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Friday, 31 January 2014

On being a writerholic



Recently at work (yep, like most writers I have a day job!) I was asked to write something on 'being a writer'. This is what I produced. Thought I'd share...


Writing isn’t so much a passion with me, it’s more like an addiction. I got hooked on it some years ago and can’t seem to stop. Not content with three books in print, I’m working on two more in my so-called spare time – aka insomnia. I know the exact moment writing fiction changed from being a passing hobby to something more insidious…

In 2001 I moved to Paris for work, and took some writing classes as a way to meet people. I’d already published two textbooks on Human Factors, and I thought to myself, how hard can writing fiction be, you just make it up, right? Just goes to show how wrong I can be! Looking back, it‘s like the difference between playing classical music and jazz; it’s not so simple to switch from one to the other. But I persevered.  

One evening, I was ten chapters into a fledgling novel, and at a writers’ group meeting, when several people started arguing about one of my chapters. Out of interest, it’s a convention when discussing somebody’s work in a writer’s group that the author is not allowed to say anything, on the grounds that if someone is reading a book and doesn’t ‘get it’, they can’t usually speak to the author and ask what he or she meant on page 23... In any case, the discussion went a bit like this: “Blake wouldn’t say that; he’s not that sort of guy!”
“I agree, and as for Louise, I know I fancy her but she really goes too far sometimes, and I’m worried about Micah…”

They treated the characters as if they were real people, as if they knew them personally. I wanted to say: “Relax, they’re just made up”. But I didn’t. I’d created some characters out of nothing, who had got up and walked off the page. They took up residence in my head, and though I’ve killed a few of them off in the past three books, most are still there, demanding I finish the series.

There’s a question writers secretly hate. Feel free to use it if they bug you. Here it is: “What’s your story really about?” (Advanced tip: no matter what the writer says, repeat the question, adding emphasis, e.g. "Yes, but what's it really about?" :-). The answer is what is called a ‘pitch’. Here’s mine. Fifty years from now the world is an environmental and political disaster, and life has become unsustainable. A new habitable planet is discovered, dubbed Eden, but the first two missions to go there fail to return. The Eden Paradox is about the third mission, and it begins with a murder…

It starts off as a thriller, and later on moves more into the science fiction genre. The sequel, Eden’s Trial, is more sci-fi, and the third, Eden’s Revenge is a full-fledged ‘space opera’. Readers tell me they are all page-turners, and very visual, like watching a film. I’m writing the finale now, the fourth book in the ‘trilogy’,  Eden’s Endgame. It really is the end, I promise J  

FAQs
Are any characters based on any personalities at work? Yes, suitably disguised. Is there any sex in the books? Ahem… next question please. Do my books sell? Mainly in ebook format via Amazon: into four figures each year (5 would be nicer!). Not enough to give up my day job J But I get some very nice 5* reviews. They can’t all be from my mother.

So, why is it an addiction? Well, it eats a lot of my spare time. My Sony comes with me everywhere, even on holiday and, as already mentioned, I get insomnia.  4am is actually an excellent time to write science fiction. And now I’ve gone and started a thriller about scuba diving, as that is my other passion. My writer’s group tell me this is my best writing so far.

I’m doomed.

[P.S> A short story of mine on 'being a writerholic' was published some years ago on Piker Press. You can read it here]

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Even galactic wars are personal

The entire Eden Paradox series occurs against the backdrop of a galactic war. At first humanity is unaware of what's going on, but by the third book the war is getting closer and closer to mankind. In the final book of the series, Eden's Endgame, the human characters are drawn fully into a war being waged by two super-beings with ultra-advanced and very nasty weapons. The battles raging across the galaxy threaten to destroy it completely.

In such a scenario, it is tempting to draw back and show the battles on a grand scale, almost taking the perspective of a detached galactic historian. But all wars, and all battles are personal; people or aliens are killing each other, and death is ultimately a very personal experience.

