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In the last post, I mentioned I’d embarked on a new novel.

For me, at least in recent years, the appearance of this idea was quick and sudden, almost as soon as I’d finished Ash-Brides. It just popped up in the car one day, centred around a single concept:

If you could burn a map into someone internally, how would that work?

This post is going to explore the initial planning development of a novel. I hope it’s kind of helpful? I’m trying to minimise spoilers or anything that can be nicked, but I have some images for you!

My first step in any planning is to get a notebook. This is not a throw-away item. This is the physical embodiment of your idea. So it needs to look something like your novel’s aesthetic. To demonstrate, here are my last three notebooks.

20170530_112544.jpgFrom left to right, we have the Son of Songs book, the Ash-Brides book, and the new one. Son of Songs was always intentionally a little grubby, a bit lost-and-found; Ash-Brides primarily focused on renewal and light. The new novel’s notebook has beautiful yellow paper and a thick leather-bound cover, because my aesthetic for this is steampunky, ancient.

These three books have a lot in common, though.

Setting up your notebook

Find a pen you like. I prefer black ink rollerballs, or fountain pens. It has to be easy to scritch away and make a mess with. Often, if I’m adding info or making amendments, I’ll change my pen colour.

Accept it isn’t going to be neat. Nobody should be able to make sense of this but you.

Make sure it’s a good size to transport. My notebooks stay in backpacks and handbags for moment of inspiration.

If you don’t like lines, don’t use ’em.

And away we go!

Your planning style

Mine is the same for each book. The organisation of the content differs, but I always have the same sort of stuff.

The first thing I did in this book was character sketches.

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These sketches include name, profession and defining physical features. Often, they’ll include a little backstory and some of their initial thoughts about the world they live in. Each of these sketches can be a few pages long, so I make sure to leave space in case I have any other thoughts later.

I try to keep it as tidy as possible. See?

After the characters, I wrote a rough outline of how the novel starts, which I’m not posting here! (Sorry). These are often wildly rambling and full of rhetorical questions. Here’s a tiny section from Ash-Brides to show you what I mean.

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Hell, half the time, even I don’t know what I want when I start. That’s okay!

After the vague outline comes a list of things I need to consider. Not all of these will end up in the finished product.

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Again, not all of these end up in the finished product. They’re jumping off points, for research or other ideas. They’re questions to your future self.

Beyond that, I often do a flow chart of where the characters have to get to, and what happens at each place.

Then we get to sketches. I am a terrible artist, but here goes.

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Sketches often help you to visualise something that might be difficult to describe later. Near sketches, I usually try to make a list of materials and properties the objects might have.

Oh, and lists of names for things.

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Your notebook is a perfect place for worldbuilding, too – y’know, all those little things the writer needs to know, but the reader may not. I have whole sections dedicated to government, and reasons the war may have started.

Then, we have some continuity lists to help you. I often have a list of minor characters, alongside their status and location, and a list of objects each character is currently carrying.

And that’s kind of it.

Obviously, the further I go, the more I’ll add. It’s a working document and I’m not afraid to cross things out and add extra. Once my pinboard is up and running, I’ll show that to you, too.

Well, it’s been some months since I finished my famous edit.

My thoughts about it are mostly positive, which I hadn’t expected when I embarked upon it. I feel like some progress was made, even if at points I added more than I took away. The only niggle I have is that I feel like towards the end of the process, I was cutting corners – not reading sections properly and getting lazy towards cutting. Still, it’s more editing on these novels than I’ve ever done, so there’s that.

Upon finishing the edit, I became more creative. I think restricting myself to proof-reading and cutting made me appreciate how nice it is to write freely. I finally finished the Ash-Brides trilogy, and made great strides towards making it reader friendly – AND I embarked on a new project, as yet untitled. Having the time and energy to devote to a project like that full time is so refreshing. I didn’t need to feel guilty that I was neglecting other aspects of my life so I could write, or vice versa. This is the most creative I’ve been for years, and I’m sustaining it, too.

There is still a paper edit on the cards here, but not right now. I’ve just finished a huge move, across the Atlantic (!) and dealing with the paperwork for that has been soul-crushing. It’s nearly over, and I’m glad.

The other big thing I’ve accomplished is I sent out a short story to a competition. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for years, and I know to some, this isn’t a big deal at all. For me, this is a huge step towards publishing again. I’m so protective of my work that any sort of step towards rejection is frightening for me, but it’s important to try.

