Take a deep breath

If you have been following this blog for a while, you might have noticed that I have been having problems with book two of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles.

In the first place I didn’t intend to write a series. Bright Sword emerged from a writing course, it grew and by the time I finished it, I knew there was more of Byrhtnoth’s story to tell – He had a long life and he was still in his teens. Book two came easily, I enjoyed writing it. I tidied it up and sent it to a couple of brave volunteers for a Beta read. I was told it was better than the first book I was pleased, Bright Sword had been published in a bit of a rush, and was not entirely happy with it. The Beta readers made various comments, on different parts of book two.

Meanwhile I had started book three. I say started but in fact I began in the middle – an experiment in POV. I forced myself to stop at what I thought was the end and went back to the start. But where was the start? Book two had continued directly from the end of Bright Sword, but for some reason I couldn’t get it to work properly this time. I carried on writing, from a later “beginning” and have nearly finished the first draft, joining the two halves together.

I have continued to worry about the beginning: Steal the end of book two for the start of book three? Ignore what happened between books two and three and start later? But that bit of plot was vital! What I needed was someone to tell me what to do. An Editor.

I was wary. I had already had problems with an editor. Where did I find the right one? Someone was recommended – they were too busy writing their own books. Someone else was mentioned, but another person said they were expensive. Time passed and I became desperate. Then I found someone. I won’t say who or how, in case it all goes pear-shaped, but I think it is going well.

I sent off my manuscript, together with synopses of Books one, three (so far) and four (ideas) and a list of what was troubling me. I wanted a basic Editors Report. What I got was fantastic; it addressed every point I had raised, in detail. It told me what was good (thank you) and what was wrong (help). Horrible as some of the suggestions were, this favorite scene had to go (too much like something in book one) and that was too unbelievable, I knew they were right.

I took a deep breath and thought about it, for several days. If I take that bit out, what do I put in its place? Yes, I can shorten/lengthen that piece. That scene is just waiting to be filled out. I came up with a new outline. It is better but there are problems – I still can’t work out where it ends! The Editor has ideas, so I have signed up for a full Structural Report. I’ll report later on how it goes.

I have now recovered from that tornado of emotion – fear and elation. It is as if I had finished a large jigsaw puzzle. Every piece was in place, but the picture was wrong. Someone has taken the puzzle and thrown it up in the air. Where will it come down and in how many pieces? All I know is that it needed to be done and I will lean a lot from putting it together again. Wish me luck.

Another good thing that came out of this shake up. Despite, or because of, spending all that time thinking, I still managed 6290 words of book three this week. All that’s left to do is the final (middle) scene – the battle. I feel I have just been through one, which may be a help.

I’ll let you know next week.

 

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Thinking and Dreaming

Do you ever dream about your characters? I expect some writers do, devising entire plot lines and waking to scribble it all down on that notepad that you are supposed to keep at hand for when inspiration strikes. Everyone has different dreams and ways of remembering them – or not!

There are the dreams so vivid that you are scared to return to sleep. Other people claim not to dream at all. Then there are those dreams that you half remember, leaving just a frustrating impression. I had one of the latter recently. I woke, knowing that my dream had been full of incident, but it disappeared before I could catch it in the net of my memory. All that remained was a snapshot. A big man swinging a sword. It was dark and he was surrounded by trees. It must have been Byrhtnoth and this is the only time I have dreamed about him – that I  remember.

I could use that scene, embroider details onto it, decide who he is fighting, and why. But it would no longer be the original dream that I experienced. It is very annoying, but why did I have that dream? Was it because I had not done any writing for several weeks? Was my character, or just my subconscious (which is the same thing really) telling me to get on with it.

Not wanting to end up with nightmares, I obeyed. I retreated to the writing computer and wrote just over 1,000 words – then the rugby came on. At least it’s a start and I’ll try to keep it up.

River and muddy path.

I had warmed up with a bit of editing, because those weeks of not-writing had not been wasted. I had been thinking. A weekend away in the Lake District was not just a time for walking and drinking. I had decided to send my character to this same place, and was looking at the view with his eyes, hearing the sounds with his ears, feeling the suck of mud on my boots. How far would he travel in a day? Where would he stop for the night? The only problem with this, is that I was there in February – he will be travelling in May. I can cope with that, I hope.

