Not writing – well, not intentionally!

Well, dear bloggers, this may shock you—I am on a long vacation but have no intention to write another book. That’s right, it’s about celebration—celebrating my wife’s very special birthday in Paris. So, writing will take a back seat, though that’s not to say that I won’t find inspiration in being in different places and watching out for interesting characters or settings for my next novel. Will it be a thriller set in Vienna, or a romantic novel based in France? Who knows? The most wonderful thing about writing is that it has few bounds, and the richer the experience (either good or bad) can result in a more satisfying read. Well, that’s the intention.

So, roll on Singapore, Vienna and so many other places – some we have been to before and some that are new. I must confess that my writing is richer from having been to unique and special places and I am grateful for the opportunity. I also feel obliged to share some of these with my readers. They add detail and authenticity to my writing—a firm foundation for the action. Which raises the question—how accurately do I write? The answer is ‘mostly’. I do take literary licence at times, but only to propel the action. where necessary :-).

Editing is Like Rotating Wine Bottles in a Cellar

There is much debate and mystery to the idea of having to turn wine bottles to improve their flavour and consistency.

My book has 86 chapters and I look on each one as a bottle of wine, lying on shelves in a cellar. And each, like a good wine, needs to be left to age, then turned from time to time. I have left the ageing process alone and now feel that I am in the final stages of turning each bottle – that is, carefully editing each chapter and checking that it is ready for publication. I hope that when it is, it will taste and feel special to my readers, with no wasted words or any sentences that fail to support the “label”.  Which segues nicely to the role of wine in my new book. Wine does indeed have a place or two, but only when characters meet. Of course, too much wine can lead to problems and this may well happen to one or two of my characters. All will be revealed in due course.

The Doomsday Clock

Founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and University of Chicago scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The Doomsday Clock is set every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes nine Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to global catastrophe caused by man-made technologies.

The Doomsday Clock was set at two minutes to midnight in 2019 and at 100 seconds to midnight in 2022. Last year, we expressed our heightened concern by moving the Clock to 90 seconds to midnight—the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been—in large part because of Russian threats to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine. How does this affect my book. Well, during the editorial phase, I had to adjust the Doomsday Clock in my manuscript too. Check out this extract:

[“Why MIT?” she repeated.

“My reason for choosing MIT was simple and complex.”

Claudine laughed. “Oh, that’s funny. What do you mean?”

“The simple answer is Jay Forrester.”

“Jay Forrester?” she asked. “I’ve never heard of him.”

“Yes, Mr. Forrester was a smart guy who pioneered work on digital computers here at MIT. He’s famous for his Global Sustainability Model, predicting that civilization would destroy the world in 2040. And what’s remarkable, is that his conclusion was the same as the one made by Isaac Newton in 1704. Their findings are confirmed by the Doomsday Clock.”

“Which is?”

“The time when our planet implodes. The Doomsday Clock is set at ninety seconds to midnight. Our time is almost up, and Armageddon will be upon us unless we do something radical to change the world.”

Claudine smiled. “That’s why I’m here.”]

Christopher Robin

In a poetic moment I revisited AA Milne’s Buckingham Palace and wove it into my introduction to my new thriller-heist. Why? Well, that may not become obvious until the final chapter(s). Meanwhile, the protagonist suspects that the king does indeed know all about him! [BTW: my sister is called Robin and I was named Christopher]. And, like Alice, there is ‘time for tea’ in Chapter One for the protagonist, among the rising tension of being followed. Perhaps the obvious connection is that the protagonist is called Sir Christopher.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace
Christopher Robin went down with Alice
"Do you think the King knows all about me?"
"Sure to, dear, but it's time for tea" Says Alice


What’s the Point in Trying?

“There’s a statistic that circulates the publishing world that only one in six thousand writers will sign with a literary agent. And only a very small percentage of those will ever get published. So what’s the point in trying?”

Such a relevant question. Why climb Everest? Why row across an ocean? Why be a school principal? Why renovate another house? Why? Why? Why?

I’m going to struggle with a sensible answer, but here goes. I keep trying because I want to reach the greatest audience and I keep trying because I want my heist-thriller to be as polished as possible, which will not happen if I self-publish. Oh, there are many other illogical reasons too :-). Have I felt like giving up? Yes, and even more in recent days. Having a request for my full manuscript created hope to land a literary agent, but this was followed four weeks later by a “No.” After this glimmer of hope it was back to a full re-edit, and chapter reorganisation, before sending out a few more submissions. The recent rise of Artificial Intelligence, and a huge global interest in deep-sea submersibles (with the Titan implosion) should help propel my novel. I’m just waiting for a literary agent to agree.

But, the greatest reason is ‘persistence‘ – never giving up on a higher goal and I hope I am able to reach it soon.

The Element of Surprise

What makes a good read? Surprises and lots of them. OK, what do I mean by “surprises?” Surprises are out-of-the-blue moments that interrupt the flow of the novel and take it, or a character, in a different direction. Too many surprises and they are not surprises anymore. That’s why I only use a few, and only as necessary to enhance the plot. In my novel, the end chapters reference the kind of surprises that we enjoyed as children at Christmas time. Something like this;

[“Thank you,” says Rian. “I have another surprise for you too.”

“Oh?”

“Please close your eyes.”

My senses peak. I hear the slap, slap of halyards against the yacht mast and I’m reminded of the tap, tap of Sweetman’s cane at The Rock Hotel, though that was a lifetime ago.

