In the last week I’ve been doing some writing again (it’s been a while).
I’m revising my novelette, Escape from Hell. A novelette is longer than a short-story, but smaller than a novella (sitting in the 7,500 to 17,500 word count range). Escape from Hell is definitely a personal favourite. It’s a first-person faith-inspired trip into the afterlife. If I remember correctly I wrote it in a very short time frame, the whole story coming together in a few days. That is to say, I felt inspired to write it and the words flowed out of my brain and heart onto the page.
The only point were I slowed were the violent scenes, of which there are a few. It is literally Hell, so it’s not full of Sunday picnics with butterflies and rainbows. It’s a tricky balance to strike though. It’s hell: I want it to be horrific – and yet I don’t want it to be so overwhelming that the reader disengages.
Because of how excited I was by the story I didn’t revise it much… I just put it onto my website to share in a rush of endorphins. (I’ve removed it now, pending publication). So now, with a year or more writing experience behind me, I’m taking another look at it to see how I might revise it.
There is a part of me that wants to significantly expand it, though that will come after much careful deliberation. I’ve thought of a few different places where I could lengthen the story arc – and make it more gripping to read – but it’s balancing that disengage factor. Perhaps I will write the extra story arc and have a few alpha readers test it? (The words after all are not wasted, they count towards the ‘million practice words’ every author needs).
I’m going to be more structured in my revision process this time. I envision a three-pass process. The first revision (which I’m currently in) is looking at the broader story arcs. The second revision I’ll look at the detail, trying to tighten each sentence and the third pass I’ll be hunting for typos etc.
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).
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).
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.
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.
This post discusses revisions made to Vengeance Will Come, my first fantasy adventure novel (revisions in progress). In the first part of this blog post I described what I felt was a fatal flaw in my story construction, too-frequent point of view swapping. Reading the manuscript anew, I re-read the first scene. Somehow, only on the 101st time I read it, I could see the scene had to go.
I’ll let you read it first, and then I’ll discuss it – what I was trying to do with it, what I liked, and ultimately why it’s no longer contributing to the word count.
What I was trying to do: #1 Surprise the Reader
The first, horribly jarring thing you may have noticed are the references to the two people in the scene, referred to only as ‘the driver’ and ‘the passenger’.
There was a reason for this: I wanted the fact that they were police to be hidden until the very end of the scene. If the reader catches it, it would shock them and re-frame the entire scene in their mind. Two men killing homeless people (and semi-sentient creatures) was bad enough, but then you find out it’s police doing the killing it makes it even worse. It might cause the reader to wonder:
Why are the police killing the homeless?
What kind of society is does that?
Does this happen often, given the policemen are carrying silenced weapons?
While one officer has a conscience, the other doesn’t seem to be phased by it – or chooses his employment as more important than the lives he is extinguishing.
I say if the reader catches it, it does those things. But what if they read-on so fast that the last few words at the end of the scene don’t ‘click’? In that case I have made it clunky for very little purpose. Worse, what if the reader only reads that much and decides the writing style is terrible, and assumes it’s like that throughout and gives up? The very first text should be a hook, a sales-pitch to grab the reader and tell them it’s worth investing dozens of hours to read. And that scene was just too risky, a huge gamble; too little gain for way too much risk.
(I could have given the characters names to make it less clunky but I don’t like naming characters – even a first name – if the character isn’t going to be around long, especially at the start of a book).
What I was trying to do #2: Set the Scene
The shock of killers being police is that it also describes the environment in which the scene is set. That is added to be the description of the environment:
“derelict grey warehouse” … “Not in our life time. What the war didn’t destroy outright it comatosed: buildings and people alike, empty shells ageing slowly towards death.”
The economy is bad and the place is run down; the people demoralised.
“…a job that we’re very lucky to have. … Let’s just get this done and get out of the rain.”
The disassociation of the driver in uncaring about what they are doing, in justifying it, shows how brutal life is. They need the job, and are willing to do whatever is required. The passenger seems to have reservations (but not enough to make him refuse the order); the driver justifies his actions. The fact that the passenger grimaces at the incoming rain when he’s about to kill someone is a value statement.
In an earlier draft of the scene the homeless man was shot in the head. This added to the brutality of it and makes it clear that they want him dead not injured. This was cut (probably) to reduce the brutality so early-on. Likewise I considered removing the reference to the silencer. Doing so would signify the police aren’t afraid of the populace knowing about their violence. It normalises it. Keeping the silencer, however, also suggests that police have occasion to secretly kill people; like the CIA ‘wet work’.
Also important in setting the scene was the introduction of the alien lifeform, the slime-spitting, fast-moving Dugar. It was supposed to be a clear (and entirely blunt) hint to the reader that we’re talking other-worldly. I wanted the reader to be able to orient themselves quickly.
So why did I cut the scene? Firstly, because of the clunky referencing which sounded amateurish, but second because it only tangentially applies to the story. The entire scene can be replaced by a few words to describe the fact that the area has been sanitized. Likewise the reference to the Dugar can be placed slightly further back in the text without a problem.
With hindsight I deduced that the scene was hurting me far more than helping me…and so it had to go.
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).
(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).