Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Guest: Barb Taub

When I first read the post by this week's Guest, I had tears in my eyes... initially from laughing so hard, then through the realisation she had hit the nail on the head. Intrigued? Ladies and Gentlemen...


Barb Taub

The Write Biz



When Eric invited me to contribute a guest post, he had only two requests. It should be about writing, and it should be "awesome". Well, damn. I could think of a lot of awesome stuff, but if I tried to diagram the overlap with writing stuff, it would look like this:

Unfortunately, (although she is awesome), I don't think my dog is what Eric had in mind for this post. So with the other 99% of my topic ideas eliminated, I was saved at the last minute when a friend sent me (yet another) Very Serious Discussion about embracing the business side of our craft. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the way we writers undertake the business of writing. I wondered what it might look like if other professions marketed their product the way writers do.
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    ·     Gynecologist: The first ten people who 'like' me on Facebook get a free pelvic exam.
    ·         Lawyer: I'm not actually charging my clients because I'm building my reputation. Someday I'll be famous and they'll line up to pay.
    ·         CEO: It's okay if we don't show a profit. I've got some savings and my retirement—we can use that to keep going for a while.
    ·    Accountant: I could get better medical insurance if I worked for Starbucks, but I'm sticking with this because all my life I've dreamed of auditing tax returns.    
    

    ·      Surgeon: I'm giving away free
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appendectomies so more people can experience my art. I'm working two extra jobs to pay the bills, but it will be worth it when the reviews start rolling in.
     ·         Psychiatrist: I've spent over twelve years honing my skills, working a day job at Chez Mac's while exchanging free psychotherapy consults with my psychiatry group at night.
    ·       Dentist: I'm doing a blog tour, and you can enter my rafflecopter giveaway if you send a tweet, leave a comment, and add your email to my mailing list. Winner gets a free root canal.
    ·    Broker: I'm sending out free shares in hopes that people give them good reviews on Goodreads.
     ·        Chef: If I charge more than the food truck at Amazon, nobody will buy my next dish. Instead, I'll get a day job at Chez Mac's so I can keep giving my gourmet dishes away.
    ·       Banker: I think I'll just work from my dining table at home, alone, second-guessing all my decisions while I whine about getting lenders-block.
     ·      Human Resources: Instead of a salary, we'll pay people a small advance against future profits. Then they'll get paid in
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royalties. If they actually sell enough to pay back that advance, that is. And there will be at least a year's delay before the payments start, of course.
    ·        CIA: Even though you work for an evil empire, we want to keep your leaders on our side so we're going to give you everything you want. Besides, if we don't like what you do with it, we can always come back and kill you off in the sequel. [Oh...wait. The writer's business model is already the same as the CIA? Who knew?]
I know what you're going to say. It's not fair, especially when some of the best writers in the world are still asking, "And would you like fries with that?" at their day jobs. A writer I know was adding up all she spent on editing, proofing, formatting, and marketing her book. Her conclusion? "I could probably have done better if I spent it all on lottery tickets."
But here's the thing. If you buy every single ticket in a particular lottery, you are guaranteed to lose—because the prize is NEVER more than a fraction of the ticket sales. The trick is to be lucky enough and smart enough to buy just enough tickets. Every word we write is a lottery ticket that we pay for with our time, our imagination, our talent, and our luck. Most of those tickets won't bring home the big prize. But they can't bring anything at all if we don't buy them to start with. So here's the business model I'm going to work with:
“I write to give myself strength.
I write to be the characters that I am not.
I write to explore all the things I'm afraid of.”



That seems to be working for Joss Whedon. I'm guessing it will do for me.

But just in case — I've got this pile of free bookmarks if anyone's interested...



Bio:

In halcyon days BC (before children), Barb Taub wrote a humor column for several Midwest newspapers. With the arrival of Child #4, she veered toward the dark side and an HR career. Following a daring daytime escape to England, she's lived in a medieval castle and a hobbit house with her prince-of-a-guy and the World’s Most Spoiled Aussie Dog. Now all her days are Saturdays, and she spends them consulting with her occasional co-author/daughter on Marvel heroes, Null City, and translating from British to American. 

