Want to make your prose more punchy? Try cutting a few of those filler and filter words. Note: these aren’t hard and fast rules. Of course you can use adjectives and adverbs whenever you like. But if you’re editing, it’s not a bad idea to trim as many as possible.
Hello folks. Want to make your prose a little more punchy? When editing, look for those adjectives and adverbs that can really make your writing drag. All those filler and filter words. Find them and get rid of them. For example… Deep breath… “Thought”, “touched”, “saw”, “he saw”, “they saw”, “just”, “heard”, “he heard”, “they heard”, “she heard”… “Decided”, “knew”, “noticed”, “realised”, “watched”, “wondered”, “seemed”, “seems”. That’s one of mine. “Looked”. That’s another one of mine.
“He looked”, “she looked”. “Could”, “to be able to”, yeesh. “Noted”. “Rather”, “quite”, “somewhat”, “somehow”. Although I think these are OK in dialogue, if used sparingly. “Feel”. “Felt”. Now this… this one always starts alarm bells ringing. Don’t just tell the reader that Bob is feeling angry. Try and describe his rage in a way that is unique to Bob. Which is easier said than done, of course. But no one said this would be easy. “And then” — paired together. Cut one or the other. “Had”. If you have two hads in the sentence, one of them has to go. Hads: two hads together… “had had”, which does happen. See if there’s a better way of writing around that. You might have to completely rethink the sentence. “He looks”, “she looks”. “He turned to her and said”, “she turned”, “they turned”… All this turning can make the reader feel dizzy and you can have whole conversations with people turning around and it goes absolutely nowhere. “Supposed”. “Appeared to be”.
“Apparently”. All of these can be weak and they can make your characters feel passive. If you’re writing the first person, these filter words can be doubly harmful. So… “I turned and looked up and saw the elephant raise its foot to squish me” is, well, it’s fine. “The elephant raised its foot to squish me” is a lot more direct. Keep those physical movements to a minimum. All that turning, twisting, looking… Give the reader just enough to animate the action in their own head. You’re not choreographing a musical.
So when you’re editing, look out for these filter words. Do a “find and replace”. Most of the time you’re better off simply cutting them. Other times you might see an opportunity to replace them with something a little more dynamic. What I mean by that? Okay. Add a bit of movement or action or texture. Instead of the “look to”, “turn to”… have them raise their chin, look down their nose, scratch their ear, run their hands through their hair, drum their fingers nervously.
Action that underlines what the character is trying to say or might be thinking. I find it useful sometimes to act the scene out. We’re all writers, spending far too long sitting on our backsides, so a little exercise won’t do us any harm. Get up, move about, film it, film yourself. No one ever needs to see it but you. But seriously, most of the time just cut the buggers. You’re better off without them. Of course there are exceptions. Sometimes we need these words to add clarity to a sentence, but too often I find myself relying on them when I should be trying to be a bit more zippy with my prose.
But hey, that’s editing is all about. Hope you found that useful. Until next time. Happy writing.
I finished the first draft of my novel this week… but what happens next? Jump right in to edit? Or…
Hello, folks, I typed these beautiful words earlier this week… (The End) Of course, this is nothing like the end. This is a raggedy mess of a first draft where three quarters of the way through I realised there were two characters that were completely redundant. So they were left by the wayside. The antagonist had almost completely changed in their nature. And there are several strands that have been left dangling in the wind. Still so far to go. But why not allow yourself this little moment of triumph?
Most people who want to write a book never get this far. So, hurrah! Cheers. I… I don’t drink. So this American champagne will have to do in lieu of actual champagne. But, I hear you cry, if I know what’s broken, why don’t I just go back and fix it right now? Well, those problems I mentioned, those are issues that occurred to me as I’ve been writing. Experience has taught me that there’s going to be a ton of whole new problems that I’ll discover.
