Deleting characters

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To lose a character should be one of the easiest of editing jobs. Isn’t it just a case of reassigning his actions, redistributing his words and a bit of a spit and a polish to cover all the hack-marks?

Turns out it is, in fact, bloody hard. That’s currently what I’m trying to do; to kill my darling and reassign all his delicious lines to other members of the cast. And I’m still not sure whether I’m making things better or am just cruelly imbalancing scenes by making another character a ‘know-everything’ and, frankly, a bit of an over-voluble, overpowered menace.

Still, it’s what I’m doing, for reasons. And at the moment it feels like I’m editing with a paintbrush. Everything’s confusing and blocky and ill-rendered; it’s blurry and it’s ill-defined. But it’s the stage I have to get through before I can sit calmly back and decide whether the change works at all.

This is step one in my three-pass rule. Get the work done. Get it done badly – or at least roughly – and then take another sweep to work out what needs refining and what just hasn’t worked. To make big structural changes is a pain in the bum; for now we’re concentrating on architecture, not decoration. I am making some changes to speech to make it sit better in other character’s voices but tuning the acoustics is another thing to focus on in another pass.

Or, at least, I’m supposed to be doing this. Actually what I’m doing is, due to an unusual conjunction of circumstances, holidaying in the Dordogne. Hence the slightly truncated post.

trichotfromgarden

The chateau where I may well be found

More moaning next time. Possibly about the heat.

Edge-Lit 2019

Edge-Lit

I survived. I lived to tell the tale with merely a flesh-wound or two; a little beat up around the edges but mostly intact.

Yes, Edge-Lit has happened. And it was great. Huge thanks to the organisers and volunteers who helped make it a magnificent day, and to the writers and attendees who were relentlessly good-natured and happy to talk and share their wisdom.

This was my first ever con as a participant and so my reflections are of a different order to that at Sledge-Lit in the winter: I was actually doing things, pretending to be the expert and in the know when in fact I know extraordinarily little.

My workshop (‘The Art of Description’) went okay; not perfectly as I still fluffed some lines and sometimes struggled to give full explanations for the things I was trying to say. But the group helped by turning it into a discussion and pulled me through. In the end I’d say it was not a triumph but a win. And so a little of the terror slipped away.

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The panel: Anna Stephens, Zen Cho, some idiot, Adrian Tchaikovsky. Photo by David Stokes, used with permission

The panel (‘Beyond the Darkness: Where does fantasy fiction go after Grimdark?’) was where the terror regrouped. There I was, sat between Adrian Tchaikovsky and Zen Cho, with Anna Stephens moderating – there was no Jen Williams as she was ill – trembling in the presence of their huge brains. Oh, and in the presence of an auditorium full of people.

It went… okay? I’d resolved not to say too much, just to contribute on each question and not be too garrulous. And that worked, for the most part. I soon found myself out of my depth, however, when the conversation veered to far from the pre-set questions, and especially on the audience questions that followed. I am now fully aware that my reading is wholly inadequate.

I was much more confident on the discussion of Terry Pratchett that broke out in the middle of the session: unexpected in a discussion on Grimdark, but that just highlights the influence PTerry has had.

EdgeLit panel Angeline

Photo by Angeline Trevena, used with permission

So, I survived with only minor injuries – I confess to being somewhat intimidated by Adrian in particular – and had only my reading to go before I could properly relax, and drink – and eat, because I’d had only snacks all day, my nerves preventing my eating a solid meal.

Except I had not to read, for no-one turned up. This is not a huge surprise: I am not a big name draw, it was the fag-end of the day and the room was rather tucked away out of the main flow. A disappointment? Yes, but also something of a relief: after all the day’s terror, at last I could unwind properly, eat some sweet potato fries, and have a beer.

And thus we enter the most important part of the con: the serious business of talking with other people. Not schmoozing or networking, though elements of both are involved, but just meeting and talking with like-minded people; catching up with old friends and making new.

I had a lovely chat with Anna Stephens and shared words with Aliette de Bodard, to drop a name or two, but most of the time was spent with unfamous people – people like me, in fact, who were striving to be in the big chairs in a year or two’s time. I mean, I say this but I was in at least one big chair at Edge-Lit but I put that down to my publisher’s publicity department rather than my own achievements.

As a friend told me on the day: everyone feels like an imposter. No-one feels like they truly deserve to be in the position they find themselves in. I did okay at Edge-Lit.

So on to drinking and the sad reflection that I had to wimp out early due to being up at 04:00 to get to the damn thing: this caught up with me just after we’d decamped to the pub. Thus I missed a proper catch-up with many of the friends I’d made at Sledge-Lit and the chance to make new.

But that’s okay. Self-care is part of the equation at cons; push yourself too hard and you’ll be no good to anyone, least of all yourself. Trying to do it all is a sure way to achieve nothing. I still had a great time. I worked through my terror. I made a decent enough impression.

