Life is Learning

I finally mustered up the courage to send my manuscript off to someone for an editorial pass. A momentous step indeed. Not so much because I feel this is a step towards success as a writer, but because it’s a step towards me taking my work seriously and accepting that I need help in order to get better and better and continually more betterer at writing.

As you can see, I openly admit that I have a lot to learn. I realise this will be a long haul.

As much as I would like to be an instant success and receive great acclaim for my writing, I know this is not likely to be the case. I wish I had some magical powers, some mystical bardic charm that enchanted anyone who read my words, enticing them to throw money and accolades my way. But I have been down this road of creative discovery before and I know better.

I remember when I first started playing guitar, I wanted to be good right away. I wanted to be able to express all the musical ideas that were in my head and it was frustrating to have to wait till I was any good to do so. The poetry and the melody  was trapped within me and I had no musical skill or language with which to express it. The thought that it would take me years to be any good at guitar was so daunting at the age of 18. I was in such a hurry to express myself and achieve greatness. Of course, time flew…as it does…and playing guitar comes relatively easily to me now. Though, strangely enough, I do not seek greatness as much as I seek fulfillment and satisfaction. I know that ultimately, there are more important things than living up to expectations of others or following markets and trends. Being comfortable to express myself is my main priority, even if that means not producing something that is seen as marketable.

Right now, I’m experiencing this same beginning phase with my writing and while I think it’s important for me to constantly strive to be better, I can’t get lost in worrying about what other people will think of my work.

Ever since I was a child I have loved writing and though I have always kept it up, only recently have I started to take it seriously as a skill to be trained. My wordsmithing muscles are just like my guitar fingers and they need constant exercise. And just like learning an instrument, I need to be more comfortable with the language of storytelling. I need to learn from others about the rules of the craft, just like when learning music, you have to know how the rules work before you can bend them.

There is no better way to do that than to get someone else to help you. A teacher, a mentor, a friend, someone outside yourself who can form an opinion about your art. It’s time for me to take on another step of learning by opening up myself to constructive criticism.

It is also important to realise that we are never too old to learn and never too old to receive advice. When I used to teach guitar, I often would take on mature age students and I was surprised at how many of them felt embarrassed about picking up the guitar in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or whatever! They all had a touch of shame when they first sat down and admitted that they were probably too old and should have had lessons years ago. The only shame they should feel is for thinking that their age should determine the goals they set for their life.

There is nothing, I repeat….nothing, better in life than finding a way to express yourself, be it through art, through music, through writing, through exploring, through conversation, through your day job even. Communication is the essence of human experience and it is never too late to pick up a new tool, take a few lessons or ask for help or advice when discovering a new way to create the art of your life.

How many of us out there have ever put off doing something we dream of for ages, only to find out that when we finally make that leap, it wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be? What dreams do you have that you prefer to keep as abstract goals rather than tackle the challenge of actively seeking to realise them?

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Moving Forward

So, I have decided that upon finishing my latest edit of my book, that it’s really time to get myself out of this eddy that I seem to be stuck churning around in and get the project moving forward. While I want the book to be the best it can be, I also want to move on, to start something new, or at least start on book two in the series. I know I can still keep editing away and refining my book while starting on a new one, but I feel now is the time to get some fresh eyes onto my work.

I have been working with a critique group for a year now and it has been an unbelievably rewarding experience. I’ve learned so much from those 3 individuals and I’m truly thankful for them including me in their group.  I can’t recommend writing groups enough to other authors out there, especially if you think that it is too daunting, the thought of showing your work to others. After all, why else do we write if not to let others read it. I was thinking today about how slow this process of refining the work is. I love belting out the first draft, but then everything slows down, substantially, unless you’re a pro who has already refined your process. But for a first time writer, just the sheer amount of time spent waiting for friends to read it, waiting for editors or agents to get back to you, waiting for your online presence to build – it’s staggering. The months fly by and nothing happens and it can be agony.

Then there is all the research you have to do to get your brain up to date with current markets, publishing houses, agencies and on-line book making services. Researching Amazon, kindle, and their various competitors…trying to weigh up between looking for an agent or approaching smaller publishing houses or going indie – it can be exhausting. Trying to develop your personal brand and working out how to make this convoluted and continually evolving industry work for you is something we all must endure. Its all about ensuring that every decision you make is aimed at get your book out there in the best way to serve your individual needs.

Then there are the days you get lost on the net…wading through pages and lists of names and criteria. You may start to feel that maybe you’re not such an individual. Maybe your book is like a single cell in a greater organism and when you step back from yourself you can’t see how your work fits in anymore. You feel like you are being absorbed into a circuit of promotion and marketing hype that just goes round and round like a mad carnival ride and the only way to get out, is to give up.

But you have to keep on believing right? Because the only thing that really matters is that you do the best job that you can and that you are happy and proud of the product you produce.

If you go to an art gallery, you can drift by a hundred paintings in an hour and absorb a fraction of the effort, labour, passion, pain, love, hatred and intention of all the artists that that poured themselves into their work. But a book, is a much more intense commitment. You are asking someone to read every word, to get hooked on every line and to stay with you until the end. When I buy a book, I like to flick to a random page and read a paragraph to get a sense of the authors intention. Can they maintain that enduring enthusiasm so that every paragraph, every line is strong and worthwhile and something that a reader can believe in. Forging that kind of relationship with a reader is a hard ongoing battle. You can’t predict who will love it and who will hate it till you put it out there.

So now it is my turn to be brave and start really thinking about who I can get to look at this work I have crafted. It’s time to find out what more needs to be done in order to get it out there. My book yearns to hunt for ravenous sets of eyes.

The Sound of Storytelling

One of the great things about working on sound for films is the experience I get in learning how to shape and craft a story by examining how film-makers do it. The editorial process for films is similar to editing a novel, in many ways. The first cut we sound editors receive from the picture department, is almost always too long and in need of a major tidy up. Trimming shots and scenes the way we do in writing to cut out unnecessary detail or to speed up the pacing is a big part of the process. Sometimes it is the reverse also true, and a key scene slowly becomes longer as shots are extended to give more time to let poignant moments linger on the screen. Sometimes, the director even has to go back and shoot more footage adding more detail in the cut to explain things that are confusing or just didn’t work the way they had first imagined they would.

This is true of the novel editing process, sometimes you have to cut huge chunks of writing out in order to keep the story centered on the protagonist and their goals. Sometimes, you need to add more detail to flesh out an idea that needs more development in order to sell a critical theme or concept.

The main difference between film editing and novel editing, (other than the fact that they are completely different mediums), is in my mind, is the fact that from the very beginning, it is a process that involves the thoughts and creative input of not just one person, but many. Dozens or even hundreds of people, depending on how big the project is, put their creative energy into creating a film. Those people might only each have a very small part to play, but they contribute to the overall shape and tone of the film and constantly influence/ inspire or affect the decisions that the director makes as the project evolves.

Working in sound, you really notice this, since sound is the last step in the film creation chain. We get to see the picture edit change over and over and over again, refining the story day by day. With each new version, we alter and enhance our sounds that accompany the pictures in a process that can last weeks or even months. Sometimes you have to work very fast to get all the sound blocked out for temp screenings while other times you might be working on one scene that only lasts a few minutes for weeks on end.

Although the film started in it’s original form as a script written by a single person or handful of people, once it leaves their hands and enters the machine of the film-making world, it becomes a strange new beast. A conglomerate of creative talents. Sometimes this can be a very fruitful, smooth and rewarding process, but sometimes it can go on and on and become sterile or a confused tangle of competing ideas. At the end of the day it comes down to communication and team work.

How this relates back to my understanding of shaping a story is that this endless exposure to other peoples ideas, to the way they see things, affects how I create my sound. The visual effects (VFX) become more sophisticated and detailed, allowing me to think more about the world I’m looking at on screen. I try to make sounds that will immerse the audience in that space. I think about how the sound can affect the viewers emotions. I think about how the sound works with the music to achieve a cohesion between what is really being heard by the characters and what they are feeling. All the while, thinking about the main goal of the film which is – to tell a story.

When I’m writing by myself, I still think through the same process. I’m still thinking about the scene as though I can see it. Drawing on all the senses, to describe what pictures I see in my mind. The hardest part is getting that visceral emotion out into words in a way that is as effective as sound. So in a direct way, I’m always thinking about how the words I write, will sound.

Devices like onomatopoeia, alliteration and assonance, are all subconscious contributors to affecting how a piece of writing flows and how it draws us in. When I’m cutting sound, no matter how big or small the action on screen is, it could be a car chase or an explosion or simply opening a door, I’m always listening to the shape of the sounds and making sure that there is a flow. Every sound has a beginning a middle and and end, just like every story, every sentence every word. When you break everything down, you see that the process of a story unraveling is just like everything in life, breathing sleeping birth and death, all art is a reflection of this process of beginning middle and end. A three act play.

Sound is perhaps the most powerful and primal of our senses. It develops in the womb and is one of our earliest methods through which we can communicate and interact with out world. As a species, sound played an important role in our evolution, helping us to become better survivors in a world full of dangers. Our language sets us apart from other animals. It is through language and written word that we have learned to share our experience and our consciousness with each other.

It was the sound and the shape of words and the emotions that they can evoke that I think first drew me to the act of storytelling. I’m fascinated by the nature of how humans tell our stories and how we have done so since the beginning of human history.  A love of reading is completely connected to our childhood and our past. The stories that were shared with us from older generations, the histories of our ancestors become part of us when they are told to us. There is such an alluring mystery to the process of hearing about something that happened outside of our own experience. And by hearing an account of someone else’s story we are transported into their minds. It enchants me. I am in love with how the sound of words can evoke a world within our minds, a world that no two people can see the same.

This is what I think film is all about. People coming together, to try and take all those individual visions of a story and put them together to form a collective. A meeting point between the vision and imagination of artists working in all different fields. It is as close as technology has so far brought us to sharing a dream amongst others. That is why film is such an amazing force in the world of storytelling, because it’s not about replacing books, its about our desire to share our thoughts and dreams. Outside of people who claim they have telepathy, this is as good as it gets.

Finished Draft 5

So, draft 5 of ‘Wandering Stars‘ is complete. Well at least I have had a full pass through with the corrections I made starting back in October. Mostly this was about sharpening my point of view, keeping it more solid and consistent. I also made a few huge plot changes towards the end that came with a plethora of character modifications etc. So, basically I did a whole lot of stuff that I could have avoided if I had done more planing from the outset and less ‘winging it’.

But, that was sort of the whole point, I guess. I started this project as just something fun to do and it has become increasingly more serious and the tone of the book reflects that. At first, it was very light and silly at times, whereas now it is certainly a lot darker and more intense. Though I feel the whole piece still has a positive and uplifting vibe. I know distopia is all the rage at the moment, but by the time my book is really finished and ready to put out into the world, that fad will most likely be over anyway. The bottom line is, no matter what the industry is doing or what trends the world is going through, a good story is always worth telling and finds its way into peoples lives. Whether or not my story is what people would consider to be good or not, is beside the point…at the end of the day, my book won’t make it out into the world until I am completely happy with it.

I know that it still has a long way to go with editing. It stands at about 92000 words now and I know it is probably still 10000 words too flabby. Cutting out the last 6-8000 words was a hell of a mission and took its toll on my story arc, but now I know how much tighter it is.

There are a few more sections that are suspiciously superfluous, I know I have to go back through and floss them out.

I got a lot of tips from this guy, Larry Brooks, and his blog;

http://storyfix.com/

He talks about making sure each scene of the story is mission driven. Trying to make certain that every scene has a goal and drives the story forward, as well as revealing character development. It’s hard to be so ruthless when some of the really fun stuff that you love about your story, suddenly is revealed to be arbitrary, but it definitely makes a difference in the long run to shave it all off. Like a big messy beard that would look much nicer as a little goatee.

Brooks says that if you can’t sum up your story in 9 sentences, each one dealing with one of the major plot points then your structure needs revision.

Hunger Games (9) – The Entire Story in Nine Sentences

When I tried to do this with my book, I came to a grim realisation that my story is suffering from overflow…I needed at least 2 sentences at times to explain what happens and at the end, I kind of had two climax points.

Hmm…well this is what I will be looking at in draft 6. (I call it draft 6, but really it is all one long never ending draft that makes me feel at times that I will never be happy with it.)

My goal is to get it down to 85000 words, and be able to sum it up in 9 sentences with a nice solid plot summary. Then, maybe we will be ready to move forward.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get on with writing the short stories to build the back world and think about publishing them online.

OK, enough for today…I’m going to go eat more Easter eggs. Happy good Friday to all!