If you’ve been following this blog then you’ll know how I’ve been busy writing my first short story. Forty days ago I had an idea in my head and lots of blank pages. Even a week or so ago when I thought I’d finished, I still didn’t know if what I’d written would get the approval of my agent and publisher.
Luigi has said he loves it so what did Kim think? Well, here’s what she said….
‘I’ve read Less Than Perfect this morning and think it’s wonderful. As Luigi says, it’s so emotional! It really does capture those hidden dynamics between couples that go unspoken for a long time even though everyone is aware of the truth…’
Of course I’m not completely off the hook. Kim has suggested a couple of ‘tiny tweaks’ which I hope will only strengthen the story but they really are minor adjustments, nothing compared the major redrafting and restructuring that can happen with a full length manuscript.
So now as I set to work on the next draft of Less than Perfect I can honestly say it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable journey and one I hope will be out there soon for readers to enjoy too. I’m off to London next week to catch up with Kim so there might be some more news then, if not about the short story then most definitely about the publication of my second book Another Way to Fall which is due out in September. Yes, there’s definitely going to be progress to report on that score so watch this space!
What happened next to my short story? It was published 🙂
Up until this point, writing my first short story had been completely in my control. Other than talking through the concept with my editor it’s been up to me how I structured the story, how the characters developed and how it ended. It’s only now that I’ve shared it with my agent and editor, that it becomes more of a collaboration and in some ways this is the most nerve-wracking time as I wait for feedback and get the first response to the story that I hope to share with my readers one day soon. The insecure part of me is always asking, is it good enough and more importantly, am I good enough to take onboard any comments, unravel the plot and remake the story if I have to?
The detailed edits will come from Kim Young my editor but right now I’m happy, happy, happy to have a response from my agent Luigi Bonomi who is one of the most respected literary agents in the UK and as people keep telling me, I’m lucky to have him. He says, and I quote, ‘I’ve just finished Less than Perfect and thought it was gripping – I particularly loved the way you handled Charlie. It struck me as just the kind of story your fans would love.’
It’ll come as no surprise that I have a big cheesy grin as I write this and I can only hope it holds out until I get word back from Kim.
What happened next
I’m finally at the point where I can write those magical words, ‘THE END,’ and mean it, for now at least. I have to be honest, after writing the story and then going through it twice again, all in the space of a month has turned my brain to mush! As I’m reading it through, I can’t be sure if I’m recognising text because it’s repeated or simply because I’ve read it for the nth time.
That’s not to say that the last run through hasn’t been useful. One amendment that did make me smile was a character name I’d used. Elle’s parents are called Ann and Harry but for some reason I’d been calling Elle’s mum Pat in sections of the first draft, so in the second draft I corrected the references and thought no more about it. It was only in the third draft that I realised I’d also given her parents the surname Summers…yes, Elle’s mum is none other than the famous purveyor of lingerie and ‘toys.’ So it was goodbye Ann Summers and hello Anne O’Brien!
So at the end of it all I’ve produced a short story with a word count of just over 22k and rather than the eight sections I’d started with, I now have 12 chapters. My last job was a quick spell check which is good for picking up the obvious spelling errors and grammatical gaffs but some of the suggested corrections from Microsoft leave me scratching my head. No, Mr Gates, I don’t want to change ‘worse for wear,’ for ‘worse for wears,’ and I’m getting a little fed up of seeing ‘fragment (consider revising)’ on nearly every piece of dialogue; and don’t get me started on how many semicolons you want to put into the manuscript! I’m by no means an expert on grammar (I’m sure someone’s already picking out errors as they read this!!) but as long as I’ve picked out the obvious and it doesn’t distract the reader (i.e. my agent and my editor) then it’s good enough for now. There are many, many blessings in having a publishing contract and one of them is the amazing support from a team of people including expert copywriters who will go through it with a fine tooth comb later on.
