Number Six

Number six of what? Of the Paranormology series, of course! There are so many avenues I could have taken, and it seems that every time I start one of the books, I set myself up for some to and fro before I can settle on just how it should be. I have learnt my lesson, though, to make sure I know what I’m going to do (at least in rough terms) before I go plodding along, and to keep asking myself, “Does this make sense?” while I’m doing it.

During my lunch breaks earlier on last year I tapped out the skeleton idea. It wasn’t so great. I flopped it about, got rid of some rubbish, added a bit of this and that, and had a look again. Not too bad, this time, not too shabby at all. There were elements that I particularly wanted in there, one of which was a psychic medium, with a play between scientific analysis and psychic phenomena.

The setting has changed from the previous books. The protagonist and the Professor have moved to Exeter, permanently, because there are more opportunities for the Professor’s research, and the narrator has landed a job with Mister Belfiore, the clock maker. This means the setting is within a city, as with Portsmouth Avenue, only the protagonist has become familiar.

The other thing I really wanted was to bring some humanity to the Professor. He can get cranky, and he certainly has his failings (how very human), but humanity is more more than this. We get to see that underneath his cantankerous exterior, he is vulnerable and fragile, and that there’s a good reason he’s as skeptical as his is about everything.

So, how far along am I? Happy to say that I’ve finished the first draft and I’m going to sit on it for a bit. First, I need to make the front cover and get the blurb sorted. Once that’s done, I’ll be finishing off some of the Audiobook work for the other books. After this, it’s back for round two and getting some eyeballs on.

Which reminds me: If you’ve ever wanted to be part of the creative process and give the book a going over in draft two, drop me an email and let me know. I’d be very appreciative.

Eh? What’s that? What’s it going to be called? Well, the working title is Dreyford Alley Ghost, however I’m not one hundred percent sold on that, so we’ll see.

Edit: I wasn’t sold. I’m now running with ‘Cooper Alley Ghost’.

Borobo Reef

I had planned to have finished the first draft of the next book by the 30th of March. To this end, I pulled out all the stops. I was writing day and night, lunch time, after dinner, before going to bed and even while sleeping.

All that hard work paid off – I did it! Not only did I hit my target, I managed to get it done days earlier than anticipated. That, like, never happens. And it’s got me worried.

Why worry?

You see, getting something done quickly is great, unless it’s done so hastily that stuff goes missing or gets overlooked or gets done sloppily.

I’m not really worried, not like that. It’s more that I’m going to stay on my toes during the second draft, keeping an eye out for anything glaringly obvious.

When’s that due? Glad you asked. 25th of April is the deadline for that. So I’m going at that hammer and tongs, right?
Wrong.

The Cover

Instead of going straight into the second draft, I’m going to let my reading / writing brain have a rest and get cracking on the cover. That’s right, rather than put the cover off until the end, I’m going to use the down time to do some creative drawing.

My Wacom pad has been lonely.

TedrickCombine.jpg

So I started with a sketch of an octopus, the protagonist of my story, a spud named Tedrick Gritswell. After some scruffy sketches, I used the watercolour to get some feel for how he would look, and once that got somewhere close to what I was after, I added a layer and dropped in a background.

Corel Painter has some neat features like layering, lighting and texturing so I mucked about with that so see what I could use. After all, my spud ain’t smooth, he’s got skin. Plus there’s shading to be done and depth of field and all of that.

At the time of writing, I’m still working on the coral cliffs in the background and getting some rocks and shells and other plants in there, along with cleaning up the water and adding some details, but here tis:Tedrick6.jpg

I’ll keep at it for the next few days while I chill out my brain, you know, maybe get out and make a petrol station for Joey like he’s been bugging me. Fresh air and exercise, that’s what I need.

If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.

Huh? Why is he missing an arm? I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait until the book is out to find out.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Adaptation – Part 6 (The Final)

Well who would have thought they’d see the day, eh? Eh? Adaptation – Part 6 is heading for completion in December.

Say whaaaaat?

