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I’ve finished the writing for the time being and hope to put it aside, in order to gain a fresh perspective. In the meantime, Bank Holiday Monday beckons, hopefully warm and sunny.   As the novel, a psychological thriller, explores the events of a Bank Holiday Monday in the central character’s past, I thought I would include the opening in this blog article:

They say a group of teenagers saw me on the field that August Bank Holiday Monday.

One called over, asked if I was all right. I didn’t answer, apparently. Just continued stumbling in the direction of home, sweat dripping from my face. The teenagers didn’t hang around. They assumed I had sunstroke. If I had seen myself, I would have probably thought the same.

Others noticed me wandering along the main road towards the estate where we lived. Drinkers in the pub watched me stagger like a drunk. I continued walking. Up the hill, through a ginnel, past the church. Down the hill, along alleyways of back-to-front houses, to the car park at the bottom of the estate.

Dad was out with your dad that afternoon. They say your mother saw me and came out. ‘Where’s Craig?’ she said. ‘What happened, Alan?’

They say I muttered two words.

A name.

***

A man went to prison.

A local.

End of story.

So I thought.

Clammy, sticky weather, and I’m ploughing on with the novel, making the changes needed to strengthen the story. A psychological thriller. It’s hard.  A fresh twist in the plot increase the tension, but often at a cost, as each alteration affects the rest of the story and errors creep in, usually unnoticed.

I’ve also observed that ruthlessly cutting superfluous sentences – for instance, 100 words here, 50 words there – will tighten the prose, but might result in the loss of the writer’s unique voice. The story may take on a racy-pace, but lack originality.

For me, psychological thrillers must create an atmosphere (preferably portrayed through a first person narrative) that the reader relates to, even if their own experience differs from that of the main character. The atmosphere determines the plot, I believe, although this runs counter to the general advice that plot should be character-led.  Perhaps there is room for both then – atmosphere and character actions?

Let’s hope so.

In the meantime, I have another fifty-five thousands words to deal with.

A writer works on a manuscript, with or without a plan. The writer learns more about the character during the writing project. The plot seems to flow naturally, without any hint of contrivance. Afterwards, the reader could reasonably wonder if originally the writer had originally taken advice such as: “just begin the writing and see where that takes you.”

Consider an alternative approach. Tight plot, careful structure, little time for introspection. Here, the writer may even have mapped out story events before writing a word.

Two distinct approaches. So which one is right – introspection or projection?

Obviously, each writer will favour one over the other. I tend to favour introspection and atmosphere, not to mention immediacy, but often my plotting will require further attention. I suppose each writer must concentrate more on her/his weaker approach without losing the overall original voicing resulting from the stronger approach.

Just a few of my thoughts.

Often, writers struggle with sections of their work. Parts of the writing may become stale while remaining relevant to the story – problematic, as the writer has to find alternative ways of presenting this material. Other sections of the writing might lack any function in the story, in which case the writer can hit delete.

I had to deal with a stale writing issue recently. I chose to remedy the problem by turning the chunk of crucial information into dialogue. It meant that I needed to pay close attention to the voicing and the interactions between the two characters. Inevitably, slight errors crept into the work – ruthless editing and rewriting will do that – but I caught these on a reread.

When revising a sample of writing, I try to look out for two things.

Original voicing that exposes more of the character in question.

A way of advancing plot and/or atmosphere, including immediacy (especially for psychological thrillers, my genre).

Sometimes, I need to cut back, a case of less is better. At other times, I need more. On occasion, I will read the amended sections and decide they’ve made the story worse. I think this happens a lot during the writing process. A writer implements an idea or change of plot and it knocks the rest of the story off balance. Writing’s always a gamble; yet, unless the writer takes a risk, she or he will never know what works or doesn’t work.

Just a few of my thoughts.

Today marks my fourth year anniversary of giving up smoking. At times, particularly three or four months in, I didn’t think I would make it, but I can truthfully say I haven’t smoked any cigarettes, or attempted to, in the last four years.

Before then, I had tried to stop many times, but failed.

So what was different this time?

  1. A proper reason for wanting to quit – in this case, a true lung age test gave a disastrous result, enough to force me to face the damage caused from years of smoking
  2. Help from Nicorette products.

I pay close attention to the fact that “just one cigarette” usually leads to another, and then another, and so on, until the ex-smoker has taken up the habit again. In other words, no cigarette is safe for an ex-smoker – a case of, don’t do it.

Looking forward to many more years of not smoking.

Word processing packages offer a lot. Some like Microsoft Word cost. Others, like LibreOffice, come free. In the old days, authors would have typed on a portable or electronic machine, occasionally made errors, and either repaired the errors by using a liquid solution or torn the offending paper out and started again.

Nowadays, using by word processing suites, people can hit spell check. They can also cut and paste sections, an advantage when it comes to structuring a novel, as editors often tell their authors to place chapter two before chapter one. In the old days, the author would have had to retype; now they can highlight the section in question and cut to another place in the story.

Although the software packages have many advantages, they have the potential for fresh problems. Too much cutting and pasting results in general chaos and the reader feeling bombarded with too much information. As authors don’t read their own material objectively enough, they often overlook errors, both simple and major. Moving sections of a story around through cut and paste can also interfere with the original chronology of events; if the author fails to make the relevant corrections, timings, names and locations become confused, leaving the reader questioning whether the publishing house did enough editing on the book.

So what’s the best way of self-editing a novel? Personally, I think taking a short break before returning to the manuscript will the writer a fresh perspective. Also, dividing the story into sections (maybe quarters or sixths even) enables an author to pay closer attention to all the details.

Just a few of my thoughts.

 

A common scenario. A writer works on a manuscript.  The writer accepts constructive criticism and revises sections of the story. The writer finally accepts that the manuscript is ready to submit to an agent or publisher, and other people agree. An agent or editor either likes the story or thinks it has potential and suggests changes. Develop this theme. Develop that character.  More of this, or less of that. The revision goes on.  When does one finally stop?

I don’t know. No one would have published anything unless they’d persevered against the odds, but the disappointments can be crushing at times. Also, the more a person edits, the more readjustments they need to make. Other sections in the writing may lose their original meaning and immediacy as a result of the revision.

So I suppose it’s a question of balance.  Do the necessary work, but don’t deviate from the true story that you – the writer – wish to convey.

Just a few of my thoughts.

 

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