My writing plan for 2020 worked really well until about mid-March when Covid-19 became the only topic of conversation with everyone I know. That's when I discovered - or rediscovered - that I don't work very well at home.
Instead of being able to go out and sit in a library or a cafe and work uninterrupted for several hours, I'm at home with all the things I've been avoiding for the last several months. I'm still avoiding all those things. It's just that being at home puts those things in the front of my head. I can't avoid looking at my desk which has several piles of papers and books more than a foot deep. I can't avoid noticing the storages boxes of painting equipment I've left open on my office floor because I might need them for the next project.
Just the thought of having to sort through every single piece of paper is enough to do my head in.
It means I've run away into my head, but not in a productive way. I'm reading. Mostly I'm reading romance, and most of that is MM romance. I've also just begun a biography on a Deputy US Marshall from the 1890s. A fascinating life and a very tough man.
All this means my writing projects are going nowhere quickly.
Morrison & Mackenzie (1930s historical romance): I've created a scene map to check the structure as it isn't working the way it should. That's it. All I need to do is put all the scenes up on my plotting wall and work out where the dips are so I can plan what needs to go there but it hasn't happened yet.
Tangled up in Blue anthology: This is moving forward slowly, mainly because the other authors are relying on me. One of the authors has just completed a continuity check and now we all have lists of things to fix. I'll get that done over the next week. We've also been talking about the cover and working out what we want.
The murder mystery: haven't looked at it. Instead I've been working (intermittently) on another fantasy story, one I started years ago but put aside because it wasn't working. When I picked it up again it was obvious why it wasn't working. I had too many POV characters and I was switching between adult POV and child POV. I've decided to write it as a YA fantasy and remove the adult POV completely. Already it's working better and I've identified missing scenes at the beginning that are needed for the child's POV but were irrelevant from the adult's.
Now Easter is over and my back is beginning to settle, I'm hoping to do more work on these projects. For right now, sending a couple of emails and doing this blog has used up my sitting time for the morning.
There are two answers to the question: a short answer and a long one.
The short answer:
Kill them. If the writer can’t relate to them, they won’t portray that character as a three-dimensional being and the reader won’t relate to them either.
The long answer:
If the character is your main character, you have a greater problem. You need to work out why your character isn’t working, and fix it. I use a gateaux approach to this problem: layers, upon layers.
I’ve been working on Memory for Loan for quite a while now. The story has changed a lot from it’s inception a few years ago to now, when I’m working solely on it, rather that fitting it in around other projects that felt more important at the time. It’s still evolving.
I’ve written about one third of the story so far and came to yet another dead-end. I have a plan but, while the plan looks good on paper, it doesn’t always work once I start writing scenes.
The change I’ve had to make today is with Milo, Lonnar’s love interest. It wasn’t working. I’d written Milo in because I thought he’d be a good partner for Lonnar, but they just haven’t clicked. They don’t even feel like they could be friends. Milo is coming across, more and more, like the antagonist.
Today, I figured: why fight it.
I’ve made some notes to changed sections in the early chapters so any hint of a true relationship between Milo and Lonnar is shrouded in suspicion. I’ve decided which character is actually better suited to Lonnar as well.
Changing the love interest will mean Milo’s physical appearance will have to change, Freema (the leader of the underground) will have to become Freeman and change his appearance too (as well as his gender). I also have to work out a way to have Freeman appear in the first third of the book. I have some ideas about how to get him onto Lonnar’s ship and what he’s doing there, but I don’t know how to get him off quickly and back to Tolifax before Lonnar meets him in the swamp. I’ll fix that later.
The change is working. Milo writes much more easily as the bad guy, and Lonnar is writing better now I’m not trying to force him into a relationship that’s all wrong for him.
It means editing is going to be an absolute bitch, but that’s par for the course for my books. I had thought forward planning would reduce the editing but my pantser style of writing is stronger than I’d thought.
It’s a good thing I don’t get bogged down in trying to make the story work to the plan, because that never works. I have to keep myself open to change, even major change, for the story to be the best it can be.
I finally have Dragon God ready to go to the editor. It’s taken me ages to get the music scored properly and the map drawn the way I want it, but it’s all done now. I worked on the map for most of this morning. I could add more detail, but I don’t think it’s necessary. We just need to see where places are in relation to other places.
This evening, I’ll send it all to the editor then wait and see what I have to do to fix it. I can’t wait until I’m at the stage of applying for an ISBN. That’s when publishing this book will become really exciting for me. I love that process.
Dragon God will be my first self-published eBook. I’ve published print books before (for other people), but never eBooks. I have a lot to learn. I’m deliberately not looking at the conversion and publishing process until I know I’m ready for it. I’ll forget everything I learn before I need it if I do.
