Monday, 19 November 2012

A is for Alcoholic. I just cut the A word from the book to reduce the word count...

I might even have to use the word ‘alcoholic’; a word that is hated by us Irish. Instead we have culturally honoured euphemisms; such as ‘he likes to get merry’.

You'll have to read the book, Love for Beginners to see which character speaks-to-herself in the sentence above...

 The character in Love for Beginners who says that Irish people are reluctant to use the word, 'alcoholic', might have a point, but  the word 'alcoholic' has extremely serious connotations and ought not to be used justly as opposed to lightly.  But maybe one character in Love for Beginners was rightly given the diagnosis of alcoholism.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

In love with the verbs 'try' and 'start'. Are you too fond of some words, and using them too much?

When I told Shirley Stewart, a seasoned literary agent and a lovely lady, that in the early days, I sent a 128,000 draft of the book to publishers, Shirley exclaimed, 'that was a weapon of mass destruction!'

After writing about how you can make your book thinner, I'm following my own advice and taking out each and every unnecessary word. And I'm getting stricter! Every word that does not earn its keep is fired from the job. This eye-exhausting exercise is the project known as Draft 6 of Love for Beginners. For the greater good of my book, I must sacrifice some words that I love. Reading over and over the paragraphs, the words 'try' and 'starts' appear much too often. Here is one picture of my editing-in-action. I changed, 'David starts whimpering' to 'David whimpers'.

If you are writing a narrative in the present tense - it is tempting to overuse some verbs for the sake of showing when a specific take place.  For example, you might write, 'Laura starts to weep', and you might have employed 'starts' to demonstrate that she had not been crying until that moment. 'Laura weeps' is half the word count of 'Laura starts to weep', but you might fret that your readers think Laura weeps nonstop.  And, you might use the word 'tries' to show that a do something but fails.  'James tries to offer Laura a napkin from McDonald's to dry her eyes, but she refuses'. You can rewrite that as, 'James offers Laura a napkin from McDonald's'.   Then you might comment that 'James starts to wonders if he had offered Laura a soft Kleenex instead of a ketchup stained napkin, would she have taken it?' 

It might be useful to study your book and find the words that you are attracted to, and that are appearing far too much. It might not be verbs, it might be adjectives. 

Hugely successful authors have beloved words. I noticed that A.S. Byatt was devoted to the word 'indefatigable' and David Lodge likes the word, 'lackadaisical'.

The habit of overusing words has even become a plot-line! LP Hartley's novel The Love Adept has a plot line where the main character, a novelist is criticised for using the word 'slightly' too much. One literary critic writes to the novelist, 'slightly is a word that you are slightly too fond of'.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Three drafts of Love for Beginners...

In total and at this time of writing, there has been five drafts. This month, I am working on the sixth draft, and this morning, I was ready to claw my eyes out when I saw that I had repeated the verb, 'clarifies' twice in one section of dialogue!  It was Dara, Anna's best friend who was doing the clarifying, and attempting to drive home the point that her old boyfriend is not duty-bound to love her, "Don is not obliged to love you, Anna". But I described it as 'Dara clarifies', once too often!  I mean, this is the sixth draft, you'd think that I'd have noticed the two clarifies in previous drafts. I have decided that there will be a final 7th draft. Please God, the 6th will be the last one, the one where I look for tiny errors, and will hand it to a trusty newspaper editor to proof the final copy, that will rid it - forensically - of punctuation and spelling mistakes.

This photo might just ruin a marketing campaign. Readers will think, 'oh gosh, that book seems too long! And if that Mary O'Regan is any good at writing, why did she have to write draft after draft?'  But I post this photo for all the novelists and writers who have piles of manuscripts - of the same book - in their office and who are watching and willing their book to evolve - one draft at a time. F Scott Fitzgerald did work on seventeen versions of Tender Is The Night. Compared to that, what's six or seven drafts?  Only a minimum combined word count of 678 K/ words/678 thousand words. 

