Bounty – Writing Excerpt

A short excerpt from The Fishperer.

 


 
Some of the other bounty hunters liked to mock Xin’she Hydrocall for her ‘advanced age.’ Those bounty hunters had never been chased by her. Or in a fight with her. When Edar’he Eelspeak heard she was coming for him, he’d been apprehensive. Then when he heard a description of her, he’d laughed. Edar wouldn’t run from a fifty-five year old.

 
He was running now.

 
He was running harder and faster than he had ever run in his life. Pain tore through his chest with every breath as he dodged and ducked through the jungle, leaping over thick vines and swinging across branches. Every time he glanced back, she was closer. Perhaps just a fraction but she was closer. His face was livid and desperate. She didn’t even look to be sweating. He wasted air swearing and ran on. He didn’t need to get far but he had to get there first.

 
Xin kept a steady pace behind him. She didn’t want to burn out before the ensuing fight. It wasn’t difficult – Edar was clearly a city kid. His movements through the jungle were clumsy and obvious. He wouldn’t lose her at this rate. It was only a matter of time until he was in reach.

 
A thick fallen trunk blocked his way and he clambered over it at speed, despite his waning strength and lack of grace. Xin took a short cut, using a nook on the trunk of one tree to launch herself up and grab a high branch, swinging her lithe body with ease over the obstruction and hitting the ground with momentum. Edar was almost close enough to grab.

 
There was a sudden break in the jungle onto a river and Edar released a giddy laugh as he launched himself at it, disappearing beneath the surface as Xin made it to the edge. Without breaking stride she grabbed a knife from her belt and stretched her hands above her head in a point and leapt in a shallow dive beneath the surface. Her eyes easily saw through the warm, clear water. Edar was frantically mouthing something with the rapid expulsion of air bubbles.

 
That’s a mistake, sunbeam, she thought, stretching one hand out in front of herself.
Three eels, long and thick, powered up from the depths making a frantic beeline for her. Edar actually took the time to throw her a grin before he began to kick back to the surface. The first of the eels reached her and twisted around her legs. Xin ignored it, sweeping her hand around sharply and snapping it shut. The river stopped flowing downstream. Panic spread across Edar’s face as his rise to the surface stopped abruptly. The current had changed, dragging him downward. Yet more air escaped him as he was pulled toward the riverbed.

 
The second eel made quick work of snaking its body around Xin’s torso, constricting her chest. She brought the knife down into its back and the thing opened its toothy maw in fury. A puff of red billowed into the water around her and the eel’s grip loosened. The blade had gone right through, nicking Xin’s clothing but nothing more. She pulled the knife free as the third approached, and the wounded creature lamely twitched as it retreated. With one hand she struck at the newcomer with the knife, while with the other she gestured toward the surface.

 
Like a soap bubble blown between a child’s fingers, a pocket of air pulled down into the water and wobbled into its own entity as the surface tension snapped. The bubble dropped like a rock through the water, settling around Xin’s head. She took a deep breath from the pocket of fresh air.

 
The third eel sharply changed direction at the last moment and powered away from her. Her eyes flicked down to her calves and the eel holding them together let go and shot off after its friend. They were both clearly far brighter than Edar was. That was the great thing about ‘mancers that most people didn’t seem to understand – yes, they had the ability to talk with their certain animal but that didn’t mean the animal had to listen.

 
She turned her attention to her bounty, flailing his limbs as he swirled around and around in a little vortex. She waited, wafting her limbs gently to keep her steady in the water, comfortably breathing from her personal air pocket, until Edar went limp.

 
She flicked her hand and the vortex changed direction, carrying both her and the unconscious Edar back to the surface. With lazy ease she pulled herself onto the riverbank and dragged Edar up with her. He was heavy, especially wet, but not so much so that she struggled. It didn’t take a lot to get him breathing again, and he didn’t cough anything up, so she didn’t much worry about secondary drowning. Either way he’d make it back to the Law Office fine.

 
“How?” he sputtered as she roughly tied his hands behind his back, one knee burrowed hard into his spine.

 
She let a grin slip. “Thought the currents were too strong? Kid, you have a lot to learn about hydromancers.” She yanked him to his feet. “You’ll have plenty of time to think about it inside that gibbet.”

