Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Things I learned this week #3

Dialogue. Well, not the actual dialogue, but the stuff that comes just before and just after it. Its not the important stuff really, but like a Christmas present wrapped in old sliced meat paper, bad structure can ruin everything.

Typically, this is how I write a speaking scene:

Bob walked into the office.

"Hello Frank," Bob said, taking off his hat and hanging it on a hook. "Bad weather today, huh?"

Frank stared at him from over the top of his glasses.

"Weather?" Frank asked, frowning. "I hadn't noticed."

Now there ain't  nothing wrong with that on the first review. Third person limited is noce and neat, with most action happening with Bob, and the reaction occurring with Frank. But its the god damn averageness of the flow that, with the help of my trusty editor, I'm starting to notice in my writing. 

Lets call the above option Dialogue Structure #1

Here is an alternative. 

Bob walked into the office, taking off his hat and hanging it on a hook.

"Hello Frank. Bad weather today, huh?"

Frank frowned as he looked up at him from over the top of his glasses.

"Weather? I hadn't noticed."

So that is DS#2 and all I did was move all the action to the start of the dialogue.

DS#3 is a variation; you just put the dialogue first and the action after.  

I have been doing a bit of back and forward recently, changing from #1 to #2 then back again. This has let to a version of #1 I call #4. (feeling very creative this evening)

Bob walked into the office.

"Hello Frank," Bob took off his hat and hung it on a hook. "Bad weather today, huh?"

Frank stared at him from over the top of his glasses.

"Weather?" Frank frowned. "I hadn't noticed."

See DS#4 is #1 with all the tags removed and the present tense verbs turned to past tense. 

I know that this is english class 101 and as obvious to most as how terrible that scene is, but I seem to have an inbuilt need to write the first draft as DS#1 and only in the revision change it to #2 , #3 or #4. Why? mostly I just hate the amount of 'saids' that are scattered through my book like stale breadcrumbs. Or worse merely changing said 'saids' to something worst, like 'exclaimed' or 'whispered' 

The problem is that I just can't tell any more if i'm making my prose better. I know it is a question of style, so I guess I'm putting my question to you.

What dialogue structure works best when reading? And Why?


Blog, tumblr, twitter. -- What started as a rant about how hard it is to get published, is now a journal of how hard publishing is.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Things I learned this week #2

A writer writes alone, but can only do so with someone guarding the door.

As far as synchronicity goes, I tend to notice more occurrences when things are going my way. There were many that led me to London where I met my wife, and many more now that I come ever closer to the all important finish line of publication. They are merely random circumstance, this I know, but never the less, I pay attention to them because as far as our brains go at processing information, patterns and narrative are the only guiding force we have. (sorry to all those who believe in angels et al)

So, the synchronicity this week was a colleague who asked me how i'd go about teaching 1984. I remembered an article in the guardian a while back, and said that I'd start there. It gave context to Orwell's life, and the circumstances of him writing 1984. And if you really want kids to understand a book -- or any art for that matter -- you have to know the context of how, why and when it was made.

Anyway, said colleague couldn't find it, and so I google-fu'ed it and in the process read it again. You can too if you like.

But my point isn't Orwell.

The 'Thing I learned this week #2' is that Behind every writer is someone making time for them.

For me, it's my wife, and for all you who are similarly wed, you'll know where this is going. For Orwell, whose wife had died tragically, it was his sister, who cooked, cleaned and looked after his adopted son. (I think he probably had a nanny too)

In the past 5 years I have struggled to find time to write. In the early days before we had our child, my biggest problem was procrastination. I was still coming out of my video-game playing days, and found it far more pleasurable to spend my spare time killing things than making them up. Really, for a writer the computer is a double edged sword. On the one hand its never been easier to get thoughts to screen, yet those very same keyboards and LCD monitors silently taunt us with the promise of all the other things we could be doing with them. I have no doubt George RR would have finished his epic by now if it wasn't for Sid Meier.

Anyway, I am loosing track of this. My main point, is that I could not have finished the last draft, let alone the first, without my wife. I try to be fair and give her as much time as she wants to go to Yoga, Ballet classes, see friends, shop and whatever else takes her fancy during the week. But it doesn't come close to how much time it takes to write and polish 120k words.

