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The end is just the beginning June 15, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Fantasy, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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My masters course has finally finished.

With (soon to be) two masters degrees hanging on my walls I have also become a master of avoiding full-time work as well.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be working on no less than three projects — the secret mini-book I’ll be shopping around for publishers or self-publish, continuing my masters novel, and getting my good old fantasy novel back on track.  And yes, looking for that much needed job will be high on the priority list as well.

Strangely, there is no relief after completing this masters degree like my previous degrees.  Perhaps it’s because I actually wanted to study this time instead of doing it out of obligation.  Or perhaps it’s because I now have to put what I have learned over the last 18 months into practice.

It feels a lot more like a beginning than an end.

Can I dramatise this scene? June 12, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Novel, On Writing.
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Source: mindset.yoursabbatical.com

A few weeks ago we were discussing the use of free indirect discourse in class.  I didn’t even know what it was, even though I had been using it throughout my writings for years.

Free indirect discourse is a way of representing a character’s speech or thoughts using a combination of direct discourse and narratorial commentary.  The simplest example I can think of is instead of writing a whole conversation between two people where you write down every word uttered (followed by ‘he said’ or ‘she said’), you summarise the conversation with narrative (eg, ‘They had a conversation about X’).

It’s used in just about every novel out there, but it’s something I never really thought much about before until I started struggling with my own writing.  Some conversations in my WIP novel(s) didn’t really work or dragged on too long, and probably could have been dispensed with a narrative summary instead of a word by word account.  Conversely, other conversations which I summarised might have worked better if I strung it out more to give the characters more of a voice.

The problem extends beyond just speech for me.  Looking through some of my older drafts, I tended to have a problem of not knowing how to create a scene.  I might not know where to start or where to end a sequence or a series of actions, and it ends up being a long, drawn out, tedious scene where people just do things and talk and do things and talk for an extended period of time.  The pace sags and even if a lot of things are happening it still feels slow and boring.

However, if I just summarise the scenes they end up losing life and take the reader out of the action.

So it’s a delicate balance.  Knowing when to use free indirect discourse and when to summarise scenes and when to write them out in full is a true skill, and a difficult one to master.

The way I look at it now is that I’m a director of a film, and it’s up to me to decide which scenes I want to show, which scenes I want to omit, which parts I want to spell out for audiences and which parts I leave for them to fill in themselves.  Is this scene worthy of being dramatised?  Is the scene capable of creating drama or tension or helps develop a character or reveal something pertinent about the plot?  Is there a point in the reader having to read the entire conversation or know every little thing that a person saw or did in that scene?  Is there a purpose?  If the answers to the questions are yes, then I go ahead and craft the scene in detail.  If the answers are no, then I’ll have to think of an effective way to summarise it.

Either way, it’s not easy!

 

Is there such a thing as over-editing? June 9, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Novel, On Writing, Study.
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The last week or so I had been desperately trying to get my manuscript into shape (or at least the part of it that I had to prepare for submission).

I had already touched on how difficult it is to edit your own work in a previous post, but what I have realised lately is that there comes a time when you just don’t know whether further editing is beneficial or detrimental to your work anymore!

Of course, I’m not talking about copyediting — what I am referring to is more substantial edits and rewrites.

My supervisor had given me a number of high level suggestions to improve my work, which required a lot of thought, a bit of deletion and more addition.  So I went ahead and tried to implement the suggestions while also attempting to fix the narrative on a sentence by sentence level.  Of course, I was reading everything out (a huge help), though it did give me a sore throat by the end of the day.

Anyway, it got to a point where I had done perhaps 5, 8 or even 10 drafts of individual chapters, and to be honest I couldn’t tell if the newer versions were any better than the older ones.  I was afraid I had deleted quality stuff and added stuff that didn’t improve the story.  Just how do you know, when everything starts to look the same and all versions start blurring into one?

It was something I discussed in class the other day, and as it turned out, fear of over-editing was a common occurrence, even for experienced writers.  The recommendation was to put the work aside to sit for a while, go do something else, take your mind off it, and when you’re ready, come back to it and read it again with fresher eyes.  And if you are game, showing the different versions to friends for comment would also be very helpful.

The most important thing to remember, of course, is to keep track of all your different versions and don’t save or write over them so if an older version is indeed better or there are deletions you want to reinsert you’ll have access to them.

Becoming a ruthless killer…of words May 31, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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It’s getting down to the business end of things.  The due date for my novel project is just around the corner and I have buckled down for the home stretch!

The novel itself will not be complete (the project only requires a certain number of words) but what I submit will have to be high quality, polished stuff.  And so I have essentially stopped drafting new chapters and am solely focused on reshaping and reworking the existing ones.

On top of that, I have to start trimming the words down to a manageable size.  I’m about 10,000 words over what I should have, and it’s going to be brutal.

Yesterday I commenced what I thought was a murderous rampage through my draft manuscript.  I deleted whole chunks, moved others, rephrased and slashed words and sentences here and there.  I thought I was on a roll.  But when I checked the word count at the end of the day, I had only cut a few hundred words!  It may have had something to do with me adding a little too much new material.

The good news is that I can simply cut entire chapters for the submission.  Find the ones that aren’t working yet and just take them right out.  Get back to them later.

The best advice I received from all the  workshopping I’ve done recently is that for comedic writing (which is what I am striving for here), the best way to go about it is to gather a whole bunch of stuff, find out what works and what doesn’t, and just keep the best bits.

For some reason I was under the assumption that brilliant comedic writers struck gold every time — and some of them probably do — but there’s bound to be certain passages that don’t work and some that work better than others.  The key is finding out which ones.  I find reading the writing out loud really helps — in identifying the strengths and weaknesses, separating the interesting from the boring, and assisting with the rhythm and comedic timing of the jokes and punchlines.

Oh well, better get back to it.  Time is running out.

Editing Your Own Work Is Hard Work! May 25, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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I’m up to the stage where I have just completed what is essentially a first draft of my masters project novel.  It’s not the whole novel but at 25,000 words it’s already substantially longer than what it needs to be for the purposes of the course (which I think is 15,000).

I am meeting my supervisor again shortly, and as usual, I am sure there will be more amazing suggestions and insights forthcoming.  The task now is to try and shape this first draft into something awesome.

Easier said than done.

I don’t mind editing my own work, not when it’s just copyediting — ie, fix the typos, the spelling, the grammar, etc — but when it comes to major overhauls and structural changes, I just want to bury my head in the sand and hope it miraculously fixes itself.

To me, editing your own work is the hardest part of writing.  Unfortunately it’s something that has to be done.  There are no magic bullets.  Just need to keep trying different things, testing various styles and combinations, and persevering until I get it right.  Well, either that or until the deadline, which is only a couple of weeks away.

Eek.  After that maybe I can get a real editor.

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