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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Thankyou, Elmore Leonard. I Feel A Lot Better Now - He Said, Bitterly.

May as well admit it, this sci-fi novel is damned hard work. And to think I could've earned the money by simply re-drafting the original. Wouldn't have taken me a month or two. Trouble is, I have standards; and that original manuscript, which came my way via China, author unknown, was desperately bad: a ludicrous plot creaking under a burden of huge improbabilities, wafer-thin characterisation, poorly described settings, and page after page of simply dreadful writing, with adverbs and exclamations everywhere you cared to look. This was no glib judgement: I read the thing three times. And every time that damned dog was there, gobbling up the mind-reading drug that the aliens had brought to Earth and setting off to warn the good guys about what the bad guys were up to. No. I couldn't do it. I had to tear it up and start afresh.

I am now 28,000 words in and getting to the point where I need some explosive plot devices to maintain my interest. Am I tempted by a mind-reading dog? Not yet. But each day I find myself circling the latest draft for some time before closing in to tweak it here and there, research neuroscientific advances on the Net, and sketch out various scenarios before edging forward slowly, painstakingly, still trying to get my characters in the right positions for the action to kick off. We're talking a guerrilla raid by a bunch of anarchists on a scientific establishment in southern New Mexico. But that's still a few pages off, and there was no doubt in my mind yesterday that I needed to spice things up. That's when I had the brainwave - an apt term, considering that the book is about mind-reading, thought control and the interface between brain and computer. I re-jigged a few passages and shoved one of the more dramatic ones up to the front. Aha! A hook. A Prologue even. Suddenly everything looked much fresher.

Like any writer I started today seeking distractions - not that I'll be short of them over the next few days, what with the fourth Test Match, England v Australia, starting at eleven o'clock. But it wasn't the cricket I was drawn to, rather the tributes written in the wake of Elmore Leonard's death. I was  unable to resist a peek at his Ten Rules for Writers, and was gratified to see several that I swear by: no exclamations marks; no adverbs to describe how somebody speaks; no detailed descriptions of your characters. Yes, yes, and yes. Just what I needed to boost my confidence. Me and Elmore, two minds in harmony. It was a good feeling. I was flying, ready to hit the keyboard and power through the day's thousand words. But what's this? Damn. I knew no good would come of my displacement activity.

Rule Number 2: Avoid Prologues.

Cheers, Elmore.