Posts Tagged ‘re-writing’

bookdesign345Writing Excuses 10.16 was, as is often the case, a really good episode. Talking about the importance of the first few lines of a book in drawing readers in, they provided the usual mix of top advice and interesting points to consider. If you’re not a regular listener (which if you write you should be) I particularly recommend this one.

This week’s exercise was:

Write your first thirteen lines, and see how much you can fit into that space—character attitude, point-of-view, mood, genre, conflict, setting, and more.

In keeping with the advice from the show, I’ve taken one of the beginnings I wrote two exercises ago and adapted that. Based on useful feedback in the comments from Ben and Sheila, I’m using my third beginning, which gets quickly into the characters and plot. You can look at the previous exercise to see the original version. Now for the new one…

My New Beginning

Night was falling as the hot air balloon crossed the Prussian siege lines and reached the walls of the Red Castle. Two teenagers in livery gawped at the steam motor as they took the ropes from Dirk Dynamo and secured the balloon to the crenelations. Even before they had finished, Dirk leapt down onto the stonework and assessed his surroundings by the light of burning torches. One hand lay on his holster, ready for whatever trap Isabelle had prepared.

Behind him, Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms scrambled excitedly out of the basket, accompanied by the clatter of gears and gadgets rattling in his pockets.

An elderly servant in a tailcoat held out a gloved hand. He said something in German.

“You catch that?” Dirk asked.

“Sorry what?” Blaze-Simms looked up from peering at a gargoyle.

“Ah, you are British?” The butler’s expression didn’t change as he shifted into English.

“He is.” He pointed at Blaze-Simms. “I’m American.”

“Oh.” Was it possible for a man’s face to fall without moving a muscle? If it was, then the butler managed it. “May I have your card please?”

What I’ve Done

So what did I do there to try to add extra leads into this story, which will be the fourth in my Epiphany Club series, Sieges and Silverware?

The most obvious thing is in the first line. A big part of the plot and atmosphere of this book revolves around the castle being besieged by a Prussian army. I’ve added that in the very first line, and in future revisions I might also use that to tease out hints at Dirk’s military background.

I’ve added a motor to the balloon to hint at the steampunk genre that’s part of these books – together with the already present rattling gears and gadgets, I hope that sets the right tone.

Speaking of tone, I’ve tried to build up the action and suspense side of both the story and Dirk’s character through the way he behaves coming off the balloon. He’s not just looking, he’s assessing for danger. His hand is on his gun. This is an action hero expecting trouble.

The same lines let me introduce the conflict with Isabelle McNair, who Dirk was previously working with. The story’s other main plotline, and the main one for character development, is there straight away.

Some of the character attitudes and setting were already present. The servant’s formality and disdain for Americans, which creates instant conflict with Dirk. The castle setting. Dirk leading the way as Blaze-Simms bumbles along behind him. I’m pleased with what I’ve added. In some ways I’d like to get more in there, but I was concerned about things getting bogged down. I’ve even trimmed down some of the prose to avoid that.

What do you think? How does this work as an opening? And if you’ve read the previous version, is it an improvement or have I just made a mess – these things do happen. Leave a comment, let me know, and if you’ve done this exercise then please share how you got on.

Oh, and if you like the look of these characters then the first in the series, Guns and Guano, is free from most places you can get ebooks, including

I’ve just had to rewrite a scene from a different point of view. It was really wrenching. The scene, set at a Roman arena, felt very evocative from the original point of view, that of a jaded ex-legionary seeing the games for the first time. I got to invest the experience with cynicism, to make it about of a connection not quite made, filled at once with nostalgia and alienation. And of course a warrior is well suited to notice and describe the details of a fight.

But ultimately, that wasn’t enough. The scene serves a function within the story, moving on plots, developing characters. And those parts of the scene are better evoked from the point of view of a young Roman aristocrat, showing her triumphs and frustrations, the things that are going on around the games.

My big lesson for this is that what best serves description isn’t necessarily what best serves character and plot. Or maybe that what feels most exciting for one scene won’t necessarily be the best choice for the whole story. Or… I don’t know, I’m just trying to retrieve meaning from my disappointment.