The other thinking that occupied me was about the structure of my books. I sat down and wrote a synopsis of book two. I then did the same for book three – a bit more difficult as it is only part written. I then wrote a synopsis – well more of a set of notes – for the unwritten book four. From the look of it, that will be the end. Of course anything can happen if the characters don’t agree!

Then it got really speculative, what next? How about a prequel? A children’s book? Tell the story of other characters? Send Byrhtnoth into outer space – perhaps not that one. A different period? Modern day? A thriller? Then I calmed down, just get on with writing the next book.

Once I had got the synopses down, I started to apply the Three Act Structure to them. It was an interesting exercise. I found that half of one book was about a completely different character – is that allowed? It was difficult to fit the structure onto the unwritten book four – how do I know how much I’ll write for different scenes? I have not become organised enough to say that chapter x will contain such and such scene. Thank goodness, I’m still a pantster at heart!

Feel free to return to this post in a few months/years time and have a good laugh at my dreams.

View down Eskdale from Hardknott Roman Fort.

Fireworks for Byrhtnoth

I have come to a turning point. Well, not a turning point, just a place to stop and take stock of where I am going.

This afternoon, I finished editing Book 2. Not sure which edit it is but I have gone through the first draft, checking for all those words I overuse. One of the worst was “look”. My characters look up, look down, they look at each other, they look at the sky, at the sea and their own hands. Well, they did, but not any more, and you know what? They don’t miss it at all (I did have to put back one or two, You can’t have a whole book without the word “look”.) Other words were Begin and Start, as in “he began to do something” – no he didn’t – he just did it! There are many others – I got rid of as many as possible. Then there were the adverbs – chopped.

When I had done that, I printed out the whole thing, then locked myself away where no-one could hear and read it out loud! The things you discover when you do that! I returned to the computer with my, by now, colourful pages and made the amendments, picking up other errors on the way.

I now have a readable manuscript of just over 91K words – just where I wanted to be. I have turned it into an ebook and sent it off to my Beta readers – yes, I have actually found someone to do that job. I was tempted to write another chapter – there are a few loose ends, but that can wait, for now.

While going through all this, scenes for book 3 have been running through my mind. When the first line appeared, I knew I had to start writing again. I thought about taking part in NaNoWriMo, but didn’t allow myself to start until the editing was finished. It’s too late now, but I would never have managed 50k words in a month. I have too many other things to do.

Bright Sword finally came to the end of its proofread/copyediting and is being printed. It is available for pre-order in all the usual outlets. It even has a review on Good Reads – four stars!

So now I have given a big sigh (another overused word!) and prepare to start writing again.

To celebrate this, and because it’s 5th November, here are some fireworks.

And if you are wondering what fireworks have to do with Byrhtnoth, this picture is from a film was taken on 10th August 1991 – the finale of the thousand-year anniversary of the Battle of Maldon.

(It was supposed to be a video, but apparently it was the wrong format – just hum Ride of the Valkyries and imagine the bangs!)

Or watch on Facebook

What a way to spend the Bank Holiday!

With perfect timing, at the end of last week, I received the proofs for the text of my book. This has involved a very steep learning curve as well as a few problems.

Proofs ready for correction

First I had to get to grips with the Proof correction marks – the little squiggles that tell the typesetter what they’ve done wrong. The only one that I had come across before was the symbol that I thought was a carrot (actually caret) which means insert something. The reverse, to delete something, must be a runner bean, complete with curly stalk (I’ve been eating a lot of them recently!). Actually I’ve found it is called a Dele and resembles some of the “d”s I’ve seen in old documents. I love the sound of the Pilcrow, but that’s not on my list – a new paragraph is indicated by a red step round the words.

The first mark I needed (to centre text) wasn’t on the list. Not a good start!

The marks I am using most are a dot in a circle and three parallel lines.

A diversion, back to when I had my manuscript edited. This is a snap of a couple of sentences in the marked up copy:

Marked up text from editor

Would you accept the changes? This was my first book. At the time I was not sure of the correct punctuation. The editor must know best, I accepted them.

I think the original is correct and most people seem to agree. (If anyone thinks the amendment is correct, please get in touch and explain why.)
My book is full of the second version!
Thank goodness I realised, even at this rather late stage. I am doing an awful lot of correcting – for those who don’t know “dot in a circle and three parallel lines” is replace with full point and change to capital.
I am tempted to make other changes. Now that I have written a second book and got to grips with editing, I realise that the first is not as well written as I thought.
But it is too late for that now.
I have mentioned several times about how important it is to get your work professionally edited.
I am starting to wonder if that it right.

