When you don’t like your main character

She’s so perfect I just puked a little. I apologise for the grotesque (and cliché) expression.

But the cliché fits and it’s how I feel about Sue-Le, my main character in The Rebel Queen. And I don’t mean perfect in a good way. She’s idealistic and only wants the best for her people. And unlike modern politicians, she actually means it. Her only flaw is she’s  innocent to the point of naivety.

This doesn’t make her endearing to the reader, it makes her annoying. In summary: she’s trite, sickly sweet and ultimately annoying. (Is now a good time to ask for beta readers???)

But all is not lost. I’ll put her through the same tumble dry as I have my other characters. I started off with a cast of bland and cliché characters and have redesigned them into interesting, multi-dimensional characters. Sue-Le is going to take a tumble or two more.

I’ve twisted the characters a fair bit to make them interesting. Instead of having a paragraph or two of “who they are”, I now have a page or two. They are richer and deeper. This also makes them more challenging to write. It’s easy to say “write this from the perspective of an older woman”… it’s harder for me to do that as a young-ish male 🙂

After spending most of 2017 revising Vengeance Will Come I must admit I’d rather be writing a new story than revising still… There is also a temptation to say The Rebel Queen is written, and only doing a skin-deep revision. But I wrote earlier that I’m wanting to do a thorough revision, to improve the story as much as possible.

That means I’m re-writing entire scenes and I’m treating the plot as ‘branch A’ instead of a ‘blueprint’ of what must be.

On to writing… have a great day/evening.


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.

A particularly bad example of THAT shame

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

Organising Feedback


I’ve had a few rounds of feedback on Vengeance Will Come and have been mostly diligent in filing responses in a sub folder of the project as soon as I receive it. (If your inbox is anything like mine, things get lost in there like a grain of dirt swept up in a mudslide).

Sadly, that’s about where the organisation of feedback ended. (In my partial defence, I intentionally wasn’t processing the feedback straight away: I wanted a balance of opinions and some time to pass).

Here is what I’m going to do now, and in the future, before starting the revision process.

Compiling the Feedback

Create a Feedback Compilation document, which has the same structure (chapters and scenes etc) as the novel.

Go through each (feedback) document/email:

  • Where it’s a typo, grammar or obvious error (e.g. wrong character name), fix it in the manuscript immediately.
  • Where the feedback is incontestably wrong, ignore it. (If there is any doubt, don’t ignore it).
  • Where the feedback relates to a given chapter/scene place it in that location in the document. If it’s thematic feedback or has broader application than a single section I’ll add it to the top of the document.

    I’ll add three-letter initials of the reviewer in brackets at the end of the comment, just in case I want to know who provided it. Some reviewers opinions should hold more weight than others and it’s always helpful to be able to later clarify comments.

Colour Coding

  • If the tone of the comment is positive, change the font colour to something less stand-out than black. I’m leaving it in the document so I don’t accidentally “edit out” the bits people like. And, inevitably, there’ll be days when I need a motivational boost.
  • Where I disagree with the feedback I’ll add a comment in brackets as to why, and colour the font a grey. (It’s still there, but less important).
  • Where I agree with the comment (or enough reviewers pick up on the same issue) and it’s a major problem, apply bold and red font.


  • Once I’ve added all the feedback from all reviews, I’ll group my related dot points (to see the weight of opinions). This might result in grey text I disagree with becoming black text. I might also paraphrase a collection of dot points down into a concise problem statement.
  • If reviewers disagree with each other then I’ll either side with one, or put both opinions in a table with two columns (pros and cons).

After all this work I should have a single document to use as a reference when editing each section of the novel.

If you write, what are your strategies for managing feedback?

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.

Revising Vengeance Will Come, Again

Previously I stated it was my intention to not further revise my first novel, Vengeance Will Come unless of course a publisher decided they wanted it. (Not that I’ve sent it out yet).

That decision was born of the knowledge that many first time authors get stuck in an endless rewrite cycle, and I didn’t want to be one of them. Especially considering how long this project has taken.

However since making that decision I’ve learned that professional authors can regularly do 6+ revisions. (Granted, some of these would likely be under the direction of publishers and editors).

My beta readers have also alerted me to the fact that there are numerous improvements to be made. This new-found knowledge of my novel’s shortcomings means there are two options:

  1. I revise, or
  2. my book goes in the bottom desk drawer, never to see the light of day again.

I realise that I’m still learning the writing craft (very much so) and my novel won’t be perfect. Ever. However, I’m not willing to let the book out into the world with simple things I know how to fix. It’s about quality control, and respecting my readers to do the best I can.

And so, the revision process begins anew.

PS: I’ve taken “The Hostages” off my progress chart. I’m still very committed to writing it, but it’s not going to progress any time soon, hence it’s disappearance.