I expunge my guilt by telling myself that writing is work godamit, and that if sitting hunched in front of a screen doubting every word you write is considered 'my time' then shoot me now. The truth is, none of us have to write. We are compelled, certainly, but before we all become JKs and Kings then the only thing we really have to do with our time is keep the mortgage payments coming and food on the table. And let me tell you this, one book published aint gonna do it.

Of course, we all know this, which is why we dedicate our books to the people that put up with our fussing and feuding all the years it took to get the damn things written. But deep down, we know a dedication -- a blog post -- is not enough. And when nothing can be come close to telling the one you love how much they mean, then anything might just be enough. 

For me, it has always been paper butterflies.


Blog, tumblr, twitter. -- What started as a rant about how hard it is to get published, is now a journal of how hard publishing is.

Monday, June 20, 2011

and now for something completely different.

So I was going to put up my 'things I learned this week #2' post today, but instead I received this amazing comment during the night.

Wow. I hardly know what to say. When I started this blog it was going to be a rant about the trials and tribulations of the rejection merry-go-round. I made a few posts about querying and then I got my first follower, Laila Knight. I didn't expect a follower at all let alone so soon, for I am not the first writer to start a blog about writing. That one person from the ether lifted me from the quagmire of the newest round of rejection, and I became determined to send out my proposal again. I might have started the blog to complain about publishing, but I was now going to try and make it a more detailed analysis of how you can forge ahead regardless of all the form replies in your inbox. (Mine were labeled 'Agent Query' in gmail and I always got a quick stab of hope when I saw another one had arrived -- only to be struck down a moment later)

Then there was an unforeseen problem with my blogging plans: I got a book deal.

Now this place is a documentation of how a WIP gets marked up to a manuscript, but Lalia will always be the one follower who was there when it was something else.

Anyway, onto the award:

Rules of the The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them. 

Done. But why not one more time for the road; Thanks Laila!

2. Include seven random tidbits about yourself. 

Okay, the hard bit.

  • The first real attempt at writing I made was a memoir/journal that will never be published. Ever. It was as much to get a whole lotta stuff off my chest (mostly the false angst of my middle class anxiety) but writing it had two positive effects. I learned how to write a little every day and I used it to seduce a woman into marrying me. But that is another story.
  • I hate Harry Potter. Not the books per se, for I only got about a third into the first one, I hate the character. Seriously, we're meant to think he is tormented at the Wizard school? He has magic, friends and mentors aplenty. My real sympathy lies with poor Malfoy, who at least has parental expectations to excuse his behaviour. This may upset some people, but Harry needs to grow a pair, as we say downunder.
  • I don't actually read much Fantasy at all now, to be honest, even though I write it. Can't say why that is, for I lived off it growing up. When I get the chance to read, it is straight to the Science Fiction shelves. Banks, Wolfe, Ursula, Pohl -- love them all. Even when a writer does both, its their SciFi I like best. But for whatever reason, I like to write about magic, dwarves, elves and dragons. Especially dragons..
  • Okay, last point about books and writing. I think I prefer to listen to audio books now than read. My editor will hate to hear this, as he is a traditionalist, but about my favourite thing to do is go for a long ride around Melbourne, with the voice of a good narrator in my ear. Ask me some time about my thoughts on all this, as I have a theory that we will eventually move back to a more oral storytelling society as the web evolves even closer to a Banksian neural lace.
  • I teach art, but haven't made any for over a year -- unless you consider my fantasy map as art, which I don't.
  • About the only art I am actually skilled in is origami, and even then I only have one design I'm proud of; a butterfly that has one cut to make its wings, which unfortunately disqualifies it as origami. Like the journal that will never be published, I used these paper critters in the courtship of my wife. Never underestimate the seductive power of transforming a restaurant receipt into a paper butterfly. She kept every one.
  • Last one. When I started writing, it was to do something that would make my father proud. He doesn't read fiction, let alone epic fantasy, but I wanted to make something he could point at and say 'my son did that.' Halfway into the book, my son was born. I finished it for him.
Okay, that's seven.

3. Pass award on to 5 others and link to their blogs. 

Kimberly Krey was my second follower. And  her excellent blog is excellent.

The Alchemy of Writing is a blog I love, so go there now and see what its all about.

