Elsie sits in her window and counts the walkers: the old man with the exuberant puppy, the couple – each with a baby strapped to their backs, the lone hiker with his map in a plastic sleeve. She counts them up the cliff, and she counts them back down.
Only once has someone gone up and not returned. She’d watched and waited until it grew dark, and considered phoning the police. Eventually, she went up by herself, but the bench at the top was empty. Then, with a shaking torch she scoured the undercliff.
They buried him the following week.
This 100 word (or so) flash fiction is a Friday Fictioneers story (an online group of writers, who write stories each week posted and hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields). Click here to join in, or here to read other stories. The picture this week is provided by Sandra Crook.
There are currently two give-aways running for my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, but I’m afraid they are both only for UK readers. One is for 10 copies of the UK paperback proof on Goodreads, and the other for one copy of the UK hardback edition and is hosted by a UK blogger.
Richie yawned. Pounding head, furry tongue, woolly brain; he’d rather be sleeping. He drove the sweeper out of the depot. He didn’t like today’s route – too many parked cars, but he could do it with his eyes closed, almost.
Fragments of the previous night came back: the club, the dancing…that girl. That girl! He’d been sure she was up for it. He’d spent a fortune on drinks, then when they were on the street she’d changed her mind. Silly cow.
At E48 the machine swept up an object and stopped. Richie sighed and climbed out. Odd, he thought. Right by last night’s club.
This is a 100-word story for the Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click here to read some more inspired by the picture (this week provided by Ceayr) or here to join in and write your own.
This week I’m a NaNoWrimo Coach, and taking over the organisation’s Twitter account. So if you’re writing 50,000 words in November, search for #NaNoCoach on Twitter, and come and ask me a question.
Peter pushes the spade into the clay and is booted backwards, his insides buzzing and his hair raised. He finds a frayed cable in the soil and tugs, touching only the plastic coating. It lifts out like a pulled thread, peeling off across an overgrown flowerbed towards the house.
He follows it, or rather lets it lead: up against the portico, tucked into the grouting. He looks up, squints. The wire reaches the second floor and disappears into a corner of a window frame; his bedroom.
Inside, he finds the wire under the window seat. A tiny camera attached to the end.
This is a 100-word story for the Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click here to read some more inspired by the picture (this week provided by Connie Gayer) or here to join in and write your own.
Yesterday the Goodreads book awards were launched, and it would be great if you’d vote for my book, Our Endless Numbered Days. You need to log into, or join Goodreads, and then scroll down the page to get to the ‘Write-in Vote’ box and type in Our Endless Numbered Days and click vote. And you can then do the same for the fiction category (on the left) if you’re so inclined. If you get through all that – thank you!
The first draft is finished, as is the second, third, and fourteenth, depending on how you count these things. You’ve filled in the major plot holes and moved the scaffolding around, checked your character arcs; all the heavy lifting has been done. Now it’s time for working on the detail. It’s what I call editing, or polishing – the nitty-gritty, the picky, the finickity. Here are some ideas for how I and some of my fellow Prime Writers go about it:
- Print out your manuscript and read it aloud. And then do it again, and maybe even again, editing in between each print and read. Nothing spots mistakes of rhythm and sentence construction than hearing your own words. “Reading aloud also helps me identify any bits which are dull,” says Jon Teckman. “If I get bored reading and can’t wait to move on to the next bit, then so too will my reader.”
- Keep an ongoing list of ‘fluff’ words. These are either fillers, or words that add nothing to the sentence. I had to take hundreds of iterations of ‘that’ out of Our Endless Numbered Days. All my fellow Prime Writers search for these types of word, including Fleur Smithwick: “I search for quite, just, rather, seemed, very, and plenty more.” Here’s my list of ‘fluff’ words. Feel free to use it, but make sure you add some of your own. And if you’re writing in Word you can use the search facility to find them.
- Pay particular attention to dialogue. I read dialogue sections aloud even more times to make sure they sound realistic, but are still a pared down version of real speech. Martine Bailey’s tip is to cut the dialogue back by a third to make it sharp and less explanatory.
- Check for repetitions. Apparently I used the word ‘naked’ twenty billion times in my second novel, Swimming Lessons (thanks for the spot, Juliet Annan), and it’s not even that kind of book. It’s not only individual words you have to be careful of: “I also do a search for the phrases I overuse and take out all but one of each,” says Beth Miller.
- I often lift out a paragraph (or make blank lines above and below it) and edit it as if it is a piece of flash fiction. Then I can make sure every word is necessary and every word is working the hardest it can. I’m happy to use a thesaurus, but I make sure I choose alternative words that fit the style of my writing.
