Grimbold’s Patreon has an ongoing comic about Grim and Bold: a cat named Grim, and a cat named Bold…and their friends…and last week, I was a cat too!
I’ve just recently finished a beta read for Adrian’s latest novel, and saw him last week to give feedback on it. Well, I sent him an email with the draft and feedback, gave him a day to weep into his ice-cream bucket, and then met him for cake to discuss.
One of the things he and I both agree on with feedback is that it hurts. That never gets easier – no matter how many things you’ve submitted, I think it will always feel like a personal blow to get someone telling you that they hate your novel, and it’s the worst thing they’ve ever read – or in this case, I didn’t like the first half, and thought it needed rewriting. You need a day wallowing with ice cream.
And then you pull yourself together, get some perspective, and get to work.
The interesting thing with beta reads – and the trick to it, really – is to learn to separate your personal opinion and the problem. You need both – when I edit or beta, I make a point to add what I like as well as what I don’t like, because the author needs to know what’s working as well as what isn’t. But for the bits that I don’t like, it’s then a case of doing some analysis.
Do I dislike it simply because I don’t like that sort of thing? Adrian had gone quite Reservoir Dogs, and for me, the strength of the books in many ways is the heroism…and so having some nasty scenes is a jarring moment. Is it because it’s the wrong time in the book, or the wrong character? Is it because it just doesn’t fit?
So we sat and chatted, and spent some time working through what he was going for, what effects he’s using, why the scenes are there in the plot and themes, what works and what doesn’t…and I think we did eventually boil it down to a root cause (which was wrong character POV). But if we hadn’t done that analysis, all that would have come out was “rewrite the first half” – and it could have ended up as bad. I could highlight a problem, but then Adrian can counter with reasons those scenes need to be in there…it’s really interesting to try to get to the bottom of problems, and to understand why the reader is having the issue – particularly as this stage in a book, when the plot and characters are still fairly in flux.
And this is why people say that everything can be fixed in editing, and that you’re writing the first draft simply to find out what the story is. You get it all on a page, and then you tear it to pieces again – and rebuild. One of the other things to come out was that I felt one of the secondary characters didn’t get enough of a showing, despite having a few key scenes – and so the rewrite hopefully means that she can get wound further into the plot, and it will make her contribution better. So the changes potentially solve another problem that might have come up on the next round of edits.
It’s really interesting, and while it is hard work, I’m loving doing it.
*apologies for any spelling mistakes in this; I’ve got a cold and my fingers aren’t typing what my brain wants them to!
Ok. So. Having had several lovely comments on a Dresden-Files-ish short story (Winter’s Loan), a kick from both PandaFries and Thalamas, and a good day, I took my courage in both hands and jumped.
While I have previously posted some of my Dresden Files fanfic around the RPG I played up until last year, I’ve never had the courage to post more than snippets. But, since this weekend, the first few complete parts of my Dresden Files fanfic is up on Wattpad, and I’m going to be trying to post another bit each week – probably Saturdays.
And holy f*** does this take more courage than I thought I had. It’s ridiculously exciting – I was on top of the world on Saturday and didn’t shut up thanks to overflowing happy energy (sorry, Swindon FreeWriters) but it’s also terrifying.
I loved these characters. I lived them for over two years. I had them in my head and in my life. I wrote so many words of game write-up or extra story…this is a bit of my heart and my soul, and I’m terrified of putting it out there because I feel so small, and so completely and absolutely judged. I’m scared of what people reading are going to think of me. I’m scared of what it says about me (apart from the fact I have a knack for putting my characters in mean situations). I’m scared of what anyone who reads is going to think. It was fiction, yes, but it was choices that I made for my characters – and having almost lived the situations, I can’t stay as removed from it as I can with my other writing. I was there, having those arguments, laughing at the antics. With the game, at least, it’s not just in my head – and while most of these pieces are just character extrapolations from that (certainly the romance and sex scenes would be a bit of a different roleplay style from the one we played, and probably require less clothing) it’s still got that heart-string tug.
