25,000 done, 25,000 to go!

You may be a person who looks at the title of this blog and knows exactly what I mean – or you may be baffled!

The 25,000 refers to words – since November 1st I have written twenty-five thousand (and 42) words as part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge… it’s an on-line challenge, there are no prizes except knowing you have completed the challenge and achieved the goal!

So I am halfway through, and as you may realise today is the two-thirds mark… so I have ten days to write the remaining 25,000 (well, 24, 958 to be precise) words… Can I do it? I hope so, but it will be head down!

The thing is, as well as writing my story – which is about a woman with a mystery past who arrives in the small coast la town of Easthope – as well as writing about my mystery woman, I am also writing here every day, and writing for the blog I share with two friends, The Moving Dragon Writes… plus other stuff as well, of course! To be truthful though, during this stressful and busy time (I’m also doing an on-line course on submarine archaeology) I have shared some blogs which I wrote several years ago, with introductions and added comments, but some of the things I’ve written have been quite long…

So supposing each thing I have shared here over the last month (sixty of them) and the ones I have shared on the other blog, (say ten of them) was on average 400 words long (a conservative estimate) then that make an approximate total of about 28,000 words… so if I added that to my NaNoWriMo total… wow! I’ve made it, 53,042!!!

Obviously, I am going to try to complete the challenge by writing 50,000 words about my mystery woman, but ti just shows how much i actually do write… No wonder i don’t have tome to do the dusting!!

If you want to read the fruits of my labours, I have published thirteen novels (one in paperback), three reluctant reader stories, one writing guide, an anthology with my Moving Dragon friends, then here is a link – I’m sure you will enjoy them, pleasae let me know what you think!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

and a link to the Moving Dragon blog:

https://somersetwriters.wordpress.com

Don’t confuse your reader!

As you can imagine, as well as doing a lot of writing (I’ve actually set myself a 800 word a day target for the next six weeks – not counting what I write here!) I do a lot of reading, and I do a lot reading about writing. It was a mixture of these things which, on the suggestion of my fellow blogger from my other blog, the Moving Dragon, that I had a look at a site which runs a ninety day challenge – to write eighty-five thousand words (yes 85,000)

The site which is called 85k90.com, has lots of interesting and helpful articles and I came across one which really rang a bell with my writing teaching – from when I was a teacher to now when I lead several writing groups. It’s all about not confusing your readers – and in actual fact they are the most simple and obvious points – simple and obvious but very easy to forget!

Here are the five by Wendy Janes:

  1. Ensure names and descriptions of characters are consistent
  2. Differentiate your characters
  3. Handle time carefully
  4. Yes, write beautiful prose, but don’t show off your vocabulary
  5. Steer clear of using drama for the sake of drama

Simple aren’t they? Because I’ve been writing just about all my life, from almost as soon as I could hold a pencil, I’ve learned these lessons by making mistakes on all these tips. Now I really try to make sure I don’t create muddle with names – however, in my genealogical mysteries, because my main character is dealing with family history sometimes there is a repeat of names – in my fiction as in real life family trees. I do that deliberately and carefully – and sometimes there is a muddle – but that is part of the story and I very clearly (I hope) make sure the reader knows it’s an intended muddle! I also write things down in old diaries to keep track of the dates of when things happen in my stories – I want events to be sequential and to be possible!

I guess my ultimate challenge in trying not to confuse the reader with characters was my latest Thomas Radwinter mystery, ‘Earthquake‘, where there were thirteen Chinese girls at a little boarding school in the 1930’s, one of them was murdered and the other twelve were all suspects! Twelve teenage girls!! I had to work really hard to make sure my readers didn’t get in a muddle (I got a bit in a muddle at times myself, I have to say!

When I read point number four, I almost blushed… with a little embarrassment. Last year I published my e-book ‘Lucky Portbraddon‘; it was something I had written quite a while ago but I wanted to get it off my mental writing shelf and out into the world. I set to editing it, having not looked at it for about seven years… oh dear… When I wrote it I had been trying to write a literary book… some of what I had written was actually very good, but it just felt unnatural and not my style, and well… pretentious to be honest! I went through with a mighty editing scythe and whipped out all the pompous, ‘aren’t I clever, aren’t I a wonderful writer‘ bits. I slimmed it down by more than a third cutting out ‘the beautiful prose’ which was just ‘showing off’ my vocabulary. It was a lesson learned, I can tell you!