Indie debut is a blog that every writer should follow. All about indie publishing -- a topic very dear to my heart.

RJ Astruc is another writer represented by my publisher, and this is a shout-out to her website/blog that has lots of her wonderful fiction to read.

And last but by no means least is the blog of Michael Foster, a writer, who amongst other things, is also an editor. My editor to be exact.

4. Let the people know you've given them the award. 


Okay, thats it. I have just completed another round of editing, and now I need to go and do some teaching.

Thanks again for stopping by.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Things I learned this week #1

So I'm looking back over my last edit and a few things have become apparent. The main one is how lucky I am to have an editor that a) believed in Magickless at all and b) had the patience to see past the endless mistakes in my prose.

But there are quite a number of lessons I have learned that will make writing my next book much less painful. ie, less than 5 years to finish.

Lesson #1

Action then Reaction. 

I know this seems like a no brainer but you'd be surprised how easy it is to break. I happen to write predominantly in third person limited. It is my favorite narrative perspective -- it allows for moments of almost omniscient narration but mostly maintains a clear POV that allows for better characterisation. The trap I have fallen into often however, is that it becomes all too easy to state the characters reaction to an event before the event itself is clear.


Bob was thrown across the room by the explosion.

Reads better as:

The explosion threw bob across the room.

Much has been written about this before, but it was never clear to me why I kept making this mistake over and over again. Over the last week it dawned on me. It's because I tend to write as if I'm watching my scenes unfold in a Michael Bay movie; all close ups and chaotic fast cuts. I thought it gave my scenes more intensity -- a sense of mystery that unfolded as more information was revealed almost as if the character themselves were working out the cause of being thrown across the room along with the reader.

But it is better the other way around in prose (and in film too I'd argue) Every. Single. Time.

So that's lesson 1: Action first.

I'll bet I'm not the only one who has these moments of clarity when drafting.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Great 4 pannel comic on how I feel

I found this via this place. The later has a wealth of info about the whole writing shindig. 

Blog, tumblr, twitter. -- What started as a rant about how hard it is to get published, is now a journal of how hard publishing is.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Write till you drop take 2

Stupid NYT paywall. So here is the article everyone wanting to write should read.


Blog, tumblr, twitter. -- What started as a rant about how hard it is to get published, is now a journal of how hard publishing is.

write till you drop

So here is what I read that five years ago made me start something that i'm only now finishing. I haven't dropped yet.

Blog, tumblr, twitter. -- What started as a rant about how hard it is to get published, is now a journal of how hard publishing is.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It worked!

So now I have a twitter, a tumblr and a blog

I think that's what they call a social media platform in the parlance of our times.

All future updates will happen across the board. As for this update, well I nearly finished polishing part one of the book.... hopefully have a full draft ready to send to my editor this weekend.


"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

Testing the information super highway.

So if this works, then one email shall create a blogspot post, twitter update and tumblr post.

Handy. Who said this social media stuff was hard? Oh yeah, no-one.


"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

TLBE episode 2: the Hit List strikes back

So just when I thought it was all nearly over, my editor shows me an example of the work I still need to do.

That image is the moment Han and all the rest of the rebels learn that not only is there another Death Star, they also must attack it ASAP.

Kinda how I feel.

So, here is my Death Star v2.0, or "Hit List"

1. Avoid repetitive sentence structure.
  •   “hello,” he said, walking down the road.  Nearly every quote you have made follows this pattern.
  •   Get rid of some of the “saids”, either by replacing with a better word (announce, suggested etc) or by moving the action first, thereby removing the need to announce who is saying what.  i.e. 
  •   Jimmy raised his hand. ‘It was me.’
  •   Too many sentences look like this: Picking up a cup, he sang a song. Mix it up a bit.  i.e. He sang a song as he picked up the cup. He picked up the cup and he sang a song.  He picked up the cup.  He sang a song.
  •   You have a lot of similes but very few metaphors. Change some of the former into the latter: It can have much more impact.  Eg He felt like a giant. => He was a giant.
  •   Too many broken sentences in the form of: He knew that, unlike his mother, he was lovely.  You do the same with quotes.  Too many: “I am here,” Jimmy said, “to say hello.”  Some are good, too many is not so good.
  •   You need to cut many sentences into smaller pieces.  I’ve highlighted many examples, but many more exist.
  •   Don’t use words like “came” and “began” for speech (so much).  Ie ”Hello”, came a voice.  Better alternatives exist.

