Started the rewrite of Wonderful last night, having identified a major issue some weeks earlier, in that one thread of the story wasn’t sufficiently explained, either in my head or in the text. Spent a few hours last night, and quite a bit of today, working on a prologue that tries to set up the issue clearly.
The question really is whether a Prologue is a cop-out or not. I know plenty of writers who’ve been told by agents or publishers not to use Prologues as they’re some sort of storytelling get-out-of-jail-free card. On balance, I don’t feel that’s the case. Nor do I feel readers will read a prologue and necessarily expect the characters in it to be the focus of the book, or that they should then appear in Chapter 1. Prologues are precisely what the word implies – things that come before the main action.
That said, am I happy that I’ve added about three thousand words at the front end of my story? No. Is there possibly a better way of rendering it slightly later in the story? Yes, possibly – I could probably do it as a flashback (though there are plenty of people who tell you you shouldn’t do that either), and I may well end up doing that – but either way, the scene had to be written, and now it pretty much is. Whether it’s a prologue or a flashback, it sets up the story thread much more cleanly than was previously the case, so for me, it’s been worth spending a day and a half on.
Where do you stand? To Prologue or Not To Prologue?
Well now, that’s enough to put a spring in your step.
I belong to an online writing group, called www.youwriteon.com. It’s a mostly convivial place, with some really impressive writers on it. By all means, click the link and come play.
It offers peer reviewing, and a deliciously enticing prize. If you happen to be in the top ten rated stories at the end of the month, you get your work shoved beneath the noses of (usually) some major publisher or other. Naturally, the top ten is a place people contend hotly to be, but there’s a degree of science in the methodology of getting there.
You earn “reading credits” by reading and reviewing other people’s work. You can only review a maximum of six pieces per day, and you score them on all the things you’d expect – characters, plot, dialogue, description etc.
These “reading credits” are what you assign to your own work, and the more you have, the more reviews you yourself can get. There’s a background algorithm that stops you being reviewed by those with whom you have most interaction on the site. For every five reviews you get, you can remove one, and so boost your rating.
Now, look again at the image that accompanies this entry. Wonderful, the book I’m beginning to work on today, has had its first seven thousand words on the site for some time, and today – bingo! Number one spot – which means it will get a professional critique from a publisher in all likelihood.
Of course, getting a professional critique does not equate to them loving the work. They may send me back with my tail between my legs. But either way, it’s going to be in front of people I need to impress, ultimately, and it’s an experience from which I can learn.
Even if I say so myself – and you know I do – that’s a Wonderful beginning.
Much of the day has been spent making sure this website is basically intact, ready to be the platform for the next three months, and my writing challenge. Now it’s the night before I begin, and it feels oddly wonderful. It feels like being on the brink of some sort of holiday, but a holiday away with my own characters, on their adventures. I’m looking forward to seeing where they take me.
I know the stories of my first two novels in at least broad terms, but it’s going to be a challenge – a real, hard-work challenge – seeing where the stories go in terms of the nitty gritty. Do my story ideas work with real characters? Will they make sense? Will the tone be right? Am I sure which readership I’m aiming at?
I think I know the answers to all these questions. But the point is that as an editor, I’ve seen plenty of authors who think they know the answers to these questions, but with my outside eyes, I’ve been able to advise them that the answers they think they know are actually not evident in their manuscripts. So while the adventure feels wonderful, I’m trying to be realistic and self-aware of the level of challenge involved in the next three months.
Realistic, but ultimately positive. I’m looking forward to this.
I’ve been working with fellow author and superb illustrator, P.S. Brooks, to visualise some of the characters in my books. He’s done a superb job with Peony, my scientist fairy. Peony’s also a long-distance flying champion, so Patrick has delivered her in a number of outfits.
Peony, the scientific fairy, suited up to fly into adventure. Artwork by PSBrooks.com
Peony now has a proper flying helmet, as she’s also a champion long-distance flyer. She has bronze, silver and gold flying badges, won in various competitions. She has proper leaf-boots and a truffle-leather flying jacket. The jacket, and the pockets on her camo pants, are sealed not with zips and buttons, but with the enchanted “mouths” of venus fly traps, which only she can open without losing a finger.
Peony at home, in her lab coat. Artwork by PSBrooks.com
At home, relaxing, Peony dons her lab coat, which is slowly being imbued with her flower-fairy nature, just as her flying jacket and her dress were before it.
The power of visualisation is that it opens up your characters to new levels of thinking. I’ll be re-writing many of Peony’s scenes from the 1st August to take account of Patrick’s superb visualisations.
Enjoy the continued talents of P.S. Brooks, ladies and gentlemen.
The countdown has begun to a new era for Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi, known for both his dramatic and comedic roles since the 80s, known as Malcolm Tucker, the William Wallace of filth from The Thick Of It, known for his Medusa stare and his Eyebrows of Doom, is about to become our favourite Time Lord. The news has divided the great and invincible fandom, with those old enough to remember the “Classic” series largely greeting the casting as overwhelming positive, and those more used to the stripling Doctors of recent years shrugging and saying “Well, I’ll give him a go, but…”
Capaldi’s already much-used publicity shot as the Doctor crystalises the divide around the question “Yes, but does he look like the Doctor?”
