Writing and Reading for Pleasure: September | Douglas Burcham

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Douglas continues his Writing & Reading for Pleasure series with updates about his writing progress, a follow up on his last two posts, and some current news commentary. 

 

Trilogy Writing

My first thought for consideration for a post on writing trilogies came from reading earlier this year the Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker and The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larssen.

Then trilogy structures became of greater interest when I re-started on self-editing GEMINI, my first long book for which I have about 300k words of draft writing. My aim earlier this year was to split this up into 18k bites and although I did so and found it helpful for self-editing it proved impossible to make each novella self-contained. Therefore, continued progress is being made on finalising the text into a trilogy of books of about 100k words each. For the first time for many months, I have felt back in the writing groove improving the flow of the text, pace, plot and structure as well as adding new scenes and sentences. I am up to speed for completion of final drafts by Christmas.

My key reflections on the two trilogies and my own experiences with GEMINI are as follows: 

  • Keeping interest – is the story worth it or solid enough to avoid readers becoming bored reading 300k words plus?
  • Consistency – The longer the book series the greater room for errors. I am sure any future readers will spot them. Should I worry? I think yes, despite the latitude I have given myself in the dreamy setting for the books.
  • Core characters – Are they strong enough to survive through all three books?
  • I believe the main structural elements are: a good beginning to each book to set the scene for each of the three volumes, and having an ending to the first two books to carry the reader into reading the next volume. This cannot just be a couple of last chapters and it needs to be a snowball gathering momentum of interest hooking readers in throughout each of the first two volumes. From my own reading, only offering more of the same is not good enough because I have abandoned several series where I became bored.

My observations on the three trilogies are as follows:

Regeneration Trilogy (Each book is around 75k words)

The timeframe is defined by the First World War -1914 to 1918. I liked the idea of the semi-fiction where Pat Barker uses real people as main characters and clothes them with scenes, places, technical background and then adds some earthy fictional characters with their families, complex feelings and relationships.

To me the number of characters is about right. I read the books out of order and found each book as a freestanding read.

The length is about right with divisibility into three rather than two longer books of say 110k each.

Being a war story, one has a pretty good idea of the outcomes.

Viewpoint — I prefer books written from a number of viewpoints and these books did not disappoint. She has written some further books building on the Regeneration theme and although readable, repetition crept in. I see Pat Barker’s latest book centres on London in WW2.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Three books of varying scale and length)

The nature of the story meant the timeframe, other than being modern, did not matter.

I could not help but wonder whether the whole background story had elements of fact about them. All three books and especially the last could have been shorter. The start of the third book hooked one in really well.

I have purchased and made a start to reading the fourth book by a different author, wondering whether it will be a success for me as a reader or a disappointment, and then viewed by me as a cynical attempt to relieve me of my money.

GEMINI

My first book started in June 2010 and has grown organically. The original starting point is now well into the second book.

By November 2010 I had produced a 110k word first draft, which after a few months further work, I sent it to be professionally edited by a man and a woman. Looking back at their reports I have managed to make some improvements but as both editors said – it is an unusual book!

I am re-reading my first 2010 writing effort. Already after a few pages I am surprised how readable, fresh and innocent it is. Maybe my writing (since 2011) has gathered too much moss and plaque because of my efforts to teach myself the craft of writing rather than relying on the art itself. Perhaps I ought to publish the original GEMINI separately sometime.

The original idea was a journey and a chase. This developed into a much longer series of stories of about 700k, out of my draft 1000k words I wrote to January 2014, involving my main character Henry Cross and his Aunt Florence. Since 2011 his cousin Henrietta has come on board to play a major role.

The core story of my main character being chased by a curse for revenge for something his parents were involved in has remained a constant.

The story in GEMINI and the closely allied books has grown because when I am on a roll in my writing journey, new ideas and diversions have emerged. This has come about because the fantasy lives I am writing about have matured.

The main character lives in our age and then is transported into another timeframe. Consideration of plausible and entertaining solutions to this transition have taken up many hours and many rewrites and ideas. As with the ‘green grass on the other side in life’ my enthusiasm for time travel has dimmed with detailed consideration of the likely implications even ignoring the risks demonstrated by the H.G. Wells Time Machine character not coming back.

I have asked several authors engaged in writing trilogies for tips and await their comments. Consideration of the trilogy subject will therefore go into two or three parts of a trilogy on its own.

After I had thought about the issues involved in writing trilogies, I did a quick search on the Internet and soon found myself overwhelmed by material.

Demanding like a long journey by road through strange towns. Needs a plan – From Shannon Thompson.

An investment of time by both reader and writer. Needs a plan. – From Janice Hardy.

Show how characters have changed from beginning to end – From WordServeWatercooler.com

Publishers want them (Interesting comment.) and writer has time to develop characters – From thecreativepenn.com

Have a glossary. (For GEMINI and my million words of writing, I have a companion listing the key issues, characters, points arising and commentary on background.) – From leeandflow.com

Trouble with inconsistencies and need for a eagle eyed editor – From leeandflow.com

Need for stamina! – (Writer and Reader?) – From romanceuniversity.org

 

Research

In my May post research project, I said I would start with How Novels Work by John Mullan and I detailed progress in the last two posts. I read no more during last month. I have added another little book to my list… Compass Points – Building Your Story: A guide to structure and plot by Kelly Lawrence.

 

Reading

  • Brendon Bracken Biography. Even a used book priced at £25 so a library loan (inter library) for £3.50. A fascinating read especially in his role of helping Churchill to become wartime leader. They sat together on the roof of Churchill’s bunker formulating action while watching London being bombed.
  • Susan George How the Other Half Dies. Heard her speaking on BBC Radio 4 so thought the book may be worth looking at… but not at £23.72 for a Kindle version, yes, £23.72!
  • New hardback fiction releases shortly by Lee Child and Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling). Follow up to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all likely to be £10 on publishing day so potentially £30 of pleasurable reading.

 

News items noticed recently and some miscellaneous other thoughts 

Writing books with “Girl” in the title seems a worthwhile marketing ploy with “Gone Girl” and “Girl on a TrainI see Daily Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon is climbing on the bandwagon with “Mad Girl”.

I have noticed several general press articles about people self-publishing their writing and how many are making good money and leaving their full time jobs. I believe too rosy a picture is being painted. Two article features from Bookbaby and Publishing Perspectives are perhaps more realistic. 

I like this Guardian UK piece about old photos and their subjects looking glum. I have written several times to the national press making similar comments about fashion models looking really fed up. I believe I may have produced a few smiles in following issues only for the glum faces to return. Surely, a smiling face will sell more clothes than a scowl. Perhaps the models are fed up over low pay? 

The Amazon Annual Report has been reported on in the press. I wonder how far off (at least in urban areas) is same day delivery becoming a norm… even at a price. I recall the old credit card slogan about a card ‘taking the wanting out of waiting’.

When I started writing in 2010, I had a notion to produce my fiction books with pictures and supporting text and wondered about links to video, music and other features. So much more seems possible with e-books. Maybe the trade name is complex books detailed in the references which follow:

The Bookseller #1, #2 and #3.

The desperate situation for small independent bookshops is illustrated in yet another likely closure.

School library closures and library budgets being cut seem now to be regularly reported. My local library is agreeable to take clean copies of new books I have purchased and read which now either go to friends or charity shops.

The Bookseller has reported the following which may be good news for self-publishers.

In the UK Top 50 chart this week calculated by Nielsen BookScan’s system coming in at second position after James Patterson is Swedish author Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin who has scored a surprise hit with his picture book The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep,– the first book produced on Amazon’s CreateSpace platform to make the Official UK Top 50.

I have been surveying my heap of printed off early drafts of my writing produced over the last five years and piles of notes with a view to most of it going for recycling. However, I am now in two minds having seen that Kazuo Ishiguro has sold draft manuscripts and scraps of scribbled notes for a million dollars. I hope his handwriting is better than mine!

 

Two obituaries this week

Oliver Sacks Neurologist and writer – ‘Who chronicled the dignified struggle of his patients in books such as Awakenings. (Daily Telegraph headline.) His biography already serialised on BBC Radio 4 earlier this year charts a larger than life character.

Wes Craven – Film Director. Made his living by scaring the wits out of people. Memories of his characters’ faces are each worth more than a thousand words.

Good reading, writing and publishing to you all everywhere, as always… Next month further trilogy comments, updated reflections on writing and news.

Postscript: I feel it is going to be a hard winter so order your woollies! 

 

DouglasDouglas Burcham started writing on 1st June 2010 and has not stopped since. He was saved from the clutches of vanity publishing by Mick Rooney of TIPM in July 2010. In May 2013, his characters, including his fantasy twin brother Alexander, took all his fiction writing and set themselves up as the Allrighters with other writing friends. They self-published a book of short stories ‘Ywnwab!’ in September 2013. In their 2014 and 2015 Writing Plans, by working in 16 to 18K word bites, Douglas, along with the Allrighters, are trying to convert a million words of draft writing completed in January 2014 into several reader friendly books totalling 900,000 words of fiction and 100,000 words of non-fiction. The latter being about writing and memories of buildings, trains, boats and planes. Progress in 2014 and 2015 has been slow as Douglas and the Allrighters prefer new creative writing to editing and restructuring existing writing. A new writing plan in the June 2015 post indicated a move to completion of Gemini c256k words in four books by Christmas 2015 followed by Amazon Kindle publishing and some well produced hard copies for friends and family. Now the aim has changed to a trilogy of 100k words each.

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