I might get up the courage to post this photo on Facebook or Twitter one day.  This could get a reaction. If you'd like to see the responses, you can do so by looking up,  @luv4beginners
First Draft: 128 K words  Second Draft: 107 K words Third Draft: 105 words

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Word Count Wrestles - How you can trim the word count and not sacrifice content and plot

First Version (128 K words) that I sent to publishers
In 2011, I was convinced that I had written the definitive version of Love for Beginners. It weighed in at 128 thousand words. If the standard paper-back has an average of 250 words on each page, then my hefty tome translated as a 512 page tome. Definitely more of a 'tome' than a 'novel'. On a drizzly day in London, November 2011, I printed it out and it was like two phone books rammed together, complete with that gluey smell of piles of freshly printed paper. Putting it into a heavy-duty cushioned envelope, and hugging it to my chest, I scuttled down to the Kensington post office and sent it off to Paula Campbell at Poolbeg in Dublin, and some months later she got back to me with some feedback including that she thought it had, 'potential' and that she liked the main character. But she didn't shirk from saying that, 'it's way too long and needs to be cut', which echoed my own criticisms of the book, but did not agree with one reader who had been reading the book as I had written it, and had wanted, 'more, more! MORE! You must write more about the time Anna* meets her boyfriend's mother!' *protagonist

During the first half of 2012, it was time for the first major re-write that cut twenty thousand words off, which made it 428 pages.  I had cut away some heavy scenes, such as the time Anna's mother, who has the personality of a snowman, visited her. Then, I went to a talk given by agent Juliet Pickering of A P Watt, who said that most standard paperbacks are 90 thousand words. There was still a bit of pruning left to do - and yet I knew that if I deleted anymore parts such as when Anna is speed-dating, that the book would be lacking the authentic experience of Anna struggling to find love in a cold climate.

But one technique is to 'sweat the fat' - and make your book thinner but still the same person.  Here's how it's done: for example if you have a draft that is 107 thousand words/428 pages, then if you take out 4 unnecessary words from each page, that means you have reduced the word count by 1,712 words and it is now closer to 105 thousand words. 

Instead of taking four, if you remove 8 fatty 'phatic'/irrelevant words, you are 'sweating' close to 3,500 words.  Now, if you take out 10 words, you can make it lose blubber of 4,280 words and you will have a draft over 102 thousand words.

This is a tedious approach to editing, but it's less painful than the surgical way of copying 500 words and clicking, 'cut'. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Fire red? Grass green? Which colour of the background of blog title?

At this time of writing, I have changed the colour of the background on the blog title several times. From every shade of crimson to yellow-brick-road, to verdant green and now to a dark red. Red is the univeral colour of passion, but green is a colour associated with romantic naivete.

'Green' is an older term for someone who is naive and easily fooled. The core characters are 'clueless' about love, are confounded about how to manage their relationship and the protagonist, Anna, is definitely naive when it comes to emotional attachments, until she learns hard lessons.

Every detail of design on this blog is meant to be symbolic of some theme in my book, Love for Beginners. To reflect the fact that the characters in the novel are mainly Irish-born but making a new life for themselves in London, it makes sense to reflect their Irishness by trumping the colour green. I may return to the mossy green shades. 

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Your opinion needed - which photo do you prefer?

To me, the two photos look dire and self-besotted.
< This photo has become my face on the internet - for Facebook, Google, Blogger & Twitter. A friend took it on a night out - when we were enjoying a joke about my preference for 'sheep-hair' men who have curls so thick that it's hard to imagine putting your hand in and getting it out easily. I'm smiling, and suppressing a giggle! It's a good 'un for social networking because it looks gleeful, and as though I'm inviting people to share in the fun.

< Or, this one which was taken during my birthday, in a softly lit Yorkshire pub. You can't see the wrinkles around my eyes like in the crisper one above. But it does have the look of a 1970's photo because of the photo quality. Were I to use this as my profile pic, someone might think I was a 60-something woman trying to pretend that she was in her twenties! But maybe its hazy, romantic quality is appropriate for a blog-about-a-novel that is entitled  
Love for Beginners.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Cicero summed us up!

"Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book."

Marcus Tullius Cicero

I first came across this quote of Cicero's, which was included in the opening pages of Marian Keyes' novel, The Other Side Of The Story.