And if I were to jump back in now, it would feel like an insurmountable heap of problems and my brain will probably melt in the process. It’s time to take a break from this book, at least. So here’s what I recommend… Leave it for six weeks. Six weeks!? Yup. Especially if you’re new to this. You need to come back at this draft with your eyes as fresh and objective as possible. And you do that by not even thinking about the bloody thing for at least six weeks.
Excuse me. Windy pops. Coke. Fizzy pop. So what to do in the meantime? Read. Read all you can. Refill the tank. Read in your genre, read outside of your genre, read good books, read crappy books. Read to remind yourself what a finished narrative feels like. Also, I’m editing a client’s book… Did I mention that I edit and offer reader reports…? Visit my Writer Services site here.
Doing this, reading another writer’s text in such a way that you want to give them a constructive critique, will exercise all kinds of new synapses in your noggin. Sparking up the same part of the brain that you’ll be using when you come to edit your own text.
It’s good exercise. Limbering up for the main event. That doesn’t mean you have to be like a professional editor or anything like that. This is where you go to any writers you know, and offer your services as a Beta Reader. Ask if they have any finished novels that they need reading, and offer your eyes and brains… In a… Brains, not ears… In a quid pro quo agreement, because you’ll need a beta reader once you’ve finished your next pass. Why not cue one up now?
You’ll learn so much by reading another writer’s work in progress. You’ll see the same kind of issues that you will encounter. You might, even in the process of offering your own notes, come across a solution for your own problems. Happens to me all the time. I’m very lucky in that I have a couple of trusted readers for my stuff and I’m happy to read their stuff at the drop of a hat. It’s a great arrangement, and by the time you’ve read their book — or books — you might get through two or more in those six weeks, you’ll not only find that you’re ready to return to your own work, but what once seemed insurmountable will simply be a bunch of problems to be solved. But that’s a whole new video. Until next time. Happy writing… Or reading… Or critiquing. Cheers.
How can you write a really satisfying ending to your story?
Hello, folks. I’m getting to the final few chapters of this first draft, and that’s when I tend to find that my daily word count starts to drastically go down. Why? Well, up to now, I’ve been getting ideas down on the page, putting my characters into tricky situations, given them terrible dilemmas. And they’ve all made choices with consequences. And it’s all been driving the story forward. But sooner or later, that story has to end and endings are hard.
Just ask George R.R. Martin or J.J. Abrams or anyone who’s had to wrap up a story with a neat little bow. So the creativity brakes tend to start screeching as you realise that you just can’t keep piling on story. If you see my previous videos, you’ll now I’m big on using theme as story fuel, and that’s definitely worked for this first draft. Having a thematic argument has really helped give me focus on how to make things work and I’ve never found myself stuck or blocked.
And just for reference, my thematic argument for this story is: Are we better off working alone or working with others? And I always like to pose it as a question. And I’ve enjoyed this as a thematic argument because there are times when it’s worked for both my protagonist, antagonist, and all the supporting characters. But the problem with a thematic argument is that you have to resolve it. That doesn’t mean you should come down hard on one side or the other.
Ideally, what you want for your resolution is some kind of synthesis. So if you think of your protagonist as the thesis of your argument, they stand for this thing here and your antagonist represents the antithesis over here, then your ending should resolve into a synthesis of both, or something new and unexpected. And that’s what makes for a satisfying ending. Think of The Godfather. So the argument is: can Michael be part of a crime family and maintain his moral high ground?
Well, Michael starts the story essentially disowning his family, but the family’s business tests him, and by the end he’s running the family the way he wants it run, but he’s also defending it with violence by ordering hits on the other families. A synthesis of ideas there. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Can a grave robber prove himself worthy of a great prize? Indy starts the film dismissing the Ark as superstitious nonsense. But by the end, his growing understanding and belief in its power is what saves him and Marion.
And don’t come at me with that Big Bang Theory crap about Indy not affecting the outcome of Raiders. Those people are confusing plot with story and are completely missing the point. Finding Nemo: Marlin, the overprotective father. He crosses a dangerous ocean and finds himself proven right again and again. Yes, the ocean is a dangerous place, but he realises that he has to let his son save Dory. Pixar, frankly, are masters at this kind of thematic storytelling.
Take the time to watch a few Pixar “making of” videos and you’ll get all this good stuff in great detail. This thesis/antithesis stuff is all horribly simplistic, of course, and easier said than done. But keeping this in mind, as I write these last few chapters, has really helped me figure out how to bring my story train to a stop and keep it on the rails and hopefully give the reader a really satisfying ending. Of course, the tracks behind me are a complete disaster, but, hey, that’s what rewrites are for.
Six tips for writing engaging action and fight sequences in your fiction…
Hello, folks, as I get closer to the end of this draft and I start ramping up the tension and the stakes and the action and, well, I’m about to embark on a big old action sequence. Here are six tips for writing action in fiction. Number one, don’t just have action for the sake of it. It needs to advance the story. By that, I mean it needs to create change and have consequences. Your characters will have to make choices in the heat of the moment that will affect what comes afterwards.
If you can just take that action sequence out of the story, and the scenes that sandwich it still work together, then maybe the action sequence isn’t earning its keep. Remember, we had two big action sequences lined up for Robot Overlords. A chase in an ice cream van. And later, a chase with our heroes pursued by a new robot called Octobots. And these were fun sequences, but ultimately they had zero effect on our story and characters and they had to be cut.
That said, I’m still keen to try out an ice cream chase one day. I always file these things away for later. Two. Let the reader do the work. This is where, strangely, action sequences have something in common with sex sequences. Don’t feel the need to give the reader a blow by blow account.. Oh, behave. We don’t need every punch, kick, swerve, stab and parry. It gets tedious pretty fast. Give the reader just enough detail for them to create the action in their head.
And if there’s some sort of skill involved with a sword or a gun, then it’s worth doing a little research to make it feel real. Again, we don’t need to know the inner workings of a Glock whatever to know that it goes bang and that bullets hurt people. I rail against a lot of modern thrillers where the author seems to get sexually aroused when talking about guns. In fact, I try to put mistakes in my stories just to wind up NRA members. Ha! Three. Pace.
That is, don’t just give us big blocks of action, mix it up with some dialogue, write in short, punchy (ha!) sentences and keep the internal monologue visceral. This is not a time for ponderous reflection. That can come later. This is a time for panic, fear, anger, fight or flight. Use all the senses, the crunch of the bone, the taste of blood, the sweat and filth of battle. That will really help put the reader in the middle of the action.
Four. Think of the setting. Is it a chase down narrow streets in Paris, or the skies above the Grand Canyon? When your hero falls, is it on sand? Tiles? Stinging nettles? Can they hide in the jungle, or are they exposed in a wide open desert? What weapons are at hand? I love those unconventional fight scenes where Jason Bourne uses a rolled up magazine or John Wick uses a book. Use the setting and its props to make the sequences as fun and inventive as possible.
Five. Give it a beginning, middle and end. I’ve used the word “sequence” a few times already and I find that it helps to think of any action beat as its own little short story with a beginning, middle and end. One where the stakes are continually raised with a growing sense of urgency. Compacting all that story into a frenetic action sequence can make your hero make bad decisions — creating those consequences I was talking about earlier — and it will leave the reader breathless and wanting more. I’m quite breathless myself.
Six. Aftermath and keeping it real. In too many stories, the hero walks away from a fight with nary a scratch, and even if they do get wounded, they often bounce back with superhuman speed. That may be appropriate for some stories, but readers will better relate to characters who hurt, who get the shakes, who mourn the deaths of their friends — and enemies — who regret having to do terrible things. This is, again, where a little research will help as well.
What does it feel like to break your ribs, be shot or stabbed? I bet it hurts a lot more than we might imagine. I speak as someone who stubbed my toe recently. Well, I hope that was helpful. Any questions or comments? Then please pop them below until next time. Happy writing and stop fighting.
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.
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. I know. Good, innit? 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 reading. Happy writing. See you again soon.
We had a special episode of the Bestseller Experiment this week and Mark Desvaux asked me a bunch of listener questions about The Crow Folk. I’ve broken them up into short videos, and in this first episode I talk about how the idea developed from a contemporary TV pilot into the Second World War novel that’s out now.
MARK STAY: Hello folks, it’s here! Look! Finished, gorgeous. Thanks to everyone who bought the book, read the book, said lovely things about the book, a huge thank you to all of you. It really means a lot. What you’re going to see today… We had a special episode of The Bestseller Experiment where I answered a whole bunch of listener questions and rather than one big lump of video I’m going to do them in little chunks over time, in more digestible chunks. So the first of these, people ask me where I got the idea from and how it developed. And this has been in development for some time. Be warned: this video contains gratuitous bellringing.
MARK DESVAUX: But let’s let’s dive in because there’s a lot there’s a lot of things people want to know about this book. And the first thing the first question is from Jan Carr, and Jan asks, where did you get your idea from?
MS: Classic, classic, and just to reassure listeners, so I’m going to try and make the answers as helpful for writers as possible, and it’s not just going to be me blowing smoke up my own bum for an hour, I mean, maybe for just forty five minutes. So hopefully we’ll get some insight into working with agents, editors, development, ideas, writing for series historical fiction, stuff like that. So Chris asked the same question. Chris Lowenstein: Where did you get the idea? Matt says, of all the story ideas you likely had before you started this book, why did you choose this one? Tanya says, How do you decide if it’s a book or TV thing? What made you a great idea for a novel? A lot of variations on that. But here’s the thing. I’ve got files going back on this idea going all the way back to 2008. So it’s… and it probably dates to before that. I mean, this has been mulling around for a long, long time. And it did, weirdly, it started out as a TV idea, but it was very different. First of all, I think the big problem with it was I had the point of view completely wrong, and it only took me about 10 years to figure that out. And the period was wrong too, because it was contemporary. Set in the here and now. So a few things had to change to sort of make the idea fall into place. And for me, it really started getting momentum in its current form when we were visiting friends in Chiddingtone in Sussex. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Chiddingstone. It’s on the border of Sussex and Kent. And it is your archetypal English village. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Weirdly, I work with the chap who lives there called Mark Streatfeild, who is kind of Lord of the Manor at Chiddingstone castle. He’s related to Noel Streatfeild who wrote Ballet Shoes. And they have… The family have their own coat of arms and everything. And Claire was down there, bellringing And while she was ringing, me and the kids sat outside a pub and the kids challenged me to come up with an idea for Doctor Who. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a whole session of bellringing? But they do something at the end. They ring down the bells because the bells have to be put in a position where they kind of put up and then they’re rung down and something happens to the bells, the bells and ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. They start ringing very, very closely together, really, really closely together. And it creates this incredible sound, an absolutely incredible sound. It’s like the lost chord from the beginning of the universe. It just creates this incredible magical hum and… And I got something from that I thought that could be that could be something magical, but that’s a good MacGuffin. I could use that. And of course, we’ve been using bells to fight off evil since time began. So bells…. Bells was something… Going to be very important and also Claire hosts… The bellringers will go on journeys. They’ll go from Surrey to Kent and back for the day back or whatever. And they they use us as a base for a couple of days. So sort of twice a day they come back and I’d have to make 40 cups of tea and then double up 40 lots of sandwiches or whatever. And I joked to them, oh, this is just after The End of Magic came out. I joked that I would make bellringers the heroes in my next book. So so the whole bell ringing MacGuffin was coming together. And it does play a really important part in The Crow Folk and then the time period thing put it into place, because it was still a TV idea. My TV agent, my script agent said, why don’t you set it… Instead of making it contemporary, why don’t you set it in the Second World War? Because that period England… Downton Abbey is an easier sell to Americans and overseas people than contemporary England. And that just… Another sort of thing sorted into place. Okay, great: World War Two and… I’ve moved to Kent. Moving here made a big, big difference because… Moving to the country made a big difference. And World War Two, I mean, it happened here with the Battle of Britain right above our heads. So moving here made all the difference.
MD: I got to say…
MS: Slotted into place and then.
MD: I was going to say, yes, that’s kind of like and it’s an extreme case, isn’t it, of a book research is to actually leave leave the suburbs of London and buy a house and therefore you’ve immersed yourself in it. Must have changed a lot because immersing yourself in kind of a village kind of environment must have given you an amazing kind of sense of backdrop for the book. Right?
MS: Completely. Completely. I mean, one of the nice notes I’ve got from someone who read the book said they said you write nature really well, and it’s just being here. You become a lot more aware of the nature and the surroundings. And then the big thing that clicked into places I got the POV right. In and the original version had been the monster’s POV. With this, I created a created a character called Faye Bright. She’s this young girl. She’s your classic, you know, hero… ingenue, kind of, you know, of character. And it all kind of started to click into place. And going back to I think it was Matt who said, why choose this one? It was just the idea that just would not go away. And I couldn’t figure out why… I’d write other things. And whenever I finish those things, I came back and this idea just kept coming back: a magical wood, a village. And, you know, the other thing is I knew this had series potential, you know, that endless well of story. And for years I’ve been trying to think of a series idea, something I could come back to. Well, could it be a science fiction idea? Fantasy idea, what have you? And this it all clicked into place about a character that was able to grow with the series. You know, she’s 17 in this book, but she’ll grow as it goes on. And it just took a really, really long time to see what was right in front of me. But, yeah, that’s a very, very long answer. But it had a very, very long gestation. It’s been around for 13 years. And ten of those it was kind of swimming about and it was completely wrong. So if anyone out there is thinking, you know, I’ve got this idea and it just won’t gel, just be patient. Just if it keeps coming back, if it keeps nagging you, there’s something in there. There’s there’s gold in them thar hills. And you just have to have the tenacity to hang in there because eventually it will reveal itself.
MD: I think it’s a brilliant, brilliant testament really to that idea. And we often call it signposting where you get to you know, you get an opportunity in life where you can start something new or you can try something and you look at the signposts and the different things that you could do at that point in your life. And if there’s a signpost is always there, it’s always like this is this I’m not going away. I’m not leaving you. If you see that enough times, you really have to follow up. And it sounds like intuitively you went right now. But it’s also about timing, is it? Well, I mean, you couldn’t have written this book five, ten years ago, right?
MS: Well, I did. I did write the book. I mean, that’s the thing. I mean, we’ve got questions about development later on. I finished many, many drafts of the wrong book, you know, that eventually kind of and scripts, you know, TV pilot scripts, feature length scripts that I got to the end of. And they still didn’t work. So, you know, it’s I did write it, but it was it was just wrong. It was it was wrong, wrong, wrong era and not the right character for you to write the right book as well.
If you enjoyed that, folks, there’s more to come. I’m going to be talking about future episodes, things like development, the writing process, writing historical language, historical dialogue and comparing my experiences in crowdfunding and indie publishing and traditional publishing, all that good stuff. So subscribe and don’t miss an episode. See you soon. And happy writing.
I’ve got my writing groove back. After finishing a screenplay at the end of March I was feeling pretty knackered and then along came a certain pandemic (you may have seen some mention of it on the news) and it fairly took the wind out of my sails… but then I got some news that got me going again. I can’t really say much about it other than it looks like I will have a book out next year — the beginning of a brand new series! — and it will be the first of three, if not more. And if you want some clue as what it’s about, here’s a pic of some of the books I’ve been reading for research…
The first book in the series is written and is currently getting the red pen treatment from the editor. In the meantime, I’m writing the sequel and, in a departure from my usual method, I’m writing by the seat of my pants. I’ve always been a big planner, but this time I decided to just, y’know, make it up as I go along… and I’m loving it! I blogged about it recently and you can read more here.
What’s Keeping Me Sane…
I’ve re-read Terry Pratchett’sLords and Ladies, which I pretty much picked at random off the shelf. This is Discworld at its peak for me. Effortless to read, very funny and full of wisdom. I’ll be going back there again soon.
I’m about to start Gray Williams’ second novel Strange Ways. I really enjoyed his debut, The End of the Line, which was a cracking supernatural thriller and this promises to be even more intense, I mean look at that cover with the lightning and the fire and the pointy things…
Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters is one of those albums where you can’t wait to learn all the lyrics so you can sing along with the same conviction she has. Righteous stuff.
I’ve been re-watching long movies over two or three nights: Midsommar, Amadeus, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood all benefit from an early night and regular loo breaks. I’m trying to convince Claire to watch The Irishman with me… that might take a few nights.
TV has been less challenging. Schitt’s Creek has been a comfort-watch. If you’ve tried and given up after the first season, do persevere. It’s a joy and the finale had me grinning like an idiot. And the most recent season of Curb Your Enthusiasm is a major return to form. I know Larry is an acquired taste, but I love his wry and excruciating way of never knowing when to just shut up.
Oh, and I watched Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker for the first time since seeing it at the cinema (remember them?). I have thoughts here.
Y’know, jobs with salaries and pensions and commutes and all the stuff I had consigned to the past when I found myself suddenly self-unemployed. Why? Because the banks insist I pay back this mortgage thingy, and suppliers will insist that I pay for goods and services. Unbelievable, eh?
Around mid-October I started to panic. It was very clear that the money was draining faster than it was being replaced and that I would run out of dosh just in time for Christmas.
Here’s the thing: I have a TV show in development, a feature film script with a great director attached, I have three novels published and one about to go out on submission. I’ve had my best year ever as a writer since Robot Overlords was released but, crucially, none of these gigs are paying anything like a living wage.
If the TV show happens I’m off to the races, but TV is high-risk business. Big budgets mean slow progress. I’ve been paid an option plus renewal (a couple of grand). The same risk and speed applies to the film script, though this is a spec script and it hasn’t paid a penny yet. Books move marginally faster, but the advances and royalties have a long way to go before they pay the bills.
I’ve tried getting TV writing work, but still have a long way to go before I have the kind of contacts who will hire me (a lot of it word-of-mouth/who-you-know). Again, there’s a high risk factor. TV is expensive, and me having made a movie and a stack of spec scripts doesn’t seem to be enough for TV producers to take a chance.
It was becoming clear that writing — the thing that took up most of my working day — wasn’t going to keep me in the manner in which I was accustomed…
And so my mind defaulted to the thing I knew was safe and certain: a job with a salary.
I began scouring the Bookseller and other publishing work agencies for jobs. Preferably for some sort maternity/paternity cover that would tide me over till the TV/Film/Book big time happened (stop sniggering at the back – it’ll happen). I applied for a number of jobs that I was perfect for. I had the experience they needed and I was ready to start immediately. What could possibly go wrong?
Warning: the next few paras will make me sound like a grumpy old man, but I can only speak from my own experience as a grumpy old man…
Nobody wanted me! I had interviews, sure, but the language of job vacancy copy is quite revealing. They blurb excitedly of dynamism and enthusiasm and pro-active-ness, but when you get to my age that all sounds exhausting. Whatever happened to a safe pair of hands? Someone who will come in and do the job to the best of their ability with a smile on their face and not set fire to the place??
