Narrative blues

I’m still deep in the rewrites of Project Kindness, the sexy spies and celtic gods novel, and I am pissed off with modern narrative conventions. In theory there are many options for the narrative point of view but if you pick the wrong one you risk any prospective agent assuming that you’re a rank ammateur.

I assume that most of my readers know what first, second and third person are and are aware of the different types of each but not everyone does. Also I don’t have an English Literature degree and it’s been a long time since I passed my higher so I’m almost certainly using some of the terminology wrongly. Therefore I’m going to start with an explanation of the terms I’m going to be using. Feel free to skip ahead if this stuff bores you.

First person

“I did, I saw, I felt.” The Narrator is a character in the story. They might be the main character (Hunger Games), or they might be chronicling the deeds of a friend, (Sherlock Holmes) or they might be documenting events that they lived through (War of the Worlds).

With some narrators the reader feels like they’re inside the narrator’s head experiencing things as they happen like in the Hunger Games books. Stories like these are sometimes written in the present tense and they tend to feel very immediate. The foreshadowing happens in events and dialogue or in the mind of the narrator, there’s never any of that “If only I’d known then what I knew later” stuff.

Some stories have the feel of the narrator having experienced events and then gone away and written about them later. All of the first person Sherlock Holmes stories feel like this. These stories can have a kind of meta narrative going on because the narrator already knows how the story is going to turn out. The Final Problem, the story in which Sherlock Holmes goes over the Reichenbach Falls, is shot through with Watson’s grief and anger.

Some stories feel more like they’re being told to you by the narrator either during or immediately after the events. It feels like you’re down the pub with them and they’re full of this thing that just happened and telling you all about it with accompanying hand gestures and funny voices. Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books feel like this, particularly if you listen to the audio books.

Second Person

“You did, you saw, you felt.” Mostly used in choose your own adventure books or in short stories. I’m sure there must be some successful Second Person novels out there but I wouldn’t have the first idea how to write one. I believe there’s a fair bit of sexy, second person, fanfic out there where the reader is a character in the stories. Taking the self insert character to its logical conclusion.

Third Person.

“He/she/they did, saw, felt.” I think this is the most diverse narration and there’s multiple kinds of Third person with actual names that writers are expected to know.

Third person omniscient – the Narrator is God, or at least godlike. The narrator knows all and sees all and they get to decide what the reader gets to know. If the narrator dispassionately describes what everyone in a scene is thinking as well as what they’re doing then it’s third person omniscient.

Third person objective – the narrator is a person reporting on the narrative from the outside. They’ve done research, spoken to the survivors, read the clippings, and if possible visited the scene and they’re telling you what they found out. Very popular for true crime and faux true crime stories. Also used by CS Lewis in some of the Narnia Chronicles, particularly The Magician’s Nephew.

Third person limited – the narrative follows a single person’s point of view, everything is seen through the lense of their experiences, but since that person is not actually narrating we don’t get to know exactly what they’re thinking. It’s as if the camera of the novel was following that person and only that person.

Third person variable – very like third person limited but the narrative isn’t always following the same person. Usually the point of view switch happens at very clearly delineated points such as with a new chapter or at the very least a new scene.

Third person multiple – like variable but the point of view switch happens inside scenes. Easy to screw up, hard to get right. When done badly it tends to read like a failed attempt at third person omniscient. Either that or as ‘head hopping’, which just confuses the reader about who’s doing what and to whom.

The Blues

So much choice. Surely there’s a narrative option to fit any story? Yes and no. If you’re writing a novel and you’re not already a respected professional and you’re planning on submitting it to an agent then you might have to stick most of those options straight in the bin.

Third person omniscient, for example, used to be super popular. A lot of literary classics were written that way – Jane Austen was fond of it for one. In recent years it’s fallen foul of the oft repeated advice to show, not tell. It’s the same with third person objective. You can’t get away from the fact that that someone is telling a story and for a busy agent that might lead straight to the rejection pile.

‘Head hopping’ is a complete no-no so it’s best to avoid third person multiple. That also means you have to be careful with third person variable. If you don’t make it clear enough that the point of view has switched then a hurried reader isn’t going to look back up the page to check. That way leads straight to a form rejection email.

