Internal Inconsistency, Layering and Situational Irony

Blogging The Editing Day #5

In the end, Chapter Four needed more de-clunking than anticipated. Being an early chapter, I also had to make sure the fantastical elements had been set up well enough for the current happenings to make sense.

The next step had me wondering if my changes had created internal inconsistencies. I had the big picture sorted, but what about the little ones? For example, did rearranging the order of those paragraphs lead to a character stubbing out her cigar before she lit it? Did my hero’s strange behaviour still make sense, or had I unwittingly deleted her motivations?

All seemed fine, until it occurred to me that while I’d been focussing on plot, character and world-building, I’d neglected a perfect opportunity to ramp up the scene’s emotion with a touch of situational irony. Not only would it look cool, but it would also help the reader feel my hero’s outrage and disappointment.

Fortunately, it didn’t take much to fit it in. It was as if my subconscious had set it up from the start, but the part of me that’s supposed to be awake took a few months longer to figure it out.

This is something that happens a lot when I’m editing. There are so many things that need to be fixed: character, plot, sub-plots, dialogue, setting, world-building. Unless you’ve been writing for many years, it’s not going to happen in one go. An important touch such as irony can sneak up on you like an afterthought.

In contrast, when reading a well-written book, it feels as if those elements were sorted from the start. Now I wonder how many had been added over time, in much the same way as layers are added to a painting.

Choices, Action, Emotions and The Hero’s Journey

Blogging the Editing: Day #4

5th January 2018

I’m still tweaking the second half of Chapter Four which was overwritten in parts and underwritten in others. I needed a ruthless eye to catch it all, but warning signs appeared in the form of a character thinking about what to do next, choosing from a couple of alternatives, and then going ahead with the best option. This strategy assumes the reader won’t be wanting to take part in the novel, and is another form of telling instead of showing.

Having said that, it’s good that characters have choices open to them because that helps to prevent predictability. However, this is Chapter Four, not Chapter One. By now, my readers know my characters’ motivations, and have a reasonably good understanding of the novel’s world-building. In other words, if they’re paying attention, they can already see there are choices available. If they can’t, then perhaps they’re happy enough go with the flow. Or perhaps those opening chapters are still in need of a bit more editing.

Conclusion: If the writer spells out choices step-by-step before anything happens, where is the mystery?

Of course, there are always exceptions and every scene has different needs. This is what makes writing hard: that fine balance between too much and too little. Heavy brush strokes or light?

Then on to the next problem:

My previous draft had deftly managed to ruin an entire action scene by allowing unnecessary waffle and info dump to intrude. With that gone, the action came alive in the form of a life-threatening encounter that led to my hero being used as a scapegoat. My aim was for my reader to feel my character’s anger alongside her. Without using the words ‘angry’ or ‘anger’. Powerful writing demands that those kinds of emotions are for showing, not telling

Having identified all that, nothing major needed to be done to sort out the rest. I just needed to put myself in my character’s head, see the world as she saw it, and write it all down. Now, I’m confident that my protagonist’s narrative thread is well set up for a whole lot more conflict before her life can improve. Although I didn’t set out to follow The Hero’s Journey step-by-step — nor did I consciously use it — I’m starting to recognise bits of it in my plot. Having watched so many movies and read so much genre fiction, I’m sure I’ve internalised enough of the outline of The Hero’s Journey to be able to draw on it without thinking.

Waffling, De-Clunking and Passive Voice

Blogging the Editing: Day #3

4th January 2018

I only managed to edit half of Chapter Four today because 1) it’s a long one, and 2) I needed to eliminate a good deal of CLUNKINESS.

Chapter Four turned out to be structurally sound with good bones. It works for the way it builds on conflicts that have been set up in Chapters 1-3.  But, oh dear, what lost opportunities for CHARACTERISATION! What was I even thinking when I submitted it to publishers and agents three years ago?

Anyhow, half of Chapter Four has now been tightened, brightened and whipped into shape. Fortunately the dialogue was lively enough to not need more than the odd tweak.

Summary of Problems I sorted out:

  • Too much TELLING in places where SHOWING would elicit emotion.
  • SHOWING where TELLING would work better, because who wants to know the minutiae of every routine action?
  • Too much preamble at the beginning of scenes, also known as WAFFLING.
  • Not knowing when a scene has ended, and weighing it down with unnecessary epilogue — another example of WAFFLING.
  • An excess of repetition, unnecessary words, wrong words, awkward phrasing.
  • PASSIVE VOICE in places where ACTIVE VOICE works better, which is actually most places. Occasionally I use passive voice when I need to vary sentence structure or emphasise an interesting concept, but I make sure it’s pulling its weight before I let it stay.

