Saturday, 27 October 2012

Editing & Word-Smithing

How should an author edit their own novel? Well, I’m doing it right now for Eden’s Revenge, and thought I’d set down some guide-rules for the record.

First, the novel should be in a good state of repair. It should have been edited several times already, chapter by chapter, to the point that the author is reasonably happy with it, and some ‘readers’ are too. What I do then, is wait a month, not touching it, getting some mental and emotional ‘distance’ between me and the novel. Three months would probably be better, but I’m not that patient.

Having worked on it for 1-3 years double-spaced 12 point Times New Roman, I print it out single-spaced so that there are two pages on each sheet of A4 (well, I print it double-sided as I care about trees). I then read it as if it were a book, making corrections and notes with a pen here and there. At the end of each chapter, I fire up my Sony and then put in the edits. Here's the thing: I have to print it out to do this type of editing - just reading it on a screen is not the same. It might work for some authors, not this one.

Then, I go through it from the start to the end, a chapter at a time, and I don’t leave a chapter until I’m happy with it. Here’s a rough checklist – not that I use it religiously:

  1. Does each chapter have a good opening line and paragraph, and a good finish line?
  2. Is there some kind of ellipse between the beginning and the end, to give a sense of resonance?
  3. Is the place and time clear at the start of each chapter?
  4. Is it clear from whose point of view (POV) the chapter is written?
  5. Is there tension in the chapter? Does the tension increase?
  6. Is the dialogue predictable? (if so re-write it)
  7. Do I avoid my common faults, grammatical irregularities, clichés, pet colours, as well as overuse of my favourite adjectives, unusual nouns, verbs and (heavens!) adverbs? Have I ‘word-smithed’ it enough (not too little, not too much)?
  8. Do I vary sentence structure and length?
  9. Are there any dangling pronouns?
  10. Do I get ‘hooked’ when I read it?
  11. Is the setting and action ‘visual’? Does it read like watching a movie?
  12. Does the end make me want to turn the page?

  1. Are the first and last two chapters as good as they can possibly be?
  2. Are too many characters and points of view introduced too early in the book?
  3. Is it clear what the main characters want, and what is blocking them? Is external conflict matched by inner conflict?
  4. Are characters consistent, including their ‘voice’, throughout the book?
  5. Do the protagonists change by the end of the book? Have events changed them in some way?
  6. Are the chapters in the most effective order (in terms of impact) for the reader?
  7. Is the tone consistent throughout the book?
  8. Have I avoided the ‘sagging middle’ phenomenon often afflicting novels?
  9. Have I overused or repeated any ‘plot devices’?
  10. Have I avoided ‘Deus ex Machina’?
  11. Is the book paced well? Is suspense maintained?
  12. Does the story deliver on all its promises, tie up all loose ends, yet still leave me craving more?

The above guidelines are not for all novels, but they are the ones I use. I try to do this editing of the entire book in about a week. It has to be done in a short space of time, so that, for example, if I use the strong verb ‘strafe’ on page 12, then a few days later when I see that I’ve used the same word on page 124, I may change it to another strong verb so it still has impact. Certainly if I saw the word again on page 300, I’d definitely change at least one of its uses. Similarly if one character uses ‘Dammit!’ a lot, and then I have another character using it later on, I would probably change it. Such seemingly minor details are picked up by readers, who sometimes read an entire book in a few days. It is therefore important to do manuscript editing in a short period of time, because otherwise these small details will be forgotten.

When I finish it, I then send it off to a professional reader, for two reasons. The first is that such a reader will see it differently and may point out inconsistencies or sections that don’t make sense to them, or even sections that might offend some readers (due to a blind spot in the author’s sensibilities – this happened to me on book 2, and I duly changed it!). The second reason is that such a review normally takes a month, and so when I see the novel again I can read it with a fresher mind. If the urge to edit and change is still there, then it clearly isn’t ready. My first book (The Eden Paradox) went through three such cycles over an eighteen month period, my second book (Eden’s Trial) two cycles, so this time, fingers crossed.

