held my first workshop for something I’d written.

Definitely best to theme clothing to the task at hand.

Definitely best to theme clothing to the task at hand.

The first order of business, after admiring the Jayne Cobb T-shirt and hat one of the actors arrived in (see above for my attire for the day – you may have spotted I’m a Firefly fan), was a first read of the play, sat in chairs, sipping tea. Even just that was really useful – both actors approached the roles in interesting ways, picking up on a dynamic I hadn’t thought of. And rather pleasingly I thought the writing held up pretty well when vocalised – with a few clunkers thrown in for good measure, of course. It was clear to me though that the drama was very one-sided and the denouement slightly rushed.

After a brief chat about the play and the characters in general, I got the actors to improvise around a couple of the key moments. The play opens with one of the characters wanting solitude and the other wanting interaction, so I gave the actors different levels of how much they needed that solitude/interaction and then made them raise and lower that need throughout the improvisation – it helped unlock a couple of interesting dynamics that will feed back into the script. I might leave out the dance routine though.

After three different improvisations, each looking at a different part of the drama, we went back to the script, and had a second readthrough, but this one following the few stage directions I’d written and moving around the space as and when the instinct kicked in. It all came together remarkably easily, helped by the fact that I hadn’t written much physical action, and once again really highlighted the two big weak spots in the play which, thanks to the improvisations, I’ve got some great ideas for how to fix.

So what now? Well I’ll have another re-write and then I don’t know. I’ll look up some short play festivals and see if I fit the criteria, or check out some new writing nights. Which is all-new, all-scary but also all-cool!

@BornToPootle

Urges. How to control them and when not to.

Or, asking the impossible.

 

Tappity tappity tappity

Tappity tappity tappity

This is the latest in my series on trying to get published for the first time. It’s been going on six weeks since I sent my first few query letters out, and so far I’ve had three rejections with two replies still pending. It’s getting close to time to send out the next batch and I’ve discovered a new step in the process. The urge to fiddle.

It’s impossible to know the definitive reason the three agents so far haven’t wanted to read more – it could be anything from the mood they were in when they read my submission, the fact that they just signed someone with the same basic premise, something specific in the writing, something that didn’t gel in the query letter…. The list goes on. Or, as their letters stated, it could simply be the fact that this is a subjective game. It’s dependent on taste, and for everyone that thinks my book is a masterpiece (that would be, um, me) there are bound to be people who disagree or don’t engage with the subject, setting or characters.

So do I fiddle with it (the novel, I mean. Filth.)? Well without some more comprehensive feedback, I don’t think there’s any point in fiddling with the novel itself. But that’s only part of the package. There’s also the query letter and the full synopsis which give a flavour of the book and the full plot respectively. And if something is amiss in those or could be more gripping then that could potentially be a turn off for the agents.

Or… they could be fine and just waiting to get in front of someone who really engages with them. For this next batch I’m going to keep everything the same (unless any of the agents have particular stipulations of course) and then ponder anew in about eight weeks. And I shall take heart from hearing that the author of The Help, Kathryn Stockett, faced 61 rejections and three years from first submitting to getting picked up. For her it was apparently rejection number fourteen that almost broke her. I’ll let you know which number it is for me.

That’s all well and good, but what to do in the interim? I can’t just twiddle my thumbs and hope for the best, that’s no way to get anywhere. I’ve dusted off the novel (or the three-quarters-of-a-novel) I wrote the first draft of for last year’s NaNoWriMo – The Lord of the Dance – and have got well and truly stuck into the redrafting. One of the major elements that need some TLC are the characters. Perhaps because of the time constraints that NaNoWriMo brings, the characters all start fairly strong then become a bit wishy washy. I’ve decided to borrow a trick from my other half (also a writer) and try casting the novel. Alongside doing a load of other character development bits and bobs, it’ll help me get back on track if I feel them drifting again. That and, if you cast them with actors who make interesting or bold character choices then maybe some surprises will pop up. So who is in the cast? My main five are:

Shia Labeouf (that breakdown has made him so much more interesting!), Cillian Murphy, Mia Wasikowska, Ellen Paige and Adrien Brody

I’ve cast this lot based on the character elements that I’d already come up with and written 80,000 words about, but it’s made me ponder what would happen if you approached it the other way around, if you used actors as your first stepping stone into characters’ heads. And more importantly, if you could pick any five actors to sling together in a cast, who would it be?

The Dreaded Synopsis

Or, how I learned to stopped worrying and love the process.

This chap may be better at jumping through hoops than me. His name is Humperdink.

This chap may be better at jumping through hoops than me. His name is Humperdink.

This is the latest in my series on trying to get published for the first time. As promised, this post is about the synopsis which will accompany my covering letter and first three chapters when I submit to agents. The most important thing, for all of these bits that agents will see, is to work out why they want it. What are they hoping to gain from its inclusion (other than see that I’m willing to jump through a big scary hoop)?

As far as I can work out, they want the synopsis to tell them what happens. And when it happens. Sounds pretty obvious right? They might get blown away by the writing style of my three chapters (here’s hoping), but if they then look at the synopsis and realise it all becomes a rambling mess half way through, they may think twice. To my mind, they want to see that I understand commercial story structure (because I am aiming for commercial appeal rather than those new forms Konstantin bemoans the need for in Chekhov’s The Seagull) and, of course, see whether it gets (more) exciting.

