Synopses 101

Just because I have a book out doesn’t mean I’m immune to rejection. I still regularly get turned down by agents – an agent is still what I desperately want – and now I’ve received an inkling as to why.

My most recent rejection came with actual feedback, which is very rare in the world of publishing and agency. It said that my writing is good, but they didn’t get a good enough idea of the story from my cover letter and synopsis. Too diffuse, were the words used: the story had too many competing elements and it was difficult to know where the story would sit.

I’m very grateful for this feedback, disappointing as it is. It’s clear I have more work to do in an area I felt I had down. What that work should be I’m not exactly sure at the moment. I have, after all, written an ensemble piece with a lot of voices; how do I simplify and still accurately communicate what the story’s about?

An agent’s opinion is subjective and what might turn one agent off might attract another. I know that. But being granted an insight into their thinking is a real plus. I’d be a fool to ignore it.

I’m also confident that I’ve written a quality novel. I just need someone to read the damn thing. So, after the high times of last week, it’s back to the grindstone: there’s work to be done and nobody’s going to do it for me.

Blog tour

Hello all!

It’s been a busy week for me, what with Human Resources being released and all. So I don’t have much to say right now (other than that, if you missed the news, Human Resources is out now – please consider thinking about picking up a copy), except that I should be in the middle of a blog tour as we speak.

Now I confess to not knowing much about blog tours, but if you check out any of the contributing websites on the appropriate dates or after, you should see reviews or other features on the book. Which of course I urge you all to do forthwith.

And that’s all for now, save to say that, if you missed it, I put a chapter of the aforementioned novel on YouTube, if you wish to see my particularly bouffant beard in all its glory. Check it out to hear me reading and to get a taste of Human Resources.

See you all next week!

x

Human Resources is out now!

It’s here! It’s now! It’s out! Hopefully, by the time you’ve read this, your copy will either have already reached you or be in some kind postie’s knapsack, rapidly approaching your doorstep.

If you’ve not got a copy on pre-order, let me assure you that Human Resources is very much available from all good booksellers – go indie if possible, but I’m not going to Amazon-shame anyone – and is not only an excellent read but also makes an excellent Christmas present for all.

Four days to go!

Four days to go! It’s still not too late to pre-order; get your shiny new book on release day by asking of any good bookseller or, failing that, Amazon.

Normally I’d be desperately promoting my new release through the odd bookshop signing, convention attendance and as many radio interviews as I can possibly con my way onto. This time around there is much less for me to do.

Which is not to say that my publishers have been sitting on their thumbs all this time. There are review copies out in the wild; there is a blog-tour in the planning; there are many other things behind the scenes that I am barely aware of. All to sell my book. Bless them.

But it feels a little odd to be sitting here doing virtually nothing. I should be out there! I should be helping! My face – or at least voice – should be ubiquitous throughout the etherwaves. It’s an odd feeling, becalmed, itching to crack on and yet unable to do anything.

We live in interesting times. There are bigger things going on in the world. Nothing to do but suck it up.

Still: only four days to go before the release of some excellent lockdown reading. Don’t miss out!

On point of view

Getting close now! Just 11 days until Human Resources is unleashed on an unsuspecting world! So here is the fourth and – unless popular demand makes me write more – the last in my special blog-posts on different aspects of the novel. If you missed the earlier parts you can read about my characters here, my ideas about plotting here, and all about the novel’s setting here.

This week we’re looking at point of view – POV. A bit more esoteric, perhaps, but hopefully just as interesting and with as many insights about my writing process as the other posts.

I really hope these articles have got you as excited as I am for Human Resources. As ever, if you want to comment please feel free, either below or on Twitter @RobinTriggs. I do my best to give good advice to all who ask.

Also, I suppose I’d best say that you can buy Human Resources from any half-decent bookshop, or even Amazon. But let me link you direct to the publishers, and also to Hive.co.uk which is like Amazon but without the evil, working with indie bookstores to hopefully benefit everyone.

***

There’s no getting away from it: Human Resources, like Night Shift before it and New Gods after, is in first person. It’s a pretty rigid first-person too: no sneakily popping out into someone else’s head for a crucial reveal or simply to provide a bit of variety. No, it’s stuck-with-the-same person all the way.

So why did I choose that, and what does it mean for the story and its telling? Well, the reason I originally chose it is because, without it, the payoff for the first book wouldn’t have worked. It really is as simple as that. And I suppose I feel a little guilty about it – like the whole device was just a cheap stunt.a

But first-person is a venerable tradition and works well for me. Previously I’d worked only in third person, but I made the shift to really get inside the head of Anders Nordvelt.

