woensdag 12 februari 2014

Editing Blues

Warning! There will be a lot of moaning and sighing in this blog (get your mind out of the gutter, you)

Editing… there are writers who get satisfaction out of the process, and there are writers who will liken the process to Chinese water torture. I –unfortunately- belong to the latter group.
To me editing is a long and arduous process, a necessary evil. Let me paint the picture for you. I’m an impulsive writer, and though I do all the things like ‘plotting’, ‘world building’ and ‘research’, I also spent a large part of writing flying by the seat of my pants. I know what direction I want to go, I have a compass… but I may be a little creative as what route I take, and where my pit stops are.
The process of writing a story is delicious. I am often curious how my own characters will react to the situations I want to put them through (I only know that once I start writing it). Writing can be very much like reading, and I love the journey I get to take when navigating through my own worlds. It’s really the best job ever.
But then, after a few weeks… I’m done with the exciting part… and that’s where I have to ‘find the flaws’. This isn’t fun. It’s like grading papers for a teacher, only it’s your own work and you have to read the same thing ‘over and over’ again. By the end of the ‘editing dance’ I feel a healthy loathing for my own work.
Whenever I say this, there is always one person who will scold me. “If you don’t like your work, how can you expect readers to like it.”
To those of you who think like that, I would like to say the following: Take your favorite book, now read it 30 times in a row. Don’t read other works, just that one. And read it for several hours a day. Don’t just read it either, examine it… find the what works and what doesn't. Then when  you are done… read it again. Sometimes, read it out loud… try to think of each and every sentence and wonder if this sentence could be better. If you still love the book with equal passion right after, you can be as judgmental as you like. *sticks out her tongue*
So… editing sucks when you’re me (or a ton of other writers), especially when it’s your own work. It’s hard to restructure sentences that you made, and it’s even harder not to go overboard with it. Near the end of the process, I doubt EVERYTHING I wrote and wonder if there isn’t a better way to tell the story. Sometimes I get insecure, and then I rewrite the story a lot. Same story… different words. Over and over and over again. Not my favorite pastime… no sir.
The good thing is, that not unlike a pregnancy, by the time I get really fed up with it, is the time I give birth to the project. And that point is very rewarding. Then I get to see my ‘baby’ finished and it’s time to present it to the world. Readers will suddenly make this story I hated feel like a wonderful little miracle again, and the pain of the long edit will be forgotten. So it’s all good… usually. 
Only lately it hasn’t been. This time I’ve been editing and rewriting since November, and my project has been grounded for a while. So when I was done with my ‘Even Hell Has Standards’ project ‘Pride’, I started to rewrite Alleria. That was the worst editing job ever, because I not only changed 1st person POV into 3rd person, but also past tense into present. When that was done, it got put on hold too. It’s with Beta Readers now, so I need to be patient. Since Pride still wasn’t going anywhere, and I was waiting for Alleria, I decided to finish Coyote. But it had been several months since I wrote anything, and I needed to refresh my memory. When I tried to read the piece, I found so many little niggly things, that I decided: Why not edit up to the point where I wrote it. So I did… more editing, and in the end I only spent about a week writing the end to the damn thing. Then… it was back to editing again.
Rather than having my ‘full circle’, I now am stuck up to my eyeballs in editing work, and nothing feels like it’s getting ‘done’. This is childish of me, I know… I’m not saying that nothing *IS* getting done, it just feels that way. Add in there query letters, marketing and agent quests and I’ve been having a bit of a miserable time lately. Not that I won’t enjoy the outcome of it all… because I will. But I’m shallow… and I’m addicted to the writing part. I love that point where a project is ‘done’ and it’s time to move on to the next story that’s whispering in my ear.
So between that and some nice personal issues, I’ve been a little grumpy. But I know the time where I get to write new things again is in my future. It might still be quite far away… but I’ll get there. Light… end of a tunnel… all that jazz.

 Until that time… I got me the editing blues.

woensdag 5 februari 2014

Even Hell Has Standards

“Pride”, it’s the first story in my “Even Hell Has Standards” collection / series (not quite sure where this one stands, because they are separate stories, yet they’re interlinked with each other, and they all belong in the same ‘universe’ so to speak.) This story has been giving me some grief over the past few months.

The idea for a series came from two stories I wrote about Hell, and I used the same theme in both. I thought it would be great if I worked both those stories out and added some more. For some reason I thought 7 stories would be a good number, and from there I decided to use the 7 sins concept.

What I want to do with this series is not just write about demons, but I want to write about the darkness of humanity. My story ‘Only Forgotten’ was a perfect fit for this idea, and with a rewrite this story should become ‘Pride’.

