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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Editing Shorthand

It's been a long, long time since I did proper paper edits on a novel draft. I mean, I've done bits and pieces, odd chapters, but it's a long time since I held a full draft in my hands then attacked it mercilessly with a pen. True, my rewrites on 'Danni' have leapfrogged finishing the first draft of 'Kathy' (as planned here) but there's a good reason for that. Finishing the first draft of 'Izzy', jumping straight into NaNo and then going back to trying to complete a third first draft in a row felt...well, ludicrous, even for me. So I picked up the edits and spent a solid six hours highlighting what needs to be changed and weighing up every sentence. As I went, I found myself coming up with my own little editing shorthand that I felt like sharing. Some of it's standard, some of it's a little peculiar...

  • Check - Means what it says, for the most part. I'm not completely happy with the sentence as it reads so I need to look into it further and see if I can change it. 
  • Rephrase - I know that the sentence definitely isn't right and needs a complete overhaul.
  • (?) - My word choice isn't right in a portion of the sentence, think it over and consult a thesaurus. 
  • Foreshadow - Exactly what it says. Perfect moment for foreshadowing something that happens later.
  • Check E/T - Nope, this doesn't mean consult the resident alien. It means consult The Emotion Thesaurus, an excellent writing guide I discussed in more detail in this post, 'I Said Love - Or Did I?'
  • M/C - Stands for 'more common'. I apparently have a habit of making my antagonists far too posh. In this case, it really doesn't work so I'm peppering his dialogue with these notes to remind me to rough up his language a bit.
  • Tag - Sentence isn't reading well, may need to rearrange the character tagging or add a tag in.
  • Extend - More of it, I want more of it.
  • Clunky - Well, it's...clunky.
  • (P) - Punctuation change. 

I'm assuming most of that is normal. I'm also assuming it's a list that'll continue to get longer. I have to say, though, losing myself in these edits is proving rather delightful. The only difficulty is, once I've made notes on what edits I want to make, I have to go back to PhD work for a week. Who knows when I'll be able to actually implement the edits?

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: Draft Finished and Validation

There we go. Did a hell of a lot of writing in the last couple of days and finished the novel draft at 57,287 words (using my word counter, not the dodgy one on the site that brings it up to 57,466). I actually think that makes it one of my longest first drafts. My last two NaNo successes came in at 54,000 and 51,000. No problem. I like working from the bottom up and adding in is a hell of a lot easier than having to disentangle the plot to condense it.

With this novel, I knew the ending when I started but the getting there was a bit of a mystery to me. Along the way, some characters sprouted into distasteful people and one, supposedly small, character took a leading role towards the end. I think that was thanks in part from the reaction I got about her from the one person who's allowed to read everything I write. Anyhow, the character definitely developed and, when the rewrite finally happens, I can't wait to develop her in particular.

Did utilising the places I'd just been for my holiday mean it turned into a dictation of places and things? I hope not and I don't think so. In the end, I was so eager to distance myself from the holiday that the characters sped away from the things I tried to describe. Maybe that's something I need to work on in the rewrite too.

So am I happier with the draft now? Well, yes, I'm happy with the story as it is on paper but that sense of euphoria I mentioned on Monday is still sadly lacking. That's not to say the story couldn't be good with some work but just that I'm not in the frame of mind to make it good now. I wonder when I will be.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: Got There

Last night, not long before midnight, I hit the 50,000 word mark with six days to go. I haven't validated yet since I want to finish the whole draft before the end of November and, to be honest, validating and seeing the 'Winner' mark next to my name isn't something that appeals to me too much at the moment. I guess that sums up the whole problem.

There was a short burst of delight that lasted precisely the length of two songs (one Shania Twain and one from Betty Blue Eyes) then...nothing. Last year and in 2011 there was exhaustion and happiness. Despite knowing how much work had to (and still has to, in point of fact) be put into those drafts, the idea of having a first draft on paper made me grin. Maybe that's the problem here - that I haven't finished the draft. Maybe when it's complete I'll feel a little...happier - who knows?