Just a word about her 'Null City' Series: Superpowers suck. If you just want to live a normal life, Null City is only a Metro ride away. After one day there, imps become baristas, and hellhounds become poodles. Demons settle down, become parents, join the PTA, and worry about their taxes. But outside of Null City, now that the century-long secret Nonwars between Gifts and Haven are over and the Accords Treaty is signed, an uneasy peace is policed by Wardens under the command of the Accords Agency. 


When Barb is not entertaining us with her keen wit or writing superb novels, she can be found here:

Blog:  http://barbtaub.com
Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/NullCityNovel
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/barbtaub
Goodreads:  http://www.goodreads.com/barbtaub
Amazon Author page:  http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00EZP9BS8

Thank you, Barb, for such an incisive and humourous disection of one of the aspects of an Indie writer's life that often goes unnoticed by our readers.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Guest: Dan Pollock

You've heard that old cliché 'Write what you know'? Well my Guest this week is here to reveal a few secrets regarding writing about stuff outside your comfort zone. Ladies and Gentlemen...



Dan Pollock


Writing What You Don't Know


Have you noticed? There’s a new breed of techno-thriller writer. More and more explosive page-turners are being churned out by ex-Delta operators, SEAL Team Sixers, Recon Marines, you name it. These guys have actually been there, done that and lived to tell about it—in gritty and convincing techno-detail.

I’m not one of them, alas. I’m a bookish, sedentary guy who conjures up macho heroes for fun and profit. Which means I have to research almost everything I write about.

That’s okay. I like to research. And I relish the challenge of making cumbersome research vanish in sheer narrative excitement. The way Mario Puzo did:

“I wrote The Godfather entirely from research. I never met a real honest-to-god gangster. I knew the gambling world pretty good, but that’s all. After the book became famous, I was introduced to a few gentlemen related to the material. They were flattering. They refused to believe that I had never been in the rackets. They refused to believe that I had never had the confidence of a Don. But all of them loved the book.”—Mario Puzo, The Godfather Papers, p. 36

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My first published thriller was set in exotic locales I’d never laid eyes on (and still haven’t)—Istanbul and the Eastern Mediterranean. 'Lair of theFox' was published in 1989, before the era of online, on-the-fly research, so my desk was piled high with National Geographics, maps ordered from around the world, travel books and magazines.

I sent an advanced reading copy to Eric Ambler (d. 1998), whose 1939 masterpiece, A Coffin for Demetrios (also set in Istanbul) was my inspiration for Lair. Ambler promised to read my fledgling novel, then added that he, too, had not had a chance to visit Istanbul before writing about it. Eventually, he said, he came to know the city quite well and applied this knowledge in several works, especially The Light of Day (filmed as Topkapi).

Interestingly, Ambler confessed, some “old Stamboul hands” later told him that the “atmospherics” of the magical city were far more convincing in Demetrios than his subsequent works.

Those convincing atmospherics were compounded of equal parts free-flowing imagination and painstaking research.

“I try to research whatever I write about. I think writers who don’t are lazy. I just stop reading when, especially if it’s a book about cops or crime, it’s written by someone who does no research and just wings it. Especially Hollywoodish writers. I close the book. It shuts me down, and I can’t suspend my disbelief any longer. It’s just all cartoons.”— Joe Wambaugh, interview, San Diego Reader, 11/4/93

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If you read a swashbuckler by C.S. Forester or Patrick O’Brian (as I hope you will), you’ll find yourself awash in authentic, briny detail. Both were masters of nautical and historical research. As was that master craftsman Rudyard Kipling:

“I embarked on a little book which was called Captains Courageous… I reveled in profligate abundance of detail—not necessarily for publication but for the joy of it.”— Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, p. 139)

Kipling’s zeal for authenticity contrasts starkly with the following example of lazy non-research. The perpetrator is John Grisham. In his breakout blockbuster, the otherwise gifted storyteller simply copies a list of sailing terms to explain how his characters learned to sail:

“They listened to and memorized words like spinnaker, mast, bow, stern, aft, tiller, halyard winches, masthead fittings, shrouds, lifelines, stanchions, sheet winch, bow pulpit, coamings, transom, clew outhaul, genoa sheets, mainsail, jib, jibstays, jib sheets, cam cleats and boom vangs. [They were] lectured on heeling, luffing, running, blanketing, backwinding, heading up, trimming and pointing.” —John Grisham, The Firm

Another brand-name bard, Stephen King, admits to a similar sin in one of his pseudonymous Richard Bachman novels:

“There are some places where they’re talking in Romany, the gypsy language. What I did was I yanked some old Czechoslovakian editions of my works off the shelves and just took stuff out at random. And I got caught. I got nailed for it [by the readers], and I deserved to be, because it was lazy.” (Writer’s Digest, 3/92, p. 26)
             
Today, thanks to the instant omniscience of Google, an opposite temptation confronts the fiction writer—larding up the narrative with too much impressive-sounding research. The trick is to select the telling detail and to discard the dross tonnage.