I don’t like August

Most people have a a favourite month. I quite like May with it’s promise of summer, and October; a month of autumn colour and fruits, December brings Christmas, then there is the relief of January and new year. Other months I tolerate, except they pass too quickly nowadays. But I don’t like August. I should – after all, it is the time of heat, holidays and nothing much to do. I’m sure I must have enjoyed it when I was young, that long school holiday, all that time to read!

Somehow I have come to dislike it. People die (see last two posts – sorry about those!) then a few days ago I was reminded, by the excellent Captain Thomas Bowrey blog that it was on the 12th of August, in 1704, that the ship Worcester was seized in Scotland. I have an interest in John Madder, although he died in April, but this was the event that led to it. Come to think of it – I’m not too keen on April.

We don’t often take holidays in August – too expensive, too crowded and we have found, too wet. Every time we have tried to go away in that month, it has rained.

But this year I am enjoying August. If it rains, I am glad. I shut myself away and edit. Enjoy editing? I can hear the shocked gasps! Perhaps I should say that I enjoy this stage of editing. I have written my first draft and I know my writing is bad (Please don’t shout in agreement!). When the words flow, I am not concentrating on perfect prose, I just need to get it down. That is why I enjoy the editing. I now know what is wrong, and I can put it right.

I know my spelling is erratic. I know I have a tendency to use the passive voice and my verbs are progressive rather than simple (see that “am not concentrating” above? – it should be “do not concentrate”). As for my punctuation, we will ignore that for now – as I usually do!

Just for fun, here is something, picked at random and how I dealt with it.

We raced along the hard sand, close to the waves. The wind had picked up and the waves were larger. We laughed as we tried to dodge their attack upon the shore. Then the torrent of rain hit us. The shape of Bebbenburgh disappeared. We slowed slightly; there was no point in breaking a horse’s leg, or our own necks on some hidden obstacle. (64 words)

The first thing is that Spellcheck didn’t like “Bebbenburgh”. I’m not sure about it myself! About half the book takes place at Bamburgh. I am still undecided on which version to use – the modern or contemporary to the story. The text is scattered with alternate versions. This is something I will sort out later – decide which to use, and the spelling, and do a mass correction.

The next thing – is this scene actually needed? Does it progress the plot, or can I delete it? It follows a rather static scene; a conversation where characters exchange pieces of back story. A bit too much telling instead of showing. There has to be some “telling”,  but with this scene I can “show” what the characters feel about it.

How this scene is edited depends on the situation. For example, if they were being chased by rampaging Vikings, I would choose short sentences, get rid of surplus detail. It might end up something like:
We raced along the beach, dodging spears. The rain hit. Vision narrowed. We rode faster.
Down from 64 words to 15 and much more exciting, you feel your heart beat faster in response.

But there are no Vikings, they are riding for pleasure, they have enjoyed their conversation. They are excited, not terrified. Are there any words we can get rid of?

In the first sentence, would “across” be better than “along”? More suggestive of speed?

I mention the waves twice. Everyone knows that the hard sand is close to the waves, we can delete that phrase.

I have previously mentioned the wind, so no problem with it picking up, but that “had” is clumsy and the linking “and”. Merge the two events into one.

The torrent of rain is OK, but is that “us” really needed? Why not an example of how heavy the rain is, how it affects them?

The shape of Bebbenburgh disappeared. They are riding along the beach towards it, of course they can see it to start with (and not just the shape of it!). The rain comes, so heavy that it disappears , but it isn’t the only thing that disappears, the beach, sea, sky also disappear.  Just say “Everything”? (I’m not sure about this, I must think of a different word.)

How do you slow “slightly”? Another word gone.

Then that final sentence: again two clumsy phrases connected in this case by “or”. Can I amalgamate them, anyway isn’t breaking your neck more important than the horse’s leg?

Finally, what about that hidden obstacle? If it wasn’t hidden they would see and avoid it. It isn’t needed.

So, final version:

We raced across the hard sand. Wind drove the waves higher and we laughed as we dodged their attack upon the shore. A torrent of rain hit, drenching us to the skin, and everything disappeared. We slowed, no point breaking our necks or a horse’s leg. (46 words)

I think it reads better, the action is sharper, the emotion clearer, and I have avoided the Bebbenburgh question.

This fragment has reduced from 64 to 46 words. Then it’s on to the next sentence – that’s editing for you.

