Today I printed off the first hard copy of my novel. It’s funny how you spot things in a hard copy that you don’t see on the screen. Even as it was printing out, I spotted the odd typo and spelling mistake that had somehow slipped through all my previous edits.
Once I’ve completed yet another edit on this hard copy, I plan to send the book to a professional editor to give it a final polish. It’s not cheap to use a professional editor and a few of my writing friends, who are considering self-publishing, wonder why I’m doing it so I’ll try and answer that here:
Every book published by mainstream publishers has been through a separate editing process performed by somebody other than the author: I don’t know of any author who feels that their book was not improved by the process – you only have to read the acknowledgements at the end of most novels to see evidence of this.
The simple truth is that I’ve invested a huge amount of my own time in this project and I want my work to be as good as it can possibly be to enable readers to get the maximum pleasure from it. I don’t regard this as an expense but as an investment in quality.
Even so, it is scary handing over something that I’ve been working on for a little over 12 months to someone else to criticise. I want them to like it but I’m paying them to pick holes in it. A speaker at the York Festival of Writing said that giving somebody honest feedback on their work is a bit like telling a mother that her newborn is ugly! So it’s fair to say I’m nervous about what they might tell me …
Remove distractions and add warmth and colour when editing
On a rare sunny day this November, I set out to capture a picture of Cardiff’s fairy-like Castell Coch (which is Welsh for Red Castle) surrounded by glorious autumn colours. Unfortunately, by the time I found my chosen location, the sun had gone behind the clouds and some of the trees looked distinctly bare! Also, although the view was beautiful, unsightly distractions like telegraph wires and lamp-posts spoiled it.
The photo on the left is ‘As Shot’ and, like some of my first drafts in fiction, it feels a bit dull and lifeless. The wonder of digital photography is that, just like fiction, with a few judicious editing adjustments, one is able to erase the distractions and tease out the richness of the colours to end up with the photo on the right. Those colours were lurking in the trees all the time: they were just hidden from view.
So if you feel the first draft of your novel, or short story, has too many distractions and lacks warmth don’t give up on it. Maybe all it needs is a few deft cuts and a tweak of colour to turn it into a masterpiece.
If you want to know more about editing first drafts then why not spend eighteen minutes in the company of my good friend and fellow writer Paul D Williams who’s done a Video Blog on this very topic.
Here’s the link: http://www.pauldwilliams.com/2012/author-vlog-day-6a/
‘How much is enough?’ was once a question on an internal audit examination paper asking what is sufficient evidence to form an accurate audit opinion. It’s also a question I overhear writers asking about research. The short answer is ‘it depends’ but that wouldn’t earn many exam marks so here is a longer answer:
If you stick with the old adage and ‘write about what you know’ then you may not need to do much research. My novel White Van Man is about a redundant banker who turns to freelance deliveries. I have worked in a bank, driven a white van and Mrs D worked for a national courier firm so my research needs were minimal. On the other hand, if you know little about your subject, you may need to do a lot of research ‘up front’ to make your story seem authentic and plausible. I recently felt inspired by a TV documentary to write a short story about Kalahari bush men hunting antelope. I’ve never been to Africa and all I knew about the bush men was contained in a 5 minute excerpt from that programme. I spent more time leafing through library books and scouring the Internet for that story than I did writing it! But when I read it to my writers’ circle, two members of the group who’d lived in Africa said it evoked wonderful memories for them and assumed I must’ve been there. Their comments made all that research worthwhile.
At this year’s Hay Festival, Ian Rankin told his audience that he did no research until after the first draft was written because that way he knew exactly what he needed to know and didn’t waste any time researching information he didn’t require.
Some writers research up front, some at the end, and some say they write until they reach a point where they need to know something and then research it. Personally, I don’t recommend this last approach because it can disrupt the flow of your work.
So, either you know what you know, or you can find out what you don’t know. But it’s not that simple! Some novels suffer from what I call over-research-syndrome. This occurs when an author, having dedicated so much time and effort on research, is determined to work it all into the novel come what may: The result can read like a text book rather than a piece of fiction. Which brings us neatly back to the question: How much is enough?