“With each new draft, I throw out my research, taking out anything that hinders the story.” —Sidney Sheldon, Los Angeles Magazine, 10/79

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In the techno-thriller, a genre more or less created by Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October (with a nod to Ian Fleming), the temptation to indulge in information overload is almost irresistible. High-tech is king, after all, and readers fully expect to be bombarded with military acronyms, barracks jargon and the latest in operational paraphernalia.

But in the wrong hands “high-tech” is a virtue that can quickly turn vicious. Here’s a sample from the blood-and-guts oeuvre of ex-Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko:

“My black, knee-length Pakistani ‘pasha’ tunic covering the carbon-colored, custom-suppressed Heckler & Koch USP 9mm in its ballistic nylon thigh holster, a titanium-framed Emerson CQC6 combat folder clipped to my waistband next to the Motorola beeper…”—Richard Marcinko (Rogue Warrior: Green Team, co-authored by John Weisman, p. 3)

The passage rambles on in this indigestible vein, inviting comparison to Grisham’s nautical cataloguing.

“The novelist is ill-advised to be too technical. The practice of using a multitude of cant terms is tiresome. It should be possible to give verisimilitude without that, and atmosphere is dearly bought at the price of tediousness.”—W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up, p. 69

“There’s such a thing as too authentic,” writes David Poyer, an ex-Navy officer who has penned dozens of nautical thrillers. “The problem with doing a Navy book is that the average reader can’t understand what you’re talking about.” Poyer’s solution is to introduce technical language gradually and in context. “By the last third of the book,” he says, “the non-naval reader is in tune with what’s going on.” (Publishers Weekly interview, 7/5/93)

As a final note, Clancy, the master of technical verisimilitude, enjoyed occasionally taking liberties with facts and indulging his fancy. An example occurred in his 1989 thriller, Clear and Present Danger. Clancy wanted a bomb that exploded silently. When the latest in weaponry wasn’t up to his standards, he simply invented his own hardware. He called it the “Hushaboom.”

“I got the idea from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” Clancy told an interviewer.
(Philip Morris Magazine, summer, 1991)


Bio:
Dan Pollock was born in New York City to a family of writers and grew up in Laguna Beach, California. A former syndicate editor with the Los Angeles Times, Pollock is the author of six thriller novels— Countdown to CasablancaLair of the Fox, Duel of Assassins, Orinoco (originally published as Pursuit Into Darkness), The Running Boy and Ringland —and a specially commissioned “logistics” thriller, Precipice. With his wife, Constance, Pollock edited and published three literary, inspirational volumes: The Book of Uncommon Prayer; Gospel: The Life of Jesus as Told by the World's Great Writers; and Visions of the Afterlife: Heaven, Hell and Revelation as Viewed by the World's Great Writers. The Pollocks live in Southern California with their two children.

When not writing nail-biting thrillers, Dan can be located here:

Website: http://www.danpollockthrillers.com


Thank you, Dan, for the superb advice and a fascinating analysis that breaks with one of writing's most often-repeated adages... a superb breath of fresh air!

Eric @ www.ericjgates.com

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My Guest: Wolf Schimanski

My Guest this week will have your heart thumping in your chest as you read one of his fast-paced action thrillers. But what makes an author choose to try to give you a heart attack? Ladies and Gentlemen...


Wolf Schimanski


My Writing and Motivation Influences

I really cannot say I have any experience in blogging whatsoever so I thought I would share some ideas and facts about how I came to write and who and what has influenced me along the way. My Mom was an insatiable reader and devoured books by the hundreds if not thousands throughout her 94 years on this planet. That passion must have been genetic as it was certainly passed down to me. Anything that looked remotely mysterious and suspenseful, I picked up and tore through. After some time, however, I started looking for that unique blend of excitement, suspense, action, spice and humor that only the Masters of my action/thriller genre could provide.

