Two Months

As some of you may or may not know, I’m in the middle of writing a book. I’ve spoken about doing this for a long time and have started well over a dozen since I was seventeen (hard to believe this has been a dream of mine for half my life now) but I have never gone further than the first chapter and some rather lofty plans for writing the best book in the world. Something always distracts me at that point. The details are always different but it comes down to one thing in the end – I have a fear of failure. It is this fear that has driven me to work hard at everything that I do and force myself into a position where I could be one of the best in whatever my business was. I recognise that and have been dealing with it for half my life. Sometimes it seems like a blessing, and other times it weighs on me like a curse.

Working at being the best is not the same as faking it

The thing is, since I’ve been writing this page (well, not actually this page, but the page I’m copying my articles over from to this site) I’ve been able to deal with some of my problems a little better. Finding an audience who enjoyed my writing and becoming quite popular on the original site so quickly gave me a confidence and helped that part of me who needs to be one of the best to rest easy. With that pressure off me I was able to concentrate on writing for me rather than for an audience, and I found a voice pretty quickly. Finding that voice helped me find confidence that I didn’t even know I’d lost. It seems strange that someone who set themselves up to be the best so often should have low confidence, but I have had for a long time and have only really come back into myself in recent years. Once I no longer had to act certain ways to be the best (which always allowed me to assign any positive reactions to not being myself), I was able to truly rise as the person I am and learn to like that person too. He’s neat.

Anyway, yadda yadda confidence, yadda yadda slight mental problems, yadda yadda book. I actually first set pen to paper (well, thumb to touchscreen actually) on June 16th this year. I thought you’d be interested to know how I’m getting on after two months of writing, on and off.

That’s right, I have other hobbies too

The book is currently at 48,614 words not counting chapter headings and the like. At that length it is officially an adult novel (no, not porn) as anything above 40,000 words is considered the correct length for a novel aimed at adults. For those wondering, 20,000 is considered about right for a children’s or young adult novel, and 80,000 or more is considered an epic. To put what I’ve written into context, without any chapter or paragraph breaks I’ve written over a hundred and ninety pages of pure text (assuming the book is a pulp paperback with around 250 words to a page). Not bad for an idea that started out as a six page story for this page (I never did get that into a publishable state at that length) and I’m not finished yet. I estimate about eighty five percent of the first edit is written now and I have outlines in place for what happens in the rest of it. Still, it hasn’t been all good.

I have a problem with dialogue. Let me rephrase that; I have a problem with written dialogue (also semi-colons so if the one in this sentence is used correctly it’s purely coincidental). I’m actually quite good at talking in real life to the point that the Friday I stopped for a breath is considered one of the new wonders of the modern world and is being covered in a BBC documentary called The Sudden Silence. The problem is that when I’m writing, all dialogue either feels stilted or unrealistic and the reason this happens is because of who I am and how I see the world.

When my dialogue seems unrealistic it’s because it is written in my voice, with my own particular way of saying things and mind for tangents. Similarities are remarked on in funny ways, connections are noted in strange and wonderful fashions, and the dialogue has no problem heading off in odd directions. While this has actually given me a few ideas for small subplots it isn’t suited to realistic dialogue. One person can be like that in a conversation, as I regularly am, but when two go that way the conversation goes nowhere fast and comes across as unrealistic. I need to find that other voice to balance out the conversations that my characters are having. And that’s where the stilted dialogue comes in. When I’m writing this stuff and trying to not show my own bizarre wit in the dialogue it comes across as a little boring and unrealistic. It doesn’t flow well at its worst and has almost no ability to change subjects without going on a three page roundabout chat of boringness (I’m a writer, me) and I find myself relying more and more on exposition to get from one place to the other.

And I excel at grabbing your attention as we swap scenes

Of course, exposition is something I’m actually quite good at, as are slight references to inner monologues. I can cut away to other characters and have the scene resume later with the problem dialogue having happened off the page. I explain relevant decisions quite well when I use that trick and last used it to skip three or four hours of walking without the characters just suddenly being there. I never did like the whole “let’s go here”, “we’ve arrived now” thing unless there was something else happening elsewhere that could seemingly fill that time up. Exposition can’t be used all the time though, and I can’t keep cutting away from the scenes that I find difficult to write either. Somewhere along the line I have to get on with actual dialogue.