I'll get back to you when I reach that next milestone, hopefully before the month's out. In the meantime, here's Donald O'Connor solving his problems the best way he knows how - getting incredibly drunk and wrecking a restaurant. Don't tempt me, Donald, don't tempt me.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: Over 40,000

To be perfectly honest, I don't know how I'm still going. I've spent November battling with rewrites for a essay whose deadline keeps looming, getting extended slightly and looming again. And, as I blogged on Wednesday, I'm having significant problems structuring the last chapter of my thesis. Not to mention the fact that I feel possibly the worst I've felt in at least a year. I've been underestimating how bad I've gotten, which has made the last few days all the more alarming. And, still, I've been writing.

Last night I trotted over the 40,000 word mark. As things stand, my daily average is 1,843 but I haven't written anything today yet so that's dragging me down. I've mostly been writing my daily word count between 22:30 and midnight so it's been rapid stuff. My aim over the weekend evenings is to bring it as close to the finishing line as possible (my weekend days are allocated to the essay rewrites) and then finish the entire novel draft by the 30th. I now know exactly how the last few chapters are going to play out and there's at least one scene I'm really looking forward to writing. It was one that came to me as I was sat in the theatre on the cruise ship watching a fantastic singer and I hope it's going to be as beautiful on the page as it was in my mind.

In retrospect, doing this story for NaNo was a mistake. Oh, I didn't know it'd be a mistake and, really, it was a good idea to couple a holiday experience with a NaNo novel like this. The problem came when I was essentially forced to relive every day something I'd rather was dead and buried. Reliving it brings me round in a circle as I realise how weak and pathetic I actually am and that, in turn, makes it difficult to write with any confidence. It's not surprising that this novel has fed into the general...badness surrounding me at the moment but I'm sure I'll be happy when it's all there on paper. At least I've come too far to turn back or pack it in. My stubbornness wouldn't let me. I haven't been through the last two months to fail now and maybe, just maybe, I needed to write this novel. To invent the holiday I wish I'd had without the horrible stuff thrown in. I know that if I hadn't participated in NaNo this year I would've hated myself for it so... We are where we are.

Have a little Judy in Summer Stock...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

PhD Problems

I don't know if this is all in my head but writing the final chapter of my thesis (before going back to rewrite the rest, obviously) is proving to be more difficult than the other three put together. It could be that I'm on a vicious merry-go-round of work at the moment, drifting from thesis writing to essay rewriting to necessary secondary reading to NaNoWriMo writing (which, yes, I know is a choice but it isn't really because I'm as serious about writing as I am about my PhD so...). Whatever's happening, it's true that the structure of this chapter continues to stink and every time I try to fix it another problem crops up.

I suppose that, on a practical level, it's understandable this chapter is giving me trouble. Previous chapters have discussed a limited number of characters - four is my maximum so far and that was more like 'two sets of two'. In this chapter, I'm examining seven. It was eight until yesterday when I blindly crossed one out in a rage (although I think that was the right decision, rage or not). I do have arguments around groups of them but the organisation of the analysis is proving to be rather difficult. Necessarily, I have more contemporary context to include and this is also hampering my progress. What to put where? What to leave out? When to leave the building screaming?

I watched a One Foot in the Grave episode the other day called 'Rearranging the Dust'. Victor and Margaret are waiting to make a will in one of the grimiest waiting rooms known to man (there is bird poo on the inside of the window for a start). It prompts Victor to start thinking not only about dust itself but how similar to humanity dust is when it all comes down to it. I get the feeling that that's what I'm doing with this chapter - rearranging the dust of it and hoping it'll all settle in an appropriate place. Only, I've been trying this for a while now and it hasn't settled. It's actually swirling around me constantly, getting up my nose and giving me wild ideas about hitting the delete button. I have to be very careful with that urge.

I'm hoping that this time I've cracked it and the chapter will finally work but I won't hold my breath. Nor will I think about my personal schedule that's drifting somewhere on the sea of dust, the one that tells me I should be rewriting chapter one right now, not still buggering about with chapter four. Perhaps the key to arguing with all this dust is try and think about it as little as you can.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: Halfway There

At this point I'm just tempted to rehash my 2011 'mid-point' post because it involved a Dumbo picture and made me smile. However, I'll try and pull something new together... I'm halfway there! Yay for me. Even Judy's smiling benevolently at me.

So I'm a little ahead of schedule. At the moment, with no writing done yet for today, I'm where I should be tomorrow. It's not great but it means I only have to write 1,458 words a day to finish on time. Easy...

