THOUGHTS ON SHOOT OUT…

Shoot Out At The Red Horse Bowling Club is now online in one block should anyone wish to read it through without the bother of clicking through the instalments. It is available in the ‘Writing’ tab on the menu bar or by clicking here.

I had the idea for that story years ago, started writing it about three years back and had to force myself to finish it. It was odd because I knew the ending from the off. Or thought I did.

It is not that usual that I know the ending of a story when I start it. I don’t mean that I have absolutely no idea of where the thing is going. I usually have a rough idea of where the protagonist/s are heading. I don’t usually have a fully fledged story arc in mind though.

I often start with a situation, a character or characters and an idea of their trajectory to resolve the predicament they are in or about to find themselves in. Occasionally I just let them run and they end up somewhere else entirely. Sometimes I want to end up in a particular place so I’ll plot a little more strictly and have been known to resort to mind maps and spread sheets.

In this case I started with a situation and the ending. But it didn’t work when I got there. I changed bits of the plot. I changed the ending and had to go back and re write developments to fit. I hated those bits so rewrote them. Then I went for a ‘genre’ voice. Then I lost it. I tried a rewrite with the voice all the way to the end. It felt very mannered so I rewrote the twee pieces ended with a half way house. Rarely a good place to be. I put another scene in to try and work the transition of voices and it became even more overlong than it is now. c5,750 words is a long short story these days apparently. I had to cut it back a fair bit to get it to c5,750.

In the end I decided it had had enough indignities inflicted on its creakingly flimsy frame of whimsy. And, rather obviously, I published it here warts and all. Is it what I expected when I started? No. Is it the same story? In essence I suppose yes it is. I wanted a bigger ending, and had one for a while, but that seemed too far fetched. So here we are. I have a horrible feeling it is both overworked and under edited at the same time. I have been so close to it for so long that I lack even a pretence at objectivity.

BETTER GET ON WITH IT (ORIGINAL DRAFT)

I have as I think I said recently,  been trawling through some old electronic files. These normally turn up a combination of ideas that were abandoned, and quite rightly in many instances, first x number of drafts of things I eventually liked and were used or are still being peddled, and occasionally weird finds like this.

This is my original version of an idea written for an exercise someone suggested. As I said when I posted the finished version here I don’t normally like that type of thing, as for me it feels artificial, but I can do it if needed.

What surprised me here was that the version I found and offer here is hardly recognisable – certainly not in tone – as the same basic story.

I put it here as a sort of amusement and possibly as an encouragement or a warning. Which, and about what you’ll have to decide.

If you want to compare with the original go to Flash Fiction and read the Better Get On With It in that section

 

 

Under the cover of fading twilight Piers Lomond narrowed his eyes against the drizzle coming up river from the west. North and south banks sprouted orange lights that twinkled in the rain. Piers knew that in the darkness of night they would blossom into glowing displays marking the warmth of humanity behind them. They were trying to tell him something. He didn’t want to listen.

The lights were like dames, clamouring for attention, sparkling in the darkness, leading you on and then snapping off when you needed them, when they found someone else to impress.

Out west was another world, a glitzier ball of light, the biggest, the brightest in the heavens, but now it was sinking into the waves that marked the horizon. Even that was lost in the darkness of the coming storm.

Lomond shook his head flicking water like a dog shaking its fur. It wasn’t going to bother him. He wasn’t planning on being around for no storm.

If he had any regrets it was the rain he guessed. He’d imagined beams of sunlight through fluffy clouds when it finally happened. Even the end was going to be grey and downbeat like a slow Sunday in Pontypool.  Out west was the land of eternal youth. He guessed that boat had sailed. He laughed. He didn’t need no boat where he was going. Below the bridge the second biggest tidal reach in the world turned and began dumping millions of gallons of water into the Irish sea. The biggest was in the Bay of Fundy almost two thousand miles due west of where he stood. Everything bigger and better was out west. He snorted , well he was coming to join them. Onwards and upwards he guessed. He stared down at the black troughed waves, not yet blown into white caps. Well onwards at any rate.

He turned and leaned back on the safety rail, wishing he had a cigarette. He wasn’t sure why. He didn’t smoke but it seemed like something you should do at a time like this. He stared north and west up river. All he could see was the carriageways crossing the bridge. He shook his head. He couldn’t even get to stand on the right side of a bridge for a dramatic gesture. He wondered who was writing the scene. Some schmo out of writing school he guessed, too lazy to go back and change the beginning so this scene would work better. He shrugged into the belted raincoat and turned up the collar against the rain that was dripping from the brim of his fedora down his neck. He hadn’t noticed he was wearing a raincoat and hat before now. It seemed a strange thing to be dressed in under the circumstances but he was feeling less comfortable about the whole deal by the sentence.

Somewhere up there, he nodded across the four lanes of motorway He needed a better agent. And quick.

SF STORY REDUX

The editing of my SF short story (HACKING – cut from from 11.8k to <10k) last week was to no immediate result. Whether it lost vibrancy, character development, story thread or was just a load of rubbish in the first place remains moot.

Whatever the reason, it wasn’t for them.

That’s the bad news.

The good news?

Possibly none, but there is an opportunity to place it with someone else, so the time and effort wasn’t entirely wasted.

As well as paring it down ( I suspect a ‘good thing’ in itself) it made me re-read it, first with an eye to where it could be trimmed. Second I read it again with a general eye to deciding whether it was an interesting, entertaining story with something to say about the human condition and incidentally the nature of truth and perception. In these days of ‘fake news’ and deep fake activity it was surprisingly apposite given I initially wrote it about four and a half years ago.

The upshot of all this revising, re-reading, hacking and re-jigging was that I still enjoyed reading it. Not something I can say about all the things I write.

I will be sending it off later today, confirmed in my belief (and whilst I confess to being biased I can generally see why some things don’t sell on reflection) that it is definitely worth publishing and reading. That’s incredibly modest isn’t it?

But if there weren’t a tiny bit of ego involved would anyone ever send anything off to a publisher or agent?

I suspect I need more ego and a thicker skin but I’ll try and carry on with what I have.

 

REVISITING AN OLD FRIEND: THOUGHTS ON ‘GASLIGHT’

I was looking through some old files yesterday when I came across a few notes written for a piece of flash fiction. Notes for a piece of flash fiction might seem like a redundant exercise. Flash fiction is so short, so condensed that notes may very quickly end up longer than the finished piece. But that isn’t necessarily a problem or a waste. The tightness required of very short fiction is such that, in theory at least, every word must serve a purpose. Having a bigger picture in your head and ensuring the writing encapsulates that picture as pithily as possible is no bad thing.

With that in mind I dug out the finished piece. ‘Gaslight’ was published a couple of years ago in ‘The Tall and the Short’ an anthology of short fiction, excerpts from longer pieces and poems, by various authors.

When I looked at it again I realised that I had probably cheated. There was a requirement to keep the piece under a thousand words and I had achieved that aim. I wondered at the ending however. The reader is left hanging – appalling pun, as the piece turns on something or someone dangling at the end of a rope. As I read it again I put myself in the place of the reader. The editor had expressed doubts about the ending but I was adamant. I think I was fed up with it and I can see why from my notes. It started out as 262 very tight words from notes at least four times that long. There was a feeling that 262 words was however too short and that elements needed more explanation or better setting so it ballooned to 996. The reverse of how I like writing to go – splurge it down and then refine, although I have mentioned ad infinitum my dislike of redrafting/rewriting. Much worse to expand however, than cut. Having said that, my problem is that expanded from the original size though it may be the poor reader still has no consummation with this piece. They don’t know what happens to the protagonist or what the object of his peril really is, whether there really is any peril even. I know of course but I should perhaps at least have hinted. I still like the idea of open ended stories, particularly horror genre pieces, but I still feel a twinge of guilt at how open this piece ends.

I would alter it I think if I were to write it again from scratch. I am even tempted to expand it a little to ‘finish’ the story but that risks the ending being twee and too cosy. If anything I think I’d like to leave more possibilities of awfulness in the readers mind. I am even tempted to go back to the 262 word version, make it 300 words and leave it at that.

Of course I won’t bother. I don’t think.

The piece is published. Anything except a major rewrite into a full short story is going to end up like all those ‘Director’s cuts’ in films that end up much worse than the original. Other, much better known, authors have of course gone back and altered books, usually not for the better. Stephen King rewrote and reinstated about 400 pages of cuts in ‘The Stand’.  General critical opinion is that the editor did a great job on the first edition and there was good reason to lose those 400 pages. Four hundred! That’s chutzpah all right, putting back in 400 pages of extraneous fluff. When I get as famous as King maybe I’ll come back and tweak the ending. I doubt it would be 400 words, let alone 400 pages.

REWRITES

I hate rewrites.

Everybody (nearly everybody) stresses how important they are and I suppose in my heart of hearts I know they are right. I remember in the late 70s, reading in Victor Jones’ ‘Creative Writing’ that, ‘Shakespeare, it is suggested, never paused to “blot the ink” though Ben Jonson suggests that on occasion it might have been better if he had.’ Jones went on to say that Tolstoy revised his work 5 or 6 times and that generally the more one revised the deeper one went. This suggests to me that best practice depends very much on the individual author.

 

In ‘How to be a Writer’ Stewart Ferris says that as a publisher he can recognise a first draft very easily and won’t waste his time reading beyond the first couple of pages. Tough on Shakespeare huh? Ferris is quite up front about it and says it’s economics –why should he spend hours editing an ‘amateurish’ manuscript to produce a dazzling book when he can take three books written to a high standard and publish them in the same time? Good point but  what does he mean by ‘rewrites’? Obviously you avoid and correct mistakes. But what are we really talking about? In his next chapter Ferris says that everyone’s redrafting will be different, perhaps changing 5% per draft but going through ten or more drafts to re-write 50% of the book to produce something worthwhile. Each new draft is a ‘freshening up of the text’. Maybe I’m being pedantic but I can’t believe the tenth+ draft of anything is going to be ‘fresher’. It might be more what the publisher, editor, agent wants to see, and it may be better than the original but I can’t see ‘freshness’ creeping in with this much reworking.

 

I have a piece of writing, originally about 120,000 words long which I revised down to about 70,000, in the process weeding out any obvious grammatical errors, gratuitously overblown sections, unnecessary repetition or factual mistakes. I redrafted it as losing that much of the original meant some structural changes were required. I was very happy with it. An agent then suggested some changes of focus so I did the rewrite and it had lost something. Another agent loved this draft but wanted some more changes just to ‘harden it up’ a bit for the ‘boys’ market. This went on and today I have six different versions sat on my hard drive and the original hard copy in my desk drawer. It has never seen the light of day, and probably never will. Times have moved on for that genre, but in any case I now hate it. Not because I don’t think it’s a good book. I think its probably one of the best things, if not the best, I’ve written, but the thought of revisiting it as a writer makes me feel physically ill. I know if I tried selling it again the redrafting and revision process would be almost impossible. Is the sixth or seventh version better than the second? No. They certainly aren’t the book I wanted to write. Will the eighth or ninth be? Don’t know because they are unlikely to happen but I wouldn’t have thought so. The spontaneity and brightness has all disappeared. It looks overworked and it is. Freshness? Please!

 

So do I redraft? Of course. I do a lot of it as I go along. But ten plus times? No. If I can’t get it right with four or five attempts I have to ask myself; ‘is this the right book to be writing?’  Perhaps I would sell more if I did rewrite everything ten or twelve times. But I suspect I would end up writing and selling nothing as the will to live leached out of me with each redrafting.