Tag Archives: editing

How get your story back on track… #amwriting #NaNoWriMo


Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about reconnecting to the main message of your story via your plot and thesis…

Ok, so, today, for me, it’s all about two words: thesis and plot. I say these two things because, right now I am facing a very important edit of the second book in my thriller trilogy, working with my, frankly, awesome editor, and something has cropped up, something that is crucial not only to my writing, but all story writing. Yep, it’s the two words I mentioned above. And if you are either editing your work right now, are in the middle of a first draft or simply planning, listen up.

A thesis in a story is what the author is saying about the book summarised in one sentence. For example: crime doesn’t pay, love conquers all etc. My thesis for book two is: The truth will out.  Now, here’s the rub: the thesis is the most vital part of a book and is what holds the attention of an editor and reader throughout the book and beyond. Try this: think of your fave novel – what made it stick in your head for so long? What was it saying to you? That is the thesis talking.

Often, as writers, we focus on the plot and while that’s crucial, it is often done at the detriment of the thesis. I have found, as we all often do, that, in the sea of writing, I forget, sometimes, my thesis, forget to communicate what my book is trying to say. And when that happens, it all goes wobbly.

So what to do? Well, that’s the easy part, because you see, the function of the plot is to communicate the thesis of your book. And that’s it. Do that, and your story will have coherence. Don’t do that, don’t communicate the thesis via the plot and your story will simply be a string of events with minimum significance outside the drama of the narrative you’ve created. This means that when you create a plot development, bear in mind your thesis and only include it if it is underpinning your thesis. If not, it is a piece of bark floating in a sea, unconnected to anything else – and it has to go.

So, today, that’s my advice to you – and to myself. Always check in with your thesis. Ask yourself, ‘What is my book trying to say? Is my plot communicating that thesis to the reader?’ Sometimes you may find you’re on the right track, others, like now with me, you may discover you need to steer the ship back on course. And it doesn’t half feel good when you get on the right route again.

So that’s me, today, steering my writing ship, trying to communicate, through my plot, what on earth my novel is trying to say underneath, between those black and white lines. Simple, right..?

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

Diary of a hopeful author: funny alert: “Really” with Amy & Seth

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…

Photo of a Diary

I am in the middle of a huge (and, please God, final) edit. And I have been writing while simultaneously laughing my head off and spitting my food out all over my laptop to sketches from Saturday Night Live – the mecca of seriously funny writing.

The one posted below is a “Really” sketch with Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. What’s that now? You haven’t seen it? Really?

Enjoy. Happy writing…

Out tomorrow “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest Gazette newspaper column to my blog…**

Diary of a hopeful author: What makes a good psychological thriller?

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

This week I am knee deep in plotting.  Following an edit meeting last week, my task now is to re-analyse my thriller novel and pick it apart, spot any plot holes, tie them back up.

I tell you what, this is a huge shocker. Seriously, I have had my plot pulled apart and picked so much that I feel like I’ve been spun round with a blindfold on then told to walk.

But no fear! Because – and I do mean this – it is all good. Yes, being asked questions about your plot is a right old tester, but without it, without questioning every single element of your story, you cannot get it to the very best it can be. And then it is bye-bye publishing deal.

All this editing has also meant re-visiting the main thesis and threads of my book. This is vital because the function of the plot is to communicate the thesis (theme). The thesis is like glue – without it, nothing sticks. So I have been today reminding myself what it’s trying to say in my novel and what I wanted it to be way back in the very first place. And all this has to be thought through in the context of the genre of the book. And breathe.

So, with all this in mind, I have for you this week a question. And it is this: What makes a good psychological thriller?

Below is a link from Wikipedia on this genre – see if it stacks up. What have you read that’s good and not so good? And what made it that way? Class – discuss. It will mess with your head.

Read the Wikipedia link here

**Coming soon: Interview with PFD’s Adam Gauntlett on submitting to agents**

Out tomorrow “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest Gazette newspaper column to my blog. This week I’m talking about  the Severn Barrage in Gloucestershire…**

Diary of a hopeful author: High five! I have a literary agent.

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

I bring you good news. I have myself a literary agent. Tis the really lovely Mr Adam Gauntlett of literary agency Peters, Fraser and Dunlop (PFD), and I am chuffed to bits. With everything now confirmed, the work has begun immediately. I have an editor meeting next week and already things are afoot to prepare to get the MS ready for Frankfurt Book Fair – a big get together where agents and publishers do their business thang.

It’s all still a touch surreal, but oh my days, I am LOVING having the opportunity of a very experienced team of people helping me get this novel to the very best level it can be to secure a publishing deal. I know! I know!

So, due to the amount of work I’ve now got to do over the next month (and I still have a column to write today. Heck) I am keeping this post short. But, just wanted to keep you updated. Adam has kindly agreed to do a Q&A for the blog, so once I get myself organised, I’ll get that sorted. If there’s anything specific you would like me to ask Adam – say getting an agent etc – do let me know.