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I call them the Masters not only because of the millions of books they have sold world-wide but because of the way they have touched, motivated, inspired and influenced me. There is a long list of them but I have really concentrated on four to whom I am extremely grateful. First and foremost is the late and great Robert B. Parker whose dry wit, short sentences and unique stories amaze me every time I read one of his fabulous books.

Secondly, the amazing James Patterson; not so much his current work but his earlier Alex Cross series just blew me away and still gives me spine tingles every time I re-read those books.

Thirdly, Greg Iles has now become my favorite current author. His vivid descriptions of life in the deep south along with his scorching plot lines keep me turning those pages in awe. And last but certainly not least, John Sandford, just a terrific novelist and master storyteller of whom I can never get enough of.

Steven King, Dean Koontz, John Grisham and so many more have also managed to touch my thriller soul and to these authors I will always be thankful for what they were able to share with the world and myself. Because of these great writers, I was sitting around reflecting a number of years ago and a strange, wonderful and exciting thought came to me. “What would I like to read next?” And with that came, “Why not write the story I would like to read most that my favorite authors have not written?”

Now that I had a mission, how was I going to fulfill it? I started with a correspondence course on the essentials of writing as after all, just being a reader, what did I know about writing?  I had written some articles for a high school entertainment paper years ago but that hardly qualified me as a writer. So after learning the basics and being tutored by a successful author in his own right, the “Meter” series was born.  Once I finished the first book, 'Meter of Deception', my problem was now what do I do to get the message out to all the people out there that just could not wait for it, right?

Wrong. I had to figure out how to publish and market the book as well. After some unanswered query letters, I decided to take the book by the horns and do some research into what type of options were available for someone like me,  eager to  see my stories in print and get it into the hands of thriller fans. I found one such company called Createspace who designated a talented team of professionals to work with me on shaping and creating my dream, my first novel in print.

Amazon Link
The lessons learned from the first book were transferred into the second one, 'Meter of Corruption' which was published in early 2014, using the same characters from the first book. The reason being that I felt the characters had much more growing and experiencing to do so why not see what happens to them 5 years later? And so far my readers have agreed with my decision which has led me to work on my third book 'Meter of Redemption' to be completed sometime next year hopefully. This will complete the “Meter” series and give these unique and interesting characters the closure they deserve.

Anyone that has read Parker, Iles, Patterson and Sandford and then my books, will see where my influences and inspirations come from. I have never hesitated giving credit where credit is due. I owe them an immeasurable debt of gratitude along with my wife who is also my editor and staunchest supporter and all the readers and reviewers who have read and enjoyed my books so far. 

This whole journey has been a learning experience to this point and there is nothing more gratifying when a happy reader stops me or sends me a note to say, “I loved your book and cannot wait for the next one.” It proves that out of a crazy, totally obtuse idea, magic can happen; not only magic in my own life but magic in other people’s lives. It’s exciting to know I have the power to do that through a keyboard and some dear people that believe in me. 

So I will continue on my quest to write the most scintillating, exotic, thrilling and exciting page turners that I can and will never stop paying homage to the great writers that have inspired me and so many others, the Masters of my Action/Thriller genre.

BIO:


Wolf Schimanski is a man of many interests and talents. He has trained in martial arts, enjoys a variety of sports and is an accomplished guitarist and musician. Professionally Schimanski worked many years in the information technology, management and financial planning industries.

An avid reader turned breakthrough author, Schimanski brings his own unique spin to the action/thriller genre and thus far has released two exceptionally gripping, fast paced works of fiction - 'Meter of Deception' and 'Meter of Corruption'.

Schimanski lives with his wife Terri and divides his time between their lakeside home in Mount Forest, Ontario in the summer and their winter residence in London, Ontario, Canada.  He is currently working on his third novel, the final installment in the Meter trilogy.

When Wolf is not penning his action thrillers or plucking guitar strings, he can be found here:

Amazon Author page: www.amazon.com/Wolf-Schimanski/e/B0094JVA8O
GoodReads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7066889.Wolf_Schimanski
Twitter: https://twitter.com/wolfschim
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorWolfSchimanski

Thank you, Wolf, for talking about a subject most writers seem to shy away from, the Masters who've influenced their own work. Best wishes for book 3 in the series, 'Meter of Redemption'.