I'm grateful I've never been involved in a war. I remember when the Falklands War erupted back in the early 80s, and my friends and I wondered if we would be called up. My grandfather was in the Second World War, a POW for most of it. As a kid I used to ask him about the war. He wouldn't talk about it.

At that time I was already reading scifi comics like Xmen and Superman, and occasionally the storylines would drift into second world war territory. I never much liked it. The heroes would never get killed, and the 'baddies' (usually the Germans) would be shouting 'Donner und Blitzen!' as they were outwitted and killed. But I didn't understand. The war was over. Surely the 'baddies' were just as caught up in war as the goodies? Why were they printing this stuff? A funny thing, for years I thought those two German words were actually real swearwords, until a German friend of mine told me they meant 'thunder and lightning.'

Many years later, I saw Saving Private Ryan, and watched the first harrowing scene of a beach-landing in Normandy. I went to the mass graves there later. I then watched Band of Brothers, which confirmed for me the horrors of war, and just how equally impersonal and personal it was.

You could ask why I write about wars. It's because war is in our heads - there are always wars going on somewhere, or at least brewing, and I am not sure when we meet aliens it will be much different. Wars may be about power or belief systems or resources, but they seem to be a fact of life. In Eden's Endgame, however, this war will end all wars, for a very long time.

So when I write about wars in space, and battle scenes, I usually start from the long view, then zoom in on one or two of the characters, to bring it home that war is always personal, for those that die or whose lives are ruined physically or psychologically. Here's an early scene from the book, which finds two of the main characters near the front line...