But…I love it. Re-reading, I can’t stop smiling. I love it. And I want to share it.
It will only be the Dresden Files Swindon game that will get shared, and I’m still taking that one story at a time, so there may end up being pieces I don’t put up. I won’t ever be sharing any of the wolfpack games; while I wish with all my heart that I could share Ryan’s writing with you, I can’t get his permission, and I don’t think he’d want it shared. I absolutely adore it – but it’s his, not mine. And so that will stay locked.
But as for everything else… *deep breath* I can do this. I can. So, keep an eye out on Wattpad for new stories, and absolutely please, honestly, tell me what you think!
So, this came about thanks to a suggestion from Adrian on his blog. I am struggling for voice in my 1920’s necromancy – I just can’t get it to sound right, to feel right; it won’t flow. So he suggested playing around…
“Dash it all, sister,” the young man standing by the door said, perusing the invitation he’d been handed by the postman. “What the devil do you think she wants?”
“It’s a social invite,” a light voice said scornfully. The speaker didn’t appear to be in the room, but the voice came from the young man’s vicinity. “Afternoon tea is a suitably nice affair that you could be invited.”
“Why has she invited me?” The young man ambled over towards the table that filled most of the room and dropped the embossed square onto it. “Afternoon tea! Lord. It sounds a bore.”
“Or she’s just unwisely disposed of someone,” the light voice suggested, “and she wants you to speak to them?”
“Sister!” The young man stood up straighter, his dark brows knitting. “Dash it all, watch your tongue!”
“You have to admit it’s likely. Why else would she invite a necromancer to afternoon tea?”
“I hope you won’t speak that unwisely if I do accept the invite…”
“And you are going to accept,” the light voice said decisively. “It would not do to decline.”
“These teas are such a bore.” The young man flung himself into the nearby chair and kicked one toe at the carpet, which was starting to become threadbare. “I can’t eat, you do all the talking…”
“Well, you can’t decline. It’s an invite from Lady [X].”
The young man stretched out a hand and picked up the invite again. “Tomorrow. Well, I suppose I’d better write back and accept. But it’s going to be a rotten bore.”
There is no good way to get a summons from the mafia, even if it is an invitation to afternoon tea.
The young man stands in the centre of the dusky room, scowling at the square of embossed card he holds in one hand. His dark hair is cropped to his ears, his jacket missing a button, and one sock is in danger of sliding down his calf. The room around suggests that he takes more care with housekeeping than he does with his appearance, but it also bears signs of regular use; worn floorboards around the large table in the centre, a locked cupboard against one wall with inlaid sigils of protection, and an entire wall of bookshelves containing well-thumbed books. In short, the rather worn young man matches his surroundings – although the scowl on his hawk-nosed face does not sit there lightly, and suggests that it is not as well-used as the rest of the man’s features.
“Well.” The light voice drifts into the room. “At least they were polite.”
“They are sending a car for me.” The young man’s lips shape the words almost absently. “They want to make sure I attend.”
“And you’re going to, of course,” the lighter voice says sharply as the young man sighs. “What did you do to come to their notice?”
“Nothing!” The young man casts the parchment at the table and watches as it drifts aimlessly onto the floor instead. “I have never even met Lady [X] or any of her family.” He bends to pick up the sheet. “Do you think she wants my services?”
“It’s a social call,” the lighter voice says thoughtfully.
The young man straightens and drops the invite on the table, catching the corner with one finger as it drifts again. “An invitation to afternoon tea does not exclude her talking business.”
“Then she has disposed of someone, and requires you to speak with them.”
“Sister!” The young man frowned. “I beg you, do not speak in such terms.”
I will be one of the first to admit that my brother is useless in most matters except necromancy, in which he fortunately displays a talent that surpassed – and surpasses – my own. However, in matters of society, etiquette, and – dare I say – the heart, he is something of a fool. The matter of the invitation from Lady [X] was no exception.