The value of proofing your copy

The thing is, when I’m writing dialogue it kind of bursts out of me like a stream and I find I’ve written a couple of thousand words in the time it takes for my coffee to cool down enough for my manly tongue to actually drink it without making me scream like a manly girl. The dialogue is unfortunately me talking to me though and not my characters talking to each other. However, I’ve found that I can use those more animated conversations as starting points. I can change them by using the covered subjects, the stance each character has and the style of talking to make each conversation work a little better and seem like my characters talking rather than me having a bit of a breakdown. Sometimes that goes well and a couple of lines extend to a coupke of pages of dialogue. Sometimes the exact opposite happens.

Part of me feels like this should be handled in the editing stage when the basics are down. Another part of me wants a basic first draft that is readable, has everyone well defined and just needs pruning, clarifying and spellchecking. If I can’t get the characters to speak in their own voice even a little by the time the first draft is ready, then I shouldn’t bother writing at all. That’s the stance I have on it. So, for every session of writing I’m doing, I’m doing one of editing. I sit down with my novel and pick at a problem scene, taking it apart and usually rewriting it from the ground up. It hurts me every time I delete a load of writing, hurts to know that I spent time on this and now it has been replaced. It also makes for a better novel where what I’m trying to say is less likely to be confused with other meanings.

Or body parts

Once the first edit is finished I’ll be putting the project on hold for a month or two so that I can return to it with fresh eyes. After that time I’ll reread it, checking the spelling, making sure I haven’t made any continuity goofs and seeing anything needs reclarifying or rewriting. After that the first readable version will be produced and a few readers close to me will be given it as a novel a friend has written and wants opinions on (to keep them honest). Once I’ve taken on board what they have to say I’ll probably have to rewrite some parts and add others that clarify common misconceptions. That will become the second edit, and then I should be close to done and either looking for a publisher or chickening out of that self-loathing filled path and self-publishing on Amazon.

And that is how I’m getting on so far.

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35 thoughts on “Two Months

  1. Change that first paragraph to say seven instead of seventeen, and it’s the same for me. Always want to write perfection, and yet also want it to sell well at a time when mommy porn dominates the bestseller lists.

    • The turning point for me came with an idea that just took ne over and kept growing, and a more relaxed attitude to selling. It’s more about leaving something behind for me now – a legacy, so to speak. Even if I only sell one copy then I’ve achieved something rare and can honestly say I gave it a shot. I’d die a lot happier knowing that.

      I used to see this as my route to fame and fortune but those needs have fallen by the wayside a bit as I’ve grown. Now I’m doing it for the story as it just won’t leave me alone. I know that any sale won’t be down to an overhyped “it’s porn but for elderly women who are dissatisfied with their lives and feel they’ve missed out on something” drive and that feels more honest to me. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it chaffs more than a little knowing that a book sold entirely on those principles has become the best selling book ever.

    • Also, I knew you’d have a similar story to that. Wish you’d publish. People don’t just say they like your writing out of loyalty. You have an ear for dialogue and an eye for twists.

      • My mum used to write short stories and read them to me. I guess something stuck 😀 But I don’t think I could be content selling a single copy. Just enough to have a small fanbase eager to buy the sequel 😉 Although if I saw my book in the shops next to something like Fifty Shits, there may be some mysterious poltergeist visitation imminent.

        • To be honest, I’m not really worried about a fanbase. I just want to leave something worthwhile behind.

          I’ve lived a good life so far and done a hell of a lot with the years I’ve had. I’ve achieved pretty much everything I’ve set out to do in life but I have nothing tangible to show for it. Things have been destroyed or are outdated or whatever. To be able to hold up a book, one of the things that kept me saneish throughout my childhood and beyond, and say I wrote this? I’d be able to go to my grave happy then.

      • I’m sure I’ll publish one day. Might still be a few years away, though. I don’t like writing dialogue much, but if I’m good at it I guess I’d better like it more 😛 I want every sentence to be perfect when I read it back, and that’s not as possible with dialogue – not without it feeling unnatural, anyway. The narrator can do what he wants, but the moment a character opens their mouth, all pretensions of style become secondary.

        • I hear that, brother.
          *fist raised in the air to show author solidarity*

          People speak in imperfect ways, they have little stylisations that make them have a unique voice. Those do not fit in with a slightly OCD writer at all. Love to see David’s view on that.

  2. My longest piece of deliberate writing was around 9,000 words (by deliberate, I mean something with an actual story as opposed to something with meaningless tangents and rambling like this sentence). I think it was that ‘Rotten Luck’ story. I’ve always wanted to end up with something novel-length, but can never seem to get past that ‘barrier’ without it seeming like it’s just filler. So I’m pretty impressed with people who can actually write longer works of non-filler, as I have some inkling of just how bloody difficult it can be!

