30 June, 2014

Death by a Thousand Cuts... and Re-writes

First, let me say "AAAAAAAAACK!!!!!!" just once.

Phew.  Thanks for that.  Now I'll get to the point.

Something cool happened to me.  I'll post on that later.  For now, let's stick to the horrible part, as that's what I'm presently feeling.

I sent my book off to the agent.  Pretty cool, huh?  I went through a brutal editing by my fiancĂ©, talented writer and brutal editor Ruth Akien, which involved basically realising what I'd done was a bunch of overly introspective waffle, and I had to re-evaluate my book and have a long think about how I need to go about plotting a novel.

(Every writer, I believe, has their own process for figuring out their book as a whole.  I have now discovered mine and I'll gladly share it with you, but not in this post.  If I did that, the post would become unfocussed waffle.  See what I did there?)

So, a few long months later, I finished the re-write.  I'm happy with it.  Like, I actually feel confident that it's my best work.  I didn't rush or cut corners.  I figured it, and myself, out to no small extent and I feel like a real writer for the first time in my life.  So off the story went to the agent.

After doing that, if you have a really good agent, apparently there can be a bit of a waiting game.  This I didn't expect.  Whenever I email Leslie, even if it's 2AM, she gets back to me like 10 minutes later.  (I don't know how the hell she does that.)  This time, she took a few weeks.  That's because she wanted to give the book a long think, and she had lots of other work to do with other authors.  That's good, right?  She has other authors in her list of clients and she works hard and frequently for them.  Sounds like my kind of agent.

So then I waited.  I decided to take some well-deserved time off.  I went to video game land, book land, relationship land... all that crap.  But it turns out I'm a work-o-holic.  I started writing a new book, plotted the first third and figured out how I want it to end, and got to work.  Things were going great.

Then I got my manuscript notes back from Leslie.  Great!  I was told I had "great elements".  ... ...


Okay.  So what the hell did that mean?  It could be that the story's great, and just needs a tweak, or that the story sucks, but something with similar characters might work!  Should I be elated or should I tear my hair out?  I had no idea how to take it.

It turned out, she thought the book needed a new beginning.  So I had to drop my previous project and get stuck back into Paint the Raven Black.

One thing I've learned is that writing a novel is an emotional rollercoaster.  Sometimes I love it.  Sometimes I hate it.  Right now I hate it.  I want to set my computer on fire, run screaming and laughing into the night, and get a job working at McDonald's or something.  Or maybe I just wanted to write a blog post.  McDonald's pays better, but this is probably more cathartic.

Well, back to work.

20 June, 2014

Guest post by Jayne-Marie Barker: The Double Story

Do you fancy writing a double take story; one with two time threads running through it? Parallel lines are a really fun way to tell a story. It's a personal favourite of mine so I'm always keen to share the joys of the double tale. It's a popular method, provides the author with double narrative voices and offers fantastic scope for plot twists. So, what are your options? You can alternate the chapters, or you can spin multiple storylines. The trick is to link your storylines with a robust connection, preferably one that keeps the reader guessing until the very last page.

I have placed double time lines in all three of my Inspector Allen novels, and I have to say, it's the single most popular comment from readers. They love the back and forth between the time zones. It's interesting to write too. Readers can be confused so always make sure you place your time lines clearly in the readers minds. I tend to use the first person for one storyline and the third person for the other. It's immediately clear to the reader where they are.

Both time lines must be equal, have suitably strong plotlines and pull for the reader. An example of this would be Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing", which sees two couples courting, one then the other, then back to the first etc. One way to gage this is to use your own reaction. Do you prefer writing one more than the other? Is one more fun, more engaging, housing a more attractive cast? If so, you need to address the balance. By the end of course, you can link the two.

Personally, I tend to bring the two together at the climatic point and tidy up the loose ends just in time to conclude with the more modern day setting of the two.

The double story often works well for family saga novels, although I have managed to apply it to crime fiction, which means you can apply it to any genre. One thing the parallel narrative has in its favour is suspense, which is why I choose it for crime fiction. The reader is not only trying to fathom the mystery that you've carefully plotted across the pages, but also how the two time lines connect with each other. A great idea, and one I haven't tried myself but is already popular, is to switch between the police detective and the criminal. You don't even need a time zone difference for this, the entire thing would be set in the one time period.

In 1962 Alfred Hitchcock is said to have quoted the following, when asked about suspense during an interview with Francois Truffaut: "Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, boom! There is an explosion. The public is surprised but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there..." How would you set this up? In one chapter the bomb is positioned. In the next an innocent couple sit at the table. In the next chapter.... well, you decide. You get the idea. Take a tip from me. You do need to keep track of who knows what when though, to remember where you are at every point of the narrative.

The less obvious method of parallel narrative is the hidden back story. This would underpin the entire novel. A good example of this is Agatha Christie's "The Mysterious Affair at Styles". By this I mean that one storyline has already concluded by the time the second one starts e.g. Captain Hastings and his friend have already met, Hastings is already recovering from his injury at his friend's house and the murder has occurred. Cue Poirot and the second storyline begins. The first part underpins why the second part is necessary and therefore both have equal depth in the novel.

It's not an easy writing method, I grant you, but very rewarding and great fun. Give it a try!

Jayne is a regular contributor to Everest by Fog. If you like mystery novels, give her website a gander. You won't regret it. Check out her books here and on Amazon. They've gotten great reviews. Or if you like using companies that pay tax and all that left-wing hippy crap, you can use The Book Depository instead of Amazon.