Speaking of my agent and my editor, that’s where the story is heading next. Once I’ve emailed it to Luigi and Kim then I really will be stepping away from the computer because I won’t touch it again until their comments have come back. OK, that’s not quite true. I won’t touch the manuscript but there’s so much else to do on my computer. I think I have a summer of writing Book 4 to look forward to so it’s goodbye Elle and hello Jo.
What happened next
Phew! I’ve reread, revised, reordered and in some instances added to the first draft of my first short story which explains why my original 19,300 words has crept up to 21,750. Increasing the word count in the second draft is quite unusual for me as I’ve normally cut back on the text at this stage.
My usual problem is that I have a habit of writing and explaining absolutely everything in the first drafts. I like to explain what my characters are thinking about, worrying about, planning to do or not to do but even if I do cut the text at a later date, it’s never wasted effort. Sometimes the added explanations provide me with a prompt or reminder about what’s going on in my character’s mind so I know how they should be reacting later. It was my editor who told me not to explain so much – I need to leave some room for readers to draw their own conclusions!
So why my second draft has grown rather than shrunk in this instance, I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with it being a short story. I was aware from the start that I needed to be more efficient in getting the story across in a shorter word count so I was already being economical with my explanations and what I have added in the second draft is a little more depth to some of the descriptive elements. Hopefully I’m still on track but I’ll have to wait and see what my editor Kim thinks when I’m ready to send it to her.
My latest quandary is whether or not to have a rethink about the title. The story’s working title has always been ‘Less Than Perfect,’ and as readers and writers all know, it’s often the title and the cover that entice a potential reader to take a closer look as opposed to moving onto the next book on the shelf. In only a few words, my story has to convey the right message, suggest genre and offer a little intrigue. But that’s not the only thing worrying me about the title. Me being me, I can’t help imagining that if I keep with the current title then it’s only a matter of time before someone leaves a review saying, ‘ah, yes, a story that was definitely less than perfect.’
And so to ward off potential critics, the only thing I can do is to get back to the task at hand and start on the third draft and make it as good as it possibly can be.
What happened next
I’m half way through the second draft now and it’s taking quite a bit of concentration to keep track of the sequencing of events. I’m finding that because there’s been such a short time between starting the first draft and launching into the second that my mind is playing tricks on me and I keep losing track of where I am in the story.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to go back (or forwards) and find those snippets of the back story that I know are there but have forgotten exactly where. And then of course I’ve had to make sure that if I’ve moved a scene to a different part of the story, I’ve kept track of any cross-references. There’s no point having a character complain about whiplash when you haven’t even crashed their car yet! That was just an example by the way, Elle’s a very careful driver 🙂
At least it’s only a short story and not too complex otherwise I don’t think I’d be able to sleep at all!
What happened next
Instead of 80 empty pages, I’m beginning round two of my short story with 72 pages and just over 19k words. I’m also starting with a list of changes I want to make. With the first draft, I don’t like to keep going back and rewriting as I go along, partly because it’s too much like taking two steps forward one step back but also because it can be confusing starting a day’s writing two chapters back from where you left off the day before. Even if I’ve decided on a fundamental change I still won’t go back and change it. I’ll make a note and then continue writing as if I had made that change and pick it up in the next draft. So that’s where I am now, picking up those changes as well as coming up with some new ones. Oh, and pretty much rewriting every word and sentence I’d written in draft one. What else could I possibly do on a Bank Holdiay Monday?!
What happened next
I’ve only gone and done it! I’ve just finished the first draft of my very first short story and I’m as pleased as punch. I had a bit of a debate with myself about where to end the story and maybe this is going to be something I’ll pick up with my editor, Kim. It’s not that I didn’t know how to end it, it’s just a matter of deciding how much of Elle’s story is left for the reader to decide for themselves and how much I describe what I think would have happened next.