I started editing a manuscript of 104,542 words. With about 15k to go, I’m at 95,174. Not sure if I’ll get down to 90k, but I’m a lot closer!

And in case you wondered, “we” were not on the beach in August, it was the end of October! If you want to find out what they were doing there, and why they were laughing, I’ll be looking for Beta readers, as soon as I’ve finished this round of editing!!

Bamburgh beach in August 2005

 

and in August 2016!

Editing, interrupted

I have started editing. I was quite enjoying it, until it was interrupted by a sudden realisation.

Book one was now in the hands of the publishers, I thought I could relax, at least for a time, before the pressure of trying to persuade people to actually buy it.

But they wanted more! I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about it before. There is more to a book than just the story.

There are the little things, like a dedication. No problem.

Byrhtnoth at Maldon “She said I did WHAT? Death to that Author!”

There are bigger things.

If you are writing a historical novel, you need Historical Notes. All that information telling your reader that your main character was a real person, giving them the facts about that character and then explaining that, actually, you had ignored all that and written something completely different, with absolutely no proof whatsoever!

All the explanation that this event happened, but a certain character may not have been there. Various places were invented, and a lot of the characters. Some were real people and I must apologise if I had turned a perfectly innocent person into a villain.

Since I am deep into editing book two, I also had to remember who was in the book and who hadn’t appeared yet!

Then there was the really big thing – the Acknowledgements! Who to thank? Who to mention? Who to leave out? Who would be terribly offended if I left them out, give me terrible reviews and blight my literary career before it even started? So, if your name isn’t there, it was because you were too special to mention and you will receive, in due course, a large bunch of flowers/bottle of something alcoholic (delete as applicable).

Should I have included a map? Not enough time. That will have to wait until the special, limited edition, hardback that will be produced, when I’m famous, by my grateful publishers.

And where is the list of place names, with the explanation of why I used one version over another? You’ll just have to look things up on Wikipedia – like  I do.

I managed to write something and sent it off. Did I check that fact? Did I spell someone’s name wrong? Too late now.

After that excitement, it was back to the editing. It started well; in the first chapter I got rid of over 100 words – I knew that scene was rubbish – it will probably be re-written many times.

Total for the week? 14,188 words checked, 142 removed. Only 1% cut! – Must do better next week.

Perceptions of Time.

Hasn’t it been hot this week? Far too hot to do anything. Since my brain shuts down when the temperature hits 25°C and dissolves and dribbles out my ears at 30°C, I have been doing very little this week. The only thing to do is find somewhere shady and read. As if I needed the excuse!

So it was lucky that I had decided it was time to read through the first draft of Book Two. I have just finished it and put it down with a contented sigh. At least the ending is good – not sure about the rest! Actually, it’s not that bad. Obviously there’s a lot of editing to do and I now know what needs tightening up, what needs more (or less) description, characters deleting or bringing to the fore.

There is one interesting thing that I have discovered and that is how the perception of time changes. Everyone knows that how you remember the past depends on how you experience it. When I was young, summers were always warm and sunny, September, and school, arrived far too quickly and Christmas took forever to arrive. I hadn’t realised it happens when you are writing.

I “knew” that when I reached the middle of the book,  I didn’t have much of the plot left. I know, I said, someone is going on a journey. I’ll pad that out with plenty of events along the way, delays because of weather, perhaps a fight, vivid descriptions of the scenery. That journey was going to take weeks, if not months. If I found plenty of plot at the end of the journey, I could just cut it out.

I ended up with 104,381 words (target 90k) so it appears there was more plot than I expected. No worries, I would cut the journey – except I couldn’t. It didn’t last nearly as long as I had thought, and every event was now vital to the plot. It seems that, because I had imagined every step of the journey, tramping through wind and rain beside my character, it had just seemed to have taken a long time. The reader was dependant just on what I had written, which was not a lot. Was it bad writing? Would the reader have become as bored as I had been and stopped reading?

I shall just have to lose words through good old editing. I know I am too wordy. There is a lot to get rid of. All those “He started to walk”s to cut to “He walked”. I spotted plenty as I read.

Perhaps one of those journey scenes; the bit where… but then that later scene doesn’t work. Too much of that and I’ll have too few words.

There’s a lot of work ahead, so I’d better get on with it. I just hope the heat doesn’t return and I’m forced into the garden again.

Just lie back and relax.