Something else creative I’ve embarked on is a music project  with my friend, Alex. We review classic albums, picked for us by friends, and put them on this blog here. It’s updated nearly every day, so check it out.

Okay, that’s my update over. I have to get back to space.

ploughed through that strange double narrative, and managed to speed through Dib’s Universe, book three, and the very last book I ever hand wrote.

I started writing at twelve, when I didn’t have unlimited access to a computer or laptop to write with. All of my early novels (of which there are five that will never see the light of day, the first three Space and Time novels I just edited, a novel about a walled city, Against the Elements and I think that’s it?) were hand-written, in notebooks, and then on lined paper. I had a lovely green Parker pen that a friend of the family bought me, and I would sit at my desk or on my bed and write all day, if the mood took me.

For my sixteenth birthday (yes, sixteenth – I had no friends and wrote a lot), I bought a third hand laptop off a friend, and the first novel I wrote on it was Eugene’s Vortex, the fourth Space and Time novel.

There are a myriad of advantages to writing straight to screen:

  1. Continuity – not just between pages, but between entire novels. It’s so easy to check up on a capitalisation, or a previous important section. What I’m finding, four chapters in to Vortex, is that I’m way more accurate with that sort of thing. It’s easier to scroll up, or control-f something like a key phrase than sort through reams of paper.
  2. Unlimited space to mess up, rewrite, edit. On paper, I was concerned with the ink and paper consumption, and the tidiness of the thing. On screen, no worries.
  3. You can write faster, for longer. I don’t know about you, but hand-writing a whole novel plays havoc with your hands. My novels definitely became longer when I had the joys of Microsoft Word.
  4. Keep it secret, keep it safe. I’m a paranoid writer. I don’t want anyone stumbling across my writing when I don’t want them to. Password protect, baby.
  5. Editing is way easy. Honestly. Utilise that Track Changes tool.

But I’m also discovering the biggest problems with writing straight to screen. The first is that with all that space, I ramble. My tautological phrases have doubled, probably because I’m not thinking hard about the right word or phrase. It’s almost like I just put every phrase I liked down and thought, ‘I’ll pick one later’. What I find is that the right phrase is often there, nestled in a bunch of other, exactly similar phrases, and that’s taking up a lot of edit time.

Typos, obviously, are a curse here too. There are lots of ‘me’s instead of ‘my’s and ‘he’s instead of ‘her’s and that is something you have to comb for, excessively. I also think maybe that I got obssessed with the synonyms tab on the drop down menu, because there are weird words in there that I would never use now.

Editing is about paring down, and unlike the first three books, I’m adding a lot less and taking out more, which is a good thing. There is definitely a big step up from Universe’s word count to Vortex’s.

But I’m enjoying these Space novels a lot. These are my favourite characters and it’s funny seeing how accurate my descriptions of them are continuously. It’s a learning curve!

If the title baffles you, it’s totally fine.

Let me introduce you to Ryan.

Ryan is a narcissist, but he’s classy with it. Tactless, but funny. The traditional charming rogue, except with casual murder. He’s probably one of the first characters I ever admitted kind of lived in my head. I don’t mean that in the same way I do with other characters. Of course they all live in my head. But Ryan is… there.

Which is fine. I mean, writers create characters. And in order to create characters, they have to feel real, not only to the reader but to yourself as well. The more real that character feels, the better you’ll write them (I’m sure I blogged about this before).

But Ryan is Ryan. And he’s rather persistent.

So when I wrote the second novel in the Time and Space series, I decided to let him vent off some steam and give him his own first person narration.

I want to make a point here that it was the very first time I ever attempted first person. I didn’t find it comfortable all the rest of the time I’d tried it, and I didn’t want to wreck it up. But Ryan’s voice was so strong, I knew I could at least give it a decent stab.

I also want to point out that the whole novel is NOT in Ryan’s pov.

That seemed like an excellent idea at the time. I wanted to keep some continuity in style with the first novel, which includes all of the same characters, and honestly, I wasn’t sure I could keep the first person up. So it mixes between third person and Ryan. Me sometimes, Ryan others. No issue. It reads well, and it makes sense, and Ryan’s narration occurs at key moments rather than just because I feel like writing like Ryan.

