Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A-Z Blogging Challenge - signups open!

Last April, I wrote travel-themed daily flash fiction for the A-Z Blogging Challenge, telling tiny tales from Venice and Bamberg and Alaska and Chelsea Physic Gardens and Johannesburg and Lausanne.

I have no idea where this year will take me, but I can't wait to get stuck in again!

Signups for the A-Z Blogging Challenge are open again. The objective is to post to your blog every day in April (barring Sundays) and to theme each post around a letter of the alphabet. Some bloggers post recipes, flash fiction, book reviews. . . whatever they can think of, provided their post topics run from A to Z as the month wears on.

I loved it last year. I asked my lovely blog readers to suggest place names, and found myself swamped with brilliant suggestions. I loved choosing my 26 destinations and researching them to find out what stories might lurk there. I even found an idea for a novel, when I sent two ghost ship hunters to the Skeleton Coast.

This year, I plan to do another fictional world tour, and maybe collect all 52 pieces into a short ebook once April is over. I'll be posting a call for place names on Friday, so please start thinking about places that could feature a story, whether they're interesting, offbeat, mainstream, quirky, dull, urban, suburban, rural or celestial.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Skipping the Start: Non-Linear Editing

I keep hearing about how you need to 'wow' agents with your opening pages. For the purpose of this blog post (and getting published), I am going to set aside my basic mistrust of people who use the word 'wow' as a verb, because such people are often very smart and have good advice.

And on this, I agree. As a reader, the first few pages have to wow me. I have been known to put books down because I hated the opening line. I can only imagine how much more this applies to agents, who are reading for work and have demands on their time.

A few days ago, I opened up the novel I'm editing, and said to myself 'Right.' (all of my internal talkings-to begin with the word 'right', said emphatically in my very Irish accent). 'It is time to edit this thing. Start at the beginning.'

I couldn't get going. The pressure of rewriting the first few pages with added wow was paralysing.

My current opening line is 'Claire was lost in a world of press releases when the text message came in.' Not much, when you stack it up against 'It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they executed the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York,' or 'Marley was dead to begin with,' or 'What do you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died?' or 'Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.'

Text messages and press releases. Welcome to the 21st century :)

I kept staring at the first line. I needed wow factor. I needed top-notch prose. I needed to stop staring at the screen and do something.

So rather than deal with the internal pressure to make this brilliant right away, I decided not to edit in a linear way. I've made a list of what needs to be done, and I'm going to start by tackling the major changes, and then move on to line-editing what's left. I hope that the major plot and character changes will naturally suggest a new, stronger opening, but if not, I'll be in a better place to edit the opening when I know what shape the finished book has taken.

How do you guys edit? Any tips for creating kick-ass openings?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

When Beta Readers Disagree

I have said it before, and it merits saying again - I love my beta readers. They give up vast chunks of their free time to help me make my book better. They are awesome.

But as each one is awesome in their own way, sometimes they give me very different opinions.

Usually this is fine. If I give my new novel to four people and they each highlight four different flaws, I spend some time thinking about each of them and ultimately I change what I feel like changing. No giant flaw has stood out to everyone.

However, sometimes there is a problem that could be fixed in one or two different ways. I'm working on a few of those at the moment - making the main character more likeable in the early chapters (apparently she's a bit of a whiny cow) and upping the stakes in the earlier part of the book. There are dozens of ways to fix those.

And in the case of my stakes problem, I came up with a solution I liked, which I felt would boost the drama and the conflict and the peril for my main character. I asked two of the beta readers what they thought.

One loves it. One hates it. Both had excellent reasons and made strong points.

I tore my hair out for a while and then consulted a third beta reader, who diplomatically agreed with both of them but eventually came down somewhat on one side. A fourth refused to express an opinion. A fifth was only in the country for a couple of weeks and I had so many better things to talk to her about than my book (namely: Italian chocolate - any good? and Your couch - may I sleep on it?).

So what is a writer to do?

In this case, I'm very fond of my suggested fix - it ups the stakes effectively and it allows me to make a point about something on which I have strong views. I believe it has a good chance of improving the book. So I'm going to do it.

I am, however, going to do it while keeping the other beta reader's comments in mind. The beta reader who hated my solution made excellent points about why she feels it may not work, how she feels it may damage the book. Knowing these in advance, I hope I can write the new chapters with those pitfalls and mind and construct the story in a way that means they're not an issue - and if I can't, I'll be aware of the pitfals as I write and can scrap them if they become overwhelming.

Have your beta readers ever disagreed? What did you do?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Blog Stats

Apparently 99 people viewed my blog on Christmas Day.

I would love to know more about this. Were people just bored? Were they inspired by a mention of pink tea in a Christmas Day movie - and if so, which one? Die Hard?

Anyway, in the last month or so, 8 people arrived here by searching for some variation on a theme of 'Diffney quiz' (which I've written about here), including one optimistic soul doomed to failure, seeking the answers to the 2013 quiz, which hasn't been written yet.

Someone else found me by searching 'fun facts about writers'. I'd love to know what else they found.

18% of visitors in the last month were using Linux, and I had the most pageviews from the USA, Russia, Ireland, Ukraine, the UK and Indonesia. And as ever, the most popular browser among readers of my blog is Firefox.

You guys are interesting!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Unusual Endorsements

I recently asked one of my closest friends to read my novel, The Curse of the Carberrys, and tell me what she thought.

This is always a nerve-wracking experience. Here is a snapshot of what my brain does when I give one of my friends a copy of something I've written:

What if they hate it?
I really respect this person - what if, after reading my writing, they no longer respect me?
What if they think I really believe the things that my characters believe?
What if there's something in there that they find offensive? What if I've accidentally used an outdated term that's no longer politically correct?
What if they find out I am secretly unable to spell necessary and occasion? (Ooops, guess that secret is out now)
What if they hate my font?
What if they think the villain character is based on them?
What if they end our friendship with the words 'Ellen, I could never be friends with someone who wrote this crap!'?

The head of a writer is not a place where you want to build a summer-home, is what I'm saying.

Anyway, to date none of my friends have dumped me for bad writing, which is comforting (although I'm sure some have been tempted).

Just before Christmas, a friend who read my novel some months ago finally got a chance to talk with me about it. She lives overseas so we don't meet often.

'I enjoyed it,' she said, 'but it reminded me of you a lot. I had to stop reading it a few times because it was making me miss you.'

I was incredibly happy with this comment. They say you need to write the book of your heart, the book you most want to read, and for me The Curse of the Carberrys is that book (for the moment - I'm sure there will be others). It feels good to know that I have managed to write something that has something of me in it, that isn't just a rehash of plots pulled from TV Tropes and characters borrowed from strangers at the bus stop. It's good to know that I managed to put myself into the book.

It makes facing the edits a little less daunting!

PS - just to prove that real life isn't a fairytale, I have to add that my friend also told me that a particularly pivotal plot moment just didn't work for her and explained why in detail. She was absolutely right- and thankfully it's an easy fix.