Now, in my Elevator Pitch post, one of my discoveries was that, as well as being a nightmarish prospect, it was quite a lot of fun trimming 90,000 words down to 25 words. And that’s what I found with the synopsis as well. This time I had in the region of 800 words to play with so, y’know, par-tay.

If you’ve been reading all these and the comments, you will know that I fall firmly in the planning category of writer (though I was a die-hard pantser when I started), so what I’ve realised is that getting to this stage in the process is kind of cyclical. When I start writing something these days I’ll get some idea of the basic set up, work on the characters, expand the plot outline, back to the characters, back to the outline and so on. For bringing it all back down to a synopsis, it was essentially the same in reverse.

Things that need to be included: the plot from beginning to end in the order it happens; a little about each of the major characters. Simple.

My first attempt was a rambling 3,000 word monstrosity that tried to address every little twist and turn. I swiftly realised that wasn’t the right approach. Sub-plots and lesser characters be damned! My novel is very much my main character’s story and so I went back to the keyboard and tried again focusing solely on what happens to him, what he does about it and what knock-on effect that has. Because it all needs to be cause-and-effect or the novel will feel very episodic. As I carried on and honed the synopsis I was also able to spot any points in the novel where things either didn’t quite make logical sense or characters were solely reacting to outside influences and not becoming an influence in themselves. I’m pleased to say there weren’t many points like that, but as I did it when gearing up for a swift final draft it both bolstered my confidence and gave me a few extra ideas for areas that needed attention.

So there we have it, my synopsis discoveries. Rather than being a big scary hoop that needs to be jumped through, it’s a really useful tool for making sure novels are on track. Who knew!

Progress update: I’m now just about three quarters of the way through the redraft, but just coming up to a section that needs a bit of TLC. Still aiming for the end of the month, so wish me luck!

Hopefully my next post will be about researching agents, but I might get distracted by something shiny and write about that instead, we shall see. In the meantime, have you had an experience like mine – a big scary necessity that actually turns into something really useful?

Facing The Press

In which our intrepid hero heads to The Guardian. Not to be interviewed, sadly.

A hidden metaphor, or a random bunch of pigs I found in The Guardian's office? I'll let you decide.

A hidden metaphor, or a random bunch of pigs I found in The Guardian’s office? I’ll let you decide.

This is the latest in my series on trying to get published for the first time. Last time I was talking about the elevator pitch, and since then I’ve had the opportunity to try it out on a captive audience and it went down pretty well. Where? Read on!

As I’m gearing up towards entering publishing professionally I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I’ve learned (if anything) from my previous creative endeavours.

I trained as an actor and spent a good few years pursuing that as a career. One of the many things that made me realise it wasn’t for me was the relentless self-promotion required, which I just didn’t feel capable of. How refreshing then that so far I feel a lot more engaged with that side of writing. I guess part of it is that I have more confidence in my novels than in my acting abilities. It also feels much easier to target myself with writing than with acting. More on that later and also in greater depth in a future post about selecting agents to approach.

So far so good, but engaged as I feel, I know I’ve got a hell of a lot to learn if I want to get anywhere, so that’s why I found myself at The Guardian offices last night. The event was part of their Masterclass programme, titled PR and Marketing for Authors. It was a three hour whistlestop tour of the myriad different forms of self promotion, from trying to get your book reviewed in national newspapers (hard, unsurprisingly) to the basics of building Twitter followings (also hard – spotting a pattern?) and the likelihood or not of a publisher having any kind of budget to do it for you. We also had the chance to read out a brief elevator pitch for our novel as a sort of hook for a press release and mine seemed to go over pretty well. Oh, and there was wine too. There’s always wine.

The bulk of the talk was from Tory Lyne-Pirkis from Midas PR (they work with a wide range of authors, or so her press release tells me), but I found the most revealing insights were from guest speaker C J Daugherty, author of the YA Night School series.

Hearing about the realities of the tiny budgets publishers tend to have for marketing, especially for debut authors, and how quite a few successful authors have spent a sizeable chunk of their advance on PR was, despite some fairly horrifying statistics, strangely inspiring.

I think the reason is that this is a world I’m eager to engage with. Unlike with acting, where all I wanted to do was get on stage or into the rehearsal room, with writing I’m looking forward to the behind the scenes stuff: branching out to write about other topics semi-related to my novel in the hope of a plug at the bottom of an article, approaching luminaries to beg for a quote, rocking up to a local festival in any capacity they’ll have me in the hopes I can give a crafty mention of my novel. None of it is as appealing as the writing itself, don’t get me wrong, but I can see how it fits together more. With acting, I was so desperate for any kind of work it was hard to know how to begin. With writing, I’ve got a novel and can target accordingly. Or I will have my novel if I bloody well get on with it and finish the redraft!

On that note, I’m just over a quarter of the way through the latest draft. My target was the end of March, which is still faintly do-able. The first and last quarters needed the most work, so hopefully it’ll be plain sailing through the middle. Yeah. Right.

My next post will be on the synopsis which I’ll be sending to agents with my query letter but in the mean time, if you’ve ever had to do any PR for yourself, how have you felt about it? A necessary evil, or an enjoyable part of the process? I’m really intrigued with how to fit all the work needed on PR around the time spent on writing itself, but with a massive slug o’ luck and a fair wind behind me maybe I’ll be able to write a future post on that very subject. Time (and a marketing budget) will tell!