Thursday, August 19, 2010

Re-draft complete.

Well, it's done.

After nine weeks of hard-graft, slaving over a hot laptop and grinding endless plot complications through my weary brain, Luigi's recommendations and my own improvements have resulted in a manuscript that is now 115,000 words, down 35,000 from the original, and with an entirely new and very exciting plot device for the story.

What excites me the most is that Luigi's marketing plan for me, which involves developing my work as a particular 'brand', has resulted in me coming up with two sparkling new ideas for subsequent novels, both of which are represented by recently completed synopsis. I've had some feedback from Luigi on one, and am awaiting an opinion on the other, but I've got a gut feeling that both stories really are quite unique, just like the first, and could cement me a place on the shelves of bookstores that really is my "own".

Getting published is the main priority right now, but once happily published it's standing out from the crowd that really matters. Whilst I can't say what will happen in the future, I feel very optimistic that I'll be producing material that really will be unlike anybody else's work. Can't wait to see what Luigi thinks of the finished re-draft: if it gets his thumbs-up then things can start moving, and we'll have an entire series of potential books to back it up!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Finding your niche.

I didn’t start out writing thriller fiction.

My first written novel was entitled “Man o’ War” and was set in the 18th Century, following the crew of a Royal Navy sloop sent to hunt pirates in the Caribbean, who themselves turn pirate and are hunted down. My second was entitled “Frontier”, and followed a street urchin ‘pressed’ into service aboard an East Indiaman bound for Calcutta in 1838, and from there into the First Afghan War of 1842.

Both were good stories and could have done well. Why didn’t they? Partly because I was still learning my craft ( though agents commented encouragingly on my opening chapters for both novels ) but mainly because I didn’t understand that the publishing industry ebbs and flows in niche revenue much like movies and music: things come in and out of popularity. At the time, historical fiction just wasn’t moving, and so neither did I.

Had I known this I would have researched it further, and perhaps succeeded earlier than I did. Exhausted after such research-heavy endeavours, I spent the next five years writing screenplays for TV / movies. These are even harder to market than debut novels, but I learned a great deal about story-telling whilst doing them.

It was only a few years ago that I began studying the publishing industry, whilst at the same time taking a look at my own bookshelves to see what I was reading, and thus what excited me. Thrillers dominated by far, especially the work of Michael Crichton, along with Lee Childs, a bit of Wilbur Smith and some Jeffrey Deaver. Clearly I needed to write thrillers and my market research revealed that, by and large, thrillers always sell regardless of more general shifts in public interest.

Writing in differing genres can deliver a great deal of perspective on how to produce great work, but if you’re aiming to see your name on the shelves you must be passionate about your subject material and genre, otherwise your lack of enthusiasm will show through no matter how hard you try to conceal it. Find your true focus, let all of your talent rush into it, and spectacular results can occur. It may sound simple, but it took me years to find what I REALLY wanted to write about.

Write what you enjoy, and keep a weather eye on the publishing world. Eventually, work, luck and timing can help you produce the perfect novel at just the moment when publishers are looking for your kind of work. And when they’re looking for something in particular, they’ll approach literary agents, who’ll search their slush piles for just that kind of book…..

Monday, August 02, 2010

Pace versus Depth.

One of the hardest tasks for an author when writing a novel is learning to balance pace against depth of story. It may not sound like much, but it’s surprising how easily a chapter can become bogged down in excess narrative or exposition, boring the reader who wishes only for the story to keep moving along.

On the other hand, it’s also possible to sacrifice so much narrative and atmosphere for pace that the story becomes featureless and barren, devoid of crucial scene-setting that can be so important to placing the reader ‘in’ the story so that the scene at hand blossoms to life in their mind.

My writing, as a rule, is a little heavy on exposition and light on pace. I’ve learned over the years that what I’ve originally taken an entire paragraph to describe will quite often be shaved down to a single line during my editing and redrafting, and rightly so. However, many of the commercial fiction novels I read today seem somewhat vacuous, rocketing along at such pace that everything else, from plot to sub-plot, characterisation to dialogue, seems to go out of the window in favour of Hollywood-style sound-bytes and shoot-outs.

I suppose my point of view might sound pompous, but I’m trying to take a line somewhere between the two extremes. I think that it IS possible to combine good writing with pace – isn’t “good writing” what writing is supposed to be about? Taking the reader somewhere else, letting them escape their own life for a while? If an author can’t take readers into their fictional world in a convincing manner, then surely it’s no longer entertainment. Atmosphere, character development and narrative depth are too important to the art of story-telling to be entirely abandoned.

From my original 150,000 word manuscript, I’m down to a solid 122,000 words. The pace of the work is much swifter now and there’s more action, but I’m not willing to abandon the atmosphere I’ve created for the sake of losing a couple of thousand more words: atmosphere is so rare now in commercial thriller fiction that by keeping it, I may actually benefit.

I need to lose about another 7000 words to be content with the story length. It’s going to have to come off some other way….