He failed to open the invite when handed the envelope from the postman, and instead stood, staring with a most gormless expression on his face, as if the parchment itself would tell him what was contained within.
“Are you not going to open it?” I asked, with some acidity.
He did so, thankfully without further chiding, and we perused the contents. An invitation, by Lady [X], to afternoon tea no less!
“Well, you must attend,” I prompted after a minute of silence.
“What do you think she wants?”
“It is a social invitation,” I snapped at him. My brother’s fancies often take the wildest turns, and I consider it part of my duty to ensure he refrains from daydreaming at inopportune moments. However, on this occasion, I considered that he may have accidentally hit upon a salient point. “She may wish to discuss a matter of business with you while you are there, however.”
“Then why on earth invite me to tea?” My brother sat down gracelessly in one of the chairs surrounding the large table, throwing the invite onto its surface.
“So that she should not be subject to the gossip that would come if she were to invite a mage to the house, and so that she may discuss her affairs with some discretion!” At times I despair of my brother, for he has no sense of social niceties at all, and indeed seems to take pleasure in embarrassing me at every turn with his uncouth behavior.
“So she has had someone killed, and needs me to talk to them.”
“Brother!” I snapped, horrified. “Even if Lady [X] were to consider such a matter, I highly doubt that she would sully her hands with such business!”
“Oh, come off it, sister. You know that she married well, and his money has gone to her ends. Even if you are in ignorance of her business affairs, I am not.”
“I am certainly not,” I snapped, wishing my cheeks would flame to burn out some of the mortification I felt, “but it certainly does not do to discuss it! She is a social paragon and if she heard you speak of such things-”
“I wouldn’t get invitations to afternoon tea,” my brother finished with a certain air of glee. “All right, all right. I just don’t see the point of sugar-coating it, sister. You must be practical. You’re going to be the one doing the talking, anyway.”
“And I consider that a great relief!” I snapped, still mortified. My brother’s silence during public events, and the necessity for me to speak for him, is possibly the only redeeming feature of the whole affair – and, I suspect, the only thing that has saved my brother from social ignominy thus far.
I think the last one is my favourite, although it screams more Regency to me than 1920’s, which is unfortunate as I do feel Regency has rather been done to death. Anyway! I’m going to keep playing, and see where I end up…
Well, it’s not exactly writer’s block. It’s a feeling that this novel is not the one I want to write; there isn’t a yet a story I can tell. It’s missing spark. I’d be able to write it, sure, and it’d be ok.
And that’s the problem. I don’t want to write an ok novel. I am not in the business of “meh”, darling!
So. Adrian and I had an informal Cake Club meeting last week, as Sophie is chaotically busy with maps; and we ate too much Yorkshire pudding, talked over Adrian’s (lack of) editing progress, I got all of his gossip…and then we spread my novel out, metaphorically, and played with the pieces.
It’s missing a spark? Then one of the bits needs flipping. Something needs adding. Sure, you might have a lot of the pieces – but something just ain’t quite right.
Adrian was picking apart themes, and we settled on a strand of life/death. So…ghosts? Zombies? One of my second themes is essentially WW1, so can I use that existential dread to wind into the horror and enormous impact that the war had on citizens and soldiers? I’ve also got a nice line in necromancy, so ghosts would work well there.
Another strand was looking at tropes. Zombies have been done to death (hehe) but could they be flipped somehow? What could be taken as a baddy that hasn’t been done in my context? What’s the polar opposite of a Tudor society, and can I incorporate it somehow? What would really scare the people of that society – and us?
And a third strand was thinking about voice. Adrian prefers to look at overall voice – after all, you can twist the same character into many different styles – but I have to start with the characters. I had someone I wanted to write, but…could I change them? What voice do they have? What setting do they fit into?
And actually, I might have something there…
It’s all still ideas at the moment; I’ve got a lot of wool, and I’m going to have to wait until I find a thread I can pull that will let me knit the rest up. This is a frustrating point in writing, as I really do just have to let it settle out! I can’t force the ideas; I have to let them come.
But it certainly gave me things to think about!