Fighting Paralysis

I’ve hit the difficult spot in my story.

I believe I know what is wrong with it, but I am not quite sure how to fix it yet. And the change seems so big that it results in a fear-like response. It is too big a problem to fix, my brain says, shying away from the task. The worry expands and grows: have I changed that character’s motivations earlier in my revision? What is the timing of the different scenes, and can I fit them together?

It’s an irrational fear. I know I can work through the problems, however it feels like I’m at the base of Mt Everest and have one gigantic, massive mountain to climb.

I can’t let paralysis win. I can’t let it chase me away or stop me dead. I need to choose the fight response (and not flight or freeze).

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How goes the Revision?

A quick writing update on the revision of my first novel, Vengeance Will Come. It was my goal to finish the revision by the end of this month and I’m currently sitting at 70% complete. I’ve been making a few structural tweaks and expanding it out a little, as well as improving the language.

As an example, I just came across this:

The exclamations of surprise and dismay reached their climax.

Now that I re-read that line I am embarrassed by it. It’s talking about shock in a way which would put people to sleep. (And considering I am very sleepy, it’s not helping).

I always felt there was a problem at the 5/6th’s point of the story, where I leap-frog forward in time. More than one beta reader was surprised that the ending came quite so quickly. This suggests to me a stunted story. It was my intention to soften this leap by writing new content – whether that be some decent-length scenes or even a couple of chapters.  However, I’m also aware that I don’t want to write a chapter if it’s only ‘padding’. That would be a bad move. The goal of revision – whether it’s expanding, contracting or completely renovating should be to improve the story. This means I’ll need a good chunk of time to think through and write the content so that it is valuable and can be blended in to the story. At this stage I have no idea how I’m going to do it.

Fortunately, after discovering I haven’t had a meaningful holiday since March 2016, I’m taking a week off. Expect a writing surge. (Or feel free to shame me if there’s not).

And I’m thinking of releasing my novel for free…

 

Micro-Story: Family

For something different, a small story. (I can understand that I’ve made a few questionable choices in how I have written this).


It was a chilly morning but the crisp weather was warm compared to the glaciers which moved slowly through her veins. She had made her emotions a block of ice, impenetrable and unyielding. Though she loved him, truly she did, she still had to leave. After 53 years of marriage it had just become too much. You could push a heavy load for only so long, and she had pushed it far beyond her capability. It was not defeat but the end of a heroic effort that could not be continued. He didn’t appreciate the struggle and hurt it was causing her. An injury sustained during the Vietnam War had robbed them of the children. Even still, they’d never been able to enjoy the freedom of independence that no children should bring. She could feel her husband’s eyes following her as he walked to the end of the driveway, saying nothing. They’d both said all they had to say and neither of them had been able to compromise. She knew he was hurting inside, beneath the stoic facade and she fought to maintain the same facade. She would not break down and relent. Not this time. She was finally thinking of herself, of escape. She focused on her movements, not her emotions, and carried her suitcase the final metres to the car idling on the road.

Her older brother stood on the other side of the car feeling awkward. He didn’t know where to look, much less what to do. There were no tears between his sisters and her husband; that made it almost worse. He couldn’t fault either of them and didn’t want to choose a side. He liked his brother-in-law, and though they’d lived a difficult life his brother-in-law had always cared for his sister well. When his sister called last night asking for a ride and a place to stay he had to help. She was going to ‘find her own place’ at the age of 70. The situation seemed so odd, so sad. Why was there a lump in his throat? He wished he was anywhere but here, participating in this sad event. He took the suitcase from his sister and heaved it into the boot. His sister, moved quickly to sit in the passenger side of the car. He looked at his brother-in-law with pursed lips and gave a sad wave goodbye. Surely they would still see each other, although it seemed likely it would be far less now.

“Goodbye,” her husband called. She pretended not to have heard him. He watched her sit in the car without so much as a look in his direction, her gaze now fixated out the windscreen. He wanted to go to her and beg but knew she wouldn’t listen. Communication between the two of them had been severed and the cost to re-establish it was one he couldn’t pay. He wanted to give her one last kiss or one last hug. He couldn’t bear it if she responded to the affection like a stone, like so many times in recent months. He had always worried, at the back of his mind, about how he might cope if she died before him. The grief would be too much. Never had he considered she might leave of her own volition before death came. He wondered if there had been anything more he could have said to make her stay. It was unlikely – they’d both talked so much over several years – and yet, he wished he found the words that made a difference. The difficulties of life had masked the beauty of their love in her eyes. The obligation was too heavy and it had never torn at his heart and soul so viciously as it did as his brother-in-law climbed into the car.

