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Working On My Novel With My Editor, by Sam Hawksmoor

I’m very lucky that my editor is Beverley Birch, who is also a writer of some reputation. She brings with her a wide knowledge of what works and what doesn’t and she knows her readers well.

I pitched The Repossession orally at the Winchester Writers Conference. Beverley showed interest and then I wrote it.  Sounds easy.  The key was delivering exactly what I said I would, and on time.

Beverley read the first draft and came back with comments.  These weren’t drastic but they were clever and pitched to keep me keen and also willing to make the subtle changes she wanted.  More emphasis in one place, less physicality (remember that libraries won’t buy it if there’s sex).  It was so hard to tone down the touchy feely parts and perhaps half the reason they get sick all the time is so they don’t even think of having sex.  I liked her gentle touch.  Her approach was never ‘cut this or cut that, or else’.  It was like a gentle push against the tiller to make me go in the right direction.  Everyone said she’d get rid of Moucher the dog or eliminate the pig, but she didn’t. She understood exactly why they were there and how it softened the harshness of the tale.  I had tiny notes on language (swearing) and, yes, every teen you know swears like a trooper, but we can’t do that – those librarians again.  But to be honest, you can write an exciting book without having much swearing in it.  I thought she’d cut the exposition, when I have Marshall explain exactly what he was working on in the lab and how he lost his leg.  But she liked the fact that there is some science in there, and she knew that there would be some readers who like to follow the logic and understand the details of what is going on.  She could see and feel the location (British Columbia), although not familiar with it. She could tell that my affection for Canada was genuine.

One clever thing was to change where the story starts.  Particularly in book two, switching the order of the first two chapters.  How you set off as a reader and how you are drawn in is important.

For Beverley, rhythm and keeping momentum going are important.  Pages would be trimmed of unnecessary adverbs or adjectives.  Go straight in, don’t waste time.  Kids have no patience and easily put a book down. So the lesson was trim the fat to make sure it remains compelling.  As a writer I trained on radio drama - commercial radio drama at that –  learning to keep the drama rising and falling so people wouldn’t switch away during the ads.  I learned so much about dialogue and how to say more with little, and hopefully this translates well to teen fiction. I snatch just moments of intimacy before the next problem, as in this extract from The Hunting:

He pulled her towards him and they kissed.  Genie pulled away.  “Uh-uh, I don’t think my breath is so good.”

“Genie,” Rian complained.  “We’re on the run.  None of us are minty fresh.  Eat more berries.”

Genie allowed him to hold her tight and they just gently rocked together, kneeling by the water.  Moucher tried to snap a fish as another went by.

“Genie?  Ri?”  Renée called out, breaking the spell, fear in her voice. 

They looked at the raft.  She’d slept in there with an old mosquito net she’d found spread over her.

“My legs.  They’re gone,” she whispered in horror.  “I can’t see or feel my legs.”

I’ve recently been working on a virus thriller. The notes on this were less to do with what I had written but what I hadn’t. The story swapped between two girls who went in opposite direction to flee the oncoming sickness.  Beverley and my agent, Ben Illis, felt that I hadn’t given enough attention to story B and wanted it to be more equally balanced.  The snag was that it increased the word count, as I was effectively writing two novels within one.  As each character had pretty harrowing experiences I didn’t want them both to be experiencing the exact same problems, even though technically they would.  I decided to look again at the arc for story B and see if I could just increase the number of scenes on her progression or lack thereof towards her goal – so in a few short pages at each visit we can catch up and not feel cheated – then towards the latter part of the novel insert a particularly frightening moment that shakes her up. With luck I have hit the mark.  I didn’t want to take scenes away from the other girl, yet there is now much more balance.  Beverley was right again. Sometimes it’s hard as a writer to see where to improve your own work – you need a professional opinion.

In this kind of survival story there are long moments were little happens except hoping there might be a next meal.  Like Tom Hanks in Castaway, the characters make the best of the situation.  No one is coming for them.  Sometimes I think the worst thing you could do in real life is survive Armageddon.  Here’s a sample from Endtime:

Kira frowned.  The supermarket was out of stuff already?  Impossible.  She’d got there super early.  It never ran out of stuff before noon.

‘I’ve got a ticket,’ someone else was shouting.  ‘You have to let us in.’

‘We’re closing.  Staff shortages.  Come back tomorrow.’

‘We got tickets,’ more people shouted. A rising sense of panic grew around Kira and she felt scared now.  People were really angry around her and some had clearly been standing for hours already.  The pushing and shoving was getting ugly.

‘WE GOT TICKETS,’ a man shouted, prodding a security guard, who didn’t like that one bit and drew a taser.  He looked like he’d use it too.

Kira stepped out of line, letting her ticket flutter to the floor.  Two people further back made a dive for it.  Kira was moving backwards rapidly now; it was going to get nasty.  She could feel the tension growing.

Someone nearby screamed ‘gun’ and people began to scatter every which way.

Security guys with tasers appeared from nowhere and fired at the guy with the gun.  Must have had ten shots fired at him.  He most likely fried to death before he hit the ground.

Working with a generous editor is a pleasure.  You know they already like the book, so you are working together to make it better.  The real battle is the marketing department… and that’s a different story.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The RepossessionThe Hunting     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerAugustI Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeAuslanderDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

On The Process Of Plotting And Writing A Novel, by Sam Hawksmoor

Patrick Ness told me that he always begins by writing the last line first.  I could never do that.  I like the voyage of discovery in the writing process too much to prescribe an ending.  I like an element of surprise.  After all, I am putting my characters through the mill and during this they will develop and change and sometimes surprise you with their reactions to events.

