Tag Archives: rewriting

Feeling WiP-ped

The poppers have all been popped. The bubbly’s been drunk. The streamers have faded and the clean-up’s been done and life, in short, has had to return to normal.

So, yes. I got a book deal. It’s fabulous, and all, but it doesn’t mean all my work here is done, or anything. Quite the opposite: it means I’m at the start of something which will, hopefully, take up the rest of my working life.

Writing books.

Photo Credit: srgpicker via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: srgpicker via Compfight cc

I’ve been working on a new WiP for the past few weeks, and the other day I took my word-count past the 20K mark. This, I have to admit, feels pretty good. The story is flowing (so far); things are holding together; I’m even enjoying it, despite the sheer slog. For, even though my mind has been all over the place these past few weeks, this is no time to rest on one’s laurels; rather, it’s time to push forward and keep going. One tiny victory doesn’t mean the battle’s won, and all that.

A general rule when you’re writing is: never gather dust. As in, when you’re waiting to hear back from an agent, or when you’re chewing your nails as competition results loom, or when your book is out on submission with publishers, or – as in my case – when you’re in that limbo between accepting a deal and getting on with the necessary paperwork, the best thing you can do is keep writing. Work on something else. Take your mind off what is, no doubt, the giant crater of stress which has smashed its way into your tender, tender psyche. Soothe yourself with more words, and do whatever you can to keep yourself from dwelling too much on things you can’t control (like the entire publishing industry). Plus, the fact that my deal was for two books means that anything I write which goes towards a second book is a good thing. (I’m conveniently ignoring the fact that my publisher has yet to see, sanction or even vaguely approve of this second book I’m writing, but we can worry about that later. Right?)

It might interest some of you old-timers around here to know that my new WiP is (drumroll…) Tider. Mark III. Yes, yes, I know – haven’t we been down this road before? Well – we have. Tider was the first book I wrote when, as a newbie with no idea about word counts and such, I created a 150,000 word beast of a novel which was part SF, part epic fantasy, part YA and all rubbish. I rewrote it last year in a much neater package, remodelling it as a futuristic MG story about a fracturing family and one girl’s bravery, and it was loads better.

Loads better, but still not right.

The idea for Tider is one which has been in my head for years. I have been tormented by it for at least a decade, now, and every so often the babble of the characters becomes too much. I thought, when writing the last version (the futuristic MG), that I’d cracked it, but it proved not to be the case. The core of the idea is still there, waiting to be told properly, and this newest version is my attempt to finally put it to rest.

I’m a bit afraid that, much like my beloved Inigo Montoya when (SPOILER ALERT) he finally kills the Six-Fingered Man, my life will fall apart when I finally tell this story the way it should be told, and get it out of my brain for once and for all. ‘I have been in the revenge business so long,’ Inigo says, ‘that now that it is over, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.’

Preach it, Inigo.

Image: twitter.com

Image: twitter.com

I have been thinking about Tider for so long that now that I’ve finally written it*, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.

Well. I can always move on to my next idea, which is already starting to take shape. I have a heroine, and she has a name (and it’s amazing), and she has a very cool pet which she’s trained to do incredible things, and she…

But, yeah. *ahem* We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, here. Write the current WiP first, and then think about the next. This time, I’m determined to write Tider the way it should’ve been written all along, but if it doesn’t work – again – then I think I’ll hang up my spurs. Maybe I’ll sell the idea to Neil Gaiman and see what he makes out of it.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad plan…

Happy weekend, everyone. Tune in tomorrow for my review of a brilliant, and astonishingly accomplished, book, Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and with any luck I’ll see y’all back here on Monday.


*Fingers crossed I’ll be able to say this in a few months!

Medieval Madness for the Middle-Aged

Recently, I’ve been looking over some of my old notes from university and some of my old teaching material from when I was a tutor of Medieval English Language and Literature. I sometimes wonder whether I was a good tutor, and whether any of my old students remember me. I think the most noteworthy thing I ever did in a class was fall off the edge of a podium mid-speech, but I hope some of the people I was lucky enough to teach will remember enjoying their course, even if they don’t remember me.

I'd say this is how most of my old students remember their years of Medieval Lit... Image: tek-lado.com

I’d say this is how most of my old students remember their years of Medieval Lit…
Image: tek-lado.com

One student once told me that I had singlehandedly made her love Chaucer, and I lived off that praise for a couple of years. It still remains one of the best compliments I’ve ever been paid.

