Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ever heard of mind maps?

Remember a few posts back where I mentioned 'character sheets'? Well it turns out that there are already hugely more detailed and beneficial things called 'Mind Maps'. Excuse my ignorance but I did say that I am new to this author thing and that I had a bog standard state education.............. and even that was quite a few decades ago.

So, for any other new Authors out there that have sat in blissful ignorance of the 'Mind Map' - I am about to shatter your world.

Firstly, I was hugely privileged to have an Author of Val Simones talent, experience and knowledge share a template of said Mindmap. After spending a wee while downloading the appropriate program and opening the file I was horrified at what I was looking at. 

Those 'character sheets' that I spoke about, oh my God, not even a scratch on the surface by comparison. Therefore, initially, I was already suspicious of this mammoth task that presented itself, possibly even a little anti it. A quick conversation with my editor Judi confirmed my worst fears - the 'Mind map' was a damn important tool if you want your book to compete with the big boys, it's the structure of pretty much all books - well, that was the message I got back.

Here was a two more issues for me to face - did I want to compete with the big boys (Not out of fear but more a case of my writing is my hobby, do I want it to become my life.) and secondly, I have a natural character flaw that makes me want to swim against the tide, take the unusual path, to do things differently. It's just in my DNA. 

Not one to dismiss a challenge, or speak from an uninformed perspective I decided to spend a few hours on this 'Mind Map' thingy and see what it could do.

I am reliably informed that most authors fill in the 'Mind Map' as they develop their story, apparently it can keep you on track. But when I applied it to the newly written INVICTUS Part One: Introducing Richard story I found it incredibly useful. I started with the Characters, identifying the main, main support, kinda important, sub characters etc and completed the information required from reading through the book. It was truly gratifying to note that 97% of what the 'Mind Map' requested was actually in my book already. Especially gratifying when one remembers the source of the Mind Map template. However, it was also quite an eye opener to see the 3% that wasn't; in the hundred metre sprint the difference between first and second place is a matter of tenths of a second so that extra 3% here could mean a big difference to people reading my books.

Make no mistake I had to tweak the template a little so it was better suited to my genre but in all honesty I found it a real boost for me to be that close. There are still a few hours to spend inside that map but it holds no fear for me now - it's a friend as opposed to an enemy stealing my time.
Another benefit is that it retains the information as a reference so you can always go back if a sequel or series is in the offering.

Something else that comes into play is my own style of writing. I don't 'plan' books, I just park myself at my laptop when I feel the need, and the story just seems to flow. I tried planning INVICTUS but almost as soon as I started tapping the keys it went off on a huge tangent and took on a life of it's own, and will never be the story I sat down to write. Writing this way may not be the 'norm' but it's just the way it is. This is why I think the whole 'Mind Map' thing serves me best as a detailed check sheet.

So, now to the concern over the structure - The Mind Map gives you an idea of what should happen, and where, in the story. It also gives you all of the component parts. As long as all of the component parts are in place the actual order of said component parts is not necessarily compulsory; it's a guide but not as big a guide as the feedback from readers. I tend to write my way and hope that there are people out there that enjoy my way of writing, and actually buy my books. It would be even better if I wasn't related to them as well! :-)

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

To re-write or not to re-write, that is the question......

So, INVICTUS Part One: Introducing Richard is sitting with Judi at ProofreadNZ for her to work her magic. As I've said before, this should be the cleanest manuscript she has seen from me as I've had 10 'Beta Readers' go through it. For anyone that doesn't use Beta's, find some! Seriously, it makes so much sense. I value their time and their opinions and am constantly amazed at how much detail they pick up. I still have to work on the introduction, and I am completely stumped on the cover design right now, but there's time.

Those that have read the draft manuscript have provided some very positive feedback, and to be honest I can also see some substantial improvements in my writing, story telling and structure.

This has brought about a degree of doubt over the quality of Fated Encounters - hmmphh.

The plan is to release INVICTUS Part One as an e-book, probably in November (providing I can get the cover sorted) and then next year release it, Fated Encounters and a third novella as a paperback collection - and this is where the question 'to re-write or not to re-write' comes into play.

I loved Fated Encounters, it is very raw and packed with emotion but now I'm not so sure that it is as good as I first thought; not as polished (from a story perspective) perhaps as I now think it could be. Fortunately there haven't been that many downloads, and I know it's not unusual to update publications, but if I start down this road then I'm going to be reinventing every book I write, every time I realize that I've got a bit better - crap, that could be a lot of re-writes! AND I don't think that that would be fair to those that have aleady downloaded it. It is a conundrum.

I was absolutely certain that Fated Encounters was the best it could be when it was published, but I didn't know what I didn't know, and in the same breath I still don't know what I don't know - dammit where does this stop!?! There has to come a point in time where I draw a metaphorical line under each book. But, dammit, if it's not perfect why shouldn't I keep improving it......... ? Does anyone else have these discussions in their heads or is it just me?

