Tag Archives: editing

The constant process of revision

Before I launch into today’s blog post: sorry. Yeah, long time since I last posted. It’s been a busy year and the blog has not been my priority, or anything close to it. I’ve got a few things to say, and I’ve read a few things I want to talk about, so that’s likely to change now. Starting with this.

In 2008 I attempted NaNoWriMo for the second time ever, and succeeded. The story I wrote was called Flame Undying, and it was about an immortal character with an affinity to fire who returned, after a decade, to the city he once ruled. That year, NaNoWriMo had a promotion with a print-on-demand service such that winners – people who successfully wrote 50,000 words in November – could get a free printed proof of their novel if submitted in time. I took advantage of that offer, and still have the proof copy.

The concept of immortals was one I had developed for a previous story, based on a sort of magical force being generated by belief, fear, awe, hope and other emotions about particular parts of the worlds – geographical features, human traits, concepts and ideals. My first immortals were the Four Horsemen – Death, War, Famine and Pestilence – but the concept quickly grew, to include River Guardians, Mountain Walkers, Fate, representatives of the four seasons, and, ultimately, Fire. Coupled with a couple of months hearing Coldplay’s Viva La Vida on the radio constantly at my summer job, I developed the story of Blaze, the immortal who “used to ruuuule the world”, to quote Chris Martin.

This was followed by a prequel story, The General’s Secret, which I’ve mentioned before on this blog. I became obsessed with the story, writing literally dozens of versions of some scenes in my attempts to get it right. But ultimately, I had to drop it. I couldn’t make it work. And for years it sat untouched as I worked on other ideas, other stories.

I had a backstory for Blaze: he was a bronze-worker in the Bronze Age, who became immortal as a result of dying in a fire and being taken over by the magic. The fire that killed him, and all of his people, was started by raiders from a city called Caer, which later burned down too.

Gradually I returned to this concept, but I knew it was time for a major overhaul. For starters, I wanted a female protagonist, and I wanted her story to be closer to the start, not when she was two thousand years old. In 2015 I started working on Kell’s Adventures, set some ten years after the destruction of Caer. But it lacked something, and it didn’t get far. A few times in the two years that followed, I tried out one thing or another – a second protagonist as a travelling companion and ally, a series of short stories involving individual encounters, scenes I thought might need to exist in a novel. But it was still missing something. I worked on other projects.

Now to this year. This year has been an odd one. I got a full-time job, lost it without warning or explanation a week after my probation period ended, learned I was autistic, worked through a hell of a lot of baggage about that, then got another job where I am much happier. I’ve been there four months – longer than I was at the previous job.

In August this year I came to a realisation that, all this time, I’d been writing Blaze and Kell as a metaphor for autism. The affinity for fire as a special interest, the overwhelming effects of it causing an overload response, the discomfort of certain sensations making concentration difficult, the effect of immortality causing isolation as a parallel to my own social awkwardness making it hard to fit in. This wasn’t a product purely of my imagination, it was an embellished analogy for what I experienced daily and had no word for until recently: autism.

That realisation made it all click into place. It felt as though I’d been looking through a keyhole, trying to work out the story from what little I could see, for years, and now I had the key and could open the door and walk right inside. Since then, I have written tens of thousands of words of notes, and at least as many words of actual story drafts, each version building on previous decisions, revelations and calculations to make Kell’s story more and more real. Every day I get closer to creating a story, and every day I am excited by what I discover in the process.

It is a process of constant revision. A decision I make one day may be revoked or overwritten the next day when I get a better idea of how to approach the scene, think more about the implications of events on non-core characters and the world at large, or work out how a character is likely to behave or react. A small idea one day might grow and, a week later, become a significant plot point, a new character or an element of the world that makes it feel more real and lived-in.

There are still gaps. I focus on what interests me, and follow the threads until I am satisfied. There are still things I need to visualise – especially now I’ve realised that I’ve been picturing two events as being on opposite sides of the river, without having a river crossing happening in between them. Oops.

But I’m getting there. I’ve got an outline. Well, I’ve got several, and the latest one – written two days ago – already needs to be amended to take into account new decisions made today about the timescales in the final third. I’ve started on character sheets. I’ve got some ideas about family trees I need to write down.

Even when I start the next draft of the manuscript, the revision won’t stop. It never does; it can’t. Generally my process when writing a manuscript is to stick at it, start to finish, and not go back and change anything, but rather make a note where I’m at, stating the planned change, and continuing with the text on the assumption that the change has been made, then go back at the end to make the edits. It’s how I can revise without losing momentum on the story.