2. Words to eliminate by 99% if at all possible.  Search through each instance and try find an alternative.
  •   Began, 274 (70 now) uses
  •   Then (and also “and then”)541 uses (351 now)
  •   But, 855 uses. Alternatives; however, notwithstanding, that, barely, just, only, tho, besides, merely, provided, unless,except, moreover, save, yet, further, nevertheless, still
  • Screamed, only 25 uses, but many of those seem unnecessary or over the top for the context
  • Came, 215
  • Thing, 494 uses
  • All (all these are commonly used but more often than not have more effective alternatives)
  • Thunder – overused as a simile.
  • Whisper – overused to describe conversations.  Even if they do whisper a lot, there are more ways to decribe it.
  • As, 1732 uses – too many things happening “as” other things happen.  i.e. “He jumped as he turned around.”
  • Seem, 163 uses

Here is an image of what a  page of said markup looks like.

Thats a lot of green when you consider that I have to multiply it by 500 pages. Remember all this is merely the final polish, the last hurrah after years of work where the changes were entire paragraphs -- entire chapters -- and not the single words I'm changing now. 

If it sounds like I'm complaining, I am, but not about this. I love this. This is what I want to do with my life. But when I have to spend 6 hours a day marking high school essays and exams, its hard to open up TLBE at night and face down the barrel of the Hit List.


Monday, June 6, 2011

almost there.....

So I kinda sorta finished tLBE, and sent it to my publisher last night. But you know what they say: we don't so much finish things like books and paintings rather we abandon them. And I'm not ready to switch off my targeting computer and trust the force just yet.

So, in the meantime, while my editor (I will never, ever get sick of saying 'my editor') looks over the latest draft, I thought I'd look at another famous quote about making stuff.

"Write drunk; edit sober."

Good solid advice that is Mr. Hemingway.

And in the spirit of that idea, Lets talk about what to listen to when writing in siad state of sobriety

Personally, I've got a playlist of about 30 film scores that have kept me going for the past 5 years. It has everything from John Williams and his well known masterpieces, to Vangelis and his Bladerunner soundtrack. And yes, there may even be a little Howard Shore in there too, for what fantasy book could be written without the music to middle earth? Sometimes, for a really rousing battle scene, I'll skip to some James Horner and his Braveheart score, but then for an intimate moment, I'll scroll back to Clint Mansell and his Fountain soundtrack. Then, if all else fails, its Jerry Goldsmith's Alien to get back into the right erie mindset. 

I tend to skip over all the Harry Potter songs though -- sorry John Williams, it wasn't your best work.

But the thing is, I can't edit to film scores. Turns out, I need something with more of a beat to stay focused, and so its classic hits of the 70's 80's and 90's for me. And when things have gotten really desperate, the Beatles are always there to hold my hand as I delete all those superfluous adjectives and add more interesting dialogue tags. 

"Just as long as you stay sober," reminded Ernest Hemingway, with a voice of reverberating authority.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

almost there....

And so it is nearly over. tLBE is about 2 hours away from completion, and to mark the occasion I'm writing today in the local Borders that is having a closing down sale.

If that isn't a great big middle finger to the current pessimism about the publishing industry, I don't know what is.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

last push of the TLBE

9 chapters to go, then its back to the start for some sweet sweet find/replace.

Next post: my writing hitlist. (If I actually get done today)


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Even my procrastination is work now.

In the interest of sanity I didn't attack TLBE tonight. I'm only 9 chapters away from completion, but I feel like i'm reading someone else's book right now, so need to sleep on it.
In the meantime, instead of watching Game of Thrones -- really not sure if this show is going to be worth it, or if it is just Tudors with Dragons -- I decided to work on my map.

The good people at Cartographer's guild have been giving me some more feedback on the last copy (which I named "final map" or something appropriately shortsighted) and it was about time I listened.

As I said in their forums however, I feel like I may have jumped the shark on the design. So, like the book itself, I will have to look at it again with more sleep between me and my anxiety.


"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain