The last few weeks have seen me ploughing on with editing my novel, meeting friends for chats with one crucial spin off applicable to my editing, weird weather changes, reaching out to long distant family for the very first time, and finally getting my hands on some pussy willow stems. So with all this, it just has to be a ‘random harvest’ post this week.
First up has to be the novel editing
What an intense process it is! And yet, strangely satisfying. I’m concentrating mostly upon the continuity of fictional ‘facts’ and information given which is crucial to the understanding and feasibility of the plot, as well as the other usual suspects: reading out loud as I go to test the rhythms, word order and flow; looking for obvious grammar mistakes and missing quotation marks for dialogue; paragraphing and structure; cutting down on excess description; overall readability, with chapters ending on a hook – a sharp one or a soft one.
But the two most significant aspects have been structure and continuity of grammar choices, so I’ll explain what I mean:
After Black is a biggish novel, but will be just under 150,000 words. It started out with a three part structure with appropriate turning points and climaxes to each part. But even allowing for the generally held belief that part 2 can be around 50% of the whole (those writer’s rules!), during the reading I realised there would be greater benefit in creating more parts to do justice to the whole. So it now has a 5 part structure, which actually only took a little tweaking. So I’ve consciously flouted those writers’ rules to hopefully help the potential reader not to feel bogged down and to want to read on. I think it will work well, and it’s a satisfying outcome for the vital stage, and critically flexible mindset, of editing!
The GRAMMAR CONTINUITY has taken the most time and methodical slogging away at.
Basically, it applies to any word, group of words, or mini-phrases where there is a permitted choice of grammar alternatives and you have to pick one. Then of course, if that word or phrase pops up again in the writing, you have to stick to that same choice throughout. And this means you have to record the choices you are making as you go along. So I began a list and watched it grow! And what this list forms is a list of adopted ‘conventions’ that have been chosen.
Here are a few examples:
Time can be expressed in numbers or words. So is it 2pm or two o’clock? I actually picked words for outside of Janet’s working world, but numbers during her working day to imply the pressure of more exact time-keeping. I might have to change this and have full continuity throughout, but I like like this for now.
High Street or high street? If the name of the road is called high street, you use capitals. If you’re saying, ‘I went down the high street’ and you simply mean a main street in a town, then it’s lower case.
Historical periods. Unless you are referring to a period in this way: during the Victorian Age, or the Edwardian period was…where capitals are used, you use lower case for most other contexts eg a typical victorian country cottage, an edwardian feel to the room.
And a whole lot of annoying little ones like:
ice cream OR ice-cream
getting close up OR a closeup
custom mades OR custom-mades
next-door neighbour OR next door neighbour
up to date OR up-to-date
Just one tip to end this ‘writers trivia’ with: where there are a few connected words forming a distinct meaning, then if they are being used as an adjective, they are usually hyphenated, but if they are operating as a noun or come after a noun, they stay separate. Eg an up-to-date version of windows was needed to bring the computer up to date.
So there – fascinating or what?
Next is the chatting with a friend which threw something up I had overlooked in my writer’s research
I don’t want to go into details for potential spoiler reasons, but I had to do quite a good chunk of research into aspects of life in the fifties for the novel, and I thought I’d covered everything I needed for my character’s situation, for authenticity, and for the plot. So this point essentially applies to weaving realism into fiction and fiction into realism. The realism obtained through the research has to be there, but it must only support the fiction rather than dominate it. So in one scene I felt free to make a fictional assumption and happily wrote on, incorporating this premise into the most critical plot thread. I had no reason to doubt my assumption through not having come across the particular issue in my research or my own life experience. But hey, I got it wrong! And it was only through a randomly connected conversation with my friend as we ate cake and sipped our cappuccinos that I realised it. And it was a big deal! So when I got home, I dug around in google, and I had to dig deep, but now the correction is made and that tiny part of the plot is duly adjusted together with where it crops up later in the narrative. Whew! And I suppose this a lesson to remember!
Now onto the weird weather…
In February we had two days of hot mid-summer bliss here. People were basking in landscaped parks having picnics. People were wearing shorts and T-shirts. People were eating ice creams and swimming in the sea. People were worried about the birds and the bees – the bees would be buzzing too early without their usual blooms to plunder and the birds would be nesting too soon. After that we had more warm and sunny days. ‘Drat’, I thought, ‘this isn’t the right time for this. I’m not ready for it yet. I should be staying in editing. I need to be inside, closeted in my creativity. This sun is far too soon!’
But the sun pulled me out, as it usually does. I cast off my scarf and hat, put away my boots, and thought – ‘okay, over to summer clothes, then!’ I got the garden ready for spring, I went on some walks, I took my bike for a ride. Then the winds picked up and blew themselves into gales, the gales blew bins over and tree branches collapsed onto roads, and then it rained, then it snowed, and so back came the scarves and boots. I mean, for crying out loud, what’s a girl to do? So this struggle continues, and I feel ridiculously sensitive to it all. But thankfully, I’m not alone. Just after those two mid-summer days, a friend said to me, ‘I hated it!’ Yay!, some validation. Always like a bit of that ;>) But why this antipathy? Well, I think it’s because we’re so finely tuned over here in the UK to the shifting weather changes through the seasons, and the seasons themselves. Maybe that’s why everyone seems to talk about the weather and obsess over it? It’s pretty obvious these changes have a far more powerful effect on our moods, our nature, and our life rhythms than we can ever fully appreciate in a world hell bent on control. But Mother Nature will always have her way and who are we to argue with her?
Long distant family reach-out
After the death of the aunt I’ve told you about in a previous post, I was acutely aware that my sister and I were all that remained of our ‘clan’ in the north. (And yes, Game of Thrones is coming into my mind right now ;>)) Should I try and contact the estranged cousins I have living in the south, telling them about my aunt? Should I make contact as ‘me’ for the first time, where my last memories of them are from the 70s, when we were all children playing on a beach somewhere and eating crab sandwiches? But all I could glean was one address. Would that person still be there? Without going into too many details, our family split into two – as families often do – but usually the reasons for the rifts die with those who created them. If so, why can’t we move on from there? So after spending an industrious day cleaning, I seemed to work up the resolve, and sent a letter to that address. ‘I’ll regret it if I don’t at least try,’ I said to myself. ‘After all, this is just between me and them now.’
Well, I have had a reply, which quite stunned me. So we shall see where it goes. I guess the point is, that it can be worth the effort just to know whether that family door you may think is closed forever could actually open by a chink. What have you got to lose?
And finally, pussy willow stems…
…available in slim bunches for Mother’s Day in the local supermarket and grabbed by me for a certain purple glass vase in my bedroom window. I’d made up my mind that only these would do, and indeed they look quite fetching. Now I have to wait to see if they survive drying out. Will those catkins stay fluffy? Will they drop off? Time will tell! And naturally, you won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve been spotting catkins stippling willow trees everywhere now. The brain often carries on with the hunt long after the quarry has been captured, I find. Don’t you?
(top pic is an Arthur Rackham illustration, both pics courtesy of pixabay)