I want it to be clear that I’m not criticising agents. I don’t even know for sure that they do react that way. I just know that it doesn’t feel worth the risk. It’s not enough to avoid amateurish mistakes. You also have to avoid stuff that might look to the hurried glance like an amateurish mistake. With so many other writers clamouring for attention why would they spare the time for a second glance?

There’s a part of me that thinks that the real problem is quality. I just need to ‘git gud’ and then I can write things how I want to write them. There’s another part of me that disagrees with that. That part thinks the problem is time. From the moment a reader starts reading there’s a timer counting down to the point at which they lose interest. I your story doesn’t grab them somewhere tender before that timer runs out then you’ve lost them.

The author name on the front of the book affects the starting time on that timer. My name isn’t Neil Gaiman, or Sir Terry Pratchett, or JK Rowling. I don’t have much time to prove that my story, my writing and my characters are worth sticking around for. Part of that is demonstrating that I’m a professional. And that means that sometimes I have to choose to rewrite a scene so that it’s not as good but does more closely conform to the current narrative conventions.

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Sunday Update 13/01

The first Sunday update of the year.

As I mentioned very briefly in the last update of 2018 I did get a new writing chair. It’s a proper rise and recline chair that allows me to write with my feet up and will help me to stand when I need it. Writing has been so much easier with it. Everything has been easier.

The chair was super expensive. I was only able to afford it because years ago I had a credit card with a somewhat shitty company that got in trouble with the Financial Services Authority and was recently forced to send refund cheques to a bunch of people. I spent mine on a chair that I absolutely need but could not otherwise afford. I should have been able to get one on loan from the Occupational Health department of my local council but there aren’t enough to go round.

At the moment I’m working on Project Kindness – the sexy spies and Celtic gods novel that I’ve was working on for most of last year. It’s been interesting to get back to it after some time working on other stuff. I’ve realised that there’s two massive scenes that need complete re-writes to change them from novel equivalent of a floating camera to the novel equivalent of a following camera and a voice over.

The annoying thing about the change is that I don’t think the new version of the scenes will be as good. I’m doing it partially so that they’re more consistent with the rest of the novel and partially because narrative conventions have changed and I’m unlikely to hook an agent if the first 40 pages of my novel contains the sort of sweeping ‘camera shots’ that used to be fairly standard narrative devices.

The other thing I’ve been working on is planning. I’ve been pouring over my two (2) new diary/planner things. One is focused on writing, the other is more generally focussed on setting and reaching goals.It’s too early to tell if I’ll be able to stick with either of them or if they’ll be any good to me. In theory structure and order are the best thing for someone with ADHD but they’re also the absolute hardest things for someone with ADHD to impose on ourselves. Kind of like how the best treatment for eating disorders is moderation. If we could eat in moderation we wouldn’t have eating disorders.

Welp I’ve hung around depressing myself for so long that this blog is now late. I’m starting this year as I mean to go along.

I’m back.

Here we are. 2019 and the world still hasn’t ended. I am also still alive, somehow. I know, it’s a constant surprise to me too.

Since we’re all still here I thought I might try that whole planning thing that seems to be all the rage. You know, that thing where you decide what you want to happen and then work out what you would have to do in order for that to happen and then do those things. Apparently if you do that then the thing that you want is supposed to happen. Seems fake to me but some people swear by it so I thought I’d give it a go.

This year I have three writing goals.

  1. Finish Project Kindness and pursue traditional publishing for it (query agents, pitch it etc).
  2. Properly cost out self publishing and consider that for my already completely novel, Singularity.
  3. Diversify my writing by working on short stories, working on my YA book, Project Academy, and by writing something completely new for NaNoWriMo 2019.

I absolutely do not want to do any of these things. What I want to do is to finish the current rewrites on Project Kindness, shelve it, and start work on the sequel to Singularity. Or alternatively go back to bed for the rest of the year and never have to think about anything or make a decision about anything ever again. Neither of these options would get me to where I want to be so for now I’m going to do the work.

I don’t know how long this is going to last. My experience of life has been that the planning thing doesn’t work for people like me. Between my poor health, my poverty and my lack of connections I don’t really have much leverage. Maybe I’ll get lucky.

If you want to help me on my journey towards… um.. success of some kind, you can buy me a virtual coffee with Ko-Fi.