Have any of you had to change the viewpoint on a scene or a story? Why? How did you feel about it? Have you read a scene in someone else’s work that you thought had the wrong viewpoint? Offer me comfort or wisdom or both, people of the internet.

The group

Posted: May 20, 2013 in writing life
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I’ve just signed up for a writing group for the first time. I know that, as a writer, I should have done this years ago – one of the most useful things you can do is to get others’ feedback on your stories – but I’ve never got round to it before now.

Part of the reason is personal circumstances. I don’t live near any of my long-standing friends who are writers. We sometimes offer opinions on each others’ work, but that’s mostly through sending completed stories for feedback before editing, not workshopping on discussing works in progress. So I couldn’t join a local writing group with people I know.

The other factor is courage. Despite being published, and regularly throwing opinions out through this blog, I’m instinctively nervous about what others will say about my work. I expect we all are to some extent. A story is an extension of your personality, so even if you want to know how to improve it there’ll always be part of you that doesn’t want to go through hearing someone else’s criticism. That little part of you that, however much you try to put it in its place, still cringes away when it sees the red pen on the pages, or the notes in an electronic edit.

The answer in the end was just to pull together some courage and sign up for a group through a forum I’m on. It’s not the same as discussing stuff in person, but I’m sure it’ll be really valuable, and a good chance to get to know some other writers. If nothing else, I’ve tested my own limits and passed.

Now to go find a story I can bear to see criticised…

Editing for character

Posted: March 26, 2013 in Uncategorized
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This week I’ve been experimenting with editorial technique. Normally when I re-write a story I work my way through the story from start to finish, making notes on what to change. But this time, inspired by some feedback, I wanted to focus on improving characterisation, and so I thought about how to best achieve this.

I started by going through my manuscript and highlighting passages that focused on each character, whether their dialogue, description, thoughts or actions. I highlighted each one in a different colour so that I could easily tell them apart.

Then I went through the story, one character at a time, picking out their passages and thinking about how to present that character better on the page. It helped me to focus on their particular voice and mannerisms, to improve my consistency and think about how to make that one person more vivid.

Time will tell whether this has worked. Time and the responses of editors. But I’m pleased with the results, and at the very least it’s helped me to think about my stories in a fresh way.

So, does anybody out there have similar techniques? How do you sharpen up your characters in the edit? Or do you have other approaches to help you focus?

I had the surreal experience this week of being surprised by my own writing.

I’d received a relatively detailed rejection email on a short story, for which I must mention Waylines Magazine, as it was one of the most useful and encouraging rejections I’ve had. Based on their feedback, I started reading through the story, looking for bits to improve. It’s a story that I’ve been trying to sell for years, and that’s been through a lot of re-writes. But I was still amazed to find that I’d completely forgotten about my last revision, which transforms the ending. It was a bizarre, dissociative experience to read something I knew I’d written, and yet have it seem completely unfamiliar. It was a good surprise – it’s a much stronger ending than the original one – and made me laugh rather than weep for my failing memory. Still, it was a little unsettling, like when your arm goes to sleep and it seems like that part of your body isn’t your own.

Has anybody out there had the same thing? Or do you always come back to your writing, as I usually do, with a sense of ‘here it comes again’?

The horror revisited

Posted: January 14, 2013 in Uncategorized
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This week I’ve been revisiting my failed attempt at writing a horror story from December. It’s been an interesting exercise, taking elements of what I’d written and trying to revise it to achieved a horrifying tone, but it’s been a much bigger task than I expected.

While I haven’t had to re-invent the characters or setting, I largely replotted the story, getting from the same beginning to the same end in a different way. Even keeping that much of the structure the same, I had to do a lot of fresh writing. In fact, after the first few paragraphs I wasn’t able to reuse anything at all. I was a bit disappointed, as it made it feel more like I’d wasted my previous effort, but it was also a useful object lesson. Even when I was describing the same things, I had to do it differently. The problem with the original version, that it wasn’t really a horror story, was as much about tone as events. And the language that creates a tone of creeping unpleasantness is very different from what I use for an in-your-face scene of terrified people being attacked by malevolent spirits. It’s been well worth the effort, and though I haven’t quite finished yet I’m much more pleased with the result.