Here is a link to the article which is very appropriately entitled, ‘Avoid Confusing Your Readers’!

https://85k90.com/five-simple-editing-tips/

… and here is a link to the challenge site:

https://85k90.com/

…and here is a link to my slimmed down ‘Lucky Portbraddon’:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/LUCKY-PORTBRADDON-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B01LWTVURP/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1502443608&sr=8-3&keywords=lois+elsden

… and my twelve suspect 1930’s murder mystery:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1502444271&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden

… and here is a link to our other Moving Dragon blog:

https://somersetwriters.wordpress.com

So many words a day

One of my favourite writers posts a daily word count on Twitter… I wonder if he has a target or  if he is just keeping track… Maybe I should ask him.

I don’t keep track of how many words I write, I just write! if I did keep track, would I also count the words I write here, or only the words I write for whatever story I am working on? At present I am writing the next Thomas Radwinter story, provisionally called ‘Saltpans’ and I don’t have a finish date in mind either. I think it should be finished in the first draft by halfway through September – I had hoped for the end of august, but no, other things have interfered. When there is no-one else involved like an editor or agent or publisher, there is only me to keep cracking the whip. Maybe best-selling writers have people to clean their houses, do the washing and ironing, take care of the garden, go shopping… well, I just have me and my husband. I’m not complaining, I’m fine with it, but that’s the way it is!

Going back to word count; the only time I do keep track of my words is November, the National Novel Writing Month, a thirty-day challenge to write a new novel. Does it help me, is it something I should adopt? Well it is actually quite stressful, especially if unavoidable things happen, like visitors, or days out or weekends away, but I do manage to maintain that 1,700 or so words a day for those thirty days… Well, I have for the last four years, but could I maintain it for more than thirty days… I am sure I could not. So would I be able to sustain a lower target, say a thousand words a day? Maybe – but how would I take account of the work I do re-writing, researching, writing background or support material which won’t go into the actual story?

Maybe instead of setting a target I should just keep track of my story word count – just so I know what progress I’m making… Maybe I will do that. Maybe I’ll start that today and report back next week, next Monday – no next Tuesday afternoon!

In the meantime, here are links to the books I started for the national Novel Writing Month, and finished and published:

2013 – Radwinter – published 2014:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B00IFG1SNO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-1&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2014 – Raddy and Syl – published 2015:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADDY-SYL-RADWINTER-Book-3-ebook/dp/B00WAN0YD8/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-12&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2015 – Earthquake – published 2017:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-2&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2016 – And the River – to be published (2018/19)

 

Chapters

I know many, maybe most writers, have some sort of plan when they start writing; they have an idea where there story is going. My mind and my imagination don’t work like that; this is just the way I do it, and I spend a lot of thinking time with my characters and events, just thinking, just pondering and puzzling.

For a reader (including me) I like the convenience of chapters; I know it’s a convention that some ignore, but I have an expectation that the book will be separated into chunks, and as the narrative and the scenes change this is fairly straight forward. However, it sometimes happens that making these arbitrary separations of different bits of story ends up with some ‘chapters’ being double or triple the size of others, and some are barely a page long. This can be ok in terms of the story, but for the reader it can be ‘Oh crikey, is this bit ever going to end, I want to go to sleep/do something else/ see my family‘ or ‘heck! Was that it? All of it?

With my way of working I get to the end of the actual writing, and most of the editing, and then I start organizing the chapters – and sometimes I do this just on numbers, how many pages in each. If I do it like this I still have to make sure that the chapter is complete in itself and if there are different parts of it they do relate to each other and justify their place rather than in the preceding one  or the one after or having a whole new chaptership of their own.

Chapters need in a way to be like mini-narratives, with an introductory part, even if its only a sentence, to launch the reader  and make sure the reader knows where they are and who they are with; at the end it needs to have a completeness within itself, even if it is a bit of a cliff-hanger which sends the reader onto the next chapter.