As it stands, I’ve included a final chapter which is essentially an epilogue. Although it doesn’t tie up all of the loose ends, it does point the reader in the right direction. The question is; does it need to be there? I could just as easily have left the story at the climax which was when…hmm…so hard to write about my deliberations without giving away too much so I’d better leave it there. Enough said!
What happened next
Less than two weeks into my short story and I’ve just finished the section where Elle comes face to face with the past. She’s already uncovered some secrets but there’s a heart wrenching discovery that she isn’t prepared for and I’ve set the scene for this in a restaurant close to the Albert Dock in Liverpool. It’s called the Brasco Lounge and is on the ground level of one of the new apartment blocks at the waterfront close to the Museum of Liverpool…and it just so happens to be around the corner from my office. This photo was taken in there the other week…maybe I should have moved all of those wine bottles out of the way before I took the picture!
But there’s no time to relax this weekend, I’m at 16k words already and the end is in sight. I’m having sleepless nights working out how those final scenes should play out and wondering Elle should be reacting to everything she’s discovering. I knew before I started what I wanted to happen to my heroine but now I’m getting to know her, I have to think about what feels natural and I’m already revisiting those preconceived ideas so I can come up with a satisfying ending, not only for the reader but for Elle too.
What happened next
I’ve managed 10,000 words so far which is half way through my targetted word count even though I’m still working on the fourth section of the eight I’d split the story into. I’m not too worried though because I know the final section is relatively short and I’m happy with the pace so far.
A new character has appeared (as planned I should add). Angie is Elle’s best friend and has recently separated from her husband Chris, who just so happens to be a work colleague of Rick’s. Part of my story revolves around the changing relationships between the two couples and is adding to the shifting foundations of Elle’s marriage. Next on my to do list will be the introduction of Corrine but I don’t think I can even say who she is or how she fits in without giving too much away. It’s only a short story after all and if I explain too much here then what’s the point in reading it??
But it’s not only in this blog that I have to work out how much to reveal, that same concern is a feature of my writing at the moment. I’m deliberating over what pieces of the puzzle should be revealed and when. I’ve already decided that some of the conversation between Elle and Charlie in the earlier sections are giving away too much so I’ve made a note and when it comes to the second draft, I’ll have to remove some references.
I took time out yesterday to go to the cinema but it’s hard to completely put the story out of my mind at the moment. We had gone to see a 3D movie and I was sitting there thinking about what I was going to write next when my daughter nudged me. The film had started and everyone except me had put their 3D glasses on. I hadn’t even noticed the blurry screen!
And as for what is preoccupying me, it was the conversation that will happen between Elle and Corrine. Now that’s going to be interesting…
What happened next
Having to balance a full time job with my writing means that I tend to wring out every available minute in the day. During the working week, I’ll come home from work and immediately switch the computer on and get some words on the page. I’ve told myself, 500 words a day is a perfectly reasonable output but I don’t listen to myself very much and have been managing over 1000 on good days. But it’s not all about the word count or sitting in front of the computer and yesterday was a good reminder of that. I spent far too long last night writing and rewriting the same paragraph until I eventually had something I was almost happy with. It was only after sleeping on it that I woke up this morning and thought…that’s what I needed to do!
That’s why I like to have a long pause between one burst of writing and the next. It gives me time to carry on the conversations my characters are having in my head or to visualise the scenes I’ve just created. It’s usually when I don’t even realise I’m thinking about the story that the best ideas pop into my head. More often than not I get my best ideas when I’m doing something mundane like shopping or driving to work and suddenly I’ll think…why didn’t she say that? Would she really do that? Wouldn’t she notice this? Wouldn’t she ask that?
Hopefully it’s that part of my editing process that makes the conversations flow more realistically and sometimes it can add a new twist to the story. I’m certainly doing that with Elle and there’s one scene I’m about to write that came to life while I was sitting in the car at the traffic lights on Aigburth Road coming home from work. Apologies to my fellow drivers for missing the light turning to green!
What happened next