“Seven minutes to intercept.”
Cocooned in the cockpit of a Scintarelli Dart, Blake acknowledged the automated message, watching the moon-sized dull ochre sphere enter the local solar system at a leisurely pace. It didn’t look like a horseman of the apocalypse, but for the inhabitants on the planet he and twenty-seven other captains were trying to protect, Armageddon had arrived.
The Zlarasi were Level Six: their role in Grid Society was that of farmers, providing a vast range of algae-based foods including some of the most prized caviars in the galaxy. Their world, Alagara, was nine-tenths water, with most civilization covered by oceans, the three bare land-based continents used for air-breathing traders to land and conduct business transactions. Blake had seen a Zlarasi via holo-con – the creature resembled one of Earth’s defunct sea-based dinosaurs, the plesiosaur. At one point during the talks over defense strategies they all knew to be probably futile, the Zlarasi had fixed Blake with unblinking and baleful grey eyes. These locals understood perfectly well that their forty-thousand years of peaceful existence was at an end. Blake found he had to turn away. When he looked back, the delegate no longer met his eyes. For the first time in many years Blake experienced a sense of shame. 
“Six minutes to intercept.”
He focused back on the current task. Zooming in via the ship’s visuals, he noticed the orb’s surface rippling. Lines like writing floated to its surface, only to submerge moments later. No one knew what it meant, except perhaps the Kalarash, and they wouldn’t say. If it was language, it was presumably in Qorall’s tongue. Perhaps it was better not to know.
            They’d been losing the war against Qorall ever since he’d unleashed these genetic Recoders, asteroid-sized balls of organic metal that entered a system, spilling golden rain onto the planets they targeted, rewriting organic ‘software’ at the chromosome level, turning every sentient being into one of Qorall’s minions. Blake’s and the defensive armada’s official mission parameters were to defend the planet and evacuate as many as possible before the orb unleashed its contents onto the doomed world. They would of course attempt to destroy the orb, but so far the orbs had proven impervious to all known weapons. Similar engagements were ongoing at fifty other locations across the front line, with aliens far more advanced than humanity in charge, but so far all reports he’d received had failed, with heavy casualties.
            But Blake had received special instructions: to capture some part of an orb so they could study it and develop counter-measures before it was too late. He hadn’t told Kilaney about this, for two reasons. First, Kalaran had imparted it to him and him alone, and that had to be for a reason. Second, Kilaney would intervene if he knew, and broaden the strategy, pouring more resources into it, which would make it more visible to Qorall, and so more likely to fail. Blake understood Kalaran’s tactic, he’d used it himself on more than one occasion during the Third World War: sometimes you send one man alone behind enemy lines to get a particular task done – like the assassination of a local enemy leader – while the battle raged on all around.
Kilaney, Blake’s former mentor and commander, knew the strategy well enough too. They called it ‘one-shot’. However, Blake had no idea how to achieve this particular mission. Any being touched by Qorall’s liquid virus was turned within seconds, and the few robot ships and drones that did manage to scoop some up and escape found the substance had degraded into raw elements moments after seizure. 
            “Five minutes to intercept.”
Blake checked the other screens, and frowned. Few worlds could evacuate fast enough. Blake tuned in to the elevated chatter from the planet, translated automatically for him by the Dart, but he hardly needed to understand the words: the general cacophony screaming through surface comms told him it was panic beneath the smooth ocean waves. If he’d been down there, he’d be sitting with a pulse pistol in one hand, a whiskey in the other, ready to make sure Qorall didn’t add him to his army.
Something snagged in Blake’s head. What if…?
“Four minutes to intercept.”
The fledgling idea dangled on the edge of his mind. Rather than chase it, which in his experience only pushed it away, he concentrated on something else. Whenever Qorall took over a race, the ‘virus’ brewing inside the orb adapted to the intelligence level of the indigenous species. When the Recoders had first appeared a month earlier, they targeted any species in their path, no matter what level. Now Qorall was being more strategic, sending the orbs to worlds inhabited by higher level races, such as the Level Six world below. Blake also knew that was why he and Kilaney’s small human contingent had been sent here; higher level allies had been sent to attack the orbs bearing down on Level Nine, Ten and Eleven worlds.
            Apparently a Level Twelve defender had stopped a Recoder, by working with the Shrell to cause it to founder in quickspace. But the orb had exploded, emitting a burst of something called epsilon radiation over a twenty light year radius, annihilating three species inhabiting unshielded planets, including those on transports fleeing the orb. He imagined the near future as the inhabitants below were killed or turned. All the indigenous species’ ships, and the planet itself, had self-destruct safeguards; no one wanted to be corrupted. Of course, it didn’t matter to Qorall. Blake had always loathed terrorists, whom he unequivocally branded cowards, as they targeted civilians. But Qorall had taken it one step further, turning those civilians into his army. Blake squeezed his fist hard inside his palm, then changed hands, repeating the move. Soldiers like him were supposed to be able to protect civilian populations. He took three deep breaths to calm himself down. It didn't work.
“Three minutes to intercept.”
Movement on the central display came as a welcome distraction. At least the local inhabitants had impressive ships – half of them upgraded with Level Nine tech – skeletal green diamond shapes with a burning white anti-matter core at their centre, held in check by magnetic braces. Ten of them engaged the orb at the outer edge of the system. Their particle beams and missiles had no effect. Atomics were used next, then anti-matter bombs, the viewscreen on Blake’s Dart automatically dampening visuals so the blast flashes didn’t blind him. He tapped a pad on the console to contact Kilaney, once again his Commander-in-Chief, housed in the Q’Roth Destroyer hanging above the planet.
            “The orb’s trajectory hasn’t been deflected or even slowed down. How is that possible?” Blake asked.
            Kilaney’s voice was gravelly, serious in a pissed-off way. “We think they use some kind of contained micro-black hole to power the shields and resist gravimetric attacks.”
            Blake watched as new Zlarasi ships, massive affairs shaped like conch sea-shells, spewed megatons of rock at the orb. ‘Mass drivers’ were crude, but it made sense to try, since shields were usually designed to resist high-energy beam attacks rather than those from kinetic energy. But again, there was no deflection. Instead the avalanche of rock was parried around the orb and compacted, making it glow under heat stress. It briefly gave the orb a comet-like tail.
            “Two minutes to intercept.”
“They should retreat," Blake said, knowing they wouldn't. He wouldn't if he were there. "Maybe they can salvage more people from below.”
            “We need to fall back, Blake. I don’t see what else we can do here.”
            Blake made a steeple with his fingers and stared at the ochre orb. The diamond ships were still firing, when an alarm signified an intense gravimetric shock wave. All of the Zlarasi ships were sucked violently towards the orb’s surface. Their commanders’ shouts and screams tore at him, but he didn’t shut them off; that was part of his code, to stay with men while they died. He watched as they were engulfed, disappearing without trace. Sonofabitch. He’d commanded troops plenty of times before, but never seen such wasteful deaths.
            Kilaney came online again, his voice scratchy. “We have to leave now while we still can, take the intel we’ve gathered back to base.”
            “How many, Bill?”
            There was a pause before Kilaney answered. “I don’t count them anymore, Blake, not since –”
            “How many?”
            “Dammit Blake… fourteen hundred and fifty-seven souls. But that’s a piss in the ocean compared to the billions still on the planet.”
            Blake closed his eyes as if in silent prayer, then opened them again. “But they were soldiers. Their death has to mean something.” As does mine. The idea crystallized in his mind, and as soon as it had formed, it made obvious sense. A wild card idea. His mind made up, his anger congealed into purpose. “We’re not leaving empty-handed, Bill. This can’t all be for nothing.” He touched a panel, and his ship pitched forward, then accelerated towards the orb.
            “One minute to intercept.”
            “Blake, what the hell are you doing? That Dart won’t even get its attention!”
            Blake had wondered why Kalaran had suggested he take a Scintarelli Dart, while Kilaney commanded a Destroyer. Now he understood. Probably Kalaran had planted the idea in his head. It didn’t matter. “We need a sample to study, Bill. A live one. In ten seconds I’m passing command override to you. The Dart has antigrav, remember? If the Scintarelli are as good as their word, this little ship can slipstream out of a black hole’s event horizon, so it should be able to escape the orb’s gravity pull.”
            There was a pause. “Wait a goddammed minute, Blake. Are you suggesting what I think you are? Hell, you’re asking me to watch my best friend get turned into one of Qorall’s soldiers. I won’t do it, Blake. There has to be another way. We could capture one of the others later.”
            “Later isn’t now. So far none have been captured alive, and the code unravels after brain death. Bill, in war, intelligence is paramount.”
“Blake, dammit, I –”
“One shot, Bill. I can do this. We can do this. That’s why Kalaran sent us. That’s why he sent you and me.”
Kilaney remained silent, so Blake continued, committing his friend to the plan.
“Once I’ve been infected, take me back to Esperia, to Kalaran, or to the spiders if he’s not there.”
            Kilaney’s voice had lost its edge. “You think they can fix you?”
            The orb now occupied a third of Blake’s viewscreen. The writing began to look tantalisingly familiar, but he still couldn’t make sense of it. Blake wanted to spit, but his mouth was dry. Could he be turned back later, become Blake again? He pushed the idea away; he’d never indulged in wanton optimism. “Both Kalaran and the spiders have scanned me physiologically and cognitively; they know me well. They can work out how the pathogen works, maybe derive a defence.” He doubted there would be an antidote, not for him at any rate.
            Blake’s aft screens told him the last transports of local inhabitants had jumped out of the system. They carried only fifteen per cent of the population, but it was better than nothing. He programmed a fly-by loop towards the orb, then sat back.
“Thirty seconds till intercept."



