Editing is Fun

I found out this evening that I enjoy editing a lot more than I enjoy watching movies or reading books or listening to music.

Makes me wonder why I avoided it for so long.

After I’ve edited this third novel I think I’ll go right ahead and edit my first and second.

Or I might buy a new fridge. Let’s see.

Redrafting and Editing

Don’t bother to read this. It’s just for me. It might be witty and a little wise but this is something I did for myself.

Terms:

  1. redraft: draft (a document, text, or map) again in a different way
  2. edit: prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it.

Both aim to make it better.

An approach:

  1. Identify what you want the material to do
  2. Determine whether it does that or not
  3. If not, figure out what is missing
  4. Work out how to fill the gaps
  5. Fill           the           gaps.

Another approach:

  1. Shred the whole thing and start again.

Not enough time for approach two.

What do I want the material to do?
Entertain. I want your average reader to regard the experience of reading this book to be better than living their own life. I want them to immerse themselves in this world and then, when they finish the novel, not to want to come out of the world. All the other things such as be informed or be transformed are of secondary importance.

Does the material do what I want it to do?
No, not yet.

What is missing from the material?
It’s not immersive enough yet. Parts of the prose distract readers from losing themselves in the fictional world; they remind them that they are reading a book:

  • explanation
    the character (or maybe the author) does not like to explain things fully. they want to let the reader figure things out for themselves. this is fine in a murder-mystery but not so much in a futuristic space drama. in the former, it is expected. in the latter, it is somewhat annoying. And distracting.
  • dates
    there is so much shuttling about between present and past (or, depending on your perspective, present and future) that the reader is continually having to work out when the story is set at any one point.
  • correctness
    because it’s the first draft, there are lots of errors in the grammar, syntax and spelling. these things really distract from a story. nothing worse than trying to make the reader think that Kate is cool when all they’re really thinking is that the author (or the editor (same thing in this case)) is an idiot because he can’t spell.
  • names
    it’s possible that I got distracted whilst writing and changed the name of a character or two halfway through. it’s best to catalogue the characters and consistentise the names. Also, are the spaceship names good? Not even sure that the Chinese ship has one.
  • description
    some of the scenes and characters may not be described in enough detail for the reader to get a mental image of what they are reading about.

How do I close the gap between what is and what is good?

  • explanation
    don’t imagine that the reader is smart enough to figure stuff out. imagine you are writing for an idiot. okay, maybe not an idiot, but at least for people that are reading a book in the evening to relax their brain after all the complicated stuff they had to put up with at work or at school. Or for people who are reading on the beach or on an aeroplane and want to be distracted from the sun or the air-con or whatever. explain. make it easy for them.
  • dates
    put everything on a timeline. date everything. put headers in front of the text when and where time and location change. be kind.
  • correctness
    just go through and correct the errors in the grammar, syntax and spelling. make a sweep through by reading and correcting then another sweep by having the machine read it to you and then print it off double spaced and get someone else to read it.
  • names
    make a chart (or a list if you can’t manage that) of all the people, objects (spaceships) and place names in the whole thing. do this as you’re reading through so that you can correct using search/replace.
  • description
    engage the senses. add sight, sound, smells, savoury, sweet, silkiness, strong and extrasensory elements if appropriate. really flesh out your words.

And now you’ve got a plan; now you know what to do; JUST DO IT!

 

 

How to Write an Emotionally Compelling Headline

I was looking through some of my old posts and wondering to myself why some of them are popular and others are not. And I thought to myself why not do some research into the art of writing a good post.

There are lots of lists containing tips and soon I was reading these seven from OptInMonster:

  1. Know your audience
  2. Write Compelling Headlines
  3. Add Subheadings to break the page
  4. Use Bullet Points
  5. Add Images
  6. Optimize for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
  7. Add (a) Clear call-to-action

Most of those are not relevant to me, but number two caught my eye (as any good headline should) so I read that section. I found the following tool referenced:

Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer

So I had a go.

Here are a few headlines that I randomly thought of:

  • the worst thing that can happen is being ignored (11.11%)
  • why can’t you love me, you fool! (57.14%)
  • Please don’t ignore me Mom (60.00%)

The percentage indicates the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) and denotes the ability of the headline to engage with customers in a deep and emotional way.

Then I thought, why not try some documented examples of good headlines (as recommended by some random blog). Here’s what happened:

  • The Best Ways to Do Market Research For Your Business Plan (36.36%)
  • The Easiest Way to Become a Successful Writer (25.00%)
  • The Quickest Way to Deliver Your Message? Make It Visual. (10.00%)

As you can see, the scores were significantly worse than mine so I promptly went back to my own line of thought. Pretty soon I’d produced the perfect headline, which is (drum-roll):

  • “Please love me sweet Mommy” (100.00%)

I knew that Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing that I got from the Chartered Institute of Marketing would come in handy some day!