To be honest, the change wasn’t as great as all that: my third person writing had always been very tight, very limited in its perspective – no omniescentising for me. So the switch to first-person wasn’t that much of a jolt. Nor has it felt too weird going back to third person in its aftermath – yes, my post-Antarctic writing is back in third-person, if only to give myself a bit of a break.

*Emphatically doesn’t mention the brief snatches of second-person in the series finale*

What does writing in first-person mean for the story? Well, in being as strict as I have been for the Antarctic trilogy, it means that we’re going to become very intimate with a single personality and perspective.  That puts a heavy weight on the main character to be interesting, to not alienate the reader with a whining, dull companion.

It also means you have to be aware of what other people are doing, that you don’t leave your other characters standing around and waiting for the main character to come around before they ‘switch on’. Indeed, there is, in a way, more potential for surprise with first-person as things happen off-stage, so to speak: the character is as ignorant of others’ actions as the readers are.

That, I suppose, means there may be more potential for jump-scares as opposed to a slow build-up of tension. But maintaining tension is part of the craft of the writer, and I find that different tellings merely encourage the writer to stretch themselves in different ways. Nothing is impossible, not with any mode of telling.

Of course, the difference in perspective makes a big difference to the reader; it’s not just a case of the same novel in different clothes. I have heard of people who won’t read a novel written in first-person (and I deeply hope this doesn’t include you, dear reader). I like to write in first person or third according to what feel I want to give a novel – it’s hard to quantify or to explain exactly why, but I feel like first-person gives more of a sense of the lone film-noir-esque gumshoe whilst third person is more cinematic with a cast you can check in and out of.

That might just be me, though. As I said – hard to quantify.

If you’re interested, I wrote more about point-of-view right back in 2015, which just goes to show for how long I’ve been a) keeping this blog, and b) gnawing away at the same subjects. Check that article out if, as I said, you’re at all interested.

And that’s me for now. Expect more ramblings about Human Resources through the next few weeks but that’s the end of these themed articles about the writing of the benighted thing. Hope you’ve enjoyed them; and stay happy and healthy in whatever you do.

All the best

Rob

On Setting

Mark Molnar

Salutations! Here we are in part three of my series of ramblings in celebration of Human Resources. It’s due out on November 10th, available wherever books are sold. I think it happens to be rather good and you might like it too.

Today’s ramble – I mean interesting article – is on setting. If you missed the previous editions, you can read about my character creation and development here and about how I came up with the plot here. All are spoiler-free and May Contain Interest (but no nuts). There’s also the entire rest of the blog if, after reading this, you’d like to know more about me and my work.

Onwards!

***

There are two aspects to setting: one is environment, the other is worldbuilding.

Human Resources is set in the Antarctic, in the bleak environment of all-day or all-night. More specifically it’s set in a brand new city, and a lot of my preparation went into imagining what that city would look like; the practical considerations of survival in such an atmosphere and the most sustainable architecture.

The background to what has led humanity to occupy this last outpost of the planet’s surface is never explicitly gone into in the story, but as far as I’m concerned, Human Resources – and the whole Antarctic trilogy – is an exploration of what will happen if population keeps expanding, if climate change is not arrested, and if the planet’s natural resources start to run dry. What will humanity do to survive such a collision of circumstances? It’s not an apocalyptic novel – indeed, in some ways it’s rather optimistic – but humanity has these obstacles to overcome.

The real world ‘city’ of Las Estrellas

So Human Resources is set in a virgin city, and, with the aside of a few scenes set out in the frozen land, this is essentially an urban, underground novel. Here I admit that a lot of my influence is born out of the fifties, sixties and seventies, both in the utopian world of town planning (I did A-Level Geography, for my sins) and in science fiction.

As for the Antarctic itself, setting a novel there meant incorporating practical measures: the warmsuits that everyone wears when they go out into the wilderness and the airlock-like vestibules that all buildings have.

Setting scenes out in the icy wastes was one of the most enjoyable parts of writing the novel, where I could give my poetic side full rein. As well as the city and the wilderness we have scenes in the mine that gives the city its raison d’etre and in a semi-legal bar set up by the miners.

I have to be careful here to talk about Human Resources and that alone: I’m deep in the editing of book three and I’m doing my best not to conflate the two. In the third, for example, there’s a big combat scene out in the wastes that I resolutely shall not mention here.

So: HR. We have urban planning on a grand scale and I used a map – three-dimensional as the majority of the structures are set underground to avoid the worst of the climatic challenges – to help give myself an idea of how the layout would work practically. I’ve not replicated that map for the readers as I don’t think it’s necessary – indeed, it was only a scratty little thing in a notebook – but it did help me visualise the setting and distances, as well as reminding myself of what the city needed to function.

Perhaps the setting of the Antarctic trilogy will be what the novels are best remembered for – if, indeed, they are at all. It’s what makes the series unique and I’ve spent a long time working on it. I hope it stands up – I think it does, but, as with so many things, it’s the readers that will decide.

