Friday, 13 January 2017

Character Studies - John Watson and the Destruction of A Secondary Character

Please don't sacrifice good characterisation of your secondary characters for the sole purpose of making your main character appear EVEN MORE AWESOME. It's incredibly frustrating. And it only serves to make your main character less interesting.

I've been struggling with Sherlock for a while for many reasons. Its treatment of women, its lack of compelling mysteries, its insistence on ramming its head straight up its own arse. But I think it all comes down to what the writers have done to John. Poor, poor John Watson. As enjoyable as it was to watch Sherlock solve crimes in series one and even series two, John was always the more engaging character for me because he was so much more realistic. His complexities, and a degree of his own intelligence, seem to have disappeared in favour of making Sherlock more spectacular. The more convoluted an episode is, the less John has to do or say that doesn't serve to reinforce Sherlock's talents.

And never has this been clearer than it was in The Lying Detective.

The rest of this post contains SPOILERS! Consider yourselves warned.

Here’s my problem: John is constantly manipulated by both Sherlock and Mary. The central plot revolved around Mary telling Sherlock he had to “save John Watson”. From who, you ask? Himself. Mary couldn't trust John to grieve in his own way, in his own time. Sherlock, she says, must put himself through hell for the sole purpose of ‘saving’ John. How noble, you might cry.

No. No, no and no again. This is ridiculously over the top writing, where a smaller, more character-focused plot would’ve been so much more emotionally satisfying. Ignoring the whole 'fridged woman' or 'disposable woman' aspects of Mary's death (must. resist. urge. to. scream), think how much more powerful The Lying Detective would’ve been as a tale of John and Sherlock coming to terms with grief in their own ways without the heavy hand of Mary the puppet master. Well, Mary and Sherlock are the puppet masters, because Sherlock colludes with her. Allow me to create a rough synopsis of an alternate take on The Lying Detective (which would need a different title, but go with me here):

Sherlock, swamped with guilt after Mary dies to save him, slips back into his self-destructive drug habit. He throws himself at any case that comes his way, with little regard for his own safety. John, consumed by grief, guilt and anger, cuts himself off from Sherlock, knowing he has to focus on raising his daughter. Weeks pass without the two seeing each other. Mrs Hudson, who is at her wits end with the drug taking going on in her home, begs John for help. John, despite his heartbreak, knows he can't abandon Sherlock. He seizes the opportunity to lose himself in a case and temporarily forget his loss. Supervising and supporting Sherlock through withdrawal, John works with him to prove that Culverton Smith is the serial killer Sherlock insists he is. In doing so, Sherlock and John are forced to confront the event that so nearly destroyed their friendship. Both men support the other through their grief and guilt, and their friendship is even stronger for it. 

Unfortunately, we were given a story where Mary plots how her husband will grieve for her. It didn't come off as kind and thoughtful, but monstrous and callous. Grief, and responses to it, are an intensely personal thing. You can't plot to jolt someone out of it. Except, in the Sherlock universe, you totally can! Because John, being less of a character and more of a narrative device, can't work through his emotions in his own way. Instead, Mary and Sherlock force him to respond to Sherlock's self-destruction which, rather than being a legitimate reaction to Mary's death, is a fabrication. You could argue that Sherlock willingly harmed himself after how awful he felt about Mary taking a bullet for him, but it doesn’t ring true because he still gets everything right despite being off his face on heroin. Even the drug use is played for laughs - Sherlock's been "off his tits" for weeks and John should've noticed. Sherlock has an answer for every argument John makes. John thinks he's being tricked (which he is), but Sherlock says it's not a trick, it's a plan, like that somehow makes this all okay. The story, regardless of how clever it might be on a very shallow level, falls flat emotionally because John doesn't make his own decisions. He can't. The writers don't allow him to. It's Mary and Sherlock's way, or no way at all. There's no room for John to say "I have a child. I have other priorities after the loss of my wife. If I explain this to Sherlock, he'll understand. He is a good man at heart."

And here's my other major problem with this episode. John has a baby daughter, but the writers obviously have no idea what to do with her, so she's written out. The audience is clearly supposed to accept John's total disregard for the child because of his grief. It makes no sense given John's previous characterisation! He is shown to be loyal to a fault. Even Moriarty commented on it!

John always stands by Sherlock. He didn't tell Mary to get lost after it's revealed she's been keeping huge secrets from him. But this loyalty doesn't extend to his daughter. Even the hallucinations of his dead wife are telling him to stay with Sherlock rather than be with his child. What? No, really, WHAT?!

The baby should radically change John's priorities, but the writers can't have that because John's world revolves around Sherlock, and they still want to have a show, sooooo...

