Leo Clarke

On the way to work today I had some great story thoughts.

I know it seems silly to be thinking about future books whilst I’m still unrepresented and unpublished but I cannot help myself. It would be completely ‘not me’ to stop putting stories together.

Today’s focus was Leo. He plays an important roll in The Moon Machine and where he ends up at the end of book one is good. I’m happy with his journey.

He is a character that I’m still figuring out. That sounds completely reckless and mental but he started out as a plot point at the end of book one. As I’ve said before, it’s the Geography of a story that makes all the difference. I knew I needed X to happen at the end of book one. And so Leo was created to achieve X. Of course he has become a really useful character through book one and I’m really glad he is around for me to utilise.

At the same time, his story passed X was a bit foggy until today. And I’m so happy about where he goes in books 2 and 3…

I had some plot points in my head and written down, none of which mentioned Leo at all. They were general plot points that I thought were good ideas and was ready to put them into context for book 3.

And then I thought Leo. He entered my mind and all the plot points suddenly made sense. He was the context I was looking for. A proper light-bulb-moment!

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A cleverer person may have put 2 and 2 together sooner, but alas I am not that person. Of course by the time book 3 comes into fruition I will appear as that clever person as I have in fact joined the dots.

Leo was the missing link. And to think that I had his story here all along without realising it. It’s amazing how often that happens to me. Linking ideas and characters is something which makes me so happy and feel like a proper story teller.

I do enjoy this part!

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February Status Report

I have become some sort of writing machine!

I was very happy with my progress in January and now I am feeling goooooood about February.

Last night I finished chapter 12. And I love the way it ended.

It was a peculiar chapter because I took Crystal through 3 different scenes and settings. I don’t normally move through that many scenes in one chapter, for no particular reason other than its just how I write.

I’m a faithful user of the three-little-star scene-breaker punctuation device… Oh it’s just easier to show you; like this.

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I learnt it from Robin Jarvis – my favourite author! (You must read his latest books Dancing Jax and Freax and Rejex, you simply must faithful reader! I promise they will not disappoint!) The first series of books that ever affected me were his Tales from the Wyrd Museum and if I ever had the pleasure of meeting him I would tell him just how much his writing means to me.

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I like my scenes to have an end, and that end to have a little beat or cliff hanger, not dissimilar to the way a scene ends in a TV show.

Sometimes the chapters I find the most difficult to write tend to be the ones with lots of scenes.

It’s almost a sign that I’m struggling with a chapter when there are lots of scenes. Like my fingers are dancing these characters around to try to get them where I need them to be.

But the strange thing is, these chapters somehow end up being my favourite.

In the last book I wrote I was stuck on Chapter 8. And when I say stuck, I mean stuck for months! Val came to my rescue there with some amazing insight into one character that sent me off in the direction I was aiming for but didn’t know how to get too.

Funnily enough, chapter 8 in this book saw me struggle too. Both were natural pauses in the story which is a strange coincidence, and whenever I go back and read either of them I am filled with that “oh I remember you” feeling.

The scenes in Chapter 12 were difficult in a way because there was a lot of exposition to get through. And whilst I knew what the exposition was, telling it neatly and clearly was always going to be a struggle.

But I like it. It’s the scene that I talked about in an early blog that I had to move to the hobbit-type-hole; Leo uses his mobile to do his research. And the humour I had planned works quite well. I’ll be interested to see if others find the funny funny.

Then there was the Goosebumps moment (Yay!) and it was quickly followed by another difficult scene.

It was time for Crystal to speak to her aunts. She had been stubborn and silent for long enough. It was time to let them back in slightly, and get the house talking again. But this time there’s no secrets. Crystal starts a conversation that only briefly touches on what the aunts kept from her for so long, but it was enough to start the ball rolling and opens the door for more communication in subsequent chapters.

I’m happy with it. I’m also happy with how it leads into the the final scene of the chapter; Crystal meets the Collector. And it’s such a brief meeting.

So few words are uttered but so much meaning is implied. Or at least if I’ve done my job right, then that’s what will come across.

Fantastic to have a new character to write for. And such an ambiguous character too. Delish!

So that’s where I am. Two more chapters done in another month. If I keep this up I’ll be on track to meet my deadline of January 2014.

I’m factoring in a lot of time for editing. I remember how long the last book took… And how painful it was.

Goosebumps

I love it when a plan comes together.

My style of writing is to block out the bare bones of a chapter and then when it comes to actually writing it, allowing my fingers to their own devices and indulging in a bit of creative embellishment. Really, its 1 part thinking to 2 parts doing.

1 Part Thinking:

Plan. Write a brief, brief, brief synopsis for the chapter considering the important plot points and really just mapping out the beginning, middle and end. More often than not, I have a place my main character has to end up, and I just plan the steps they take to get there.