Right, off to roll a shoulder then continue writing.  Have a cracking week.

You can follow Adam on Twitter @Albioneye

You can take a ganders at PFD’s website here

Out tomorrow “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest Gazette newspaper column to my blog. …**

Diary of a hopeful author: How to be a better proof reader. Sort of.

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

I bring good news. Well, it’s good news for me; you, however, may not share in my celebration, unshackled,as you are, by the endless workings of this blooming novel, but still – I shall share with you. Yes, the news is that I’ve (finally) finished the 3rd edit round of my book – and I am mighty pleased. Edit three was an additional, character development edit layer, where I worked on the main character, her traits and general characterisation throughout the book. And while I’d like to think – after reviewing 90,000 words and cutting to 70,000 – it was over, I’m having to slot in another final edit, a vital one: edit number 4 – the proof check. Be afraid.

So, while I work on that to a deadline, I bring you to a post I wrote back in January on my traditionally, and quite frankly, rubbish proof reading skills – and how to get better at it. (Top tip: when proof checking grammar etc, I read it in the voice of a robot. I do. I sound daft as a brush, but it works. God, this life.) Enjoy!

“How to be better at proof reading. Sort of…” (January, 2013)

It’s been all about the edit this week. But not as we know it. Last week I (finally) finished my second novel, and while I’m chuffed to bits, I am relieved not to look at it for a while because the amount of things to do while I wrote it have been piling up around my head – the biggest of which is my first novel. ‘Honey,’ my hubbie says as he reads through my weekly column before I send it to my editor, ‘I corrected a few mistakes there for you.’ I nod my weary head and take the laptop from him.

You see, as well as not being able to cook for toffee (I burn soup), I am utterly rubbish at proofreading.  I’ve mentioned this slight downfall of mine in this blog before and how it is a bit of a pain, considering my profession. It’s a bit like a doctor saying diagnosing isn’t their strong point, a government saying it’s not really the best at closing tax-haven loopholes (little bit topical there, see…) or a dog not quite being able to aim at the lamppost correctly – it’s supposed to be what they do.

It’s because of my little weakness that I find myself in the frantic position of having to re-edit my first book, The Boy Who Played Guitar. The fantastic thing about publishing on to Amazon has been that it has put me out there and given me amazing feedback on what I can do. I’ve been lucky; everyone has been positive. The reviews have been good and readers have loved the heart-warming, sad tale, the twists, the turns, the characters. The only downside is the odd mistake littered here and there because of, quite frankly, my crap proof reading skills – and readers deserve a well-proof read book with as little mistakes in it as possible. I did proof read the book before I self-published it – and it got amazing feedback from literary agents – but the thing is I did it all my myself, pulling an all-nighter to do so, so that, by the time I reached the end of the novel, I was bleary-eyed, grumpy and unable to check a my kids’ homework for errors, never mind a piece of writing. In fact, have you spotted any mistakes in this piece? No? Go on, have a look…See, told yoo…

One of the most crucial things I have learnt since first publishing my book is this: get someone to help. Anyone will do. Your neighbour (I did), your mates, parents, spouse (it only causes a few arguments, so…) Just be ready for some clear, honest critiquing and always pick someone who is going to tell it to you straight. Best not pick a politician then. I have been proof reading The Boy Who Played Guitar now since Saturday and it’s – touch wood – going okay. I did stay up until 2 a.m. on Saturday night, but got so tired I had to have two cat naps to keep going. When it got to my eyes dosing off for the third time I decided to call it a day, well, night – I’d make more mistakes proofreading half asleep, and believe me, I can make mistakes at the best of times (just ask my kids…).

Our youngest is off ill today, so I’ll spend the day catching up with paperwork and emails while I keep an eye on her (sore throat – poor poppet) That means I should be able to finish proofreading tonight and all day tomorrow. After that, I’ll be ready to re-upload it to Amazon and then? Contact as many blogs I know who take submissions of books for review. A scary thought, but highly essential. Once that’s done, it’s back to more editing, but this time of my second novel. Dear God, no wonder I’m cream crackered. ‘Mum,’ says our youngest, ‘I’m cream crackered, too.’ Her voice makes me jump – she is behind me, reading as I type. ‘Honey, you snuck up on me.’ She smiles. ‘Sorry.’ Then, as she gets back into bed, she says, ‘Mum, you spelt ‘you’ wrong in paragraph three.’ I look. She is right. She’s 8-years old. Told you I was rubbish at proof reading.