Anyway. Amid all the nostalgia, I’ve realised a couple of things: one, I still love anything to do with the Middle Ages, and two, I remember more about it than I thought I did. It’s like muscle memory, perhaps; the stuff that I spent so many years learning is still there, deep down. Even if I never use it again professionally, it’s great to have that fund of knowledge and folklore, that familiarity with a lost world, that facility with a written language that very few people – sadly – are bothered with these days.

The same goes for all of us. No matter what your background is, what you studied at school or college, what you’re interested in, what you’ve done for a living, what you do for a living, what makes you happy – all of that stuff can be used to fuel your writing and feed your imagination. It can all be mined for inspiration. The more you have in your ‘tank’, the better equipped you’ll be to stretch your writing muscles, and the more agile your ideas are likely to be. I’ve worked as a butcher’s apprentice, as a lecturer and as a bookseller, among lots of other things. So, my imagination-pot is fully stocked.

But my heart will always belong to the Middle Ages.

And – since I’ve done nothing of note since yesterday besides hack away at ‘Eldritch’ and drink at least a litre of decaf, I’m going to leave you with my favourite clip from one of my favourite films – and, it must be said, a clip to which I often referred in my classes, back in the day.

Oh, how many poor classes of students had to sit through my ‘John-Cleese-doing-a-French-accent’ impression…

Work is going reasonably well on ‘Eldritch.’ It’s hard to unpick a plot with which you’ve been intimately familiar for years, only to recreate it slightly differently, but I’m managing. It’s slow, but it’s steady. I’ll get there.

Good luck with all your endeavours today – particularly if it’s repelling the English with flying bovine missiles.

Mind-Full Monday

Good moaning.

Image: warrelics.eu

Image: warrelics.eu

It’s Monday again, and my skull is creaking at the seams.

The things on my mind this morning, in no particular order, are:

1. The frustrations of being misunderstood;
2. The difficulty of keeping a load of closing dates for competitions and submissions in mind for long enough to write them down, whereupon you lose the piece of paper you wrote the dates down on and forget them all anyway;
3. The need to come up with stuff to write for these competitions and/or submissions;
4. The sheer absolute awesomeness of this:

5. The horror of constantly checking your email inbox, just in case there’s a message in it which will change the course of your future. Or, you know, not.
6. The fact that I watched ‘The Happening’ at the weekend, despite my brother’s warning years ago that it was utter, irredeemable nonsense. I should have listened to my brother.

But the main thing on my mind today is the fact that what I am going to be doing for the foreseeable future is rewriting one of my own books, in line with Very Knowledgeable Advice – the sort of advice it would be foolish to ignore, in other words. So, I am being very clever indeed by not ignoring it.

The book is ‘Eldritch.’ I don’t blame you for forgetting all about it. I nearly had, too.

So, I had originally imagined ‘Eldritch’ as the first part of a trilogy. In my innocence, I had thought the story needed three whole books to tell it: I had imagined my funny little hero, Jeff Smith (who wishes he had a cooler name so that he could have better luck with girls), and his brave and clever friend Joe Araujo (who would rather be at home eating curry than on an adventure), would enjoy being flung through time and space not once, but three times in order to bring their story to a conclusion. I thought I had crafted good, strong characters, including a compelling baddie (I so hadn’t); I thought, in short, that the story was strong enough to sustain a series.

But – *cue dramatic flourish* – I was wrong.

I was wrong, and I didn’t see it until it was pointed out to me. I didn’t see that my baddie was a mishmash of clichés, and that my story was a reasonably good one, but that it certainly didn’t need three books to tell it. I didn’t see that, while my writing was reasonable and the dialogue between my leads was memorable, so much of what I’d written was so-so and forgettable.

I’m not trying to pretend this wasn’t hard to hear. But if you want to know the truth about it – I took this feedback, and I digested it, and after only a few moments (a few stomach-plunging moments, admittedly) I began to see how much sense it made. Taking this feedback was a lot easier than I’d expected, and a lot less painful than I’d imagined.