    With dialogue, I use the ‘insane asylum’ method and actually physically talk to myself. Out loud. In character. And sometimes between characters. And those characters converse. There’s something clarifying about actually saying the words out loud as opposed to trying to think the conversation in your head, even moving around and using your hands/body language in the manner you imagine those characters have. Apparently Garth Ennis uses this method for determining dialogue, so I’m in good company.

    Of course, this makes things a little odd for those around you. More than once, Dee’s wondered if I was talking to her from another room and come in to ask what I was saying, before nodding knowingly and realizing I was ‘writing’. As opposed to all the other times I talk to nobody in particular, like when I respond to stories on the TV or radio. 😉

    Whenever you do publish, however it’s published, I’m gonna be one of the first in line to pick up a copy, simply on the strengths of other fiction of yours I’ve seen (even if we weren’t friends).

    One of the biggest problems I have is figuring out how to finish off a piece of writing. Sort of like this comment. 😉

    • This story started out as six pages long but it simply wasn’t very good. I started exploring why certain parts of the plot were happening and, as nothing is ever simple, that lead to more questions. Each question answered gave me more details to fill the world with, more places to take the story and more ideas to play around with.

      I found that I soon had more details than I could fit into the story. More was happening than I had even planned, with some of my events tying into a larger narrative almost by accident. As I started to see that emerging the story I had started to tell became merely the framing device for the first events in a deeper tale. Told on its own that tale wouldn’t work, so these framing devices work as more interesting standalone tales but tell the larger story between them.

      I figure at least two, maybe three novel length books will tell the larger story without forcing too much into one book. That’s my big problem, you see. Rather than filler, I can push too many essential detail into one story until the whole woods are lost amidst the trees. Too many grand ideas demanding they take centre stage.

    • As for finishing, the ending was the first thing I wrote and the part that has been edited most. As I get further into the details of the story, more needs to be said there and other things moved back in the story a little.

      Of course, and here be spoilers, my ending is the end of the world so it’s something easy to aim for. Making it a beginning as well was the hard part.

    • I get images – sometimes they lead to a story. I think my latest could be a book plus sequel as I’m getting lots of images sparking from the first one. Also going to use some old notions I’ve never had the right story for.
      Dialogue always starts in my head but sometimes I get too into it, and suddenly snap out of a reverie when I startle myself by speaking aloud.

      • I can’t write dialogue by speaking aloud. I’m going to be testing the draft on Kim and want it to be new to her so I’m conscious about spoiling it for her. I want to see how easily she follows what is going on (I have a lot of scene shifting and complex ideas that don’t play out in order) and am giving her a questionairre to fill in afterwards. This should help me identify where things need to be clearer in their explanations.

        But I keep finding myself speaking aloud to finish a dialogue scene and then Kim answers me and I lose my place and get ratty.

  3. Dialogues are difficult as they have to show the differences between the persons. Old Bob is not speaking like teenage girl Kelly and so on.

    • That’s actually sort of the problem. I can show differences easily, but getting two people to agree while showing the similarities that bring them together is where I fall down. They either sound too much like me or have trouble coming together. Add in the fact I’m trying to introduce a new world to readers, bound by new concepts, and the dialogue can cease to flow naturally.

      One thing I’ve found I don’t have much of a problem with is the insertion of “he said, she said” and the like. So many people seem to have a problem with that and either overdo it or lose track of who is speaking. Me, I shove an occasional one in to show changes in intonation and the characters keep track of themselves.

      • I’ve always tended to go for monologues and soliloquies as I battle with dialogue! 😦
        Of course, I haven’t really tried to write since I left school. My teachers hated that I always chose a sci-fi theme. They would even try to create a situation where none of the available themes could be written as sci-fi. Which, of course, I took to be a challenge and made even those bland themes into sci-fi 😆

        • I’ve never really been one for major inner monologues, except as a narrative trait. More than once I’ve read a book where a character is thinking this, that and a little bit of the other for a few straight pages. That is usually in italics and presented in the same way as dialogue, complete with things like “I thought to myself” every couple of lines. To me that could easily be turned into a narration, especially when these chapters are in a first person view.

          Writing to a certain genre is what I’m doing with this book. The genre is the fairy tale and I have all the tropes of that to work with, but how I’m presenting those things and how they fit into the story I’m telling is how the book gets interesting. Hard to explain without putting a specific picture in your head and that would likely be inaccurate.