Next up – POV!

On plot

Greetings! It’s now only a few weeks until the official release of Human Resources (November 10th, fact fans) on ebook, in paperback and in hardback! Please favour me and pre-order a copy. I happen to think it’s not half bad and would do a very nice job as a wonky-table prop or as a coaster.

To celebrate the release I’m going to do a series of blog-posts about different aspects of the novel; here I’m going to be talking about plot. In the weeks that follow I’ll write about things like setting and POV – and maybe even more, depending on whether I can think of anything else. If you want me to look at anything in particular, please comment or hunt me down on Twitter (@robintriggs – not so hard, really) and I’ll see what I can do.

***

Human Resources is, at it’s heart, a murder mystery, and thus plot is central. I hope I haven’t skimped on character, setting and just old fashioned good writing, but it’s plot upon which the work will primarily be judged.

So how did I come up with the plot for Human Resources? Well, like with all the novels in the Antarctic series, by starting at the end and working backwards. That is to say, I started with the crime, the killer, and then motive. Then I went back to the beginning to find the victim of the crime – and by that point the plot had mostly revealed itself to me.

I say that, but the first draft varied greatly from the version you’ll see when the book’s finally unleashed upon you. In fact, the only constants really are the bits I’ve just told you: the killer, the motive, the victim. Almost everything else – the way the story’s told – has changed, and changed radically.

Why should this be? Well, put plainly, to make it better. The first draft simply was too simple. I had to… well, not necessarily obfuscate but to add more depth, more intrigue. I’m not a great one for red herrings but I had to give plausible alternative explanations, more reasonable suspects. I used the first draft as a sketch-map upon which to elaborate, to erase some mistakes and draw ‘here be dragons’ upon the wilderness of Antarctica.

I wrote last week about character and in this sort of story character is hard to distinguish from plot. The latter is dependent on the former. So the alterations I spoke of last week are just as relevant here. As I thought of new aspects of plot – as I gave my readers more suspects – characters had to change, and as characters changed so did the plot.

Thinking back on it now, I think I was remarkably naive when I wrote that very first draft. I’m currently struggling to face up to new ideas, and I think my naivety protected me from worrying to the point of inactivity about simply whether I could do it or not. I just got on with it and let all issues come out in the editing. And that’s a good thing, because I can edit. Human Resources has been a difficult child to bring to term; I’ve worked harad on it, and I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved.

I hope you get as much out of reading it as I have from the writing.

Next up: setting

On characters

Greetings! It’s now only a few weeks until the official release (10th November) of Human Resources on ebook, in paperback and in hardback! Please favour me and pre-order a copy. I happen to think it’s not half bad and would do a very nice job as a wonky-table prop or as a coaster.

To celebrate the release I’m going to do a series of blog-posts about different aspects of the novel; first off, here’s a little ramble about Character. In the weeks that follow I’ll write about things like plot, setting and POV – and maybe even more, depending on whether I can think of anything else. If you want me to look at anything in particular, please comment or hunt me down on Twitter (@robintriggs – not so hard, really) and I’ll see what I can do.

Big thanks to Fiona Glass – a lovely person and top class author – for the inspiration for these posts.

*

Let’s get one thing straight straight off. Human Resources is the sequel to Night Shift and, as such, features some of the same characters. Primary amongst these is our point-of-view character, Anders Nordvelt.

I don’t want to go into great detail about him as you’ll all know him from the first novel. Suffice to say that there’s a lot of me in him; socially awkward, with unresolved mental health issues, an observer as much as a participant, he’s an unusual protagonist and it’s all my fault.

I never realised this at the time of writing, of course. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I never knew what I was doing.

The supporting cast of Night Shift – those that survived – make their reappearances in Human Resources. They are, however, joined by a new cast of characters that all bring their own neuroses, obsessions and paranoias.

The story revolves around the growth of the isolated mining base from the first novel into a city and the problems that brings. Thus we have an Executive Committee that have their own motives; a new security service – headed by Anders – that are trying to work out how to enforce laws never tested in the field; and a population of immigrant labourers, not all of whom want to be in Antarctica in the first place.

How do I come up with my characters? In a variety of different ways. Some, like the executive committee, came in the initial worldbuilding prep – I knew I needed a ‘ruling class’ and thus there had to be people to occupy these roles. Others, like my own personal favourite, Sergeant Bartelli, came more spur-of-the-moment: I needed a policeman and he arrived more-or-less fully-formed in my head just in time to fill the role I’d created.

