31 October 2011

Unfinished Projects

On Friday I started off talking about multi-tasking, and ended up on the subject of finishing projects.  There is certainly no point in putting away the laptop and notebooks after sending a manuscript out to publishers and agents.  If you want to make a career from writing you need to produce more than one book or article.  But there are other times when it might be a good idea to turn to another project for a while.
I found it hard (read impossible) earlier this year to get back into the edits I needed to make in Lives Interrupted.  I would open the manuscript; open the edit file containing my notes on what I had completed, and what was still left to do.  I would read a few lines and feel this unbearable weight press down on me.  It was as though I was preparing to climb a mountain.  I'd close the files and walk away from my laptop.
It wasn't that I didn't want to write, but more that it seemed insignificant compared to what was happening at the time.
Ultimately, in an effort just to write, I put the editing aside and started working on a short story to submit for a competition.
It took a while but it worked, and I came out the other side with a renewed enthusiasm to get back to my novel.  Sometimes we do need to put a project aside and work on something else - just not too often I guess, or we end up with a hard drive of unfinished writing.

28 October 2011


There's a myth out there that women can multi-task and men can't.  I guess like a lot of generalisations it's true for some people, but not others.  It's definitely not true for me.
I can multi-task the simple things that don't need my full concentration, but when it comes to important, or more intense activities, I have to focus on that one thing.
I'm envious of writers who talk about working on numerous projects at the same time, though I sometimes have less than generous thoughts of whether they're actually working on them all at the same time, which usually leads to random thoughts of a line of computers with a writer dashing madly between them.
I'm able to switch between a non-fiction (paying work) project, and a novel, but nothing more than that.  In much the same way I read one novel at a time.
Over the years I've been writing I've finally learned not to be so envious of someone else's talent, or way or working, and go with what works best for me.
I have a three-quarters complete first draft of another novel, which I started working on while I was waiting to hear from publishers/agents about Lives Interrupted.  I'm eager to get back into it, but also mindful not to get too ahead of myself before Lives Interrupted is completely finished.
When I started Lives Interrupted the manuscript didn't seem to move along very fast, working on it evenings and weekends.
When my job finished I decided to work for myself, but gave myself three months off to finish the first draft.  I worked on it full-time, and finished the first draft with a week or two to spare.
There is nothing like the relief and joy of getting to 'The End'.  However good or bad it is, without that first draft you don't have anything to mould and improve, and I guess that's the point.  Whether you can work on six things at the same time, or just one, it's not much use to you until it's finished.

21 October 2011

Writing Magic

Last week I wrote about filming a script I had written for some online training I’m working on.
We were on a very small budget, so had one cameraman, a small studio and very few props.
We did a couple of practise runs and then filmed the scene a few times.  After that, as we just had one fixed camera position, the actors changed positions and we filmed the scene from the opposite direction, and finally moved things side-on to the camera and did one final take from that angle.
We had two scenarios to film, and the second followed the same pattern.  Finally we did a few minutes filming at a local store, to set the opening scene.
The whole thing was great fun.
A day or so ago I saw the final edited version.  It's really good, and I was thrilled with what we had accomplished in just over a week, from initial idea to finished product, especially considering it was all fitted in around other work.
I know absolutely nothing about filming, and I was blown away by how the different takes were edited together to create a finished product that flowed seamlessly.
To me this seems to parallel the ‘scaffolding’ we have in a novel.  As a writer we do our initial planning, our scrappy first draft, edits, additional ideas, more edits etc.
It’s hard for us to look at the finished work without seeing all this scaffolding, but the reader just sees the finished book, and views it in much the same way as I viewed the film, marvelling at how everything fits together so beautifully.
There are magic moments in writing.  I’m still not totally sure whether they are down to ‘the muse’, our subconscious working it out and only letting us in on it much later, or pure luck.  But when it happens it feels as though someone has sprinkled pixie dust over the words, and you have magic.
Here’s an example to explain what I mean, and I’m sure you will have experienced this as well.  From my earliest Lives Interrupted drafts Dru has a secret that he doesn’t share with Kate until late in the book.  She is aware he has kept something back, but not what.
During later drafts (while deepening Kate’s character arc), a friend suggested adding an event to show her initial fearless and outgoing character to contrast the changes.  I had an idea for this and wrote it into an existing scene, but it was a while before I realised how completely it fitted, like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle.  It answers the question why Dru kept his secret, and acts like a mirror image of his experience.  Pure magic!