Image: 8track.com

Image: 8track.com

Not long after this, I began to re-plot the book in my head. It was tough to disassemble the scaffolding of ‘trilogy’ which had previously existed around these characters and this story; it was hard to even imagine the book as a self-contained unit, instead of a series. It meant a total rethink of the plot, the characters, the motivation, and particularly the ‘baddie’ – he needed to be stronger, scarier, more interesting. In short, he needed to be mine, not a mixture of all the baddies I’d ever read about. I hadn’t realised this was what I’d managed to do, until I re-read him. In short, the bits of the book which didn’t feature him were much stronger than the bits that did.

And that’s not good.

Your baddie is supposed to be your most compelling character. Even more so than your protagonist, your antagonist (to give him his ‘Official Title’) should be unique, and marvellously evil, and logically motivated, and in possession of a Dastardly Plan that makes sense and is workable. He or she should be layered and complex and full of secrets. If not, then you don’t have any proper drama or tension in your story. Your heroes have nothing to fight against or overcome. The danger in your tale is neutralised.

My baddie was a pantomime villain. Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t spot it myself. But that’s why it’s important to have other eyes read your work, of course.

It also leads me to realise that the most important part of writing is the ability to rewrite, up to and including taking your own work, completely breaking it down, and building it back up again from scratch. A mere edit wouldn’t have saved ‘Eldritch’, but I am only human, and I did investigate whether there were any shortcuts to the process. I wondered if there was a way to salvage most of it, and just change the bits that needed changing. I wondered if there was any chance I could keep some of the features that, I thought, made the book unique – but I’ve learned that only what’s good for the story, not what’s good for the writer, should make it into a final draft.

You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to make the story as good as it can be. If this involves starting again from first principles, then that’s what you have to do.

The only rule is: never give up trying to make your work as excellent as it can be, and always ask for (and heed!) good advice.

All right, so that’s sort of two rules. But you know what I mean.

Image: commitnesstofitness.com

Image: commitnesstofitness.com

I hope a week of wonder awaits you – and that there will be plenty of words in it.

Shedding Skin

The weather in Ireland for the past few days has been like this:

Image: startribune.com

Image: startribune.com

It is, in many ways, utterly wonderful – it’s sort of like everyone in my little green sponge of a country has been given a free holiday to the Mediterranean (well, besides we’ve all brought our work with us, which isn’t so good) – and it has lifted the mood of the nation a little. Of course, the sun coming out in Ireland means that a lot of people are going around with the ‘farmer’s tan’ – i.e. snow-white body, sunburned arms and face – and are doing crazy things like running across motorways in order to fling themselves bodily into the cool canal waters far below (I kid you not); generally speaking, though, the sun is a blessing, and one we badly need.

Because I am far more middle-aged than I really ought to be, however, perfect weather doesn’t mean crazy things, to me. As soon as I see the sun peeking out I immediately think ‘that’s great drying weather, right there. Let’s wash everything in the house, and get it out on the line!’ So, we’ve spent the past four or five days washing anything that can be washed, getting four or five loads of laundry done every day. Now, there are piles of clean and fragrant clothes everywhere, and I’m waiting patiently for the energy to put everything away again. That’s a struggle for another day, though.

However, we also had the bright idea of clearing out the wardrobe in our ‘home office’ (really a bedroom, awaiting its transformation into a home office. Bear with me); this wardrobe was, until the other day, jammed full of stuff that neither me nor my husband will ever wear again. The doors used to groan under the weight of clothes that used to fit me in my younger, slimmer days (let’s have a moment’s silence in memory of those blessed times), but now they groan no more. Every stitch of it has been washed, and dried, and now awaits a new future, via charity shop recycling. Hopefully, the clothes will bring someone else the same joy they brought me, and I’m looking forward to passing them on. Going through it all was sort of bittersweet for me, though, as it was like throwing out a whole different life, and each item of clothing was more than just a shirt, or a skirt, or whatever – it was a memory, and it represented my youth, and I remembered the life I had when I was able to wear these items of clothing, what I was doing, and my dreams for the future. Perhaps it’s because I look different now, or because I was much younger then, but I find it hard to even recognise that ‘other’ woman as being myself.