NaNoWriMo Update 4

Five days to go and I’m currently less than 3,000 words from the 50,000 word target. I could hit it tonight. I still have another 10,000 beyond that for my personal goal of 60,000 words and it’s looking like I’m going to have trouble fitting in all my scenes.

I’m also having trouble actually writing scenes. I keep sitting down to write a scene that I have roughly blocked out and then realising that I can’t actually write it yet. That I have to write an earlier scene or three so that I actually know what’s going on. And I’ve discovered a massive plot hole in my plan for the climactic action scene that I don’t know how to fix. But it is NaNoWriMo so full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.

No problems at all with my characters. They are wonderful. I love them all but I am a bit worried that I have too many of them. That’s the problem with a school setting. Even with a tiny school roll there’s still the pupils and the teachers and the support staff and my main character’s family and I’m starting to see why there are so many horribly under supervised orphans in YA fiction. It’s as much about keeping the cast down as it is about narrative.

My story keeps branching out. Tiny details of setting or character keeps leading to new stories that I definitely want to tell. It’s a little intimidating. It’s as if I started to dig a new flower bed, found a few Roman coins, excavated a corner of a villa, and now it turns out I’ve found a street and I have no idea how big the town is. I’m starting to feel preemptively guilty because there’s so much potential there and I’ll never have time to write it all.

Wish me luck.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Update 2

NaNoWriMo is going super well, thanks for asking. Ha ha. No, don’t look at Scrivener.

Damn.

Look I can totally explain all the red text. Those are just notes. About how badly it’s going and about how I don’t know what order things should be in or when things happen or which characters to use in which scenes. And also about how I’m not totally convinced by my own plot.

Joking aside, my word count is fine I’m just worried that this novel is going to take even more editing than my writing usually takes. Which is annoying because when I can work out what a scene should actually be the scenes usually come out pretty good.

I now have a new writing table which means I can sit on a comfortable seat while writing. Hopefully this will help. However I am deep in procrastination. Things that I have done when I should have been writing include manicures, mobile games, stress eating, online shopping for Xmas presents, multiple trips to the pharmacy and housework.

I finally got to see a doctor about the question of whether I have rheumatoid arthritis in my hands. Apparently my inflammatory markers are only slightly elevated so maybe not and if I do then it’s very early days. I’ve been prescribed gel NSAID painkiller to apply to my hands. It seems to work. Now I just need to remember to use it even when my hands are not hurting.

So good luck to all you other people NaNoWriMoing this year and my the writing gods have mercy upon our souls.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Update 1

For the duration of November I’m going to be focusing this blog on NaNoWriMo because I’m focusing everything else on NaNoWriMo and I like things to match.

As I write this it’s day 4 and I’m on track to hi 50,000 words early and hopefully get to the approximately 60,000 that I think is a good length for the first draft of the story that I’m trying to write. Things are going well. I don’t hate my characters yet, the plot still works and my body hasn’t started rebelling.

This year my support team (by which I mean those of my friends and family who are not taking part in NaNoWriMo) are being unusually supportive. So give them a quick virtual cheer. It’s pretty thankless being an unpublished writer’s support team. They get most of the hassle of NaNoWriMo but they don’t get the creative rush or the potential feeling of accomplishment and it’s not like there’s any money in it.

Good luck my fellow writers. May the words come easy to you.

Changing perspective

I’ve been thinking recently about what I want from my writing. I want to get paid, obviously, but maybe that’s not possible. Certainly any traditional system of remuneration seems to be cut off from me and any non-traditional system relies on already having an audience. So what else do I want?

I want people to read my stories. I owe it to the stories. Right now they only live in my head and when I’m gone I’ll take them with me. They deserve to be read.

Maybe I should focus on putting more stories online? I have a whole novel that I could cut into installments and then put up on my fiction blog. If I get enough readers maybe it would be worthwhile going the Patreon route or upgrading my Ko-Fi account to a gold one?

Or alternatively I’ll have like 10 regular readers and that will just be soul destroying.

 

 

Sunday Update 26/08

I’ve decided that I need to get back into regular blogging. I’m starting with a weekly update on the… um, usual stuff that I update on. Lets see how many weeks I can keep it up for.

It’s official that I won’t be pitching at Bloody Scotland this year. I got the rejection email this week. As I previously said I’m not too upset about it because the novel I was going to pitch was one I felt in two minds about actually finishing.