Eric @ www.ericjgates.com

Thursday, April 9, 2015

How to turn an IDEA into a novel

Another PRACTICAL post this week about what to do if you have an idea, but can't turn it into a storyline. This dilema faces all writers at some point. 
Okay, we have a potential source of ideas – everything! Reading outside our comfort zones helps stimulate our minds and you could easily find apparently disconnected seeds growing together to form a huge tree. 

But, what if you can’t see how to turn that idea into a story? What then?

As I’ve mentioned a few thousand times, I have been professionally trained in problem-solving. There a particular technique that I’ve often applied to my writing, which I am going to share with you now. This trick is not just for turning a germ of an idea into a potential storyline, it also works wonders when you are ‘stuck’ at a particular point in your tale and can’t see the way forward. When I was taught this, I was told it was called the ‘Word Analysis’ technique – call it whatever you will – labels are unimportant as long as something works. Remember my Sensei? “Use what is useful, throw the rest away". 

The guy who taught me this particular technique used to say that 90% of all solutions resides in the correct definition of the problem. The way it works is this: take a blank sheet of paper and describe you problem. Let’s work through an example to make this crystal clear – it does sound complex at first, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it and find yourself applying the technique in your head while driving the kids to school, walking the dog, snail-wrangling in Peru...

Definition of problem: X is allowed to walk free from a courtroom after having murdered someone, been caught, tried before a Judge, and found guilty. [This is our idea - if you have read 'Outsourced' you may recognize where the opening chapter originated.]

Sounds like a good premise for a John Grisham-type novel, right? Only problem, you can’t figure out how to turn the idea into a novel.

Before continuing, spend five minutes thinking about the idea – note down what you can come up with, then carry on reading. Some visual food for thought on the left.


 Now let’s apply the technique:

Step one: Question your basic assumptions

Did X really murder the victim? How was X caught? What evidence was available? How was X convicted? What would make a Judge release a convicted murderer? Would the Police agree to the release? And the Prosecuting Counsel? Is X the only person being allowed to walk? Is this something the Judge has done before?

Already you will notice two things – none of the questions are ‘What if?’ and your mind is already filling in some of the answers.

Step two: Go back to the definition and read the language you used. Consider the key words themselves and come up with alternatives, if these exist.

Key words here could be walk, courtroom, free, allowed, murdered, caught, trial (tried) and judge.

We said ‘walk free from the courtroom’ – nicely dramatic, would make a good opening scene perhaps. But how ‘free’ is X? Is he (I’ll use ‘he’ just to make reading this easier) on a leash of some sort? Is he free as long as he does something else – for the police, the Prosecutor or the Judge? Or is it bigger? Does he have to do something for the country or Mankind?

Now we have much more grist for the mill. The genre we have chosen to use will also suggest options. Suppose it’s Sci-fi, then X’s penance for freedom could have something to do with defeating an invading population of aliens by becoming infected with a deadly virus strain and transporting himself to their home planet.

Maybe it’s just straight thriller material: could X’s accomplices have the Judge’s family under wraps? Are the cops in on this too? Does the Judge secretly want someone else killed and by freeing this person, someone he knows is a killer, on a technicality, he can subsequently use X against his own target.

And so on…

By using alternative words for our key words, even more options emerge:

Walk – alternatives: carried, flee, kidnapped, escape.

Step three: Look for connection in the key words

Was this the Judge who convicted X or was it someone else and this is the appeal? What could happen to nullify the evidence against X? Was the trial and subsequent conviction legitimate, or is this Judge running their own private courtroom because they are a vigilante of sorts?

Step four: Now ask WHY?

This will highlight motivation and provide a solid basis for the story to evolve.

You see just how quickly we have progressed from having a problem to having a surfeit of possible solutions?

It’s a technique that usually works…

Until it doesn’t.

Sometimes you may need something else to get you jump-started, so the following should also prove useful:

Ask the Why question 7 times.

Why was X freed?
Why did the cops allow this?
Why did the Prosecuting Counsel allow this?
Why did X leave the courtroom and not the prison?
Why did…

You may not find 7 Why’s but it will get you thinking.


Look for humor in the situation.

Don’t worry about the genre you wish to use for now; is this in any way funny? Has X eaten the evidence in the courtroom, for example? Yes, I know it’s outlandish, but it will get you thinking.


