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).

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Keeping an Eye on the Clock

This blog is a record of my discovery of how to write well (through trial-and-error) .

Back in April 2015 (on a forerunner blog to BenEzard.com) I wrote about trying to time my scenes properly.

When, what?

By timing I mean how long has passed in and between the different scenes of the story.

In some stories the specifics of the time aren’t relevant and the reader doesn’t need to know how much time has elapsed. In other stories though, the passage of time can be very important. For example: a classic love story where boy meets girl, they dislike each other and then do a 180 to end up madly in love. If there was no passage of time, then the plot would seem implausible. It swaps from being a acquired taste to an instant attraction which is a different story.

(I should caveat this by saying it is always better to show the passage of time than to tell the reader about it. You could tell the passage of time by a change in season, by the length of a character’s hair or a change in their age…)

Sometimes it’s important to know the passage of time. If one scene is at midnight, does it make sense that in the next scene the hero can see all the way to the horizon? Not only does time of day matter when you’re painting the scene but it can also be crucial for having the right timing and flow.

Vengeance Will Come is what I am calling a ‘fantasy adventure’; quicker-paced than an epic fantasy while still having some of the fantastic elements. Because the pace is quick it is important that I keep track of what is happening. Like an episode of 24, I need to keep track of when it is day or night.

My first attempt

My first attempt at timing in April 2015 was to use Microsoft Excel to calculate it. This was based on two complex calculations that took hours to work out (between 2-5am, I might add) . The fact that the formula was so intense should have alerted me that it was not workable. Transparency and simplicity are the pillars of great execution.

My latest attempt

My latest effort, therefore is simple.

I have created a timeline (note a 26 hour day, it is other-worldy after all) and then I can write a reminder of what happens when each hour.I’ve also marked which hours are night.

timing-snapshot

Note: this isn’t perfect because sometimes a lot of things happen within an hour slot.

Who wrote this?

Oh… me. 🙂

I’ve been doing a lot of chopping and changing during my editing which I think is vastly improving the structure of the story.

Part of my pathology is that I love visualisation; so I wrote a little program to help you visualise the first 12 chapters of the story which I have edited so far. The original version is on the left and the revised version is on the right. Each row represents a chapter and each box a scene (regardless of scene word count).

And because you can never have enough visualisation, here is some more – this time colouring each scene by the point of view (each character having their own colour).

You can see that I have reduced the number of point-of-view changes. Next time I procrastinate I’ll do some more 🙂

Getting Comfortable Indoors

In Editing Lessons #3b I admitted that one of the areas I had to improve on was being more descriptive in scenes. I seldom described a scene – because I didn’t know myself what the scene looked like; no surprise I I couldn’t describe it to my reader. I was too caught up in the plot moving forward that I forgot the where is also valuable in creating a rich story.

So for today’s blog I spent 20 minutes coming up with prompters that would help in constructing a scene (or location) in the writer’s eye.Or more precisely, in all of the writer’s senses. (In this post I am restricting myself to describing an indoor environment, hence the title of the blog). Walking into a room, what can you perceive…

What do you see? (Visual)

  1. Does the room have windows? How big and what type of glass, frosted or transparent? Tinted? Double-glazed?
  2. What time of day is it?
  3. What can you see out of the windows?
  4. What are the light sources in the room? Are they harsh or soft? Revealing or hiding anything in particular?
  5. Are there shadows? Do the shadows conceal anything?
  6. What types of furnishings are in the room? Is the room cluttered or spartan?
  7. What does the rooms appearance and use say about its purpose?
  8. Are the items new or used? What do the furnishing choices and condition tell us about the owner? What other items are in the room? Expensive tastes?
  9. Is it messy or clean? Is there dust? Water damage? Dirt? Are things well-maintained, or tacked together with sticky tape and a prayer?
  10. Are some furnishings or items in contrast to the rest of the room?
  11. Is the room aesthetically pleasing? What are the walls made of? Colour? Covering? What are the furnishings made of? Floor coverings? Fittings?

What do you smell?

  1. Is it antiseptically clean? Lived in? Musty? Moldy? Fresh? Fragrant?
  2. Does the smell tell us about who is/has been in the room (perfume, cologne. body odor)?
  3. Does it tell us about the rooms’ occupants behaviours or habits (cigars, grease, cats)?
  4. Do the belongings in the room smell new?
  5. Does the smell tell us how long it has been since someone was in the room? Strong hint of perfume or stench of spoiled food?
  6. Does the smell tell us what has been happening in the room: cordite, glue, blood?
  7. Does the smell of the room make the character feel hungry or sick?

