On Jettisoning 40,000 words and Quotes from Famous Writers

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It was horrible, but there was nothing else for it.

I have just had to jettison about 40,000 words of my latest. I had hoped to be in the last stages of publishing it next month; now with the re-writing, it is going to be delayed by six months at least.

I wasn’t happy with it. I thought it was fairly good, but not good enough. If a writer thinks that about his/her work, then given that most readers are going to be far more critical, it is a  fairly bad sign.

I have never thrown out so many words before. I think I jettisoned 25,000 words for The Villainous Viscount and 15,000 for Where Worlds Meet and maybe an average of 10,000 for the others. But come to think of it, there’s some comfort in the fact that I did write about four drafts of That Scoundrel Émile Dubois.

I was always dubious about the scene that led on to all the others that I had to jettison. Ah yes, it was funny, if I say so myself; but it didn’t lead in the right direction. I should have analysed the problems I was having at that point, instead of wading on, getting into worse difficulties with the plot mechanisms. I think you often know the exact point at which you went wrong .

In this one, it was approximately halfway through the book. In another words, I fell a victim to that dreaded ‘sagging middle’. That is notoriously the most difficult part to write, and it caught me in a quagmire of flabbiness.   I should have pondered on that writing advice about ‘Writing from the Middle’ by James Scott Bell which I read a year or so back.

I have images of Stonehenge in this post because this latest work (late indeed!) does feature thhe magical influence of Stonehenge, and also, a ring which is fasionened from those famous stones.

And on learning from experience, here are some useful bits of advice from well known writers.

“ In order to write about life first you must live it.” – Ernest Hemingway

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” ― Terry Pratchett

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”  Louis L’Amour

“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”— Stephen King

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” — Franz Kafka

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt” ~ Erma Bombeck, Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing From America’s Favorite Humorist

“There’s nothing on Earth like really nailing the last line of a big book. You have 200 pages to tickle their fancy, and seven words to break their heart.” ~ Alex de Campi

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”  ― Octavia E. Butler

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ― Anton Chekhov

‘Listen very carefully to the first criticism of your work. Note just what it is about your work that the reviewers don’t like; it may be the only thing in your work that is original and worthwhile. ‘ –  John Irving.

My thanks to these websites from which I have made use of the quotes.

https://getfreewrite.com/blogs/writing-success/writing-tips-from-famous-writers

https://holidappy.com/quotes/Quotes-By-Writers-About-Writing

https://www.inc.com/glenn-leibowitz/50-quotes-from-famous-authors-that-will-inspire-yo.html

https://writingcooperative.com/18-motivational-quotes-to-bring-out-the-writer-in-you-ea3e61c93734

 

 

 

Review of Jordan Rosenfeld’s ‘How to Write a Page Turner’

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I have just finished reading Jordan Rosenfeld’s ‘How to Write a Page Turner’. I thought the advice in it was invaluable.

Not only that, but it is detailed; too many ‘how to’ books for writers are not sufficiently specific. You might be told to ‘infuse the pages with tension’ and to ‘keep raising the conflict’ besides, ‘creating memorable characters’ , but the writers might just as well say ‘be talented’ ‘write with flair’ or some such thing.

This advice is also concise. There is no waffling and rambling. You are told exactly what to do and how to do it.

The author’s main argument is this: what is needed to create a page turner is tension, tension all the time. We are often told that tension and conflict are what drive a plot forward, but in fact, conflict is arguably another aspect of tension.

The author breaks down the specific forms of tension into four elements, danger, conflict, uncertainty and withholding. She describes how these can be utilised, and in further chapters goes on to discuss in detail tension with characters, plot tension, and tension in exposition.

In the part on plotting, there is an especially helpful bit on a plotting device that may well prove priceless for people like me, who generally start out without any but the vaguest plot in mind.

Ms Rosenfeld divides the sections of a book into various ‘Energetic Markers.
Firstly, there is the Set Up: that is, your character’s ordinary world. This is closely followed – usually, within approximately 30 pages –by the Inciting Incident, namely, some sort of threat to the order of that character’s ordinary world. About a quarter of the way through comes the Point of No Return, that is, when your character becomes inextricably caught up in a course of action or events from which there is no returning to the old status quo. In due course, the Dark Night and the Triumph follow.

The latter is when your protagonist takes on the antagonist, be that antagonist an arch evil dictator or a series of impersonal conventions. This does not necessarily lead to a happy ending, but should be some sort of moral triumph.

(This interests me, as Nineteen Eighty Four, in the final confrontation between O’Brien and Winston Smith, far from there being any sort of moral triumph for the forces of good, they are in the person of Smith completely destroyed; he not only betrays Julia, but he comes to love Big Brother. The reader is left with a sense of complete despair).

There is detailed advice about how to maintain that tension at each of these points. Obviously, however, with regard to keeping up a reader’s interest, the most important part is the beginning. If people are going to stop reading, it is usually in the first quarter of the book (here, I think I can claim a record; at least two people stopped reading halfway through That Scoundrel Émile Dubois when I thought that I had really ramped the excitement up, with vampirism and time warps raining down.)