Doing #1:

Take a first pass at the writing which is really just turning the synopsis into prose. This doesn’t always feel like you are a competent writer, or even that what you’ve written is particularly good, but it does get the story going. Mostly, my first pass is speech. Getting the talkie bits in gives you a framework for the rest of the chapter.

Doing #2:

Now this is the bit that I love; the heart. This is where I make the story feel. Difficult to explain. I make sure that the chapter is coherent and consistent when it comes to perspective, and try to ensure that I refer back to my main character as much as possible. I also embellish the speech.

I heard a brilliant piece of advice once, when it comes to a character’s dialogue. Basically, if you don’t love every single word that each character says, then cut it. For me, this makes the dialogue easier to write. If it’s half-hearted and just ‘serving a purpose’ then change it and make it right for that character.

It’s also where I feed the descriptions with some much needed adjectives. Pass 2 is all about making the chapter sit in its rightful place in the book and in the landscape that you’re writing about. Describe the scenery, enhance the mood, make the surroundings matter as much as the characters speech and thoughts and feelings.

Of course, this is an extremely general simplification of the process. The ‘1 Part Thinking’ is actually the culmination of years of characterisation, plotting, figuring out twists and turns, back story, research… I could go on!

But what I really love is when in doing the second pass, I write something and connect something that I didn’t know was there, at first. I’ll try and explain…

It’s the goosebump moments. Those rare times when the facts and research and plotting and sub plotting and characterisation and dialogue and setting all merge to create something special.

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I always thought that Russell T Davies was very clever in his plotting – and he is! He writes things in that don’t seem important and end up being massively important. He has a fantastic way of linking things that you didn’t realised were linked to begin with. Pockets anyone?

He’s also very good at using the information he has already established to his advantage. So, when it comes to making that link, he looks incredibly clever, like he had planned the link all along. When, in reality, he probably discovered the link was there half way through writing it – “Us Smiths have to stick together!”

Am I making sense?

The reason I bring this up is because I just linked something in my novel which is really nothing more than a happy accident. A fantastic play on words that hopefully, if you ever read it, you will think I was so clever and had planned it all along, when in actual fact, it happened by accident through a bit of research and using what I had already established.

This makes me so happy! For a brief and shining moment, I felt like a proper writer. I even had goosebumps.

Then I read it back, and I gave myself goosebumps again!

It’s these small and clever times that spur me on. It can be awfully lonely and quite isolating working as a writer. You can doubt yourself 300 times a day, and only feel like you’ve done good maybe twice a day.

This is one of those times! I pat myself on the back.

Chapter 11 is finished and I am half way through Chapter 12, as of yet untitled. I hate giving a chapter a title if it doesn’t naturally come to me. That will be next now, I’ll spend days agonising over the name of this chapter instead of writing it.

So to save myself the bother, I’ll name it now: lets call it…

Words Written in Red and White

It’s a working title. But I like it!

A Tough Water To Tread

Hello faithful readers and stumbled-upon-passers-by; how the devil are you?

It has been a whole week without blogging and a whole week without writing. I’m afraid I have neglected my book something awful.

I don’t really have an excuse. Nor am I required to provide one. But incase you want one, I’ve just been working and eating and sleeping. Such is life.

Now. Book.

Tonight I have read a bit, e-mailed Alex and Val another chapter (number 4 currently titled ‘Coming Clean’ but I’m not that enamoured with it tbh) and also written a mini commentary on it for their perusal.

It’s one of those chapters that wasn’t supposed to be a chapter. It’s one long conversation that in my naivety I didn’t realise would be so long.

I love it though. It should be this long. It works. Lovely domesticity with a slight edge…

The chapter ends, however, with a dream; a tough water to tread.

A lot of writers use dream sequences in their books and a lot of the chatter online from editors and agents says that they are unnecessary and just slow down the narrative.

Hmm.

My last book was heavy on the dream sequences. In retrospect I think too heavy. Although that narrative depended on those dreams to bring together different people to achieve a common goal.

This dream is different. It’s there for a specific reason. Actually two reasons.

1. Crystal needs to doubt herself. So having a disjointed dream will confuse her.

2. There needed to be a reference to previous descriptions and happenings.

In short, hi lighting these events makes them important and provides a link between the then and the now.

It’s also setting up something for a subsequent book… So it’s important.

But would this story benefit from taking it out?

My gut tells me that the chapter and following chapter would work without it. With a few little changes of course. But my need to set up book 2 is winning right now; so it’s staying.

If at the end of writing this novel I deem it unnecessary, I will remove it and see how it sits without it.

What do you think? Dreams and nightmares in novels: yay or nay?

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Geography

Some chapters are longer than others. Some are just short. I shouldn’t let it bother me too much, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t concern me.