        • I’ve read far too much sci-fi to feel like trying it myself. I have a sci-fi world in my head, quite well-developed, but I lack a good story to use with it. Everything feels too obvious – can’t think of a decent twist.
          I think you can get away with a monologue or no dialogue in certain kinds of story. But an author can only do it once, I think.

          • I’m a master if no dialogue. It’s something I have a real talent for. Of course, it’s all an illusion. Stay in first person and follow their thoughts. It may as well be dialogue.

            But yes, you can only really get away with doing that in a short story. A longer story demands more than one character and interaction between them to be interesting. Having said that, some post-apocalyptic story is in my head and I’d love to try and write a full-length book with no dialogue.

          • Not everything needs a twist. A good story, well told, is preferable to a bad one with a twist. I do think that science fiction in particular has its own twists built into the genre. Even an old story that everyone knows can seem fresh as the old tropes are replaced with features unique to that universe. Sleeping Beauty in a malfunctiining deep sleep frozen stasis pod type thing seems to be the main inspiration, for example. Monsters of legend find form in alien species or computer virus avatars. It can all be twisted into something quite original which, in turn, can lead the story in new directions.

            I’d say your main problem is getting past the idea that doing that would be cheating, at a guess.

  4. Interesting. I used to write short stories, 2-5 pages only but never had a passion – or patience 😛 – to even try to make something more serious. To me it was always like blogging – for my own amusement and interest of my Opera friends.

    • I always had the plan but never the patience. Of course, I was young so I blamed it on the lack of resources, which was a factor but a relatively small one. The resources have become much better though. The majority of this book is being written on my phone with Evernote allowing me to set up a folder for each chapter, organise those into a stack for the book, and write sections up. The added bonus there is that the sections are synchronised on the web too so I won’t lose much if my battery dies or memory card needs formatting.

      Of course, after the first 20,000 words I found that organisation was becoming a pain. I had stacks for each chapter, each containing folders for each section and those had multiple notes in each to enable me to edit any part quickly. Mart put me on to a program called Ywriter which is written by Simon Haynes, the guy behind the Hal Spacejock novels. He has a very section oriented approach to writing, like my own, and developed the software to complement that. It enables me to work on each section, easily add new ones and chapters, move sections around by dragging and dropping. The software has been a godsend and I swear I’d have given up on the book by now without it helping me to organise it. There are a lot of features I’m not even using such as character, location and item management which I’ll probably play around with next time.

      So yeah, having the right resources did help me to find the patience to get this far into the project. The rest is a passion for a story that just won’t leave me alone.

      • Glad you’re finding it useful 😀 If I knew how to code for Android, I’d have been tempted to make an Android version with his cooperation. At the moment I’m using Dropbox and Skydrive for backups as well as passing bits between PC and phone, but the lack of a yWriter app is a little extra complication.

  5. In my “study” I have two black cardboard boxes containing nothing but scribbled pages of which the oldest dates some 30 years back. There are hand-written pages, turning yellow and thin from age, pages written on my old, faithful Olympia Traveller DeLuxe (I keep it in tip-top shape, though I very rarely use it – it’s a religious thing), and a vast diversity of ink- and laser-prints. The total amount of single pages in these boxes are by thousands to say the least. It’s my “old stuff”.

    In a deskdrawer I have four CD-holders (the cylindric type, where you just stack the disks on top of eachother), containing terabytes of text documents, drafts and research material. This is my more recent stuff (from around 1998 – 2006).

    On my two ‘active’ laptops are at least 700 megabytes of documents each, prose, poetry, in-betweens, articles, essays, drafts gallore and research material.

    This is the approximately one fifth of everything I have written in the last two decades, the archives, unfinished but even so interesting stuff, that I have decided to store for eventual later use. Another fifth is stuff that actually got published (around 60 percent of which is professional journalism, 40 percent fiction, prose and poetry). The remaining three fifths have been disposed off, now to be found in the Great Library of oblivion.

    I wouldn’t even begin to estimate the total amount of words or the time spent. If I ever did this, they would find me next morning, raving mad, running around in the woods screaming and laughing hysterically.

    A blessing? A curse? I don’t know about that. However, I do know that you have to tame the obsession on a regular basis, or the power (because that is what it is) will tear you apart. Discipline, discipline, discipline. Be mindful of your weaknesses and your strengths – what you are good at, and where you lack natural talents: ease down on the former and focus on the latter.

    My own greatest weakness is tenacity. I get easily bored and distracted. My greatest strength is actually in the dialogue (so, I’ve been told, reviews are not necessarily a bad thing). So, I focus on training my tenacity and leave the dialogue as it is.