Ms Rosenfeld provides some important hints about retaining reader interest early in the novel. She points out that here, to keep your readers’ attention, you must have as much excitement as you can. You must make the character sympathetic, not by giving a lot of detail about past trauma, etc – but by putting him or her in a situation where there is tension from the start, due to unhappiness, some sort of imminent threat, external or internal, and perhaps due to some unspecified past event that has brought about this state of unease or threat.

She describes how large chunks of back story, an excess of exposition, or an unexplained or not sufficiently relevant inciting incident can lose readers’ attention in those first, crucial pages up to the ‘call to change’ in the inciting incident.
There are also some excellent hints about style and the use of imagery to create gripping word pictures.

Another interesting aspect of Rosenfeld’s approach is her recommendation that rather than thinking in terms of plot development – apart from through those ‘Energetic Markers’ that is – the writer should think in terms of individual scenes, each of which must have its own goal and arc of tension, the combination of which create the plot structure.

My main criticism of this book is that I didn’t understand why the author made reference to, but chose to use almost nothing in the way of example from classic, brilliant writers ike Mary Shelley, Margaret Atwood and Stephen King.

Instead, she quoted extensively from a range of less distinguished authors. Some were excellent, but unfortunately, some, far from making me want to turn the page, made me want to stop reading on the spot.

It may have been that I was in a particularly cranky mindset when I read this. Still, in the extracts I came across sentences without subjects or verbs. As Ms. Rosenfeld shows from her advice that she has an expert knowledge of grammatical rules, I think there must be a general understanding that in YA fantasy these can be abandoned for effect.

There were also fantasy worlds apparently based vaguely on European feudalism that even from the extracts sounded economically impossible with such a small economic surplus (unless they maintained their oversized courts largely through magic). There was an astonishing historical anachronism in a serious historical novel that made me snort into my tea.

Many of the characters seemed to be flaccidly self-indulgent and self pitying (I hope these were the tension creating flaws that they needed to overcome). Finally, a large number of the names were (seemingly unintentionally) ludicrous.

As these are best selling books, my objections are obviously a minority viewpoint. A couple of the books sounded so interesting that I may well get round to reading them myself.

Overall, then, I would recommend reading this book for the excellent advice about tension, and only skimming through the extracts.

Planning the Structure of Your Novel and Writers’ New Year Resolutions

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A Happy New Year to all the readers of this blog.

I hope that this year you all get your heart’s desire, whatever that may be, as it’s unlikely to be:

A. Taking Over the World

B. Banning tea drinking

or

C. Making the wearing of black socks, white trainers and check trousers obligatory.

This year began on a good note for me regarding writing.

…Well, not exactly as regards the formatting and the cover of my sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ and ‘Ravensdale’.  I had even  hoped that they would be ready early enough for me to have it out before Christmas, but that was being optimistic.

…Still, I did get a message praising the writing style and structure of my spoof historical romance ‘Ravensdale’ yesterday.

Hopefully, I don’t make a point of repeating compliments.  The reason I mention this one is that readers probably don’t realise how much writers treasure those messages.

And that made me think – how often do I compliment writers whose work I admire myself? With my writer friends whose work I Beta read, who by definition are writers whom I admire, naturally I do as I read through – but the others?

One tends to think that they would be indifferent if they are fairly well known – but is this the case? Perhaps it is only true of those who can rely on a best seller every time they write a book.

Well, of course, a lot of the writers whose work I do read being classic writers, tend to be dead.

That does rather limit the possibilities of communication.

It is true that Arthur Conan Doyle , whose Sherlock Holmes stories I am fairly unoriginal in loving, was interested in spiritualist communication. In fact, he wrote a novella based on it, part of the Professor Challanger series, ‘The Land of Mists’ (1926).

If I could contact Conan Doyle, I doubt he would wish to hear from anyone about Sherlock Holmes, which he regarded as ‘inferior work’ compared to his ‘serious’ historical novels such as  ‘The White Company’  Unfortunately for how he wished to be remembered, few people read this serious work today compared to those millions who read Sherlock Holmes.

I tend to think that if he heard, from the beyond, that Sherlock Holmes is as popular as ever –  1,090 in the Kindle Store on Amazon.co.uk alone today –  he would be dismayed at what he considred to be the public’s inexplicable fascination with his creation.

…And that, of course, is leaving aside international sales of  Sherlock Holmes books, the fllms, and televison series; the board and other games, the takings of the Sherlock Holmes museum in Baker Street and Sherlock Holmes tours in London…

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I don’t suppose, eiher, wherever they may be now, that Pushkin, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Anne Bronte and the others care very much either about the fate the writing that they once did in this sphere or the opinion of one reader . I suspect that they must have gone on to greater things. That is one of the reasons why I never feel guilty about saying the harshest things about the writing of any dead author. Living ones are a different matter. It would take a novel that romantises rape, for instance, for me to leave a one star review for any living author.