It’s come a long way. Over the course of more than ten years, I have created and refined a character and a concept until I’ve found a story that draws on my own experiences and tries to explore life through the lens of autism, in a fantasy world as alien and familiar to me as the real one, while still telling a story about a character with hopes and fears and goals. I have no doubt it’s still got a way to go – aside from the gaps I’ve yet to work out, the names I need to fix, I’ve still got the whole manuscript to write, after all. But I’m certain the end is in sight now. I’ve found what was missing before. I’ve revised my way to the story I’m trying to tell.

When the revision stops, that’ll be when I know it’s ready to be seen by eyes other than my own.

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Retrospection and Resolution

The new year is always a time for looking back at the year just gone and making plans for the year ahead.

I don’t feel that 2017 has been a good year for me. I lost my Granny, had a sick partner to take care of, I haven’t had any luck with the job hunt and I didn’t do nearly as much reading or blogging as I hoped. I didn’t achieve the goals I set out to do in January.

But it hasn’t been a complete write-off. I’ve gone a year learning Italian on Duolingo, and since November my writing has really picked up. This last week in particular, I’ve written loads and felt reinvigorated about my fiction.

A little under a year ago I set myself one reading and two writing goals:

  • To read 39 books. I read 17.
  • To rewrite “Horrible Monster”, the story I finished in 2016. I haven’t touched it.
  • To improve my writing by copying and studying twelve authors. I gave up after the first one.

So not exactly a great track record for 2017, but given all the stresses of job hunting, grief, hospital visits and all the rest, it could have been worse.

For 2018 I’m going to set some more realistic goals:

  1. To take time to read every day, even if only for 10 minutes. There are a lot of books on my reading list right now, including some released in 2017 that I ought to have reviewed, some I got for Christmas, and some classics I’ve been meaning to get around to for years.
  2. To finish my current story and bring it up to a standard read to submit. This is the story that I’ve been working on at full steam ahead since November, a pulp science fiction story set in the Second World War, under the working title Aliens in Pendleford. It’s been fun trying something a little different from what I usually go for, and it’s inspired by a combination of the BBC TV series Land Girls and H G Wells’ War of the Worlds – one of those books I’d been intending to read for years.
  3. To revisit Horrible Monster and write a strong second draft. It’s certainly a stronger story than anything I attempted in the first ten months of 2017, but in places it is bloated, and I didn’t quite understand my theme until I was half way through writing it. With a bit of refocusing, I think it could be quite good.
  4. To write more blog posts. With more reading, I should manage more reviews, and with the rate I’ve been writing the odd progress update should be manageable too. Watch this space.

Also in 2018 I’m hoping to get a better job, so that will keep me busy. I will continue practising and studying Italian, and perhaps take an exam in it if I feel ready by the time I need to book it, and I’ll be picking up German too. I was never very good at languages at school – except English, of course. But I think part of that was that I didn’t much like the teachers and had the arrogance of the English to believe I didn’t need another language. But now I’m finding it quite satisfying to see the progress I’m making, the ability to understand written Italian and some spoken, and even slowly compose short sentences without looking at a dictionary or phrase book.

Advice for students hiring proofreaders

This morning on a popular freelancing website I spotted a listing requesting proofreading for a dissertation of approximately 100 pages, with a deadline tomorrow afternoon – allowing, at best, 30 hours in which to complete the work.

I did a few calculations and estimated that a document of that length would probably take me anything from 16 to 20 hours to proofread, depending on how good the author is with grammar and spelling. Now, you might have done a few calculations of your own and worked out that there is indeed time to complete this job – 30 hours minus 20 hours leaves 10 for sleep and meals. Not a problem, right?

And yes, it is doable, but it’s a rush job. Proofreading requires concentration. There are all sorts of things that make concentration difficult, most notably tiredness. I find that, no matter how much coffee or sleep I have had, after about hour 4 that concentration starts to slip; after hour 6 it has got to a level I can no longer rely upon. Some days it’s worse than that; on rare occasions it is better. So for a 20 hour job, I’d schedule at least 4 days, preferably 5 to give a little leeway. If the client was insistent that it was needed urgently, I could concede 3 days, but I’d also expect to be paid extra, to cover the increase in my electricity bill from all the times I’d boil my kettle in those three days.

I certainly wouldn’t accept a 20 hour job with a 30 hour deadline; while I could do it, I wouldn’t be doing my best work and I couldn’t guarantee that the manuscript I returned would be error-free.

So students, don’t do this if you can avoid it. Plan ahead. It’s possible, I’ve been there. Specifically, I’ve been the last-minute person who pulled all-nighters for about half my assignments, though I was rather better when it came to my dissertation (thankfully I believed a rumour that the university’s binding service would be overloaded around deadline day and could take three days; it was not and it took 3 minutes).