Noting that point five (see above) was all about images I searched the web for a picture of a child at a window looking lost and lonely so that it would fit in with my title. I found a good one, cropped it and popped it in the post.

Then I skimmed this site: Creating Emotion in the Reader so that I had some idea of what to put in the body of the post. This gave me some good tips and so I wrote a story on the basis of that advice.

The result is here: Please Love Me Sweet Mommy.

Predictably, it has totally bombed (so far). Since it was published four hours ago it has only had six view and five likes. It’s a good conversion rate but it does not seem to be hooking readers.

Still, it’s a journey, right? I’ve gone through a process and enjoyed what I’ve done. The rest is up to you. And you are one thing that I can’t control. Unless, of course you’re amenable to a polite request? Read my post you fool!!!

To conclude – here’s a random picture to sweeten your eyes:

smilies-bank-sit-rest-160731

My End, Middle and Beginning

I can’t write the end before I write the middle and I can’t get to the middle before I start writing. Or can I?

Maybe I’m limiting myself by these words. Maybe I can write a heart-rending last scene first. Perhaps I can get all the laughs by telling the punch-line right at the start. Possibly I can renew the world before I destroy it.

It’s worth a try.

I know that rom-coms usually end with the girl and the boy getting each other. I know that the middle contains endless difficulties that they have to overcome in order to reach their togetherness. And I know that they haven’t even met when the story starts.

So …

Last Scene:
“What, not one drop of poison left for me to wet my whistle so that I can die like what you did?”

Oops, wrong kind of play. This may be a romance, but it sure isn’t comedy. Or is it? What if he wakes up then, yawns and says (something like) “Blooming heck, this is some sort of heaven I’ve reached, for my love is before me and she lives and breathes and even though she’s only thirteen (look it up) I’m pretty sure …”

“Aw, shut up and kiss me you hunk!”

They kiss and the lights fade. And a good job too because they look like they’re going to have it off in the crypt. “Fain (that) I should adore thee, Mrs Ticklepants.” They are lost to rapture.

There’s stuff that leads to the end that should be easy to breadcrumb and then fill in because time’s arrow flying backwards is actually a lot more predictable than flying forwards. I mean, when you go backwards it’s already happened and so it’s just a matter of remembering what was. Makes you wonder why we write stories into the mysterious and unknowable future when you think about it.

And reaching the beginning is just as easy and predictable too. Job done!

I suppose you might say that it’s easy when it’s all been written by Shakespeare beforehand and you have a script that you can twist and amend like twisting and amending is all you ever wanted to do but that just proves my point. Shakespeare is in the past from this future, and we find it easy to go there and continue the story backwards from this ending, so why not do the same when you’re writing stories?

And that brings me on to another point; one that is not at all related to this script, but is still worth making: if you have a first draft of a story, in any shape at all, then your job is even easier. Because then you don’t even have to plagiarise on Shakespeare’s ass (forgive the vernacular). You can just plagiarise yourself; what could be easier!

So, to summarise: it’s worth starting at the end and working yourself backwards through the story you want to write.

And even if it doesn’t work out – you can use the printed pages to line your shirt when it gets cold in the winter and you can’t afford the heating because you quit your job to be a writer.

Such are the silvery paper-linings we dream of.

Claire Danes as Juliet

Character Development

I was reading an article about developing characters and it got me thinking about how I go about this myself.

The way I see it, there are two (main) drivers for a story:

  1. Plot. This is the kind of writing where the events of the story are the prime focus and the author’s attention is fixed on driving this forward. The characters here do whatever the plot requires them to do. They are like puppets to some extent.
  2. Character. This kind of story focuses on the character rather than the plot, often to the extent that, whilst the author is writing, if the plot demands one thing but the character feels like doing something else, the character has the final say. The character is usually defined enough (via character maps and sketches) for this to be feasible, but if they are not then the author is going to end up with an unholy mess.

For my novels, the plot is progenitor (I would have said plot is king but there’s no alliteration there), but I tend to focus on characters for my short stories.

So where do I get my characters from?

Some of them have been inspired by someone I know or have known, but rarely. Most of the inhabitants of my stories come from people I see in passing and that I would like to know more about.

Instead of finding out more about these people by speaking to them (yeah, that’d be too easy, right?) I make stuff up. Typically, if something about a person attracts my attention(some behaviour, something about their speech, the way that they talk etc.) then this becomes a focus for my fiction. I write to discover that which I do not know.

I see a lot of homeless people in York (where I live here in the UK) and they intrigue me. I don’t know their motivations or where they live or why they have chosen this lifestyle and so I write about them. A lot.

Actually, when I think about it, I might not be interested in homeless people anymore because I’ve stopped writing about them. Instead, I’m writing a novel about the first crewed flight to Mars. Do you happen to know any astronauts I could speak to?

So, yeah, when I’m writing, I just make stuff up as I go along; and that suits me just fine. What’s your approach to character development?