The Eden Paradox
Eden's Trial
Eden's Revenge
Eden's Endgame - Spring 2014


Friday, 3 January 2014

On structuring a novel...

The writing process, as it is called, is very individual. Each writer has to find what works for him or her. Some writers write every single day for a set period, even if they end up throwing one day's writing away every now and again. Others only write when they are inspired. Basically, it's about whatever works for you as a writer.

But even for those who follow a more 'organic' process (like this author), there comes a time when you need to be a bit more structured about it, even if only for a while, to make sure that the novel you deliver doesn't end up chaotic, or with big holes in the plot, or with chapters that simply should have been cut. There is a need to balance the creative process with structure.

In former days, editors would do this for promising new writers or existing ones. They would point out holes, necessary cuts, or ask questions that would make an author realize their plot wasn't clear. Nowadays, for most writers, there are only two alternatives: writing groups (real or virtual {online}), and literary agencies/book doctors. The former are hit and miss, though, as often writer groups are made up of keen amateurs who are not published themselves. Even when this is not the case (the writers in the group I belong to are all published one way or another), writing groups often consider one chapter at a time, seeing a book evolve over a period of a year or longer, and are therefore not always able to judge its overall 'cohesion', its 'architecture', and its impact as a whole.

Literary agencies and book doctors are great for doing this, but they are not cheap, and it is better all round to give them something which is already in a pretty good state, otherwise you can end up going to them several times with revisions of your manuscript (as I did for my first book), which will cost you thousands of dollars/pounds/euros.

So, when to shelve creativity for a while and do some structural work?

Some writers spend six months diligently plotting a novel and working on characterization, before they begin the novel. This is great if it is your process and it works. For me, however, when I tried to do this, my writing ended up lifeless, because I knew too much of what was going to happen, and I felt like writing was just going through the motions.

For me, I get 'structural' when I am about a third of the way through writing a novel. Don't get me wrong, at the early stages of writing a novel I know its beginning and end, but often have no clue over the middle part, or the detail, or even key scenes in the latter half of the book. It is the undiscovered country, which is why I love writing; there is excitement, and also tension, because there is a risk I'll never pull it off convincingly. The structuring process 'de-risks' my writing, without murdering creativity. So, here is my process, which is top-down, using a thriller (not scifi this time)  I'm writing at the moment as an example.

Step 1: Defining the 'Cast'
These are the principal characters in the book, in order of importance.

  • Nadia – 24 year old Russian who is forced to work for a Russian mafia boss, Kadinsky, who is holding Nadia’s sister Katya hostage on the outskirts of Moscow
  • Jake – English diving instructor, who blames himself for the loss of his diving buddy, Steve, two years earlier in a diving accident
  • Elise – Jake’s former, and potentially current, girlfriend
  • Adamson – CIA agent hunting the device, who has his own agenda
  • Danton – ex-mafia freelancer, working for Adamson but forced to double-cross him
  • Lazarus – working for Kadinsky
  • Pete & Ben – two brothers who run a dive operation in the Scilly Isles
  • The dive crew: [Jake, Elise,] Gary, Fionnula, Claus, Alex and Cass

Step 2: Defining the overall arcs 
Arcs are important, because they answer two fundamental questions that readers may pose about your books: what happens, and what is it about? As a writer such questions are important because most books are still sold by 'word of mouth' (WOM), i.e. if a friend says 'this book was really good', you are going to ask these questions. If the friend can't say, then as far as WOM goes it is often a deal-breaker.

The four overall arcs for this book are as follows:

Nadia - she is forced to work for the mafia who are holding her sister hostage, and has to kill someone (a villain) in the very first chapter. Can she somehow turn around events for the better and remain good, or will she become a villain herself?
The device - it mustn't fall into the wrong hands - does it?
Jake - he seems to have a death-wish, due to guilt. When it all comes to a head in the underwater climactic scene at the end of the book, will he survive?
Nadia and Pete - they are attracted, but can they 'make it' given everything else going on?

There shouldn't be too many arcs. There has to be at least one.