That’ll do, pig. That’ll do

The three-pass rule

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I have a rule. No, that’s not true. I have a theory, an idea, and it’s this: after every big change you need to make at least two more passes of your manuscript before you can send it out into the great wide world.

At the moment I’m doing major revisions to my latest work-in-progress. This is a good novel (I think) but one upon which I stuffed a little in the character department. I have a plan to combine two characters into one easy-to-swallow morsel. This obviously involves a lot lot lot of work.

So what I’m going to do is this: I’m going to concentrate on that job. I’m not going to worry so much about the actual words I use. I’m not going to worry too much about little slips or finding the perfect prose. This draft is for big things: for who does what and when and how. Not about perfecting the micro-expressions or the tiny gestures.

And that’s why I’ll need another draft when this is done. I’ll need a troubleshooting pass, a precision-engineering job after the great earthmoving of pass #1 (actually pass #6, but it’s been a while since the last one). I need to make sure the voice is right, the silences are on cue and the smiles are from and to the right people.

So: two passes, one for heavy engineering, one for precision. So why is this a three-pass rule?

Truth is that two might be enough, but I’m not happy – I don’t trust myself enough – that this is enough to catch all the imperfections with this little work.

But before that, it’s time for a break.

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Such intense work is likely to take you extremely close to the material. So close, in fact, that you start to lose objectivity and focus. So it’s my plan that before I go on for a third pass I take a long, hard go at something else before coming back to the work in question. This isn’t my idea, of course; it’s in all books of writing advice and the like. I’m just trying to (finally) put it into practice.

That’s where I am at the moment with New Gods, the last in my Antarctic trilogy. I did a major overhaul then cantered through it to fix obvious errors. Now I’ve set it to one side to let cool and to give myself a little distance before I go through it again.

This would also be the time to get beta-readers involved but I fear I’ve already blown all of mine on earlier drafts.

And, while I wait, I’m on to the next task. For writing is a production line and there should always be something on the conveyor belt.

Sledge-Lit 2018

It’s five days until Edge-lit! To get you in the mood, here’s what I wrote about Sledge-Lit 2018 and about surviving conventions in general! Hope you enjoy!

A Writer's Life

Those of you who have been following me for years may know that this blog (and my Twitter feed) was originally inspired by several seminars I went on at Winchester Writing Festival 2013. I even wrote a blog post about it, which I’m linking to even if I’m now pretty embarrassed by everything I wrote in the first few years of this blog’s life.

Well, 65 months (and a lot of words) later and I’ve finally made my second writing convention. This one was almost entirely different: Derby’s Sledge-Lit. It was a one-day event and was a lot, lot smaller that Winchester. Smaller is no bad thing. Smaller is more intimate. Sledge-Lit (Edge-Lit’s winter cousin) is also a genre convention, a gathering for followers of science-fiction, fantasy and horror.

Sledge-Lit

So, without further ado, here’s my thoughts on the event. There may also be advice, though I promise nothing.

View original post 1,059 more words

Reading and not reading

James Coates

‘Woman Reading’ by James Coates

If you ever take a look at my book log you’ll notice that my reading has tailed off considerably over the last year. This almost exactly coincides with the leaving of my last job – and, more pertinently, the lack of a regular bus-rides and lunch breaks.

This is a cause of considerable distress to me. I love reading. It remains the source of unalloyed joy and learning and I am always mindful of Stephen King’s maxim: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

But that’s not the whole story, for I have been doing a bunch of reading that hasn’t appeared on my blog, and that’s the proofreading and copy-editing I’ve been doing professionally. I’m not entirely sure why but I don’t think it’s professional to put this on my blog: there’s thoughts of anonymity and confidentiality in mind but they don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Regardless, there’s another reason for not putting my proofreading work on my blog and that’s because it’s not reading. It’s work.

I learn a lot from my regular reading-for-fun. It’s how I developed my writing skills and how I learnt as much as I have about the world. But it’s above all for pleasure. I read because I love to read, no matter what the subject or the genre.

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‘Spring’ by Lee White

Proofreading and copy-editing is an entirely different experience. It’s not about enjoyment; it is, first and foremost, work, and it requires discipline to get through. That’s not to say that it can’t be a pleasure – my favourite book of the year so far was one I was given to proofread – but really if you get lost in a proofread you’re not doing your job properly. You get swept up in the flow and the mistakes you’re paid to find slip past.

So I have been missing out on a lot of pleasure over the last year. I need to get back in the saddle – and maybe that will involve dropping some of the worthy books, the non-fiction weighties, and concentrate on sheer pleasure. Maybe that’ll give me a road back in.

But why impoverish myself like that? Maybe it’s better to try and carve out some dedicated reading time – half an hour minimum per day? Surely that’s not much to ask?

Or maybe I should just relax and not let it bother me. I’m still reading. I’m still learning. I’m still in love with books. Circumstances will change again, sooner or later.

I just miss those days of getting through three books a week. What a heavenly time that was.