Writing: Wizards & Work, Part 6

All the best things come in sixes, maybe? I had a midnight flash of inspiration for more of these, so have some new character scribbles! (Standard disclaimer: very very loosely based on people at Rebellion, and not intended to be a comment on anyone at all!)

You can also read Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

 

She spoke in strange tongues as she worked, littering her speech with odd syllables and unknown words. We were not sure where she had picked it up, for the language was none of the known spell-speeches, but her words often made her work go faster. None of us could replicate her effects, although our efforts caused her much amusement.

But the mystique was undone when one day a visitor laughed, and said something in the same tongue. The staccato reply made it clear that their input was not welcome, but they just laughed again.

“What did she say?” I asked them as we retreated from the sorceress muttering her alien spells to her machine.

“Oh, she is calling it a plate of… I don’t know the word. It is an insult.” The visitor shrugged. “It makes it work better.”

 

Hir wisdom was boundless, deep as the sea and old as the mountains; hir thoughts ran in ages and aeons, and disdained such human notions as “hours”.

Hir colleagues eventually reached a compromise on the concept of “months”, mostly by pointing out how inconvenient it would be if they passed away from old age in mid-conversation.

 

The story of the princes who turned into swans is not exactly inaccurate; but the stories don’t say what happened to the ordinary folk caught in the same circumstances. Those without a beautiful sister to make them sweaters with spells woven into the patterns (an ancient art in itself), or without a handy hero to see them dancing in worn-out shoes, or without anyone to remember that they were once human.

Some do remember, though. Both humans, and birds.

And so if the wildfowl on the river flock to his handfuls of bread more quickly and readily than they do anyone else, maybe it is because they alone understand his murmured words, and appreciate his remembering what they once were.

 

“That was a terrible joke!”

“Oh, really?” the selkie says in his broad accent, not at all offended. “Ah thought it was alreet. I’ll get mah skin.”

 

The machine had been built to write routine spells: put a script in one side, and get a functional spell out the other. The problem came when it somehow got infected with sarcasm, irony and an awareness of current affairs.

Everyone agreed that the resulting weekly newsletter was very good, and even won some awards; and the machine’s notably radical leanings didn’t seem to affect the reliability of the spells at all.

They kept a wary eye on the effects, though.

 

She was usually cheerful; round-cheeked and smiling between sips of coffee and bursts of work. But woe betide if you crossed her.

The burned holes in the roof had been patched, and the tail-smashed desks replaced: but nothing could quite erase the soot-stains in the corner, or the memory of the dragon raging in the middle of the office on the day the coffee machine had finally broken.

And whether it was repairable was rather a moot point, now that it was a charred and melted heap.

Writing Writing & Writing

WURDS!! There are things! With WURDS! All of the things!

The first Thing is a short story, just from a random idea that I had while standing in the kitchen (also when you ask a writer “so where do you get your ideas?”… I get mine while stirring pasta, apparently.) It’s currently at 3000 words and I’m just mulling over where I want it to go; my original ending idea was a mild twist but it seems to be taking a slightly darker turn, and I may do some world-rewriting to fit that in. It’s a silly and fun and off the top of my head, and I AM WRITING AGAIN!! (Also, it includes necromancers. What is it with me and necromancers? …And cake. Same question.)

The second is that I have had my editorial letter for No Man’s Land (which has hopefully fairly permanently been renamed Every Ghostly Scar) back from the amazing Rebecca Brewer and I am just SO HAPPY. It’s always hard to read an editorial letter, but I knew the book needed work, and it’s so good to see someone else rip it to bits – but also so gratifying to see that it actually only needs a bit of work on the characters, a couple of scenes added/deleted, a couple of threads tidying up… the book and story overall seem to be in good shape, which is such a relief. I do love the book so much, and it’s so good to hear from someone impartial that they liked it too! So I’m going to take a day or two for mulling that over, maybe have a further chat with Rebecca about how to do some of the things (and also what needs to be done, because some of the ambiguity that she picked up on is deliberate, and I want to know how annoying that is) and then get working!

I’ve also been thinking about another project for a while, based on a rewriting of a children’s book – I’m not going to say more than that currently! But I’ve finally bought myself a paper copy of said children’s book so that I can scribble all over it and see if the idea has any legs.

And finally on the writing front, I’ve been playing with redesigning covers for the GreenSky series – I’m doing some more text-based ones, just to see if they work. They all need more work (I’m adding backgrounds at the moment) and I think it’s going to be a long-term project, but it’s something to keep me playing anyhow!

I’m aware that I’m still feeling broken, and that my writer’s block is still definitely there – so I’m taking everything cautiously, and don’t dare yet plunge into the morass of my unfinished stories. But TEH WURDS! They are back!

Kill Your Darlings?

I was chatting to Otter about writing advice, and my interpretations vs. what they’ve gleaned from reading too much of it online – and the one that got me waving my hands the most today was that old favourite, “Kill Your Darlings.”

Otter, from extensive research online, suggested that it sounded like “Take out every single piece of writing that you actually like.” Or possibly “If you’ve written a good bit, you’ve done it wrong.”

My first takeaway from that was “THERE’S SO MUCH FUCKING PRETENTIOUS WRITING ADVICE ONLINE, WHAT THE HELL.”

My second was “WHY WOULD YOU REMOVE ALL THE BITS YOU LIKE FROM YOUR BOOK?!!”

So, for me, “Kill Your Darlings” has three facets.

The Edit Tantrum

The first is when your editor sends edits back. Every single writer’s responses is going to be some form of “No! Won’t! It’s my book, I love it, you just don’t understand!” (And I say this as a writer, too. I’ve been there.)

Take a step back. Take some time out. Take a breath.

You might not agree with all of your editor’s points, but it’s worth considering them: think about why they’re being suggested, and what the effect would be. Even if you ultimately decide not to do that thing, your editor will very rarely* be suggesting wholesale slaughter for the fun of it.

So take some time, eat some “I’m Miserable” ice cream, and then kill your darlings.

The Scene Stealer

I really need to get my thoughts together for a longer post on this, but for me, every scene must do at least two things. Does it advance the plot AND tell us something about the characters? Does it give us some setting AND present a pivotal moment in character development? And, importantly, does it do something you haven’t done in another scene?

The same applies to language to some extent. You might have written the most beautiful conversation between two characters… but if you can tell us the same information in one sentence, then maybe you don’t need it. That line can be a brilliant gut-punch, but if it’s in the wrong place or offsets what you’re doing in the rest of the scene, it needs to come out.

This is the most frequent “Kill Your Darling” that I come across. It’s where you’ve written something good, fun, amazing, poignant – but it’s not needed. You’ve already told us that information; you could condense these three scenes into one; you could remove that sentence and it would make the rest of the conversation flow better.

It’s a lovely darling – but it doesn’t need to be in this book.

(By the way, I always took these bits out and saved them in another document – it’s one way of killing darlings without feeling too bad.)

The Deus Ex Darling

This one, I admit, mostly applies to newer writers, or the more tender-hearted of us. (How on earth do people like GRRM just kill everyone off? Do they have hearts of stone?!)

It’s where you can’t bear to go through with the plot or the action that you wanted. You’ve got to a certain point, to a climax, and- I just can’t do it. I want them to get together. I want them to survive.

Well, you’re the author – they can!

Except it breaks what you’re trying to achieve. It’s where plot armour comes from; where countless ordinary soldiers die, but the hero only gets a distinguished scar. Where no matter how many bad things happen, your hero still gets up again. It does also work the other way – where the hero gets more crap piled on than anyone else. Do they never get a break? Do they ever get some happiness? Frankly, a litany of Terrible Woe is as hard to read as someone Overcoming Every Obstacle Without A Thought.

Very often this is fixed by some judicious tweaking of cause, effect and the amount of shit you’re piling on characters, but it’s also a mindset. You are allowed to get personally invested in your characters – that’s the point! – but you also have to be mindful of the wider plot, of your reader, and of the need for emotional tension. You need to balance character with plot, and sometimes that does involve being mean – or not.

Don’t Kill The Good Stuff

So please don’t take “kill your darlings” to mean that you have to take everything you like out of a book – if you don’t like your book, then how on earth is the reader going to like it?

I think what “kill your darlings” is meant to do is make you look at the bits that you’re attached to, and give them a critical once-over. It’s making you think about why that piece is in there, and if you’re just leaving it in because you like it. It’s looking at the needs of the plot and the characters and the book as a whole, not at your writer’s ego.

And sometimes it’s wrong: you can leave that bit in. You can keep a sentence just because you love it. You can keep a scene because hot damn, it’s awesome.

But think about why you’re doing it.

And don’t be afraid to put the knife in when you need to.

 

 

*I mean. I’m not ruling anything out here.

A Kate Update: July 2020

In this update: cosmic foxes, roses, horrible cthulu-type monsters, kites (the bird type), a farty cat, cakes, donuts and witches. These may or may not be related to each other.

Firstly, the important news! A pile of cat paws and furBobble is sleeping, farting and ordering everyone around with happy abandon. He spent six hours on Friday asleep either on my lap or next to me, so he is one spoiled cat, and is obviously demanding cuddles at every opportunity. He is also a pile of paws and will reluctantly let us touch his toe-beans, is ridiculously fast (I may have a few small scars from trying to play with him) and has the most adorable little snore.

Then on to the second important thing: you need book recommendations, you say? I know I’m biased, but maybe try Beneath The Rising, Weave the Lightning or The Human Son? Also, we’ve got audiobooks coming out! I’d also thoroughly suggest pre-ordering Shadow in the Empire of Light, The Chimera Code and The House of Styx. Wouldn’t want to run out of books, eh? (We have so many good books at work and I just want to yell about all of them… so be thankful you’ve only had a selection!)

Also in work news, I’m reading exciting things that I can’t talk about yet…. WHEEEEEE!

I got sent a late birthday present by a wonderful friend of a voucher for roses. I have spent several hours leafing through (no pun intended) the catalogue going “SO PRETTY” and “climbers? Or a bush? What sort of soil do we have again? We’re mostly shade, so…” It’s been a lot of fun and I still haven’t decided. We think an in-person trip to the centre might be needed!

The kites have been keeeeee-kee-kee-kee from the tree behind the house; there’s two of them floating over most mornings now. They had a bit of a tough time with all the wind last week (well, I say that, but it wasn’t like they were having to flap… it was just the “getting to where they wanted to go” bit that seemed to be giving them issues) but the current sunshine is doing wonders for the thermals, and they’ve just been drifting over on the hunt for kite-sized snacks.

Cupcake with a mini skull on it!

If anyone’s in Oxford, Jericho Coffee on Osney Estate have started doing coffee & donuts on Saturday mornings… and Patron Oxford are also delivering said donuts (and brownies!) to the city! (I think this is incredibly dangerous and haven’t ordered any, because they are FANTASTIC. Once a week is dangerous enough!) And if you’re not in Oxford, they do postal coffee beans. The smell coming out of the roastery is always fantastic, so I would recommend based on that alone!

Also on a cake note, I ordered some amazing cupcakes from Happy Cakes last month (ok, no wait, May…) for one of my authors who was having a crap week – obviously skulls and gravestones helped. (They are relevant, honestly, and they did help cheer her up!)

Leaping fox with blue-stars cosmic colouring

On a pretty-things note, Lynsey Luu does amazing quirky stuff and I am still trying to decide what I want to buy! I’m somewhere between a cosmic fox, the cutest otter ever, or EVERYTHING ELSE. Currently I’m defaulting to the latter. The flower pendants are beautiful, too! Sigh.

I am currently on an Agatha-Christie kick, because it seems to be what my brain needs. Having Miss Marple sweetly pronounce that the world is horrible and evil and it just reminds her of so-and-so the butcher’s son who came to a bad end… it seems to fit the current world, somehow. Incidentally, if you like Agatha Christie, try Sexton Blake – we’re publishing collections of the best stories, and they’re the same sort of mystery and derring-do: Sherlock Holmes mixed with Poirot and Indiana Jones. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them!

Witch on a bridge by PetiteCreme
By PetiteCreme @gemsheldrake

I am sort-of writing again! I was leafing through PetiteCreme‘s sketchbook (with her permission!) and spotted a witch on a bridge… and it reminded me of Necromancer’s Charm. So I hauled it out, and – SO. MANY. NOTES. I mean, I wrote three versions of the start because I couldn’t get the voice, and two documents of other notes because Thief & Seer is sort-of related and…. ARGH. But I really enjoyed reading the start again, which felt good! I’m sending it over to Otter for them to read, as they’re my current “is this any good?!” reader, and then… well, we’ll see if anything comes back?

In general Kate news: I’m on my third week into changing medication, and it’s… not really fun. I had one week of complete exhaustion as one withdrew, and then a week of complete ups and downs as the new one kicked in, and I’m currently in the fine-for-three-days-crash-for-a-day cycle that’s still underlaid by grey. I’m just trying to do as much as I can while manic, and then take the crashes as they come, and trying to ignore the weasels. Animal Crossing and re-reading books are getting me through, plus Bobble cuddles and chocolate. I know I’m in the best position possible to be going through all of this, and I’m just trying to keep stepping forward. If anyone spots the shops getting restocked with new brains, though, let me know. I might be in the market for one.

Also!  In happier news, if anyone’s near Fairford in the Cotswolds, or can get there, the 7a Coffee Shop do SERIOUSLY GOOD BROWNIES. Sam dropped some off for me and oh my goodness. SO GOOD. Collection only, but so worth it.

…I feel like I am fixated on food and books at the moment, which… is fair, I think.

And on a final food – and cat – note, I have been watching Jun’s Kitchen: the most adorable cats, and really nice-looking food!

 

Going back to things is scary…

The really satisfying days start with a punch to the face.

Not usually my face – although there have been exceptions – but there is something very satisfying about kicking someone else’s butt. Literally.

I’ve found myself, over the past few months, thinking of bits in No Man’s Land and the associated writing I was doing. Sentences keep coming back, and I keep thinking of parts I loved. I wonder about dipping in again, or find myself explaining bits and jokes and snark to Otter. It’s sort of bubbling back to the surface…

[Crib notes: modern urban fantasy with two magical people, who are incidentally exes and also incidentally hate each other, trying to save the world. The slight spanner in the works is that everyone might be going mad. It’s fun.]

I paused on NML because I’d had feedback that the first third needed to be better integrated – and they’re right. The danger needs to start sooner, and it can – that’s fairly easy to do, in plot terms.

But when I got that feedback, I was deep in burnout. I knew what I needed to do and I could see the shape of that, but when I started writing it just… didn’t come. Went flat. It was all words and no characters, no emotions, no flow.

I reluctantly put it aside when life went to hell, and promised myself I’d go back to it. And that fact it’s bubbling to the surface suggests that I should.

But I am scared.

I know that diving back in is going to bring back a lot of memories and emotions; I tend to write with a word cloud mixed with music mixed with emotions, and every book has a different one – so bringing that back again is going to hurt. The book was written at a very different time in my life, so that’s going to have memories; it has a lot of people and associations that are going to be hard to process.

And simply in writing terms, too, I’m going to have to dig back in. I’m going to have to figure out how to work it. I’m going to have to remember a whole bunch of stuff and backstory and details and then figure out how to change it.

But… diving back in might be good. I’ve had a break, and levelled up as an editor, so looking at this with fresh eyes will be good for it and for me.

It’s just going to hurt. And I’ve had so many hurts of the past few years that I don’t really want to face another one – it’s going to require a lot of falling down and getting up again, and I’m going to be falling on already-bruised knees, if that makes sense.

Hey ho.

Well, no one ever said the writing life was easy.