Gender Pronouns and Overwriting

Blogging the Editing: Day #2

3rd January, 2018

I’ve been dreading revisiting Chapter Three because it was told from a non-human character’s perspective and was about a sudden and unwanted change. I had so much trouble with it when I tinkered with it two years ago, I was convinced I would now have to rewrite the whole damn thing. But it turned out to have good bones [phew], but was horrendously OVERWRITTEN.

Its other problem was due to the character being genderless. It therefore needed to be written without using gender pronouns. I also wanted to avoid using ‘it’,  a word that comes with a long history of objectification. If the character were human, it wouldn’t be so hard, because the SF megatext already has a good selection of genderless pronouns. But for me, even established conventions wouldn’t work because my character was not only genderless, but also completely alien (at least in the opening paragraphs of the chapter). However, as it turned out, my problems weren’t caused by the need for non-human pronouns, but were mostly because I was writing my character the wrong way.

With this in mind, I tightened up the prose by killing 500 words without changing any of the text’s meaning. Yep, definitely overwritten! Then I realised that the chapter was suffering from repetitions of certain words, a common writer’s tic that is usually eliminated before the final proofread. With those sorted, I had a much cleaner palette, and was then able to restructure sentences, choose better words and pay closer attention to one of the novel’s most important elements: characterisation. This not only eliminated the repetitions but also greatly reduced the need for pronouns.

Having said that, I ended up relying on the word ‘it’ a couple of times in the early stages, but as the chapter progresses and the reader begins to understand the true nature of the my non-human character, the need for ‘it’ disappears.

 

Blogging the Editing: Day #1

It’s been too long since I last blogged, but to be honest, I didn’t have all that much to blog about, apart from living between Australia and Singapore for three years, and now dividing my time between two major Australian cities. Not to say I haven’t been busy on the reading/writing front. I’ve read a book a week over the past couple of years, spent last year judging the Science Fiction Novel category for the Australian Aurealis awards, written a couple of short stories, and written the first draft of new SF novel during last year’s NaNoWriMo. All contributed toward my growth as a writer, but mostly I took a break and took notes as new ideas brewed.

Now I’m at the stage where I want to get things moving proper. My aim this year, is to redraft last year’s NaNoWriMo novel into a workable second draft, while also sorting out yet another major edit on my Steampunk Novel. This latter project has been a bit of an eye opener for me because I haven’t looked at it for two years and now have distance enough to see it for what it is. Warts and All. Unfortunately it has a lot of warts, and my task now is to eliminate them.

In doing so, I’m going to blog my day-to-day experiences of this — a kind of diary to remind me of my writing strengths and weaknesses and how I go about fixing and/or recognising them. If they help me with my next novel, bonus. If they don’t, at least I’ll know which mistakes I’m prone to making, and do my best to not repeat them.

Here’s Day #1 of Draft #Umpteen of my Steampunk Novel:

Getting Those First Chapters to Pull Their Weight

Late last year, I decided I was going to give my steampunk/fantasy/sf novel another good edit because I’m determined to get it as good as it can get, and up to a publishable standard. After not looking at it for two years, wow oh wow, did I find some clunky bits to get rid of! Worse still, I realised that when I did my last rewrite back in 2015, I stupidly cut out an entire scene that had worked really well to get my novel off to a powerful start. So now I’ve returned that scene to its well-earned place. With a little bit more tweaking throughout, I reckon Chapter One is all the better for it.

Then on to Chapter Two only to discover I’d missed a perfect opportunity to weave some important world building and characterisation in with the drama. Not blatantly, mind you. But kind of slant so it doesn’t hit the reader in the face as info dump. Well that’s my intention and at this point I’m confident it works, but I’ll need it to sit for a few weeks before I reread it.

Tomorrow it’s on to chapter 3, a difficult and pivotal chapter that I rewrote several times back in the day.

Judge’s Report for the KSP Speculative Fiction Award

Back in November, I had the pleasure of judging the annual Katharine Susannah Prichard Speculative Fiction Award. The results along with my judge’s report can be found at the KSP website, along with the results of the Short Fiction Award and The Karen W Treanor Poetry Awards.