Step 3 - Micro-synopses for each part of the book
Most books can be broken into 2, 3 or 4 'parts'. The most famous is the 'three act structure'. It doesn't matter which model you use, but you should be able to write a short paragraph for each major part or section of the book. Again, not necessarily at the beginning of a novel, but by the time you are a third or at most half-way through. Otherwise your novel can get out of control. You might end up finishing it, but you may have taken a circuitous approach to get there. Incidentally, this is often why editors say something like 'Can you cut 30% of your novel out?' (said to me twice by editors for my first novel), which is like asking an author to cut off a limb. Here is a micro-synopsis for the first third of the thriller:

A heist gone wrong leaves five dead and a young Russian girl, Nadia, in possession of a secret military device hunted by the CIA and the Russian mafia. As she heads to the Scilly Isles off the coast of Cornwall to lay low, her boat is boarded by police, and she drops the device overboard in sixty-six metres of water. She plans to recover it, but the depth is dangerous, and she must find a diving buddy willing to help her and ask no questions. Nadia meets a group of divers who are on holiday, including Jake, an experienced instructor who is on the edge, with a secret in his past that’s eating away at him, leading him to take increasing risks. Meanwhile, both the Russians and the Americans are closing in on Nadia, neither side concerned with who gets killed in the race to retrieve the device. 

Okay, this one is actually like a blurb, but you get the idea. The conflicts are clear, as is what it is about. Rudyard Kipling's six basic questions are answered:

Who? [Nadia; Jake; CIA; mafia]
What? [heist; stolen device]
Where [Scilly Isles}
When? [this is implicit: it is set today]
How? [they must dive to retrieve the device]
Why? {aka 'So what?'} [the device is important; killers are on Nadia's trail; the dive will be dangerous]

Step 4 - Jeopardy / Conflict Check
Is the conflict rising at the end of each part? In the synopsis for Part One above, the Russians/Americans are both closing in. In fact the first Part ends with one of the key villains (Adamson) arriving on the island, maintaining surveillance on Nadia, and then calling in mercenary ex-SEAL divers as he works out what has happened to the device. There is also romantic conflict between two of the characters (Jake and Elise), who try to get back together but end up flying apart. The Jeopardy check is more for thrillers, and the Conflict check is more for 'mainstream' novels, but the principle is the same. It is like applying the 'page-turner' principle at a very high level (to the parts of the book) - why should the reader keep reading? It is also key to getting the reader through the middle part of a book, where it is often difficult to maintain tension. If it is a three-part book structure, the tension has to rise at the end of both parts one and two. Many books have a good start, but readers give up halfway.

Step 5 - Chapter Synopses
These are short paragraphs on each chapter, e.g:


Chapter 1 – The heist to steal the device while it is en route in Penzance goes sour, courtesy of Janssen, who tries to double-cross Nadia’s mafia boss, Kadinsky. Nadia is forced to kill Janssen. She and Sammy escape, then part company. Nadia takes the device.

Chapter 2 – Nadia takes passage to the remote Scilly Isles. Aboard the boat she has a fling with Mike, the skipper, as part of a ruse to prevent a Navy Patrol Boat discovering the device. She drops it in 66m of water, at the foot of a deep wreck (the Tsuba), and records the exact location.

Chapter 3 – Jake is at the end of his sabbatical in Norway, going for one last dive with his best friends there. It is a deep dive, breaking local regulations, and it goes badly wrong, but Jake saves the other two, and they return safely. Two days later, as he is leaving Norway, he is confronted by the local diving club president, and told never to return.

Chapter 4 – In Frankfurt, Danton has captured Sammy, and tortures him until he divulges Nadia’s name and whereabouts, then kills him, giving the information to Adamson, who is CIA but wants the device for himself. Adamson departs for the Scillies. Lazarus, who works for Kadinsky, visits his ex-partner, Danton, and forces him to give up the information about Adamson. To save his own skin, Danton offers to go to the Scillies, kill both Nadia and Adamson, and retrieve the device.

These are broad brush strokes, that is all. I have only written 6 chapters so far, but I have paragraphs like these for all sixteen chapters of the book. As I write the new chapters, things may change of course, but the point is that I have these 'waypoints', and can navigate towards the end of my book without feeling 'lost at sea' without a compass.