You heard right. The much-anticipated conclusion to the Adaptation series is due for release before Christmas. I’ll be making a space on this website soon enough. As per the others, it will be available from all platforms upon release, from iTunes and Barnes and Noble, to Kobo, Google Play and Amazon Kindle, along with our good friends over at Smashwords.

As a heads-up, just like the other Adaptation parts, it’s not exactly suitable for children what with the violence and swearing and other unsavoury topics.

Is there a cover? A fixed date?

No cover just yet, kiddies, that will come soon enough. I’ve got to the second draft going first. How’s this for a deal: I’ll do another post when that’s done.

As for a fixed date, the unofficial launch will be December 15th (ish). Don’t worry, I’ll be banging on about it a fair bit, so you won’t miss out.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Jolimont Street – First Draft

This time, no mucking around with silly plots. What am I talking about? Well, if you look back a fair few posts, Hampton Court Ghost started life as a train-wreck. There was a mangled plot and a weird premise that just got worse as it developed.

If you can call a descent into silliness ‘development’.

I had to rewrite the whole thing, razing it and starting practically from scratch. Not so with Jolimont Street! There are markers and placeholders and XXX’s pointing out where I know I need work, all those things, but all in all, it’s a story that stays with its premise. In short, I’m chuffed.

Now I’m going to leave it for a bit, concentrate on something else. After a couple of days I’ll revisit the document with fresh, critical eyes and then, after that, I’ll do the hard copy and red-pen technique. Maybe I’ll work on the front cover in the mean time. Something brooding, not too innocent.

Stay tuned.

Sweeping Your Manuscript Clean

So you’ve bought yourself your red pen, good, and you’ve printed out your manuscript, even better, and you’re ready to get correcting. This post is about how I go about editing and correcting my work. Now, to give you a bit of insight and a frank confession, my first attempt at editing was an utter shambles: I re-read the manuscript on the screen, made corrections in place and lost where I was up to a bazillion times as I was interrupted again and again and again.

Net result? Sub-par editing, a bad neck, burnt eyeballs, and the need to go back and do it all again properly.

Sweeps

The first thing to know is that you’re not going to get it all done in a single sweep. It’s just not going to happen. Get used to the idea that even though your book is written, it’s far from being finished. Once you are reconciled with that, you can move on at a slower pace.

Break up your goals into parts and perform each in a separate sweep. A sweep is a single iteration through the book with a single goal in mind. This way you can concentrate only on a specific set of issues.

That’s a waste of time! I want to get my book out now. We all do, Tiger, I get it, but what I’m yapping on about here is not plucked out of thin air, it is borne from (painful) experience. Stick with me, OK?

Why can’t I look at spelling and grammar right off the cuff? Because the words, the sentences, heck, whole paragraphs an chapters can change from the first sweep to the last. Trying to do it all in one sweep means that your brain is working overtime on each and every sentence, every word, while at the same time making sure the voice is correct, checking for tics, and remembering what it was you said in the last chapter about the protagonist’s wife, all while juggling work, cooking dinner, settling the child to go to sleep and booking your stay at the asylum.cleanSweep

If, on the other hand, you are looking solely at a high level perspective, you needn’t slow yourself down with the gritty details. Likewise, once you’ve got the macro nailed down, you can afford to ignore it when you’re looking at the micro. Kind of a ‘take care of the pennies’ approach. But not quite. You’ll see what I mean.

The House Built by Many

Still not convinced? Let’s build a house. The civil authority and architect comes on site to inspect. They care that the house is on a solid foundation, that it hasn’t extended its boundaries, that it’s actually being built in the proper orientation and according to standards. They do not care, and do not waste time, checking to see if the front door is brown, or that the cornices have been cut at forty-five degrees. They’ll drive up with the plans, check the essentials, make some recommendations and drive off.

That’s all.

The carpenter might need to be called in to make some modifications, the plasterer then has to re-do that back wall now that it has been moved two feet that way, and close off the second dining room.