I’ll not lie to you, I’ve struggled with finding the right balance for this story. It’s challenging to rewrite something that already made a statement. I got some very good reviews about Only Forgotten, and it was a solid story. But in my opinion it needed some improvement too, a better narrative ‘voice’ for one. I’ve written so many drafts that –to be honest- the story went to the point of frustrating me. The character didn’t quite work each time, though the story was there. I wrote a lot of background for Adolf Zakerny, and then decided to use none of it. I made him more human, and then in a new draft, I took his humanity away again. The struggle still isn’t over, so I’m still writing and tweaking, until I’m satisfied this story will impress readers (okay, maybe not all readers, but that’s impossible)

At this moment I’m focusing more on full length novel writing, than I am on short pieces, but the “Even Hell Has Standards” series will be a fun challenge.

zaterdag 1 februari 2014


I watched a terrible movie today, and it made me want to talk about Storytelling (the movie was I, Frankenstein, btw. I also watched the Hobbit 2, which asked me to suspend my belief a bit more than I was willing to do, though I thought the latter was okay.)
Storytelling is an underestimated part of writing, and it’s one that a lot of people do from their gut feeling. Though there are a few tricks and rules to telling a good story, and it can make all the difference. Storytelling is important in all sorts of forms of entertainment, but right now I would like to focus on both books and movies / tv-shows.
Have you ever read a book, or saw a movie, where you liked the idea behind it, but the story just didn’t work for you? It’s probably because the story was riddled in plot holes or the writers just made some crucial mistakes (not hiding the gun or bad research are also key elements). You often put down the book, or turn off the movie, with that unsatisfied feeling in your gut.
One of the things I pride myself on as a writer, is that I have the ability to surprise readers now and again. I’m sure I don’t surprise all readers all the time, but I’ve heard enough people say “I did not see that coming” to know that it has an effect on people. But there is a trick to that, because you can’t just create a random ending to surprise people… your readers will feel tricked. It’s like watching a ‘who dun it’ movie, and the killer ends up being a whole new person that you never heard before. If your audience doesn’t get a chance to figure it out, they will feel cheated. And so what if there are people who will guess your plot? If you write it well, they will still like it, and there will always be people who didn’t poke through your hints.
Chuck Palahniuk (hence forth known as Chuck P, because like hell am I spelling that again) calls it ‘hiding the gun.’ You need to show tiny little glimpses of what you plan to do throughout your plot. This is quite difficult, because you don’t want to be blunt about it, and have a bunch of illuminated arrows point at it saying ‘here we are… this is what is going to happen.’ Finding the balance is hard (I know, I struggle with it)
But you need to subliminally prepare your readers (or watchers if you write movies). There is nothing more annoying than being invested in a story that turns out to be something completely different, without giving any hints. If I think I’m watching a film about vampires who are going after a werewolf, and suddenly aliens blow up the world, I will be surprised… and I will hate the freaking film. If however I’m starting to suspect that there might be more at work than vampires and that there could possibly be aliens who want to blow up the world, I’ll be more susceptible for a plot change. If you want to –for example- write a story where it turns out it was all a dream (I wouldn’t recommend it, because that tends to piss people off) make sure you hint from the beginning that there might be dreaming involved. It’s better to get people to shout “I knew it”, than have them say “What is this bullshit?”
So, hiding the gun: SUPER important.
What else is important with storytelling? Oh right… consistency. Know your characters. It’s okay for a character to act… ehm… out of character, but then they need a reason to. If your character has been loyal throughout the book and betrays everyone in the end… have a good reason (and also.. hide the gun, so that the reader could have been suspicious). I have read a lot of books where the author doesn’t seem to have a good grip on the characters, and as a reader you lose faith in them, and may even get annoyed. The characters can distract a reader from your plot, and you want the reader to experience the plot alongside your characters.
Consistency is also important in your setting. It’s okay to ask readers to suspend belief, but you need to be consistent about it. If characters can fly, but need capes to do so, don’t forget the capes in further scenes. It’s a silly example, but I’ve read a lot of books where I stumbled over the inconsistency of the setting. Again you will lose your credibility.
Suspension of belief also goes so far. A good example for me was today when I was watching the second Hobbit movie. I was perfectly fine with a world of Hobbits, Dwarfs, Elves and Dragons… but when the dwarf  sat on a metal boat on top of hot molten gold I rolled my eyes, and harrumphed. “He’d burn alive” I muttered. Actually most of the fire scenes annoyed the crap out of me. The makers hadn’t researched fire.
You can’t mess with things that are real… UNLESS you give them a reason to be an exception. Do your research. If you work with fire, look up how fire works, ask people who might know. You don’t have to have the exact science wrong, but know enough not to be utterly wrong. And if you don’t know A) don’t use it or B) use it but explain why it works different in your story. You are allowed to do that (again… be consistent, if your –for example- fire works different, have it be different in the whole story).
Recently I read a book that actually lost me on the first page because the writer didn’t do the research and put something that was utterly stupid in the book. It wasn’t that well written, but I do think that I would have been slightly less critical if the author hadn’t started off with such a dumb mistake.
Now we all do stuff wrong, so it’s not the end of the world if you mess up on the details for something (I’m sure I do it too) And sometimes you *do* the research, but you got it from the wrong source. That sucks, but it happens. But if you do research, it won’t happen all the time, and you can probably still get away with it *grin*.
 Don’t forget your dramatic structure in storytelling. Though readers want to be surprised, it’s nice to have stories be relatable in some way. As a writer you get a lot of freedom within boundaries to be play with, but step outside of those boundaries, and your readers will struggle.
None of this is easy, but that’s because writing isn’t easy. There are a lot of little rules that can be twisted and bent, but if you really break them, your story can fall flat.
By giving your story love and thought, you can only make it better. That doesn’t mean all readers will like your work –that’s impossible- but at least you know you’ll have a bigger audience that will.
Good luck, and remember: Stories matter!