Silent: Late Afternoon

The story should, hopefully, be self-explanatory from the content:


Gavin, Friday Afternoon:
 
Lucy needed to get away for a while. Yeah, that must be it.  She’s obviously stressed and upset, judging from her nightmare in the middle of the night.
 
I’m tired from the long coach journey yesterday. I watch TV and drift off to sleep in the middle of a film, coming to with a jolt. At first, I can’t work out where I am, or why.  You know the groggy feeling? No sense of day or time or location.
 
The information comes back to me in short bursts: Leeds – took the coach up from London yesterday (to save on costs) – arranged to meet Lucy in the park earlier.  The play area.  Lucy didn’t turn up.  
 
I leave another message on her voicemail.  No reply.
 
4.50pm.  I start to panic.   Supposing she doesn’t come back till late on Sunday.  After I’ve gone back to London.  I must have done something to offend her – but what?
 
5.45pm.  I put a couple of slices of bread in the toaster. Remove them. Add slices of cheese and a dash of ketchup. Return to the sitting room where the television drones on in the background and eat without enthusiasm.  
 
What’s going on with Lucy?  If she wanted space, why did she invite me here?  Didn’t we go through this type of stuff before?  I should have left the past alone.
 
Grabbing the spare key, I set off for the park again. It’s a short walk, past lines of houses that have been converted into flats and bedsits. A turning to the main road.  Another warm evening, May. Quiet area – few people around, not many cars. I cross at the zebra, turn left.  
 
The park gates.  Empty, apart from a couple of groups of kids squatted on benches and some boys further up playing football. I stand by the main railings, looking in, feeling stupid.  Why am I there?  It’s so clear that Lucy isn’t in the park.  I turn round and go back, stopping at a shop to buy some treats. Two different flavours of crisps and a couple of bars of chocolate.  For Lucy.  
 
Everything’s going to be okay, I tell myself as I approach the flat. When I get in, Lucy’ll be there.
 
But she isn’t.
 


***
LUCY:
 
She sleeps and dreams of nothing.  
 
Wakes, confused all over again.  Headache. Silence, apart from tapping water in the background.  
 
It takes her a while to piece the facts together…Lucy Stone from Richmond in North Yorkshire, originally Lucy Harlesden from the famous musical family…she has an older sister, totally bossy and irritating, called Olivia, who’s not really her sister but her cousin. Mum and Dad are dead. They died in a fire. Mum’s brother and his wife adopted her when she was about nine or ten and they changed her name from Harlesden to Stone, and she grew up in a huge detached house in Richmond with a great garden round the back.  
 
And then, after Richmond?
 
Uni, Leeds.  Media Studies.  
 
That’s right. She got there and tracked down an old friend who’d lived nearby in Richmond.
 
Maxine.  Her adoptive parents had forbidden her to have any further contact with Maxine, but she went against their wishes.  
 
Where am I?
 
The Cybercafé. She had things to do.  
 
A secret.  She told Maxine about the secret, no one else.  
 
A man in the Cybercafé.  He must have followed her back to the flat.
 
A flicker of memory…she parked her car in front of Maxine’s flat, didn’t she?  After she’d finished in the Cybercafé?  When she got out, a man appeared without warning, blocking her path, and she ran as fast as she could.  A man wearing a baseball cap.
 
‘Help,’ she calls. ‘Someone call the police.  I’m trapped.’
 
Silence.  She remembers running in the opposite direction from Maxine’s flat, tearing sideward across a lawn, down a side alleyway, but the man caught up with her in the alleyway. Grabbing her around the waist, he brought her down on the ground, face up.
 
And then?  Struggling against him on the ground, kicking, trying to push him off with her palms. The man placed a black cloth on her face and she detected a strange sweet, chemical smell coming from the cloth, and after that everything began to fade from her vision.
 
Her mind goes blank. ‘Let me out,’ she screams. ‘Someone call the police.’
 
But the silence and darkness remain.  


 

Novel Writing, Getting The Story

This summer, I found an old (nearly abandoned) novel I’d written, read and made notes, revised accordingly, reread, then did further revision.

In particular, I wanted to cut the word count by about 15, 000 words, in order to submit to a publishing house that states an upper word count limit in its current submissions information.

Generally, writers hope to increase word count.

By contrast, I found that the reduction in words encouraged me to look more closely at the story and to root out writing that added nothing to the plot or characters (thus slowing down the story).

I feel that even if the project doesn’t get accepted by the publishing house in question, the exercise was still worth doing, especially in connection to future writing plans.

At the very least, it gave me insight into pace and how readers can easily lose interest when the pace slackens.

I haven’t yet submitted the amended novel, as I need to check through the manuscript for errors, but I intend to send it off before the relevant deadline, either during autumn or during winter.

Till next time.

The Psychological Thriller

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.

Creative Writing, Transforming Stale Sections

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.

The Novel: Ploughing On

As I’ve often stated before, the process of writing, producing and marketing a novel seems to go on indefinitely.

