The Curse of the 5th Chapter

May has been a month of deadlines. One of these deadlines was for a novel development program, open to any genre. Keen to get advice from other writers and editors about how to write a better book, the first decision I had to make was which partially written novel to submit.

This was a bigger challenge than you might expect given how many novels I have started over recent years. I kid you not, I have six novels actively on the go right now. They are in different genres, aimed at different readers, written in very different styles. The one thing they do have in common is that they all stop after the fifth chapter. Why? Because for me, that is when it really starts to feel like a novel and I begin to fall in love with it. So naturally I become terrified that I’m going to stuff the rest up and will find any excuse not to go back to it.

I have long known of this is a particular affliction of mine, and I have read other blogs by other writers who have similar problems, but at different parts of the book. But gratefully for this novel development program I could ignore the bits past chapter five and just pull together the first few chapters for my submission.

Here was my surprise. The first five chapters weren’t great. In fact the first five chapters weren’t even good. They were actually crap. I had spent three years avoiding this book because I loved it so much that I didn’t want to bugger it up, and it turns out that by neglecting it that was exactly what I had done.

What was meant to be just a weekend of work turned into about 25 hours of re-writes and hard edits to get my chapters up to scratch in time for posting on Friday. But what’s even better is that I’m raring to go on chapter six and beyond! So even if the development program doesn’t come through for me, at least I now stand a chance of finishing this book!

So now I guess I have nothing to worry about… Until I hit the curse of the ¾ mark –where you become convinced that your novel is crap. But we’ll cover that in another blog.

Happy Writing!

Nat

The Horrors of Homonyms

Someone recently asked me for some advice about writing and getting published. I know, get back on your chair, I was surprised too! But I wanted to take this seriously so I had a long think about what pearls I could pass on. I know I am no expert, but I have read enough books and spent enough hours with writers to have picked up a thing or two, so I tried to think about the most important ‘rules’.

The thing that kept coming back to me is every rule is there to be broken. I could tell of the pitfalls of point of view slips, the danger of dangling modifiers, the crime of clichés or even how trite it is to marry adjectives to nouns based on them sharing the same first letter. But the cold, hard fact is that I could also show you countless number-one bestselling novels that do all these things in abundance and no one gives a rat’s patooty.

But there is one error that many first time writers (myself included) make that will preclude you from the best seller list; the misplaced homonym. Here are some examples:

  • She drew an ark around them – what, a picture of a boat? That would be arc.
  • The waves crashed on the beech – unless a tree was growing on the beach you want to swap the ‘e’ for an ‘a’. 
  • He was such a boar – unless you are trying to say he was a pig, it would be bore.
  • She lifted the vile to her lips – the contents might be gross, but the receptacle itself would be a vial.

I could go on, but there are smarter people than me who have dedicated full websites to this, so I’ll leave you to explore them. The point is, spell check does not pick them up, even fancy new Word doesn’t get them all. So keep an eye out for these little devils because they can pull the reader right out of the story, and anything that pulls the reader out is working against you.

Now eye knead two go and do sum righting…

Nat

PS My online story is brewing; if you would like to register to receive the updates please send me an email (including your email address) via my website (click here).

Be careful what you wish

Yes, after a week that flew past faster than a rumour spreads in an all-girls school, this week the minutes dragged by. Don’t get me wrong, data modelling and report writing is fascinating stuff (pick the parts of the blog post written in case my boss is reading), but I had so much to do at home this week that I just couldn’t get through the days fast enough.

So I guess the good point to take from that is that I’m back into a writing frame of mind. I’m editing a lot and writing quite a bit of new stuff, so that’s as much as you can ask for, even if the cost is a working week that drags by so slowly you can count the milliseconds and model some data between each one.

On Tuesday I’ll be going to a web writing course. Besides learning that all my blog entries are wrong, I’m hoping to get some new ideas about how to publish some of my stories on line. It is the future after all (well, at least the future until some global cataclysm sends us back to the dark ages of technology). So check in next week for the launch of my online foray into the wonderful world of online publishing.

