Sunday, 19 April 2009

Self-editing advice from 'Discovered' author - Steve Hartley.

Read on for the second instalment in my three-part series on self-editing. This time our SCBWI 'Discovered' author is Steve Hartley.

Steve signed a fantastic four-book deal with Macmillan for his series Danny Baker - Record Breaker. The first two books are due for release early 2010.

At a future date, Steve will also be interviewed on this blog, so watch this space, but in the mean time you can read more about Steve here.

Steve's Top Ten Self-Editing Tips

. Does your opening have impact? It should do one of two things: grab the reader by the throat and demand they read on, or beguile them with whispers, intrigues and secrets, and draw them in. eg. Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” Fab, and it just gets better.

2. Whichever you choose to do, get on with it! Forget the back-story until later. Readers want to get stuck into a story, not wade through lengthy explanations of how Grace discovered a spot on her chin when she was thirteen, just before the school disco, that made her stay in that night, and meant that she escaped the fire that destroyed the school and killed most of her friends, and how the guilt led her on an emotional downward spiral of Smarties and Orange and Mango J2O-abuse, that drove her once-loving parents to abandon her one night for an Antarctic Research Station, and ultimately led to her love-heart-overdose, and meeting the dangerous boy Zak, who seemed so nice, but turned out to be a white slaver, and that’s why she’s now working 20 hours a day in a North African butcher’s shop, with Ahmed who’s now fingering his chopper with evil intent. Start with Ahmed and his chopper, and save the rest for later, if it’s needed. Keeping the reasons for a person’s predicament hidden from the reader also gives you a card to play later, when you might be stuck for a twist in the plot.

3. Make every word/sentence/paragraph work for you. If it doesn’t, cut it. Keep the dialogue taut, and don’t let the pace flag. Be careful of writing beautiful descriptive passages. Ask yourself, is this relevant, or is it there just because writing it made you fell like a real writer? Be brutal and dispassionate, like Ahmed and his chopper.

4. Are your characters’ voices consistent? Are they right for their age? Get into their heads, and speak like they do: “Yeah, right!” “Whatever!” “Me and Dave…”

5. Do your minor characters have a role? Ask yourself: are they worth the trouble of thinking up a name for them? If not, they probably aren’t worth being in your story, so send them to Ahmed for dispatching. However, can they be developed to add depth to the plot? In the first draft of Danny Baker Record Breaker, Danny had twin sisters who were known as “The Twins” and were only there to make up numbers in the happy family. I merged them into one sister, called her Natalie (“Nat the Brat” etc.), and made her snitch on Danny to ruin his record attempts. Suddenly there was conflict, humour, and an added layer to the stories.

6. Get a thesaurus. The English language is stuffed, packed, full, chocker-block, jam-packed, gorged, brimming, loaded, saturated with so many fab words: use them! Cut out adverbs. “Running quickly” says a little, but not much. “Scampering” “Scuttling” “Racing” “Bounding” “Cantering” “Sprinting” “Hurrying” “Dashing” say far more, and are more enjoyable to read.

7. Keep scenes simple. Try not to have too many characters together at one time – it is confusing for the reader and more difficult to choreograph for the writer.

8. Wear your research lightly. Weeks spent studying Wikipedia might have turned you into an expert on fourteenth century South American knitting patterns, but I bet your reader won’t be as fascinated as you are. Resist the temptation to share your trivia.

9. Give them regular cliff-hangers, and remember that things must always get worse! So Grace has finally fallen in love with Max, her burly hero, who has secreted her away from the squalor and toil of the butcher’s shop. They are about to board the fishing boat for a long and happy life selling timeshares on the Costa Blanca, when Ahmed steps out of the gloom brandishing his trusty chopper. Max fights and disarms him, and they escape, but the chopper has punched a hole in the bottom of the boat, and it sinks. They stay afloat by clinging to a box of herrings. They see a light from another boat – saved! But then they see the shark’s fin cutting through the water towards them…

10. Finally, enjoy your writing – it shows!

Tune in next time for more self-editing advice from Sarwat Chadda.

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