I may be dealing with a plot problem though. I'd thought through most things up until this point but as soon as they leave Gibraltar to sail for Malaga, my mind goes blank. My protagonists are not exactly getting on well at this point but with only a week left until they get back to England they need to make some serious progress. And there's that ending I'm working towards...

Anyway, I shall keep going, while I battle away on my final thesis chapter, of course. The days where I had only one thing to do at a time are a distant memory. I think I'd stand there gaping if such an opportunity was given to me now. I'll leave you where I left my characters last night - having a very deep and painful conversation under these fading skies...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Classic Film Review: Penguin Pool Murder (1932)

Penguin Pool Murder stars Edna May Oliver as Miss Hildegard Withers, a schoolteacher sleuth who happens to be visiting the aquarium on the day a body tumbles into the penguin tank. This body belongs to unscrupulous stockbroker Gerald Parker (Guy Usher) who has just discovered his wife Gwen (Mae Clark) meeting with former flame Philip Seymour (Donald Cook). Suspicion naturally falls on those two with passing lawyer Barry Costello (Robert Armstrong) taking on defence of Gwen Parker. But Miss Withers throws herself into solving the case herself, much to the disgruntlement of Inspector Piper (James Gleason).

I adored this film. The case was intriguing enough, though I had my suspicions from the off about who the killer was, but the real delight comes from Miss Withers herself. She is a fantastic creation with the turn of phrase of Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz and the sleuthing skills of Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote, of course. An intelligent, sarcastic woman who refuses to take 'no' for an answer, she persists in showing Inspector Piper where he's going wrong. Eventually, he learns to defer to her authority and they form a nice little tag-team.

The rest of the cast is adequate enough. Once Piper accepts Miss Withers, the character comes into his own - think of it in terms of Sheriff Metzger in Murder, She Wrote but with a nice little twist at the end. I found Mae Clark as Gwen a little difficult but the majority of the male cast was acceptable. However, this was always Miss Withers's film and it shows. The mystery is good but the interplay is better - and there's a wonderful penguin involved too.

This is the first of three Miss Withers stories Oliver and Gleason made together. After this, the role was taken over by Zasu Pitts, who I didn't really enjoy in Sing and Like It (1934, reviewed here) and I can't see in the role of Miss Withers. However, Eve Arden did make a one-off appearance in the role in a television special in 1972 - given my love of Eve, I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for that one.

Ultimately, I loved this film because of Edna May Oliver - she's a character I'd love to be any day.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Book Review: The Loyal Servant by Eva Hudson

Caroline Barber is a civil servant juggling work and family, a little unsuccessfully. Things get worse when she finds her boss, a senior politician, dead at his desk. The evidence all points to suicide but Caroline has her suspicions. Her covert investigations bring her into contact with newspaper report Angela Tate, herself fighting against the spectre of redundancy at her paper. She needs a good story and she thinks she's found one with the political cover up that seems to be going on around academy building projects. However, there are forces at work which neither expect and which threaten Caroline's family and life.

This is a very well-structured novel. The plot is good and the gradual revelation of all the various secrets was enough to keep me interested. However, I had some personal gripes reading it which, to be fair, are probably more about me than the novel itself. 

I didn't feel that the characters - with the exception of the wonderful Angela - were well-rounded enough. With Caroline, especially, her quest is explained but the forces which govern her family life are left until much later in the novel. I understand why this is from a plot point of view, but it left me struggling to connect with her for a while. She's certainly an 'everywoman' kind of character but I wanted a little more than that a little earlier. Similarly, a convention of chapter endings in books like these seemed to get on my nerves - there was very little respite with dialogue ending nearly every chapter and rushing you on into the next. I wanted more introspection, more thought that was not overtly connected to the main plot but, again, that was probably just me. 

I did enjoy this book, more than the criticisms above suggest. I rushed through it because I was eager to get to the root of the mystery and I found myself inwardly cheering every time Angela Tate crossed the page. The little investigative double-act which emerges out of the initially difficult relationship she and Caroline have is an enjoyable one; for me, that was easily the best relationship in the novel. 