If you plan on hiring a proofreader for your thesis or dissertation, follow these simple steps:

  1. Aim to complete your dissertation at least a full week prior to the deadline. The longer the dissertation, the earlier you should finish.
  2. Engage a proofreader before you finish it, so they are lined up ready to go as soon as you finish it. Take an hour or two out a couple of days before your self-imposed deadline to get this sorted.
  3. Give your proofreader a deadline at least 48 hours before your submission deadline. This gives you time to go through and check changes and make suggested edits, it creates a buffer in case your proofreader goes over by a few hours, and it gives you time for printing and binding. Note: if printing and binding will take longer, factor the required time in as necessary. Find out well in advance how long this might take.

It’s a good idea generally to finish something as important as a dissertation well in advance anyway – to allow some leeway in case something important crops up that disrupts your studying.

Beyond hono(u)rable travel(l)ers going to the theat(re/er): British and American English

Most of us are familiar with the most commonly seen differences between British and American English, and can recognise which side of the Atlantic an online commenter is from based on such spellings (most of the time anyway; but I won’t get into Canadian and Australian spellings here).

You’re probably already thinking about some of these differences: the inclusion or exclusion of U in words like colour/color, honour/honor and labour/labor; whether an S or a Z is used in realise/realize and analyse/analyze; whether you go shopping in the city centre or the city center, or go to the theatre or the theater. Perhaps even whether the L is singular or doubled in words like traveller/traveler and barrelling/barreling – and, conversely, skilful/skillful, enrol/enroll and instil/instill.

There are numerous sites that cover these sorts of differences. In today’s blog post, I’ll be looking at some of the less familiar rules and individual words which don’t fall into a particular rule of difference, but stand alone.

Ending with T or ED for some past-tense verbs

This is a rule that is starting to become obsolete as the ED version is starting to become dominant in Britain, in line with English in the rest of the world, but it’s worth knowing about – and worth recognising that these are valid, if less common, spellings in British English.

Words include:

  • Burnt/burned
  • Dreamt/dreamed
  • Knelt/kneeled
  • Learnt/learned
  • Leapt/leaped
  • Spelt/spelled

If you’re British, you may be familiar with the first of each pair, though both are acceptable; in American English, only the second is used. It is also worth noting that “spelt” does exist in American English too – as it is also a grain variety related to wheat.

Feel free to use these spellings in documents intended for British readers – but remember to be consistent. You don’t want to have learnt in one paragraph and learned in the next.

SC or SK

Fans of Terry Pratchett might be aware of this one: Discworld is a world located on a disc. Or on a disk, if you’re American. This is an odd one, actually, since the disc spelling is universal within the record industry, and disk is universal within the computing industry. You might have hired a disc jockey for your party, and saved the photos of said party onto your computer’s hard disk. But for general usage, such as referring simply to the flat circular shape, it’s disc on my side of the Atlantic and disk on the stars-and-stripes side.

This rather small rule extends to a few other words too. Garden snails are a variety of mollusc – when they’re in Britain. Across the pond, they’re a variety of mollusk. You might be sceptical about a snail’s ability to cross the Atlantic, unless you’re on the other side of it, where you’d be skeptical instead.

Enquiries and Inquiries, Ensuring and Insuring

In Britain if you are subject of an inquiry, you’re probably in legal trouble, but in America it might just be that someone has asked a question about you – a usage that in Britain would instead be spelled (spelt?) “enquiry”. The two meanings – the specific formal investigation and the general questioning – are encompassed by one word in America and separated into two in Britain.

Similarly, if you’re insuring something in Britain you are entering into a commercial transaction to protect your property or yourself from risk. An American insuring something might be doing the same thing – or they might simply be making sure – checking that the lights are turned off before going out, perhaps, or that a document has been properly proofread before it is sent to a client. This second meaning in British English is covered by the word “ensure”.

EY up

Paraphrase this for me: “there’s a fake wall on the fifth floor”.

You might have come up with one of these two sentences:

  • There’s a phoney wall on the fifth storey
  • There’s a phony wall on the fifth story

Or, well, it might be the sixth story or the fourth storey, given that British and American architecture counts levels within buildings differently (American: Floor 1 is the first you reach; British: Floor 1 is the first above the ground floor). Either way, the versions ending in EY are British; in just Y are American. For storey at least this British spelling distinguishes the word from that for a tale.

Silent E ending

Drawing on original French spellings, some British English words end in a double consonant and an E where the American spellings end on a single consonant only. This is to be found in words such as omelette/omelet and programme/program (though the latter is used in British English for computer programs). This is less commonly seen in gramme/gram, where the shorter spelling is now more common. Note: tonne in British spellings specifically refers to the metric tonne, while ton is used for the imperial unit; in America ton is used for both.

Individual words

Moustache is the British spelling; mustache the American.

Sulphur is British; sulfur, dropping the ph that comes from the Greek letter phi and replacing it with the more straightforward f, is American.

Aluminium with an -ium ending is British, and aligns with the endings of other elements such as calcium and potassium, but is pre-dated by the American spelling aluminum.