The painter, who comes in after the wood and plasterwork is done doesn’t have to worry about anything except what colour goes where.

Now, let’s take the same example, and get a multi-skilled architect/plumber/carpenter/plasterer/painter to do everything, all at once. It’d be a shemozzle.

That’s why I recommend that you print, sweep, edit, print, sweep, edit, etc. until your goals are met.

My current set of sweeps, going from the macro to the micro, looks like this:

  1. Story
  2. Language
  3. Correctness

But you could easily break these up into finer goals if you’re inclined, or if you have people who are particularly good at certain things. For example, getting a member of your target audience to check your story is great: so long as they understand that it’s a draft and far from perfect, they will be able to give you valuable insight into where the story falls down, if it’s gripping or tantalising or entertaining (or the antonyms of these).

Likewise, if you know a stickler for grammar, grab them by the scruff of the neck and help distribute the load. If they refuse, you can always bait them into helping you out:

You – “Hmm. I might have put the apostrophe in the wrong spot. And is it right to end a sentence in a preposition?”

Stickler – “Huh? Where? Wait, is this just a trick to rope me into correcting your book?”

You – “Never! But, now that you mention it…”

My only rule here is that you cannot perform the sweeps in parallel. Well, as you get to the pointy end, it ain’t so hard and fast, since the structure isn’t going to change a lot, but if you try and do grammar and spelling and language and story all at once, you’re going to need to do it all again, anyway.

One idea I have been toying with, to ease the pain somewhat, is using a versioning tool like SVN to track changed between ‘versions’, much the same as I would track changes in software. I’m not sure how it would work, or if it would actually provide any benefit, but I’m willing to give it a crack on my next book. I’ll let you know how I go.

So what do I mean by Story, Language and Grammar? I’ll fill you in on my next post.

First, Buy a Good Red Pen

Back at school, when the teacher took out the red pen, you knew exactly what was coming. Underlines, circles, cross-outs, comments and the occasional tick. All in aid of making your work better.

Now that you’re an author, you’re going to have to do this yourself unless, of course, you have the luxury of getting someone else to do it for you (in which case get them to read these). For the rest of us, it’s a groan-worthy task, but a necessary one nonetheless. Why? Because whether you like it or not, your draft is full of holes.

Big. Whopping. Holes.

The Almighty Red Pen

You’ve done your manuscript electronically. You typed it up on a word processor, you ran the spell checker, you hit the save button a billion times, it’s all digital. So why on Earth would I encourage you to fall back to pen and paper?

Because it allows you to focus. No computer or tablet or phone or laptop means no distractions. Maybe just five minutes of cats playing the piano? Not with paper.

And even if you’re the disciplined type (kudos) there’s an even bigger reason: You’re not obliged to make corrections there and then. This is so important I’m going to paraphrase and put the words in italics: when correcting your work, your job is to spot the mistakes and suggest corrections, not actually make the corrections.

AlmightyRedPenGo back to the teacher example: when correcting, they indicate issues, suggest solutions, offer other words or phrases, but they do not push you out of the way and start typing for you. Their job, at the point of correction, is to indicate to you that something is wrong. It’s then up to you to go back, with the bundle of corrections in hand, and fix up what needs fixing up.

Nothing should get in the way of your corrections. If you print out your manuscript, you can take it with you, or even a couple of pages at a time if you don’t have capacity, so that while you’re waiting for the bus or sitting down for lunch, you can whip out that red pen and play the role of teacher.

If you think it’s a waste of paper printing out your 400 page tome, think again. A lot of books these days are electronic. Every eBook sold is another bundle of pulp that doesn’t need to be bleached, dried and printed. And by ensuring your book is up to scratch, you reduce the number of editions it might suffer through.

At all costs, avoid the temptation to fix up errors there and then. Don’t be worried, your book is still a draft, right? It hasn’t seen the light of day. It’s pliable. Just be patient and do your corrections.

“But,” you say, “I’ve got a bril idea that I’ve just got to get down before it escapes.”