What do you hear? (Sound)

  1. Do sounds permeate from surrounding rooms / outside?
  2. What kinds of sounds? Constant, intermittent or occasional noises? e.g. yelling, the methodical banging of a blacksmith, birds chirping, waves crashing.
  3. Does the room absorb sound or cause it to echo.
  4. What is making noise inside the room? The steady click of a clock, the intermittent whir of a hard drive?
  5. Does walking around the room make noise? A crunch of dirt or squeak of lino.

What do you feel? (Touch)

  1. Is the room cold or warm in temperature? Can you feel the warmth of the sun or fire?
  2. Is there a discernible airflow? From where?
  3. How do different surfaces in the room feel?
  4. Are the furnishings comfortable? Does the desk have sharp edges or splinters? Is the seat plush or like riding a camel?

What can you Taste?

  1. Is there something so unusual about the room that you can taste it? Garlic? The metallic taste of blood?

The Sixth Sense

  1. Does the room feel evil or welcoming?
  2. Does it remind the character of something?
  3. Does it bore them or excite them?

Conceptual/Dimensional aspects

  1. Placement: Is the room a basement, ground floor or fortieth floor?
  2. How big is the room? Is it spacious or cramped?
  3. What other doors are there and where do they lead?
  4. Are others in the room? Are there insects, rodents or other animals?
  5. Where are the relevant items located inside the room?

Note that you wouldn’t put all of these into the final text, or even answer all of them. Some will be more applicable, depending on stories, but it is important for the author to know what a scene or location looks like.

Got any other great ones I can add to the list?

The Danger of Visual Cues in Drafting

Author’s note: (Finally I am back online after some network trouble caused by a small and seemingly inconsequential ADSL filter). You may notice my progress bar hasn’t moved on Vengeance Will Come, but that’s because I am in the midst of writing the final 3 chapters!!! Yes, that is entirely deserving of no less than 3 exclamation marks.


In the blog post for today I am going to discuss a possible trap when drafting a story using a visual cue for scene changes.. Hopefully my mistake – shared – will help you avoid it.

Firstly, a home-baked definition:

Scene change: Where the perspective of a story shifts to an alternate character’s viewpoint, location and/or signifies the passing of time.

In the past I have used two different ways of visually showing a scene change.

Option 1

The first is this nice little image (taken from Windings or Webdings and then mirrored). To my artistically challenged self, it was an aesthetically pleasing caligraphy-like symbol.

The downside of this particular approach was I had to centre it each time I added it, and embedding the image repeatedly increased the size of the document. (Not drastically, but still…)

Scene-line2
Option 2

The second method which I have now adopted is to alter a header style in a Word document. This provides 4 benefits:

  1. It provides the visual break (but is on the subtle-side using a lighter grey),
  2. I can also navigate around the chapter by using the navigation pane,
  3. It automatically numbers my scenes which is helpful and saves a lot of time re-numbering all the time when scenes move, and
  4. It allows me to name the scene which I comes in handy for navigation, and I suspect when it’s ready for reviewers to give me feedback.

I think a visual cue to the reader that there has been a scene change is very important, whether it is something this fancy or just a few dashes or additional carriage returns on the page.

Not having ever published before, this is something I am guessing at but who is to say that either of these options is a valid option for publication? I assume that they would be stripped out and at least replaced by something else.

However, visual scene changes are not all innocent and good; there is also a hidden danger in them.

With the visual cue not only does the reader know it’s a scene change, but so to does the author.

Because of that visible scene change, my eyes tend to gloss over the scene change. I know it’s a scene change so I haven’t put as much effort into making it clear with the words than I might otherwise have done. The reader should be able to tell there has been a scene change without the visual cue being so clearly defined.

There are a couple of approaches that I have done to try and make scene changes clearer:

  1. The character actually leave the room at the end of the scene. (I think there is also a danger in over-doing this).
  2. The character has a final thought which points toward a scene-conclusion.
  3. In the first sentence (or two) of a new scene I try to make it clear their has been a change in location, time and whose head the reader ‘in in’.

Do you have any thoughts on scene changes?