- Check the shape on the page. This is something I’ve haven’t tried yet, but S.D. Sykes does it all the time: “It sounds a bit mad, but I can normally tell by the shape of the words and spaces in a paragraph if the writing is going to be what I’m aiming for. I know the shapes I like!” Vanessa Lafaye and Claire Douglas do it too, so it must be worth trying.
- Check for adverbs. I do a search for words ending in ‘ly’ and also for other adverbs like almost, often and always. I check they’re necessary and consider whether a stronger verb might work better.
- Change the layout. Sometimes I will layout my manuscript in Word so it looks similar to a book format, just so I can see it differently. (To do this alter the margins to 10cm for the top; 5cm for the bottom; 4cm for both sides; Times New Roman 11pt; and justify.) Lots of writers change the format of their manuscript. Louise Walters says, “A change in layout is really important. It’s a good trick when I’m self-editing to let me to see my writing afresh.” Christine Breen also reads her novels on different platforms: “I’ve even sent it to myself on Kindle as a pdf. Working between my macbook and my iPad also helps. Each new perspective makes a difference.”
- Check beginnings and endings. “I check the start and end of each chapter,” says Sarah Vaughan. I check they’re strong and they don’t repeat the same style of opening each time.
- Any genre has to get the facts correct. “But because I write historical fiction,” says Jason Hewitt, “this is particularly important. I will have done all my research before and during the writing process, but when I’m reading through I’ll highlight each fact that I need to double-check and then check them one more time, ticking them off on the printed manuscript when I’m happy the detail is correct. This also helps me clarify those few occasions where I know, for the sake of the story I have veered from any factual truth.”There are probably plenty more ways you can polish a manuscript; share how you do it in the comments below.
There are probably plenty more ways you can polish a manuscript; please share how you do it in the comments below. And click to read the first post in this series about finishing your first draft, or the second post about revising.
Yesterday I only said two words: ‘Oneway,’ and ‘thankyou’. Or maybe ‘Oneway’ is two words, so it could be I said three; never was no good at grammar.
This morning on the bus, all the double seats already had people in them, and every one of them people stared out the window as I squeezed past, so as not to catch my eye. I chose an older lady, reminded me of Ma; kind looking. She weren’t though. Huffed and twitched when my leg touched hers, accidental like. Those seats never are big enough.
Only one word today: ‘Sorry.’
Congratulations to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for her three year anniversary in leading all us writers around the world in the Friday Fictioneers writing challenge. (Write a 100 word story inspired by a weekly photo, this week supplied by Ron Pruitt.) Click here to join in or here to read others.
For anyone who’s written a first draft of a novel you might be interested in my blog post about how to revise it – written in conjunction with another writing group I’m in – The Prime Writers.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com
A couple of months ago I wrote a post about how get the first draft of a novel completed, and now I’m writing about how I and some other writers go about revising that draft. I’m talking about working on the big changes – those whopping great plot holes or characters that disappear half-way through. A post on polishing is also now available to read. And please do comment below with any other ideas.
- Give yourself a break from the manuscript. If you’re working to a deadline or you’re a very impatient person like me, this is easier said than done. I often don’t manage more than a couple of weeks before I’m back tinkering. But Vanessa Lafaye, author of Summertime has it right: “When I finish my first draft I’m so immersed in the story that I’m myopic. I have to walk away and leave it, ideally for about 3 months, before I can return and revise. It’s only the distance that gives me the clarity I need to see what works and what doesn’t. It has to become unfamiliar, as if it was written by someone else.”
- Print out and read. I don’t print my manuscript until I’m much further along – really at the polishing stage, because I probably wouldn’t be able to see the text for red pen, but lots of writers print it out after the first draft is complete, to look for plot holes or to add in new strands. Terry Stiastny, author of Acts of Omission says, “I have to print out the original draft in hard copy, it doesn’t work for me, looking at it on screen. (Top tip: take it to a copy shop to print. Cheaper and less stressful than using dozens of printer cartridges at home.)”
- Print out and physically move scenes or chapters around. I often have to move scenes and chapters, but I do this on my laptop, whereas plenty of writers do it another way. “With my first novel, A Brighter Fear,” says Kerry Drewery, “I ended up printing the whole thing off, stapling the chapters together and physically moving them around.” I’m sure this is a good way of seeing the novel in its entirety.