 Have any proof reading top-tips to share? Do let me know – I need all the help I can get…

Out on Thursday “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest newspaper column to my blog…*

Diary of a hopeful author: Why silence is golden – even in the words of a book

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

In my cap dothing to the fact that I’ve been writing this blog now for a year (a year!) – in fact, a touch longer – I’m going through my favourite blog posts and sharing them with you. Last week was deadlines; this week it’s a post from February 2013 on silence and how, in the pages of a book, it really is golden.  

This week I am channelling silence. Well, I say silence, what I mean is editing.

You may recall I have been editing my novel for some time now, and I am here to tell you that edit is still continuing. I know, I know, it seems to be going on longer than a speech at the Oscars, but hear me out. See, this edit is going well. It’s edit round two of a novel that’s: a) turned out to be a psychological thriller; b) is bloody good fun to write; and c) has taught me more than anything else I’ve written. It’s point C here that’s the clincher. And the reason is this: it’s taught me less is more.

Less is more. A little phrase we all know, but turns out is quite handy in the book editing department. Who knew? See, I have ended up cutting loads these past few weeks, loads. I have gone down from 90,000 words – let me say that again 90 thousand words – to 75,000. 75. Maths ain’t my strong point, but I calculate that’s 15,000 words of my sweat (and, admittedly, at times, tears) on the cutting room floor – or this case, the study-floor-that-used-to-be-the-spare-bedroom.

And I feel better. I do. It’s not just the book that’s lighter, it is me. I feel better, more hopeful. Because the writing, writing my novel, the thing I have been working on for getting up to a year now, is tighter, sharper, more focussed. I have learnt a lot in the process, I have. And the biggest thing I have learned is the fact that, when writing, you have to think of the reader. The reader. The person who will kindly purchase your book and sit there and read it.

I may be teaching you to suck eggs here, but, see, the reader is not daft. They have thoughts of their own, feelings, emotions. They think for themselves. And that’s it, that’s the golden nugget that thinking for themselves bit. Because, when I wrote the first draft of my novel, fresh on to the page, I wrote it all down, and I mean all. Every description, every emotion. I thought I had to explain everything to the reader, spoon feed them, if you will, as to what was going on. And then I edited. I edited and edited and I realised: spoon feeding grown-ups, like onesies on adults or a sultana in a salad, is just wrong.

So I stopped. I let the words sit on their own on the page, ready to be eaten, or not.  And this is how I did it: I quit explaining everything. I ceased telling the reader all the stuff that was in the protagonist’s head or every tiny detail that was in a scene. Because, when you are a reader, just like you don’t need your mum to feed you, you don’t need to know all the details.

In fact, as a reader, a book is better if you don’t know all the details. See, the fun, the reading a book, the thing that makes you want to turn the page over and over, is that you are using your own head, transferring your own emotions, ideas, imagination on to the characters, on to the plot. My novel’s a psychological thriller so leaving details to the reader’s imagination works particularly well, but think of the good novels you’ve read. Think of what made them work for you, what made you want to read on, and you’ll be looking at a book where the author has edited to death and left the between-the-lines thinking to you, you clever thing.

So that’s it, really. My slogan to you this week is this: when in doubt, cut it out. Cut it. Like teaming no jewellery with a black dress, less is definitely more. I shall be continuing doing this cutting malarkey, this silent writing, if you will, this week and the next and the next. It’s a slog. I ain’t finished yet. I will have to write completely new chapters and take old ones out, but boy it’s better. Enormously. And that’s why silence, people, is golden – even in the words of a book.

How do you edit? Do you hang on to the words? Are you in the middle of cutting out what you don’t need or do you think you need to keep hold of it?

**Out tomorrow “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest Gazette newspaper column to my blog….**

Diary of a hopeful author: How a deadline can make stuff happen

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

This week is mad busy editing and writing articles. ‘Tis bonkers. But my Diary blog bit is my favourite, so what I’ve done this week is go through my previous posts and pick my fave – and re-blog it to you. This one is about deadlines, and why, if we go for it, they can make stuff happen. Okay, so, I’m off to edit now. See you next to a coffee machine somewhere.

When I was young I loved studying. Loved it. I was one of those spectacled, nerdy kids who lapped up the books and got down to some serious studying every evening and thought it fun. FUN.

That’s right. You heard correctly. Then exams came round. Exams. I’m afraid to say they never really fazed me. Christ, I sound like a right arrogant muppet, so let me explain. Exams got me nervous, of course. Exams made me question whether I knew anything. (30 years on, nothing’s changed there…) But, BUT, exams came with a deadline. A deadline! They gave you a date! You had to be there. On time! Oh it sang to my young time-concious heart like Romeo to Juliette, or Homer to Marg.

Because, you see, I love a deadline. What can you do with a deadline? You either meet it or you don’t. You sink or you swim. And that’s why I like ‘em. Deadlines are the take no prisoner guardians of time. They stand by the gates of hours and minutes, tapping their watch, shotgun in hand. You’ve got a deadline? You meet it, punk! (that sounded better in my head)

And so, to my week. I have set myself a deadline. I refer here to the editing of my book, novel number two which, it seems I have been working on forever.