I’ve also been working on Memory for Loan this week. I’ve spent quite a lot of time watching videos of shuttle re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. I’ve made the rest of it up, so I hope it hangs together believably. It’ll never fool anyone who knows what they’re talking about but hopefully they’ll forgive any glaring mistakes. I’m going to get my characters actually landed (crashed) before I stop tonight.
I thought I’d finished editing Dragon God and it was ready to send to an editor. I’d worked out the theme, the central idea, the inciting incident, the characters’ motivations and conflicts and made sure they were all consistent. Then a friend of mine casually mentioned some of the things they do while they’re editing, and I thought… shit, I’m nowhere near finished.
That’s where I’ve been the last two weeks. Dragon God has been put through the editing wringers again and come out the other side much stronger. It still needs to go to a professional editor, but I’m much happier with where it is now.
The next step, before sending it to the editor, is to convert the music I’ve composed for one of the legends from .pdf to .jpg, and insert it into the document.
I also need to finish the map. I have the map from Warrior Pledge, but I had to incorporate the eastern side of the continent as well as the Lonely Isles in the south. All I need to do now is to add rivers and towns as well as the major norrgel nests. Then I’ll do some shading to make it look real, and I’ll be good to go.
I might also add a few drawings of sea monsters, just because. I probably don’t need the sea monsters—the next book in the series is set in the desert and to the west—but you never know.
The other exciting thing I’ve been doing with Dragon God is the cover. I finally chose a cover and have it available. I’ll wait until I get a bit closer to publication before making the cover public.
I’m taking today away from Dragon God and I’m going to work on writing new words for my next novel, Memory for Loan. I only have about 15000 words of it so far, but I’ve been working on it for a while. Those 15000 words are in their fourth incarnation. I think the story is beginning to work now so I’ll be able to move forward—just as soon as I crash land on a planet.
I’ve spent the last few weeks getting ready for QWC’s Year of the Novel with Venero Armanno. I’m really excited about doing it even though I had a lot of trouble deciding which novel I want to write while doing the program and have decided to do two.
I’m going to write another book in the world of The Planet Whisperer, called Memory for Loan. I have about 20000 words of this novel written but got stuck when I couldn’t decide if it was going to be second or third in the series. That will influence how I write the characters from No Evil Star—what they’ve done and what they’ve yet to do. This book has significant links to No Evil Star (which is finished and waiting for major edits to be done) but no obvious links to The Planet Whisperer (it’s linked to No Evil Star too). It makes sense to put Memory for Loan second so that No Evil Star, with its links to both books, can tie up all the pieces of the over-arching plot.
I’m also going to write a novella set in an entirely different world. It’s full of wizards and levels of powers. The levels of powers and what skills a wizard had at each level was really fun to work out, but what I’ve written is really disjointed. I haven’t settled on one major character so it’s all over the place.
I’ve also spent some time going through Dragon God—again. I think it’s better now, and ready to be sent to a professional editor. I’ll find one I think I can trust over the next week or so, and also put some feelers out for a cover artist. I know what I want for the cover but I’m not skilled enough to achieve it. Everything I do looks amateurish… time to call a professional.
Once those things are done, I can move forward with publishing. Because this is my first attempt at self-publishing, I haven’t put a deadline on it, so I don’t know what sort of release date I’m looking at. I suspect once I have it edited and with a cover, everything will move very quickly. I still have to decide if I’m going to publish in print format as well. I’d like to—it’s easy enough even if it does take time to organise.
It might be time to find a marketing assistant too!
I’ve enrolled in Queensland Writers’ Centre’s Year of the Novel. I mentioned it to friends and a couple of them said, ‘You already know how to write a novel: you’re published.’ That doesn’t mean I don’t still have a lot to learn.
I’ve been trying to choose what novel I’ll write during the five months of the course. I think I’ll do one I’ve called Memory for Loan. I’ve been sitting on this novel for a long time, primarily because I haven’t nutted out the plot properly. Every time I look at it, I can’t work out how to relate it to other books written in the same world.
The main character is a significant secondary character in another novel I’ve already written (but haven’t edited properly), but this book could go either before or after that one. Every time I look at it, I get a bit closer to something that’s comfortable, but I haven’t reached it yet. Hopefully this course will make it happen.
I’m also hoping to write a novella during the course. I have nearly 25000 words written on a novella I’ve tentatively called Contact but I put it aside because it wasn’t working. I’ve recently done a scene map and worked out what’s wrong: I don’t know whose story it is. There are three major plot lines and three major protagonists. The villain is the same through all the plot lines, but none of the protagonists stand out. I need to decide whose story it is and delete all those scenes that deviate. That could be my side project while I’m working on Memory for Loan. The cut scenes might be another novella in that world.
As if that isn’t enough to keep me busy for the next six months, I’ve almost finished edits on Dragon God. I want to get it ready for publication and self-publish. I’ve been procrastinating because I’ve never self-published before and it’s a bit daunting. Next steps: polish the blurb, get it professionally edited, get a cover made for it. I’ll get there—eventually.