“Where is Aunty going?” his 45-year-old brother asked cheerfully from behind the safety of the fence. He smiled brightly with simple delight, “Are we still going to see the ducks today?”

A Race to the End

I’ve got work-related activities that I need to focus on coming up. In order to focus my attention, I want to finish my revision of Vengeance Will Come by the end of September. That’s possibly an unachievable goal.

Given that I suspect I need a new chapter at the 9/10ths part of the story, I need to leave a good chunk of time for writing that. So it’s a race to the end and I hope you’ll be seeing some massive jumps in the progress bar to the right.

The progress starts now. Go!

For Your Consideration: Publishers Need to Adapt in the Digital Age

I’ve recently been re-listening to the Writing Excuses podcasts and found them as enjoyable as ever (including LOL moments every few episodes). In this blog post I want to drill-in slightly to Season 1, Episode 20 and then pivot from that onto my own thoughts, especially about how I think publishers need to continue to evolve.

Setting the Scene

(Bare in mind that this podcast is now a decade old. Predictions made about the future of the industry may be well-along to either fruition or stunted after the passing of time, fruit unrealised).

In this episode Brandon asks a question of audience member, author Mike Stackpole who had this to say (slightly paraphrased, mostly verbatim):

“It’s only been the last 70-80 years we’ve been churning out literature, prior to that, we were entertainers. Now with the coming of e-books we can sell direct to endusers and cut out the publishers. … The problem for traditional publishing is they only own the electronic rights on manuscripts since about 1996 and since now were in 2008 they’ve got 12 years’ worth of novels and no writer needs to sell electronic versions to them anymore because we can sell direct. They’re in trouble.

The big problem for traditional publishers is their business has never been about bringing us fiction. It has been about them bringing to us blocks of wood. Their whole business is based around printing, shipping and warehousing blocks of wood. Their not that vital any more. We can find editors, copy editors, etc ourselves.”

To emphasise his point he says he can make greater profit by selling a short story from his website for $2 than he makes selling 2x $8 paperbacks. Additionally he gets the money instantly, not 9-15 months later as he would with a publisher.

As it relates to the Author

It’s pretty hard to argue with the real-world example given. There’s more profit in it for the author to sell direct-to-consumer, rather than via a publisher.

And there’s certainly truth to the point that the writer’s efforts are the main commodity being sold by a publisher. That’s not to say that the publisher doesn’t add value. The publisher brings professionals who have expertise and more experience than most authors ever will in their chosen field: editors, marketers, illustrators etc.

As an example, there’s a reason why most authors aren’t consulted about what their front cover look like. Publisher’s know what will sell, and also have a better understanding of what’s in the marketplace at the present time.

Publishers also bring credibility. Until you’re an established author you’re trading on the brand of your publisher.

However, the publishing world is changing. It is now easier for the author to editors, line editors and research assistants online. Websites like 99 designs exist to let you choose between competing artists for book cover designs. Sites like Patreon make it easier for creative people to be funded by those who love their creativity.

Personally, I don’t want to have to make all of those decisions. I prefer to think of myself as focussed on the writing, not lazy. Just like I could change the oil on my car, but I’m OK with paying someone else to do it.

Perhaps I’ve been reading too many fantasy books lately but I wonder in an internet full of people offering their services if we will see a return to guilds? Where groups of similarly skilled people will form to enhance their own credibility and exposure to potential customers.

For the Publisher

I am not unbiased in this discussion. Not too long ago I submitted a manuscript sample to a US publisher via the postal system as prescribed. And it disappeared.

Thinking about this podcast and the changing nature of technology it made me wonder: why would a publisher ever want to receive a manuscript by mail? The only reason I can possibly think of, is that it lowers the volume of submissions. What if embracing technology could actually make the submission process easier and cheaper?

What I’d suggest is that publishers should provide an electronic submission process. They could even charge an administration/submission fee (which would cover the costs of printing at their end, if printing is still necessary?). There are numerous benefits for the publisher:

  • An additional revenue stream (submission fee)
  • Automated-checking to see if the document complies with the submission guidelines. If it doesn’t you can reject it outright. (If you’re nice you can let the author know; if you’re so inclined you can reject it ‘quietly’ and keep their submission fee without much guilt. They, after all, didn’t follow the rules, so be it on their own head).
  • Use machine-learning to automatically check and redirect to the recycle bin. (Too many spelling errors? Rejected. Tense confusion? Rejected. Swear-word tolerance breached? Rejected. Foul content? Rejected).
  • Author-filtering. Get a submission from someone who is truly terrible at writing? Auto-reject anything they submit for the next year. (Or if reject is too strong, though I doubt it, at least put them toward the bottom of the slush pile).
  • Implement a “submission alpha reader” process where unpaid minions can up-or-down vote manuscript samples.
  • Environmentally friendly: less printing.
  • Author-history. Hit gold with an excellent author? Want to see everything else they’ve submitted before?
  • Faster submission process. When you’re already waiting for months, it’d be nice to streamline any part of the process as an author.

Am I a genius or diabolically evil?

My Muse

Sometimes my fictional Muse sits in my consciousness and entertains me with stories of great battles, wonder and adventure.

Other times, like today, my Muse is banging around at the back of my mind creating a great deal of noise, as though furiously hunting for something amidst the clutter. “There’s some gold here,” she says, frustrated that it sits just outside of my conscious mind.

Another deleted scene from Vengeance Will Come

It’s been an anxious couple of weeks on the writing scene. Weeks is an unfair way for me to describe it… possibly 10 hours is more accurate in terms of available writing time. And yet a couple of hundred words spread over 10 hours is enough to make me anxious. In fact it did more, it sucked my enthusiasm dry and wrapped it in the cold embrace of a black hole. I literally had no enthusiasm left.

In an effort to reduce the number of point-of-view (POV) changes, I had decided to delete the scene below.

It’d been a day and a half since the female Brethren agent had discarded her cloak of normality. She dropped to the rubber mat for some rapid push-ups and then did a series of stretches before returning to the wooden chair. She let her head and neck relax into position behind the thermographic scope of the sniper rifle.
It had started by been comm’d and told to not go into work. The same morning the Shadow Generator had been delivered to her house in the shell of a large fridge-freezer unit. The nameless ‘delivery men’ had reassembled the device while she used a laser cutter to dig into the house’s foundations to the secret weapons-cache.
Throughout the day construction workers had begun building a pool and patio in her backyard with heavy machinery. The work outside was purely to hide the noise of the real construction: a shield box in the attic where she now sat. The shield box was a large metal cage which protected her high-tech weapon from the Shadow Generator in the kitchen.
While some of the workers had left at nightfall others had remained with their supplies and equipment. They watched through the ground floor windows, ready to defend the Shadow Generator with their lives. She had never met them before but they were Brethren; that was enough.
Her mission was clear, even if its ultimate purpose was not: keep the Shadow Generator running for as long as possible and prevent the enemy from capturing it. She was honoured to have been chosen as a martyr of the New Order.

The enemy arrived in under three hours, approaching in a staggered formation with the lead squad moving through her neighbour’s yard. The forward unit was closing in, but she watched further up the street for the unit leader. As the unit leader stepped around the corner she placed the crosshairs on his face and pulled the trigger. She shot two more soldiers in the chest before the Tadorian squad returned-fire at her en-masse, shredding the attic and forcing her to roll down the stairs to escape the inferno of lead.

The unnamed character in this scene had this, and one shorter scene and then disappears from the story line. Hence, why it was a prime candidate for POV removal.

However, I had originally added the POV because I needed someone “close to the action”. Removing her, meant I had to view the scene as a bystander… which was risky in the slowing-down of action. Try as I might, I couldn’t get enthusiastic at writing the scene from the alternate location. The words dribbled out and my enthusiasm quickly evaporated.

Making a beginner’s mistake, which I thought I was smart enough to be immune to, I misinterpreted that lack of enthusiasm as more than what it was. The story was horribly flawed, broken and should be abandoned. Not true, but that’s how I felt. I wrestled with the complete death of my enthusiasm. I tried to puzzle out what my problem was and it wouldn’t come to me. Day after day, the same soul-sucking dread. I lamented to a friend over coffee that I was considering putting the whole project aside, or completely reverting the scene deletion (and then putting it aside).

The morning following the coffee while getting ready for work, I had a brainwave. It would mean going back and changing a couple of earlier scenes but if it meant breaking the deadlock it was worth it.

Not only that, but I’m also taking a riskier step. My protagonist is going to have a slightly longer sulking session, which is a very dangerous move. If he is too sulky the reader won’t like him. But as it is currently written, he overcomes his emotional distress in the speed it takes Jack Bauer (of 24) to recover from a near-death experience. Which isn’t authentic at all. It’s a risk. I’m taking it.