Now look, I don’t know about you but I can be a cracking procrastinator. Olympic medal winning. Skirting boards need cleaning? Pass me the cloth. Cupboards need re-organising? When do I start? Kids’ rooms need cleaning? Get me…Actually, no. It’s not come to that.  You get my meaning. Add this top draw procrastination into a book edit and well, you’ve got nothing, really. No progress or, at the very least, slow progress. And so I have now turned to my old friend the deadline. If I am going to complete the 1st (only the first!) edit of this novel, then I need to get down and dirty with time.

The deadline I have set is Christmas. Christmas. I say it again so you can remember it. You can remember it so you can hold me to it. Oh crap. Saying it on this blog, you see, means I have to do it. Think of yourself as my boss, if you will, telling me to get the bloody work done by Christmas or goddammit I’m outta here! (Again, better in my head).  Meeting the deadline means averaging two edit chapters a week at minimum, sometimes more. It sounds lame, two, but trust me, it’s a lot. I have 100k words to edit. 100k words with a lot of Lovefilm app distraction on my iPad.

If you’ve got a deadline, then buddy, I salute you. If not, then go get one. Let’s do this deadline thing together, people, because, when our backs are up against the wall, it’s the only way to get things done. Nerdy glasses optional.

Turns out, I beat the Christmas deadline. I’m on edit round three now and it’s going good. I do, though, need to set a new deadline to get this book finished and sent off – fast. But, in the meantime, how do you hit a deadline? Ooo, and , while I think of it, do you have a favourite post from my Diary of  a Hopeful Author (if I dare ask)? 

**Out tomorrow “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest Gazette newspaper column to my blog. This week I comment on the UK government’s introduction of ‘the bedroom tax’…**

Diary of a hopeful author: How acting can improve your character writing

After a break and then being a tad unwell (we’re talking buckets by bedsides…) my Wednesday Wafflings post is now here again. Nice to be back. Minus the nausea. Here’s my latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

 I used to love acting. 14-years old and staying back after school, a bunch of us from the drama group would sneak round the warrens of corridors, delighting as we would in the fact that we had the whole school to ourselves. It felt exciting, scary and odd all at the same time. But more than that, we would act. On the stage. In rehearsals. Even, in class, but don’t, you know, tell my old teachers.

(Many) years later, that’s the thing that now, I am pondering. Acting. Not acting on stage, you understand, although to be fair, I don’t think I could clamber up to a podium quite as fast as I used to. No, I mean acting in writing.

See I am in the 3rd edit stage of my novel. The plot is smooth, the chapters are running nicely into each other. But I was reading it the other day and something wasn’t right. And then it clicked: the protagonist. Yup, the main character, as it turns out, needs work. This comes as no surprise. Half way through edit round one, I changed the gender of the protagonist from male to female. The book worked better for it. Then I developed, as you do, the fabric of the character. Basically, the female lead, I decided, was to have mild Asperger’s. It worked. It made her jump out of my mind, out of the page. It fitted with where I wanted to take the novel, the story, the plot.

And so to acting. Asperger’s is not something I am overly familiar with and so a lot of research in the past few weeks has had to be done. Now, I have a good picture of what I need to do, of the filter I need to put on edit three to round out the character to be true to her Asperger’s.

Thing is, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. See, to write it well, to feel the character, I need to get inside their head – I need to get inside the head of a person with Asperger’s. And then I remembered acting. I don’t know why but back when I acted, I would try to get to think like a character by watching films of similar characters. I would watch how they would talk, walk, move, think. Then, what would happen, was, after watching the film, I would start to think like them too. It was remarkable really. Even now, I can watch a film and even though I’m not trying for any acting roles (trust me, you wouldn’t want to see that), I can still retain a film characters nuances in my head.

So, I thought, hey, why not try this method with my writing? And know what? It works. Yup, who knew watching films would help you write characters for your book. There is one particular TV character with Asperger’s I had seen and it is that character I looked up. I have watched her, recorded her actions, just sat, stuffing popcorn into my face letting her character seep into my head like osmosis. Then, I flip open the laptop and begin writing, editing, shaping my own protagonist on the page.

Fingers crossed it will work. Like anything, it’s worth a shot – ain’t nothing to lose. Actually, thinking about it, perhaps the only thing to lose is myself. Yes, turns out, thinking like other characters means you think less like yourself. But, wait. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all…

How do you edit your characters? Do you act them out or have your own methods? How vital is it to get it into the heads of our characters when we are writing?

 **Out tomorrow “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest Gazette newspaper column to my blog. This week I’m talking about  former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s deep cutting influence on society and local public transport…**