I call this stage The Last Stage but that’s optimistic. It’s the last stage of the process but that doesn’t mean the MS is now perfect. Stage 4 is proofreading.
During this stage I read through the MS from beginning to end, often aloud. Reading aloud lets me become a reader again and helps me avoid reading what I expect to be there, rather than what’s actually there. This includes things like missing commas—or extra commas. I look for all types of errors when I’m reading this stage. Some basic errors I’ve found myself make over and over again:
Sometimes, during the proofreading stage, I’ll notice things in structure or characterisation that don’t feel right for the story. I put a note next to them and go back and check them later. If I allow myself to get distracted from the process, I miss important things.
That’s the four stages of editing I do with my work. Once I’ve done that, the work is ready for critique partners and beta readers. Often my critique partners have seen the story as it’s been developed. I only show them the finished product if I’ve made extensive changes to the structure and/or characterisations. That happened with Warrior Pledge where one plot line was removed completely, and the characters that were the major characters in the first version became secondary characters. That meant point of view changed throughout, scenes were deleted and new scenes were written. It became a completely new (and much better) story.
After this week, the completed edited version of The Gingerbread House will be posted to the Free Stories page on my website. The older versions will be removed from that page, but will still be available in the blog archives.
The third stage of editing a story is looking at characterisation. I leave this part until third because I often make a lot of changes to the characters and their reactions to various things. There’s no point in changing how a character reacts to a specific plot point if I’m going to remove that plot point from the story during a structural edit, so characterisation goes after structure.
This is the section where I have to go back to my character profiles and check that the characters’ GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) is clear throughout and the growth towards the goals is clear. I look at how characters are behaving, the way they speak to each other and what they think while they’re doing it. My focus includes:
The two right hand columns of my scene map provide the template to analyse character development. Mapping that along with the structure ensures the characters grow and change as the story develops.
As I go through the structural edit, I might think of things I need to check with the characterisation. I write them in the scene map rather than trying to fix everything at once and losing track of what I’m trying to achieve with the structure.
I’ll work through the character notes as they stand at the end of the structural edit, and make the changes noted. Then I’ll map the character profiles, particularly the GMC into the scene map and check the manuscript again. With really short stories, I can do all this in one pass. Often though, this part of the editing will require more than one pass through the document. With a lengthy manuscript, I might need to do a separate editing pass for each focus (eg, one pass for voice, one for personality glitches, one for interactions, one [or more] for individual GMC).
Throughout the entire editing process, I’m also watching for proofreading errors, spelling mistakes, grammatical glitches, homonyms, etc. I correct those as I go through the MS with the aim that the final stage of editing—proofreading—will be fairly quick. Even with all the passes through the MS, I still pick up errors in the last stage, so I make sure never to ignore the proofreading stage.
Authors and editors have a responsibility to present the best possible product to their readers. A good team will locate and fix most errors and be able to present a polished product. It's easy to get words mixed up, particularly homophones. It's one of my pet peeves, possibly because I do it too. Surely though, a professional writer would make sure their work was checked for such things, and surely, their editor/s would know enough to pick them up.
I like reconstructed fairy tales and I've just read an anthology of some. A few of the stories have really annoyed me, though, and I've wondered if I've wasted my money buying the book. The story structures are fine, and the ideas are good. It's the words that have bothered me. Some examples from a couple of stories in the collection--they aren't all homophones.
Then denotes a progression. Something happened THEN something else happened. Than is a comparison. We are better THAN that.
The text: 'parents try to through a party'. No one in the writing and editing process picked the difference between through and throw?
Text: 'might now no qualms about'. Know fits with knowledge; now is time sensitive.
Text: 'Where they really going into'. This could just be a typing error, but someone should have picked it up before publication.
Text: 'took a movement to straighten'. I wouldn't have thought these two words would ever have been confused, but there you go.
Text: 'fingers found her grown made of blue velvet'. Okay, this one's a typo, but still.
Text: 'clamored from the water'. Not a typing error, but an easy one to check.
I find this one all the time. So many people seem unable to understand the difference between possessives and contractions.
One is a result or a noun, the other is the result of an action.
I could go on, but that would be allowing the rant to control me. As a side note: the first seven are from the same story in the anthology. The other stories represented had the same editor.
I haven't mentioned the name of the anthology, the authors or the editors because I don't think that's constructive. What is constructive is making people aware that these sorts of errors occur all the time but should be picked up before publication. Sometimes things are missed, but surely a short story should end up with much fewer than a dozen obvious problems with words and sentence structure (not mentioned in this post).
As a side note. If any of my readers find mixed up words or typing errors in my books, I'd be grateful if you'd let me know. I might not be able to fix it right away, but will certainly endeavour to do so in the next edition.
E E Montgomery
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