Tag Archives: children’s novels

Drafting Dos & Don’ts, or Missives of a Maniac

So, yesterday marked the beginning of ‘Tider Mark II Draft II’, truly a red-letter day in my life, and – I’m sure – in yours. Me being me, and my life being what it is, though, nothing went to plan; in this as in everything I make a mess of, however, I managed to learn some stuff. It’s my civic duty to pass it on, so that those wobbling in my footsteps might avoid the same pitfalls and experience no delays as they ascend the misty heights of Mount Brilliant.

Aaaw, *man*.  Image: tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com

Aaaw, *man*.
Image: tywkiwdbi.blogspot.com

So, without further ado, here is what I learned from yesterday’s editing. Reading it, one would be forgiven for thinking I had never edited anything before, ever. This is so far from the truth as to be laughable. It makes me wonder about the state of my brain, and its ability to retain what I put into it.

Anyway.

Things learned (so far) from Tider: Draft 2

1. Don’t mess with (what you think is) your only copy of your text

So. Picture the scene. I opened my computer file, and all was well. Birds were singing, sunlight laughing through the window, the world was a multi-hued picture of sheer unadulterated beauty, and so forth. I may even have giggled and sung soprano, à la Snow White, c. 1937.

This is the kind of look I'm aiming for, right here. Image: animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com

This is the kind of look I’m aiming for, right here.
Image: animatedfilmreviews.blogspot.com

I’d been happily snipping and cutting and editing and making huge editorial decisions for goodness knows how long when a realisation hit me, and it was akin to having a giant, cold bucket of slop poured over my head. It put paid to the singing and the sunshine, let me tell you. That realisation was:

What did I think I was doing, messing around with my only copy of the text?

I’d been doing really well, I thought, saving as I went and being really careful to back my work up to my USB stick, as I always am. Every change I made, I’d saved it. I seem to have been so interested in making backups of my edits to realise how stupid it is to edit any document without making a backup of the whole thing first.

So.

First thing you don’t do when you’re editing a long and important document is this: don’t start hacking away at it without having a backup made of the entire thing. What happens if you decide later that your editorial decisions were wrong? What happens if you preferred it the way it was before you started editing? What happens if you delete something vital by mistake and you don’t realise it until it’s too late? None of these will become disasters unless you don’t have a full copy made of Draft 1 before you begin.

2. Don’t lose the password to your new phone with all your notes in it

Perhaps this one is very much a ‘me’ sort of problem, and has arisen because a) I’m technologically challenged, as you know, and b) I got a new phone recently, which requires a different password to be entered for every tiny little function. It is enough to drive one to the brink.

What my new phone does have, however, is a wonderful note-taking function; I’ve been making great use of it for the past week or so, ever since I learned how it works. I’ve been ruminating on plot twists and character motivation and possible endings and even writing a back-cover blurb (it’s great for focusing the mind on the important bits of your plot, FYI). The only drawback to this is that I tend to forget stuff once I’ve made a note of it. Once it’s in the phone, it doesn’t need to be in my head. This is all fine, if getting into the phone didn’t require the same levels of dexterity, quick thinking and chutzpah needed to outsmart an ancient booby-trap.

Okay. So, I swipe the screen, and enter the password... the *what?* Image: impassionedcinema.com

Okay. So, I swipe the screen, and enter the password… Hang on, hang on. The *what?*
Image: impassionedcinema.com

Of course, I eventually worked it out. Of course, it turned out to be the simplest thing in the known universe. And, of course, I felt like a total pillock when I realised this. But the short version of this story is: keep a good hold of your passwords. At the last count, I have twenty-three of them. Don’t lose ’em or mix ’em up, particularly when your nuggets of wisdom regarding the dramatic climax of your work of genius are stored safely away behind ’em. Capisce?

3. Don’t worry too much about formatting page layout, &c., as you go

Perhaps this is as clear as day to most people. To me, however, it is a challenge. I’m the sort of person who has to have everything perfect – it helps me to keep a handle on the document overall if I know all my paragraphs and page layouts are okay. I’m not sure why this is, because having perfect page breaks has zero effect on the document’s contents. In any case, I tend to stress myself out over things like making sure there are no ‘widows and orphans’ (in terms of sentences, naturally), and that all the proper indents are in place, and that every new speaker has their own line in blocks of dialogue, and all these other things that don’t really matter until the final edit. They’re very important – don’t get me wrong – but when you’re up to your neck in the middle of your second edit, don’t stress if a paragraph isn’t perfectly laid out. Seriously.

The final point, however, is probably the most important one. Are you ready?

4. Don’t start freaking out until you remember you emailed yourself a copy of the document two weeks ago

If I had remembered this first, I could’ve saved myself all the stress I went through during Point 1, above.

