Tag Archives: protagonist

The Wavy Green Line of Death

I am tired today. I worked until midnight last night, because my husband went to bed early (like a sensible person). Instead of seeing my abandonment as an opportunity to perhaps read a book, or watch some TV, I grabbed the WiP and edited until my eyesight began to fail.

Image: someecards.com

Image: someecards.com

But, in a way, it was worth it.

Yesterday’s editing was brutal – it was a merciless slaughter of words. Line after line of useless text fell beneath the blade of my Green Felt Pen. (In fact, my word-thirsty Green Felt Pen may need to be replaced with the even mightier Blue Felt Pen later today, because I’ve nearly worn out the nib on Green the Destroyer, such is the swathe it has cut through the excesses of the WiP.) And, surprisingly, I’m learning that it actually feels good to edit. It feels good to re-read a paragraph or a page after I’ve cut lumps out of it, and realise that it now says exactly the same as it did before, but in fewer words and without doing all the work for the reader.

It won’t have escaped anyone’s attention (that is, if you’re a regular reader) that this edit is my seventh. Seventh. And I’m still finding things to fix. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’ve read the manuscript of this novel about ten times at this stage, and it’s only becoming clear in this edit that I’ve made a huge amount of rookie mistakes. Thank goodness for the all-powerful Green Felt Pen of Doom, then! Maybe the power is in the pen – that would explain a lot, actually.

Anyway. Let’s do a little round-up of Things I Have Done Wrong, in the hope it’ll help other writers:

Item the First: My book is narrated in the first person. This can pose tricky problems for me, because all I have to go on is my protagonist’s viewpoint. Yet, at regular intervals through the book, my protagonist describes for the reader how other characters are feeling. This, of course, is a no-no. It’s only striking me now how silly this is, and how badly it reads. People can make guesses at how others are feeling, of course, based on body language, tone of voice, and so on – but for a first-person narrator to say something like: ‘He looked at me, and there were dark circles under his eyes. He was so anxious. His heart was racing,’ is plainly ridiculous. (I have to point out that the sentence I’ve just used is most definitely not taken from my WiP – I wasn’t as silly as that. I’m just trying to give an illustrative example!) So, anywhere I’ve noticed my protagonist making assumptions about other people’s feelings which are not based on very clear physical cues, the Green Wavy Line of Death has been employed, and those needless words have fallen. And hurray to that.

Item the Second: I’ve also realised that my protagonist describes things in too much detail sometimes. If she encounters a machine, or a vehicle, or a piece of technology, she tends to go on and on about it, describing every last dial, switch, and piece of tubing. She’s not a particularly enthusiastic engineer, and she’s not a machine-nerd. These things are not out of place in the world she lives in. So, I ask myself, why does she go on about them for half a paragraph? It’s equivalent to someone in a modern novel taking fifteen lines to describe a washing machine, or a refrigerator. Unless the refrigerator in question was powered by a meteorite and made from solid diamond, or the narrator is a freshly-arrived alien, there’s no need to do that. Of course. What I’ve done – as, I’m sure, will be clear to you – is I’ve mixed up my own voice with my narrator’s. That is a shocking mistake to make. I’m fascinated by the machines and technology in this world, and I’ve thought deeply about them. I’ve done some research into steam-powered engines, and condensers, and propellers, and so on. So, when someone in the book enthuses about something which should be totally ordinary from their point of view, it’s actually me speaking, not the character. I’ve slapped myself on the wrist for this already, don’t worry. And slash slash scribble goes the Green Felt Pen of Doom.

Item the Third: One of the things I was most proud of yesterday was condensing six pages (or, approximately 3600 words) of descriptive exposition with a bit of dialogue into about 2.5 pages (hopefully, fewer than 1000 words) of pure dialogue, with a tiny bit of exposition. It was a scene which had bothered me for a while, but until yesterday I had no idea how to fix it. Eventually, I just ended up rewriting the entire thing. It’s an important scene, because in it, our Fearless Protagonist is learning things about her family, and realising how little she understands about them and what they do. But, as I’d written it up until yesterday, the scene was basically a lecture given by one of the other characters, both to the reader and my protagonist. Now, it’s more like a discussion – she engages more, puts things together herself (without having to be smacked across the head with things that are, actually, obvious), and I don’t feel the need to expand on every tiny detail. As before, with the overdone descriptions, I’ve sketched around things that would be clear and unremarkable to the character, and allowed them to gradually reveal themselves to the reader.

So, basically, this is what I’ve learned (the hard way): Don’t give your characters knowledge they couldn’t possibly have; Don’t confuse your enthusiastic, nerdy voice with theirs; and Don’t allow Captain Obvious to visit your manuscript and explain everything in minute detail. Smack him with the Green Felt Pen of Death.

I hope this has been helpful, and mildly diverting. Do let me know if you have any other editing tips, or if you disagree with anything I’ve said here. It’s all about the discussion, people!

Have a wonderful Thursday.

 

The Next Big Thing

So, apparently the world is supposed to end today. I hope it doesn’t, because I have a lot more I’d like to do with my life, but just in case it does, I’ve filled in my answers to The Next Big Thing below. At least I’ll know I got an idea out into the world, briefly, as I hurtle towards the heart of a black hole later. I’m sure it’ll be some consolation!

Anyway – for however long we’ve got left, here are some details about this WiP you’ve all patiently ‘listened’ to me wittering on about for the past few months.

