Revision Tips and Tricks – Guest Post from Sara Grant

Sara Grant, who wrote this fabulous article on revising your work in progress, is running a new Book Bound event in Edinburgh this September.

Details of September 2015 Book Bound evenThere is more information n this flier, or you can visit the Book Bound web site at https://bookboundretreat.wordpress.com/day-events/.

It should be a brilliant event. If you go, please tell us all about it.

Litmus 2015

Head shot of author, Sara GrantI’d love you to believe that this is my writing process:

  1. A fully formed idea for my next novel springs to mind while I’m sipping champagne on my private jet.
  2. I type the manuscript in a rush. The story unfolds perfectly from my brain to the page.
  3. I immediately send it to my agent. She reads it and forwards it on to my publisher and they all agree – every word and punctuation mark is pitch perfect.

I WISH.

Every writer has some sort of revision process. If an author suggests otherwise, he/she is either a liar or unpublished.  Revision is the key to making a good story great. But revising is much more than reading your manuscript from start to finish.

I used to hate revising my stories. I was hooked on the thrill of capturing the idea on the page. Once I’d told the story to myself, I…

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The Waiting Game

chairs against wall

On Meeting an Agent by Janey L Foster

So you know how it goes – festival folder clutched to your chest, like a shield, like a prized possession. And your lanyard flips and shines in the sun as you walk with purposeful steps to the first appointment. It’s quiet and you’re early but the space is good for the nerves. You nod to guides and helpers but you know where you’re going. Your shoes click the stairs as you throw out a knowing smile to a delegate coming back down. At the desk you announce yourself to the fluorescent pens and spreadsheets with your hope fuelled confidence that hides the butterflies under your dress.

And you wait.

And you wait with the others. The collection of faces from other towns with tales of train journeys, told to ease the minutes as they ticked.  You rearrange papers because just one more shuffle wouldn’t hurt, you swing your shoe on the tip of your toe letting the through draft cool your heel.

And you’re all there, waiting with your words, fine tuned and formatted; your stories about to lay bare.

You stop waiting.

You’re summoned in. In polite procession with brief eye contact and ‘good lucks’ you find your place, with a table in between you and the tension of a delivery room, you wait for the words from the agent’s mouth.

And you’re grateful for the handshake and the smile, the warmth of a human touch, as she does her job with enthusiasm and passion from the other side of the tracks. Her phrases tumble out and swirl around you, her thoughts and her notes and more smiles. You hear yourself go up a gear as your own words find their order and your characters sit on your shoulder, whispering into your ear. And for a number of moments there is just the connection, not minutes on a clock. And you want to hold the moment, let the world in your head burst through and dance in between you on the table, over her notes and up her sleeves. Miniature protagonists in all their time-lines and their glory, weaving and spinning golden threads around her till she’s bound and laced into the plot. And you listen, just outside yourself, to her suggestions and you talk and you laugh and you buzz.

Time breaks through and you wind up. Other sounds and people fade in and fill out the edges as your awareness seeps back into the room. The handshake again, the smile, the thanks

…and The Request: You get a second date.

You leave. You seem to move just above the carpet, You beam at the girls in yellow but can’t stop. You have to move, to almost run and the stairs turn to silk under your fast feet. You’re back out in brightness with her voice in echoed ripples in your head.

You want to grab your protagonist’s hand and dance until your feet crumble into the earth. You want to shout, you want to burst.

But you don’t. You walk with purposeful steps, you find a quiet place and you tap. You fill your Notes App with the words and her comments. You think and you plan and you beam.

Delegates come and go around you. Doors close, the chatter muffles and you find a bin for your coffee cup.

Your next appointment is due. You gather yourself back up, clutch your festival folder to your chest and head back. Lanyard fluttering in the stark sunlight up to familiar steps and the plastic seats and the wait.

It’s summer. You hold onto your protagonist’s hand – you have journeys ahead.

Flash Fiction Day Update

If any of our followers are keen on writing flash fiction, you might like to follow the link on Damon L. Wakes post to sign up for a Flash Fiction Day event. You might like to follow Damon’s blog whilst you are there. He is a talented writer and well worth reading. Good luck to all you fiction flashers!

UPDATE:  As there has been so much additional interest in Flash Fiction Day, Damon will be accepting entries from his blog page after all.  Well done you flashy fictioners!

Damon L. Wakes

The Official Flash Fiction Day Journal is now posted on deviantART for all to see!

Due to a lack of solid interest on the sign-up post, I’m no longer planning to accept submissions through this blog. However, the response on deviantART has been even better than expected! I’m looking forward to seeing a good range of short stories coming in for this event. If you want to read them, here’s that link again. New work will be added throughout the day.

I will of course be posting my own flash fiction pieces here regardless. They’ll gradually be added to one huge blog post, so keep an eye out for updates on Twitter or check back here from time to time.

And if you do feel like writing something for Flash Fiction Day, go ahead and send me the link! I’d be more than happy to share it.

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Take Me to Wonderland

Claire by sign for University of ChichesterAs an avid consumer of all things classic and classical, I consider myself very lucky to have a home life split between Winchester – site of Jane Austen’s last home and the magnificent Round Table – and Chichester – home of the famous Festival Theatre and the Sussex Folklore Centre. Mid-May saw the Centre’s latest symposium, titled Wonderlands, celebrating all things fantastical, fairy tale and the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. My MA Writing for Children dissertation is firmly built on the foundation of fairy tales, so I happily jetted off to the University of Chichester with my good friend and fellow fairy tale fan, Amy Brown.

Amy Brown by sign for University of ChichesterAmy: I have a long-standing interest in fairy tales, and recently completed part of a retelling of ‘Little Briar-Rose’ for my undergraduate dissertation. I also run a folklore and fairy tales blog, and love networking with others that share my interest. The Wonderlands Symposium seemed like a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, get some inspiration for my blog and learn a few things.

Claire R Kerry holding her copy of The Princess BrideWe did not attend every panel between us but we can give you a fair overview of the day.  First of all, I must comment on the organisation of the day. The voluntary staff were very helpful, and as well as offering some delicious pastries there was a book-swap stall where I finally got my hands on a copy of The Princess Bride. Bringing and swapping relevant books is a fantastic idea and I wish more conferences could have a stall like this.

The first event of the day was a talk by Professor Diane Purkiss on Stuart-era witch-hunts. This made me think about the way folktales evolve depending on the teller, and about the links between religion and fairy tale. Purkiss spoke a lot about the figure of the Elfin or Winter Queen present in many Celtic tales. I enquired as to a possible connection between this figure and characters such as the Arthurian Morgan le Fay or the wicked Queens and Stepmothers of Snow White and Cinderella and Purkiss agreed that there were similarities. It really got me thinking about the history of the lore from which I draw many of my characters.

Amy: In particular, I enjoyed Diane Purkiss’s talk. Witchcraft is another area of great interest to me, and I loved learning about Andro Man and the legend of Osian.

By far the most interesting panel for me was the talk on Re-Imagining the Fantastic. Though speaking in the context of picture books, Mara Alperin’s paper on fairy tale heroines raised some important points. As a fan of adaptations who was disappointed by the recent Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and Cinderella, I enjoyed a discussion of those three films. It entertained me how often the former film was mentioned, always with an air of sadness rather than anger; a feeling that Burton had thrown away source material perfect for his dark and surreal style in favour of following the Hero’s Journey to the letter, but then again, that’s Hollywood.

Amy: Re-Imagining the Fantastic was very informative and offered unique ways of looking at fairy tales and how to adapt them for different purposes. Fairy tales aside, Panel 4: Crossing the Border offered a lot of insight into performance, storytelling and how folklore can affect a landscape. Elizabeth Bennett, Stephe Harrop and Kevan Manwaring delivered some very engaging papers. Bennett’s explored how places can be used as areas for performance, an idea that I love. Each location makes the performance of a story unique, and can bring the folklore alive. Harrop went a step further and actually performed a story as well as presenting her paper. This was a brilliant way to combine storytelling and academia, and her notion of borderlands as liminal places were stories from different countries become entwined was fascinating. Finally, Manwaring talked about the author Graham Joyce and how his works have impacted others. Whilst I had never heard of Graham Joyce, I enjoyed learning about him and gained some new potential reading material!

Altogether, the day was very informative, and I’ve been delving deeper into the history of fairy tales over the past few weeks. I encourage you to check out the Sussex Folktale Centre website and Amy’s blog on writing and fairy tales, which are linked below.
http://www.sussexfolktalecentre.org/
http://thewillowweb.blogspot.co.uk/

by Claire R. Kerry, with guest blogger Amy Brown

Everything is awful but keep going – Guest Post from David Owen

Writer David OwenWhen my first publishing deal was confirmed I was standing in a Sainsbury’s car park that smelled of urine. It didn’t involve champagne and fireworks and slow motion jumping like I had always imagined. I accepted the news, ended the call, and went back inside to help my dad find the cheapest bacon.

Later that day I text my agent to apologise for not seeming pleased. What I really felt was profound relief. After so many months of rejections I was just happy that my preceding years of hard work had finally paid off.

Although there is undoubtedly a great deal of luck involved in getting an agent and a publishing deal, you will never be on the receiving end of that luck without having first worked ludicrously hard. My first novel took me a couple of years to write and was promptly rejected by every agent under the sun. It was rubbish, and they were right to do it. My second novel took something like four years, written alongside two jobs and an MA, went from one book to a trilogy and back again via an ill-advised jaunt into self-publishing, and at the end of it fell on the scrapheap.

But it got me an agent. Baby steps.

So when I heard the news I was relieved, but I knew it was only the beginning. This was just an oversized toe in the door. The book wouldn’t even be out for 18 months. So I went home and got straight back to work on the next book I was already writing.

Since then I’ve finished that second novel (when it comes to chronology I choose to disown my failed, rejected children) and am deep into redrafts of a third. I get up at 6am every morning to write before work, and I follow that with a few hours in the evening.

I have my first publishing deal, but it doesn’t guarantee me any future success. I must make that for myself. Writing is wonderful, but it is also work, and all you can do, wherever you are in your career, is work as hard as you can because you can’t do anything but, so that when it pays off you know you earned it.

David’s debut novel Panther is released today. For more about David: check out his Twitter feed https://twitter.com/davidowenauthor or his website: http://www.davidowenbooks.com/

Revision Tips and Tricks – Guest Post from Sara Grant

Head shot of author, Sara GrantI’d love you to believe that this is my writing process:

  1. A fully formed idea for my next novel springs to mind while I’m sipping champagne on my private jet.
  2. I type the manuscript in a rush. The story unfolds perfectly from my brain to the page.
  3. I immediately send it to my agent. She reads it and forwards it on to my publisher and they all agree – every word and punctuation mark is pitch perfect.

I WISH.

Every writer has some sort of revision process. If an author suggests otherwise, he/she is either a liar or unpublished.  Revision is the key to making a good story great. But revising is much more than reading your manuscript from start to finish.

I used to hate revising my stories. I was hooked on the thrill of capturing the idea on the page. Once I’d told the story to myself, I didn’t really know how to improve what wasn’t working. Over the course of many years, I have devised a system to dissect my story. I start with the big picture and consider plot, subplots, pacing and characters. Once I’m happy with the overall story then I review and edit my work chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene and ultimately I scrutinise every line and word.

To share my complete revision process would be more of a book than a blog. I love talking about revision and have given revision workshops. (I now offer them as part of www.bookboundretreat.com) Here are a few key tips:

  • Review the big picture first. Don’t waste time line editing when you may end up cutting an entire scene or chapter. If you’ve polished a section of your prose until it sparkles, you will be less likely to cut it when you realise it’s not serving your story.
  • Know what’s at the heart of your story. Write down a sentence or two that explains why you are writing this particular story – not the plot or theme but why this story is important to you and why you are the only person who can tell it. You may need to change plot, characters, setting, etc…but know what’s at the heart of your story and remain true to it throughout the revision process.
  • Make an inventory of your story. Create a chart and in a sentence or two write down the action (what happens) and also the importance of each chapter – why is this chapter necessary? If you removed it, would the story suffer? Look at the pace of your story. Is every chapter moving your plot and subplots forward? If you are writing a funny story, put an asterisk by funny moments. If it’s a romance, where are the romantic scenes? If the story is a mystery or action-adventure, highlight where the twists and the surprises are in your story.
  • Read the first and then the final chapter of your novel. Your first chapter promises a journey. Am I captivated? Does the final chapter deliver on the first chapter’s promise? I think the first and last chapters should have a resonance.

And two micro-revision tips:

  • Circle the verbs. Now read only the circled words. Do you have a sense of the action? Are your verbs working hard enough? Are there verbs you over use? Watch out for passive voice – there was, it is, etc. It drains the energy from your story.
  • Proofread your story once from beginning to end then proof read your chapters out of order. Often I’m fatigued by the time I’m reading the final chapters so the next time I proofread, I start with the final chapter. Sometimes I read my paragraphs on a page out of order to look for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.

The most difficult thing about revision is knowing when to stop. I revise until I can think of no other way to improve my manuscript. Then I send it to my agent – and she always finds a few more opportunities for improvement. Then the process starts again. Sometimes it can feel unending, but I’ve already invested hundreds of hours in my story; what’s twenty or forty or even a hundred more?

Good luck with your revisions!

About Sara Grant

Book coversSara writes and edits fiction for children and teens. Dark Parties, her first young adult novel, won the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Crystal Kite Award for Europe. Her next teen novel – Half Lives – is a story told in two voices from a pre- and post-apocalyptic time.

Book covers of Sara Grant young readersShe also writes a funny magical series for young readers, titled Magic Trix. As a freelance editor of series fiction, she has worked on twelve different series and edited nearly 100 books. She has given writing workshops in the US, UK and Europe as well as guest lectured at the University of Winchester. She co-founded Undiscovered Voices – which has launched the writing careers of 26 authors, who now have written more than 120 children’s books. (www.undiscoveredvoices.com) Sara was born and raised in Washington, Indiana. She graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and psychology, and earned a master’s degree in creative and life writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She lives in London.

Writing and Breathing – Guest Post from Robin Mukherjee

Robin MukherjeeThe sweetness of adversity is noticeable, sometimes, only in retrospect. I was in my early twenties, a law career abandoned, my prospects vague, employment meagre and resources negligible. Old associates from university were landing gainful positions in legal practices, finance companies, even seats in parliament. I was taking time out to think, working in an old people’s home because I felt I’d never actually done anything useful; in those days I liked to see things in primary colours.

As a younger child I had suffered terrible asthma. This meant long nights contemplating the meaning of existence and the elusive nature of breath. In those dark, insomniac interludes I discovered writing, not as an activity, but as a way of being. In imagination I could jump and laugh and play while the other form, the physical lump, hunched over the desk inert and incapable. I never went anywhere without my inhaler. And, after a while, I never went anywhere without a pen and paper. The asthma passed, thankfully. The urge to write has not.

So that’s the impulse, carved into my soul as hungry as the need to breathe. What amuses me, looking back, is that I never quite made the equation between writing and earning. I wrote and wrote; all kinds of things, scraps, notes, short stories, poetry, the beginnings of novels, one of which I rewrote as a television script. One day my brother came to visit. I was out, but my girlfriend (now wife) was in. They dug up that script and sent it to the BBC. A few weeks later I was astonished to get a letter. Why the hell would the BBC be writing to me? They said they weren’t sure about the script, but were interested in the passion behind it. I went to see them, was assigned a mentor (who remains a great friend), received guidance, was encouraged to write for theatre, was mercilessly criticised and generously praised. Eventually one of my stage plays led to a radio commission, to an agent, to my first television gig.

I have been busy ever since. I am busy now. I even teach a little, while writing, and am constantly amazed to see that same passion, purpose and crazy leap of faith reflected back at me from a roomful of young faces. The routes into professional writing are clearer these days, with myriad courses across the country at every level of education, but faith, passion and craziness are still the price of admission. The most accomplished writer remains threaded to his younger self: the long nights, urgent needs, quiet thoughts and private dreams that shape the mind and heart.

That I wrote for love over reward might seem quaintly noble but it was merely realistic at the time. Perhaps you can’t tell a story you haven’t lived, nor understand your story until you’ve told it. Still, I do exhort my students not to be shy about getting their work out there (lights under bushels and all that). And I wonder sometimes – not without a little chill – what would have happened if I’d been in, that day, when my brother called.

The Art of ScreenplaysRobin Mukherjee has written extensively for television, radio, film and theatre. His most recent television feature was nominated for a BAFTA. His film ‘Lore’ won numerous international awards and was Australia’s official entry to the oscars. He has recently been appointed as a lecturer in scriptwriting at Bath Spa University and is currently completing the MA Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester. Present projects include a feature film adaptation of Paul Scott’s Booker Prize winning novel ‘Staying On’, and contributions to Series 2 of ‘Hetty Feather’ for CBBC.

Robin’s book, The Art of Screenplays: A Writers Guide was published last year. This is a working handbook for writers with stories to tell. Addressing the key issues of creativity and craft, its aim is to connect with our natural understanding of story, to demystify the screenwriter’s art, and to enable fresh, original and authentic writing.

Website: robinmukherjee.com