The reader needs to have sufficient confidence to believe the situation described in the novel is as real as it can be but not so much that they lose the plot. A few telling facts scattered here and there is usually enough to achieve this.
Perhaps the biggest danger is what you don’t know you don’t know. I once heard P D James tell of a reader who complained about one of her early novels describing a motorbike reversing down a lane. Apparently, motorbikes don’t reverse down lanes (although I’ve not researched this!).
I’m thinking of renaming my novel ’50 shades of White Van Man’ and adding some sex-in-the-back-of-the-van scenes.
I’ve hardly mentioned it so far, but I started this blog with the intention of diarising my attempts to bring my debut novel ‘White Van Man’ to public attention – ideally via the traditional agent/publisher route, although I won’t rule out self-publishing either.
Most of my big ideas come to me in the bath and this was no exception. I’d just finished reading a magazine article when I spotted in the small ads a ‘white van man’ offering his courier services with the claim ‘no job too small’. It started me dreaming about the freedom of being my own boss and having the kind of job where the only real decision I faced each day was where to stop for coffee (well it was a dream!). In these austere times, many of us have faced the looming prospect of redundancy and, in evaluating our skill set, have had the thought; ‘well at least I can drive’. I know I certainly have.
At the time, my wife worked as a customer services manager for a nationwide courier firm and she shared with me some of the tough realities that their freelance van drivers faced (I think she was worried I might seriously be considering a career change!).
And from that germ of an idea, I thought wouldn’t it be fun to have some poor ordinary office guy and take away his job and then his wife and then toss him into an unfamiliar world of which he has no real experience and watch him struggle as I threw more and more difficult choices in his path. Once I started, and as the characters came to life for me, the book practically wrote itself. I sincerely hope that, when I’ve finished editing and lovingly polishing it, people will get as much enjoyment from reading it as I had writing it.
I’ve booked some one-to-ones with agents at a Writing Festival in September in the hope that one of them will wave my book in front of the big publishers and start a bidding war for the rights to publish me (Well, I never stop dreaming! As they say in the song ‘Happy Talk’ – you gotta to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?).
This week I’ve made a free 1500 word short story available on my website. It’s a prize-winning story that I wrote in 2002. The story was later published in a local short-story magazine which, sadly, is no longer available.
The inspiration came from an exercise on a creative writing workshop. Participants were given two fictitious lists of contents for a briefcase and a handbag and had to choose one of them and paint a pen-picture of whoever they imagined might be the owner. I chose the handbag and when I returned home this story just developed. If you can spare the time please download and read Snatch and Grab and I sincerely hope you enjoy it.
Here is the link: www.robertdarke.com/stories.html
After reading my last blog ‘The Art of the Invisible’ (June 6th), a family member joked that offering invisible money for groceries wouldn’t cut much ice at the supermarket. This made me wonder whether one might try and blag one’s way past the ticket office for the ‘Invisible Art’ exhibition at the Haywards Gallery by slapping a few invisible notes on the counter and then showing your invisible ticket to the attendant. After all, invisible money isn’t much of a stretch for the imagination – my money disappears so fast these days it could almost be invisible. And, isn’t the world financial crisis largely down to banks lending invisible money that they never actually had to people with invisible means of paying it back?
As I stare at the blank page before me (as we writers allegedly do) I’m still thinking that publishing a blank book containing an invisible story isn’t such a bad idea. Perhaps the blurb on the cover would read something like this:
Between these covers is a story that will change your life. Autobiography, Science Fiction, Crime, Romance, this work transcends genre and defies classification. A story that knows no boundaries and is limited only by your imagination. It can be whatever you want it to be. You won’t need a bookmark as you can turn to any page and take up exactly where you left off. You can even read it in the dark. This extraordinary tale is available in every language in the world and can be purchased from all good stationers, or as a download from selected websites in a variety of electronic formats.
The other thing that is invisible and disappears almost as fast as money is time – so thank you for sharing yours with me. Goodbye for now, please do return soon.