Updates and Edits

I thought I’d give you guys an update on how things stand with me at the moment and also, perhaps, ask for some advice while I’m at it.

I’ve just completed the 2nd round of edits on my collection and have now commenced Round 3. There are some stories that might need to go through the mill for a fourth time but generally I’m quite happy with most of them.

However I’ve been slightly perplexed of late, with regards to my next course of action. Initially my plan was to get my work professionally edited before shipping it off to various publishers. I was having an argument recently with someone (who I might add, is not a writer or works in publishing) about professional editing services. They insisted that if I self-edit my work, a professional was not needed. Now I know that this is not entirely incorrect. I’ve seen many books on the Net on how to self-edit your manuscript, so it is possible to do so successfully, without making a complete fool of yourself.

Over the past year however, I’ve become so accustomed to my stories, having worked on them so intimately I honestly feel that, even after 10 edits, I might have missed something whether small or significant. I would therefore like a fresh set of eyes to have a look at my work before it is subjected to the mercy of the scary publishers.  But what do you guys think? Have any of you employed the services of a professional editor? And how did you know which person to choose? Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated.

And before I sign off, I have the pleasure of informing you that I have started work on my novel. YAY! It really does feel good to be plotting/drafting again. After all these months of editing (bleeurgh!!), I’m in my happy place once more 🙂

NM 🙂

Having to deal with the evolution of the English language.

There is no shortage of writing advice out there. Everywhere you look, there are writers, bloggers and teachers advocating proper grammar, proper spelling, use of punctuation etc.etc.

Now as you know, I love classic English literature. As a result, I tend to write in a very similar style. However, I HAVE written a few stories set in modern times- my head is not always in the past, surprisingly. The thing is that when I am working on a piece of modern (or is it contemporary?) fiction, I am sometimes faced with a dilemma: normal people, the general population that is, very rarely apply the rules of the English language anymore. What I’m trying to say is, very few people actually speak properly.

Hence the phrase I don’t know has become “dunno”, I’m going to has become “I’m gonna” and the word BECAUSE in its entirety has ceased to be. Instead it has been shortened to “cause’, “coz” or “cuz” (Cuz that’s how it is, dawg!).

So the issue here is this: maybe it’s just me but I sometimes feel guilty to employ the above slang in modern dialogue.

courtesy of cartoonstock.com

With so much emphasis placed on writing good English, I sometimes feel the need to have my characters speaking correctly, even if it’s against my greater judgment.

Let’s take for example, a conversation between two teenagers. I don’t know about you but I know very few teenagers who actually speak proper English day to day, and even then, they might only save it for the classroom or when conversing with adults, giving speeches etc. So when writing their dialogue, would it make sense to have them sound like they’ve just stepped out of a time machine that has just arrived from the 19th century?

Can we balance good English with modern realism?

And because I don’t read much modern fiction, I am struggling to find examples of where authors have their characters speaking in this informal manner. I can’t remember ever reading a character saying “I dunno” or “Coz I said so” or my personal favourite, the double negative: “I ain’t done nothing.” Yet people in movies and in real life often talk like this.

For those of you who are sticklers for the proper use of our beloved language, would you be annoyed if you had to read dialogue like this? You might tolerate it if it was only one character, who spoke like this, but what if a whole novel was about a group of kids and the dialogue throughout the book was written in this fashion?

Like I said, I don’t read many modern contemporary novels and the few that I’ve read, pretty much stick to the rules of good English. I’m sure, however, that there are plenty of books out there that employ this form of colloquialism. If you know any such books, let me know won’t you? If they are written by famous authors, maybe I won’t feel so guilty…

Otherwise any other thoughts, as you know, are most welcome.   🙂

Art imitating art – I didn’t know, I swear!

The strangest thing happened to me the other day.

I am currently reading The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis and I came across a narrative within the book that gave me the chills. It freaked me out a little not only because it was a bit scary but because it bore a striking resemblance to one of my own stories.
I state for the record that I have never read the Monk before nor did I know what the story was about beforehand. All I knew was that it was written during the 18th century and was set in a monastery. I was completely ignorant of any subplots. The narrative I speak of belongs to one of these subplots. As I continued to read this part I kept thinking: God, this sounds just like Crossroad Inn!

This got me thinking about the concept of ideas and the collective human conscience. Now we all know that there’s no such thing as an original idea. But there is something disconcerting about the thought of coming up with an idea only to find that someone had already beaten you to it centuries before. Disappointing if you’re an inventor but disconcerting if you’re a writer. I’m not going to provide you with an essay on plagiarism but I will say that I take comfort in the axiom that there’s no such thing as an original idea. It is the employment of that idea that matters and what will be analyzed if you ever are slapped with a lawsuit.

But is it possible for two people to come up with the exact same idea and treat this idea in a very similar manner without either of them being aware of it? We have heard of thoughts being transferred through telepathy, prayers and spells but what about thoughts in the form of ideas? Off course I’m not saying that Lewis sent me this idea from beyond the grave (because as honoured as I would feel, it would seem impudent of him to have chosen me as his recipient), but can concrete ideas travel through the collective human conscience and attach itself to more than one living being, without this attachment being influenced by a prior incident or factor? If so then I find this quite scary.
Before you consider me a drama queen, I have entertained some rational explanations for my poor Crossroad Inn. I might have read something that was influenced by the Monk and somehow the idea came full circle. The truth is I forgot how I came up with the idea for the story in the first place so the reason might actually be more mundane than metaphysical. Still, it doesn’t take away the surreal-like feeling of this situation.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever written a story, novel, song or poem and then read something much later on that bore a resemblance so uncanny to your work, it defied natural coincidence?

And just for you, I’ve pasted an extract from The Crossroad Inn for you to read, and no, it was not inspired by Matthew Lewis’ The Monk! 😉
Click on the My Stories page above.

A character by any other name….

The naming of your characters is an inevitable part of the writing process. But does it bear the same amount of significance as say, naming your child or pet?

For many, choosing names can be quite a fun project. In the beginning it was one of my favourite writing-related tasks. I even had a separate notebook for just people and place names. As a writer of short-stories however I find myself using this book less and less and my concern for the ‘right’ name dwindling. You would think that the opposite would apply. Writing so many different stories would require more names and a book to keep track of them all would be useful. Clearly this is not the case with me now.

It’s not that I don’t care what I call my characters. In fact I think the right type of name can sometimes add depth to a character. But because of the need to generate more (and different) ideas for each story, I now seem to spend less time and energy looking for names than I use to (sometimes I even leave a blank space where a character’s name should appear if I can’t think of what to call them immediately). If I get an idea or am on a roll, I really don’t want to lose my mojo by stopping to deliberate about names.

So what’s in a name? Would a rose by any other still smell as sweet? Will the name you choose impact on the way readers will perceive that character? Or is a name just that, a name?

Personally I do think a name can influence a reader’s perception. It does not fail to do so in real life.
Picture yourself at a party. You get introduced to a guy named Adolf. What is your immediate reaction/feeling?
I think even the most open-minded of us would experience that split second of negativity towards the dude in question. Although knowing me, my initial reaction would be to laugh in poor Adolf’s face with tactless and shameful impersonations of the Führer (don’t give me that look, you would probably be thinking it too!).

Taken from cardboiled.com

Thinking about the name game in my writing, I realized that I don’t actually have a particular method I use. Before I use to make use of baby-name books and websites, jotting down my favourites in my notebook, but nowadays, due to the time and energy factors mentioned above, I just take a few minutes to think about the character (read: daydream!) and then contemplate what sort of name this person looks like. E.g. he looks like a Tristan or she looks like an Amy. I know this sounds vague but I can’t describe my method any better (sorry! LOL).

When it comes to ethnical names I tend to fall into the trap of choosing a name whose meaning describes the character’s main attributes, sincerely hoping that nobody knowledgeable in that particular language would notice.
For example, I set one of my stories on an imaginary island of the East coast of Africa in the 16th century. It would only make sense that the characters should all have Swahili/Arabic names. Because I’m not familiar with the Swahili language, I had tons of fun researching names of Swahili origin. It was all new to me; I never came across any of these names before so I spent a considerable time searching. The villages on the Island are all governed by a Chief, whom I named ‘Akida’, which means leader (go figure!) and the village whore I christened ‘Bahati,’ which means beautiful (I couldn’t find a name that means ‘she who enjoys illicit, amorous relations with men’!).

Do you think this is a bit contrived?

What is your method for choosing names? And how much time do you spend researching them? And more importantly, if you’re a short story writer, do you find that the task of choosing names becomes more and more tedious over time? Or am I just being lazy?