One final rule is that when I am doing such editing, then it matters what I’m reading, too. I’m currently reading the Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, whose literary scifi style is excellent. Trouble is, I’m nearly at the end, so I have to get my editing done soon, though I have my reliable back-up of the latest Iain Banks scifi novel waiting just in case!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

When to stop writing

To most confirmed writers, the short answer is never, but there are times to press the pause button. Here are a few of mine:

  • At the end of the first draft of a novel
  • When your writing starts to suck
  • When life events demand your full attention
  • When you have writer’s block
And here re two that shouldn't affect your passion for writing:
  • Because you think you’re no good at it
  • Harsh criticism
At the end of the first draft of a novel
I’ve just finished the first full draft of my third novel (Eden’s Revenge), and I need a break. Not just on account of a drain of creative and emotional energy that got poured into it during the last few frenzied weeks of writing and editing, but because I need some distance between the writing and my editorial mind, so I can step back and see it as a reader might. I’m taking four weeks off it, then I’ll blitz it again during a week and do a editorial makeover job before sending it off for a professional review and suggested changes. By the way, as published writers know, the  only time you truly stop editing and tinkering with a novel is when it comes out in print (doesn’t work for ebooks, as the temptation is always there to upload a revised digital version).

When your writing starts to suck
I have times when I start writing stuff I don’t believe in or simply don’t like when I read it the next day, and figure I’m wasting my time. I’d rather not make bad writing a habit, so I stop. This usually only lasts a few days to a week, and I will try and write something different – a short story or a blog – to get the juices flowing again. Sooner or later (so far) it kicks in pretty again. This happened this week, but after five ‘dry’ days, one evening a short story about a Physics Nobel Laureate who commits murder just popped into my head, and at 6am the next morning I bashed out the first half of the story non-stop (will get it published before Xmas – it’s called 'Temporal Surgery’).

When life events demand your full attention
Even if we don’t have other ‘day jobs’ (most writers do), life events and situations can take over, whether happy ones like weddings, or sadder events, or pure and simple problem events at work or with one’s kids at school, or a damned neighbour… If it’s an anger event, this can be channelled into writing – a writer friend of mine takes characters pissing her off in real life and embeds them in her stories, killing them off in a variety of ways. But if it’s sad events or just demanding ones, life comes first. This is where my chronic insomnia helps me, as I can deal with such things and then escape back to my writing while most of the rest of the world around me is sleeping.

When you have ‘writer’s block’
There was a time when I got ‘blocked’ over Eden’s Revenge, because I suddenly couldn’t see how to get from where I was to the end (I already worked out the end). This was the longest period of writer’s block I’ve had, and was fuelled by certain ‘life events’ as well, but it was disconcerting, and I actually considered that I might have to give it up as a project. It helped that it was book three in the series, and that readers kept asking me where the hell it was. I started reading more, and not just sci-fi, and while reading the excellent Hyperion by Dan Simmons, which finished on a cliff-hanger, I suddenly saw the way forward. I was also re-watching Babylon 5 and a few other SF series/films, looking for inspiration, and I think it helped. I had started writing another novel, but once I was ‘unblocked’ I threw myself back into Eden’s Revenge and finished it in three months. So if you're blocked, don't force it, do something else for a while, and trust in the right side of your brain, it usually knows what it's doing even if it can't tell you why.

Because you think you’re not good at it
In our writers group we occasionally get some people joining for a short while to see what it’s like, and they submit stuff which we critique. Our group is quite brutal with feedback, because there is no point telling newbie writers their stuff is great when it isn’t, or they simply haven't got the essentials of the craft ‘under their belt’ yet. There are writers groups where everyone tries to be nice and be positive, softening blows, etc. Does it help? I don’t think so. In fact I think it does the reverse. Such people come to believe they have written a good novel and start sending it off to professional agents and they get a rude awakening, and probably give up. But maybe they shouldn’t. Usually if they can hone their craft a bit longer, their writing improves and reaches a level of competence that is good enough to see into print. Whether anyone wants to publish it is another matter. Perseverance is therefore a good thing, but blind perseverance without some guidance can lead to frustration. I wouldn’t give up my writing group even if my books suddenly ‘took off’ and sold a million. The writing skill is like a blade: you have to sharpen it till it can cut cleanly, and then you have to keep it sharpened, or else it will become dull. So, it’s less about ‘because you’re no good at it’, and more about ‘how much do you really want to get published?’

Harsh criticism
Here I’m talking more about criticism from people you don’t know personally, or whom you only know professionally: e.g. writing professionals (agents, professional readers, editors and book doctors) and Amazon reviews. If the professionals tell you your writing sucks without telling you how to improve it, demand your money back (this doesn't apply to agents, who get so many unsolicited submissions a day they simply don't have the time). I had very tough critiques from professional readers (via literary consultancies)  when I first started, but they pointed me in the right directions, and I took their advice, even when I didn’t necessarily believe it would help. Then I found that my writing group thought my writing was getting better, so I stopped being arrogant and accepted the obvious – that professionals usually know what they’re doing (I say ‘usually’ because writing is so subjective, so make sure a professional reader or editor or another writer is in your ‘genre’ or writes work you like to read). If you get advice, and you’ve paid for it, you might as well try it, right? Amazon reviews should always be taken with a pinch of salt. But do yourself a favour – get a few people you know who have liked the book and ask them to do a review (please don’t write your own; I know many writers do) to give you a cushion against inevitable poor reviews (there are ‘trolls’ out there). Also take a look at books you thought were brilliant, and I guarantee you’ll find one or two duff reviews on Amazon in amongst the rest. Do yourself a bigger favour and go through a cycle of professional readings (i.e. where you pay a literary consultancy to evaluate your work) until they say it is good enough to be published. If you have confirmation of your writing ability, you’ll weather the bad reviews and appreciate the good ones.

When not to stop writing
For some writers writing is an addiction (see my short story, Writerholics Anonymous). I don’t need an excuse to write, I love to write. But there is a deadly and seductive enemy to all writers. Can you guess what it is? Sure you can. It’s the internet. The internet is a thief of time if ever there was one. You want to do research, so you Google, then find yourself on Wikipedia, then half an hour later you’re on a YouTube page that has no relation to what you originally went to look for. Or else you think you need to do loads of marketing and blogging and tweeting and Facebooking and GoodReading and everything else-ing, and after a couple of hours you’re exhausted, you’ve burned up all your creative energy. So, what to do? It’s easy. When you sit down to write, and feel the creativity buzzing in your fingertips, DON’T SWITCH ON THE INTERNET. For me this is easy. I have two computers at home, one of which (the one I’m typing on now) doesn’t connect to the internet. If I want to check emails etc. I use the other computer. I’ll maybe write for a couple of hours and THEN check emails and all that other stuff. It’s not going anywhere, but my creativity will dissipate if I don’t catch it while it’s there.   

So, writers, keep on writing. As Terry Pratchett said, its the best fun you can have on your own.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

What would really intelligent aliens want?

I’ve done a couple of blogs before about what aliens would want from earth (e.g. see here), and this includes basic wants and desires such as to seize our resources or to make us their slaves, to just wanting to get to know us. But at the moment I’m writing science fiction about very advanced aliens – the sort who might think about us the way we think today about ants – and what they might want. First, let’s define ‘advanced’. Advanced intelligent aliens at the top of the galactic food chain might be expected to have the following ‘lifestyles aspects’:

  1. They live a very long time (close to immortality)
  2. They don’t fear other species because they are very powerful
  3. They can move around the galaxy with relative ease (they figured out ‘warp’ or other faster than light travel)
  4. They have sufficient resources to remain comfortable.
  5. They have pretty much ‘done everything’ on the ‘one million things to do in the galaxy before I sublimate’ list
  6. A lot of other species (but not us, right?) might treat them as gods.

So, what might such aliens want? Would they be sublime, or unbelievably bored? Here are some potential scenarios.

Alien boredom…
They might travel to other galaxies, or, having done that, try to open up other realms of existence (new or parallel universes). A number of scifi series have hinted at this including Babylon 5 and Stargate, where aliens leave our galaxy (a kind of ‘been there, done that’ solution), or else sublimate (e.g. Stagate’s ‘ancients’ have moved to another ‘realm’ where they are enlightened, even if for some reason their realm looks like an American diner). At one level this side-steps the question, because we don’t really see what they get up to, but why should we, they’re really advanced, and we’re just ants going about our business…

Self-termination, abeyance, dissolution…
It’s conceivable that such long-lived aliens (i.e. millions of years) might decide to die or sleep for untold millennia until something interesting happens worth waking up for. This has been used in various scifi works, where one can wake up something very intelligent (Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep is a nice example of waking up something very intelligent, and very nasty!). In my third book, Eden’s Revenge, a being from one of the very advanced races, the Kalarash, comments that he tried death for a million years or so, but it was so unmemorable he'd rather not try it again.

The Gaia gambit…
I can’t remember who thought of this first (I’m pretty sure I read it in one of Asimov’s later Foundation books), but the idea is that an alien intelligence merges with the biosphere of a planet, diversifying its intelligence into all the life-forms. The idea I suppose is that this way, the alien's intelligence would be fully occupied, and could re-experience the simple pleasures of existence (a deer running, a bird flying) that it has lost by becoming so intellectually advanced.

The Galactic Gardener
Well, this is probably wishful thinking, but such an advanced species might be altruistic and decide to help other species along with their evolutionary growing pains, or exterminate ‘weeds’ where necessary. Hmm, we’d better be careful on that score, given our current propensity for trashing our planet. A nice example of this idea is Greg Egan’s Quarantine, where Earth and humanity are locked into quarantine, without ever knowing why. Other cinematic examples include the ‘Caretaker’, a super-being who effectively launches the Star Trek Voyager series.

Staying with Star Trek for a moment, the Borg are one of the most interesting and frightening alien concepts, wherein highly intelligent aliens would want to assimilate all intelligences into their own, embracing the richness of that intelligence whilst simultaneously destroying its individuality. This is like a warped version of social networking, where the principle of liking someone because he or she is ‘one of us’ is taken to its logical extreme. Xenophobia (fear of ‘otherness’) might well be a Darwinian galactic survival trait. Stargate also picked up this idea in its machine ‘replicator’ species.

Greg Bear’s Hammer of God and Anvil of Stars address this issue, which is that if you’re really smart you get rid of the competition. This of course has to be an option, and Bear’s fiction on this concept is masterful. If there is such a species out there, then we’d better stay quiet till we’re ready to defend ourselves.

To control time and the end of the universe
Peter F. Hamilton’s Timelike Infinity alludes to this idea, with a species concerned with preparing for the end of the universe and how to escape it or prevent it. It would certainly seem to be a contender for a highly advanced species, a project that might keep them busy for a while.

The ant’s perspective
Hey, wait a minute, we’re too stupid to even imagine their goals, right? It would be like asking an ant to observe a cocktail party and tell us what it thought was going on. I think of Arthur C Clarke’s compelling Rama series which is a wonderful example of this idea, as it is also an acute observation of human reactions under stress.

In my own science fiction series that starts with The Eden Paradox, I have created a universe where there are nineteen levels of intelligence (we are third from the bottom, I’m afraid). In the first book, we barely escape a ‘culling’. In Eden’s Trial we meet the Level Seventeen intelligence called the Tla Beth who basically run things in our galaxy. The top race, the Kalarash, haven’t been seen for over a million years, but toward the end of the book, mankind comes into contact with one of them.

In book three, Eden’s Revenge, the Kalarash are more prominent, but they are trying to do battle with an equivalent and nastier being, Qorall, who has invaded the galaxy. However, Qorall’s motives are unclear, because he seems almost content to destroy the galaxy as much as win it. It is only in the last pages that his true strategy becomes clear.

The final book in the series, Return to Eden, will see the war play out, and humanity’s destiny as a key tactical element in that war will be revealed, as well as the higher level races’ ambitions after the war.

As with all science fiction, it should make us reflect on what we would want if we were very advanced. It is of course possible (as explored by Arthur C Clarke, amongst others) that we are and will remain at the top of the galactic food chain, or that we are alone in terms of intelligent life, in which case we will have to wait to see our future ambitions and whether they are noble and altruistic or pluralistic, or aggressive and self-serving. I have to say that in my short stories where we are at the ‘top’ (the Sylvian Gambit and Executive Decision), I am not optimistic. In this vein, I’m going to leave the last words to someone whom I consider was an advanced intelligence (if you’re thinking Einstein, think again, because there is also emotional intelligence :-), and I’ve only changed one word in what he (Gandhi) said:

“Be the change that you want to see in the galaxy.”  

The Eden Paradox is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Omnilit, Ampichellis and Waterstones

Eden's Trial is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon

Eden's Revenge is coming early 2013

Return to Eden is coming end 2013.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Should a hero who kills people feel remorse?

Should heroes in films and books have remorse when they kill? Or just move on to the next 'baddie'?

In the past two weeks I’ve seen two movies where there is a lot of fairly indiscriminate killing: The Bourne Legacy, and Taken2. In Taken2, the ‘baddie’ shows the hero (played by Liam Neeson) a dozen photos of men the hero killed a year earlier. Our hero only remembers the face of one of them. The baddie says something like “You don’t even remember the faces of these men you killed. They were sons, husbands, brothers…” I think the baddie has a point.