Finally I would like to make another plea to any of you want-to-be writers out there to get yourselves into a writer’s group. I met up with mine for brunch yesterday and it was just fantastic to spend three hours talking books, story arcs and novel writing problems with a group of like minded people. If you don’t have one yet, go out and get one!

Now, just to get a few gratuitous laughs off someone else’s brilliance, check this out. It made me laugh…

Nat

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Who broke my time-space continuum?

We all partake in a little bending of the time-space continuum now and then; where an hour at work takes three times as long to pass as an hour at home. I was well aware of this phenomenon, but until recently had no idea the extent to which it pervades our lives.  

Nearly two months ago I made the move from part time to full time work. To spice things up my day off each week usually occurred on either a Tuesday or Thursday, which meant I had a ‘mini’ weekend during the week. This addition of quality me time, which always included at least two hours of proper writing, meant my week went for twice as long. It is only now, as I watch five days of my life blur away each week that I find myself asking ‘where the hell has the first half of 2010 gone?’  

This dilemma has sent me to the only place I know to seek answers; Excel. I did some very scientific calculations (complete with graph), and discovered that over a 45 year career, given the above phenomenon, you are only likely to experience about 15 years of life (holidays, public holidays and weekends). That seems like a bit of a raw deal.

Of course shortly someone will pick up one of my novels and I will be able to spend all my time doing something I love (I’m referring to writing, NOT playing FreeCell), but for everyone else trapped in this real life matrix, is 15 years enough? I’ll leave you to ponder that as I start working on my letter to request part time hours again…

Nat

PS I did try to insert my fantastic 3-D pie chart, but even after putting it through Photoshop I couldn’t make it compatible with the blog software, so you’ll just have to imagine it!

Watching ER doesn’t make you a doctor

When in school, our teachers always told us to write what we know –meaning we should write our real life experiences. Having a natural bent towards speculative fiction, I didn’t have much one on one time with vampires, flesh eating nematodes or alternate realities. So I just dismissed this advice as not being applicable to me.

That was until yesterday.

For the first time in my life I went horse riding where I actually got to hold the reigns and tell the beast where to go. Now it is true that horse riding has not starred much in my stories, but I’ve seen enough movies to know they are placid, big, dumb creatures without a thought in their heads, only too keen to do our bidding as our knee clamps and reign pulling dictates. This rule, my friends, is false. It only applies in TV-land.

Mum, if you are reading this, skip the next two paragraphs… I got the trotting bob thing down pat, I was directing my horse like an extra from The Man from Snowy River, it was easy, just as I expected. Then we got to the beach. Turns out my horse did have a mind of its own, and in that mind waves were scary. The waves yesterday were BIG. My horse went from a walk that was barely enough to hint at movement to a full gallop. No, there was no trot and the ‘canter’ thing was completely bypassed. We went from standing still to full gallop in one quick splash of a wave. Did I mention I’ve never ridden a horse before?

Now it didn’t take me long to realise I had lost complete control of the animal and that my fingers were slipping from the death-grip they had on the saddle. And between the blessed moments of logic which told me to take my feet out of the stirrups before I fell off and when I actually went through with the plunge down to the gloriously soft sand, I had the thought that it wasn’t meant to go like this. What was that based on? The rules of TV land!

So now I am bruised, but fully functional, and also aware of three things that I will keep in mind when writing about horses; 1. You can never trust the creature to do what you tell it, 2. You must always be on the lookout for that moment of rebellion, with a plan to counteract it, and 3. When you fall off a horse you do not simply get up, brush down you jodhpurs and pop back up again ready to sword fight or run down some rogue; it hurts and it freaks you out!

So maybe those teachers (and countless ignored-till-now writing books) do have a bit of a point. When you write, if you are basing your logic or assumptions on something you have seen in fictional TV shows, no matter how heavily ensconced in the law of TV land, do some research and find out if it is true. After all, how often do you hang up the phone without saying goodbye?