Advertisements

NaNo Reflections

winner

Another NaNo down! And I won (just) for my fifth consecutive year. This was the closest I’ve cut it that I recall but I made it in the end. And, as I was doing a rewrite of the very project that got me into writing again after my long, university induced hiatus, there was a lot of cringing along the way. Really.

On the positive side, it let me see that I’ve improved a huge amount at writing over the past five years. I already mentioned just how many words I was cutting in my progress post and that trend continued. At least six full scenes got completely binned, as well as others getting merged and whole paragraphs of absolutely nothing being skipped as well. There was so much superfluous, unnecessary and boring guff in there. There’s also the prose itself which is, in my opinion, miles better than the original even in its NaNo-form. If I ever get to the stage where I can edit this it might even become readable!

Practice really is the key to anything. I’m so much happier with my writing now than I ever have been – and I know there’s still massive space for improvement. I still don’t consider myself “good” (but will I ever?) but I’ve come leaps and bounds. It makes me so glad that I’ve stuck with it, even through the low moments. It’s like with art – I would love to improve at it but I always get disheartened when I try. Things never work out the way I’d like. I stumble and struggle and eventually end up taking long, substantial breaks from it and every time I do I end up back at square one. It needs a lot of time and a lot of practice. Unfortunately time isn’t something I have in abundance.

The only difference with writing is that I’ve stuck with it even through the hard times. From scenes I just couldn’t write, things that sounded awful, bad plots all the way to crushing beta feedback and rejections. Time and practice has brought me to where I am today. And I’m happy with where that is, even though I hope to keep improving as I go. If you love something and want to get good at it, stick with it. No matter the setbacks. Keep at it. Some people say you need to write every day but I don’t think that’s true. Just keep it regular and don’t let your skills slide.

Now if only I had more time for art too!

Programs For Editing Part 3: Paper

It’s time for the third and final part of my editing theme. The last program in my editing essentials isn’t a program at all – it’s the good old pen and paper. Some things really are just irreplaceable. So why, despite all this fancy technology and stuff, do I still rely so heavily on the tools it all started with?

The honest answer to that one is I really don’t know. There are some awesome benefits that I find when I give up on technology and just start writing but I could not tell you empirically why certain things are just easier with a pen and paper. There’s just something about it that gets the brain in gear, at least for me. So, what specifically do I get out of working on a hard copy?

My first comment would be that it’s pretty therapeutic. The feel of the paper under your hand, the glide of the pen, it’s all very soothing. More often than not I find it much easier to focus when I’m working like this rather than on a screen. Plus, I defy you to find a laptop that looks as good as these.

 

Notebooks

Be still my beating bank account.

 

When you’re reading along a sheet of paper, it’s super easy to quickly scrawl in a note or fix a typo and then keep going without losing too much of the flow of things. My poor, slow brain can keep up with scribbling down a note far better than when navigating a computer to fix an error. It keeps me in the moment and that allows me to work faster while still keeping sharp.

 

Commas

I still don’t know.

 

Another benefit I find is that I tend to read it more like an actual story that I’ve picked up off the shelf and that helps my brain pick out bits that aren’t right. Think about reading a novel – typos and errors are often glaring and obvious, and that’s partly due to not having read the piece a hundred times before. You become blind to these things and I have found that a printed out version can help to minimise this effect. As you can see from the below, I’ve a lot of issues – issues that I’ve completely glossed over while looking on a screen. Trust me, this is not the first time I’ve gone over this section. And still all the red.

 

Paper Edits

This isn’t even its final form.

 

So I’ve covered the print outs but often way before I even get to that stage there is already a notebook full of editing plans. Plans are good. Having them all in a handy notebook makes it easy to flick through them while you’re at your computer going through things. And as I mentioned before, there’s just something nice and also inspiring about them. They’re great to take about the place for when you’re thinking about your novel when you’re supposed to be interacting with the real world. Pfft. Reality.

 

Notebook Edits

Fear my amazing Paint skills.

 

So that’s me and my editing tools! I hope you all enjoyed hearing about them and I’d love to hear your methods in the comments below!

Programs For Editing Part 2: Word

Carrying on from last time, today I’m going to be talking about the features I like to use in Word while editing and revising my writing. Today I’m talking about Word 2013, just in case you notice any differences with features or how to access them.

Long before all the fancy stuff I’ve used like Scrivener and Storify, there was Word. Ever since I had my first computer it’s been an essential for me. No matter what new fancy programs come out I’m fairly certain that Word will never be replaced. If I’m writing anything that isn’t a novel, it gets written in Word. Short stories, blog posts, you name it. In my experience it has the most useful and comprehensive spelling and grammar check, has a good layout and most of the features feel fairly intuitive. Probably worth noting that I said none of these things while writing my dissertation but nowadays I don’t need to worry about tables, graphics or citations so the rose tinted glasses have gone back on.

As with Scrivener, discussed last time, Word has the feature of comment bubbles and again as mentioned last time I make liberal and possibly excessive use of them. They serve the same purpose and benefits as discusses last week. Big thumbs up.

Now, UNLIKE Scrivener Word also has the track changes feature which I love for so many reasons. Track changes does exactly what it says on the tin – it shows you in a different colour what has been added, deleted, moved, and so on. This is especially good for if you’ve sent it out to someone and they have suggested certain tweaks and changes, you can see exactly what’s being proposed. It’s awesome. It can be great for identifying problem zones and for making sure what you’re changing is actually an improvement before doing any final changes.

Track Changes

On most of my short stories, pretty much all of this is normally red.

Not only does Word let you see changes as you look through the document, it can also collate all your changes and comments into a revision panel at the side (or the bottom, if you prefer) of your screen. This can be used to quickly jump from one change to the next if you’re reviewing your alterations. I also like to use it to judge how ready a story is for viewing by others. Lots of changes and I know it needs at least another pass. Just a handful and it’s probably ready for a second opinion.

Reviewing Panel

This is just the first paragraph. Editing is important.

Possibly my absolute favourite feature of Word for editing is the ability to combine documents. Send a short story out to multiple people and want all of their notes and adjustments in one place? No problem for Word. This was a feature I had no idea existed until last year and I have no idea how I stumbled across it but my goodness I’m glad I did. And what’s best is that it’s so easy to do. Sent out your document and got it back from people? Great! First step, open any document. Just any one. Then go to Review –> Compare –> Combine. Into “Original Document” I select one of the commented upon files, and into “Revised Document” I put another. This first time I tell it to create in a new document and hit the go button. BANG! All the comments are in this new document. If you have more to add, just repeat but make sure the new document you’ve made goes into “Original Document” and that you change the Show Changes option to “Original Document.” You don’t have to but it saves you ending up with lots of docs to delete after. This is just brilliant because it means you’re just working from a single document and all of your changes and feedback are right there. It makes things much easier to keep track of and decreases the number of times you have to go back over the same bits.

Combining

This is the combining screen. Very simple, just browse for required files.

In the new document, at first you get a scary scene with a window for each document. You just need to close those until only the combined document is left and you should be left with a standard looking page with all your comments there for you. Quick, easy and super handy.

Are the any features I haven’t mentioned that you consider essential? Have you forsaken Word all together for another program?

Programs For Editing Part 1: Scrivener

Editing your novel is and always will be a huge job but there are ways to make it easier. Three ways to go about lightening this load is with beta readers, a strong plan of action and the right tools for the job. Beta readers are essential to know what works and what doesn’t, to see where your specific problems are and to just get a good feel for how the story reads as an outsider. Without a plan you can end up going round in circles, changing one thing only to mess up something else that happens before or later. By planning out your changes it becomes much easier to keep track of all it all and keep consistency without undoing your own work multiple times. Finally, that leaves us with the tools of the trade whose very existence is there to make things easier for us.

I’m going to dedicate a post to each of my three favourite tools for writing and editing: Scrivener, my most used method of writing; Microsoft Word, my go to for short stories; and good old pen and paper, which I don’t see being properly replaced any time soon.