I grew up watching and reading James Bond, but also less Hollywood-ish and grittier portrayals of spies such as The Ipcress Files with Michael Caine. The killing was sometimes callous, and it always shocked me. Today, so-called action films have high body counts where people are shot, have their necks broken, etc. We watch them munching popcorn. A hundred years ago the image of us watching such movies without revulsion would have been a big talking point. Maybe society has changed. But hang on, it's just entertainment, right? We don’t actually believe this is normal, acceptable behaviour, do we?

In books it’s less easy (maybe I’m wrong) to do this type of thing, except in genre novels like vampire series or horror. I read and liked 61 hours by Lee Child. But the point when the hero Jack Reacher kills someone (I won’t say who) in mid-sentence, in cold blood, shocked me. I had to read it again to make sure he’d just done what I thought I’d read. It said a lot about the character, but also alienated him from me. Up till then Jack Reacher seemed like a very cool guy, but afterwards I knew I’d never want to hang out with him, wouldn’t want him to marry my daughter, etc.

This concern about whether a hero should have remorse or not, and how to tackle it as a writer, came to a head for me recently. I’m working on a new novel (Sixty-Four Metres) that has the current opening line (it is about a heist gone wrong):

Nadia had never killed anyone, but she had a bad feeling about this job.

Midway through the chapter Nadia’s bad feeling becomes reality, and she is forced into taking someone’s life, because a bad-ass named Janssen is about to take hers in a double-cross.. She knows how to fire a weapon, but has never shot at a person before, just tin cans sitting on a wall.

Nadia’s right hand slipped slowly into her anorak pocket and found the Baretta. She inserted her finger in front of the trigger, breathed out fully, and pulled the gun out. Janssen’s head turned first, then his arm waved in her direction. She closed her eyes and fired, the recoil juddering her shoulder, the biting smell of cordite assaulting her nostrils. She opened her eyes.
            “Fucking … bitch!” Janssen was on all fours, trying to get up. His head lifted towards hers, blood spooling from a wound in his chest that had evidently missed his heart, but probably not his lung. He coughed, silver pistol in his right hand, trying to prop himself up on the other so he could take aim.
            Sammy walked over and picked up the package. “Finish him, Nadia.”
            Janssen was shaking, coughing violently. He fired at her, missed. The gunshot should have made her flinch. It didn’t.
            “Finish him!” Sammy shouted.
            Janssen coughed again, blood from his mouth drooling onto the concrete. He took aim. “You’re going to be my bitch in hell, Nad, for all eter–”
            She fired. Her eyes stayed open this time. The bullet ripped his face in two, bloodied flesh and bone blossoming before he crashed down and stilled.
            Her hand started to shake. She felt cold, unable to tear her eyes from Janssen’s corpse. Nadia imagined his soul slipping from his body through the floor, down through the Earth and onwards to the place it belonged. If her Dad was there waiting, he’d beat the crap out of Janssen for all eternity.
            Sammy moved in front of her, seized her shoulders and shook her. “Nadia, listen to me. We have to split up. You take the package. I was there when these idiots screwed up with the police van; the police will be looking for me.” He shook her again. “Are you listening to me?”
            She was. But she’d just killed a man, ripped his life from him. He’d never laugh, curse, hit or kill anyone again. Still... Nadia felt sick.
“Nadia, they have your sister, remember?”
Something clicked inside her head. Yes, she’d just killed a man, but Sammy was right, her sister Katya needed her to see this through, to stay focused. Nadia turned toward Sammy. “Tell me what to do.”

My science fiction books have their fair share of killing. In The Eden Paradox (set fifty years from now) there is an assassin, Gabriel, who has long since lost count of how many souls he has sent on their way, but he lives with it because he knows the danger Earth is facing, and his religion enables him to deal with it. Here’s a paragraph from the first chapter where Gabriel has just killed a man in order to steal his identity and enter a Government building, where he is to protect another man from assassination.

Earlier, Gabriel had to instil panic into the day’s first victim before terminating him, while downloading the visceral feedback. Gabriel now had those terror responses primed in the neural net embedded in his scalp – they would match the dead man’s E-ID card Gabriel held in his left palm. He’d actually apologised to the corpse afterward, taking rather more care than usual with the body. He was a Sentinel assassin, not a psychopath.

As the book progresses and Gabriel’s history is uncovered, the reasons he has ended up as he has, become clearer. This compensates for the apparent lack of remorse when he kills. 

