It was five months since she’d had her sleep removed. An unpleasant, precise process that involved gradually scraping the need away with a scalpel. And no she never needed to sleep again.
After thirty-four years of never quite having enough time, finally all her problems would be over. She would no longer need to snap at the children when they wanted her to sit with them and watch cartoons. Her husband would never need to complain that his dinner was a ready meal, she’d be able to cook him exquisite banquets. She’d have time to take that evening class to finally learn German. She’d start pottery again. She’d take up sewing the children’s Halloween costumes. She’d write a play. Her life would never be the same again.
For a few weeks she lived in bliss, floating through the harried mums to pick up her kids at the end of the school day. Making pots and plates for birthday presents. Baking brownies in the middle of the night.
But the nights got emptier as the silence started to invade her thoughts. She would try to keep busy with useful things, but hours would pass spent only on forums, trying to connect with lives that were still busy and noisy. Trying to feel smug.
She’d fill the night up with sound, the radio, the TV. Her husband would clamber out of bed with blurry eyes and follow her around pleading with her to stop. She felt so relieved of the company that she’d keep going. And she started to get stupid. She never seemed to learn the German, just repeated the same lesson over and over. She’d find herself sitting vacantly staring into space for hours on end. Even when she felt alert and ready to do things, she couldn’t think of anything she actually wanted to do. Or why. Instead she’d repeat the same dull actions over and over, doing the washing, hanging the clothes out on the washing line even though it was the middle of the night. Taking the clothes in, still soggy and pushing them unfolded into the wrong drawers. She spent one entire evening sorting socks.
“Sorting them how?” asked her husband, his exasperation evident, although she couldn’t think why he would feel that way.
“I’m putting them into alphabetical order,” she explained.
“But they’re socks! They don’t have alphabetical order!” she patted his shoulder and started to drift away.
“Pull yourself together and do something productive!” her husband shouted.
That night as she was refolding all the clothes in her son’s chest of drawers, she paused, a bright blue Spongebob t-shirt in her hands. She began to twist it, pleased that it held the contorted shape well. She placed in back in the drawer, a little of the material rising up out of the drawer. She took another t-shirt and twisted that around the first to make a snake, escaping from the drawer. She let out a small giggle, hoping that no one heard her.
By the morning all her son’s clothes were spilling out onto the floor, as if escaping. Twisted into bizarre shapes or seated figures.
So I wrote last week about editing, and how I used ProWritingAid, an essential but flawed program, to help me. I was going to write a straightforward review, but the reason it annoyed me wasn’t so much the bugginess of the programming, but the way it ‘scored’ my writing. I was offended. This was unreasonable, but I figure I can’t be the only one. So to all of you feeling picked on by editing programs, this is for you.
Stickiness and Other Issues
ProWritingAid gives percentage marks for spelling, grammar and style. My marks for style tended to come in at the 50-60% range, with the main criticism being I had too many ‘sticky sentences’.
Sticky sentences are ones with excess ‘meaningless’ words. So in my first chapter the sentence,
These routines reassured her that all was as it should be, no matter how awful that was.
is a sticky sentence and the words – these, that, all, was, as, should, be, no, how – are the sticky ones. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I do tend to use too many words, and this program helped me cut them down. On the other, while wordy sentences need to be used sparingly, they can work stylistically (see below for a perfect example.)
My book tended to be pretty good with pacing ( a useful feature that shows if there are any slow areas of your writing) but thought I had too many long sentences and tended to overuse the word ‘believe’ (although in a book about a cult, it was difficult to avoid).
So Whaddya Think of This?
Anyway, the upshot was that even when I adjusted my writing, it still had my style down as 60% or so. Which is when I thought I’d investigate how it saw the writing of others. I decided to use Catch 22 (one of my favourite books), Catcher in the Rye, my first book Riddled with Senses, Sense and Sensibility, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (another one of my favourites) and the Da Vinci Code.
(note: I would upload a chapter to the program, but not necessarily the first chapter. Of course a book varies in pace and wording from chapter to chapter, but much longer than that and the program gets confused. This is not a scientific study.)