At this point in time I envisage one rewrite of Fated Encounters prior to paperback publication, with the condition that anyone that has purchased it in it's current format will get a free updated copy - then I really have to let it go.

I honestly believe that every book I have published is the best it can possibly be at that point in time. I want people to read my books and believe they have bought value. AND, despite the sceptics, I don't write to make money (my bank manager would happily confirm this to be the case!). But I also want to be on the path of continual improvement, for my own development. 

Wow - this is a confusing journey all of a sudden.

It was suggested that I look at each book I write as a step on the staircase to perfection, but surely by definition, if I go back to a previous book/step to improve it, it is in fact a step backwards. Deep huh?!

Does anyone else suffer this dilemma?  

Monday, September 15, 2014

WiP N0 6 V:4 has a title!

After a pretty frantic week or so of polishing the short story ready for Judi to take it on, I think I have settled on the title - INVICTUS Part One - Introducing Richard.

Of course 'Part one' tells the reader that there is more to come (and there is) but I wanted to write a series of 'bite size' books to fit in with peoples busy lifestyle. Obviously each 'novella' has its own story's within, and the long term view is that they build towards a natural climax - it doesn't half stretch the brain. Using myself as an example, I wouldn't pick up a novel of 500 plus words, I just wouldn't because I know I wouldn't finish it.

I'm also unsure of the 'Genre' pigeon hole that they will fit in. I spent sometime giving this some thought and it has proved a dilemma - switch to plan B - what Genre doesn't it fit into?!

There is some swearing (strike Childrens)

A few sex scenes (strike anything non Fictional!)

There are no vampires or monsters from the future (strike Sci Fi and people munchers)

A few battles scenes don't make it a war story.

A few tears don't make it a romance. 

Not enough blood and guts to make it a horror.

No gay and/or lesbian characters, so they're off the list

And there is nothing of any historical value so I'll strike that aswell

I think I'm left with Adult Non Fiction, and not even Young Adult because most of the characters are well over 25.

Something else that is creating some challenges are the correct descriptive terms. Not so much on 'Introducing Richard' but the next next one (WiP 7 V:1) - One of the main characters is a Maori woman, a particularly beautiful Maori woman at that. Maori's tend to have darker skin that the average pale Englishman but to use the term 'dark skinned' as a adjective is very open to perception. For example, a Mexican may well consider as native African 'dark skinned' where as a pale Englishman may consider anybody with a half decent suntan 'dark skinned'. Having trawled the internet for advice on this I find that it is quite popular to use foods as an example of colour - dark chocolate or milk chocolate are quite common BUT I'd consider these offensive if I was the one on the wrong end of those adjectives - hmmm.

After much deliberation I used "her flawless russet skin" - I'm still not 100% convinced about this line but I am really struggling to find a more appropriate and informative line, 
without the risk of offending someone. I think it is important to paint the right picture, I'm not in the habit of deliberately offending people, but it is so important to the story line that the reader understand's just how stunning this woman is, and that she is from a proud cultural ancestry - something that would be grossly understated by writing "This real stunning woman of Maori ancestry..." because there are a lot of readers that would have no idea of how a typical Maori person looks. Gonna have to give it a lot more thought.

Here is a link to a site that has helped me in the past - I hope it of of some use to others.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Is this normal or am I screwed up?

OK - WiP 6 V1.3 (As yet untitled) is rapidly reaching that point where I hand it over to Judi at ProofreadNZ to work her magic.

I tried a totally different approach this time right from the off, and I think it has been a real benefit.

When writing Russian Redemption I often read the book from the beginning up to the point I had got to. By the time I was three quarters of the way through the writing I could probably recite the 'story so far' verbatim. Doing the whole self evaluation thing after the process I identified this as a real negative. For WiP 6 V1.3 I did it differently, I wrote a piece and moved on. Once the first draft was half complete I gave it to four of my volunteer Beta readers. A few days later I was able to swap the second half of the story in return for their scribbled notes and observations from the first half.

Literally without reading the story, just the words, I went through the four sets of notes, making the spelling/grammar changes that were necessary. Fortunately there weren't huge amounts so I was able to collect in the second round of notes and observations quite quickly. (repeat step 1).

It was only once I'd made all of the spelling, grammar or general confusion corrections that I actually sat and read the full story.

I found that I was a lot more observant - not just in the structure of the story but also the nitty gritty detail. I took the roll of a reader. Honestly, it was a great exercise. I was able to test the continuity, flow, timing, characters, plot and lots of other critical aspects to a good story from literally a first time readers perspective, making lots of notes as I went but not making changes.

Once finished (and I have to say it is a really good read! Although I may be slightly biased?!) I went back to the beginning and made the changes that my own notes had recommended.

Now I've rolled out the penultimate copy before it goes for editing. This copy will go to all of the Beta Readers, next week I'll be collecting the observations for the last time.