1. What is the working title of your novel?

It is tentatively entitled ‘Tider’. Just that – one word, snappy and concise. I tend towards the verbose everywhere else, so I’m amazed I could come up with a book title as short as this. Having said that, if it ever gets anywhere near a publishing contract, there are no guarantees it’ll be retained, of course!

2. Where did the idea for the novel come from?

I’ve sort of discussed this before, but I’ll revisit briefly: during my Ph.D. studies, possibly as long ago as 2006, I was sitting in a café reading a book (I believe it was ‘Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages’ by Jacques le Goff). It’s a very interesting and clever book, and I was engrossed in it when an idea struck me about the nature of time, and the discrepancies between different methods used to measure it. I had to grab a pen from another table and scribble the bones of the idea for my novel on a customer feedback form, which was a challenge! Though a lot has changed (not least the protagonist’s name), the idea is more or less exactly as I wrote it on that summer’s day over six years ago.

3. What genre does your novel fall under?

‘Tider’ is a Young Adult novel, mainly because the protagonist is sixteen and she finds herself in opposition to her father, and she has to change the plan she had for her life in order to ‘do her duty’, as she sees it, which involves trying to keep her family alive, and together. There is one characteristic of YA novels that doesn’t feature heavily in my book, though, which is the romantic love relationship; YA books seem saturated with female characters who are defined (and who define themselves) by their boyfriend(s), and my protagonist is different. She does meet a boy in the course of her story, but things aren’t as straightforward as they seem with their relationship. At least, that’s my intention! As well as being YA, I’d say it’s probably speculative/fantasy fiction, too.

4. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie adaptation of your novel?

The actress who’d play my protagonist (Maraika) would be the lovely and talented Amandla Stenberg, no doubt about that. This is she:

amandla stenbergAnd if the sequel (currently bubbling in my head) ever gets written/made into a movie, the beautiful (and Irish!) Ruth Negga would be great as the older Maraika. This is she:

ruth neggaMy male characters are harder. For the character of Jan, I’d have Nicholas Hoult (but he’d have to grow a beard):

nicholas hoult

For the character of Gavrok, Maraika’s father, I’d have to have Chiwetel Ejiofor, even though he’s probably not quite old enough:

chiwetel ejiofor

But that’s as far as I’ve got!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your novel?

Maraika’s father (the Tider) has always been her hero, but when she is forced to confront the fact that he has been engaging in some seriously immoral activity, and that there are vigilantes out to kill him because of it, she needs to fight to keep him alive – as well as to bring his actions to an end.

6. Will your novel be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ve entered it into a competition which, if I’m shortlisted, may set me on the road to finding an agent and going down the ‘traditional’ route to publication. However, I’m fully prepared to go it alone, and am not averse to self-publishing. As it stands right now, I have no agency representation nor any plans to self-publish; in January 2013, I will know more.

7. How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This is a tough question, because it’s hard to define ‘first draft’. As I said, the first seedlings of the idea were planted up to six years ago, and I did write a proto-draft about four years ago, which has long been junked. The current book (complete at just under 150,000 words and in its fifth draft) has taken me four months; the first, very rough, draft took about six weeks.

8. With what other novels would you compare this book within your genre?

I’d like to think it’s sort-of similar to Garth Nix’s ‘Abhorsen’ trilogy, with perhaps a smidgen of Catherine Fisher’s ‘Incarceron’ and a dash of Frances Hardinge’s ‘Fly By Night’ and ‘Twilight Robbery’ thrown in. Though that’s self aggrandisement on a huge scale!

9. Who or what inspired you to write this novel?

Well, my fascination with clocks, calendars, time-keeping methods and the Middle Ages, basically. There’s an element of ‘state vs. Church’ in my book, too, which comes straight out of the Investiture Controversy – unlike the ideas at stake in the Investiture Controversy, though, which involved the appointment and deposition of heads of state, my book involves a clash of authorities regarding the measurement of time. So, I guess you could say my interest in the Middle Ages is the primary mover behind this book – but the story as it stands now is not set in a pseudo-medieval world. The original draft, four years ago, was set in a world like that, and it didn’t work. So, the current worldscape is more like a fictionalised late 19th century on another planet. It’s ‘steampunky’ in terms of its technology, but in many other ways it’s not like steampunk at all.

10. What else about your novel might pique a reader’s interest?

Hmmm…. well! It has time-wrangling in it, a feisty and spirited protagonist, and a male ‘lead’ who wears a beard (how often do you see that?); it features betrayal, serious injury, the besieging of a fortress, the attempted theft of the greatest treasure in the world, and an airship; it also features hostage-taking, vandalism and invention. Hopefully that’s about as piquant as any book can be!

Now comes the time for me to nominate other people for this same award. My options are limited because I can’t nominate the people who nominated me, and there are a few others who I know wouldn’t welcome the nomination. So, my list will have to be a short one! I also hope none of the people I’ve nominated will mind my nominating them – there’s no obligation to take part, of course.

 

 

 

 

I hope these links work. I wanted to add a couple of others, but my bullet-points seem to have given up the ghost! Ah, me. The life of a technophobe. I’m amazed my computer doesn’t slap me across the gob with the mouse sometimes!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my WiP, and if you have any comments about it, or questions, I’d love to hear ’em. Happy Friday, everyone – and if it’s the last day, it’s been a pleasure to know y’all.