In the last couple of weeks I’ve made significant progress in my revision of Escape from Hell, my faith-based story. When I announced the re-write I mentioned my goal was to lengthen the story in order to smooth out the abrupt ending, which almost universally caught readers by surprise.
(Side note: Now that I think about it the abrupt ending was kind of ironic given that the character dies abruptly at the beginning of the story… and that our own deaths can come equally without warning. The unintentional irony works with my dark sense of humour; but that doesn’t mean it makes for a good writing quality).
The story has gone from approximately 9,000 words up to 23,000 in this first draft. I expect it to contract a little as I tighten my prose. The original story wasn’t formatted for chapters; now there are a total of 7 chapters, 3 of which are entirely new content.
The most important question though: is the story better for it? That’s the question I’ll be asking myself (and soon, alpha readers) as I let it’s melody play in the foreground while I do another editing pass. There are definitely elements in which the story has improved: the story has more depth and the ending is smoother now that it has more of a story and character arc. And yet, I’m still a bit apprehensive.
The first few chapters (the pre-existing chapters) that I wrote while highly inspired sing to me. I’m not sure yet if the other subsequent chapters are singing in harmony.
Even my choice of metaphor is suspect: who’d think I’d ever be any kind of singing conductor…
I’ve made significant progress in my revision of Escape from Hellin the last week (hence the pun in the blog title). I’m currently working through the 5th and what was the final chapter of the original story.
The observant among you might notice that doesn’t match my progress bar on the right (and it’s not because I’ve been lazy in updating it… this time). The 50% indicator is because I am strongly considering extending the story by approximately another 4 chapters. In fact the first version of the story didn’t have ‘chapters’ at all. It was a single block of 9,700 words. I’ve broken it into chapters because the text naturally divides into chapters. Plus chapters are friendlier for the reader. If I’m torturing the character in my story, the least I can do is make it convenient for the reader 🙂
There was a time, now thankfully in the past, where the mere idea of lengthening a story would be enough for me to do it. After all, word count was the measure of success, right? Now the important question of any addition or reduction is will it make the story better?
I believe that it will. By lengthening the character arc I can be more nuanced in telling the story and make the ending punchier. I can also explore the themes more. I’m just about ready to sketch out the next few chapters…
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 promised this week that my blog post would be about some of my C# coding, which also happens to dovetail in beautifully with my writing. I’ve taken my earlier work and begun the super-charging process. That being said: this is just the beginning. In the future I plan to make it available, far more powerful and with a few of the bugs ironed out.
The general premise behind the program is that it can load your story from a text file, and then allow you to analyse it. At the moment it is sans-UI – which means it doesn’t have pretty user windows, checkboxes and other controls. I’m calling it Text Analysis Command Line (TAC). As it’s a command line program you have to type commands in to operate it.
So what can it do?
Like any good program it contains help – typing ‘?’ will give you a list and basic description of the available commands; typing ‘<command> ?’ will give you detailed options on that particular command.
When you see a pipe symbol ‘|’ it means or. Square brackets (‘[‘, ‘]’) mean optional.
Most commands can either display output on the screen or save the results to a file. If using a single greater-than symbol (‘>’) the file will be saved (unless it already exists). Using the double option ‘>>’ will save the file, overwriting it if necessary.
Below is a description of all of the currently available commands. The results are based on processing Vengeance Will Come, my scifi/fantasy adventure (available now):
wordcount. You can display the frequency of every word used. Earlier in the year I bought Scrivener (left). For the most part it’s a great program but I was disappointed there was no way to export (or even easily query) word count data. The image of TAC (right) shows a snippet of both the textual version (default) and the ‘basic mode’ (using -b option). The basic mode is valuable if opening the file in Excel to do pretty graphs.
wordcount can also provide the number of words which begin with given letters (-f) or the length of words (-l).
Just in case you’re curious the longest word at 20 characters is ‘uncharacteristically’. The three 16’s are: ‘conspiratorially’, ‘incontrovertible’ and ‘responsibilities’.
For the purpose of completeness, I’ll briefly mention the data command. At the moment it’s limited, a means to interrogate the data. In order to do all of this (and future) processing I painstakingly categorise every character of text into a type. Using the -expseg option outputs this information.
At this stage the only two other data commands are -sen (output sentence). For example outputting the sentence at segment 128 is:
At first light they invade my mind, besieging it to the point of exhaustion.
And -block (output block) at 128:
“I wish that I didn’t know the future; that I couldn’t see the prophecies unfold before me. At first light they invade my mind, besieging it to the point of exhaustion. Even in my fitful sleep they haunt me as wild animals stalk the scent of blood, turning what little rest I get into an extension of my waking nightmare. I cannot escape.
The find command is powerful and will be leveraged heavily in future updates.
Unsurprisingly, find locates the occurrences of a specified word. Importantly the before and after options allow displaying the word in a variable level of context (e.g. want to see 10 words preceding the word, or only 5?).
find can also locate every instance of a specified type of punctuation. Want to know how often I use exclamation marks? Typing ‘find -p’ brings up a list of punctuation options from which a selection can be made.
The answer is of course 45 (as displayed on the screenshot). However, now I know exactly where they are (and in what context).
I’m a big believer in not over-using the exclamation mark, so a tool like this would let me easily see how often I’ve used it in a given book (and calculate the amount of text between each usage). More importantly, it can also let me track down when I’ve used a ” instead of a “ which seems to happen no matter how careful I am.
This brings me to the end of the tour of TAC v0.0.1, I hope you liked it.
One of the tricks to master in writing is how to show the passage of time in a story. For example if Chapter 2 occurs two weeks after Chapter 1, how do you show that? It’s one area I’m still honing in my writing.
I first highlighted these lines in book 11 of the Wheel of Time series:
“…the sun more than halfway to the horizon, by the time he saw what he was looking for.” (Page 151)
“In a morning ritual, his fingers made another knot mechanically, then slid down the cord, counting. Twenty-two knots. Twenty-two mornings since Faile was kidnapped.” (Page 156)
The first obviously makes use of the position of the sun, and the second describes in a clever action-oriented manner the time that has passed. I decided to exclude these two quotes from my upcoming highlights post, because I wanted to examine the topic further.
Of course the crudest way to show time is simply to tell the reader “10 days later…” I’ll admit earlier drafts of Vengeance Will Come had this a lot. There were two reasons for this: I didn’t know any better and I was also using the prompts to aid my own keeping track of time. It is a crude approach which pulls the reader out of the story. There are still a few instances of itin the book, but it’s something I use rarely now.
A better way, as the old adage goes, is to show the reader instead of telling them. The goal, I think, should be to show the passage of time through the setting and/or character.
Here are some of the ideas I brainstormed. If you have any other ideas, please add them in a comment below.
My goal was to finish the revision of my first fantasy-adventure novel, Vengeance Will Come by the end of September. I am very close to finishing (95%).
There are 4 more scenes to revise and a few ‘TODO’ items I’ve listed for follow-up. So the end is just around the corner. I could have finished it and achieved my goal, if I’d been willing to be sadistic with myself.
As much as I love writing, and do it as a hobby, it is still tough work. Many break-in writers share how they work two jobs – a day job to pay the bills and then their writing, which they treat like a second job. It does feel that way. You’re always under pressure to produce and to perform. If you’re not writing, you’re thinking about writing. Which can be tiring in my experience.
The older I get the more I realise that life is too short. I decided I wasn’t going to make myself unhappy to achieve a self-imposed deadline. I would have some leisure time on the weekend – to read, to cook and to continue getting the garden under control.
That being the case, I believe I should be finished in approximately a week.
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).