These are the Results…
|Overall score||Grammar||Spelling||Style||No of difficult to read paragraphs||% slow pacing|
|Da Vinci Code||55||31||72||62||4 slightly 7very.||22.5|
|Catcher in the Rye||59||46||87||44||0||57.2|
|Riddled with Senses||60||53||80||56||5 slightly||9.5|
|Sense and Sensibility||65||69||93||32||3 slightly
I found these results befuddling and reassuring.
So The Da Vinci Code had the most ‘difficult to read’ paragraphs, which doesn’t fit with my view of the book at all.
Jane Austen was the fastest paced! (Although, I checked other chapters and they got a higher score). Even Riddled with Senses (which is totally not an action-packed thriller) was twice as fast as the Da Vinci Code.
Every book but Catch 22 had bad grammar, which was a relief, because I often disagreed with what the program said about commas and tenses.
Most reassuring of all, The Da Vinci Code was deemed to have a better style than Catch 22, Hitchhiker’s Guide and Sense and Sensibility. That being the case, I’d rather have bad style than good.
All had at least some long sentences (over 30 words), although Riddled was the worst for that. And every book had an excess of words like was/were or feel/felt.
Another strange statistic was that no book achieved a low enough ‘sticky’ rating (although Riddled with Senses and Da Vinci Code came close). Hitchhiker’s Guide had the worst, at 55%. This isn’t surprising since, Adams was the master at long, meandering sentences that were funnier because of the strange route they took. For example, the program picked out
This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time.
as sticky. An alternative the program accepted was
This planet had a problem: most people were often unhappy.
It’s true, this is a more straightforward sentence, but with nothing of the humour or interest of the original.
I feel less affronted now. These programs are a tool, and it’s important to use them as such; they are no substitute for human feedback or my own opinion. It’s good to think seriously about the criticisms they come up with, but I shouldn’t make changes I feel harm my writing just to keep a program happy.
So what about you? Have you tried these programs? Did you find yourself shouting at them?
Geraud knew who was to blame when he found his car on the roof of a bus stop, it was Fabio. He barely knew Fabio at the time, they were colleagues working in IT in a large anonymous firm where boredom kept the workers itchy and restless. During an evening at the local pub, Geraud had expressed his disdain about practical jokes, describing them as ‘childish, bullying tactics’. Fabio had sneered back,
“Practical jokes are like lessons in survival, they’re how you grow up. If no one ever played a practical joke on you, then you’re like an infant, stumbling around with no idea.”
“What?” Geraud said in disbelief a few times. He’d never been the victim of such a joke, so began listing his lifetime achievements, all proving, he felt, his maturity and success. Fabio had merely sat back looking bored, as if Geraud’s very desperation to disagree proved Fabio’s point.
“It is time we played a little game,” replied Fabio, gesturing meaningfully with his pint. Geraud had scoffed and ignored him for the rest of the night.
The next day Geraud was happy as he walked to the car park, he had plans for pizza, and he loved pizza. When he got to where his car should be, but wasn’t, he spent twenty minutes walking round and round the carpark, trying to recall his steps that morning. His car wasn’t there. In a panic he ran out into the street, looked around pointlessly while fumbling for his phone. He didn’t register the small group of people clustered around the bus shelter, buses were not something he cared much about. It was only the glimpse of his car’s custom paint job, Boulevard Black with a hint of Champagne, that led him to start paying attention. With horror flooding into the pit of his stomach like never before, Geraud ran across the road and looked up. His Maserati was perched neatly on the roof. Spray painted on the floor, were the words,
“Lesson one. Two to follow.”
So, continuing my trek into self publishing (now to happen in just over two weeks, eek!) This week I want to talk about editing.
One huge drawback to self-publishing over trad-publishing, is that you don’t get an editor or proofreader to pick apart your book looking for flaws. It’s possible to pay for both, and this is the route I’d recommend, but not everyone can afford that. Plus it’s good to have a back up in case you make changes after you get your edited script back.
Editing – what is it?
Editing tends to focus on character and plot consistency, pacing, believability; and fundamental problems like that. I’ve read professionally edited books that are still majorly flawed, so it’s not foolproof.