John has been stripped of so much characterisation at this point, he no longer resembles the character the audience originally met. He hasn't grown, he's shrunk. John merely accepts Mary’s master plan and Sherlock's implementation of it. Even when he attacks Sherlock in the hospital morgue, it's not because he's snapping from realising he's being kept in the dark about everything, he's doing it out of anger at Sherlock who's too wrapped up in his 'game' of crime fighting. At times, John is shown to be self-aware enough to know that Sherlock hides things from him (like him questioning if he's being tricked into helping Sherlock), and yet he completely accepts the lack of control he has over his own life. It makes no sense to me because how can John both be totally self-aware about how Sherlock treats him and utterly oblivious at the same time?

Remember John in A Study in Pink? The man who overcame the trauma of war to make an expert shot to save Sherlock’s life? A shot absolutely no one else could’ve made? Who proved that he was Sherlock’s equal, even though he marvelled at the man's abilities? Who offered insights? Who used his medical training to support Sherlock? I guess that characterisation didn’t serve the writers’ 'isn't Sherlock amazing' plots, so they methodically, if carefully, undid John's strengths by making sure he still rolls his eyes at Sherlock's antics, or delivers punchy one liners that remind the audience he's a badass, without him actually doing much to back that up. Because no compelling character, and certainly not a character established with the intelligence of series one John, would allow himself to be controlled without realising it was happening, turning around and shouting No! NO THIS IS NOT OKAY!

I miss the show this used to be. I wish the writers did more with John rather than cliched one-liners that tell us he's a dangerous man to anger. I wish they'd let him be himself, rather than merely an object orbiting the all powerful Sherlock Holmes.

Stories are compelling when the characters are well-rounded and fleshed out with strengths and weaknesses, especially if those characters are going to be with us across a number of stories. When all of the secondary characters are demoted to plot tools there to serve the needs of the lead character's godlike gifts, they cease to read (or watch, in this case) like characters at all. Sherlock himself is no longer very interesting. He's too perfect. His drug taking and poor socialisation are not interesting flaws, because they're always framed as a kind of strength for him. And there's no sense he'll ever fail. It's boring.

*sigh* At least I'll always have the first series.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Index Cards And Novel Editing - Rewrite Chronicles II

I actually managed to get a first (extremely rough) draft of the rewritten Ghost!Story done on New Year's Eve. I then went and spent the rest of the evening and the first day of 2017 in the company of dear friends, before throwing myself into FULL INDEX CARD EDITING MODE on January 2nd.

By January 3rd, I had reread the book. I summarised each chapter, and made notes on what needed tweaking. I also used white index cards to show where I needed to add in extra chapters.

Once I'd summarised every chapter and noted down what needed adding or changing, I added tabs to the chapters so I could get a view of the story's overall structure.

This gives me an overview of the story's flow. It's all big picture stuff - I can see what happens when, where the major developments happen (I've referred to them as 'acts' in my notebook), the key moments in various chapters, and how the subplots carry through. I've also marked chapters with things that need switching around, and tracked what happens on what day so I have a rough timeline.

Unfortunately, I don't really have anywhere I can leave the cards splayed out at all times. I specifically wanted to do a card per chapter so I could get a good idea of the entire book. Based on the research I did on using index cards to check a novel's structure, other writers seem to use a lot less... Ah well, this is my way, and so far, it's proven very useful. I have a much better grip on my plot, its highs and lows, where the subplots come in, what needs development and where backstory needs to be moved to.

Why did I choose to go for index cards this time? Because I've never carried out a massive structural and plot rewrite before. I've removed several chapters, separated chapters into shorter ones, and found a few places where chapters need to be added. I wouldn't have been able to see this so clearly if I hadn't used these index cards. Having the story splayed out this way gave me the aerial view of the plot I so desperately needed.

Now, this is a method of using index cards specifically for editing. It probably could work for plotting a novel from the outset, but this is geared more towards editing. Especially those of us who've:

1) pantsed a first draft and you need to clear up your structure.
2) rewritten an existing novel and need to get a clear overview to see what changes you've made and where further changes are required.

I still have a lot of work to do on this book. I just wanted to get a rough draft to see if the change to the plot would work. The good thing is it definitely does. I'm going to have a much stronger book for it. All I have to do now is write all of the new material and dive into the line edits...

Buuuuuuuut maybe after a bit more Rise of the Tomb Raider...

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Farewell, 2016!

2016. You were all over the place. On a global political and human suffering level, you were horrific. On a personal level, it was a bumpy ride with some really fantastic highs. Got to travel around Europe with beloved friends, and took some essential steps towards a new career.

