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Friday, 30 September 2011

Editing tips - Just a word

There are a select number of words that just force themselves on the writer. I’ll get round to them, eventually. Just for now, though, let’s look at that particular word, ‘just’. (Word repetition intentional…!)

The word insinuates itself into paragraphs. It needs excising unless it’s really doing its job.

Take, for example, a paragraph in Lonesome Dove (again, I’ve recently read it so it’s readily available with an example; many other books, mine included, probably have similar paragraphs that still need further editing).

… For a moment his spirits rose, just from the sound of Gus’s voice. It was Call and Gus, his old companeros. It was just a matter of making them realize what an accident it had been, him riding with the Suggs. It was just that they had happened by the saloon just as he was deciding to leave. If he could just get his head clear of the whiskey he could soon explain it all.

Just too many repetitions (5), I feel. Such repetitions are referred to as word echoes – they’re hovering around in the writer’s head at the time and spill out at the slightest provocation. Self-editing should cut them down – or remove them altogether.

Anon, I'll supply a few other echo words that crop up too frequently.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Editing tips - Shifting POV

We’re all told to maintain a consistent character Point of View (POV) within a scene. There's a good reason for this and, for genre fiction, the advice makes sense. The reader is involved with a particular character in his or her head. Jumping from one character’s thoughts into another’s breaks that tenuous link and reduces the reader involvement.

When first writing a scene, it’s possible that you’re not sure whose POV to use. Once it’s down on the page, then decide – usually the person who is affected the most emotionally. If you’re sticking with a single character POV throughout the novel, then there should not be an issue – but make sure no other character’s thoughts creep in!

Here’s a brief excerpt from Broken Silence, a first novel by Danielle Ramsay.

‘In fact he needed to make a call. One he didn’t want Conrad overhearing. He walked over …’
(This paragraph in his POV goes on for nine lines, then it’s followed by a new paragraph.)

‘Conrad studied Brady’s figure from the safety of his car and wondered what was going through his head… He watched as Brady took out his mobile phone, curious about who he was calling.’

Then the narrative switches back to Brady’s POV.

This is lazy writing and editing and unnecessary. All that needed to happen was something like this: ‘Brady glanced over his shoulder. Conrad was watching him. Doubtless wondering who he was calling. He swore under his breath. None of his business!’

Moral: double-check your POV stance.

If that switch is really important – divulging another character’s secrets or inner turmoil, think about making a ‘scene break’. Or convey the other character’s thoughts in dialogue and body and facial responses. Or consider using the character’s thoughts elsewhere, when it’s that character’s longer consistent POV. Usually, though, you can delete these POV switches without much loss to the narrative – and thus maintain a consistent link with the reader.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Editing tips - Don’t tell me and then show me

The adage for a public speaker is ‘I’ll tell you what I’m going to say, then I’ll say it, and then I’ll tell you what I’ve said.’ Fine, that kind of repetition is to register the salient facts with the audience.

Some writers tend to follow this adage, and I feel they’re doing themselves a disservice. They tell us what is about to happen, then show us. In fact, any dramatic effect has been lost.

Any number of books can be used to make this point – including my own, I’m sure. Anyway, take, for example, this excerpt from Lonesome Dove. I’m only using this book as I’ve just read it, and it’s well worth reading. (I’ve removed the character name, so as not to spoil it for any subsequent reader).

'He found them an hour later, already stiff in death. He had raced as fast as he could over the rough country, not wanting to take the time to follow the river itself but too unsure of his position to go very far from it. From time to time he stopped, listening for shots, but the dark plains were quiet and peaceful, though it was on them that he had just seen the most violent and terrible things he had ever witnessed in his life…

(three paragraphs later…) He could see the three forms on the ground as if asleep…'

So there’s half a page of dramatic, suspenseful writing, but it’s wasted because we already know the outcome. There’s probably a name for this literary device that anticipates and waters down the dramatic scene. I’d much rather delete that first sentence and show the reader through the character’s eyes and emotions how he came upon the three ‘stiff in death’.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Heroes of Fukushima get Award

Those brave heroes of Fukushima who risked high radiation to battle the nuclear disaster in Japan have won Spain’s prestigious Prince of Asturias Concord prize this month.

On 11 March this year, the towering wall of water from the tsunami battered the cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, triggering reactor meltdown and leakage of radiation into the environment. Tens of thousands of people within a 20km radius were evacuated, but selfless workers endured high doses of radiation to combat the crisis.

The Prince of Asturias Award jury stated, ‘This group of people represent the highest values of the human condition by trying to prevent, through their sacrifice, a nuclear disaster… disregarding the grave consequences that this decision would have on their lives.’

As a result, many workers developed chronic pathologies such as arrhythmia and hyperventilation. The jury identified three groups of heroes of Fukushima: the 50 volunteer employees of the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company; the firefighters who worked to cool the reactors; and the Japanese armed forces who dumped water on the reactors from the air.

In conclusion, the jury said, ‘The behavior of these people has also embodied the values most deeply rooted in Japanese society, such as the sense of duty, personal and family sacrifice for the greater good and dignity in the face of adversity, humility, generosity and courage.’

The original fifty who stayed on at the plant swelled by a few hundred as time passed.