    One advice for the dialogue thing: Write every dialogue like if it was a play script, each line seperately without prose between. You can add the scene, properties and action afterwards.

    Oh, I did it again. A comment of biblical porpotions. Sorry. It’s because I care. If you care for some advice, and believe me qualified, just let me know. I actually have experience in tutoring, even though it’s been some time.

    • I couldn’t tell you how much I’ve written in my time. I returned to the web in 2007 after an extended hiatus and have been writing ever since then. Forums and discussion groups on top of the page you guys found me on. One of the sites I used, on which I was one of the top posters, recently shut down and everything I had posted (maybe 30.000 comments) was deleted. Considering a hell of a lot of that was well received ideas and plans for systems in video gaming, I’m a little annoyed that it was lost. Quite a few of the ideas that are in the background of this book originated there. I remember years ago I had notebooks full of writing. There must have been dozens of them. My ex put it all to the torch when we split up. I’ve had so much in my time be destroyed. It’s one of the reasons I only seriously started doing this when I had my writing easily synced to the web, as I said to Darko.

      Writing dialogue that way never works for me. I get lost about their thoughts if it’s just blank dialogue and it doesn’t flow as well for me. I find that writing it all as one is better for my own particular style of writing. I get down everything I can, and the thoughts in between can make the more boring dialogue come alive. It’s these places that I hint at deeper secrets and reasons than is played out on the surface. Every time I’ve gone back through dialogue and added these things afterwards, I’ve found myself deleting the whole scene (I must have deleted at least what I’m left with already).

      My own talents lie with plotting and planning within a vision. You know those who have a vision for a book and how it’ll be wonderful? They can tell you that this scene will be great and that will be great but they can’t tell you why? Well I’ve a talent for identifying the money-shot so to speak. Actually writing it is a different matter, but knowing what is important about a scene and how strongly to play that is something I think I’m pretty good at. I also know exactly how each scene begins and ends and can see how and where other stories need to intersect. Unfortunately there will have to be another book after this one before that really becomes clear.

      As for advice, I’m all for it, but I don’t go in for tutoring. Any success I have is all too easy for me to assign to someone else if they have helped even a little. It’s one of the reasons I’ve done so much on my own in my life.

  6. Sorry I haven’t been approving or answering comments the past day or two. The heat has been tremendous here and I’ve been close to passing out at my most alert state.

    • The same here. Whith the heat. Very good timing (not!) has put me in a situation where I am currently cleaning out a garden, unattended for for seven years. Genuine physical labour in semi-tropical heat… Phew…

      • Oh man, that’s a nightmare. I’ve been having trouble just sitting here drinking water and eating ice cream. We had to do a load of stone moving in this sort of heat for a garden formation once and the person supervising kept changing her lazy ass mind. Kim and I were in small pools by the end of the day.

  7. Sorry. The above anonymous was from yours truely (it sometimes happen when I comment via phone, the WordPress app is tricky).

    About the gardening: My father in-law died this Februrary (cancer, suddenly and quickly, so there was no time for arrangements) and left his widow with the farm-house, where they used to run a rehab-place for ex-criminals, and the old family home.

    They were living in the former, and she still does, so the latter has been more or less abandoned for six, seven years. Now, my mother in-law is an oldage pensioner, and even though she does have some assets, she can’t have two houses. So, we decided to help her out, and this resulted in us more or less moving into the old family home by the first of June.

    This is way out in the country, quite the opposite from the flat in the suburbs of Odense (Denmark’s third largest city). The place is outside proper mobile connection, there’s not even a landline and no television either, seven kilometers to the next town. It’s oldschool country life.

    And the garden, though not very big, is very old, and because it has been unattended it has turned into a small forest.

    But we are on it, and we are actually getting somewhere. I am confident that the estate will look like a proper house (and not something out of a Lovecraft story) in a couple of months.

    I’m posting something about it (you know where) in some weeks.

    PS: There’s a nice room on the loft of the house, perfect for establishing a writer’s study. I even scouted a very old, quite charming desk, in my in-laws stoved away stuff. I might just…

  8. Pingback: One Giant Leap « The Dark Furie

  9. How far on are you know? I’m guessing the blog title indicates how far it’s taken you to get halfway, and considering that was two months ago you’re about to finish off now, yes? 😀

    And any more thoughts on how you’ll publish – print or digital?

  10. Pingback: Milestones – First Draft Complete «

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