My peace of mind has been irrevocably damaged. I mean, I'll never look at a USB stick the same way again... Image: evangelicaloutpost.com

My peace of mind has been irrevocably damaged. I mean, I’ll never look at a USB stick the same way again…
Image: evangelicaloutpost.com

Yes. After I had spent goodness knows how long freaking out over all the work I’d lost from being so eager to begin my edits without making a backup, I realised I’d emailed myself a copy of ‘Tider’ a while back, which had the original version of everything I’d edited. So, then I started singing again and the sun came out, and everything was rosy once more.

Let this be a lesson. Not only do you need to be clever enough to make backups, but you need to be clever enough to remember you’ve made backups. Take it from one who has suffered, so you don’t have to.

Happy Tuesday! Together, we’ll make it through.

 

 

Book Review Saturday – ‘King of Shadows’

There are some of you who will know that ‘King of Shadows’ is a Susan Cooper novel, and of you’re aware of this author and her work, you will probably also know that there is no such thing as a bad Susan Cooper novel. You might also be wondering why I’m reviewing a book which was first published in 1999; I hate to admit this, because I’m a huge fan of the author, but ‘King of Shadows’ is a new book, to me. I really wish I hadn’t left it so long to read it.

Image: boomerangbooks.com.au

Image: boomerangbooks.com.au

I am going through a ‘time travel’ phase with my reading at the moment. As well as ‘King of Shadows’, I’ve also read ‘Hagwitch’ by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick in the last few weeks and I’m currently reading the (utterly marvellous) ‘To Say Nothing of the Dog’ by Connie Willis. This is largely because ‘Tider’, my own little book, features time-travel, of a sort; becoming familiar with the norms of the genre is important to me. I love books which use the idea of ‘time-slip’, where there are two interlinked stories being told side by side, one which takes place in ‘the present’ (whenever that is) and the other which takes place in the past, or the future; ‘Hagwitch’ is a book like this. ‘King of Shadows’ has some time-slip features, but it’s largely a book about a boy going back in time, for a very specific and important reason.

The book opens in a rehearsal room. A group of young actors are preparing themselves for a special performance of Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, to be staged in the refurbished Globe Theatre in London; all the players are American, and to them, it’s the trip of a lifetime. They are a specially assembled troupe, all male, designed to mimic the original staging conditions of Shakespeare’s play – because, of course, in Shakespeare’s time women could not act on stage – and they have all been hand-picked for their particular acting talents. Among these wonderful young actors is a boy named Nathan Field, who, as well as being a marvellously talented actor, is dealing with the painful loss of his father and mother. The dynamics between the boys in the acting troupe – the inevitable bullying, friendship-forging, and competitiveness – is really well handled, and Cooper skilfully brings us into the heart of the group.

When the boys arrive in London, Nathan (or ‘Nat’) barely has time to acclimatise before he falls ill. After dinner one evening, he becomes extremely sick, and is rushed to hospital; he slips into unconsciousness, but not before having a vision of himself being taken out of the world, and flying over the surface of the earth like he was floating in space…

When he wakes, he finds himself in a strange place – a smelly, loud, overwhelming place, where people speak with strange accents. The strangest thing of all, though is this: everyone seems to know Nat. They know his name, they know who he is, and in this new and disorienting setting, Nat is still an actor with a dramatic troupe. He is engaged in rehearsals for a play – a new, exciting play called ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – and gradually, Nat realises he has travelled back in time. He has, for some reason, wound up in 1599, and even more astoundingly, he is one of Shakespeare’s own players, and part of the play’s original production.

Image: shakespeare.mit.edu

Image: shakespeare.mit.edu

Susan Cooper is an author whose writing leaves me breathless. She never fails to reduce me to tears at least once during the reading of her novels, and this one is no different. The relationship which develops between Nat and Shakespeare is almost unbearably beautiful; Nat has lost his parents in a life-rending tragedy, and Shakespeare has just lost his son, Hamnet. The two bond, in a deep and loving way, over their shared grief, and Cooper explores this in a way which is never mawkish, but which is simply touching and true. As an actor, Nat knows how lucky he is to have ended up as part of this group of actors, and he makes the most of every second, never knowing where (or when) he will be when he wakes up or whether he’ll be wrenched out of this world at any moment. His initial disorientation and discomfort at Elizabethan life soon turn into deep attachment, both to the era and the people he meets, and every moment he spends there is filled with urgency and the poignancy of imminent loss. Every tiny detail of his life and of the Elizabethan world is described with such skill that the reader feels they are living in sixteenth-century London as they read; I felt, at all times, that I was part of the book I was reading.