It reminded me a little of what I’ve been doing with ‘Tider’ over the past few days, too. I’m almost 12,000 words into the first draft of the reworked version already, and the words have been flowing, so far, with ease. The book is almost entirely unrecognisable from the first version; the only thing it has in common with the earlier book is that the character names are the same. The planning, and the work, and the effort, that I poured into ‘Tider’ (Mark 1) have not been wasted, as such, but all the words, and the dreams I had for them, are going to have to be jettisoned, and I’m gradually coming to terms with that. The older version of ‘Tider’ is like the outer shell of the story now, or a layer of shed skin, which falls away to reveal a new and hopefully better tale which had been lurking beneath it all the time.

Sometimes, this skin-shedding is painful. It’s hard to watch the dreams of another life pass away and fall into disuse; believe me, I know. It hasn’t been easy for me to put away the giant box-folder that holds ‘Tider’ (Mark 1), and tell myself I won’t be looking at it again for a long, long time – if, indeed, ever again. But something deeper than my hurt and disappointment is telling me that I’m doing the right thing, and that the story will be so much better for this extreme form of pruning, and that this story – the one I’m writing now – is what ‘Tider’ was always meant to be. I couldn’t have reached this point any other way, and so the layers the book is shedding are, in a way, more vital than anything else in its development process. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it’s true. Shedding skin, getting rid of excess, closing doors on the past, changing direction and going around new corners are what life is all about, and this is just part of that process. I’m embracing it as hard as I can!

Perhaps it’s fitting that my brain felt ready to tackle ‘Tider’ (Mark 2) at this time of year, when the sun is shining and the whole country feels new. It’s easy to feel positive and full of hope when the world is sparkling with happiness and everywhere you look you see a smiling face, and when inspiration is in the air.


Well, okay, so what's mainly in the air is pollen, and not inspiration, but you know what I mean! Image: treehugger.com

Well, okay, so what’s mainly in the air is pollen, and not inspiration, but you know what I mean!
Image: treehugger.com

Anyway. Even though we’re going to have fifteen hours of sunshine today – allegedly – I’d better get started on the work before any more of it passes me by. Happy writing, and happy Thursday, everyone!




The Sense of an Ending

Today, the world is wearing winter’s wedding dress. The whole place is white and lacy, and there’s a layer of frost over every surface. The sky and the ground blend into one another. It’s quite lovely, but it’s very cold!

Image: 5ksandcabernets.com

Image: 5ksandcabernets.com

As I write, the sun has started to peek up over the horizon, bringing touches of gold to the whiteness. Hopefully soon things will start to thaw and I’ll be able to get outside. Nothing is as refreshing as a lungful of cool air on a crisp day like this.

While I’m waiting, I’m still thinking about short stories. I wrote three yesterday, all of them very different – one was about a frustrated wife trying to get revenge on her oppressive husband (very much not based on reality, before anyone asks!), another about an anxious child who feels she has done something terrible, and the third about a man convinced that his life so far has been meaningless and he’s wasted any potential he had. Two of the stories are narrated in the first person, and one is third-person; one of them features a lot of ‘salty’ language – it seemed appropriate for the character – and all the protagonists are different in terms of age, race and gender. But all the stories have one thing in common.

None of them end very well.

I’m not sure if this is a problem for others, but it’s certainly a problem for me. I find it very difficult to bring short stories to satisfying conclusions. It’s even the case with the longer pieces I’ve been working on over the last few months. With ‘Tider’, I felt happy with the ending at first – I thought it was exciting and snappy, leading the reader into curiosity about the next book, and it wrapped up most of the plotlines, leaving some strategic threads unresolved. Then, I read on several internet forums that ‘cliffhanger endings are a no-no’, which gave me a bit of a headache. How do you end a book which is the first in a planned duology without leaving some plot threads unresolved? I was stumped. Luckily, this isn’t such a big problem for me any more because I’m planning to completely overhaul the book anyway, but it speaks to the larger problem I feel I have. Stopping the writing process, rather than starting it, seems to be my biggest challenge. I’m really enjoying the focus on short stories lately, because they don’t come naturally to me, and finding solid, convincing and meaningful conclusions to them is vital to their form. So, with every story I write, I’m learning.