Nevertheless if you want to interest an editor or agent you need a plot.  I have recently submitted a detailed six-page plot outline to my publisher for a sequel. However, it’s a plot outline with no flesh on the bones: a character may do something horrid to someone and they will react but, until I write it, I don’t necessarily know quite how the character will react.  An editor doesn’t need to know that. They need to know if it will be exciting and different (but not too different). They will want to know where there will be action or emotion and how the story will be resolved.  You will have to work al that out before you pitch, even if you start your pitch with a simple  ‘Boy meets girl, girl prefers another boy… who claims to be a alien.’ (No, I’m not actually writing this.)

The idea is that you are dealing with consequences.  The boy will seek to disprove the other boy is an alien and the more he does that the more the girl will like the alien…

A good editor will be one step ahead of you and ask detailed questions: Where is the alien from?  What are his characteristics?  What makes him so special?  Why does the girl prefer him? Don’t pitch until you are ready with the answers.  The last thing you need is to have the editor interested at the beginning and then feel deflated because you don’t know how it all will turn out.

I love character interplay and the mechanics of a relationship.  It’s also imperative to let characters fail. Take risks. A reader might be disappointed but then will be rewarded when your character picks themselves up and tries again.

Plots are pathways to a resolution but the strength of a good plot comes from the characters: readers like the characters so much they want them to succeed, and care less about where the characters are going than being able to go with them.

Sometimes when writing you can trap yourself in a corner.  Do you go back and rewrite or do you write on?  Raymond Chandler always knew what to do: have someone kick down the door with a gun in their hand.  Don’t worry if things get difficult.  Rescue is at hand, even if it’s a ‘Sorry, wrong door.’  I think creating difficulties for yourself is good for the writing. The reader is doubly rewarded when you finally figure it out.

What point in your story should you begin your novel?

The most obvious answer is ‘the beginning’ but sometimes it’s good to start half way in:
Your character is trapped in a cave, fire is blocking the entrance and something is approaching that means to kill him.  He wishes he hadn’t left home at all because any moment now he is going to have to fight to the death, and death is the easy way out.  Now you can go back to the beginning.  Last Tuesday.  It’s raining and your character gets a text that simply says, ‘Help me. If you love me at all, you will come’.

Readers will have the patience to go along until your character is standing in that burning cave facing the prospect of death.  Let’s hope your character knows how to survive.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The RepossessionThe Hunting     The Door of No ReturnCode Name VerityWinter TownNo AlarmsGirl, Stolen

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Crafting Your Novel’s Plot And Characters To Sustain Story Momentum Throughout The Middle, by Sam Hawksmoor

I have no fear of the middle of the novel. I’m scared to death of the beginning and the end but the middle is a ledge I can regroup on, to take stock and re-energise.

Writing as someone who has taught screenwriting for twenty years, the mantra is always beginning, middle and end, with each part having its own beginning, middle and end… That all said, knowing where the mid-point is, in terms of plot development, can be problematic.  In a two-parter the midpoint is the end of part one, but to be honest I am not sure that I know where the mid-point of The Repossession is - perhaps about 60% in.  At the point where Genie is done for and Rian knows he’s lost her.  That feels right. It’s an emotional moment where the gravity shifts and the story takes a new direction.  In The Hunting I know exactly where the middle is - a point where the characters know they can’t just keep on running. They have to turn around and face the enemy.  They have no idea how they will do that - but again it’s the emotional shift that takes place.

Sometimes you have to cut scenes that you like because, in the editing process, you can see that they detract from the main story.  You can’t see this when you are writing it, and it might well be a good developmental scene, but if it doesn’t move the narrative forward you don’t want to risk a reader putting it down. Backstory information is quite often material that eventually goes.  (You can always put it on the website).  Your main protagonist’s story is where the attention must be.  I had a nice developmental scene in book; one with Genie remembering her Grandma (whose death has caused her to be locked up in her room in the first place). Nevertheless, it comes too early. Readers want to get on with the story immediately and you can’t take the risk with something cute but unnecessary.

YA fiction is filled with characters all fighting for the limelight.  When teaching, I’d tell my students to make a list for each main character: how they live, what they eat what they read or listen to, and what they like or dislike, but I’m afraid it’s a case of do as I say not as I do, as I tend to keep all that in my head.  I do however form a deep mental image of my characters (especially when they are based upon someone I know) and try my best to differentiate between each person, adding quirks and tics to find their particular voice.  *Incidentally, I dislike the creative writing class thing about finding your voice.  It’s a novel filled with people - you have to find twenty voices and you’d better be all of them and stay in character for each of them.

If I ever doubt I’m getting it right, I take a character out of their comfort zone. A small device will do. I might have the prettiest girl in the book trapped in a loo - a horrid messy stinky loo – and unable to get out. No one can hear her cries for help. The window is too small to climb out of and she is going to have to crawl out under the partition through all the waste to get out.  Just as she finally emerges covered in wee and toilet paper, she runs into the guy she has been trying to impress.  How she reacts and how he reacts will define them. The tension and desperation of the moment will cement a relationship between your reader and the character for the rest of the book.  (It worked well enough in Bridget Jones’s Diary).

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The RepossessionThe Hunting     Across the UniverseAugustA World AwayBoys without NamesThe Dog in the Wood

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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