I had great fun chatting to Simon at Kent libraries about the books and authors that changed my life…
What is your story’s theme? How can you figure out what it is? And how will knowing your theme ensure that you’ll never get stuck again…
Here’s the transcript of the Craig Maizin episode of Scriptnotes: https://johnaugust.com/2019/scriptnotes-ep-403-how-to-write-a-movie-transcript
Hello, folks, apologies again for the lockdown hair. Two weeks to go. Let’s talk about theme. Sometimes, if you ask writers about the theme of their story, they’ll probably give you a one word reply like: family, war… Chickens.
Okay, probably not chickens, but it’s usually something monolithic. Some writers might not know the theme of their work-in-progress at all. And that’s fine because there are times when, you know, I don’t figure out what it is until I finish a draft. But, the sooner you can figure out what your theme is, the better. Because the theme, my friends, is story fuel. We’ll come back to that. First of all, what is theme exactly? Well, first of all, theme is not “an idea”.
Anyone can have an idea. Drunk uncles stagger up to me at barbecues and say, “I got a great idea for a book and you can write it for me”. No? It’s just me? Okay. Anyway, the point is: ideas are two-a-penny and they are not the theme. An idea is: a man dresses up as a bat to fight crime. The theme can change with every man bat story. Your theme is the central dramatic argument of your story.
It’s the question that the story and its characters will interrogate from the beginning, through the middle, and right to the end. And that’s the key to figuring out what your theme is: make it a question. Imagine that your book has been published and it’s being read by a book group. What’s the main topic of conversation for that book? What’s the big question that they will be asking? And here’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering or original.
It just needs to be a little bit tricky to answer. So going back to our Man Bat example… the theme for that might be: can a man fight crime and not become a criminal himself? It’s the age old question of vigilantism, and it’s a good one. One that has fuelled all kinds of very different stories for time immemorial. So, how is theme story fuel? Well, we all get stuck when writing. And I find that if I know what my theme is, I’m much more likely to find a solution when I’m wondering what happens next.
So, for example, in my current book, the big overarching theme is: are we stronger together or on our own?
Now, as an old liberal lefty, I’m all for unity and working with others. But there are times when we need to strike out on our own. And when I’m working on the story, and wondering what happens next, I ask, how can I present this dilemma and dramatise it in the story? How can I divide my united characters? Or how can I take someone who works alone and make them realise that they might need help? All good stuff. You really should give it a try.
It really does. The screenwriter Craig Mazin, who wrote Chernobyl and many other things goes into this in greater detail in Episode 403 of the Scriptnotes podcast, and how it ties into protagonist’s story of change. And it’s really good stuff. I think the episode is behind a paywall now, but you can check out the transcript online. I’ll pop a link below. Well, I hope that was useful, and happy writing.
I’ve been working on a new way of writing the first draft of my novel. And it’s been working really well… so far…
Hello, folks. Apologies for the hair. Still in lockdown and two weeks till I get a haircut, so this is going to get worse before it gets better. Anyway, I’m working on the first draft of Skyclad, the third Witches of Woodville book.
Regulars will know that I used to be a big outliner when it came to writing, but I’m becoming more and more of a pantser or discovery writer, whatever you want to call it.
That is, I’m making it up as I go along. Well, sort of. I do have a rough idea of where I’m going and I know how I want the story to end. And I have a few key notes on a few key moments, but I thought you might be interested to know how I’m working with this one. Again, regulars might know that I have a different notebook dedicated to each project. Here’s the one for Book Three of the witches of Woodville, Skyclad.
This was bought at the National Trust Gift Shop at the White Cliffs of Dover, which is a little clue as to where some of the book will take place. What I’ve taken to doing with this story is switching from day to day between paper — the notebook — and the screen — the laptop — and it’s really working for me. So to give you some idea… On, say, Monday, I will start noodling ideas for what happens next in the story in The Notebook.
So here I’ve written in big letters, “How can the Poltergeist exorcism go wrong?” Slight spoiler, but it’s the opening scene. I’ve made notes on what can happen in that scene and they are imperfect notes. I’ve given myself permission to wander off, and noodle and try different scenarios, and scribble stuff out, and put other things in boxes and underline them, and highlight them. And what I find is that by the end of the writing session, I have a really good idea of how that chapter pans out.
The level of detail varies from session to session. But the next day, Tuesday, when I open up the laptop, I’m not victim to the tyranny of the blinking cursor. You know that feeling when you look at a blank page of Word or Scrivener that bastard cursor is flashing at you, “Go on, write something. What are you waiting for? Call yourself a writer?” Well, now I just go to my notes and start typing, and before I know it I’m up and running. I used the less formalised version of this with The Crow Folk and the second book, Babes in the Wood, available to pre-order now.
And it worked really well. So this is an evolution of that. A few caveats. I’m only 10,000 words into this novel and, in my experience, openings are pretty easy when compared to the rest of the book… not least the middle section, which can lead to much wailing and gnashing of teeth. So I’ll check in with this in about a month’s time and see if I’m feeling quite so smug still. Also, I’m writing the third book in a series.
I know the characters and situations really well. I have a very good idea of how people will react when presented with challenges. And that makes a writer’s life much, much easier and makes me wonder why it’s taken me so long to write a series. This is so much fun. Anyway, I hope you found that helpful. How is your writing going? Does this sort of method work for you? Pop a comment below or drop me a line. In the meantime, happy writing.
Part two of The Miss Charlotte Quartet — The Last Night of the Witchfinder General — is now available completely free to anyone who subscribes to the Woodville Village Newsletter. Sign up and grab your copy here… https://witchesofwoodville.com/#library
Manningtree, Summer, 1647
Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General, has come out of retirement for one last trial. And now Charlotte Southill is here to show him what a real witch can do…
Charlotte Southill vows revenge when one of her friends falls victim to the notorious Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins. But someone doesn’t want him dead and Charlotte must confront some raw and painful memories.
Hello folks. I’m delighted to announce that the second story in the Miss Charlotte Quartet — The Last Night of the Witchfinder General — is available to download… completely and utterly FREE for all the lucky people who have signed up to the Woodville Village library newsletter.
If you’ve read The Crow Folk you will know that Miss Charlotte has something of a secret history and these stories will go some way to letting you into her dark past.
Yes, these stories are a little darker than the Witches of Woodville novels and this one in particular contains hanging, torture, vomiting, farting, drowning, poisoning, shooting, stabbing and al fresco urination.
What more could you ask for in a 5000 word short story? It’s available as an eBook and audiobook. Let’s have a quick listen…
ESSEX WAS no place to be a witch.
Charlotte stood in the shadow of the gallows, watching her friend Dorothy Marsh sway in the summer breeze. Flies buzzed around Dorothy’s gaping mouth. Her bloodshot eyes bulged as if in fright, her last terrified words left unsaid. Dorothy’s pepper hair was matted with blood and the mob had taken all but her stained smock and a single shoe.
A dark rage grew inside Charlotte, rising like bile. She had seen too many women like Dorothy hanging from a noose these past three years. Dorothy wasn’t even a witch, but a midwife. A woman of compassion and kindness who offered Charlotte shelter and food when she was last here.
Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General, had come out of retirement for one last trial.
And now Charlotte Southill was here to show him what a real witch could do.
I had great fun writing this one, but even a short story is not written is isolation. My thanks to Julian Barr for editorial wisdom, Andrew Bowden for another cracking cover design and the lovely new logo for Woodville Village (points)…
Thanks also to Dominic Currie for the music. Head Librarian Araminta Cranberry for her introduction and afterword, and Claire Burgess for the usual.
Part Three of The Miss Charlotte Quartet will be available on 4th May and will again be FREE to all newsletter subscribers, so if you haven’t already please click on the link below and sign up. You can also get a free recipe for Jam Roly Poly as featured in The Crow Folk and much more besides. It will also be the first place where you will soon be able to read an extract from book two of The Witches of Woodville BABES IN THE WOOD (which is available to pre-order). Thanks again to everyone who’s read The Crow Folk, and especially those delightful people who have left reviews online and such.
Until next time, happy reading!
The parish council of Woodville Village is delighted to unveil the new village logo:
Village Head Librarian, Miss Araminta Cranberry, stated, “This is a vast improvement on the previous village sign, which many said looked like a squirrel nailed to a cross. This new design is much less likely to deter visitors and frighten children and animal lovers. It also better represents the magical heritage of the village, as well as hinting at the incident in 1973 that no one here talks about. No further questions, please.”
The logo was designed by Mr Andrew Bowden of www.ididthat.uk – Mr Bowden won the contract after completing the three trials of endurance and finally agreeing to accept payment in doubloons and bitcoin. Mr Bowden is from the county of Essex, but parish councillors agreed not to hold that against him and he was released from custody after only a few hours.
Why do I love editors? Because they help me create a better book. I’ve spent the last week or so in the first round of edits for my next book Babes in the Wood, and here’s what I learned…
Hello, folks, Mark Stay here. Last time we talked, I’d just started the edits on book two of the
Witches of Woodville: Babes in the Wood. Well, after a week and a bit
of intense editorialising they’re done.
They’re off to my… Well, I say “done”. This is probably the first round, but they’re off to my editor, Simon & Schuster, Bethan, for her to have a look at. Lessons learned? Well, um, this took longer than the first book. Now, the first book was Alpha-read and Beta-read up the wazzoo. Lots of eyes on that before it went off to any publisher. So it was in very, very good shape.
This one was in good shape, too. But, uh, there is a murder mystery element to it.
Which… Writing any kind of mystery like that is, is storytelling with the hood off, you know, everyone can see the working parts because you put them there on display for people to… To notice things. And if everything doesn’t quite make sense, then it really stands out in a way that other stories, you know, you can probably get away with the odd teeny weeny plot hole. So this one, most of Bethan’s notes were just little clarifications. Can you make this a bit clearer? Can you hang a lantern on this? You know, can you emphasise this a bit more? Uh, of course, during, uh, during my edit, I realised one massive plot hole was that I have a murder and never once explain how the murder was done. Only I could do that. Um, this is why you have editors, folks. So, uh, that was handy. I was able to… The thing is I’d written it down. I put it in my notebook. This is one good reason why you should have a notebook, folks, for each project that you’re doing, because I had actually written it down. I just hadn’t put it in the actual novel. Small point. But, you know, we always catch it in the end, which is good.
So, yeah, really happy with it.
And it gave me the opportunity to add a few extra layers, a few extra flourishes that… Particularly towards the end I wanted to ramp up the tension a little bit more. So I’m really happy with it. Really happy with it. So that’s gone off to Bethan. She’s in the middle of editing another book. So it might be a few weeks before I see it again.
But until then, I’ve got a short story to edit. I’ve got a short story to finish. These are the Miss Charlotte Quartet stories. So, I’m gonna spend this weekend… Beautiful… I’m gonna spend this weekend rereading that and giving that a final polish, and getting that ready. So if you subscribe to my newsletter, you can get these stories for free. Free! Number one’s out already.
Number two is coming on the fourth of April in ebook and audio… Got to record that too. And then
three and four are on their way. So that’ll keep me busy. That’ll keep me out of trouble. So yeah. If I hear any more on the edit…
I’ll let you know. I’ll get back to you. In the meantime, I’m just going to pop into my local library.
Happy writing. See you again soon.
I mean… look at it. Just gorgeous and full of mystery. Look at the eyes in the woods!!
The book will be published on 28th October and you can pre-order Babes in the Wood from the usual places. All the buy links you need are here, but in the meantime do join me in congratulating Harry on another incredible cover.
I’ve got the notes from my editor on my manuscript. Now what? After a week of avoiding my edits, it’s time to knuckle down. Here are five quick tips to help you sort through editor notes before you start your next draft…
Hello folks, about a week ago, I put up a video talking about how I just got my edit notes from my editor, Bethan at Simon & Schuster, for the next book in the Witches of Woodville series, the The Babes in the Wood book.
And if you were watching that video, you might think, oh, he’s got his notes. And we talked a bit about things like the edit triage and and, you know, just looking at headlines, bullet points
and making notes and stuff like that. And you’d be perfectly forgiven for thinking that immediately upon me, you know, finishing that video, I would jump straight into the edit. So what have I been up to since then? Procrastination, mainly, we can talk about procrastination, if you like,
maybe later. But, actually to be fair, I have had a couple of rewrites on two short stories and also some light rewriting on a horror movie which essentially took all week. So, you know, I’ve been doing that. I think, to be honest, it is a good thing not to jump in with both feet. As soon as you get your edit notes, you know those ideas, you know, you read and review those notes that your editor has sent you. Let them simmer in your brain, gain some acceptance from that time. Procrastinating.