Good, that’s a very good thing, and we’ll deal with that in a second. Bear with me.

Tactics

Recently I’ve been using SCRUM for software development and, as Scrum Master (yes, it’s a thing. Look it up if you don’t believe me. Go on.), one of my duties is to ensure that the developers have no impediments to perform their duties.

Not to imply that Developers are apt to call any little stumbling block an impediment, far from it, Developers work best when everything is running smoothly. Any interruption, be it from software, or from other developers or stakeholders, or from improperly written specifications, breaks the ‘Zone’ effect and slows the whole process down.

So, too, with correcting: Sure, you can correct with a scrappy printout, a scratchy pen and a noisy bunch of kids running around your legs. No, really, you can. I’ve done it. The thing is, I didn’t do it very well. The trick is to give yourself the best chance to get into the zone, to put on the teacher’s hat, to be your worst critic.

# Firstly, buy a good red pen. Don’t get that old, dry, chewed, hair covered, broken stick out of the bottom of the drawer. Go to Officejerks and splash out on something good, treat yourself. .5mm to .7mm tip, nice and wide, but not too wide. I prefer a ball-point for writing, but felt-tips are nice too if they aren’t old, dry or flattened. Goopy ink is a no-no, since it has a tendency to drag across the page, or get smudged by your hand. Smooth, bright – almost fluorescent – ink is best.

You want any correction to stand out on the page from three feet back.

# Highlighters aren’t a bad option, but there are two things, from experience, that prevent me from using them. Firstly, when I’m sitting in front of my machine, after making the corrections, I wear my Gunnar glasses which have a distinct yellow tint. Yellow highlights don’t show up as well and I found that I missed some corrections, although blue is pretty good.

Secondly, if I’m correcting, making a quick dab with a highlighter to spot a spelling mistake is great, but if there’s anything further required, such as scribbling a note or putting a comma in, then I have to change to the red pen, which breaks my flow. And writing notes in a highlighter doesn’t work.

Still, a two pronged approach of highlighters for spelling and punctuation and red pen for notes, alternate words and markers is a sound option if you don’t mind swapping out your tools as you go.

# Clamp your paper with a bulldog clip. Staples don’t cut the mustard when you’ve got a thick wad of papers. With a good clip, you can also remove pages so you can bring only a chapter at a time to work.

# Print your work out on nice, tactile paper with a good printer. Laser printers work best, I find, since the pen writes nicely over the carbon, and drops of coffee don’t smear the text. I prefer a serif font, one with the little dangly bits on the end of the characters, since I find it easier to read, but that’s just a preference.

# I don’t go for double-spacing. I tried it and found it very distracting. 1.5 spacing was OK, since it separates each sentence out, but for the last few, I’ve reverted to single spacing. It’s just easier for me to read. And that’s, once again, the message I’m throwing at you here: remove all impediments that you can, make it comfortable to correct, and it won’t be such a chore nor will the quality of the correction suffer.

# When it comes to finding a time and a place to correct, I use the same ideas that I use when finding a time and a place to write. The only real difference is that I use a computer only to pump out noise, and do the rest of my work on the piece of paper in front of me.

As for what and how to correct, I’m going to put that into a coming post, since this one has gone on for long enough.

Ironing out the Kinks

Hot dog! You’ve finished the first, second or even third draft of your book. Kudos, congrats, and give yourself a pat on the back. Seriously, well done. Not everyone gets to this stage and it’s a big achievement, one that really ought to be celebrated.

Now take a deep breath and brace yourself, because you’ve only just hit the foot of the mountain. Yes, really. Do you remember when you first sat down and started to type? When you first decided, “Hey, I’m doing this, come Hell or high water”? Remember that? It seems so long ago, so surely this must be the end of the journey, right?

Keep going

A draft is called a draft for a reason: It’s not the final piece. But it’s close. Just spelling, punctuation and all of that boring stuff. Uh, no. It is not necessarily, and necessarily it is not.