Worth a read if you're more into these kinds of books than I am but also if you like your journalists bitchy and forthright - Angela Tate is fabulous. 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Book Review: John Marchmont's Legacy by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

John Marchmont's Legacy begins with Edward Arundel, destined for the army, bumping into his old teacher, the title character, working on a London stage. There is a hope that Marchmont will come into property but, until then, he and his young daughter, Mary, are living in poverty. Thanks to Edward's kindness, John Marchmont trusts him with the welfare of his daughter if they come into the inheritance and he dies. John is particularly worried about the ambitions of his brother, Paul Marchmont. John does come into his property and decides to marry Edward's cousin, Olivia, to provide a good mother figure for Mary. What he doesn't know is that Olivia has been in love with Edward for years and only marries him because Edward doesn't want her. After John's death, however, the household changes and when Edward falls in love with Mary, it's something Olivia struggles to accept. And then Paul Marchmont arrives...

By far, the most interesting character in this novel is Olivia. Her love for Edward pervades the novel, even though she accepts it's a damaging love, and the jealousy which emerges from it is inevitable but still fascinating to read. In comparison, the nice Mary feels somewhat like a cardboard cut out. Her courtship with Edward is very sentimental and childish in tone. Mary doesn't seem to grow up out of the child Edward first encounters and is subsequently made something of an angel. Of course, this works as an excellent contrast to Olivia but it also serves to highlight that Olivia is one of Braddon's best creations while Mary languishes amongst the stereotypical insipid 'good' heroines of sensation fiction.

The plot suffers from an abundance of coincidental incidents, as many sensation novels do. Being a seasoned reader of the form, I'd pretty much ascertained what was going to happen a few chapters in with John's prophetic mistrust of his brother and Olivia's pervading love for Edward. It did mean that I spent a good proportion of the second half of the novel frustrated and waiting for the inevitable revelation.

I also detected a problem which it seems Braddon struggled with - the introduction of another 'good' heroine, Belinda, which essentially creates a surplus going into the final pages. I'll allow you to discover for yourself how this is resolved.

Ultimately, John Marchmont's Legacy is a good novel mainly because of Olivia Marchmont. Of all the characters within these pages, she's the one that lingers.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: Protagonist Similarities

It's unsurprising, since I finished the first draft of another project just before the start of NaNo, that the protagonist of this new one sounds a little like the protagonist of that one. However, 12,000 words in and I'm starting to see the differences come through.

I suppose, really, it comes down to the fact that one has a manipulative, self-serving streak that dominates nearly everything she does while this new one is inherently good, a little mischievous and very intuitive. The differences are starting to shine through and I like that.

However, the chapters I'd planned ahead of time are coming to an abrupt end in the next couple of thousand words. I need to make time to think. As I said yesterday, things are going a little more slowly than I thought they would. The ship's just docked in Lisbon, though, and my characters will be - grudgingly, in one case - spending some time together in that beautiful city. I can tell you they might be hovering around up here...

I'm looking forward to the Lisbon portion of the narrative. I know how things should play out there because I was thinking about it as I trotted round the walls of the castle. After that, who knows? It's on to Gibraltar and a little more...excitement?

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Blogging NaNoWriMo 2013: 10,000 Words Down

Last night I powered over the 10,000 word mark with my NaNo project putting me a day ahead of where I should be. I've been sticking to my plan of writing as much as I can at a time and desperately trying not to stop and over-analyse. Fortunately, I spent a lot of time pondering these characters while I was on holiday - that forethought is helping and I'm enjoying the ride.

Of course, alongside those words I've also half-completed that essay rewrite I've got on. I had to put that on hiatus until the end of the week because I realised I had a supervisor meeting on Thursday and hadn't yet done any fresh thesis work since my last meeting. So yesterday was spent battling through rewriting sections of analysis, by far the most difficult kind of work I could've picked. I'm at my sister's for a few days to help her with the kids and I think I startled her by sitting down with my laptop at three o'clock and barely moving until after midnight. Half that time was spent on PhD work and the other half was NaNo work. It's no wonder I couldn't sleep when I finally went to bed!

I do detect one problem with my novel, though it's not really a problem as such. Regular readers of this blog will know my first drafts generally come in short and I bulk them up. This one may be a bit different. Put it this way - my story spans a fortnight on a cruise ship and after 10,000 words I'm still only on day four. The big events are still to come, they haven't visited a port yet and the romance...well, I'm keeping quiet on that. This could prove to be my longest first draft to date.

As I type this blog I'm being subjected to Bananas in Pyjamas, perils of sick niece sitting. Let's hope I see past this and get some more work done today, both thesis and NaNo kinds!