That’s my excuse. And I’m sticking to it, During the meanwhilst, here are five tips on the first things to do before you start your edit…
Save a copy.
Seriously, save it. The original one that your editor sent you. Save it, file it away, leave it untouched. Don’t change anything because there will come a point in the edit where you’ll come across something and you think, oh, what did my editor say about that? And you won’t have any way of knowing…
Accept all changes.
I’m going to show a little video here. There’s a thing in Word and other similar word processors called “track changes” where the editor will turn that on and every single change that they
make comes up as a change. And you have a choice to accept or reject that change. Frankly, when it comes to the punctuation and grammar changes, there will be hundreds of them. Just “accept all”, you know, there’ll be a way of doing that easily on your bit of software. Google it. You’ll find a YouTube video that will tell you how to do that just “accept all” because frankly, they know their
punctuation and grammar. Just accept it.
They may make changes to a sentence or may make changes to a particular word. A good editor will leave a note saying, “I’ve changed this… Is that OK?” Or “Does this make more sense?” And, you know, you can maybe go back to your original document, which you will have saved, and have a look and see if that change is harmful or gratuitous in some way. But frankly, in my experience, they don’t make any crucial difference. These these are words that, you know, just there for clarity… Changes
are just there for the reader. This draft is not for you. It is for the reader. Hence, all drafts from now will be for the reader as well. Just ask yourself, “Is this a hill I’m willing to die on?”
Because in my experience, by the time you got round to the copy edit and the proof edit you’re kind of… You can’t even remember what that word was anyway, so just accept all changes.
So after that, you’ll be left with the comments. I’ve got about three hundred and thirty comments left on my document now from down from five hundred something. Go through those comments, read, make notes, reply to yourself, you know, make quick fixes if you want. Sometimes, you know, you’ll have duplicated word in a sentence or a paragraph and they’re pretty easy to fix. But don’t be tempted to make any big changes yet. Wait till you get to the end, because sometimes editors will see something that bumps them out of the story, make a comment about it, suggest changing it, and then later on, when they get to the end, they realised that was actually part of a plot twist all along. So don’t change it because it may be something that just needs a little bit of clarification or might be fine, just as it is. So read the comments, make notes.
Don’t just focus on the criticism. Look at the praise, too, because a good editor will leave you praise. It’s called the praise sandwich. It’s like, “This works.” “This is a bit rubbish.” “This is wonderful.” Fragile egos of writers strikes again. But actually praise is really helpful because it tells you what’s working. Lean into that when you rewrite.
And don’t feel you need to reply to the editor’s comments. You know, sometimes they’re just posing a question just to prompt a thought from you. You know, they’ll say, is this really necessary? Do you really… Does this make sense? Did they really do that back then? So the editor isn’t necessarily asking for a reply when you send back the next draft, although if you feel you would just want to clarify a point, that’s fine. But it’s usually a good sign that it’s something that’s bumped them out of the story. Might need a quick fix. So think of it that way.
So, folks, five tips. I think that was five. Pretty sure it’s five… Five tips for when you start your edit. I hope that was useful. If it was, give us a thumbs up, leave a comment. All that jazz. Share with writing groups, all that good stuff. If you’ve got any comments pop them below and I will reply. Stay tuned for some goodnews coming about the next book. Some cool news coming on Friday (cover reveal). So, yeah, stay tuned for that. And in the meantime, happy writing.
Blog tours! What are they? How do you get one? Are they worth the effort? In this sort-of follow-up to last week’s episode, we speak to the wonderful Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours about the world of blog tours…
The series is a real-life case study – as we catalogue the book marketing journey of Mark’s latest book ‘The Crow Folk’ (Simon & Schuster).
Each episode comes laden with book marketing tips, offers insights into book publishing, indie publishing as well as ideas about author marketing.