On writing and New Year’s Resolutions here’ s mine. I have made it several times before, in fact, every time I am halfway through a novel. I suspect it may be one made by many writers.

I must write a plan of my next novel, instead of knowing the beginning and the end, with a few scenes along the way which must be included, but having no idea at all how to get to that ending.

There are excellent plans available online which obviously, can be really useful: here’s one

I have to admit I have never writen one of those plans yet – in fact, it looks harder work than writing the novel. I just write ‘off the top of my head’, which can be nerve wracking, but feels easier for a frequently disorganized person (and that’s another New Year’s resolution I should make).

I can see the massive advantages to having a plan – for instance, it helps solve writer’s block problems, provides balance, and ensures that you don’t leave out anything essential. You also keep in mind what you are aiming for in the novel and how best to effect that.

I don’t know how many writers feel this way and whether it is best to stick to the approach that comes most naturally to one’s temperment. Oddly enough, I have never asked one writer friend whether or not they write a plan of their stories.

That is one of the reasons why I was so pleased to be congratulated on the structure of ‘Ravensdale’, written, like the others, off the top of my head.

Getting From the Middle to the End of Your Story: The Main Characters’ Darkest Hours…

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YUK. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the sagging middle, and how I was fighting my way through that in my latest, the sequel to ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’.

By the way, this one has the interim title: ‘Villains and Vampires’. However, as my last began with the words, ‘The Villainous Viscount’ I am not sure that this new title is sufficiently different. A potential reader, skim reading, might say; ‘The V….V…’ that rings a bell; I must have read that…’  So I’m in two minds.

I have written a bit more of that middle – but guess what: I wrote a pivotal part about which I wasn’t quite sure. Then this way led somehow to all the characters getting towards the end from the middle too quickly.

I didn’t feel that the main characters’ feelings of desperation during the darkest moments were sufficiently extended or bleak. It was more, ‘Oh dear. This is bad. Oh dear, THIS IS BAD! Oh, what’s that? Ah, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel yet…’

I felt that I was pulling too many irons out of the fire before they were red hot, or as if I had lit the fuse too soon. A couple of the sub plots seemed to fizzle out.

And that isn’t good enough. That’s second rate at best – probably third rate. The only writers who can only get away with writing a middle like that are ones with a massive fan base, most of whom are so addicted that they will somehow miss the unsatisfactory nature of that move to the resolution, and give a five star review to anything connected with that writer’s name – even reissued juvenelia.

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So, in that last display of fireworks, you want them all to go off so that the reader says at the end ‘Wow! Just – Wow!’ I hope I’m not normally given to fatuous observations (some might dispute that ) but while I hate that expression  ‘Wow’, that is exactly what I did say at the end of, for instance, Rebecca Lochlann’s ‘In the Moon of Asterion’, the concluding part of the Greek section of her ‘Child of the Erinyes’ series. The way everything came together was brilliant.

By the way, at the moment,the first novel from that series, ‘The Year God’s Daughter’  is permanently free on Amazon.here

That being so, all I could do was jettison those 15,000 words and go back. It made me feel quite dismal for a day or so, but still, I wrote ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’ three times.

I found the following information from this website very useful https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/oct/19/evolving-your-story

…13 Downtime begins
The last section of the middle portion of the story begins with the downtime, which precedes the black moment. Your characters are coming to feel they have nothing left to hold on to. Detail these feelings.
14 Characters revise old or design new short-term goals
Your characters are going to make their next decisions out of sheer desperation. From this point on, they seem to lose much of their confidence – or, worse, they’re feeling a reckless sense of bravado that may have tragic consequences. What are their new goals and how do they plan to reach them?
15 The quest to reach the story goal continues, but instability abounds
Though your characters are ploughing ahead bravely, each step is taken with deep uncertainty. How does this action unfold?
16 The black moment begins
The worst possible failure has now come to pass. The short-term goals made in desperation are thwarted, and the stakes are raised to fever pitch as the worst of all possible conflicts is unveiled. Describe it in detail.
17 The characters react to the black moment
Characters react to this major conflict with a sense of finality. Never will there be a moment when the outcome is more in question than in this concluding section of the middle of the book.
The end…At the end of a book, all plots, subplots and conflicts are resolved. In the last few chapters, the characters are finally given a well-deserved break from their recent crisis.

On juvenilia – I am sure there will be no takers for anyone wanting to read my first satire, which I wrote in cartoon form aged nine?  Entitled ‘Wendy Goes To Town’ it was about an officious little girl who – surprise, surprise, went to town to stay with her aunt . She discovered that a gang of altruistic local villains from the local rough estate were stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and spied on them, using newly acquired detective skills acquired from a book. The story ended with Wendy driven off  by her proud parents, wearing a medal awarded by the local magistrate, who had given all the menaces to society six months…

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I remember that I had recently read a version of the  ‘Robin Hood’ legends, which had a great affect on me; any readers of this blog or my writing will know, of course, that it lingers still.   I hope I can write slightly better than I did at nine, though…