Saturday, 23 March 2013

Eden's Revenge - Final critique gives thumbs-up

I got my last (eighth) critique of Eden's Revenge a couple of days ago. Three of them were by professional writers/editors (2 are well-published Scifi writers) and five were by other less-celebrated writers.

The first two back in November both asked for some major changes, and it led to a totally new prologue and several chapter re-writes. Both these reviewers (who had not read the first two books) wanted more explanatory text, including a 'historical timeline' and a cast of characters.

At the end of January I had a new draft and sent it out to six more reviewers for critique. Five of them loved it, including the last one I received. One didn't. But, trying to be a good writer, I listened to all of them, not just the ones that did my ego good. The one who didn't like it complained of over-explanatory sections. As you might imagine, I sighed quite a lot when reading his criticisms, since much of what he criticized was on account of the first two reviewers... So, I now have to cut some of the extra words I put in between November and January. Ho hum... The good news (with all eight reviewers) was that they all liked the prose, i.e. the writing, especially the second-waver who wasn't fond of the book - he nonetheless commented that there was nothing wrong with the writing, including the dialogue and characterization and scenes in general. He had commented extensively on the writing aspects of the first two book drafts, so this was nice to hear.

The other five second-wave reviewers all (independently) said the same thing - that Eden's Revenge is (by far) the best of the three books. I should point out that these five reviewers had all read books 1 & 2 (The Eden Paradox and Eden's Trial), though two of them in particular had not liked the second book nearly as much as the first. I now have a lot of small comments and changes to do based on all these reviews, which hopefully won't take too long.

One comment resonates with me, received in the last review. He said that with a really good editor, the sort who might be found with a major publishing house, it could be even better. I have no doubt he is right. However, I'm happy this one seems to be working well enough. I'll leave the last word to the final reviewer:

"You've written a really good book. I couldn't wait to keep dipping back into it. Brilliant plotting, sizzling action, the tension and pull of the story keeps it steamrollering along."

Eden's Revenge - coming soon...

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Writers at work...

As I'm currently working and traveling like a mad thing for my day job , and when I have some insomnia I'm editing the final version of Eden's Revenge, this is going to be a short blog. The attached photo was taken last night at one of our Writers Group meetings. The group is called Men With Pens (MWP), though evidently there are women members! That's a long story... But these are some of my trusty fellow writer colleagues (all published) who give me regular critical feedback on my chapters and short stories. We meet up about once every three weeks, and we're brutally honest with our critiques, which includes being nice when the writing is good.

We meet at a restaurant in Montparnasse, Paris, where the waiters and waitresses are used to our occasional boisterous moments in our regular 3hr sessions including main course, dessert, wine and heavy editing comments.

Occasionally someone from a table nearby asks us what on Earth we are doing? We normally laugh, and reply that that is indeed the very question we're trying to answer... Then we add that we're writers, and people nod, accept our eccentricities, and get on with their meals.

I've come to the conclusion over the years that only writers truly understand writers, so we need to stick together, because otherwise it's a lonely business!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Truth depends on your point of view

Whenever I send my manuscripts for review by an editor, there is usually one remark I can bet on receiving: "there are too many points of view!" I always have a few clear lead characters, but often during the course of one of my books, the reader gets to see events from between 12 and 20 heads, though not at the same time, of course. Why do I do this? Why do I keep ignoring editors' pleas to reduce the number of POVs? Read on...

1. Each reader has their preferred character
When I meet people who have read the books, I ask them who their favorite character is. Some say Blake, some Micah, some Pierre, a few Kat, and one or two Rashid. Actually, most women like Gabriel, and the men reluctantly like (but are scared of) Louise. The characters are more life-like because the readers have seen their innermost thoughts. Sometimes I'm reading a book even by a good writer, and I don't like the protagonist, or don't relate to them. In single protagonist and single POV books, if I don't like the principal character I put the book down. It has to be VERY good writing to get me to read on otherwise - Philip Roth and J.M. Coatzee being examples. As a writer, think about it: more lead characters, more chance the reader finds someone to root for.

2. Complex stories are difficult with a single point of view
My second book (Eden's Trial) and the third one coming out in April (Eden's Revenge) involve multiple plots coming together. This is because they are taking place in different parts of the galaxy. How on Earth (!) could I do such a story convincingly with a single point of view? I often think of Lord of the Rings when considering this. The Fellowship of the Ring splits up so the reader gets to follow each group. It all comes together at the end (wonderfully). This is known as plot-weaving. If you can stick with it, then the finale can be very rewarding.

3. Great achievements are usually made by multiple parties, not an individual
The idea of the single hero fighting against the odds goes back all the way to the Greek stories. But is that the world we live in today? I recently watched Die Hard 4 - I know, look, I'd had a hard day, and, hell, I like Bruce Willis... It was nonsense of course, Bruce pretty much single-handedly (with his son, this time) defeats a whole ring of baddies. Is that realistic? As Bruce would say, "Are you f***ing kidding me?" So, if there was a plot to bring down humanity (The Eden Paradox) or grind it into the dust (Eden's Trial), don't you think it would be a team effort to resolve it? And would that team be in one place? No. So, I do the math...

4. When one of my characters dies, I want the reader to feel it
In Eden's Trial, there's this girl (I'm not going to name her), and she's not a good person, but towards the end she tries to be. The reader gets to spend a short time in her head. She gets killed brutally, 'off-screen', but when the reader finds out, it is shocking. A few readers have talked to me about this scene, taken me aside as if to say, "Look, I know she was bad, but did you have to do it like that?" Do you think they'd have said that if they'd never been inside her head? I don't. In Science Fiction, people are often killed off with casual brutality. They're villains, right? What's the problem? Well, there's a saying that everyone is a hero in their own story, and I tend to subscribe to the idea of a character's bill of rights; if I'm going to kill one of them off, they get to say a few words direct to the reader at some point. It's the equivalent of looking them in the eye for a moment, seeing who they really are. I also don't want to encourage casual brutality, there's enough of it on screen as it is (yeah, I know, spoken by the guy who went to see Die Hard 4...).

5. It keeps pages turning, or Kindles & Nooks & IPads clicking...
I mainly use a ABCABCABC structure. Chapter 1 has POV character A. Chapter 2 has POV B, etc. When character A ends up in a sticky situation at the end of his or her chapter, it creates suspense and tension. The reader has to wait to find out what happens. The trick is to not overdo it (as in the DaVinci Code), and to keep the chapters short. Too long and the reader will forget or lose interest or both.

6. Society is changing, readers are changing
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might know that I'm a psychologist by training, which means I've studied how people think. Most of the time we think in a straight-ish line (some keep going off on tangents). It's linear. Complex problems sometimes require network thinking, which means thinking horizontally across different mental 'tracks', and integrating information as you go. This is much harder, but we can do it. Social media and networking is a bit like this. We are forever digressing and thinking in parallel, multi-tasking. The danger is that we're not really paying attention to anything properly, but that aside, it is a different mode of life to how it was thirty or even twenty years ago. I think books need to change, too. People are more used to handling complexity, because life has gotten complicated, and we all have to manage. One common comment I get, is that readers like the complexity, because it makes it seem more realistic, and they like how it all comes together (which, let's face it, maybe never happens in real life). So, even if editors are uncomfortable with it, my readers aren't.

If you're a writer, and want to write a complex story, because for you that is how the world really is, then just do it. After all, as once said, there are three golden rules of successful writing, and nobody knows what they are.
© Barry Kirwan |
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