Best Book 

Going with something a little different this year...

This book needs to be required reading for every single person who uses social media. Of all the books I've read this year, fiction and non-fiction, YA and adult, this is the book that has really stuck with me.

Best Videogame

Yup, totally cheating here. So, first up, best videogame of 2016, from 2016!

Uncharted 4 was everything I wanted it to be and more. No, I don't like it more than the third game, but I still love it. Naughty Dog finally took the time to slow the action down enough to give us a really emotionally engaging story. It was well worth buying a PS4 for, and my goodness have I had way too much fun tweeting screenshots from this and other games in 2016 :P

And secondly, best older game I played in 2016:

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is one of those games with a story that captured me and continues to haunt me. It's so beautiful, and the music is just stunning. I write with it all the time, and listen to it when insomnia strikes. 

And an honorary mention to my beloved Lara, because I'm sure if I'd played this game to completion, it would've beaten Uncharted... but I'm only about 25% of the way through so...

Best Film


You know, I actually did a great job on this year's goals. Nope, still don't have an agent, but I'm trying something new for 2017.

This year I wanted to:
  • Qualify as a NVQ assessor  - done! And I am now working as an assessor for a local further education college :D
  • Write a new book - done! I wrote a fifth Ghost!Story back in the spring.
  • Join an amateur orchestra - done! ^_^ I've even performed in my very first concert, and I wasn't terrible!
  • Keep on blogging! - I admit it's been a lot quieter around here this year, but I'm still blogging.
  • Go to at least two videogame music concerts - done! I went to the US to see Symphony of the Goddesses, and I went to London to hear Symphonic Fantasies and the Tomb Raider concert. All were fantastic.
  • Sign with an agent - Nope! And despite what I said about not taking it off my list until I did, I kinda am taking it off the list for next year for reasons that will soon become clear...
Goals for 2017

  • Put my all into my Golden Egg Foundation Year course! I still can't believe I was offered a place on this. Being told your writing has potential is pretty thrilling. This is the best chance I have to turn Conspiracy of Echoes into a publishable book, and I am going to seize every opportunity I get to make it something really special.
  • Continue sticker charting. It's my version of a bullet journal, and I love it. It's super motivating, and it's fun to look back on ^_^ I am a to do list kinda gal, but my non-working life lists tend to be monthly rather than daily or weekly. I'm not interested in planning my life down to the tiniest detail, but noting my achievements looks pretty when I use so many fantastic stickers ;)
  • Become a better violinist. I know what I need to work on, so here's to inching towards fluency in music in 2017.
2017 is going to be a lot of things. It's up to us to endure, survive, and make it that little bit brighter in any way we can.

See you soon!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Concert Review - The Tomb Raider Suite

On Sunday, I battled train cancellations and sinusitis to hear the Tomb Raider Suite's World Premiere in London. I am so glad I made it. It was so, so, so nostalgic. 

I can't believe it's been twenty years since my eldest brother brought the original game home. I remember being fascinated the moment that original cutscene started. Lara was so cool! She was smart and confident, and she took down anyone who stood in her way. I was obsessed with her instantly. I wanted to be her. I still want to be her! After all, I did dedicate an entire character study to her in February. Anyway, I didn't know at first that the soundtrack was on the disc, so I used to replay chunks of the game just to hear the music again. Also, I was ten in 1996 and I suuuucked, so I had to replay plenty anyway :P Poor Lara had to stand around a lot just so I could revel in the music.

When I heard this concert was taking place, I knew I had to be there. Nathan McCree's music was the first videogame music I was able to listen to outside the context of the game, so it was really special to finally hear it live. I've listened to it for years, and been inspired by its grandeur and sense of adventure in my writing. You could hear how the music evolved as we moved through each game, but that central Tomb Raider melody linked them together. It always felt like we were hearing Lara's stories, and I loved how the notes themselves made up the Tomb Raider Suite's logo.

There was a real elegance to the performance, and I was immediately thrown back into all the adventures Lara and I had. The music from Tomb Raider II was especially meaningful for me, because it is still the best game in the franchise. No, not even the 2013 reboot tops my love Tomb Raider II. When the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra played Vertigo, I had chills that were nothing to do with the temperature I was running. The City of London choir added to the beauty of the music; it wouldn't have been the same without them. And hearing the string section perform Venice live!!! That was definitely a highlight for me.

The music from Tomb Raider III was also pretty special. Hearing this India inspired track live was an absolute treat because I hadn't been expecting it. Such fond memories.