Today I’m going to talk about Scrivener and mostly just about how I personally use it for editing, so many of its vast wealth of features will go unmentioned. I’m certain that there are even more fantastic features that would make my life easier that I simply haven’t discovered. It’s that kind of program, where there is just so much you’re constantly discovering new things. Just a heads up – I use the Windows version, which I believe has some significant differences to the iOS version.

Let’s start with the Information panel.

Doc Notes

I couldn’t find any ones with writing that didn’t make me look like I have no idea what I’m doing.

This is a panel that each individual document in a Scrivener file has. Starting from the top we have: a title; a box for a summary; metadata allowing us to indicate what type of document this is as well as its current status; and the final panel at the bottom which has six different tabs to switch between. As I’m specifically talking about the features I use, I will only be discussing three of those. The tab shown in this first image is a general comments section, which I like to use for notes of tone, transition and other alterations that effect the whole scene. This is great for keeping the general information out of the in line edits and so that it’s always available at a glance while working through a scene. As you can imagine, it’s also a great tool for doing first drafts as well to remind yourself what needs to go in a scene.

Metadata

Not only are these super useful but they are also pretty fun to fill in. Or is that just me?

This here is the second tab I use often for editing, a tab for custom metadata for that scene. You can create all the fields yourself and fill in as much or as little as is necessary. I find this especially good for when I’m going back and editing as weather and time of day are things I have trouble keeping track of when I haven’t looked at a particular piece for a while. I’m also really bad for two characters having a conversation and having a huge gap where another character is stood there totally forgotten by me, the other characters and probably the reader. This helps remind me to stick in reminders!

Comment Example

Again, it was tough finding one that didn’t make me look too ridiculous.

Comments are probably my most used feature for editing in Scrivener. In this tab of the Information panel, all the comment bubbles are compiled together to make them easy to click through and jump to where the comment is in the text. They are great for sticking in personal comments and tweaks as well as for putting in beta notes if your beta readers have given you back annotated manuscripts. You can also view a comment by just mousing over the highlighted text in the document.

Scrivener also allows for a personal word list which, as a fantasy writer, is fantastic. As well as getting rid of those annoying red lines under all your made up place and character names, it also means you know you’re spelling them consistently. Simply right click and select “Learn Spelling.” If you change someone’s name or tweak the spelling of anything, words can easily be removed by going to: Tools –> Options –> Corrections –> View Personal Word List. This way words can easily be added and removed, making sure your fantasy names are always spelt right.

Scrivener lets you organise a project by having different scenes in separate ‘documents,’ which in turn can be filed into chapter folders. I find that having a huge project broken down into chapters and scenes makes it less daunting and easy to keep track of. As mentioned above, each scene can be flagged as being at a certain stage of completion and viewing each scene as a separate entity helps me focus on fixing that before skipping ahead (or back, as I am terrible for).

I also make extensive use of the split screen option, allowing you to have two documents in the file open at once. This is great for having a character profile up or some world building research within easy view. Basically, I love my screen being super busy with information and Scrivener lets me have glorious organised chaos.

It’s a shame there’s no way to track changes using the program on Windows but I guess we can’t have everything. There is a way to add in line annotations but as they can’t be (or I haven’t found a way to) changed into normal text I tend to just use a comment bubble instead. That’s why I still use good old trusty Word for short stories – but more on that next time!

What’s your favourite program for editing in? Are there any features of Scrivener I haven’t mentioned that you just couldn’t live without?

 

Alternate Editing

Another round of NaNoWriMo bites the dust and this CampApril15 brought One Dead Prince to 75% completion. That’s pretty exciting me for me since this is such a huge project. I’m used to a first draft being around the 50k mark and then added to during editing. This one is probably going to hit 220k during the final part, which is quite different to what I’m familiar with.

The editing process is different for everyone and one of the big reasons for that is that everyone drafts differently as well. It turns out for me that drafting is wildly different for certain projects too.

Take Through the Black for example. The first draft of this was just breaking 54,000 words and was the very barest bones of a novel. There was absolutely no description of anything and very little internal thought from the main character – something very conspicuously missing in a first person novel. There was not enough challenges for the characters and things worked way too easily for them. The story was there though, and that was what I needed. The editing process saw me adding in forty thousand words, almost doubling the manuscript. I am certain that during round two of edits some of those will need to be shed but what I have now is leaps and bounds more fun and interesting than what I had before.