I am back working on the sexy spy novel that I’ve nicknamed Project Kindness. Coming back to it after a break has been a weird experience. I have enough distance now that it no longer feels like something I wrote and that means it feels like I’m editing someone else’s work. However I’m still too close to it to be sure which bits of it, if any, are actually good.

Much of the rewriting and editing on Project Kindness is of the deeply finicky and technical type. I’m constantly wondering which order to put the scenes, when to switch point of view characters or jump from a-plot to b-plot and exactly where to cut each scene for the maximum impact when we come back to those characters.

I’m also still looking forward to NaNoWriMo this year. As previously stated I’m hoping to work on a YA (Young Adult) novel so that I can finally have a novel I can show to my kids. My previous attempts to write YA have been failures due to my stories running away from me. Or in one case to two characters in their 40s deciding that this was the book they were going to consummate a 7 year long flirtation in.

In non-writing related news I’ve decided to try spinning. I already crochet and I’ve been known to knit but this is my first attempt at spinning. I ordered a drop spindle kit that came with some carded fleece ready to spin and today was my first try.

OH MY GOD I suck at spinning. I really suck at it. It’s been a long time since I tried a new craft and discovered that I had zero aptitude for it. It’s kind of embarrassing to be this bad at the foundational fiber art. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying though. Stay tuned for future updates and possibly photographs of my cack handed attempts at producing yarn.

This week I also had not one, but two phone calls from my mother that had me running to Google. It happens occasionally that she phones me talking such utter tripe that I’m convinced that she’s flipped. Sometimes she just has a bee in her bonnet as a result of uncritical newspaper reading. Other times a quick google will reveal that she’s right-ish she’s just doing her usual thing of communicating the facts in entirely the wrong order or using language usually associated with people who need a lot of medication to cope with reality.

Once I’d done my googling and decoded what she was saying it became clear that the area she lives is suffering an infestation of “corn ticks” (so called because the engorged ticks look like corn kernels) and that she’s allergic to the ticks and they’re causing lung inflammation. All that explains why last week she phoned me up to cough at me so badly that I was worried I’d have to call her an ambulance.

No further news on my ongoing attempts to stockpile enough food to survive Brexit. See you next week if I don’t see you before.

Time to make a plan

For the last few weeks I’ve been drifting. I was stuck between writing projects. I couldn’t work out what I wanted to focus on and I felt lost. It’s time to pick a direction and start walking.

I haven’t heard anything from Bloody Scotland so I’m going to assume that they don’t want the story I pitched for Pitch Perfect. Frankly that’s a relief because I didn’t feel ready to finish it. For now Project Cecil can stay on the shelf.

I’ve decided that this year’s NaNoWriMo first draft will be of a story I’m calling Project Academy. It’s another attempt to write some YA (young adult) fiction so I’ll have something that I can share with my kids. I’ve already done most of the pre-November work on this story.

That means that I have until the start of November to work on something else. So I’m going back to Project Kindness, my tale of sexy spies and Celtic gods. I’m sure my beta readers will be delighted*.

I’m aware that for most of my readers this doesn’t really count as a plan. None of this is moving my ‘career’ along. It’s not going to solve any of my real life problems. I admit that I have no idea how to have a ‘career’ and that most of my real life problems are insoluble. I do have the beginnings of a plan for a small part of my real life problems but that is a post for another day.

 

*That was probably sarcasm.

I’m not dead I just don’t have anything to say

I’ve been so quiet recently because I don’t feel like I have much to say. This is unusual for me but then these are unusual times. It’s hard to find something to say when just looking at the state of the world makes you want to scream.

I try not to be distracted by all the horrible stuff that I can’t do anything about but I can’t pick something to focus on. I’m drifting. I was working on a novel but then I put that on hold to work on something that I could pitch at Bloody Scotland. I’ve submitted my short pitch but I’m not working on that novel just now because I don’t really expect them to want it. I started work on the prep for a new novel so I’ll have something to write for NaNoWriMo but shouldn’t I go back to finishing the one I was working on?

I suppose the real problem is that it all feels pointless. Everything seems pointless. I am one of the little people and there’s not much I can do about anything. I’m at the mercy of events driven by people with so much money and power that they don’t have to worry about the consequences of their actions. I’d be better spending my time learning more about growing vegetables and stockpiling cans so we can survive Brexit.