It was great see the wide range of speculative fiction ideas presented by both new and accomplished writers. The winning stories of the Open Section were of a high standard and would require minimal polishing for publication. The Young Writer’s Section had a range of stories with varying strengths in different areas; but all tackled thought-provoking ideas. To judge these fairly, I needed to consider each entrant’s age, which ranged from eleven to twenty years. Overall, my decisions were based on stories that not only held my attention from beginning to end, but also resonated with aspects of the real word while seamlessly incorporating fantastical elements. I looked for stories that illuminated something interesting about the human condition, told from the points of view of well-rounded characters whose personalities were not based on stereotypes. More…

Congratulations to the winners and commendeds. Congratulations also to my writing buddy, Joanne Mills for her poem, Flying is Easy, which won third place in The Karen W Treanor Poetry Awards.

Review: The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke

Orbit, 2013
ISBN 978-0-356-50272-4

Glenda Larke’s years spent as an Australian living in Malaysia are often reflected in her fantasy fiction through the use of non-stereotypical settings and postcolonial themes. Her world-building is complex, distinctive and believable, while her characters’ strengths and (intentional) flaws are both admirable and pleasingly infuriating. The Lascar’s Dagger, Book One of The Forsaken Lands Trilogy continues that tradition and is easily one of Larke’s best.

Saker is a priest, scholar and spy. Handsome and quick thinking, he is courageous and driven by a strong sense of morality which, in matters of the heart, lead him along paths that a hard-hearted or perhaps wiser man would leave untrodden. His story begins with a routine spying mission which is almost ruined when he is attacked by a barefooted sailor – a Lascar from the mostly unexplored islands on the opposite side of the world. When the Lascar disappears into a nearby canal, Saker unwittingly gains possession of his dagger.

Looking over his shoulder, Saker saw the unharmed sailor one last time through the opening of the shutter. He was outside the warehouse, hanging on to a beam of the overhang. He made some sort of hand gesture just before he swung up on to the top of the roof, as agile as a squirrel.

Saker thought it was a wave of farewell, but then he saw the flash of a dagger blade flying through the air.

Not at any of the men below, but at him.

Impossibly, it spiralled through the air, its point always facing his way. It whirred noisily as it came, and the merchants below swivelled to follow its passage. Saker hurtled himself upwards on to the roof.

Something tugged at his trousers and scraped his leg. Grabbing up the rope and the coat he’d left there, he set off at a run up to the ridge of the warehouse roof.

He heard doors crash open below, followed by shouts in the streets. He didn’t stop. He was already on the roof of the neighbouring warehouse when he heard the second pistol shot, followed almost immediately by the bang of an arquebus.

He didn’t look back, but he did look down.

The wavy dagger was firmly stuck through his trousers below the knee, and his leg was stinging.

Larke_LascarsDagger_TP-300x450Saker soon learns that the dagger has a will of its own and if he does not discover its purpose, his knack for attracting trouble may well destroy him.

What follows is an entertaining and thoughtful tale of danger and discovery as Saker is sent to the royal court of Ardrone ostensibly as a spiritual advisor, but in reality as a spy. Immediately he finds himself embroiled in plots and counterplots as Lady Mathilda, a princess who longs to be king, proves herself to be both intelligent and conniving.

At the same time, Saker is blinded to the true nature of Mathilda’s dowdy yet outspoken handmaid, Sorrel Redwing. A woman with a tragic past and hidden magic, Sorrel outwardly disdains him. When the two interact, sparks fly. Saker cannot tell if she is his friend or enemy.

As always with Larke’s fiction, the setting is not simply a backdrop, but as much a player as the characters themselves. The Kingdom of Ardrone and the Regality of Lowmeer are both patriarchal societies separated not only by borders but also by their differing interpretations of religion, their divergent cultures and their leaders’ lust for power. In both regions, religion is linked to magic, while magic is an integral aspect of religion. Both are easily corrupted to support the needs of those who rule.

As a result, the novel’s conflicts and outcomes are logical developments inside the rich social tapestry woven around them. At the same time they are full of surprises that add up to a book that is difficult to put down.

Although I’d like to discuss the Lascar’s place and the post-colonial themes in this novel, I cannot do so without giving too much away. Therefore I will deal with them in my review of Book Two: The Dagger’s Path, which is due out in January 2015.

Story to be Reprinted in Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013

years-best-fantasy-and-horror-v4-web

My story, “The Silence of Clockwork”, edited by Elizabeth Fitzgerald and originally published in the 2013 Conflux Convention Programme, has been picked up by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene for The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror Volume 4: 2013 which will be released in late November.