Then there’s the in-between characters like Shakil Mithu, unwilling immigrant and rebel leader. He’s a big personality and prime suspect in the murder of… but I don’t want to give too much away. For now let me just say that he’s an example of a character that I had to come up with before setting pen to paper; he’s a plot-character, integral to the story. But he didn’t really come alive until I reached him in the story and had circumstances and other characters for him to play off.

Most characters arrived before or during the first draft, and stayed fairly constant. Others were created – or at least significantly retooled – in the editing. Sergeant Nascimento was a late arrival, whilst Engineer Prashad and Professor Holloway both underwent significant revision in later drafts.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have no set way of creating characters for a novel. I don’t sit down and draft in-depth character sheets for everyone; I don’t have everyone set before I put pen to paper for the first time. Some key figures I have pre-prepped but it’s often the ones who take me by surprise, who come from somewhere deep in the subconscious, that I end up falling furthest for. Yet others take work and require multiple drafts before they ‘fit’ properly.

Human Resources is a combination of all of these and it took time for me to get it right. For me the genius is in the editing, not in the first-drafting.

I’m always more interested in the Everyman rather than superheroes, the sidekick more than the main event. I like the underdog and favour the dogged rather than the inspired and the influence of film noir over me has far exceeded the amount I’ve actually seen.

Valentin Demchenko

That gives me free rein to create a cast of flawed and – hopefully – realistic characters.

Next week – Plot!              

Things I’ve learnt this week

What have I learnt this week?

Well, I’ve learnt that I’m no good at second drafts.

I’ve learnt that I’m not in the right place to really take my draft to pieces and carefully reassemble, no matter how much the story might need it.

I’ve learnt that my memory is too hard on me and I’m maybe capable of writing an okay story – or at least one that could be okay with a little work. And that my writing sins aren’t as pronounced as I feared they may be. Overwriting, for example – I’ve been told that I say too much, to not leave enough to the audience’s imagination. I still struggle to see where decent cuts could be made beyond the occasional few words here and there – though whether that’s because there aren’t cuts to be made, or just that I simply can’t see them, is an open question.

I’ve learnt that I actually enjoy my own writing. Or at least this particular story has elements that make me smile

But – and I’m looking at a different project now – I still have The Fear; that it’s not good enough, that it has some ideas that are simply ill-advised (cough *second-person POV* cough), that if I send it to my editor it’ll be rejected out of hand and our relationship will be forever soured.

I also have the fear that, with a few slots of time opening up for me, writing-wise, I’m going through things too quickly. That I’m working like a proofreader, seeing obvious errors rather than more subtle missteps.

I’ve learnt that I still need a lot of hand-holding before I’m ready to commit to – well, to anything, really. And that I really do need (but can’t get, right now at least) an agent.

So where does that get us? Surprisingly, thinking back on it, more positive than negative. I have three stories that are either pretty well polished or have the potential to work when all the problems are dealt with. The problems I do have can be sorted if I have the patience and the will to get it done.

What I really need, right now, is a new project. But, as I’ve said before, I’m not ready to start anything right now. My ideas are all too nebulous and I’m not in the right headspace to draw them all together.

It will come. I’m in a surprisingly reflective mood, clearly, and I know it will all come together somehow, someday, someway.

The second pass

The second pass of a manuscript is always an odd one for me.

So here I am. I wrote my first draft and I was good and put it away for a few months so as to approach it afresh the second time around. I know, in that vague sense you get of being convinced of something without being able to place precisely why, that it needs thorough surgery before anyone else can read it.

The second draft should, therefore, be the perfect place to pick it apart and stitch it back together. You know work needs doing. You’re in a fresh headspace so as to see those flaws. You’re not too committed to going down the wrong streets.

Well it never works like that for me. For me the second draft always seems to be one of self-congratulation, of saying ‘hey, this isn’t all as abysmal as I’d remembered.’

It always turns into a game of changing odd words, of fixing egregious errors within sentences rather than egregious errors of continuity or pacing or logic. And this is wrong: the individual words don’t matter at this stage. The foundations have to be firmly established before the building’s ornamentation can be affixed.

And yet I find myself making the same mistake that I’ve made again and again and will almost certainly make in the future.

Why should this be? I suppose that a part of it is just that lack of familiarity that makes it worth putting aside to gain also handicaps a little: I’m still discovering my own work and want to see the big picture before I get with the scissors.

It also must be down to my perception. I’m so surprised that anything in the story hangs together that I struggle to see the bits that are flapping in the wind. And maybe also I’ve just not left it long enough (yes, I know, I want it both ways) and I’ve not come to the manuscript with the right attitude.

Point is that I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m so reluctant to manage a problem at the optimum time. I know these problems are still there, that I will have to deal with them at some point. Why not now?

But for the meantime I’m just really rather enjoying the tiny tinkerings; the swapping of one word for another in the here-and-there.

Anyway, we all know that draft 3 is where the real work begins. Right?