Another character, Micah, is more ‘normal’ (if anything, he is an ‘anti-hero’), and finds it very difficult to kill anyone or anything. But like all of us, he can be pushed to his limit. Here’s an encounter from Book 2, Eden’s Trial, where he is indeed pushed. In this scene, Micah is in a cell with a plexi-glass barrier, shortly before the trial that is the subject of the book, when he receives an unwelcome visitor:

“Hello, Micah, did you miss me?” Louise arrived on the other side of the glass. She carried a box under one arm. She set it on the floor.
            “I saw you die,” Micah said. That’s twice now.
            “Must have been hard for you.”
            He saw through the veneer to what lay underneath. “If I’d have known you were going to surrender, Louise –”
            “Don’t you dare patronise me!” Her eyes whitened. Without warning, so fast he flinched, she punched the glass, causing it to ripple. “You set me up, Micah, killed the best man left alive.”
            He stood his ground, close to the glass. “It was his plan, too. You must know that.”
            “Of course I know that. He…” She turned her back to him, a hand touched a lock of her hair, tugged at it. She cleared her throat, faced him again. She flashed a smile. “This entire day; I’ve been planning it for months. It’s not going at all the way I’d like.”
            He shrugged. “That makes two of us.”
            She leaned her forehead against the glass and spoke softly. “I’d like this glass to be removed, Micah, so I could place my hands around your neck, stop you breathing, watch your lips turn blue, your eyes bulge, go wide with fear in the last throes of life.”
            He looked at her, felt sorry for her. “I know.” He leant his forehead to the glass, too. “But you know what?”
            She didn’t answer.
            “You killed two thousand people in a blink of an eye, without a second thought. You’re sick, Louise. Even for an Alician. I’d say you need help, but we both know you’re beyond that. I’m not even sure Sister Esma wants you back.”
            She uttered one soft laugh. “I always knew you were special, Micah. You never made it to the Alician A-list, but I thought you showed promise back on Earth.”
            She drew away. He reciprocated.
            “If I get the chance, I won’t hesitate, Micah.”
            He nodded. “See you in court shortly, I guess.”
            “Unlikely. Oh, a parting gift.” She picked up the box, took the lid off and turned to leave. Just before she crossed the threshold, she up-ended it. A head with flaxen hair thudded to the floor, eyes wide. It rolled toward him till it rested next to the glass.
            Micah’s breathing crevassed. He pounded the glass with both fists, blood rushing to his head. “Louise! Why did –?” He knew why. He punched the glass with both fists, making it shimmer. “The feeling’s mutual, Louise! You hear me? If I get the chance...”
            There was no reply, only the sound of her footsteps receding. He dropped to his knees, fingers trailing down the glass. He gazed at the head lying so close to him, remembering when he released the explosive bracelet from her neck, her in his bed, the last time he saw her on the bridge... He banged his head against the glass, repeatedly, eyes misting.

Even with such provocation, it still isn’t easy for Micah to kill.

The last excerpt on this subject takes the soldier’s perspective, since book 3 (Eden’s Revenge) takes place during a galactic war. Here is a war veteran talking about killing, what it is really like in battle, and how you come to terms with doing it and living with it afterwards:

He called it the bayonet strategy, after the horrors of the First World War trenches, when young men had to learn to kill others directly, pushing cold steel into their enemies’ bellies and hearts, prising the life out of them. Fear made most men do it, because if they didn’t, they’d be on the receiving end instead. Being in space-ships, fighting with energy beams and missiles made it feel more distant, less personal, but in the end it wasn’t. You lock onto your enemy, you touch him, and then you kill him, you take his life from him. That was war. This was what you did to protect those you loved.

So, in writing, unless it is the equivalent of action movies, there needs to be some strong justification or provocation for one person to kill another, especially the first time. Most of us would be profoundly affected if we actually killed somebody, took their life from them. I have a nightmare a couple of times a year where I have accidentally killed someone, and it is the most dreadful feeling, and when I wake up, the most profound relief. For writers therefore, there needs to be some (non-cliché’d) narration on how the hero(ine) ended up being able to kill, or some serious ‘show don’t tell’ of their reactions when they do, or some internal monologue so we know this person isn’t sick or sociopathic. Remember we’re talking about heroes and heroines here, or protagonists you want readers to be sympathetic towards – baddies are a different kettle of fish. For a good study in both, read Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, particularly the first book, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  

The Eden Paradox is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones and Ampichellis in paperback and ebook

Eden's Trial is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon - FREE EBOOK from 8-10 OCTOBER 2012 from Amazon

Eden's Revenge is coming soon...
© Barry Kirwan |
website by digitalplot