But how does it work, this ‘concluding’ business? I suppose it helps if you plot religiously, and you know exactly where you want your characters to be at the end of the piece you’re writing. But, as we saw yesterday, sometimes writing short pieces is a case of listening to what the characters have to say, and letting them finish in their own time. It can be hard to plot when all you have to go on at the beginning is a flash of an image, or maybe a couple of words of dialogue. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, a whole opening sentence will come to you. Trying to write a story like this is a delicate business, and I fear that trying to tie these bursts of inspiration to a tight plot will strangle them. Then, that’s where drafting comes in. Perhaps the first draft of a short piece should be a listening exercise, finding out who your character is and what they have to say. There has to be a point to the story – otherwise, it’s just a pointless ramble. We’ve all been on the end of another person’s bumbling, and it’s usually not much fun. So, the second draft is where the real work comes in. You take your character’s thoughts and turn them into a narrative. Find out what was so important about what they had to say. Chisel out the kernel of their thought process, and find out what concerned them so deeply that they felt they had to tell you about it.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

The story I found the most difficult to bring to a conclusion yesterday was the one about the anxious child. The image was very strong – a little girl who was sick in the night and who was too afraid to wake anyone up to help her in case they’d be angry with her. She was tiny, cold, afraid and very lonely, and I felt her very clearly. But I wasn’t sure what was important about what she had to say. Her younger brother had been very sick and he’d just been released from hospital; her father had a hard job and he needed his sleep. All of these things were on her mind. As well as that, she was terrified of something, but she wasn’t able to tell me what. I’m going to revisit this story today and find its point – redraft it until this child’s message becomes clear.

I know I sound like a nineteenth-century Spiritualist here, knocking on tables and making the lights flicker in my attempts to contact ‘the other side’. I just find it easier to talk about characters as though they were actual people trying to speak. Sometimes, it is a bit scary – they seem very real and, sometimes, in a lot of pain. Most of the characters that step into the parlour of my mind don’t want to tell me about how happy they are and how much love they have in their lives – something terrible or sad has happened, and they want to explain it all to me. But they’re all a bit like me (which makes sense, I guess); they like to ramble on, and they find it hard to wrap things up.

Perhaps it’s just a case of practice makes perfect. The more I listen, the more I’ll learn, and the more I read, the more I’ll discover about how to master the art of conclusion.

Back to the drawing board for me!

Tough Going

Do you ever feel like your brain could do with some oil? Or maybe WD40, perhaps. Something, at least, to help it to move freely, like the supple youth it once was. I’d love to be able to give my brain a soothing bath, from which it would emerge relaxed and refreshed, possibly swathed in a fluffy robe, ready to attack the world once more.

Yesterday was one of those days where I felt that for every inch forward I managed to crawl, I was being forced to take ten steps back. I spent most of my day undoing and rewriting bits of the chapter I’m currently working on, and reading what I’ve done on ‘Omphalos’ so far with a critical eye, seeing where I could improve it. And, like everything, the more I prodded and poked at it the more stodgy and ridiculous it seemed to become, until I threw in my lot and left it alone. I haven’t been brave enough yet today to even open my file to have a look.

Image: blogs.lawyers.com

Image: blogs.lawyers.com

It got me thinking about the way I write, and made me remember something I learned years ago. When I was younger, at school, I liked art. I still do like to draw, but I never find the time to get to it any more. One of the things I remember most clearly about my art lessons was that my teacher once told me I had a very ‘definite line’, by which he meant I looked carefully at what I was going to draw and let it sink in to my mind before I put my pencil near the paper. Then, I just put my line down with confidence and a heavy hand, reasonably sure that I wouldn’t need to erase it or change it very much. I had never noticed this before he said it (I just drew the way I’d always drawn), but he was right. I wasn’t the kind of person who drew lightly on the page so that corrections or adjustments would be easily made; my lines were heavy, sure and hard to remove.

This isn’t to say I was some sort of artistic savant who never put a nib wrong – of course I did, often. But my style never changed. I always drew the same way, with that strong, heavy hand. I think I like to write the same way – or, at least, that seems to be how my ‘creative’ brain works, and so I feel the impulse to write the same way as I draw. It not so easy when you’re writing, though, of course – getting your ‘line’ right on the first attempt is much harder when you’re talking about a storyline instead of a pencil line. Perhaps that’s why I feel it so strongly, like a failure in my heart, when I have to unpick something completely and redo it from the ground up. I feel like it should work, so when it doesn’t, it makes me wonder if everything – my idea, my method, my style, my work – is flawed and wrong.