This is the first time I’ve had a story in one of these and I’m especially chuffed as this story is written in the same world as my steampunk fantasy novel, Heart Fire, and is told from the point of view of one of the major characters, a centuries-old shapeshifter known as Ruk. One of the problems I had when writing this story was to not give in to overloading it with backstory, while at the same time telling enough of Ruk’s past to make his actions feel logical.

It’s certainly an honour to be part of this impressive table of contents:

Lee Battersby, “Disciple of the Torrent”, Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land
• Deborah Biancotti, “All the Lost Ones”, Exotic Gothic 5 Vol I
• Trudi Canavan, “Camp Follower”, Fearsome Journeys
• Robert G. Cook, “Glasskin”, Review of Australian Fiction Vol 5 #6
• Rowena Cory Daniells, “The Ways of the Wyrding Women”, One Small Step
• Terry Dowling, “The Sleepover”, Exotic Gothic 5 Vol II
• Thoraiya Dyer, “After Hours”, Asymmetry
• Marion Halligan, “A Castle in Toorak”, Griffith Review #42
• Dmetri Kakmi, “The Boy by the Gate”, The New Gothic
• David Kernot, “Harry’s Dead Poodle”, Cover of Darkness Magazine
• Margo Lanagan, “Black Swan Event”, Griffith Review #42
• S.G. Larner, “Poppies”, Aurealis #65
• Martin Livings, “La Mort d’un Roturer”, This is How You Die
• Kirstyn McDermott, “Caution: Contains Small Parts”, Caution: Contains Small Parts
• Claire McKenna, “The Ninety Two”, Next
• C.S. McMullen, “The Nest”, Nightmare Magazine
• Juliet Marillier, “By Bone-Light “, Prickle Moon
• David Thomas Moore, “Old Souls”, The Book of the Dead
• Faith Mudge, “The Oblivion Box”, Dreaming of Djinn
• Ryan O’Neill, “Sticks and Stones”, The Great Unknown
• Angela Rega, “Almost Beautiful”, Next
• Tansy Rayner Roberts, “The Raven and Her Victory”, Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe
• Nicky Rowlands, “On the Wall”, Next
Carol Ryles, “The Silence of Clockwork”, Conflux 9 Convention Programme
• Angela Slatter, “Flight”, Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales
• Anna Tambour, “Bowfin Island”, Caledonia Dreamin’
• Kaaron Warren, “Born and Bread”, Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales
• Janeen Webb, “Hell is Where the Heart is”, Next

Kisses by Clockwork Cover Revealed

Kisses by clockwork

Ticonderoga Publications have released the fabulous cover for their forthcoming anthology, Kisses by Clockwork, which includes my dark, fantasy romance, “Siri and the Chaosmaker”.

I wrote the first draft for this story in Clarion West 2008 Week 2. I have given it several revisions since, with the final edit while on holiday in France as I was taking the TVG High-speed train from Paris to Avignon. Lovely scenery, nice place to write.

Kisses by Clockwork will be launched in a few weeks at Continuum in Melbourne. Stay tuned for details.

Sale to “Kisses by Clockwork”

My steampunk/fantasy/dark romance, “Siri and The Chaos-Maker, has been accepted in Ticonderoga’s upcoming anthology, Kisses by Clockwork. I wrote the first draft for this story during Clarion West 2008 and have been tinkering with it off and on ever since. It’s set in the same world as my novel, Heart Fire, but in a different country and era.

Contributing to Kisses by Clockwork’s 105,000 words are:

  • Marilag Angway, “Smuggler’s Deal”
  • Cherith Baldry, “The Venetian Cat”
  • Gio Clairval, “The Writing Cembalo”
  • M L D Curelas, “Ironclad”
  • Ray Dean, “Practically Perfect”
  • Stephanie Gunn, “Escapement”
  • Richard Harland, “The Kiss of Reba Maul”
  • Rebecca Harwell, “Love in the Time of Clockwork Horses”
  • Faith Mudge, “Descension”
  • Nicole Murphy, “The Wild Colonial Clockwork Boy”
  • Katrina Nicholson, “Lady Presto Magnifico and the Disappearing Glass Ceiling”
  • Anthony Panegyres, “The Tic-Toc Boy of Constantinople”
  • Amanda Pillar, “A Clockwork Heart”
  • Angela Rega, “The Law of Love”
  • Carol Ryles, “Siri and the Chaos-Maker”
  • DC White, “South, to Glory”

Clockwork Kisses is scheduled to be published in April.

Many thanks to my Clarion buddies and to my novel crit group, Egoboo WA (Satima Flavell, Helen Venn, Joanna Fay, Sarah Parker, Keira McKenzie and Laura E Goodin) for critting this for me.