Eventually, of course, things have to return to normal. The book’s ending is a little exposition-heavy, but I hardly even noticed: I was so busy enjoying the explanation for Nat’s adventure, and the connections between him and the past, that I was happy to ignore the slightly unrealistic way in which Nat’s announcement that he has met the real Shakespeare is accepted, eventually, by his friends. I found myself moved to tears by the story, and by the sensitive way Susan Cooper handled her material, but also because I loved Nat so much. As a character, he is marvellous. The burden he has to bear is one which would crush even the strongest of adults, but he has held on to his passion for acting throughout everything he has suffered, and the reader knows he is going to have a wonderful and beautiful life. He is exquisitely described, as one would expect of Susan Cooper, and the interplay between the modern and Elizabethan world is thrilling.

Of Susan Cooper’s books, nothing will ever replace ‘The Dark is Rising’ sequence in my list of favourites. ‘Victory’ was my next favourite, after those, but it has now been knocked off that spot by ‘King of Shadows’. I loved this book. If you haven’t read it already, then read it now. If you’ve read it before, read it again.

Whatever you do, just read.

Happy weekend!

Tider Tuesday

Today, I’m beginning a monumental task. What better day to do it than a Tuesday, yes? Yes.

Today, I am beginning a rewrite of ‘Tider’. I’m sure y’all will remember me talking about this poor, long-neglected novel of mine, which I started last year and thought I’d finished in January of this year. You may also remember the near meltdown that engulfed me in the latter stages of said novel, and you may (or, probably, may not) have been wondering why I’ve been so quiet about it ever since.

Well. The reason is this.

Writing ‘Eldritch’ has given me a huge insight into the kind of writer I want to be. Writing ‘Eldritch’ has shown me that I really truly do love children’s books, and that while I love reading YA books, I’m not terribly good at writing them – at least, not at the moment. In the current version of ‘Tider’, my main character is in her mid-teens, and there’s a love interest, and she’s awkwardly finding out about her feelings for this love interest while simultaneously trying to save her family, and quite possibly the world, from destruction; I realise now that the love interest was superfluous – at least, as far as I’m concerned. The important thing about the story was the character, her family, and her love for them. In short, ‘Tider’ – in its current form – is a children’s book trying to be a YA book.

My original idea for ‘Tider’ involved my main character and her best friend going off on an adventure in an attempt to save the life of the best friend’s father, and unwittingly getting involved in a situation much bigger than either of them could have imagined, which leaves the fate of the world at stake. In the course of the book, the characters would be faced with hard choices, about their families and also about their friendship, and my MC and her own father would be set on a collision course due to his unwillingness to help them in their quest. For some reason, this became a story about a girl rebelling against her father and wanting to find out the truth about her mother, getting involved in a vigilante group and falling in love with one of its ringleaders, who then go on to try to take her father out of business (because his ‘business’ is illegal and immoral and wrong, something the MC gradually comes to see.) You might also remember that ‘Tider’ was far too long – somewhere in the region of 150,000 words, which is lunacy – and the time and effort that would be involved in taking it as it is and editing it down to a manageable size would, I feel, be better spent in ‘simply’ rewriting the book completely.

I’m being very calm about this, all things considered.

I look a bit like this guy, but that's irrelevant. Image: creepypasta.wikia.com

I look a bit like this guy, but that’s irrelevant.
Image: creepypasta.wikia.com

Over the past few days and weeks, the idea for ‘Tider’ Mk. II has been taking shape in my head. I think I have a first page, and a first chapter, and a revised structure – basically, the plot is the same but without some of the more complicated subplots and, of course, the romance element – and, really, all I’m doing is going back to my original plan for the book. In a way, I feel it’s been a long, painful, but necessary process.

I do wish, sort of, that I’d been able to come to this conclusion without all the stress and sweat and panic and hard work, but then, that’s what learning is all about, isn’t it?

Things I have learned from this process:

If you’re struggling – to the point of tears – with a book, then take a step back and reassess it. If it’s not working, it may not be anything you’re doing wrong. It may just be not working.

If you’re panicking about your book, and plot twists or ‘patches’ or ideas are coming to you at a crazy pace, and when you work them into your book and they fix something for a while but cause you bigger problems later on, don’t just leave them there. Go back over what you’ve done, and calmly, rationally unpick it, and see if there’s something better you can do.

If you’re not enjoying the writing – with the caveat that, of course, writing is work, and hard work, and should be challenging – then something may be slightly off-kilter. Again, take some time to think and reassess and, perhaps, take a complete break from what you’re doing for a while.

Do not set yourself minimum word limits every day. Do not force yourself to reach 5,000 words, or 6,000 words, or 7,000 words… every day, just write the amount of words you can write, and be happy with that.

If you’re really not getting anywhere with a project, start something else; come back to the first project when you’re ready.

So. Wish me luck? And, I hope, if you’re having trouble with a piece you’re working on, that you’ll take heart from my struggle and realise nothing is too difficult to overcome.

Right. I’m setting phasers to ‘Write’. See you all tomorrow!