In A Dark, Dark House.

There are occasions when it becomes obvious that the first draft isn’t that far removed from the idea this story was going to be a feature film originally. I’ve just picked my way through the tangled web of Chapter 3 and realised that it goes from one location, to another and then yet another. On film this would work but it feels massively long and drawn out on a page. It doesn’t help that we’re following one character, never switching from her.

So I’ve had to split it. It ends after the second location is brought in. What happens in the third though is the first sighting of our alien friend so it’s important overall, probably more important than to be filling out the end of an early chapter.

Now I’ve just got to remember that I’ve left this bit out for now so I don’t leave a huge, nonsensical gap later.

Teenagers

There’s at least a couple of characters in the book that have changed a fair bit since they were first written down on a page eighteen months ago. Robert has gone from comedic relief to being one of the main cogs in the entire story for example. The other big change is Anne, the daughter who goes missing. Originally I had her down as about ten or eleven years old. This was partly because it’s old enough to take an active part in the story but also because it was the age of my son at the time of starting writing the book. It seemed like a no brainer and a fairly easy route forward.

It really wasn’t.

As the story went through the first draft I quickly came to the conclusion that eleven is far too young for the purposes of this story. She needs to be a bit more self sufficient in order for this to work. Any younger and she’d just be following along. Her age changed about halfway through the first draft to make her more like fifteen. The hardest part of this is to get her dialogue right. It’s apparently really easy to make teenage characters automatically sound sulky or aloof. She does have a little bit of that in her, she’s spent a decade and a half growing up in a dead end Scottish town, but I really don’t want her to spend all this time being in a stereotypical sulk. She’s the main driving thing in charge of this whole story after all.

It’s a difficult balance to get right.

The Blue Sea

That’s it, the entry for the mentorship scheme has been sent. I could have sat and twiddled about with it more and more by moving individual words about into a different order to make it seem better but I would be kidding myself. The deadline is this Friday at 5pm, I did not want to be running around like a banshee pulling it all together in the final moments. There was a moment when Yahoo Mail wasn’t allowing me to put hyperlinks into the text. My wife detected me stressing and calmly advised just shutting down Chrome and going back in. This seemed to work.

I received an email back within half an hour saying that my entry had been noted. Apparently there are six spots in the scheme but really, for me, there’s only five because they’ve guaranteed one slot for somebody under the age of 24. This is probably a really good way of running it as there have been plenty of times recently when I’ve read about various writing schemes, thought it sounded great before realising that I’m far too old for the age range they’re open to. Seems like sometimes there’s a belief that if you haven’t made it by your mid 20’s then you’re never going to make it at all.

The personal statement I wrote was written, scrapped, written again and then changed about before finalising. Originally I went with something really formal like it was a job application. Then I wrote something that was very similar to the ‘About’ page on this site but that gave a bit too much history and I’d ran out of words before answering why I would benefit from mentorship. In the end I went for a story about how working a day job whilst having ambitions of writing for a living is a little bit like accidentally getting off the train at the station before the one you wanted. You’re on the right line but you’ve no choice but to wait for the next train to come along. It felt a bit strange putting that in there but it’s a writing based mentorship so they’ll be used to metaphors. At least I hope they are.

The response email signed off by saying that they’re running this every year and there are plans afoot to expand to more than 6 spaces as of 2020. Apparently there’s nothing to stop me applying again next year if unsuccessful this time around. I’m not sure if that’s a set up for a gentle let down later or not but I’m beyond caring now. Quite simply something that a week ago I was convincing myself wasn’t worth it because they wouldn’t want me is now something I’ve entered with the best of my current ability. I’ve honestly probably put more effort into this than any job application I’ve ever done.

For now though we crack on with the rewrite.

Click Rat

No progress on the book today but there is a very good reason. I’ve spent all day stressing over a five hundred word personal statement for an application. It’s not for a job but it’s more for this.

http://www.wigtownbookfestival.com/opportunities/mentoring-programme-writers-dumfries-galloway

I tripped up on this on Twitter the other night thankfully. I am indeed a Dumfries and Galloway based writer (I was even born here) and I am indeed halfway through a rather large writing project. With that in mind some professional guidance would be very much appreciated.

I had to get over my usual problem of a voice in my head telling me that I need not bother because I’m probably not what they’re looking for anyway. I’m writing a hokey science fiction book with a Scottish sense of humour in it. The doubter in me said that they’d probably want something deadly serious. I was better not bothering, it would be a waste of time.

But that’s the part that’s spent a good few years in control and got me bugger all.

So I’m entering this regardless of if they want hokey Scottish science fiction or not.

Because they can just say ‘No’ right?

Playing In Coventry

I don’t think I’m a very morning writer.

Everybody else had left the house this morning by about 9am. I went for a shower, got something to eat, put some washing in the machine and then sat in front of my computer ready to go. I was then overcome with the feeling that if I started now then I’d be here all day and I wouldn’t have really moved from this spot. I stared at my screen for a few moments, put my jacket on and walked to the local coffee shop for a cappuccino. I was gone for about an hour before returning and rewriting another chapter.

The question I’d have is what exactly do other writers work on first during the initial rewrite? I’m currently more concerned with structure rather than any of the finer details. These first few chapters contain all of the character introductions as well and because I have a better idea where they end up it’s much easier to give them a better introduction. There is still some awkward  dialogue going on but I’ll be going back and cleaning that up later.

For now though progress is good and there’s certainly a book emerging from all of this.

She Makes Good Shortbread

Observation so far.

It’s a hell of a lot easier taking blocks of text from the old draft file, pasting them into the lovely new one (that actually has a spell checker) and then cleaning them up from there rather than trying to come up with something from scratch. The blank screen is still there but with a couple of clicks you’re thinking that three thousand words have just landed and now you’ve just got to pick through them.

To be honest the opening chapter is…not that bad actually. It’s clear that I was rushing headlong into this story at the time of writing and wasn’t worried about story structure, word counts or themes yet. It’s pure and simply an introduction to one main character and her reactions to a town she used to know. Much like my alien the actual town itself didn’t have a name in the opening of draft one but it does now. I’m trying to make the effort to put as much of my small town Scotland experience into the town of Auldrigg. Reading parts of the initial rewrite now I imagine my Mum reading it and getting where all the references come from.

How Not To Use A Jetpack

I was really worried that I was falling into the same rut I did last year. It seemed to take me ages to get started on this rewrite and considiring that last year the entire thing ground to a halt when the clocks went back there was a certain concern the same thing was going to happen.

But I’m back up and running now , starting with the prologue. Yes, the same prologue that might be cut completely in the end yet for now it stays. It’s probably a good starting point to settle in though seeing as the original version is only 200 words long.

Here’s the original version from draft one.

From the ground, staring up into the cold night’s sky, it could be mistaken for a rock. From the dark space above it had drifted into Earth’s pull and had begun the journey towards the surface. The heat of the atmosphere had begun to scorch the outer shell causing the blistering flames that left their own mark. It had completely succumbed to gravity once it had passed through the cloud cover. What minutes ago had been a large orb floating in a cold nothing now had patches of green separated by open blue.

Closer still and the mountains came into view with their white summits. The wind whistled around the rock. Small lights took form, some stationary and yet some moving in pairs. The moon hung high in the sky bathing the planet in a cold blue light.

The rock completed the last part of the descent within a few seconds. Splashing through the surface of the water it slowed before gently settling on the bed of the loch. The last remaining heat in the shell fizzed through the cool waters. The ripples of water on the surface spanned outwards, touching the harbour before gently lapping against the wall. The boats bobbed slightly before returning to their still silence.

Yet nobody noticed.

Urrggghhhh…

It’s horrible isn’t it?

I wrote this eighteen months ago and it’s pretty obvious that I just wanted this bit out of the way so I could get on with introducing characters and the main parts of the story. The description of entering the atmosphere is probably lifted from the relevant sequence in No Man’s Sky on the Playstation 4. Also, there’s no reference to the character who is aboard this craft at all simply because I had no idea what it looked like at the time nor what name it was going to get if any.

True fact, when I first came around to deciding how my alien would look I imagined him being like a tree with bark all over him. I was pleased as anything with this for about half a day until I was having dinner that evening and realised that I was imagining Groot from Guardian of the Galaxy. Changes have been made, I have no desire for Marvel’s legal team to pay me a visit.

That final line is trash as well. If nobody noticed it then who the hell is describing all this?

Anyway, here’s the second draft rewrite. Be warned that I haven’t had a chance to spell check this yet so there’s probably something really obviously wrong with it that I’m missing.

Never leave the legion.

As control was lost and systems readouts began to fade from the central command console those words set themselves to repeat in Pilot’s head. He and everybody else around him had always been told that you flew alongside all the others until either victory had been achieved or death had come for you. You did not leave the legion.

Pilot had lined up alongside near a thousand others in a battle formation. The gargantuan battlecruisers of the enemy had floated into view and the command had come through to remain firm. A huge ray had burst out, carved its way through the black space and torn through half of the ships positioned to Pilot’s side. For the first time in his entire life Pilot had felt what he had been told was fear. As a vast section of other ships had burnt out and fell from view he had taken the opportunity to flee. He had no idea where he was going just as long as it was far away from this battle.

He hadn’t got too far until the garbled messages from his command unit began. He’d only got slightly further when they’d cut his engine and life support. If the enemy didn’t kill you then they’d make sure they did the job themselves. He clicked on every single part of the panel in front of him with his white, plated fingers but nothing was operational. He was falling though space at a dizzying rate, revolving, twisting and aimless until he felt the entire ship sink in a constant direction.

He was falling rapidly towards an unknown planet. Checking the viewfinder only gave a blurred image of various shades of blue and green merging together rapidly. The smooth, shining walls on the inside of the craft began to glow with the intense heat of entering this atmosphere. Parts of the ship began to smoke and fizzle. Pilot gripped into the flight controls to ready himself as he tried to get a better view of outside.

There seemed to be only one sun here, it was currently moving towards the other side of the planet. There were vast stretches of blue with great carved out sections of what he assumed was land. Pilot thought of himself as quite fortunate, the chances of him hitting liquid were good. What he didn’t know was if it was going to be shallow or even poisonous yet.   

He was close enough now to see small dots of light gathered in small bundles across the land. His path led straight towards a small chunk of land separate from the rest. As his descent gained pace he could see that he’d be just about avoiding the larger collections instead nearly hitting one of the much smaller ones. He gripped tighter to the steering column, as he did so his skin began to crack. Even before impact it seemed his body might not make it. An almost deafening whistling noise echoes around the cockpit as the air rushed past the out shell. Pilot closed his eyes and wished he’d just stayed home instead of counting his last moments before careering into the surface of some distant planet.

With a deep thud the ship plunged through the liquid surface. Pilot was flung headlong across the entire cockpit, landing in a heap at the other side. The intense heat was quickly replaced by angry bubbles that hissed along the hull. The descent slowed as the ship floated down onto the surface before bobbing to a gentle stop at the bottom.

Pilot picked himself up. One of his arms had shattered almost completely in the crash landing. It was still on the floor on the other side of the ship twisting and moving along the floor before finally curling up. Pilot wondered if he would be able to find another body on this planet, perhaps one more suitable for the environment he found himself in.

Just as he was about to enjoy still being alive for now he heard the first drips of liquid seep through the front viewfinder.

A bit better, more from the perspective of being in the ship itself rather than watching it on the ground. Pilot gets a few references to make sure it’s clear he’s not of this Earth. I’ve been careful not to use words like ‘sea’ or ‘cities’ because he won’t know what they’re called yet. It reads way better even though it’s a bit longer than I maybe would have liked.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to do comparisons for every single chapter. I’ll leave you all alone after this.