Following the trend in British English where different meanings of the same word sometimes get different spellings, the word for the rubber casing of a wheel is a tyre in British English, but a tire in American English.

A colour that might be formed of a mixture of black and white paint would be spelled gray in America and grey in Britain; a black tea flavoured with oil of bergamot, however, should be Earl Grey both sides of the Atlantic, as it is named after a person.

Do you have any favourite – or any that confuse or confound you? Do you prefer British of American spellings – or are some you prefer one way and some the other? Personally, I don’t think the O in a British moustache is needed, but appreciate the British spelling nuances available in written texts for words like storey, ensure and enquire. And while I’m equally comfortable with both T and ED endings for dreamt/dreamed, leapt/leaped and learnt/learned, I prefer spelled over spelt but also knelt over kneeled.

Most important, of course, is consistency. Whether American or British English is used – or indeed Canadian, which has elements of both in roughly equal measure, or Australian, which mostly follows British English with a few exceptions (like their Labor Party) – any piece of writing should stick to just one and use it throughout. We can’t have you analysing results on one page and realizing something on the next. And we certainly can’t have you drinking any Earl Gray tea.

Editing and examining: Start Writing Fiction week 3

Week 3 of the Start Writing Fiction course looks at editing work we’ve written, reviewing others’ work, and getting reviews for our work. It began with an exercise in which we were given a paragraph of text and instructed to edit it down to two lines. Here’s the paragraph:

The heavy black and blue winter sky groaned awfully with rain clouds that at any moment were really about to fall crashing heavily down upon the street where, because it was rush hour, so many people, wearing all manner of different clothes, hats, shoes, boots, some of them carrying bags, suitcases, briefcases, scampered and strolled about the place as though oblivious to what was just about to happen over their very heads. One of these people was called Hilary and concealed inside her voluminous coat she carried the loaded, snub-nosed gun, and she also seemed to be the only one looking upwards into the tempestuous thundery heavens.

And this is what I edited it down to:

The bruised winter sky groaned heavy with clouds waiting to burst open upon the streets. Amongst the rush-hour bustle, Hilary held her coat tight over the loaded gun, and looked up.

Continue reading Editing and examining: Start Writing Fiction week 3

Taking the leap

Last month I decided that crying in my car after work every day probably wasn’t healthy. So I handed in my notice. It’s now been a week since my last day at work and I’ve been trying to make a go of it as a freelance proofreader and copyeditor. I just completed my first job – a 3,000 word proofread of a warehouse logistics study.

I’ve given myself two weeks to get things up and running, before turning my attentions primarily to finding a more traditional job. The first week has been one of learning – learning how Elance works, for starters. Learning a bit about how to win jobs there. Learning that now procrastination will have a real-terms impact on my ability to earn money. Also I’ve picked up learning French again, and signed up for several FutureLearn courses (it’s interesting and who knows, maybe something I learn will inspire a story or help me win a proofreading job).

Continue reading Taking the leap

Progress report: NaNoWriMo

My progress on NaNoWriMo has been less than I’d hoped. On Tuesday I didn’t write a word. I knew I should have tried, but I didn’t want to. I wasn’t happy with what I’d already written, and yesterday I ended up rewriting everything I’d written on Monday and half of what I’d written on Sunday. I’ll still count those words for NaNo, but they’re wrong and I’ve discarded them as far as the story is concerned.

I know I’m not meant to be going back and fixing things at this point. It’s a first draft, and I’ve just got to get it done, which means moving forwards and not backwards. But what I’d written had major problems. My character went from one mood to another too quickly, and didn’t find enough opposing her for there to be any tension, so I struck it out and had another shot. I’m happier with what I’ve got, but now I need to find a way to make the scene go the way I want it to.

Continue reading Progress report: NaNoWriMo

You Need an Editor (a guest post from Brian W Foster)

Today I have invited Brian W Foster to write a guest post on editing – something he has rather more experience of than I do. So here it is:

My three year old tends to scribble with crayons a lot. My wife and I, as parents are wont to do, exclaim over these works of art and place them prominently on the refrigerator.

I imagine, if you have or have had little ones of your own, you understand this well. Nothing wrong with it. Consider, however, what you would think of me if I decided that these tremendous works of art should be sold on Amazon.

Continue reading You Need an Editor (a guest post from Brian W Foster)

Looking back and getting better: Discord’s Secret, scene 1

Learning from our mistakes is a big part of getting better. And every writer has an embarrassing old story or twelve they never want to see the light of day; a story they have moved far beyond, a story that they look back at and shudder.

Well, mine is seeing the light of day. Or parts of it anyway. In a series of blog posts over the next however long this will take (don’t worry – it won’t be the only thing I’m posting) I will look at a story I was writing back in 2006-2008 and examine the problems with it and draw lessons from it.

Continue reading Looking back and getting better: Discord’s Secret, scene 1