In this episode we cover:
– book blog tours (and why they’re critical to a post-launch book marketing strategy)
– how to find your dream book editor
– beta readers (why you need them, and how to find them)
– using StreamYard for virtual book launches
I’ve just got my first set of notes back from my editor for the next Witches of Woodville book BABES IN THE WOOD, so this is a great time to take you on the journey with me from editing a book to publication. I run through what a marked-up manuscript from an editor looks like and how I plan to tackle over 500 changes and comments…
Hello, folks, Mark Stay here.
The second Witches of Woodville book Babes in the Wood, is coming in October 2021, October 28th, I think, just in time for Halloween. And it’s March now, March the 5th. And I’ve just had my first round of line edits turn from my editor, Bethan, at Simon and Schuster. So I thought what I’d do on the ol’ YouTubes is start a whole new thread of the road to publication for Babes in the Woods, starting now. So where I am now, I’ve already written a couple of drafts which have gone to friends, beta readers who’ve made comments and sent thoughts back to me, and I’ve made changes before sending it off to Bethan. I’ve also had… This book involves Kindertransport children, so Jewish children fleeing the blitzkrieg and the Holocaust and coming to England. And I’ve already had a reader, a Jewish reader, go through that and give me all sorts of feedback and notes on that as well. So it’s in pretty good shape. Bethan has come back with a marked-up Word manuscript, which has got… 560 comments or changes, which I’m pretty happy with, actually, I think my first book Robot Overlords had well over 3000 comments and changes on there, so that’s doing pretty, pretty good. So, yeah, we got the first round of edits. I got this marked up manuscript of all sorts of little bumps in the road. So we have a look at some of these on screen. So Bethan’s… uh… Just if you’ve never done this before, we have a thing on Word and Pages and bits of software like that could tracked changes where any changes or comments that your editor makes is marked up so you can see it and easily recognise where a change has been made and accept or reject that change. And also, she’s left comments. And Bethan is brilliant because she doesn’t miss a thing. She notices all the little bumps, all the little things I got wrong,anything that bumps her out the story. But she also does the old “praise sandwich” as well, which is where you say, “Oh, this is good, this needs work, but this is great.” So the author’s poor, fragile, ego isn’t too bruised. What I’ve got now is what I call the edit triage, which is where I go through the comments. I make my own notes in a notebook. I try and take it off the page. And also Bethan has sent me a separate document as a kind of summary of her editorial notes of the big, big problems to solve, which is why the triage thing comes in. If you’ve got you know, do you think of your book as a patient lying on a gurney, you know, what do you have to fix first to save their life? You know, what’s the what’s the biggest injury? So rather than worrying about, you know, slightly… Any punctuation or grammar or anything like that, at the moment, you look at the bigger picture, start wide and move in and move in. So, yeah, really, really good notes. I’ve got a month to sort this out, which should be plenty of time. So we’re in March now. Book is published in October…
Babes in the Wood is book two of the Witches of Woodville series and available to pre-order from retailers now. Visit your retailer of choice or go to the bookshop at WitchesOfWoodville.com and now back to your regular programming
… which if you’re an indie author thinking, well, why are you taking so long? Why does it take so long to get the book to market? Well, part of that is that we’re working to retailer critical paths. So someone like Simon & Schuster will be selling in two retailers, six, seven, eight, nine months in advance of publication. For some retailers, they ask for a lot longer ahead of publication or sometimes over a year. So, yeah, that’s one of the reasons. And of course, you know, a publisher Simon & Schuster will be doing it in forty, fifty, sixty books a month depending on the month. So the marketing departments, the publicity, the art departments, they’ve all got to you know, they’ve got huge, huge workloads to work through. So better to give yourself plenty of time to do it properly, then have it as a last minute rush. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to this. I’m going to I’m going to dig in and start figuring out the big changes I need to make. There’s a murder mystery element to this, which I’ve never done before. And what’s been great with Bethan’s notes is, you know, she just said: a bit of clarity here, a little bit more mystery here. Wouldn’t she have thought this here, stuff like that. So it’s it’s been very, very helpful. So, yeah, I’m going to jump in and maybe check in in a week or maybe two weeks to give you an idea of how I’m getting on. And then after that, we’ll go through the whole rest of the process.
Things like looking at bits of cover art, looking at the blurb, looking at how we might publicise this one, what with lockdown, hopefully not being a thing by the time this comes out. So, yeah, first step on the path to publication. I hope you’ll join me further down the road.