Another piece of advice my old art teacher gave me was this: ‘It’s easier to darken your darks than lighten your lights.’ By this, of course, he meant it’s easier to add to a piece than it is to take bits away. Particularly when you’re talking about pencil marks or charcoal shading. If you go too heavy with your charcoal on a picture, it’s virtually impossible to lighten it. It’s easier to go over the entire picture and make the whole thing darker so that your overworked bit looks lighter by comparison, or just chuck the lot and start again. I wish I hadn’t forgotten this good advice as I set out on this writing lark – I think the work I’ve done so far would’ve benefited immensely from remembering those wise words. Start off sketchy and light, hinting at the outline of a piece, until you’re happy with the structure and the overall picture. Then go back over it and add detail – a wisp of shade here, a suggestion of texture there, a glint of light dancing over the eyes perhaps. Then, step back and reassess. If the piece needs more, add it a little bit at a time. But always be aware that sometimes the piece will need a light touch, and adding too much (whether it’s words or pigment) will destroy it.

Image: paradigmthrift.blogspot.com

Image: paradigmthrift.blogspot.com

But this is all very easy to say, isn’t it? If you have a style – a natural style – it’s difficult to overcome it and write (or draw) a different way, even if you know on an intellectual level that it’ll make things easier or more manageable. If you write (or draw, or whatever) in a way that comes effortlessly, maybe it’s impossible to teach yourself to do it differently.

And maybe the lesson I should take from all this is just to take it easy, and work with my natural style instead of against it. But I think I’ll bear my art teacher’s words in mind, regardless – the advice about lightening your lights and darkening your darks is a good rule for life, as well as art! Live lightly, except with those who matter; focus your effort and your ink on people and things which are important to you.

Happy Friday, and have a wonderful weekend, everyone.


Hard Lessons

Last night, I stayed up late. I wasn’t tired at the right time, again. It seems like my brain is just ready and able to work at night, and there’s not a lot I can do about that, I suppose. My husband went to bed at a reasonable hour like a proper human being, but I stayed up. I wrote two flash fiction stories and found a competition in which to enter them. I read some websites and blogs, I thought about my writing, and I had a rummage through my old files.

I felt a bit like this when I started looking...Image: accountingweb.co.uk

I felt a bit like this when I started looking…
Image: accountingweb.co.uk

It was as I did this last bit, this rummaging through files that, maybe, should have been left alone that I came across a partial version of my first ever attempt to write the story that would become ‘Tider’. I remembered it as being juvenile, embarrassing, and stupid. I remembered the tone I’d used as being ‘twee’ and childish, more like Enid Blyton than anything. I thought I’d lost the file, or deleted it, many years ago.

But I found it, and read it again last night, and realised that it’s not as bad as I remembered. It’s actually all right, and the story outline I’d done is, in some ways, better than ‘Tider’. It was a bittersweet realisation.

The version I found isn’t the full one – I know I did have a longer story that went further into the family’s history, but that one must have fallen between the digital cracks. Like everyone, I’ve had several computers die before my very eyes. I’ve had several house-moves where USB keys have, no doubt, been left behind in secret nooks and crannies. It’s inevitable that stuff will have gone missing, though I do try to take better care of my words these days. The longer one has clearly gone the way of all flesh, and I’m going to take it as being a good thing.

But finding this file has shown me something important, and that is: don’t always discount your early work, assuming it’s inferior to the work you’re doing now. Nine times out of ten, it’s bound to be full of rookie mistakes – showing instead of telling, clichés, bad continuity, stilted storylines, pointless characters and reams of excess description – but sometimes, it will surprise you in a good way.

So, I’ve decided ‘Tider’ is getting a major overhaul, and I’m incorporating the original seed of the story into the version I’ve created over the last few months. There were some good ideas in the original, things I’d completely forgotten about, but things that could actually work very well. The protagonist had a best friend whose father was dying, which lent urgency to their quest to try to extend his life; the ‘technology’ was different, but in some ways it seems better than what I’ve written over the last few months. I will keep my Maraika as a teenager – my original story had her named Zara, and she was much younger – but I’m in love with Maraika now, and I can’t let her go. The original Zara had an older sister named Estrella, so perhaps I’ll incorporate both those characters into the Maraika I’ve come to know so well.

I should be glad, but in a way I wish I’d found this file – or, more correctly, that I’d thought to look for it – before I’d started ‘Tider’. But then, perhaps it all happened the way it was supposed to. ‘Tider’ is what it is; it’s not perfect, but now I have a way to make it better.

Also, it’s Friday. When is that ever bad news?

In Ireland, today is St. Brigid’s Day. She was my favourite saint as a little girl, mainly because she’s all wound up with the Celtic goddess Brigit. I liked that idea, that you could be powerful and important in two completely different ways and in two pantheons. So, happy goddess Brigit day! I’m welcoming the Spring both literally and mentally today. It’s time to start thinking about things in a new way, and realising that everything must grow and change – stories can be reborn – and that it will all work out for the best.

Brigit/Brigid, goddess and SaintImage: en.wikipedia.org

Brigit/Brigid, goddess and Saint
Image: en.wikipedia.org


Character Assassination

Last evening, I found myself up to my elbows in a sink full of sudsy water. I was, technically, doing the washing-up, but of course my brain was in a land far, far away, stuck in the land of the WiP, where it lives most of the time, now. I’m going to start answering to the name of my protagonist soon, I’m pretty sure. Anyway, I’d just scrubbed a particularly reluctant plate clean of whatever was determined to cling to it, when something burst, screaming, into my head.

It was a bit like this, but with less horse and more suds. Sort of.

It was a bit like this, but with less horse and more suds. Sort of.

My brain yelled ‘Kill the Guardian!’, which – to anyone else – would have been the first indicator of impending mental illness. To me, though, it was one of those moments of pure epiphany, when everything starts to click into place, and you wonder why you couldn’t have had this breakthrough while sitting at your computer, instead of up to your metaphorical neck in water.

For the Guardian, you see, is (or rather, was) a peripheral character who used to live in the end of my book. Now that I think about it, I’ve no idea why he was ever there in the first place. It just seemed natural, when I was writing my climactic final scene, that our heroine wouldn’t encounter the great unknown, for which she has been seeking, without having someone there to guide her, and to explain things. All the re-reads and edits I’d done up to yesterday had just skipped over this character like he was a piece of furniture – he was just supposed to be there, no question about it. I didn’t even really examine his dialogue in any great detail. But there was something just not… right about the last scenes in my final chapter. It had been bugging me all evening, and I couldn’t pinpoint what was making me so dissatisfied.

And then it occurred to me.

There’s no need to have the Guardian there at all. Our heroine is a strong character by the end of the book. She starts off a bit sappy, maybe, but by the end she’s been through enough to handle this. She doesn’t need anyone there to hold her hand. The Guardian was a redundant character, and when that became clear, things started to work better. I realised that I’d written the Guardian character to suit the type of character my heroine was in my book’s first draft – in the first draft, you see, she didn’t develop as much as she does now. She started off sappy, and she pretty much stayed sappy the whole way through. In the current draft, I think she shrugs off the ‘little girl’-ness of the early chapters when she’s shoved out into the world, and she realises she’s braver and stronger than she ever thought. The protagonist of draft 1 needed the Guardian to help her at the end of the book, but the protagonist of draft 5 (I think it’s draft 5, anyway) does not. This makes me happy for many reasons. It means I’ve trimmed the book of an excess character, who was providing an unnecessary extra layer between the reader and the action right at the point when they’re supposed to be biting their fingernails off with the tension of what’s going on (ideally), and it also means that my heroine has a proper character arc. In other words, she’s not the same person at the end of the book as she was at the beginning. Like anyone going through a huge life-change at the age of sixteen, she changes. And that is, of course, important.

As soon as I’d thought of removing the extra character, before I’d even had a chance to remove my hands from the washing-up, I was already mentally rewriting the chapter without the Guardian’s involvement. I was reallocating some of his dialogue to another character, and just getting rid of huge swathes of it, too. It felt brilliant. When I sat down to make the changes, they pretty much wrote themselves – it was the easiest edit I’ve done yet. I hope the ease with which I made the changes means they’re ‘right’ – certainly, I think the chapter works much better as it is now.

I do have two other big changes to make (another note to fellow writers: make sure you have all the notes you made during your editing read-throughs in front of your face when you’re making your ‘final’ edit, or you’re bound to forget something!), and then – finally – I can give myself the Christmas present of a big pile of paper with some black marks on it. Wahoo! Happy days.

In other news: my husband and I are putting up our Christmas decorations today. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Jingle bells, baby.

Happy Friday!