(Side note: if attempting this, you MUST make sure it isn’t a gimmick, or something just to appease the fangirl in you. The first person has to work on its own, not as a scaffold for the third, and vice versa. If you want a great example, try the Bartimaeus trilogy by Johnathon Stroud, which does this beautifully.)

The issue comes when trying to edit.

I flew through the first novel, due to previous edits and a clear sense of what I wanted out of it, and powered through to the second, thinking it would be done in the same amount of time.

Nope.

The problem is what made it work so well the first time: Ryan. The strength of his narration and his particular style of speaking is so jarring against my third person narration that trying to edit in strict chapter continuity is nigh on impossible, because as I exit a third person chapter, I am suddenly thrust into a different voice and style that I immediately have to adapt to in order to be subjective.

And it isn’t my voice. It’s Ryan’s. And I know that sounds weird. I have to inhabit his head, which makes the edit really, really hard.

Right now, I’m thinking this is what I’ll do:

a) Power through. I’m nearly at the end of the initial edit, so I may as well push through these last eight chapters. Slowly.

b) Print out. This, of course, is one of my previous edit tips. But there’s a reason for this.

c) Separate out Ryan from me. In this case, take all of the third person chapters and put them in one pile, and all of the Ryan chapters and place them in another.

d) Paper edit each voice separately. So, all the third, all together. Then, all of Ryan’s.

e) Take it back to the computer edit. Add all changes.

f) Final read.

It’s going to take way more time than I imagined, but I want to do this thing properly. I’ll update you on the process – maybe with pictures!!

 

It’s been a long time, people, I know. But life.

I’ve got some spare time on my hands at the moment, for the first time in years. It’s a weird feeling, but it’s great, too, because it means that I am solely focused on something I should have done a really long time ago: finish that goddamn edit.

I started with The Summoner, which over the course of nearly 10 years has has several edits. I haven’t kept track. I just kept picking away at it. Last week, I sat myself down to finish the edit I started in MarchUnfortunately, Word had somehow deleted all my tracking and revisions.

Well, I knew I got pretty far in, so I started on Chapter 4.

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Sigh. It was kind of okay, though. Without the blinkers of my revisions, I re-read all of those chapters thinking maybe I hadn’t edited them after all. It meant I actually did a further edit, which can’t be a bad thing, I guess.

Anyway, I finished that beast last week, and walked away for the weekend. Today, I went back and accepted all changes, and then started reading again.

This is my proof-read. This IS NOT another edit. You finally have to reach a point where you stop editing and start seeing it as a whole thing. Of course, I’m changing things here and there, but not to the crazy extent I was before, because I kind of trust myself now.

Already, I can see how much more mature the writing sounds. That’s good. And the story has a good flow, with acceptable tension, and mostly, I’m pleased with it.

Notice how I said in the first paragraph how I don’t know how many edits I’ve done, but I know that over the last 10 years, I’ve done a lot to this.

TEN. YEARS.

Obviously, this hasn’t been continuous editing. But I’m an edit-avoider, and I know it, and when I think of the work I’ve done on this thing, I feel kind of proud. I can’t count how many times I’ve read it. But I can see the fruits of my labours, finally, and it feels pretty good.

I’m moving on to Book 2, The Summoned, once I’ve done this re-read, which is a novel I’m proud of, anyway. Feeling positive, folks!

Planetine label

Hello. So yeah, another sneak peek at my Planetine submission. The diary is finished, and accompanying it will be a cool video where I pretend to be a museum curator and stuff.

Planetine will be at Leeds Corn Exchange for ONE WEEK ONLY, with a bunch of activities you can join in with and 13 artists. It starts on 4th May and is pretty much awesome.

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On Twitter, we’re @planetine. Come and check us out!

More sneak peeks to come…

 

Hello all, long time no type.

There is a brand new project that I’m working on, in collaboration with a whole bunch of crazy talented artists and run by crazy talented Ryan Thompson, called Planetine. It will be an artistic exhibition, based on the creation of planets.

So, right up my street.

I will be contributing a Son of Songs planet, and an exclusive Son of Songs story to go with it and, fingers crossed, a little video that works with it.

Date for your diary is May 4th 2016 (yes, Star Wars Day!) and the place to be is Leeds, UK. I will give more details closer to the time.

Interested? Sign up to Planetine on Facebook here, and on Twitter here.

 

Other than that, here’s a sneak peak…2016-02-23 17.53.49.jpg