Step 6 - POV Check
If you are writing 'multiple points of view' (POV) as I do, it is important to consider the frequency of chapters with the different protagonists. My science fiction has many POVs, and the principle I use is that the reader needs to see the principal POVs at least every other third chapter, or else they will start to disconnect or 'lose the thread'. One way to do this is colour-coding the titles of each chapter according to POV. Here's an example from Eden's Endgame, my scifi novel in progress at the moment, with the chapter titles in sequence for Part One of the book. Each colour represents both an arc, and the key protagonists involved in that arc:

Awakening 
War Council 
Arrival 
Machines 
Recode 
Spies 
Tunnels 
Prisoner 
Releasing Angels 
Titans 
Experiment 
Plan F 
Siege 


Step 7 - Entering the Matrix
This is the most advanced part, and might seem too 'structural' for some writers, but it is a disciplined approach.

You draw a table with 7 columns and as many rows as you have chapters. The columns are as follows:

  1. Chapter number (including prologue and epilogue) 
  2. Chapter title (unless simply '1,2,3' etc.)
  3. Where it takes place
  4. Who are the key protagonists in this chapter
  5. What happens in terms of drama/action
  6. What the internal conflict is inside a character or between two characters
  7. How the chapter moves the plot forward


That's it. Easy right? Here's what it looks like:

Ch.
#
Title
Where
Who
Drama/Action
Internal Conflict
Plot Development
1
Heist
Penzance
Nadia
Heist; shootout
Nadia is forced to kill someone
Device stolen
2
Ruse
Offshore
Nadia, Mike
Sex; Boarded by Navy
Nadia takes advantage of Mike
Device lost
3
Rules
Norway
Jake
Deep dive goes wrong
Jake’s guilt over near-fatal dive
Jake gives up his dive instructor’s license


The first 4 columns are easy. The other three can show structural weaknesses, e.g.

  • A chapter with no real drama or action
  • A chapter (perhaps with action) with no internal conflict
  • A chapter which does not actually move the plot forward


All three of these are problematic, and should trigger an author to go back and re-write such chapters. This has happened to me in the past, where I'm quite happy with a chapter, but realize that it does not advance the plot. So why is it there? Similarly, I sometimes have 'action' chapters, but there is no internal conflict, and so no character development, so it reads like 'this happened, and then they did this, and then...' Will the reader care? And, rarer for my style of writing, I have had 'talking heads' chapters where there is intense dialogue (lots of character conflict) but no action, just a lot of talk. True, you can have such chapters, but they test many readers' patience...

The matrix (okay, it's a table, but Matrix sounds more fun) can also be used to review pace. When doing your own matrix, you will notice, for example, if there are too many 'action' chapters, or too many 'static' chapters (focusing on internal conflict/character development) next to each other. A novel is like breathing: there needs to be a rhythm between breathing in (internal) and breathing out (drama / action). At the least, for thrillers, the reader needs to regain their breath occasionally.

As well as identifying 'superfluous' chapters (that an editor might suggest cutting, even if the prose itself is great), Steps 6 & 7 also both help identify 'missing' chapters, i.e. gaps in the plot development. For Eden's Endgame, for example, while doing this analysis, I realize I had two missing chapters for Part 1. I have since written them, and now the plot's continuity, as well as the pace, flows better.

The matrix might be something that you develop as you go along. This is okay as long as you have done the other steps first, so that the 'waypoints' are already laid out. The matrix then becomes a validation check as each new chapter is added. 

Once these steps are done, you can go back to writing. It is not something that has to be done very often. For example, you can update it at the end of each major part of the novel, to check that there has not been too much 'drift', unless the 'drift now looks better than the original, in which case re-do the analysis and re-plot the waypoints.

I hope these ideas might be useful, but remember, it is about finding what is best for you as an author. Whatever works... 



The Eden Paradox Series
Eden's Endgame - due late Spring 2014

Thriller novel in progress: Sixty-Six Metres

 
© Barry Kirwan | info@barrykirwan.com
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