Fast-forward your life about a year, then revisit your book. Can you see yourself holding your head in your fists, cringing? Aw, geez. Did I actually write that? Wow, I could have made that paragraph more exciting. Ew, I’ve gone and used the wrong turn of phrase there, there and there. That smells very cliche. And I’ve gone and used the term ‘predetermination’ seven times in one paragraph.

Crud. That must mean you’re a terrible author, having all those things in there. No one wants to read that, you might as well never publish a book again. Yeah, yeah it would mean that unless you… Zzzzzip! Rewind a year and sit back down. Breathe again. You’re back in the present. That was a scary future, wasn’t it?

You see, you’ve done the hard yards. You’ve crafted your sculpture, it has the shape it needs, some part are very finely crafted, other bits have been slapped on, other bits don’t actually belong at all. And, what’s more, there are greater issues you might want to worry about now rather than later.

Continuity is a big one: If your character laments the loss of his parents in one chapter, then is chatting with his father in the next (and it’s not time-travel sci-fi) you’ve got a whopping hole in your plot. Other examples may be more subtle, but they’ll stick out like a sore thumb to your readers.

Let’s say the city in which your protagonist resides is a sprawling metropolis, void of plant matter. It’s like this because you are demonstrating a futuristic dystopia, and it’s necessarily sterile. If your protagonist then hides from a rioting crowd by hiding up a tree or behind some bushes… yeah. “Oh, um, there happened to be a small park in the city I forgot to mention.” Too late. You’ve busted the concept of the stark city and you’ll have the reader scouring for anything ‘else’ that might be wrong.

But it’s not just the structure you should be looking at. The way something reads is equally as important. Just because a sentence is grammatically correct doesn’t mean that it’s the right one to use. Repetition and tics are just a couple of nasties that you don’t really get to see while you’re writing, but are glaringly apparent on review. A lot of these come from common speech, and they can be really useful in dialog to give realism to a character. I’ll get into these in a later post.

Iron out the kinks

If a character always says, “Yeah, but…” at the start of a sentence, or answers regularly with “Um,” or is a highway patrolman who suffixes any statement with “real quick”, then that becomes a nice handle for the reader to know who’s speaking. And, if the text is an informal narrative, spoken by a local recounting a situation or in a casual manner, these tics can also lend credence.

Outside of this, they can become really, really annoying. If a character takes a ‘little’ bite and runs a ‘little’ way and pokes his head over the wall a ‘little’, the reader is liable to become annoyed. I recently read a book where everything was ‘almost’. The author was using this to an effect, to deliberately draw attention to the main character’s plight, but he almost lost me.

Can’t someone else do it?

Doing a review is tedious. After all, there isn’t any surprise for you. Not only have you read the book before, you’ve done it ten times, analysed the sentences until they lost their meaning, scrutinised the characters and places and underlying metaphors and the premise and the theme and the setting and…

You have a few choices. You can pay someone to do it. This is good, if you have cash to splash. If you don’t, you might consider asking a friend to help you out. Aroogah! It’s at this point you need to evaluate your friendship.

Before you go and thrust your novel underneath their nose with expectant eyes, put yourself in their shoes and ask, honestly:

  • Can they criticise your work, openly, without fluffing about?
  • Can you accept their criticism, openly, without getting defensive?
  • Have they got the time and motivation to read your first draft?
  • Are they ‘competent’ to make critical comments?
  • Very importantly: Are they a member of the target audience?

Don’t be offended if they decline the request. It’s work, after all. In terms of motivation, someone might be an avid reader, great, but they won’t be too happy if you offer them a Romance novel when their preferred genre is Zombie Horror.

Having someone read your book is a most useful thing – if they get it. You can ask things like ‘Did you get the underlying metaphor?’ or ‘Was Sally too weak at the end?’ or even ‘Not enough gore? Too much gore?’ and expect decent answers. Remember that they aren’t writing the novel, so they don’t get to dictate terms, and their advice might be completely wrong, but at least it’s a fresh set of eyes.

