Writing and Coding Update

Coding : Character Point-Of-View Chart

I want to learn how to program in C# to add that arrow to my professional quiver. You never know when you need another arrow.

In light of that goal and also to aid in my writing I’m going to build a small application (“Perspective“) to generate my Character Point-of-View (POV) charts.

The charts display by chapter and scene which character has the point of view. I first described them in Examining Character Balance and shared the Excel file which I use. However the spreadsheet does so much it is complex and I could understand people being scared off by it. And, it’s a great excuse to do some C# and get side-benefits from it.

Draft Cal POV

It is important to note this will be an iterative development. The first version won’t look anything like the final product. I’m not quite ready to share my code, but I will – and the application – in the future.

v0.1 screenshot

I’m using Windows Forms. (I think this is a slightly older technology, but I thought it was a good place to start). The form doesn’t do much, and data entry is simplistic: character names will be separated by commas, and a chapter will be ended by a semi-colon.

I’ll be putting formatting options on the form so you can control what it looks like. Here are the terms I’m using at the moment.

Style design

I’ve also got a few experimental ideas with which I’m keen to include. I think they could really add value to the chart.

Writing

One of my goals in this revision was to reduce the amount of head-hopping. So how am I going so far? I’m glad you asked, because here are some outputs from my Perspective application that demonstrates the progress so far.

Original manuscript. Without the benefit (yet) of labels, I’ll explain it. Below shows the first 4 chapters.

  • Chapter 1 = 6 scenes
  • Chapter 2 = 5 scenes
  • Chapter 3 = 8 scenes
  • Chapter 4 = 8 scenes

VWC - Old Version

Revised manuscript. It’s a bit hard to see the difference because the image comes out a different size…. *scratches head*

  • Chapter 1 = 3 scenes
  • Chapter 2 = 4 scenes
  • Chapter 3 = 5 scenes
  • Chapter 4 = 6 scenes

VWC - New Version

With less scenes there is less head-jumping, which should result in less fragmentation for the reader. I’ve also expanded the word count (in those four chapters) by 2,000 words.

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The Ignition of Revision (2)

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.

VWC Deleted Ch1Sc2
The deleted scene

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.

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).

Well, I didn’t see that coming…

Just a week ago I wrote that I didn’t want to spend any longer on my novel Vengeance Will Come. As I discussed, it had been sitting idle for months.

And then I began to read it…

…and I fell in love with it all over again (if I can use the term loosely).

But the months of “resting time” (as they say in cookbooks) has made me aware of some of it’s flaws…

So now I’m going to start do (another) final revision of it. And this one – I promise – will be the last revision that I will initiate. (You may have noticed that I left enough room in that statement for a parade to pass through…). A final revision and then I plan on releasing *somehow* as an e-book.

I may be late to the party but I have started to use Scrivener, and although it isn’t entirely intuitive to me, I am starting to like it. I am very appreciative of the generous try-before-you-buy program of 30-days of actual use. Sure, it doesn’t have everything I would want but it’s a pretty good product. I’m 99% sure I’ll be a customer before the end of my trial period. I’m also keen to try out their mind-mapping product Scrapple.

Vengeance Will Come

Vengeance Will Come was the title of my first fantasy adventure novel.

Back in September 2017 the first 3 chapters of the manuscript began the journey from Australia to a US publisher. The potential wait, as advertised, was up to 6 months. On the publisher’s website they stated if you hadn’t heard back within 6 months, re-submit as it may have been lost.

I say the manuscript began the journey, because I don’t know where it’s journey ended. Sadly, after waiting months I had heard nothing. I don’t know what happened to the manuscript. It could be sitting in the bottom of a postal bin a kilometre from my house for all I know. It might be gathering dust in the publisher’s basement or dropped into the ocean by a drunk deckhand on the mail ship. My preferred option is that it was intercepted by a mail-reading fiend who has enjoyed it so much they are keeping it close, like a certain Precious ring.

I just don’t know. Learn from my experience: pay whatever it costs to get a delivery confirmation. If you’re going to wait for months it’s worth paying to know it actually arrived at it’s intended destination.

The way I look at it, I have several options:

  1. Re-send it to the same publisher, and wait another 6 months
  2. Send it to another publisher
  3. Indie publish it through Kindle Direct
  4. Banish it to the “draft drawer” (never again to see the light of day)
  5. Imprison it in the “draft drawer” (one day, it might escape either as-is, or be re-written).
  6. Release it for free

Making the decision isn’t easy, and honestly I feel like a weather vane in rough weather. And I don’t like being indecisive.

Traditional Publisher. Part of the reason why I wanted to go the traditional publishing route was for vindication and gate-keeping. I don’t want to add to the torrent of books available unless the quality of my book is reasonable. I wanted the support of professionals to advise me on how to improve the book.

I wrote the book, expecting it to be the part of a series, but now I am less sure that I will write the sequels. Although the book is definitely a beginning of the story, I believe it’s also enjoyable on its own merits stand-alone. However, if I sold to a publisher I’d expect to be locked into finishing the series in short order… and I’m not sure I’d want that.

The “Draft Drawer”. It could go there, but then the hundreds (probably, thousands) of hours I spent on it feel completely wasted. And the premise of spending longer on it (later) for a re-write isn’t appealing, especially given my uncertainty over the series and objective quality.

Kindle Direct or release for free. These are the last two options. If I were to release to Kindle, I’d be doing it for a nominal sale cost ($0.99). As all authors do, I doubt the quality of my work. I suspect it has ‘first-book problems’ and I wouldn’t want to overcharge for it. For the price of $1 I think readers should be more forgiving. I’d be going through Amazon for the chance of reaching a broader audience, not for the small amount of revenue it would generate.

If I released it for free, I have no sense of guilt about questions of quality, and it feels like less work to do it… but then would anyone actually read it???

Any suggestions?

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.