Look at the situation from different viewpoints.

When you wrote the definition, there was an implied ‘this is X’s story’ feel to it. So, how would the cops, Prosecutor, Judge, Defense Counsel, Press, courtroom security guard, public, etc. react? This could be their story.


Best-case/Worst-case scenarios

What is the best and worst that could happen to X, the Judge, the cops, the Prosecutor, the Defense Counsel, the public etc. as a result of this decision? More ideas, right?

Ask someone else.

Not the dog (cat). You may find that a friend, spouse, child, the local barman, whatever, has a fresh opinion that stimulates your thoughts into a new direction. In the case cited, I’d try to find a Police Officer and ask them – they just might have experienced something similar, you never know.


A last word:

When trying to kick-start a novel idea, you need to always assume you have a GOOD idea to start with – only after tearing into it for a few days and not getting anywhere, should you leave it annotated in your notebook for some future time. You will know when your idea is beginning to take shape when you start to see the motivation behind your characters’ actions.




The above was extracted from the chapter on Turning Ideas into Stories in 'How NOT to be an ASPIRING Writer' by yours truly. It's aimed at anyone who's new to this writing business and, using a witty, chatty style, I will walk you through the minefield that is the new publishing paradigm; from how to generate an idea to using Social Media and all the interesting stuff in between.

If you want to lose that 'aspiring' word or simply become better at writing fiction (any genre) then this is for you.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Navel-gazing for the uninitiated

Easter is upon us and, taking a break from hosting Guests, this week I present you with a popular post from the past (try saying that with a mouthful of popcorn). It's time for a Selfie...

"From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it."

- Groucho Marx, comedian and Genius (immortal)
Amazon Link


I often use the analogy of movies when talking about writing novels because they do have a number of things in common. This is yet another, although here there is a marked difference. Without a doubt this is possibly the most soul-destroying event any new writer will experience.

When making a movie, the Director will film many takes that will not end up in the final version of the film. These could be because the actors made a mistake, burst out laughing in the middle of filming, or simply because the Director just could not produce what he wanted. These days, this material is not lost on the Cutting-room floor when the Director and Film Editor put their heads together to create the final version of the movie, the one we will see in the theater. Usually these ‘outtakes’ appear as Extras on the DVD version of the movie, so at least the Director has the opportunity of placing more of their work before the viewing public.

Not so in the Writing world.

Once you have completed your First Draft, where, if you’ll recall, your sole objective is to transfer your story from your mind onto the page, the next step is polishing it. This is known as Hara Kiri Editing and there are several steps you should follow.

When you have literally, or mentally, typed ‘THE END’, a feeling of achievement, tempered with fear, will wash over you like a Tsunami. Yes, you can understand the achievement bit – it’s been a hard slog, but finally you are there – you have written a novel! 

No, sorry, you haven’t written a novel; you have written the first draft of a novel.

I said ‘fear’; why fear? Come on, search within and recognize that YOU KNOW you made compromises, especially as you neared the end; you know you CAN do better; you know there is room for improvement. Don’t be ashamed; we all do this, although many will not admit it.

As a creative writer, yes YOU, we now leave behind the pure abandon of fabricating something out of thin air and take a step to a hybrid situation where we will force ourselves to modify our creation while still trying to keep that freshness that abounded when we were pounding the keys. It’s a bit like Dr. Frankenstein deciding his monster would look better with blue eyes and less of a hooked nose…

Let’s take a look at the first part of the editing process, step by step.

The first step, as soon as you have finished you novel is:

GO DO SOMETHING ELSE!

You need a rest, a brief one, from what you have just written. I know the ‘just written’ bit refers to an extended period of time, months, maybe even years, but you have to distance yourself from your creation for a while and gain some perspective. It’s like a surgeon operating on a family member; unless you are objective, things are not going to go well!

But I’m finally a writer… I want to write, you say.

Fine, then write… something else. Try your hand at a short story, or an article, or a blog entry, or anything not related to your novel. It will still be there when you come back; don’t let impatience be your downfall after working so hard for so long.

After a couple of weeks you can pick up your story again and you may note your attitude towards it has subtly changed. It’s now easier for you to extract the scalpel and start cutting.