The use of light and smoke effects during the concert added a great atmosphere to the performance. It was especially effective at the beginning when sound effects from the original game were paired with lights flashing in the darkness. It was like the sun breaking through cracks in the cave's ceiling, lending the auditorium an ominous, mysterious feel. I felt like I was Lara, exploring strange caverns and forgotten tombs.

The whole evening felt like a giant celebration of that era of Tomb Raider. Winston came onstage with his ever present tea tray. Shelley Blond, Lara's original voice actress, was the host. Nathan McCree did a pre-concert talk where he discussed how he created the music for the games and how he composed the modern arrangements for the concert. The whole event was fantastic. I do wish I could've stayed for the meet and greet afterwards, but I had to catch my train before the strike resumed at midnight and all the trains stopped running. I've been humming the music ever since Sunday, and I sincerely hope more people have the chance to attend this concert, because it was a great twentieth anniversary celebration.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Rewrite Chronicles - Entry One

I thought it might be fun if I tracked the progress of my epic rewrite of Ghost!Story. I've never done a rewrite like this, and so far, the process is proving trickier than expected. I'm learning to let go of moments and scenes I love, rather than shoehorning them into a plot that no longer requires them. It's hard, but I'm getting there.

Today, I'm going to break down the hows and whys.

Why The Rewrite?

I need to be ready for when I start my Golden Egg Foundation Course in January next year! I'm so excited!

I applied to join the Golden Egg Academy, and recently received an editorial report from them. The editor made a suggestion I couldn't ignore, even though it means completely changing a key aspect of the main character, which in turn means the whole book has to be rewritten. It was a little daunting, but the more I thought about it, the more excited I got. I also ran the advice I got past the lovely Emma Maree, because I always appreciate her input. Once I made the decision to go ahead with it, I threw myself into the biggest rewrite of my writing career.

Didja Make A Plan?

For the events of the story? Kind of. I sat down and wrote a plot log to see how I could change things. And it looked good! The plot flowed nicely, and my main character had some decent motivation - something I'm really mindful of based on the editorial report I received. But when I started the process of actually rewriting the book, that plot log stopped being relevant. I kept trying to cling onto things from the original version that simply would not work. I'm glad I wrote out that idea log though, because it enabled me to consider multiple options... Sure, most of them won't get used, but it was fun to take the time to consider all sorts of possibilities.

Once a pantser, always a pantser.

However, I haven't abandoned my logistical rewrite plan. Right now I'm writing a rough first draft. I'm hoping to get that done by the end of December. I've started a new document and I'm moving over the chapters I can keep and those I need to edit from the original version into this new draft. I'm writing new scenes separately to see if they work and then adding them to the main document. I've deleted tens of thousands of words, but they're being steadily replaced by others. Based on the synopsis I put together for my Writer's HQ course, I'm also moving chapters around to smooth the flow of the story.

Once this rough draft is complete, I'm going to stick the book on my Kindle and read over it. I'll be using reference cards for each chapter to 1) summarise the events of the chapter and 2) what needs further tweaking. I'm so excited about getting to the reference card part of this rewrite, I have them sitting on my desk in anticipation :D

(Thanks for the fantastic mug, Laura!)

From there, I'll put together another draft ready in time to take to my first workshop at the end of January.

Is It Worth It?

Yes, absolutely. Despite how daunting it is to know that 1) I have to completely rewrite a book I've queried and 2) it's highly unlikely I'll query at all in 2017, as soon as I read over the editorial report, I knew it was a change worth making. Based on what I've done so far, I'd say forty percent of the original material will remain. The rest is all going to be new. And I'm going to have the chance to work on this with professional editors. I absolutely had to do this.

When I was working on my coursework for my Writer's HQ course, I started to suspect my plot was a tad convoluted because I had to skip so much stuff in order to make my synopsis flow. But I carried on because, well, I've had a few full requests, so surely the book is as good as it can be. But when a professional editor says "you've got potential, but your main character needs to do this instead", you damn well listen. The only reluctance I felt was a "uuugh, this is gonna be so. much. work". I'm so excited to be changing Conspiracy of Echoes. I love this book, and I want it to find its way to bookshop shelves. This rewrite is my best chance.

I'll keep posting these, and I'll share what I can about the Foundation Year course in case you guys are thinking of signing up for it in the future. It's going to be a lot of hard work, but I know it's going to be worth it.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Writing Course Review - Getting Published from Writer's HQ

The lovely ladies at Writer's HQ offered me a place on their Getting Published course, and I had to say yes. Having attended a number of their writing retreats in Brighton, I knew this course would be well worth my time.

