Just let me blow the dust off this thing …
*cue coffin-lid screech of hinges*
Well, I’ll be damned. The lights still work. The furniture is still here. The heating might be off and there’s a nasty old tangle of cobwebs in the corner, but other than that, I think this blog still works!
Ha. Even for someone who was never the most frequent of posters, it’s been a ridiculously long time since my last post. And reasons, there are a few …
When I was last in these parts I was about to embark on a re-write of my manuscript, based on feedback I’d had from an agent.
Then two things happened.
Firstly, one of the agent’s existing clients went and started writing a series close enough to mine to take her off my radar as a potential representative. Bah, humbug. But this author’s series is bloody excellent, which makes that pill not half so bitter to swallow. Who can be upset about the existence of more fabulous books in the world?
Secondly – and the biggest reason for my absence – is that …
I stopped writing.
For a year and a half. Maybe closer to two.
To take myself back to school. To writing school.
See, I didn’t want to invest major time re-writing my manuscript only for it to not quite work again. And I remembered something Deanna Raybourn – one of my most favourite authors EVER – once said: that while she was still unpublished, her agent suggested she stop writing for a year and do nothing but read in the genre she was writing. She did just that, and bingo, the next book she wrote was the one that got published.
So that’s what I did.
I pulled out my favourite books – fast-paced mysteries and thrillers, both historical and contemporary, and also those with a supernatural slant – and not only did I read them, I studied them. How these authors had their sleuths go about their investigations; when and where they dropped in clues and red-herrings; how they opened chapters, and transitioned from the first act, to the second, to the third; the ways they used setting to move along the plot or add to the reader’s emotional experience; how they handled exposition, dialogue, character arcs, flashbacks, the tools they employed to create suspense and tension …
Lots of spreadsheets were made.
And then, I did a deep, deep, DEEP dive into the world of editor Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid.
Shawn Coyne is a book-publishing veteran of twenty-five years. He’s acquired, edited, published or represented the likes of David Mamet, James Lee Burke, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Robert McKee, Steven Pressfield, Dava Sobel, Minette Walters, Ruth Rendell, Ian Rankin, to name but a few. And Story Grid is the method he developed to analyse manuscripts – specifically, to pinpoint where they’re not working and, so very importantly, why.
Now, that ‘why’ is a very big thing. Being told your book doesn’t work because the middle is ‘sagging’ is fine; but when you use the Story Grid tool, you can pinpoint the exact reasons for the sag. Maybe you’ve used too many of the same type of scenes in a row. Or you’ve forgotten to include vital elements of your chosen genre. Your main character’s internal object of desire might be too wishy-washy to sustain reader investment. Whatever the case, it’s so much easier to fix a specific issue rather than to attack the vague problem of ‘too much sag’.
Yes, the Story Grid method is very analytical and left-brained, but it made sense to me, so I sucked up everything Story Grid related that I could: Shawn’s book, blogs, podcasts, an on-line course.
(Go check out the Story Grid site. When you see the content available, you’ll know why I was busy for nearly two years!)
Then I applied what I’d learned to my work, saw the problems, and spent a long time re-thinking, re-plotting, re-imagining …
In fact, I basically set fire to my existing manuscript and started afresh. I’ve even got a new title … *drum roll* … ALL THAT REMAINS OF THE DEAD.
So, about ten months ago I finally started writing again, and just this week I finished a brand new first draft – with all its first draft holes and tangles and mess, but now I have the clay to work with, and the tool to home in on all its problems with laser-like specificity, and I’m raring to go. The weather even took a suitably ominous turn today, perfect for my eerie Victorian setting …
Revisions, here I come!