Seagulls squawk. I’m getting hot and the anticipation is killing me. Then, high heels come clacking across the sandstone terrace, getting louder. A shadow darkens my eyes and a tender arm wraps around my neck. The kiss is sweet and soft and the air wafts with perfume; a sexy mix of jasmine and vanilla. My mind is alive with intrigue.

“Who?” I ask.

“It’s been a while,” she replies. The voice is lilting and familiar, yet I can’t place it. I dive inside my memory banks, but they are empty except for the hint of a French accent. Was she in Paris? Damn, I used to recall names with ease and am about to ask for a clue when she says, “You can open your eyes now.”

I look up. Golden hair cascades in the sun and her face is shadowed under an old straw hat, its tattered red ribbon fluttering in the breeze. My eyes adjust and my mind catches up.

“Claudine, what a surprise and, I must say, a pleasure too.”

“My name is now Chloé Dupont,” she laughs.

“It’s been a long time. You’ve changed,” I add.

She smiles and wags a finger asking, “How have I changed?”

“You look more beautiful than ever, and happier too.” She giggles and kisses me again.

“Another glass please, Rian,” I say. “Let’s celebrate Watershed with our new guest, the lovely Chloé Dupont.” The day seems brighter. She rests her glass, tosses her hair and hands me a parcel.

“A small gift for you,” she chuckles.

“You shouldn’t have,” I protest.

Her reply puts me in my place when she says, “It’s better to give than receive.” I like that and must remember it.

The Christmas wrapping is enticing and topped with a large, yellow bow.

“I wonder what this could be?” I reply, shaking it in the way I did as an excited young boy on Christmas Eve. I loved to see the present wrapped and stacked beneath the family tree, and try to guess the contents of each one—perhaps a toy rifle for me to fight off the enemy, or a sword to cut off their heads? Better still, the whole outfit—a Lone Ranger suit, complete with mask and pistols? I made several attempts to discover the wrapped secrets. My parents never approved, but Chloé encourages me.

She laughs, “Can you guess what it is?”

“It feels solid,” I say. “A strange shape, rounded at each end.”

“Just a small keepsake,” she adds.]

I guess you want to know what the surprise is? Aha, wait for the book 🙂

The Pitch

The one sentence pitch is the essence or heart of a book, the line that tells people about your book and makes it sound awesome.

Example: a one sentence pitch for Eat Pray Love, might be:

“A recently divorced woman (OPENING CONFLICT) travels to Italy (QUEST) for pleasure, India for spirituality, and Bali for balance (INNER OBSTACLES), but she finds love instead. (FLAVOR)”

For my new novel, my one sentence pitch boils down to:

When an MI6 spy is assigned to unravel the largest bank robbery in history, he discovers that it is not about the money.

 

Looking for another word

While working on a sentence, I needed a stronger word that “looking”:

Did I miss something important across my desk at MI6 and become the target of a foreign group looking for revenge?

‘looking’ lacks urgency and power. Is this better?

Did I miss something important across my desk at MI6 and become the target of a foreign group seeking revenge?

‘seeking’ is better, but still lame. How about,

Did I miss something important across my desk at MI6 and become the target of a foreign group hungry for revenge?

Ah, ‘hungry’ carries a deeper desire and works better.

Character Arcs Are Not All the Same

Oh how we love character arcs (youtube is full of them). A good protagonist ends up bad, or a bad one turns good. Or, a level-headed character stays that way to meet challenges head-on. News channels love to publish about someone who has ‘fallen from grace’ or done something awful. We all have stories about fallen characters. I am reminded of what the great Apostle Paul said (in Romans 3:23) – “all have sinned, and come short…” In other words, none of us are perfect. We aim to be better (or worse) and our character trends or arcs upwards or downwards, or stays level. An arc is a line that is part of a circle; character arcs are the same and three types are listed below. However, there is another arc you should consider, and it is the arc of electricity makes as it moves from one source to another. A spark arcs as an electrical discharge between two electrodes. We saw that in a spectacular way a few days ago. Our stove caught fire and, when we looked inside, there were sparks arcing at the back of the main oven. In writing, I like to think of this arcing as being between characters. Sparks fly as conflict develops and, as conflict develops, you want to keep reading. Now, back to character arcs:

 

Here are three basic character arcs (source from tkpublishing):

What is a Positive Character Arc?

A positive change arc is one in which the protagonist undergoes a positive transformation. This usually includes a neat resolution at the end, where, because of their internal change, the character finally achieves their goals. An example of a positive character arc in classic literature is that of Marilla, the woman who adopts Anne in Anne of Green Gables. Marilla starts off uninterested in keeping the little girl, but as the story progresses, we see her developing a subtle but strong affection for Anne.

Negative Character Arcs

But not all stories have a happy ending: a negative change arc is one that still shows how your character develops, but not toward a positive transformation. Instead, this arc illustrates a downward spiral. However, the basic “arc” pattern remains the same, as it is still about how your protagonist starts one way and ends up another. Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is a classic example of a negative character arc. From the beginnings of her adultery, Anna Karenina continues to spiral downward, only to reach a tragic end at the end of the book.

What Is a Flat Character Arc?

Another character arc is the flat arc, wherein the character already has their beliefs in place and uses them to solve problems throughout the story; but even as the story ends, the character remains mostly the same. The development of Miss Maudie, the children’s aunt in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, is an example of a flat character arc. She remains steadfast in her beliefs from her first scene until the end of the book.

[PS: my main character is an ageing spy who has second-thoughts about the value of his career. I will say no more.]

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