Denying Winter

I’ve had twenty years of winter and no it’s nothing to do with GOT, sorry! Twenty years is roughly how long I’ve been dreaming up Burning Embers, writing the universe, drawing the characters, scrapping it all and starting again, and again and then going into fine-tuning and comma placements – before scrapping all of that! It’s been a big project and definitely one of those that’s taken on a life of its own and one day, very soon, I’m going to share it with you.

In the meantime, Burning Embers is set on the cusp of deep winter. It’s a harsh, cold and unforgiving environment and I purposely studied in Canada for a year, so that I could really understand snow. Having been born and raised in Middle-England and the modernish equivalent of Hobbiton, fields, gentle hills, farmlands, small streams, traditional pubs, more fields, snow wasn’t something I experienced much of. Rain on the other hand, is a different story. I’ve grown up feeling like a rain expert and that’s probably something to do with the wide vocabulary that the British have developed to describe water falling from the sky, or sideways – because sometimes the rain is sideways.

Still, working on Burning Embers for such a pro-longed period of time, has meant that mentally, I’m in Narnia. It’s always winter and never Christmas. Descriptions are of frost-covered trees and the crunch of deep snow. So when I decided that I was going to start a new project, it perhaps isn’t a surprise that it’s set in summer. There will be blue skies and butterflies! There will be warm weather! It’s been refreshing to explore a new season and so I thought that I’d combine that thought with my current attempts at flash-fiction.

This has been a very long introduction for a short project, so I hope I’ve kept your attention so far. I want to try a series of flash fiction for the changing seasons.  I’ve given myself exactly 99 words for each. A different season is going to be posted up in the next four blog posts.

I hope that you’ll be able to work out which season is which, because I’m not going to label them, let me know in the comments!

So here they are, my escape from winter, followed by the inevitable return.

Seasonal Flash-Fiction – One

The sky is a tapestry of falling rain and threads of smoke. Leaves drift in slow spirals between heavy drops. Grey puddles spill off the path and into sodden grass, tramped with muddy boots and wellingtons. Water gurgles in the roadside drains and steals away with sycamore seeds. Conker shells burst, shining chestnut nestled between layers of bronze, amber and fading green. Interwoven clouds in faded lines and jagged blue tears. Pale sunlight peers through the cracks and paints the tarmac gold. The umbrella snaps to attention, stolen from a desperate grasp, whipped up, away, lost to the tapestry.

 

Tied into the Daily Prompt Denial

Edit out the habits: How to Improve Work

There are certainly a few recurring ‘snags’ as it were in the cloth of my carefully constructed words. By editing and work-shopping I’ve been lucky to identify the trends in my work that make it less accessible to the reader. If you have to work hard to read something, then you’re more inclined to give up part-way though. For my rambling thoughts on what puts me off reading a story, there is a post here: Scared of Reading – actually funny story. I started writing this blog post and it originally turned into that one. So I decided to split it into two complete and hopefully coherent articles! Fingers are crossed.

But here are the trends that I learnt to look out for in my work.

  1. Passive verbs passive verbs.

My characters had many limbs that did things for them, but instead I needed to just write, that the characters –did-the-thing- much simpler, much clearer. So for example: Her hand reached out toward the glowing embers. – Passive. What would be better is: She reached toward the glowing embers. – Active. It’s just easier to imagine what the protagonist is doing.

  1. Did uh…did that just happen?

A lot tends to happen to my heroine as she goes about her journey. But I was informed, and then realised that although she reacts physically to the things around her and says things, the reader was being cut out of her thoughts. This was causing a second problem in that my reader felt disconnected from her and therefore my storytelling was less effective. The manuscript I’m working on, was supposed to have a close-third person narration, but too often it was just narration and I wasn’t as close in the third-person as I thought I was. Cue thoughts and responses! It sounds very juvenile but I listed a number of responses such as:

‘She was surprised’, ‘shocked, Sarah turned,’ ‘torn between’, ‘relieved’ etc and then used them as a prompt sheet to include things more in my writing. The result has so far been successful and feedback very positive. Hooray!

  1. Too many wonderful, amazing, blue, sparkling adjectives.

Description is a beautiful thing. However, going through everything with a cut-happy pixie on my shoulder I realised something else that I’d been previously told. I have a tendency to repeat myself. With repetition and a build-up of adjectives, some of the writing was getting lost in itself. Cut, cut, cut! And the work made more impact. I kept the best phrases and descriptions or reworked the ones I really loved and couldn’t bring myself to part with.

  1. For a moment she was a little afraid.

In a final bid to avoid unnecessary repetition in the manuscript I did a ctrl-f word search for a few phrases such as ‘For a moment’ and ‘a little’. I’ll tell you something, I use those tags far too often! I think within 30,000 words I ended up deleting them over 50 times. They didn’t add anything to the story, the plot, the description. They were filler! All they did was water down the writing and stop the protagonist committing to any particular emotion. If she was ‘A little afraid’ why is she just not afraid? If ‘she paused for a moment,’ why doesn’t she just ‘pause.’ Cut!

Everyone has different version of these phrases that they fall back on. My nemesis as I’ve started to refer to them. They’re things I don’t even remember writing! Maybe I don’t, maybe they just appear… That must be it. Those and spelling/grammar errors.

It may be worth going through any work under editing and seeing if you can find one or two and then doing a word search to find out just how many times they sneak in, pesky little things. I definitely go through additional phases of ‘word of the day’ that will sneak in over and again in a chapter if I took a shine to a certain sound when the chapter was in construction. Thank goodness for editing!

The best thing about recognising (the latest) failing of you work, is that when you go on to write new things, you are aware of them and so you make them less often. This does open up the path to making shiny new mistakes, but I like to believe that by slowly eliminating bad habits and trends I’m improving every time I do a thorough edit.

I’m sure there is even evidence to support this as whenever I write I feel it’s better than what I was able to write 6 months ago. I still need to edit the draft, but the process is less painful. I know what I’m looking for, what needs to be edited for clarity what is actually my style. Maybe I still use too many adjectives- but that is because I like long and rambling description. That is a choice, it’s not just the adjectives sneaking in a little.

What are the writing habits you have learnt to look out for? Let me know 🙂

Fibi xx

Like no Pie I have ever seen before.

My mum is infamous for her desire to ‘experiment’ with food. She’s going to kill me for publishing this, but it was just too funny to ignore.

Lemon Meringue Pie

I couldn’t take my eyes off the lemon meringue pie. My mother had laid it in the center of the table. She then sat down with an expectant air.

“I brought cheesecake!” I announced, placing it carefully beside the first dessert. Eight pairs of eyes flicked from one pudding, to the other.

“Cheesecake for me,” my brother was first to break the silence. His request was echoed by his wife, then my sister, her husband, my dad, myself – the gaze finally rested on my boyfriend, Rob.

He swallowed, “lemon meringue please.” A thick slice was cut and set down for him. We were transfixed by the way it wobbled. It just didn’t look…right.

My mum looked up, as an afterthought “I ran out of biscuit- you know, for the base.”

Rob doubtfully tapped the bottom with his fork. A wheeto fell off, rolled across the fine china and bounced onto the floor.

My sister lent forward, “Mum, why is the lemon bit, orange?”

“It’s not!”

“It bloody well is – why is it orange?”

“I ran out of cornflower,” the admission was almost a sigh.

“What did you use?” I hardly dared to ask.

“Custard.”

We watched every slow mouthful that Rob took, fascinated. A lemon meringue pie made from stale wheetos, and custard. “Mum,” I could no longer resist the temptation to ask “did you grate a lemon into the custard?”

“Well, it wouldn’t be a lemon meringue pie without lemon, would it?”

“…was it a waxed lemon?”

We left the house quickly that night. My brother –in-law slapping Rob on the back.

“Well done mate,” he laughed “took one for the team.

I started this story as an exercise, aiming to fit it onto a post card. This meant that it had to deal with a crisis and resolution quickly. I struggled, but I’m happy with the overall outcome. I hope some of the hilarity of my family dinners comes across. God bless substitution of normal ingredients – to things a little out of the ordinary!

Please find below, a picture of my post-card story. Try writing one? Let me know how it goes!

Image

Fi