- Summarise and justify each chapter. As I work my way through the manuscript I write a summary at the start of each chapter or scene. This not only includes what is happening in the chapter, but what the point of it is: how it moves the story along or what it reveals about a character. The chapter has to justify its place in the manuscript. If it can’t I revise it or cut it. Author, Sarah Jasmon works in a similar way: “I make lists with a brief description of each chapter so I can keep track of what is going on. With The Summer of Secrets, I went through a lot of structural changes in the first proper edit. The original draft had many scenes where a character was remembering, and I was able to re-shape and move them so these things actually happened, rather than just being recalled. Writing out a chapter by chapter overview, by hand, helped me connect back with the book as a whole.”
- Plot each beat. This is a similar point to the one above, but rather than writing a summary above each chapter, Jo Bloom, author of Ridley Road, plots every beat on a separate card and pins them to a cork board. “I can then see sequences,character development etc and know what I need to work on.”
- Spreadsheets or Word documents for plot lines, flashbacks and timelines. Most writers seem to work with lists for checking details, whether these are the colour-coded sophisticated spreadsheets loved by Jason Hewitt (author of Devastation Road) or one of my simple tables in Word. “I give each major bit of scene or beat a brief name and put it all in a spreadsheet table,” says Jason. “I then colour code the different plot lines or ongoing flashbacks. When I print this off I have the whole novel on a single sheet of paper (albeit in very small font) and I can see quickly which plot lines need spreading out a bit more or reshuffling. I love a good spreadsheet!” For my second novel, Swimming Lessons, I created a timeline table in Word with dates down one side and characters along the top. Then I could keep track of what age they were at any given date, as well as making sure I remembered birthdays, Christmas and even any world events that might affect them. Alison Layland, author of Someone Else’s Conflict works in a similar way: “When I was rewriting my novel I moved a chapter from the middle of the book to the beginning and although all the elements were still there it was amazing how it affected the continuity on so many levels. In the end I created a table in Word with a row for each chapter, including dates, times and events, as well as point of view, so I could make sure I maintained a good balance, and see better where to put in the flashbacks for best effect.
- Write a To Do list. As simple as this sounds, it is the thing I work most closely with when I’m revising. I create a Word document of all the issues I find as I come across them. And then I start working through those issues, adding to the list as I go, because each change will always have ramifications elsewhere in the manuscript. For my second book, I started with ten major points I needed to work on, and as I went through these, I added to the bottom of the list, so that in the end there were over 50 major changes I had to make.
- Separate edits for different things. My second novel is set by the sea, and there are lots of descriptions of the water and the landscape. I did a separate edit just for these – to make sure they were spaced evenly and didn’t repeat themselves. You can do this for any element in a novel. For example, Jason Hewitt does a separate edit for each of the main characters in his books. “I find that this is easier than trying to juggle the motives and characteristics of each character at the same time.”
- Lift out one narrative strand and work on it alone. One step further than the point above, is lifting out a strand completely. Our Endless Numbered Days has two time periods – the time in the forest, and the time when Peggy, the narrator is back in London. The London chapters come in between about every two forest chapters. At one point I was getting so confused with the London timeline that I lifted out all the London chapters, put them in another document and edited them as one sequence so I could be sure they worked consecutively, before slotting them back in.
- Seeding mis-directions and clues This is a really good tip. It’s usually only after the first draft is finished that you can go back and drop in hints, foreshadowing and clues. Martine Bailey author of The Penny Heart says, “Once I’ve decided how the novel ends I go back and I seed the clues and mis-directions.”
- What to think about. Okay, so point eleven isn’t really a tip on how to revise a novel, but here are some of the major things I try to think about during the revising stage: plot holes, character motivation, character arcs, justifying chapters and scenes, bringing out themes and motifs, building tension and pace, managing the passing of time, making sure plot lines are tied up (not necessarily neatly, but don’t leave them hanging), foreshadowing, clues and mis-directions, character and location names.
Let me know your tips for revision in the comments below.
My sister cried the day they dismantled the fair. She was in love with the calliope man who was a rough type with thick lips and a face that had seen better times. She stood by the instrument while it played, holding out the man’s trilby and dancing, showing her ankles.
He promised to take her with him, but in the morning, the man and his hat were gone. For fifteen years the fair has come to town and my sister still waits to hear those breathy whistles. She’s fifty now, too old they say, for the calliope man, or anyone else.
This is a 100-word story for the Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Click here to read some more inspired by the picture (this week provided by Ted Strutz) or here to join in and write your own.
I only recently learned what a calliope was, and it’s such a lovely sounding that I wanted to use it in a story. Here’s an example of one.
I’m really excited to let you know that my second book, Swimming Lessons, has just been acquired by Fig Tree (an imprint of Penguin). Click here to find out more.