Day off from the keyboard and wandering round downtown saw us take in the usual spots; Hey Happy, which brews some of the best coffee in town. Roberta’s Hats, where we got into conversation with one of the shop people over Shakespeare, acting and actors. Bought Angie a hat for her forthcoming trip to damp and rainy old Scarborough. Also a replacement for one of my caps which was about on its last legs, or brim, whatever. Stopped off at the Irish Times and James Joyce Literary bar for a drink, thence to Russell Books to update my literary education with a copy of the Portable James Joyce.
Now I’ve more or less finished writing ‘A Falling of Angels’ so I’m going to let my keyboard cool off a little to go see how one of the ‘Irish greats’ writes. I’ve read a little Brendan Behan, but not much else, so I’m trying to broaden my mind a little beyond purely English and Scottish authors. Joyce is a massive rift valley in my reading, and over the next week or three I’m going to try and put that right.
One of the problems I have with editing is that it’s a bit of a drudge. Even stressful. Sometimes you’ll come to a passage that feels clunky and awkward. One that clangs in dissonance, like the sound of breaking glass during a symphony. Something has to be done to smooth out the flow of words and let them sing again, but you aren’t sure what. Normally I perform some sort of displacement therapy. Pace up and down my tiny office. Which isn’t far; three paces and back. Alternatively go for a walk, take a time out and peoplewatch, or if I need to be working like today, split my time between keyboard and kitchen.
This weeks culinary endeavour is cooking up batches of soup for when the weather turns even cooler. Let the batches cool off before decanting into Zip-locks and throwing in the freezer. Carrot and Coriander this morning, followed by Chicken and Leek this afternoon. As I’m also trying and succeeding in losing a few unwanted pounds on a low carbohydrate regime, I’m trying to lower the starch content of my preparations, which means playing a little fast and loose with traditional ingredients. Which also means definitely no potatoes and as little starch in the thickening roux as possible. Plenty of fresh ingredients, and in the words of my forefathers; Robert is one’s father’s brother.
As far as manuscripts are concerned; specifically there’s a story element I’m trying to thread into ‘A Falling of Angels’. To add a little more conspiracy into the second of the ‘Cerberus’ series. A hint at something darker beyond the stories sunlit uplands. Which means repeatedly reading and re-reading the content, correcting as I go before checking again for continuity. Which is very frustrating. In betwixt and between, the onions need sweating, chicken turning and other saucepans need stirring. Which in turn I find very therapeutic.
While changing the ending of my latest MSS slightly, I’ve been trying out some cover art concepts which are laid out below. Caption gives the version number.
In Versions 3 and 4 I went for a ‘Film noir’ feel, trying not to be too literal. Which I think is the issue with versions 1 & 2.
Finally. I think I’m within three thousand words of completing the first draft of ‘A Falling of Angels’. There’s just a little story detail to add, but the main MSS outline is complete. I’ve written the epilogue style ending, there only remains one last main story thread to tie up in chapter 29 and that’s it. Current word count just over 78,000. Target 80,000 words of drama, mystery and murder set in a post-Ebola, much chillier (At least in the main story location) world, around the year 2050.
This is just my opinion of course, but I feel this MSS is much better than ‘Head of the Beast’ because I’ve spent more narrative time on the interlinked cases my hero finally helps solve, rather than spending too much time building the backstory. When I’m finished today, perhaps even tomorrow, I shall put it aside for a week for a final checkthrough before deciding what to do with the finished product.
Whenever I’m writing a major character, I generally use a well known actor as my initial template. The question I keep in the forefront of my mind is; what would that person sound like speaking the words and performing the actions of that character? How would they play that role? What gestures would they use to interpret my character?
Today I’m working on ‘A Falling of Angels’ where Charles Hertford, spymaster and master manipulator is creating a situation where my hero can expose the bad guys and yet not bring down the government in the process. The physical template I’m using for Hertford is the current James Bond, actor Daniel Craig. In my head, I hear Craig speak Hertfords lines, see him make the gestures and generally perform the part. Likewise, my hero, mind reading detective Paul Calvin, loosely uses the voice and interpretation style of film actor Clive Owen. Which for me helps keep my characters consistent, and hopefully a little more credible. Chief Inspector Veeta Parnay for example, is based around the style of another Bond movie star, Naomie Harris.
It’s a bit of a cheat I know, but when you’re trying to avoid stereotypes it works for me. Having spent some time at drama classes I’m always reminded that a little spontaneity keeps a character fresh and hopefully interesting to a reader and I try to bear this in mind. Sometimes it all falls over and a character can feel a bit flat because this internal shorthand doesn’t translate very well to the page. Which is always the risk you take. Sometimes I’ll even try combining two actor styles and imagine a cross between say, Anthony Hopkins and Morgan Freeman (Hertfords Boss) in a role. If I want someone mature and smoothly sinister, I’ll begin with a composite of say, Ian Richardson and Ian McKellan. In the theatre of my head, it’s always a great help to close my eyes and see the character I’ve created make the gesture and speak the words I’ve written. As they’re such familiar screen icons it makes it easier for me to wring the words out of my keyboard.
There is a school of thought that states one should always base characters on real live people, but that can and does backfire. Particularly in libel suits. For myself I’ll continue steering to the windy side of the law and imagine how a specific actor would play my character.
In an effort to be disciplined and productive, I’ve decided that every Thursday is going to be an editing and rewriting day. What I’m trying to do is keep a story still fresh in my mind, reading and re-reading the previous few days output until I’m happy with it, at the same time keeping a lid on the typos and filling in details I missed on the first and second read throughs.
I’ve tried editing MSS all the way through from end to end and the results, to be quite candid, have been a bit patchy. Far better to run through the last six or seven thousand words and get what you want to say as close to right as humanly possible. Keeping the sentences rhythmic and fluid without getting too ‘flowery’. And try to keep the characters, dialogue and situations reasonably credible. Keep the ‘passive voice’ to a minimum without messing up the cadence.
Readers need to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, but not so much as to sprain a neuron every time they trip over an impossible plot device. Even if you’re writing fantasy, a certain amount of logical consistency has to be applied. These are the rules I write by. Even if I don’t always manage to live up to them. We’re all human.
So, today is the naming of parts. My editing day. Back to the keyboard, and maybe a walk later.
Sometimes you have to sacrifice wordage on the altar of a story. That is today’s lesson. ‘A falling of Angels’ first draft will be complete within the next three weeks at around 80,000 words. Current word count is 76,000 plus, but I’m going to have to excise 18,500 words of that for the greater story to make sense. On the upside, it will mean I no longer have a glaringly orphaned storyline. The material will be transferred to the MSS of ‘On a bridge, burning’ where it fits in better with the narrative of Paul Calvins latest fall from grace.
As a means of improving my proof reading I’ve taken to reading passages of my latest output aloud. With my office door closed of course. If the language sounds right when I say it, it stays in. If I stumble on a first and second read through, then I have to take a big virtual hammer on a passage to simplify until it reads properly.
The good news is that after all the upsets and disruptions of the past few months, I’m actually settling down to some steady writing. The weekends fishing expedition, which ended as honours even between myself and brother in law Ian, helped unravel some mental kinks that were getting in the way. I think we’ll be repeating the experience next month.