17 October 2011

Point of View

One of the things I enjoy about writing short stories is the opportunity to experiment, such as using a POV or tense I don’t normally use.
There are a great many opinions out there on the topic of writing novels in present tense, and/or using a 2nd person POV, but a short story is a small enough package to allow a writer the opportunity to do something different.
For so far my novels have been in a close third person POV.
Lives Interrupted has several POV characters, and (for me) it would never have worked as a first person POV.  The majority of Driftwood is seen through Juliet’s eyes, but there are several scenes that are essential to the plot where she isn’t present, and so I chose a third person POV.
Back on the subject of short stories, I have written them in first, second and third person, and one particularly troublesome story has been written in all three.  I started it in third person, and felt it wasn’t a close enough view of the central (and only) character.  I tried writing it in first person, and discovered something interesting.  I couldn’t do it. 
The character hates himself so much I just couldn’t summon up that much self-loathing, and the writing came to an abrupt halt.  I decided then to try a second person POV, as in someone talking to themself.  This made all the difference and words started appearing on my laptop screen again.
I doubt I could keep it up for a novel, but it did make a very different writing experience for the short story.

14 October 2011

Filming my Script

You’ve got to admit the title looks pretty impressive.  Well okay, maybe not to Peter Jackson.
Unfortunately the film isn’t starring Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio, and it isn't the film of one of my books.  But this week I’ve written a script and watched it being filmed.  Honest.
Which goes to show you can tell the truth, but also make it sound a bit more than it actually is.
I write technical manuals and training materials, and at the moment I’m developing some online training modules.  I was asked to provide a script so we could include some short video scenes on the topic of customer service.
I wrote the script, and yesterday we filmed the scenes at a small studio.
I’ve never written a script before, and even though it wasn’t very long I found it quite different to my usual writing. 
Over the past few weeks I’ve gone through my novel manuscript a couple of times, reading out loud and making some final changes, and once Id written the film script I did the same.  But it’s amazing how different it is listening to someone else reading/speaking your words.  Someone of a different age or sex can make a sentence sound totally different, as can emphasising different words in a sentence.
It’s been an interesting experience, but I don’t think I’ll be changing career paths and launching into writing film scripts anytime soon.

10 October 2011

How Much Is Enough?

When it comes to editing, how much should you do before you let go?
This is mostly a rhetorical question, but feel free to voice your thoughts.
I know I have perfectionist tendencies, though not necessarily perfectionist skills.  For the technical writing projects I do there is always a deadline.  That is fortunate or I would never finish a project (and therefore never get paid), as I always feel there is room for improvement.  But when it comes to my writing, I either don't have a deadline, or it's a self-imposed one, and so not quite as real.
Too few edits and the work is not a complete package, but can there be too many edits?  And if there are, then what is the magic number?
I have a feeling there is no magic number, or rather that the magic number is different for each writer, and probably different for each novel.  I hope that the partially complete first draft of my next novel will ultimately need less edits than Lives Interrupted, but we shall see.

07 October 2011

Positive and Negative Character Traits

When I started writing, my characters had to be the best – looks, habits, talents.  But in making them super-people they aren’t loveable, or even likeable characters, and certainly not believable.
A gorgeous looking, multi-talented character, is someone a reader will hate, or at best, find hard to relate to.  I knew this as a reader, but it took me longer to make that leap as a writer.
Generally speaking we are made up of positive and negative characteristics, and those can also depend on circumstances.  Push the wrong button and you may see something that surprises you.
Character traits are rarely all good or all bad.  A positive trait taken to an extreme can show negative attributes, and vice versa.
Last night I watched an old episode of CSI.  Hodges is an annoying character; he has an array of infuriating habits, and irritates most of the other people he comes into contact with - including me, and I'm just watching the show!  This particular episode had Hodges getting the other technicians together to come up with something new in the miniature murders case.
In one scene the technicians are profiling the miniature murderer, and as they list the characteristics it's obvious they could be describing Hodges.  Without looking up from what he is doing Hodges calmly says, (words to the effect), ‘How could it be me, I spend all my time in the lab.’
In that one sentence Hodges totally redeemed himself.  He took the joke, wasn’t annoyed, and showed he is self-aware.
Our protagonist should be human not superhuman, and that means they need a few flaws.  Our antagonist should have reasons for acting the way they do.  We may not agree with what they do, but at least we know why they act that way.