It’s the geography that takes time.

I don’t mean countries, I mean the placing of characters and how to maneuver them onto the correct path. Chapter 11 is a prime example of this.

I need to get Crystal, Elsie and Leo to Morris’ hole (insert obvious ‘Carry-On’ joke here). First, they needed to decide to go there. This has taken 3 A4 pages. Now, it was originally 2 pages, but an idea came to me and I went with it. I have written in a little scene where Leo’s mates see him with the two girls and decide to join them and make fun of him.

This was such a great scene to write. It was really real. And after the last two mythical chapters I needed me some real.

The boys teasing their friend is just what would happen. I had fun naming them too. It was also great to get to know Leo a bit better, and not just in a reacting-to-Crystal’s-magical-adventures-and-problems kind of way. Seeing him around his friends gives us a real insight into who he is.

The next part of the chapter was meeting at Crystal’s house to go and see Morris. This took two and a half A4 pages. I had previously had a crack at it and wasn’t feeling it. It’s hard to define exactly what I didn’t like about it… But I’ll try.

I originally had Elsie arriving first dressed in an outfit completely inappropriate for a walk in the woods. Crystal’s reaction was great but Leo wasn’t there; that was the problem. Leo had to already be there to share in the reaction.

So I got Leo there first and then they couldn’t just wait in silence for Elsie to turn up; so I wrote a little chat between them.

This conversation is a brilliant addition to the chapter because it allows us to learn even more about Leo and his family. I obviously knew Leo’s circumstances, but Crystal didn’t and I didn’t really have a plan as to when she would find out; it might have even happened off-stage as it were. But this is better!

I’ve given Crystal the reassurance in Leo that she needs. He understands, in his own way, what she is going through and now she understands why he’s helping her. It’s a nice little conversation which I think really helps with his characterisation, but it has taken words.

So now, I am 6 pages into the chapter and we haven’t even arrived at Morris’ home yet.

I also have the song. Morris sings a song in this chapter which I really want in there. See my previous post One Year To Go… to read all about that. But this, again, takes words. In fact it takes a whole page!

So, looking ahead, Morris’ home is going to take a fair bit of description. And then there is the conversation where we find our next clue which moves the narrative forwards.

More words…

And the plan for the next chapter is to be set somewhere different again; this won’t need to be set up, thankfully, as the plan is to set it up with Morris. So there’s a lot to get into this chapter; perhaps too much…

I am now going to love you and leave you with a Carrie Bradshaw-esque question:

Fellow writers, when it comes to the number of pages in a chapter, does size matter?

Stop Writing; Start Judging

It’s been a week of work and illness. I was off last Sunday and Monday and I just wasn’t right; achy and dizzy and woozy. Good word that; woozy. 

I couldn’t bring myself to write because it would have just been mindless drivel. So I watched some telly and had some friends round for coffee (which was brilliant because we just laughed for four hours!). 

Since then I’ve been working, as in my actual job, and my shift pattern hasn’t lent itself well to writing; lots of late finishes and early starts. 

So Crystal Green hasn’t seen much action this week. Though I have been thinking about things, which is never a good thing when you’re not actually creating. And actually, it has sort of sent me into a spiral of negativity

When I stop writing, I start judging. And judgement is great when you have a whole novel to analyse. But I don’t. Only 10 chapters exist and 11 is a work in progress. 

I understand why other authors suggest that your write quickly because too much time for reflection can be a bad thing. Not that I have reflected on any one particular thing this week. It’s more I’ve been thinking about the overall feel and format of the novel.

I can’t help but think that what I am writing now is VERY different to the the beginning of the novel. Intentionally so, I must add, so I must have thought it a good idea once. But this time of reflection has made me wonder if it is, actually, at all, any good.

The fact is a novel is a journey. It’s pointless to examine the route taken from half way to your destination. Surely, I should be thinking about the feel of the novel once the novel is complete???

I am more than happy about the 2 chapters I wrote in January. After my long writing break, they came so easily and felt exciting again; in retrospect this is probably because they are entirely different from the first 8 chapters. 

There is something to be said about ‘parting’ a novel, like The Hunger Games; the story split into 3 parts…

The problem with that is, once you start ‘parting’ when do you stop? Do you stop at all? Would all the subsequent novels then have to be parted? 

This is one story. And perhaps I should just shut up about the format and get on with the writing! But this blog is about everything; the good and the bad about this process. There are high and low moments. This is a low one. 

So rather than spiraling even further down, I am going to stop blogging and start writing. I will leave you with some drawings of Morris’ hole, a sentence which if taken out of context could be misconstrued. That’s another good word; misconstrued.

Woozy. 

Frothed! That’s a really good word; one of my favourites; frothed!

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