The thing is, by doing it this way the book/story doesn't get over read by any one person that could influence it. To put it selfishly, I get better value from myself and my Beta's. BUT that also means that Judi has less hours of work to do, which equates to cost savings. Don't get me wrong, Judi is worth every penny, but she has other projects on so I need to maximize on the time she can spare to help me.

I'm hoping she will see a marked improvement on the quality of manuscript that will be sent to her this time, against our very first venture.

Everybody wins.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Well, I've finished the first full draft of WiP Number 6 - title to be decided.

I'm being a little self observant around the way I feel about that.

There is a sense of relief, of satisfaction and of a job 'bloody well done'. But there is also the knowledge that now the hard work starts.

It currently sits at 24,291 words, but the first pass reread will probably boost that number by at least a thousand words. I'm trying to make a few alterations to the process I've used in the past based on my own thoughts and findings. With Russian Redemption I had a lot of people reading the script as I completed section after section. I won't be doing that this time, mainly because I don't want too many people reading and rereading as it comes together. A bit like myself, after a few reads the mind digests the content and it starts to'autofill' with more reads; any small changes or errors are then easily overlooked. This time I got five people to read it when it was half complete; no one has yet read the first draft finished script.

So, this phase of the process is to look at the notes and feedback from those five people to see what should be incorporated. Whilst I'm doing that, they will be reading the full story and hopefully I'll have that set of feedback within a couple of weeks. I'll make any changes and then I go back and read the full story. So, won't read the complete story again for at least two weeks, hopefully my eyes will not be at the 'autofill' stage,  

It's at this point that the manuscript will go to Judi (ProofreadNZ) for her to work her magic. This will be the first time she has seen any of it so her eyes are totally fresh, I think this is important for this particular book, but I'm not certain it would be as beneficial if it were a full length novel.

There will be plenty to do whilst Judi has the manuscript so I know I have a very busy month or so ahead. To be absolutely honest, this part is not easy for me but it's part of the package IF I want my book published as cost effectively as is possible. 

I have frequently testified to my own lack of patience, and this is the part that tests it the most.

I will be updating the news feed on the website with regular progress reports, for those that have registered there. For those that haven't, I'm sure I'll be mentioning it once or twice here. :-)

A book ending can always be a story beginning.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

This week has been a great week.

Well, it has a very productive seven days anyway. About this time last Thursday I published the opening couple of pages of another story that I'd started. It was very early days in the life of that particular story and I wanted to share the demonstration of how I was learning to add a bit of subtle character depth whilst setting the scene. Anyway, now it's a 20,000 word fully fledged novella, it was a hectic weekend.

The thing is, when I read over the first chapter or two that I had written, and started to continue, the story took on a life of it's own and shot off on a tangent, never to recover to the original intended path - and it was great! Much better than I could of planned. Late Sunday afternoon I was really surprised by how tired I felt, not physically, but mentally; I was knackered!

I decided that enough was enough so closed the laptop and went in search of dinner. I thought I'd chill for a bit before bed. Except it didn't work out quite that way. After dinner I just had to go back to the laptop, there were so many ideas rushing around in my head. It was straight back into the story and away I went for the next four or five hours. It was addictive. The next time I looked up I was alone again, everyone else had gone to bed, a cold cup of tea on the table. If I was knackered before, I was now completely and utterly emotionally exhausted. I remembered that my eyes had leaked at parts, and that I'd chuckled at other parts, and that I'd had to focus really hard in yet more parts but apart from that my head was jelly, my mind just didn't want to work anymore. 

But still the ideas kept coming. More sleepless nights ahead, but it's such an addictive read (Disclaimer: that may be a slightly biased opinion).

I'm guessing that there is still another 8,000 or 9,000 words to be written regardless of the direction it takes but watch this space. And if there are any volunteer Beta readers out there, drop me an email. I don't have a clue what the title is going to be - how can I, I don't even know where the story is going to end?!

Now I move onto a different but timely, subject of discussion; when is a book finished?

There are lots of thoughts around the length of a story, the number of words it should contain, and there are numerous opinions around the subject all over the internet. This is going to sound very naive to some, but I definitely subscribe to 'natural length' theory; the story is over, when it's over. I don't want to 'pad' the story just to make a word count. I don't want to take parts out because it will detract from the whole story - if it didn't they wouldn't be there in the first place.

I want the readers to be taken on a journey, an enjoyable roller coaster ride, not one that takes short cuts or slows down as it pushes through a quagmire of dribble just to prolong the ride, because it detracts from the quality of the ride - or the story in this case. 

Recently Judi of Santel epublishing/ ProofreadNZ has introduced me to Amazons 'Kindle Singles' which is designed for those that want to publish (or read) non standard-length stories. Well worth knowing about.

Without readers there is no point in writing books - without Authors there are no books!