This is just the way I do it; I may start doing it differently, I might have a relation and begin to write differently… but I think that this is the way it works for me… at the moment!

With my next novel, Lucky Portbraddon, coming out in September, it’s finished and I’m tidying it up. It’s a long story with many different strands of story-line. There are six main characters, and it’s in essence their stories which are told, so there is a lot of interweaving story lines and  perspectives. The plot follows the events and relationships of these six, plus about six other people over a year, from Christmas to Christmas. As well as this there is a significant back story of one particular person which follows its own narrative as events over the last thirty years leading up to the present are explained.

Another factor with organizing this story, is that as well as being complex (however did Dickens and Tolstoy manage) it is very long (however did Dickens and Tolstoy manage)… However, I’ve had a burst of confidence and writing energy and I’m counting pages in each chapter, noting start lines and conclusions of each one and listing events within them… just to make sure I get the right balance and don’t exhaust or annoy my readers!

So today, I shall be mostly counting words!

if you haven’t yet read any of my novels, you can find hem here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

Long books

I am in the process of reading a very, long book for one of my book clubs, having just finished another very long book for the other book club. I read at night, in bed before I go to sleep, or in the car on long journeys. Most of my days are spent writing, and at the moment I am working on my next book Magick but I am trying to make it shorter… so I’m reading something very long and full to the brim with thousands and thousands of words, and I am trying to make my own book slimmer.

If I explain why I am making my book shorter… It still will be over 120,000 words so it is not a slim volume, but I am trying to make the text clearer, trimming out the repetitions. The reader knows from the beginning that the main character, Thomas,  loves his beautiful partner, so I am just cutting back on the number of times he tells us this, and slimming down the descriptions of exactly how beautiful she is. There is a lot of research about family history; I am cutting out a lot of the extraneous material which Thomas discovers… it tends to muddle and worse still bore the reader! I know I have a tendency to write conversations verbatim, and I have been told by my friendly critics that this is boring and even annoying! So I am trying to convey the idea of the conversation, its tenor and tone, without reporting every last syllable which was uttered by the characters. Because the book is written in the first person by a non-literary character, his style is quite conversational… this helps build a picture of him for the reader, I hope, but I don’t want him to become boring, silly or unbelievable. His little language tics should convey something about him, but they don’t need to be there all the time because this is a fiction, the reader wants the character to carry the narrative. Once he is established as a character, although there can be little reminders by things he says, asides he makes, the reader actually just wants to know what happens. Does Thomas find the history of his Magick family? Does he find the missing girl? Does he get over his panic attacks and anxieties?

So… the long books that I’m grappling with. The writers are renowned and fêted novelists; they are professionals, they are the top of the class in fiction writing, queens of their genre… and they have written really, really long books. Do I read every word… well, actually no… actually…  (and I am criticising me here, not the writers) actually I got bored with knowing every last detail of what someone wore/looked at/said/thought/was reminded of. After a while I found the mountain of words muddling… and this is me being a feeble reader; I became confused with the histories of each character, muddled as to who had been married to whom, which problem parent belonged to which troubled man/woman, I just really didn’t care about what happened to them as young people and their relationships with friends – even though within all this were nuggets of information which helped resolve the main dilemma of the novels. I really am not criticising the writers – but for me as a reader, in the end, I felt like giving up.

I read Dickens, I read Wilkie Collins,  I read Game of Thrones, I read The English Passengers by Matthew Kneale and Heartstone by C.J.Sansom… so I can read long books… War and Peace? I’ve read it. Anna Karenina? I’ve read it twice… Lord of the Rings, read it at least four times… So why am I struggling with the long books I’m reading now? It must be me!

Ten long books I’ve read:

183,858 words – Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
198,901 words – A House for Mr. Biswas – V.S. Naipaul
208,773 words – Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
211,591 words – Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
316,059 words – Middlemarch – George Eliot
349,736 words – Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
364,153 words – The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
418,053 words – Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
455,125 words – The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien
587,287 words – War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy