Thursday 24 May 2012

Revisions and Revision

I'm in the middle of exam period, and nearly a week ago I finished the first draft of my novel, so today I started editing.

As for the exams, I've once again broken out my trusty three-point plan for revision, and so far it still seems to be working. I had two exams this week, and they both went well enough. They were two of the hardest ones too; the next two are easy and I have a week until the next one and then another week before the last two. Wish me luck!

As for the editing, I'm still very much a noob, and worrying that I'm not being harsh enough as I haven't yet cut much. But I haven't got very far - 15 pages out of 160 - and I'm still in the early parts where I spent more time perfecting each bit rather than just getting on with it. Or so I'm telling myself.

The daily k rule worked fantastically for the writing, so I've made a ten page rule for the editing. Ten pages of edited manuscript before I'm allowed recreational internet, including blogging and social networking. The definition of non-recreational slipped a little over the course of the writing, but seem to have settled down into a happy medium. I'm allowing myself Minecraft after twenty pages.

I'll keep you updated on how it's going, and anything useful I learn from it. I've been writing, more or less and usually less, for years, but as I've never finished a first draft before, this is new ground for me.

In other news, I'm experimenting with giving up caffeine, in the hope that it will help with my insomnia won't help at all so that I can go back to drinking copious amounts of brain juice with a clear conscience. Apparently I need to give it up for two weeks before I'll know if it's working; I'm 48 hours in and I WANT COFFEE!

Sunday 20 May 2012

The Truth About Vampires

Here's a piece of trivia for you: you can tell a real vampire by their teeth. Or rather, you can't which is how you can tell whether they're real or not. Popular culture has vampires with huge fangs for their canine teeth. Bullsh*t, if you'll pardon my French, and one of the things that ticks me off in vampire fiction - that and the way people think of Dracula, as if the poor bloke hasn't had enough bad press.

Most animals with fangs do indeed have them for canines. Indeed, that's where the word canine comes from: teeth like the fangs of a dog. But that's because most most animals with fangs use them for ripping and tearing and doing as much damage as possible. That's really not practical for a vampire; even if they might sometimes tear a throat messily out, vampires want the ability to make neat incisions - and they do, in most fiction, leaving two neat holes, in spite of their wholly unsuitable teeth. And even supposing the vampire was content to simply tear out a throat, he couldn't. An animal with a muzzle can, but with a human-shaped face, you just try bringing your canines to bear on something that won't fit in your mouth.

The clue is in in the word. Which of your teeth would you use for making an incision? How about your incisors? And nature bears me out: the only animal that has teeth and feeds entirely on blood has razor-sharp pointed incisors.

Real vampires bite you with their front teeth.

In fact, a lot of what the stories say about vampires is untrue. Some of it is half-truths and misunderstanding, and much more could reasonably be termed balderdash, or indeed something a little less printable.

To start with, a lot of their powers and strengths are grossly over-exaggerated in popular culture. That's not to say they don't have them - most of them, at least - but just that they aren't the virtually indestructible, godlike superbeings you're probably used to.

But don't be disappointed. Real vampires have plenty of frightening abilities. The ability to exist, for starters. There's no need to believe in magic or the supernatural, or even to suspend disbelief of soft science, to believe in them; they're real. I think one of my housemates might be one, and I'm almost serious about that. The funny (or possibly worrying) thing is, a lot of the things that looked like they might cause problems with the science just fell into place; things I had no idea were the case just turned out to be. With every bit of research I do, vampires as I envisage them seem more and more plausible. And I have a bad track record with this; things I think I've made up nearly always turn out either to have been written about by someone else, or to have happened in real life. And I'm 99.9% sure no-one's written about vampires with a principle similar to mine.

Then, they have the ability to not be bl**dy obvious. Vampires can tell each other, but humans can't. If you knew what to look for, you could at least tell who definitely wasn't, but you could only really be certain who was on a much closer examination than any vampire is likely to allow you. Even their teeth aren't obviously different from a human's; the incisors are sharp, and angled so that they meet in a point, but the angle is slight, and you couldn't be sure they didn't just have slightly crooked teeth. Your best friend could be one, and unless they told you, you'd never know.

Friday 18 May 2012

So I've Written a Story

Yesterday evening, I finished the first draft of that novel I've been going on about for ages. Of course, overall it's far from finished; I haven't even begun the first round of revisions - I'm having a few days off and then I'm planning to start that on Thursday, since I have exams Monday and Wednesday.

But this is a huge milestone for me. I've started working on quite a few stories over the years. One of them - you know the one: the one you write when you're a kid and cringe whenever you reread - I got to about two thirds of the way through. And I've done one or two short stories; one of them is here. But I've never finished a gull-length novel before.

I now have a story. The writing, and maybe a few plot points, will need a lot of revision and polishing, but an uncut diamond is still a diamond, and my story is finished. It exists, in detail and outside of my head.

So I'm pleased as punch and proud as Lucifer, right now. And also enjoying the release from my daily k rule. I like being able to go on Twitter in the mornings, and I played Minecraft this afternoon for the first time in months.

But I'm also aware that I have a lot to do, and from here on I'm in unfamiliar waters. Not entirely uncharted, but many of the charts are quite vague and some contradict each other. I know how to write a story; I've been doing it since I was a kid. But I have to make it good now, and publish it - I'm pretty certain that I'm going to self-publish, for all the reasons everyone else is self-publishing these days - and market it. I don't know how to do that.

I read today that I should start marketing now, or at least very soon. I don't have anything approaching a marketing plan. I don't even have a title, and I don't think I can do that much without one.

I know I need to get it professionally edited. Before that I will have to turn my first draft, which is very first-drafty in places, into a first decent version, and what I've read recently seems to suggest that I should get it beta-read and do more revisions and get it to a state that seems finished to me first and turning it over to an editor should be the last thing I do.

It will need a cover, of course. I know someone who started a design business with a publishing branch, and while I intend to self-publish, I'm hoping he'll be able to give me a good deal on a cover design. And there are plenty of design companies out there if that doesn't work out.

I suppose that when I have all the essentials of a book I will go through Createspace or a similar self-publishing service. I hope it will be easy and obvious how to do that.

And then, in theory, I'll have a book. I will have to sell it. On Amazon, for starters, but whether, and how, I will get it on any other shelves I have no idea.

All in all, daunting is a bit of an understatement. But it will be a learning curve, and with a bit of luck I won't mess it up too badly.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Names, and Pain

This is my personal bugbear.

When you write a story, you have to name all your characters. You have to either decide on real locations or invent place names as well. You have to come up with a title. It's a pain.

Naming characters isn't too difficult, even if you're not so good at names. If you want 'real' names, a quick search will reveal dozens of baby name websites. I like, which seems to be more focussed on researching names: it has less cutesy baby stuff than most, it's easy to find names used in a particular language/culture, and there's a link to a surname site. I generally ask the nearest person to pick a letter, and look for names starting with that letter. If none suit, or if I suspect them of deliberately choosing a difficult letter, I demand a replacement until I find one.

Some people also recommend visiting a graveyard and borrowing names from the headstones. I've never tried this; to be honest it creeps me out a little.

If you want names for a fantasy story or something else where you don't want names that are used in real life, it gets a little harder. But there are some tricks. Spell a name backwards - alter the spelling a little if the result looks clumsy. They often sound very name-like; I discovered this playing a pretend game with my brothers when we were little. It involved creating a 'language' by the simple expedient of spelling everything backwards, and I liked my younger brother's and my resulting monikers so much I used them in a story (you know, the one you wrote when you were a kid that you now cringe when you reread). My older brother unhelpfully turned out to be a brand of mints.

Or, similarly, pick a name that sounds interesting and modify it a bit to make it unique. Another approach is to choose a language quite different from yours and pick names that are real but unfamiliar. Although I can see this having drawbacks if you hope to publish in other languages - specifically, in the one you borrowed the names from.

I find places harder than characters. Again, it's easy enough if you're setting it in the real world. Just pick your locations out on a map. I've done a fair bit of location scouting via Google maps, where Streetview is extremely useful and sometimes funny.

For made-up places, I'm afraid I have very little to offer. I really can't do these well. 'Pick a letter' can help a little, especially if followed by 'and now pick a vowel', etc, until you get a decent first syllable, and analogous techniques to the ones I mentioned for made-up character names.

Then there's the title. This is apparently quite an important feature, something you really need to get right. So far I've only found two approaches:

1. Miraculous burst of inspiration leading to the perfect title. Out of my list of Novels I Plan To Write, three of them have titles resulting from this. The big drawback is that this only happens when it wants to. If it doesn't, I resort to

2. Working title. For example, the vampire story I'm currently working on has from the start been labelled on my computer as Vampire Story. This is not a satisfactory state of affairs. To make matters worse, I'm going to need a trilogy title as well as a book title. I'm now in the final scenes of my first draft, and still have absolutely no idea about either.

So, here's a question for you: how do you come up with a good title?