Recently, I took professional editorial advice and am now going through the opening chapters, sorting out issues that might not always seem plausible.  I think the problem lies in having several unusual story ideas.  A reader might accept one or two of these ideas before dismissing the story as lacking credibility.

I’ve also found that ruthless editing doesn’t always fix the problem.  In fact, the changes can upset the balance of the story, resulting in an overall copy and paste feel.  Possibly, the solution rests in developing the elements of the story in a way, so that events that may seem unbelievable make perfect sense because the writer has taken care to show how those events have come into being.  In other words, anything’s believable but you have to tell it right (or something along those lines).

I expect to keep busy with the novel over the Christmas period.

Till next time.

Creating Paranoia, A Brief Writing Section

Busy polishing my current novel in progress.

The story falls in the crime/thriller genre and therefore needs genuine excitement and fear. I find these hard to convey at times. For instance, should a writer pull out all the stops and make the section in question as thrilling as possible?  Or does less work better, leaving the reader to visualise the rest in their mind?

Possibly less.

The following is an excerpt from my novel, pretty early on in the story.

 ‘Sure.’ I give Mel a mock salute and leave, taking the lift down to the ground floor. When I step into the entrance hall, the same creepy silence from earlier greets me, interrupted only by the steady tap of drizzle on the glass dome in the ceiling. I’m standing in darkness. All the lights have gone out. I try one of the switches on the wall. Nothing happens. Odd. For a second or two, I think I hear footsteps on one of the balconies.

‘Hello?’ I call up in the darkness.

Silence.

The evening has turned chilly with the scent of damp fields and manure lingering in the air. The surrounding hills appear small in the fading daylight and tiny lights come from distant houses. I cross the grass plain. Stop.

Footsteps behind me.

I swing round. ‘Hello?’

No one there. Just a branch blowing in the wind.

I continue.

Stop again.

Look round.

Resume my walk.

Stop.

Glance back.

No one.

The Plot Thickens, Psychological Immediacy

Still busy ploughing through my novel, cutting redundant scenes that have no purpose at all in the story and upping the psychological immediacy throughout.

Psychological immediacy requires careful control. As creative writing instructors like to say, less is best. A few simple sentences that evoke powerful images in the reader’s mind without the writer having to do much work. Trying too hard destroys psychological immediacy. Sentences that create psychological immediacy should come naturally.

I’ve also cut a viewpoint character. The character in question appears in a couple of scenes, but those scenes don’t add to the story, just slow the pace. Plus, other, more dramatic scenes, bring out the same aspects of the story.

I’m 47, 000 words in the novel, about halfway through. The novel falls into the crme genre, with an emphasis on psychological thriller. The second half has a lot of challenges and I still haven’t decided exactly how to proceed with the progression of events, so I’m reading through the first half and making notes.

Difficult, but rewarding.

 

Editor Report

I haven’t written much here lately. Busy elsewhere. I’ve been working on the first one hundred pages of my novel and following the Editor’s Report.

One issue that came up in the Report focused on allowing scenes to reach their natural development rather than trying to force the drama. This often happens when the author has plans for a major character, plans which the character wouldn’t usually follow. A bit like the debate in Theology: Free Will versus Predestination – i.e. who’s in the charge here: the writer or the character in question?

I’ve also dealt with some redundant sections. You know the sort, writing that neither helps nor hinders the novel. The story wouldn’t suffer if those sections were to go.

The central part of the novel needs the most work in terms of pacing and plot – so I’m bracing myself.

 

 

Editing: Going In Deeper

Having taken professional advice recently, I’m at the “drawing out” self-editing stage on one of my novels.

So what does this mean?

The novel itself works and has merits, but could do with improvement in certain areas:

  • Every sentence, paragraph in the work has to count.  In other words, would omitting the section have a bad effect on the story?
  • A logical, cohesive way of linking up all back story sections, and these must travel through the 8 point story-arc.
  • Story hooks at the end of chapters to keep readers wanting to go on.
  • Showing/not telling where possible.
  • Incorporating scenery as a character (extremely difficult and still trying to figure this one out).

 

So it’s back to taking notes and working out how to increase the pace in the middle section of the novel.  Happy writing!

 

Writing Fiction: Pruning and Weeding

I spent the last week or so going through the manuscript of my current novel and weeding out unnecessary details that can cause a story to drag. Writers differ, of course, but for me the worst two culprits are ping-pong dialogue and instances of droning monologue. Cut these, and the manuscript begins to flow, the story takes shape and readers can better identify with the events on the page.

Can writers cut too much? I think so. I would advise any writer to keep copies of all past manuscripts, carefully titled to avoid confusion – for instance “draft five, summer eleven.” Ruthless editing will usually strengthen the overall structure of a novel, but sometimes a writer goes too far in cutting superfluous material, losing a degree of immediacy and individuality in the process. On those occasions, the writer might consider going back to a previous draft, lifting a few favourite sections and carefully implementing these in the new draft.