This course is well worth investing in if you're getting ready to query, but aren't quite sure how to put your package together. It's an excellent confidence booster, too. And it's great if you're like me and have been querying for a while but haven't broken through. Once you've been sending a book out for a while, it's easy to think you don't need to learn anything new about querying. It's so easy to get really complacent. Taking a course like this has definitely shaken me out of my lull. I've regained my motivation, learned a thing or two about putting together a clearer synopsis, and faced up to the fact that yes, actually, I do need to do more editing before I resume querying (SO MUCH EDITING). The course taught me patience.

The course is split over six weeks, with specific work assigned each week. You can break it down into manageable chunks. I tended to do it in the mornings before work, although sometimes it did have to wait for the weekend. The best part has to be the forums, where you can meet your fellow writers and work with them to improve your query, synopsis and opening 500 words. Writing can be such a lonely experience, so I loved having a dedicated forum to log into where I could discuss the ups and downs of submitting. Only other writers can really understand the trials and tribulations of the querying process. If you sign up for the course, you absolutely must make the most out of the forums. I think you're missing out if you don't join in the discussions and the opportunity to get feedback on your work. It can be such a scary step - posting your work on a forum for others to see, but it can be just the step you need if you're hesitant to begin querying. And the course has plenty of advice for those of you who are nervous to make that big step, and those of us who are WAY TOO IMPATIENT OMG READ MY BOOK AGENTS! REEEEEEEEEEEEEAD IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!

I found the style of the written content really refreshing. It was breezy, friendly, and made excellent use of gifs. When was the last time you got to take an online course with gifs? I've taken a lot of distance learning this year for a few new qualifications, and this course was so much livelier and easier to engage with. It felt like reading an excellent series of blog posts, complete with videos from agents and authors offering tips on the submission process, and their experiences of it. And it's not just for those of us looking at the traditional agent path to publishing. There's advice on self-publishing or finding alternate routes to publication, such as entering competitions or submitting to smaller, dedicated indie publishers.

Our tutor, Jo, was helpful and encouraging, and I never felt like I was bothering her. She offered constructive criticism and made suggestions about my query that I never ever would've considered putting in the cover letter. I think I've gotten so used to the idea that my query has to only be about the story itself, that I leave out a lot of information about the creation of the story that's really important.

The great thing about it all being online is you don't have to travel anywhere further than your own computer to do everything. Yes, Writers' HQ also runs retreats in my hometown, but I know how expensive travelling to writing retreats and events can get. And what with the trains still being on strike down here on the south coast, getting to and from London can be a nightmare. Doing it all online via a website and forums means its far more accessible. And it's not just this Getting Published course. Writers' HQ have a huge range on offer. Definitely worth checking out to see if they have something that could help your writing develop further.

This course would make a great Christmas or birthday gift for yourself or the writers in your life. You can buy gift certificates at Writers' HQ's shop. Now would be the perfect time to suggest it to all the people who don't know what to get you ;)

You can find Writers' HQ on Twitter. They're well worth following, no matter where you are in the world :D

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


This is going to be my final Previously of 2016, as I like to do a review of the year in December. It's basically a prerequisite of internet blogging - you absolutely must upload a review of the year at the end of the given year.

Previously in Writing

So. Much. Editing. So, I am happy to announce that I have been offered a place at the Golden Egg Academy's Foundation Year course. I received an editorial report from them on the opening chapters of Conspiracy of Echoes, and suffice to say the advice was solid and I must implement it between now and January of next year. I am really excited about this :D Being told your writing has potential is fantastic, and I know if I can make this plot and character change, this book could make its way to bookshop shelves :D Here's to making 2017 a year of writing self-improvement.

Previously in Reading

Ten years after I first started reading it, I finally finished the Bleach manga. Aaaaaaaand, yeah, it wasn't the best. I kinda wish the manga had ended like the anime. The final arc of the manga had so much potential but it kinda ran out of energy. Ah well, Bleach at its best was still amazing. I shall always remember it fondly.

Next Time in Goals

My goal for this month was to get into the flow with my new job, and so far so good!

Oh, and I finally completed Dark Souls. Hooray!

December is going to be very, very busy and because I'm crazy, I'm aiming to have a finished draft of my Conspiracy of Echoes rewrite done by the end of the month... Emphasis on the *draft*. I need the first 5000 words ready for the Foundation year course I'll be starting in January, but I want a good draft of the whole book to work from, too...

A Word of Advice

If lots of people are making similar suggestions regarding your novel, listen and listen well. Don't shy away from rewrites just because it'll be hard work. If you can make your book even better than before, go for it!

Add a link to your Previously in the comments below :D