How to Edit on the cheap
Friends – I have a few very talented writers as friends who are good at spotting flaws in my writing, so they always get first read. It can be difficult to hear criticism of a book you’ve poured your heart into, but no matter how angry or upset you feel, DON’T PASS THOSE EMOTIONS ON. Anyone giving you criticism is doing you a massive favour and is probably nervous about doing so. No matter how wrong you think they are, accept their comments with thanks.
Unfortunately for all writers, the best people to criticise your writing are those who don’t like it, so long as you can get more information out of them than ‘nah, hate it.’ When somebody loves what you write, they don’t notice all that’s wrong with it. If you can find a reader who doesn’t really like your writing, but is still prepared to read it and then tell you in detail everything that is wrong with it, cling on to them, buy them cake, they must be cherished.
Beta readers – I discovered these on Goodreads recently. Some are people who just like to read new novels and comment on them, others are picky, still others charge. They give feedback and will be able to spot flaws, but not to the professional level of an editor. I’ve not used them for this book, but will try them out next time around.
Writing a synopsis – unfortunately most writers don’t write their synopsis until after the book is finished. THIS IS UNWISE! If you want to see inconsistencies or areas where your story lags, then writing a synopsis is a great way to do it. If you can’t find a way to make your plot sound interesting, then maybe not enough is happening. If there are large sections that you don’t mention at all in a synopsis, it may be because the pace is too slow there. Writing a synopsis when you’re editing is also a great way to take some of the pressure off when you come to finally write it, which is a good idea, because it’s a truly awful experience.
Writing blurb – blurb consists of a few paragraphs that capture enough of your book to make it intriguing so the reader is hooked. Again, if you write the blurb while you are editing then it focuses your attention on what you want the book to be about and the atmosphere you want it to have. Writing something down is the best way to be clear about it. If you can’t write an enticing blurb, then there may be a flaw in your story.
Proofreading – what is it?
Proofreading is the final edit, where somebody who knows spelling and understands commas, goes through correcting flaws, and replacing missing words. I’ve seen a few writers ask if it really matters that a book has lots of spelling errors, and I’d say yes, it does. Grammar errors are like hiccups in your writing, they distract the reader and remind them that they are only reading a book, rather than living a life through the characters. They spoil the immersion.
How to Proofread on the Cheap
Reading Aloud – I don’t think this will work for everyone, but it works very well for me. For some reason, even when I’m not paying attention as I speak, if I read outloud, I spot missing words, dodgy grammar and repeated phrases.
Editing programs – Grammarly or ProWritingAid. I mention these two because they’re what I’ve used. They’re both problematic, but extremely useful. I’ll talk about them at greater length in a future blog.
For all you writers out there, what methods do you use to edit? What works and what doesn’t for you?
Hello fellow blogeezers, I’ve missed you! I haven’t been around for a few weeks because I’ve been up to something.
For the last three weeks I’ve been melting my brain trying to fathom the twisty-turny world of self-publishing and now I’m ready to tell you my secret:
On the 6th of June I’m going to release my new book
It’s the story of a Deirdre who joins a doomsday cult led by the charismatic preacher, Myra. But once inside Deirdre learns that good and evil are not as clear cut as she’d hoped.
I think at least a few of you have or will self-publish, so over the next few months, I’m going to be sharing everything I learn, the mistakes I’ve made (so you can avoid them) and what works and what doesn’t with promotion. It’s a scary process, but people on here and Goodreads and been extremely helpful, so at least we’re all in this together.
I’ll still be posting stories and thoughts, and I still welcome your comments.
If you want to sign up at the side for email updates, then I’ll be using emails to send out additional information that I don’t want to make completely public. Today’s email is going to have the cover reveal. If you do join, I won’t spam you and will keep emails relevant and interesting – if you don’t want to be sent self-publishing emails, then let me know on petra_jacob at outlook dot com and I can put you on a stories-only list.
I’ve also got a lot of catching up to do with all your blogs, so please be patient.
Sleeping Beauty wandered through the palace aimlessly, vodka in hand. Her prince would be back soon, he’d expect her to be dressed for dinner, her hair piled high with diamonds, her eyelashes curled, but she was already half-drunk and could not be arsed.
“Not that he ever really looks at me anymore,” she muttered to herself, taking a mouthful of her drink and letting out a bitter sigh, “not while I’m awake anyway.” His fetishes no longer disturbed her, they were just one more irritation out of many.
She wandered through the grand hall, kicking off her shoes and shimmying around the floor. It was years since she had properly danced, and the lack of music was no barrier, she could feel a song in her skin, waiting to break out. She had spent a hundred years frozen still, and now three more bored stiff. She knew there were lives out there ready to be lived, new princes, new challenges, new mythical beasts to ride.
“Whatever happened to happy ever after?” she asked to the elaborate painted ceiling as she spun around the hall in her best approximation of a pirouette. She wondered if it was possible to hire herself a wicked witch, and made a mental note to google it later.
Denton could tie sixteen different types of knot and write five different alphabets. He knew the names of every country in the world and how to get from any tube station to any other, even though he had never been to London. He found this knowledge reassuring and periodically checked that he still knew it all. However, none of this helped him understand people. No matter that he could name each part of the brain; people were still a mess of unknowable, indefinable things. He suspected that other people had been given some kind of manual that explained everything – why sofas were important, when to speak, what facial expressions to wear – and because he didn’t have it, he was stumped, permanently. When he was with other people he always wore bewildered expression, hoping this would explain his situation. He wasn’t sure this worked though, because people were often angry with him.
Then, six months ago, Denton decided he’d had enough. He decided to take control. He was very fond of control, it was one of the reasons he was studying for a programming degree. After deciding fourteen separate times to take control, he had finally figured out how.
First, he worked to recreate the secret manual that he was sure everybody but him had access to. This required extensive research. With subtle questions to tutors and fellow students, with googling and searches to the dark web, the information had mounted up. He collated, cross referenced and edited each document, file and super-file. Now for phase two: only using one thousand words.
During his research into normal people and the curious stuff they do, he had read that most people only use a thousand words when speaking. They might know many more words, but normal conversation didn’t require them. As an experiment, Denton had spent a day with a Dictaphone keeping track of exactly how many words he used, and found it to be well over three thousand. He suspected that this excessive use of vocabulary might be why people thought he was strange, it was, at least a clue as to his oddness. So he had devised a list of an essential thousand words, and today would be the day when he restricted himself to using only those words. He had meticulously planned his wardrobe and behaviour to keep conversations on cue.
He heard a scuffling from outside his door and then,
“Denton!” he recognised the voice of his friend Steve. Denton knew that Steve would be standing with his feet flat on the floor and a shoulder’s width apart, that way he would be less likely to fall over when someone pushed him. Steve had been pushed a lot in his life.
“Denton, I’ve found a frog!”
The problem with a thousand-word limit, as far as Denton could see, was that you couldn’t know which situations would occur in any given day. He believed that for one day he could avoid describing the implosion of nebulae, or the function of a radio transmitter. He could avoid all references to the mouth parts of insects and the names of stones in archways. It would make conversation a little mundane, but he liked the challenge of repeating the same ideas over and over, like normal people.
When he had written out his thousand words, he had allowed for each basic everyday situation that he could think of – cancelled lectures, cold winds and earache, that the janitor was really a zombie; all very simple topics requiring just basic verbs and nouns. But he hadn’t thought to include the word frog. Still, Steve was a sensitive soul and Denton didn’t want to let him down. He shuffled from his bed and opened the door.
“Nice watch,” he said when he opened the door, then panicked. Steve stood holding the frog with two hands, two fingers spread slightly to let its head poke through.
“Frog,” he explained proudly, but Denton wasn’t listening, he was still panicking. He had spent several days outlining the plans for his thousand words. For example, he had decided that different verb endings didn’t fundamentally change the word – so he could count ‘speak’ and ‘speaks’ as one word. He had shaved a number of words out of his vocabulary, by choosing only one adjective, where normally several would be used – such as ‘red’ instead of ‘vermillion’, ‘pink’, ‘burgundy’. After all, many people couldn’t seem to tell the difference between those colours anyway. However, he had totally forgotten about Homonyms, words like ‘watch’, for example. He had actually included that word so that he could say “Can you watch my bag?” or “Did you watch telly last night?” but in his desperation to avoid conversations about a frog, he had used it in a different context. Was that ok? Or had he failed already? Not for the first time, he wished that social studies were published in the paper with proper methodology.
“I’m going to keep it,” said Steve, holding up the frog.
“Cool,” replied Denton.
“As a pet,” said Steve.
“Cool,” said Denton.
Maybe he could pass the whole day saying ‘cool’, other people managed it.
They walked to the canteen, across the paving, all the while Steve chatted to his frog and Denton tried to stay quiet.
They had reached the canteen doors where two girls from his year stood sharing a cigarette.
“Hi Denton,” said Su, who had dark eyes and a bright smile.
“Why are you wearing your dressing gown?” she asked.
“Eccentricity,” replied Denton, glad the conversation was going to plan.
“Oooh, a frog,” said Katie who had red hair and a matching birthmark across her neck.
“Yes, I found it in the field. I’m going to keep it in the sink,” said Steve.
“Do you like frogs, Denton?” asked Su.
“What type of frog is it?” asked Su, with great effort of will, Denton kept his knowledge inside, and said,
“You’re very monosyllabic today,” Su narrowed her dark eyes and folded her arms.
“I said ‘eccentricity’,” said Denton puzzled, wondering if people would think him stranger now that he was saying less.
“Eccentricity,” said Katie, rolling the word around her mouth like a boiled sweet.
“That’s a very good word, I don’t use it enough.” Su added brightly,
“You know, I read in the paper today that the average person speaks only three thousand different words in a day.”
“What?” exclaimed Denton.
“Yeh, apparently we all just keep repeating the same three thousand over and over. Except for Shakespeare.”
“Shakespeare was an odious buffoon!” said Denton happily, as Su laughed. Denton decided today was going to be delightful.
He slammed down the book and relished the ripples of shock and irritation as they echoed around the library.
“Sorry, so sorry,” he said, meekly, his head held low and so that his floppy fringe hid his small grin. The room was fusty, with dust collecting on every surface, weighing people down. They’d be slow to react, he’d get to enjoy every frown and tut as it unfolded around him. He lifted the book high a second time.
Once again, he was the master of chaos.
Every morning Cat would wake in a panic and rush to the bathroom where her make up was gathered around her sink like a jury. She’d work through the routine, layer by layer she would remake her face into something acceptable. Concealer, foundation, foundation powder, blush, neutral eyeliner, defining eyeshadow, eyeliner. She saw her face as a collection of flaws to be patched up and buried. Each year the slap had grown thicker and thicker as new wrinkles and blemishes popped to the surface and her true face was lost.
Some days she’d try to imagine how it would be to be loved for all her flaws, to show herself to the world, could she really be so disgusting to look at? She’d make a deal with herself that tomorrow she’d walk down the street with her face naked, just to see what would happen. Would people shout? Laugh? Would strangers video this hideous creature to stick up on Youtube? She knew she’d never do it. Sometimes she’d dare herself to just step outside her flat and take the lift to the ground floor, say hello to Mrs Robey who liked to stand in the hall smoking a fag, maybe pop her head out the door to where Salman would be playing with his kids on the grass. The dare would quickly evaporate as she imagined their horrified reactions.
And then the fire happened. At three in the morning, the fire alarm rattled through the block with such a raucous demand for attention, she found herself standing on the grass outside before she remembered her face was empty of disguise. As the street filled up with scared occupants in dressing gowns and duvets, she tried to keep under trees in the shadows. She saw Mrs Robey, already lighting up a fag to calm her nerves, even in the panic she had thought to bring them with her. She saw Salman huddling his children to him, trying to keep them warm. As people from neighbouring blocks joined them, it became increasingly difficult to hide, all spaces were filled with people, both dazed and bustling, slowly filling up the spaces and edging her out into the light. And then she was in the middle of the noise and fuss, being offered cups of tea and wrapped up in blankets. And no one was recoiling from her ugliness, it was as if they didn’t notice any difference, as if they didn’t care. She slurped her tea and chuckled with her neighbours about how silly they all looked, about how scared they’d all been; and for once she didn’t need to think about her make up slipping or lipstick on her teeth. And it was quite nice.