If they aren’t your target audience, you’re wasting your time: “I just don’t like this, Jez, the characters are too violent and what’s with all the blood? Can’t they sort out their differences with diplomacy and tact?”

“Grandpa, it’s called ‘Attack of the Killer Tentacles from Outer Space‘ not ‘The Diplomats of Venus‘!”

Hmm. I think I just found the title of my next book…

Slow down there, Tiger!

Great stuff, Max! You knocked out your draft, you managed to find some people to read over it and give you advice. You probably even went back and deleted a bunch of crud, reworked some bits, softened your metaphors. Come on! What are you waiting for? Now you’re ready to publish.

No, you’re not. What? Aw, come on! I’ve got to go through it again?

Yes. Yes, you do.

Don’t Rush It

One of my biggest mistakes when I was fumbling about in the dark, figuring out how to get Adaptation out to the big, wide world, was pushing too hard to see it online. In software terms, I released an untested beta version.

There were spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. There were issues with names being consistent (true story). I’d even left some markers in there. Wow. Bad. Very bad. Crawl under the bed and hide bad.

I had, as a dummy check, run the word processor’s spell and grammar checker over it. Didn’t pick up everything. I hadn’t managed to get anyone else to help proof it, I had different copies all over the place, and I was reaching the end of my tether trying to get hold of someone to talk to about publishing.

SlowDownIt wasn’t perfect, I knew it wasn’t perfect, and, wait for it… I pushed it out anyway. The reasons behind the rush was frustration, impatience and ignorance. The fact that it was digital meant that pushing out the update wasn’t as painful than if it was a hard-copy, but please, please don’t rely on that. That’s disrespecting your audience and it’s something I regret to this day.

Learn from my mistakes. Being an independent author is hard enough without having to lose sleep over a bungle let loose in the wild. Take your time, be patient and do it right the first time.

Doing it Right the First Time

Spell checkers are great. They can pick up little mistakes here and there. Grammar checkers have come a long way, too. You can tune them to your style and they can warn you about dropped words, poor sentence structure, and all of that cool stuff.

They are not perfect. Just because the spell checker passes, and the grammar checker is only complaining about the silliest of things, does not, NOT, mean that your book is flawless.

Having another reader run over it, either paid or unpaid, increases the likelihood that mistakes will be spotted and weeded out. Increase. Likelihood. We’re talking about probability here. If you’ve given your book to the butcher, do you think he spent his time cutting up meat and serving customers, or kicking around in the back with a red pen correcting your mistakes?

And this is what it comes down to: No matter what technique you use to clean up your act, no matter how fine your digital nit-comb, no matter how many people you pass your paper to, you are responsible for the end result.

There’s no use turning around, after the fact, and pointing your finger at someone else and saying, “You should’ve picked up on that!” Why not? Because your book is out there, being read by a bunch of people all around the world, and they aren’t going to give two hoots whether you or your spell checker or your editor or your butcher didn’t pick up a mistake.

So what can you do? Give your book the best chance possible. The longer the story is unpublished, the greater the chance of finding those little flecks of mud that would spoil an otherwise golden scene. Hold off. Put the book down. Go onto something else. Get some well deserved exercise. Come back to it in a week, a fortnight, a month even, enough time for you to kind of forget about it so you can experience it with fresh eyes.

Another technique I’ve found works really good is printing out a hard copy, bulldog clipping it, taking out a red pen and sitting down to read. I’ll elaborate more about this approach in a future post, since it’s a bit more than just printing and skimming.

Lastly, even when you’re sure you’ve got it just the way you want it, print it out in PDF or create an ePub and pop it on your favourite reading device. You can get programs that will do this for you (Calibre – I’m looking at you), so you get to see a preview, including the front cover, of just how it’s going to be.

Then sit down and read it. If you need to give yourself another fortnight off before you start, do that. The book will be published soon enough, so relax about that, think long term: in six months, you’ll be sleeping easier knowing that you’ve spent some of your precious time giving your readers something you’re proud of.