Also, middle-aged folk don’t come cheap. We expect to be paid well, unlike the poor Millennials who have all been duped into taking a pittance and expected to work all hours. In the interviews I was treated like a curiosity. A survivor of the digital wars of the early 2000s, and one that would probably answer back occasionally, take an hour for lunch, and leave on time every day. Okay, yes, I guess it was my attitude that lost me the jobs, but there’s also a definite bias against middle-aged-grumps-who-don’t-take-any-crap in publishing. I’m shocked, I tell you. Shocked.
I also had a couple of replies telling me they’d read my CV and that I was a successful writer and grossly overqualified. If only they knew.
I think this was all publishing’s way of telling me that it was done with me.
The mind begins to reel when confronted with a black hole of uncertainty.
I’ve been skint before. I’ve been unemployed before, but not when I’ve been the one paying the mortgage. I’ve been massively overdrawn and in debt before, but I had the security of a monthly salary to at least rob Peter to pay Paul (with interest). I’ve never been in a situation when there was literally no more money coming in and yet here I was. Bear in mind, while all this was going there was a disastrous election, Brexit loomed like a cloud of poison gas, and humanity’s inability to get to grips with climate change made one entertain thoughts of selling-up and digging a large bunker in the Outer Hebrides.
What can you do but persist? I kept applying for jobs and touting for editorial work. The editorial stuff started coming in and that was good, but it was a few hundred quid here and there. Not enough to keep my head above water.
I’ve been scared of it for too long and now I’m challenging it to an arm wrestle in a crowded bar. Wish me luck…
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The following blog post has MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES
Have I mentioned the MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES?
Still here? Good. You’ve been warned…
Endings are a bugger. There’s no getting around it. Often, writers are advised to start with the ending and work back from there. Though the problem with that is as you get to know your characters you’ll start changing their story trajectories. And that’s where things can start to get muddled and how endings can end up making no sense whatsoever or just fizzle out into nothing.
I’ve just watched the finale to Game of Thrones for the second time and, for all its flaws, I found it immensely satisfying and for me it illustrates a great principal of storytelling:
Characters will get what they need (or deserve) and not what they wanted…
Dany gets to defeat Cersei and at least touch the iron throne (though she doesn’t actually get to park her bottom on it), nor does she get the satisfaction of seeing Cersei die, which may be why she still thirsts to bring the rest of the world under her heel, triggering Jon to (eventually) grow a pair and stop her.
Jon’s ethos of honour and duty at all costs sees him banished to the Night’s Watch, which is where he was off to in the pilot episode anyway. He could’ve saved himself an awful lot of trouble and stayed there in the first place. Bless him, he tried. Though he did stop Dany from turning other cities into dragon-flamed barbecues, so we should all be thankful for that.
Arya doesn’t get to tick Cersei off her list, but on seeing the bodies of children in the streets of King’s Landing she’s realised that her childhood has been spent pursuing empty vengeance, and so she’s off on the Westerosian equivalent of a gap year exploring the unknown.
Sansa wanted nothing more than to be a princess to a handsome king, though Joffrey the Bellend, first of his name, was enough to put her off that ambition and now she’s Queen in the North with a neat line in costume jewellery and she’s taking crap from no one (see how she tells Edmure Tully to sit down).
Bran was just a little boy who wanted to climb and have adventures and now he’s the fricking king with second sight. Betcha never saw that coming in the pilot. Oh, wait, you all did? Okay…
And Tyrion has the most satisfying arc of all. He has come a long way from his whoring and drinking, and his final scene opens with him arranging chairs in order to make a good first impression. He’s gone from an irresponsible smart arse with zero responsibility to someone who, as Bran says, will spend the rest of his life atoning for his sins.
These, along with dozens of little callbacks to the opening episodes, close the circle of the Game of Thrones story, as well as giving all our surviving characters new beginnings.
So, if you’re stuck on your ending or it doesn’t hit you in the feels hard enough then think about your characters’ wants, needs, new beginnings and… er… uhm… y’know what? I don’t have a proper ending to this blog. I… oh, this is embarrassing. Er… BUY MY BOOK!
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