One Dead Prince is a completely different kettle of fish. There are some sections with long winded and dull descriptions (but still places where description is completely absent) as well some huge internal monologues where the characters ponder everything and anything and quite frankly put me to sleep. There is a lot of repeated information from different character views and a lot of things that are explicitly stated when they don’t need to be. When it comes to editing, I’m going to find it pretty easy to know where to cut a few thousand words.

So where did these differences come from?

These two stories, while both being of the fantasy genre, have very little in common. Through the Black is a fast paced action adventure type thing where as One Dead Prince is a epic spreading across a whole year and following several different groups of people with multiple different plot arcs.

The first draft of Through the Black was written very quickly and bare boned because it was important for this story to follow the flow of the action. With One Dead Prince there is a lot more of what I would call ‘padding.’ This isn’t because I really wanted to jack up my NaNo word count (though that always helps) but because with everything going on I found it necessary to explain in detail what a character was thinking as well as their motivations and reasoning for the sometimes strange things that they do. It is such a big story with enough complexities that I needed to leave information about why and how things were happening for future reference.

With one story, I needed to blast to the end just to know what happened and how it happened. With the other, there’s so much going on that the manuscript had to be littered with passages which really are nothing more than notes to myself. For the first I needed to go back and turn the framework of a novel into a novel. When I edit the latter, I will be using these little notes to myself to tweak things earlier and later in the MS before just cutting them out altogether. Two very different approaches to get the same result – a hopefully half-decent novel.

It’s funny the things you think about when you should be writing. Have you noticed differences in your writing styles for different projects? What sort of observations have you made?

Reasons To Write Often

You may recall me mentioning NaNoEdiMo, during which I set myself the goal of editing 1k a day. It’s the 1st of February today, and while I didn’t quite manage 1k every single day, I did manage well over the total 31k that I was aiming for. Success! As a result I am currently still on track to have this badboy ready by deadline day – the 28th. Eeep!

This novel has changed one hell of a lot. It was originally a NaNoWriMo project, my first one actually, though technically it was a camp project (camp of August, 2012! Wooo!). I finished it just in the nick of time at a measly 53k, with virtually no characterisation or description. It was all dialogue or action, and in the grand scheme of things there wasn’t even much action. It had characters who became besties at the drop of a hat and the ending of a popular action film that came out three days after I finished writing it. (No really, remember this post?)

Two years later and it has grown into 90k of misadventures and (hopefully) interesting characters who spend half the time fighting with each other. There’s now a tangible villain to distract from the fact that the big bad is off screen until books 2 and 3 (the curse of the first person novel). There’s still that ill fated ending, but I’m now on the last two chapters, so that’ll be gone soon too. A lot has changed, but that’s only made it more like the book it was supposed to be when I first wrote it.

Y’know, when I had been out of practice writing for a good five years. I’ve written approximately 456,000 words of fiction since then (not including the original 56,000 of the Deconstructor that was redone NaNo14). Damn. That feels like a lot for two and a bit years. It works out at approximately 14,250 a month. I’m happy with that. Really happy. But it’s time to slow down and start editing some of this. Currently, it’s 456,000 words that no one in the world is allowed to read. I should probably work on that.

Rereading my old August 2012 stuff, it’s a bit cringe worthy. That’s good though. It reminds myself that writing is about work. Not just “you’ve got to sit down and write this sucker” but “you’ve got to practice your ass off.” I wrote a lot before I went off to university. A lot. And I lost it. All the structure, the voice, the world building. I lost it. Writing is about hard work, and it’s a skill you need to keep up, to practice, to maintain. Some people might be lucky enough to just sit down and puke out perfect prose. I am not one of those people. I’ve gotta work, and I’ve gotta keep at it.

What I think I’m trying to say in my own and slightly verbose way, is that it gets better. I’m not saying that you’ll stop thinking you suck. I’m not sure that’ll ever happen. You might however, rather like myself, realise you’re sucking less. Read something recent you’ve done, then read something old. You’ll see it. Use it as inspiration to keep going. Write, write, write. You’ll never improve if you don’t and you can only get better if you do.