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.

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The Ignition of Revision (1)

What was it that caused me so quickly to begin a revision of Vengeance Will Come, when it had literally been the farthest thought from my mind?

In the months since putting the manuscript in the mail, I’ve been mulling over how I wrote it. One problematic issue has risen to the surface of my consciousness like foul oil sitting on the top of clean water. The frequent point-of-view (POV) swapping and I’m now convinced it’s a problem.

While some POVs lasted for an entire chapter, there were many, many more far shorter. Someone wise once coined the phrase, ‘a picture tells a thousand words’, obviously that person has never played Pictionary on my team… My lack of drawing skills aside, here’s a picture to demonstrate. (All the yellow highlights are scene changes).

VWC POV changes.PNG

(Wow, even though I knew it was a problem… this display makes it clearer – and me dizzy).

At the time of writing, I thought that the rapid POV/scene changes added to the speed of the novel… but I’ve gradually decided that too many rapid POV-shifts disorient to the reader. Possibly also, my constant POV changes hinted at a weakness in my writing. I believe it’s easier to head-jump than describe the same thing through one character’s brain.

Recognising this flaw, the main change I am going to be doing through revision is cutting down on the number of scenes and POV changes. Small POVs will either be discarded or made meatier.

Do you agree – does frequent and short POVs confuse or annoy you as a reader?

(Next writing-related blog post, I’ll show you the first ‘real’ scene of chapter 1 and explain why it’s now lying on the cutting room floor).

Significant Changes to The Rebel Queen

At the beginning of the year I optimistically planned on finishing my first novel, Vengeance Will Come would be followed by a quick revision of my next novel, The Rebel Queen. I was confident it wouldn’t take too long – after all The Rebel Queen was already drafted and had early alpha reader approval.

On the Writing Excuses podcast they advise that you’re not ready to write your second novel until you’ve finished your first. This is good advice in my experience. Having undergone the task of writing a novel, and importantly the synopsis for submission, I’ve come away with some new insights.

As is proper, my second novel should be better than my first. So in response my revision of The Rebel Queen will be more thorough than originally anticipated.

  • Significantly, I’m going to start by drafting my synopsis. I am going to describe my characters and their arcs first and then keep that in the forefront of my mind as I revise the text.
  • I want to increase the novel’s length. The draft of The Rebel Queen is 65,000 words. This is a medium-sized novel, and not a bad length for a new author. However based on previous experience I’d expect to cut 15% of that during the revision process. Which would result in a very short book.

    Far more important than the actual word count though, is the pace and ending. I’ve noticed I have a weakness in writing the 4/5ths part of the story. I am going to expand that section, making it more cohesive. I’m also going to push-out the ending to get more resolution on the plot.

  • Reduce the number of point-of-view characters. My hope is I’ll be able to go deeper with each character, if there are less to juggle. This will likely be the hardest challenge to manage, as I’ll have to work out how to give the reader insights with less heads/bodies to switch between. Just who is on the chopping-block is yet to be decided.
  • Strengthen the resolution-bringing plot device, which was a little weak (in my opinion). I’ll be looking to change that up too.

That’s my goals for the next few months, what’s yours?

Cutting Words Without Value

I have to admit that self-restraint around food isn’t one of my strengths. I like food a little too much. I’m working on down-sizing my appetite… and then hopefully my wardrobe.

One of the things I use to say when younger was about “unwanted calories”. If you aren’t going to enjoy eating something (e.g. the flavourless crusts on a pizza) then its “unwanted calories”. Why consume calories when it’s surplus to need and not going to be enjoyable either? It’s smarter on so many levels just to bin it.

There are certain words that have no value, just like unwanted calories. They add nothing to the story and so should be deleted.

One of the tasks I’ve done recently is to review every use of the word ‘that’. It is most often a filler word whose presence can be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence at all. I know I use it unconsciously. When I did my word frequency analysis I had a massive 735 ‘that’ uses.

that
A particularly bad example of THAT shame

My ‘that’ hunt eradicated it down to just 149 instances. A good hunt, indeed.

VWC Revision: Renaming Characters

Still learning how to write, I don’t always do the right thing at the right time.

The writing luminary Orson Scott Card has rules for naming characters (here and here). The primary rule is that character’s names should not start with the same letter or sound. A sensible rule.

The image below lists all of the named characters in Vengeance Will Come and highlights the problem.

VWC Named Characters Original

(Those in grey are minor characters who don’t get a point-of-view. Some appear repeatedly, and others are only in a single scene).

Too many names?

There are, arguably, too many names and if possible I’ll cull a few of them during the course of the revision by de-naming them.

The reason for so many characters is two-fold. I admit I find it awkward and unnatural to refer to someone multiple times without assigning them a name. Occasionally I’ll give them a nickname (like “Tuxedo” or “Double Muscle”), but doing that too often also feels unnatural – unless that’s a point of view character quirk. Also, like a good fan of Robert Jordan I plan to take a few of the minor characters and elevate them in subsequent books.

Breaking Uncle Orson’s rule

This is a problem I should have fixed much earlier, but better late than never. You’ll also notice in the original image there are a heck of a lot of characters named with similar letters (S, T and M). So here are my proposed changes:

VWC Named Characters Revised

I’m achieving a few goals with these changes:

  1. I’m de-stacking the heaviest use letters.
  2. I’m strategically changing the gender of Teskan (see upcoming post about gender balance).
  3. I’m structuring names in-world. It’s always bothered me that some characters have two names while others only have the one. This was just how it was and I had no good reason for it. Now I do: important individuals (the elite) in the world get two names, whereas everyone else gets one.

The only difficult, and possibly controversial change I wrestled with was “Three”. My opinion pivoted like a see-saw.

On the one hand some reviewers found it understandably difficult, because it’s a real word with a different meaning. It can therefore trip the brain up for a while.

However some respected reviewers liked it and were upset at my thoughts of altering it.

It does breach Uncle Orson’s rule, and is especially dangerous because another major character (Terefi) use the same letter. I can’t change Terefi because of the origin of his name.

But I was also really fond of the name. It’s so different that I think it helps put an “other world” spin on it. (Which, in hindsight, is kind of ironic because we have some crazy names being used on this planet). As I originally conceived it, it is also more than just a name, though that won’t become apparent until later in the series.

So eventually the see-saw motion stopped and Three remained.

A final warning

The other draw back I’ll warn you about is using words that the grammar checker will work itself into a lather over. Because three is a legitimate word, but capitalising it in the middle of a sentence is not kosher, the grammar checker has a perpetual hissy-fit. Even worse (and I’m not sure I should admit this) “Three” started off as “X”. Just a bad move; I don’t think I could get the spellchecker to ignore the single letter.

Hopefully these changes will help to balance out name-usage and make it easier for my readers. Now it’s just a matter of retraining my brain and muscle memory to type the new names instead of the old.


Help over the fence

Want a beta-reader? I’ve been helped in my development process by other beta readers and now it’s my turn to ‘pay it forward’. Each month I’ll read a chapter of someone’s story and comment on it. To be eligible, just comment on one of my posts with “*Review*” in the comment and you’re in the running.

Jumping the Productivity Moat

Although revision on Vengeance Will Come has only just begun I’m reasonably happy with the progress so far.

Revision Work…

Here’s a summary of what I’m looking at:

  • I’m Cutting out superfluous words. Not just the occasional word in a sentence, but also entire sentences. For example, the following line of dialogue:

“Physical muscles are less important than mental strength and wisdom, neither of which is guaranteed by age.”

I originally wrote it as a subtle dig at a character that he was physically weak, to feed a sense of inadequacy. That reference is no longer required and its presence is now out-of-place. It adds no value and causes only distraction. The delete key fixed that.

  • Word choice. Sometimes I’m using the same word in quick succession and that is poor form. (Sidebar: A previous Writing Excuses podcast I listened to mentioned that there are some words you can only use once in a story).
  • Using contractions in dialogue. This, strangely doesn’t come naturally to me. Although I speak with them, for some reason I write long-form. My flow-of-consciousness dialogue tends to be formal and so feels scripted. It was something an earlier version alpha reader detected, and I was trying to fix this… obviously I missed a lot. I suspect the further into the story the less I detected.
  • being more descriptive about motion and emotion; trying to show in a more nuanced way, instead of telling the reader.
  • Evaluating the criticisms of my beta readers, and adjusting accordingly (more about that in another post).

…Meets Productivity Moat

But then my forward progress is halted, midway through chapter 2 (of 29). I’ve hit a piece of text that’s really slowing me down: a productivity moat that’s blocking my path.

I’m not happy with the paragraph of text and are indecisive about wording and positioning. Several times I have opened up the document and sat there looking at it, as though it were written in Swahili (which I can’t read). After an annoying ten minutes of staring, my enthusiasm begins to wane. Stupid moat. I’ve tried to skip it and move on, but it’s like I know it’s there like an enemy at my flank and it’s on my mind.

I have a new strategy. To be honest it’s not much different from my previous strategies, but often I’ve found writing is a mind game. So if my slightly modified strategy works – hooray. They say you need an edge over your enemy: not a whole new weapon, just an edge.

I’m going to:

  1. Highlight the paragraph, admit to myself that I currently lack the ability to solve it and I can’t allow it to slow me down.
  2. Write some extensive comments: what I think is wrong with it (why I am having difficulty) and any possible options I can see to fix it in the future. I’m going to try to be descriptive e.g. “Z might work but that would require Y (which I don’t have)”.
  3. I’m going to move on, having done everything I can currently.
  4. At a later date, either at the end or when the answer presents itself, I’ll go back and fix it.

The productivity moat may cause a change in strategy, but it won’t stop me.

Struggling to not-edit

There’s been a lot of times recently where I’ve been sick to death of editing Vengeance Will Come. I thought that it would never finish…

And now, I just want to edit The Rebel Queen. I don’t want to read it or only look for certain aspects (which I wrote about only yesterday). I just want to edit. I just want to write.

As I write, I’m starting to build up a collection of laminated notes that I’m going to stick to my writing desk. Some of this is all-writing information (like grammar rules) and also can be story-specific prompts (character voice).

The latest addition to my notes is from Robin Hobb (Writing Excuses, Season 11, bonus episode 1). It isn’t anything new, but it’s good to remember and she says it very well:

“So, when I sit down with my character and I begin typing and the character is speaking in first-person to me, things are unravelling and the world is being built entirely from that person’s point of view. … I’m experiencing it completely from that point of view.”

“If you’re writing from the first person if you are an assassin who walks into a room and there’s three people there what he notices is going to be very different from the child character who runs in the room and is totally fixed on finding the toy they left there earlier, and the three people standing around talking don’t matter at all.

In everything you do, you put on that character like you put on a coat. And you wear it, and everything is from that characters point of view and their value system. If you’re writing a villain, and you put on that coat, no matter how you feel about it personally, you’d better share all of her opinions and justifications, and everything she feels about it. If she is paranoid or outraged… from the time you put on her coat you have to be 100% on her side.”