I know you have agonized over every word; battled the demons of randomness to memorize the Thesaurus and select the most suitable syllable to relay your ideas to your reader. But… you now have to make your book Lean and Mean!

Step two is a Selfie. No, I’m not suggesting you take a self-portrait for the back cover; I’m talking about a Self-Edit.

This is a multipart activity, as we will see.

First label the data file that is your novel ‘[title] FIRST DRAFT’ and make at least two copies of this, if you haven’t already done so, on pendrives and remove them from the vicinity of your computer. I’m a little Old-School too, so I always print out a full copy – What for? Read the article on Copyright on my website and you’ll see. Then run the whole novel through your Word Processor’s Spell Checker. Okay, you’ve been doing this as you went along; fine, but do it again now. Make sure you have the right version of English selected (UK, US, whatever) and all the checking options switched on.

Done that? Document come back clean and approved?

Now read this:
I have a lovely spelling check
That came with my PC,
Witch plainly marks, four my revue,
Miss takes I can not sea.
I’ve run this poem threw the thing.
I’m sure your please too no.
It’s latter perfect in every weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.


Many years ago, an anonymous writer produced the above and it’s as true today as it was when it was first parsed through the spell checker – it comes out clean – no errors!

These are Homonyms and they are the bane of any Spell Checker. A Homonym can be at the same time a Homograph (words that share the same spelling, regardless of their pronunciation) and a Homophone (words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of their spelling). There are a few obvious ones that will now be lurking in your novel: there and their and they’re; we’re and wear; for, four and fore to name but a few (phew?), but the list is long, believe me – Google ‘Homonyms’ and the Internet will provide you with a huge list. You could type these into the ‘Find’ field in your Word processor and check each one, but there are easier solutions, as we’ll (wheel, well?) see (sea?).

Just a minute. Didn’t you (ewe) say we should read through our work and catch stuff like that?

Yes, but…

Now read this…

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

No, this is not a joke; it’s a real study done a few years ago at Cambridge University which basically concluded that if you retain the first and last letters of any word in their correct position, and all the others are present, our brains can correctly interpret the sense in short paragraphs of text. There's an old joke by comedian Eric Morecambe about playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. It’s pattern recognition, which is how we read.

Okay, the spell-checker would catch all of those.

Then there’s this:

 Your memory will recognize the
the words and convince your
your brain it is reading what should
be on the page.


Nothing wrong with that, right? 

Look again. 

Still not spot it? Read it aloud.

So if we can’t trust the Word Processor or our own brains…

I’ve mentioned the existence of self-editing software before. This is not just a spell-checker on steroids, as so many are, offering little more than your Word spell check. It’s much more and a boon to writers of all levels. It’s easy to use and its job is twofold: 

a) enable you to do a Selfie far more diligently and effectively

b) improve how you write.


Check out Stylewriter (just click on the name to visit the site – there’s a FREE trial of the software too) as a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I thoroughly recommend it. Also the company that produces it not only have the editing software, but a really useful website to teach you, using videos, how to get the most out of it. There’s even a Writing Course. When using the software, remember to switch on all the options, especially things you may think are not necessary such as checking quoted text (dialogue) where you may deliberately break the rules.

This stage of the Selfie will take time; three or four FULL days at least for a full-length novel, as you examine everything reported (including Homonyms) and make changes as you go along. Save your document as ‘[title] FIRST DRAFT’ – yes, I know we already did that, but we are only just getting started. We won’t move on to the SECOND DRAFT until we finish the Selfie.

Don’t forget to update the security copies you made after every editing session, to!

Next, PRINT the whole thing out – single side, double-spaced with a wide (two inch, five centimeter, right-hand margin and an inch on the left) margin. Yes, I know you only want to produce an eBook… bear (bare?) with me.

Now the hard bit…

SWITCH OFF YOUR COMPUTER.

Hang on! Shouldn’t I be giving this to friends and family to read and check my novel for me?

Not yet.

Find a quiet room where maybe your furry foot-warmer can accompany you but where other family members, friends, visitors, Joe Public in general are banned!

Close the door, grab a pen or pencil, find a comfortable chair, turn to page one and…

…read your novel ALOUD.

No, I don’t mean just move your lips… act it out!

Imagine you were reading it to an audience.

Read exactly what’s written, obeying all the punctuation marks (pausing for commas, semi and full colons, full stops/periods, ellipsis, etc; exclamation and interrogation marks should be treated accordingly too).