Winners of the Prince of Asturias Award are endowed with 50,000 euros, a sculpture and a diploma. The actual presentation will be made by Crown Prince Felipe, the prince of Asturias, later this year.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Lonesome Dove - a point of view

Published in 1985, Lonesome Dove has rightly gained many accolades and is a firm favorite for thousands of readers. At almost 850 pages, it’s a mammoth account of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana, affecting a cast of twenty or so characters. Its size alone deterred me from reading it until now. (I’ve read War and Peace, Gone with the Wind, and the Pillars of the Earth, among other lengthy novels, so I’m not averse to long books; it’s just that I didn’t think I’d be held by a book about a cattle drive for over 800 pages. I was wrong – mainly because of the characters.)

A quotation at the front, from TK Whipple, Study Out the Land, perhaps sums up McMurtry’s intention. “Our past still lives in us … what they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.” McMurtry seems intent on debunking the myth of the cowboy; here we find they’re ordinary, not particularly bright, with simple empty lives in a gritty unforgiving world devoid of much culture. Yet, despite this, some of his characters grow into mythic proportions. Going on, though belabored by heart-rending grief, is heroic, and that’s what many in this book do: go forward, go on.

McMurtry employs the omniscient point of view (POV), beloved of so-called literary writers. Not for them the struggle to maintain consistent POV, rather they’d opt for the rather lazy head-hopping that thrusts the reader into the minds of several characters in the same scene. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course – though modern agents and publishers tend to prefer consistent character POV.

The main drawback with the omniscient POV is that the reader doesn’t get into any particular character’s head long enough to form a bond. So when a main character dies – and McMurtry does tend to kill off people the reader’s getting to like – the effect isn’t as devastating as it might have been if the character had been more deeply lodged in the reader’s psyche. By its very nature, omniscient POV isn’t as intimate as individual POV. The author is not only playing God, he’s letting you know he is.

That apart, I enjoyed the book immensely and was moved in parts. I felt that the creation of Gus McCrae is a classic – though inevitably we learn most about him from his voice, not his intimate thoughts.

So, don’t be put off by this tome’s length. It’s well worth reading. There’s a prequel and a sequel too!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

54 nuclear reactors speckling the coast

Contamination 6 months after the double whammy that hit Japan. It won't go away.

Food contamination from the nuclear plant is a big worry, besides affecting a lot of farmers’ businesses. Yet perhaps there’s good news too. Rice harvested this year in the Fukushima Prefecture went on sale this month, with farmers reassuring customers that it’s free from contamination...

I've been in contact with Yuri, an AP journalist and she has produced a very thoughtful and interesting despatch on this subject. There's no real alternative to nuclear energy for Japan. Here's the link to Yuri’s story:

You can also gain further insight by reading Charlie Whipple's blog at

Friday, 9 September 2011

Hubris or political expediency?

The future has arrived. Threat of nuclear meltdown was all too real in the last six months...

Japan’s heavy reliance on nuclear power is now seen as a serious mistake. Naturally, it’s easy to be wise after the event. And, to be fair, the damage sustained by the Fukushima nuclear plant was not in the Chernobyl league, serious though it is. Considering the tremendous forces that the plant withstood, the engineering safeguards seem to have worked – if only just. Hubris prompted siting many nuclear power stations on the cusp of the quake-prone archipelago. Maybe financial and political expediency had something to do with it.

Near the Fukishima Daiichi plant is the ghost town of Minamisoma, which suffered the loss of several hundred residents during the disaster. Then the remaining thousands were evacuated. Their lives and livelihoods are on hold until something can be resolved. How many more lives are in stasis – perhaps due to government intransigence?

See Charlie Whipple's website for a lot of detailed background and even moving images.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Japan's tragedy six months on

September 9 is remembered for many deaths

9/11 is significant as the tenth anniversary of the mass murders of almost 3,000 people from many nations and religions perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists. This terrible loss of life was due to man’s inhumanity to man.

As there are plenty of natural disasters that cut a swathe through countless innocent lives, it seems deplorable that anyone could contemplate killing innocent people simply because of a different value system. The terrorists’ twisted logic probably argues that no westerner is innocent, since they don’t follow a certain strict code of behaviour. Wars and conflicts happen for a variety of reasons, too complex to go into here; whether a quest for power or resources, or the imposition of ideals and beliefs. But there's another conflict - against nature...

9/11 also marks the six-month point of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, a devastating double whammy from Nature against the islands of Japan that claimed over 20,000 missing or dead. In those months, like many, I’ve been moved by the resilience of the Japanese, particularly the many orphaned children, who strive against formidable odds to rebuild not only their lives but their nation.

I thought that in the lead up to this six-month marker, I’d open up some discussion on the effects and consequences of this natural catastrophe.

All author and publisher royalties go toward aid of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami survivors for these 2 e-books: WHEN THE FLOWERS ARE IN BLOOM by Nik Morton and A MATTER OF TEA and other stories by Charles T Whipple.

The Quiet Man

TJ Miles is a member of the Torrevieja Writers Circle who wields a good observational and often humorous pen is also a successful artist, holding exhibitions in many countries. TJ' favourite film is John Wayne's The Quiet Man and his homage is a series of original paintings from that film. The exhibition was at the end of August in Dublin, but you can see the artwork online here: