AI, or Artificial intelligence, leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind. Every day, the news carries AI articles—stories of job losses and cloned personalities that threaten the very fabric of modern society. The reality is far more frightening. AI is developing at a super-fast pace and will impact us all dramatically within the new few years. ChatGPT is a chatbot developed by OpenAI and launched on November 30, 2022. Based on a large language model, it enables users to refine and steer a conversation towards a desired length, format, style, level of detail, and language. It’s a great tool for writing essays and scripts (e.g. for real estate advertising). But, ChatGPT is just the tip of an iceberg. My new novel is based on AI and how it may threaten the banking industry. In fact. my pitch has a focus on AI: Can Artificial Intelligence topple the global economy or restore financial equality? Depends whose side you’re on…
In the wrong hands, AI is difficult to overcome. What happens when a group of devious computer nerds steal your ID and, along with that, steal your voice? Think of the implications. How can you prove that your duplicate is not you? How can you convince your bank manager or boss that you are who you say you are, when another online “twin” makes the same claims?
Oh, it’s going to be a bumpy ride into the unknown with AI and a clever group of thieves have already planned the heist to outdo all heists. How will they do this? Well, you will have to wait for the release of my new book. 🙂
When writing, the plot and characters are uppermost in my mind. It’s a subconscious thing and I find myself thinking about events in my novel while drifting off to sleep, only to have them punctuated by fresh thoughts. These make me force myself awake and make the necessary changes while they are fresh – “I’ll forget them in the morning,” I tell myself. There a catch though. In the morning, have to check that the new thought fits the storyline and doesn’t detract from it or overwhelm it; it has to enhance it to be effective. Ah the joys of ruminating – just going over and over my novel, like cows chewing grass:
It’s poetic how some things work out. After months of editing and revising my manuscript, look how many words it ended up…
Yes, some will say it’s too long for a heist-thriller and others will disagree and say they need detail and back story to really get into a novel. For me, it was just where it ended up and, for that reason, it feels right. My first thriller was finished at around 85,000 words but my new one – with the extra words – does seem to have more depth and purpose. I hope readers agree. Hint: do you want to learn about the role of AI in the greatest bank robbery of all time?
We had ribs tonight—delicious ribs with meat falling off the bone and juices charred rich like treacle. It made me wonder if my book has been cooked long enough to have the same rich flavour? A book that has been slow-cooked, then fried to perfection. Is mine like that? Of course, the answer was “no” a year ago, but now is a simmering “yes.”
Full of flavour? I hope so.
A plot that sticks like a rich sauce? Perhaps.
An ending that leaves a reader full and satisfied? I can’t give that away, can I?
You see, it’s only the reader who can tell me if my book is cooked enough.
What value do I place on a professional editor? HEAPS!
I value any feedback from readers, but place high value on corrects and suggestions from a professional editor—one who is connected with publishing and knows what to look for in a ‘good read.’ I have used the same editor for my partial reviews, synopsis and query letter and her ideas on my plot and characters has given me insights that I missed. The edits have also allowed me to correct weaknesses quickly and the end result is a far more polished manuscript. I don’t always agree with the suggested corrections, but use them to improve the areas noted. Above all, having a professional (paid) editor gives me encouragement as a writer and, I must confess that without her, I would have given up long ago. Here are a couple of feedback examples:
How many of you check out the first paragraph when browsing a bookstand? When can’t overestimate the power of the first words in a novel and the importance of the first paragraph.
A friend was reviewing the start of my new book. I trust his judgement; he’s an avid reader. “I liked the first chapter,” he said, “but the opening paragraph just doesn’t draw me in—it gives no sense of place or context.” I agreed and went back to revise it. What is important is that I feel much happier about the opening now. It helps the main character as his arc unfolds, and it propels the plot. It starts with a quote that a senior staff member used when I began a new teaching position. So, here goes;
“Your best is never good enough,” were the words Sir Donald Bradford spoke at my orientation for the Foreign Service. Now, with retirement looming, I had to agree. I had given everything, but there was too much unfinished business and post-covid Europe was a diplomatic nightmare. Now, I needed time to myself and time to heal. With my camera as my companion, I explored The Mall, filled with tourists enjoying an ordinary day in picturesque London.
Lovers share a kiss by the steps. “Click.” Queen Victoria’s statue stares at them, stone-faced and not amused; very English. I lift my camera and to frame my next photo. Damn, a woman steps across the viewfinder, whispering as she passes me.
“You are being followed,” she says, “don’t turn around.”
My camera shakes as I try to focus on the bronze statue above me.
“Eighty-two feet high. If you enjoy royalty, try the Household Cavalry Museum at Hyde Park Barracks at 4pm. Ask for Reginald.”
[PS: This is only a drat. In the coming days I will play with this to get it right :-)]
Another dilemma—what to do with unwanted or unnecessary characters. The best idea is to let them go, but do it in such a way that it provides more tension for the main character(s). In my first thriller, the main character – Jack Colins – is chased by a woman who attempts to discover his secret. She sits next to him on a train ride to Milan and hounds her way into his life to the point of being more than annoying. At a crucial moment, Jack discovers her body in an ante-room in a small church and it’s not a pretty scene. But, her demise piles more pressure on Jack and he is forced to flee to safety in an e-type Jaguar, aided by his sister. Unfortunately, she also becomes an ‘unnecessary character’ and …. no more spoilers. But, if you really want to find out what happens to my unwanted characters, why not buy my book? PS: the e-type is yellow; it just had to be yellow.
It played on my mind—the need to change a name in my new book. I had chosen Dan as the name of my captain, but realised that a boyhood friend of mine – Ted Cooper – was a much better fit. Ted and I both worked backstage in a high school play; no doubt it was Shakespeare. On the final night we stayed up late and decided to celebrate with a midnight cruise in a small yacht to a volcanic island, just off the mainland. It was a memorable trip across shipping lanes and we felt the freedom of Huckleberry Finn as we ghosted under sail through the night. Unfortunately, our old wooden boat took on water, forcing us to sleep ashore. I will never forget that night, nor my good friend Ted Cooper. We lost contact with each other but I found out that Ted had passed away. He had become a captain in the merchant navy. How appropriate that I should name the captain in my thriller after my good friend.
Editing is simple in Word – use the find and replace all menu and, bingo, the job’s done? No. Here are some of the replacements I discovered:
With double agents, defecting can be Tedgerous = with double agents, defecting can be dangerous
He was petedtic but damned good at his job = He was pedantic but damned good at his job
tedcer = dancer
Guitedce = Guidance
The moral of this post is to be careful when using “replace all” in Word. If you do, going though 100,000 words to find replacement errors can be danious – oops, I mean, tedious.
“There are two sides to every story”
“You can’t tell fact from fiction these days”
“All news is fake news”
Ah, the wonderful freedom a fiction writer has. With the lines blurred between real news and fake news – between fact and fiction – there is plenty of scope for a writer to flip between the two and build an authentic world for the reader. For example, a thriller may have elements of the real world, such as places, times and cultural events, and weave in among these a believable plot. I love thrillers that have ‘proof of life.’ That is, they lack extreme coincidences. I am not going to point any finger at a specific writer, but do remember reading a book that was full of impossibilities (two scientists are abandoned in a remote location and just happen to be rescued – you get the idea). It was a thriller by a well-known author, but the lack of authenticity prevented me from being immersed in the story. For other readers, it might have been fine (insert smiley face).
Back to the two sides to a story. When a plot juxtaposes truth and lies, it creates tension and ignites the plot. A reader can take one side, then have it destroyed when the lies become fact. You see this in TV dramas when the obvious killer is, in fact, innocent. This formula is all too clear for most of us and how disappointing it is to have someone next to you say, “I know who did it.”
For me, the challenge is to make the twist NOT obvious at all. And, I hope I achieved this in my new book. Oh dear, I don’t want to give too much away!
Here’s a question I have to ask myself often—how well do I know my characters? Yes, I can describe them (features like hair, makeup, dress, etc.) but do I really know them? A few years ago I met a long-lost half-brother. We talked and he was quiet, reflecting on a father he hardly knew. But, I never understood him until he told me about a letter he had written to his father. The response he got, and the way he reacted, gave me clues about the depth of his feelings. When I saw my half-brother walk away, he had the same gait as my father and my eyes were opened fully to his character. In writing, there is that elusive search to reveal a character by his or her actions, rather than through description. They give away their true identity with a gesture, body position, speech and response. In my latest novel, many of my characters are build upon people I know quite well, but others have to be fabricated from observations, etc. My goal is to have none of my characters appear flat (as in this cartoon). And, here’s a secret, one of the key characters in my book is a little like me—Oh, very well, a lot like me!