Dialogue should be read and infused with emotion – imagine your work is now a movie and you are hearing actors representing it on the screen.

Yes, you will find yourself saying “silly me; I’ve made a mistake there” (or shorter words conveying the same sentiment) and pausing to make use of the acreage in the margin – good, you’re getting the idea – don’t stop to rush to your computer to make the changes yet though. Work through the complete novel – it will take days, but it will give you a great sense of the rhythm and flow whilst drawing your attention to things you have forgotten to include (!) or stuff that needs cutting (!!) because it doesn’t add anything to the narrative. You may even change the order of events (!!!), even whole chapters (!!!!). You may decide to eliminate complete characters (!!!!!!).

I told you it was hard work, but comfort yourself with the knowledge that your novel will be all the better for this.

My very first draft of ‘2012’ (note use of lower case – I refer to the copy that was the input to the process described above) was 118,000 words in length; the published version was 88,000 words. Yes I did just say I chopped 30,000 words from that novel!

A trick I have for this stage of the Selfie is to use the right margin for making corrections (I always choose a contrasting ink color that’s easy to spot against the black ink on the page), underline the text where the correction needs to be applied, and then put a large X in the left-hand margin at the start of the line. I also fold down the top left-hand corner of any pages that have any corrections to make them easy to locate. You will probably find that most pages will end up like this; at this stage in ‘the CULL – Bloodstone’ only four pages out of the complete novel did not have bent corners, and one of those said ‘THE END’!

Finally, if you haven’t been carted off to a mental institution at the behest of worried family members after hearing you talk to yourself for days on end in a locked room, you are ready for the next bit of the Selfie.

BACK TO THE BATCAVE!

Apply all the changes. When you finish each chapter, save it (backup copies as well) and go back and read it aloud again, this time not only checking you haven’t missed anything, but evaluating the PACE of what you’ve written. Try to be as objective as possible, and ensure you are judging ONLY the Pace. Try to isolate your assessment so it doesn’t take into account preceding or following chapters (you have an unfair advantage over your readers in that you know what’s coming, remember). If you want some tips about playing with Pace, see this recent post: Attacking the Speed Trap

When you have finished, run the whole beastie through the self-editing software again. Then, and only then, you can change the resultant document’s name to ‘[title] SECOND DRAFT’.

If you are doing this right, you are getting pretty bored with your book by now. That’s a GOOD sign. Soldier on; we’re getting there.

Now, if you wish, you can post your work on review sites or have friends, Romans and countrymen Beta read the creation.

Finished, right? Just need to see what the amigos think of your masterpiece. Only a question of waiting now…

Sorry. Now’s the time to get the Professionals involved...


The above was extracted from the chapter on Editing in 'How NOT to be an ASPIRING Writer' by yours truly. It's aimed at anyone who's new to this writing business and, using a witty, chatty style, I will walk you through the minefield that is the new publishing paradigm; from how to turn an idea into a story to using Social Media and all the interesting stuff in between.

If you want to lose that 'aspiring' word or simply become better at writing fiction (any genre) then this is for you.



NEWSFLASH

To celebrate the appearance of book 4 (the CULL - Blood Demon) in the series, Book 1 will now be available for .99 (cents/pence) from April 1st onward.

Your Amazon Link


A selection from the many reviews:

"I was captivated throughout the novel by all of the suspense and mystery hidden behind the words. This book is James Patterson meets Dan Brown, while remaining entirely unique."

"Eric Gates is an intense writer with an intense background, experience and imagination that he has masterfully transferred into 'the CULL' series, an amazing story about two strong women, FBI agents, in pursuit of a serial killer. Amy is young, inexperienced and brash and Katie is her older, wiser partner and mentor. An interesting take on vampire legend, the tale is multifaceted - truly a story of good vs. evil and right vs wrong - and a commentary on religion, trust and the ideal of live and let live. The "good folks" are not necessarily good nor or the bad always bad. The plot is so well constructed that you are never quite sure what will happen and while you think you may know what will happen, in fact you don't. The twists and turns in the plot are unexpected and dramatic and the dimension of the characters is extraordinary."

Be Warned - Read with the lights on; Highly addictive; Food and drink WILL go cold!

Eric @ www.ericjgates.com