To some New-Whovians, no, he looks like the Doctor’s dad, poncing about and pointing at nothing. To the Classicists though, the answer is an emphatic yes. Tall, thin, imposing, dressed in no-nonsense clothes and looking not a little like he’s ready to kick the Daleks to death and tear the Cybermen’s heads off for dessert, he is, to all intents and purposes, the perfect fantasy Doctor for fans of a certain age. Not only does he reawaken the dream that they themselves are not too old to be the Doctor, or to act like him, the look carries with it the promise of perhaps a rather more grown-up and maybe even a slightly more serious tone to be taken in the Capaldi years.
It’s an impression that’s been encouraged by almost everything that’s come out of the production office of late – the intense stare crowbarred into the 50th Anniversary special; the initial teaser trailer, all dark and brooding and set against a background of an exploding Tardis; and the follow up, with talk of seeing hatred in the Doctor’s soul. All very dark and gritty and serious stuff.
There’s a danger in all this, inasmuch as it has a tendency to foster expectations of some new dark arc, some new realism, some new gritty edge to the show.
Within boundaries, this will probably be the case – each Doctor’s era has a tone, from Eccleston’s survivor-guilt coupled with the soapification of Who, through Tennant’s ‘one-chance’ chatterbox, that brought the fun back front and centre, to Smith’s fairy tale ‘thing-in-progress’ with a post office, a wife and occasional flashes of old-man rage. It’s to be hoped that Capaldi’s era will see the language of the Teletubbies retired (wibbly wobbly timey wimey byesie wysie?) in a post-War Doctor reaction to such infantilism, and a return to good honest pseudo-scientific gobbledegook (your fathers and grandfathers reversed the polarity of the neutron flow, dammit, and so will you – and you’ll like it!), but the boundaries within which the show can ‘grow up’ are very, very significant.
While the Classicists tend to complain about the relentless humour, the romance, River Song’s sexy banter and what they call a generalised “childishness” in New Who, it would be a huge mistake to think that the casting of an older Doctor is going to necessarily address all these things. The degree to which they can be addressed is actually pretty limited, because they’re fundamental ingredients that have hooked Doctor Who its largest worldwide audience – ever.
The point is that while it has always been a family show, Doctor Who’s core audience is a nation, and now a world of eight year-olds. And eight year-olds today are not the creatures they were in the 60s, 70s or even 80s – to which decades the Classicists refer when they claim that the show never needed all this modern stuff to be wonderful back then. Eight year-olds today exist in a world of greater equality, where anyone twisting an ankle while running away (irrespective of gender) would be thought of as a useless prawn and not a respectable companion. They live in a world more saturated with either explicit or implicit sexualisation in every ad break, and at potentially every click of a mouse. (This is not to imply anything Savillian or creepy, just that today’s eight year-olds know more about romance, about partnership, and about sex than eight year-olds generally in any previous generation, and they accept its presence in the world as the norm. They expect people who look like grown-ups to have complex relationships, and that includes hero figures like the Doctor). More than anything, they live in a world of speed: speed of thought, speed of talk, speed of decision-making. New Who reflects the world of New eight year-olds, just as Classic Who reflected the world of eight year-olds back then. It’s a very different place, and this modern world cannot be ignored if the show wants to retain and expand its armies of eight year-old fans.
So while there’s the potential with an older-looking Doctor to tell different stories to those you can effectively tell with Matt Smith at the Tardis console, it would be a mistake for fans of the Classic series to think Capaldi’s Doctor will ditch all the things about New Who they dislike – those things have become part of the core of the show in the 21st century. If we go into Series 8 expecting an all-dark, grown-up Doctor, with less “silliness” and banter, we could find ourselves in the peculiar situation where Capaldi’s greatest fans before he started in the role find themselves disappointed, and those who weren’t that keen on him deciding he’s not all that bad after all. The programme can never be made to principally appeal to the millions of 40 year-olds dressed up at Comic-Con – that would be Game of Thrones you’re thinking of. Who will continue to be aimed first and foremost at the eight year-olds and their families who tune in or download or stream it. Capaldi’s era may see the show grow up a little. But don’t expect it to take itself as seriously as the average adult fan.
Having a fascination for the UK TV show Doctor Who, Tony Fyler joined the bank of contributors to successful multi-fandom website, www.warpedfactor.com. his first piece for the site, an appreciation of the John Simm Master, was very well received – including by the John Simm Society, who retweeted the piece and gained it an additional thousand readers in the space of an hour.
There are two types of Master: there’s the natural Master, who comes by his body by the normal process of regeneration, and the unnatural Master, either disembodied or forced to steal an existence in order to survive. The first tends to play the role for character, the second, mostly for plot.
There’s also a loose correlation between the ‘type’ of Master and the success with which he has been historically played, and also with his ‘fit’ to a particular Doctor.
Roger Delgado, despite being in real life a very pleasant and amiable man, could have been born to play the dead-eyed gentleman psychopath of the universe, and he rarely, if ever, looked forced on-screen. He was chosen specifically to be the Anti-Pertwee.
The two ‘crispy critter’ Masters – Peter Pratt and Geoffrey Beevers – were not chosen specifically to play the Anti-Baker, and such was their emaciation they were forced to play the role largely on plot, to find their way back to a body. Anthony Ainley’s Master was not Doctor-specific either, and having stolen his body, he was forced from the beginning to be a Masteralike of Delgado’s version; it was more important that he looked like what had come before than it was to let him be his own villain. While little is ever heard from the CGI-snake Master, Eric Roberts (bless him, what did he think he was doing up there?) played the Master, again having stolen a body in his outing, purely driven by the plot to get more bodies, rather than as any kind of appropriate Anti-McGann.
When the series became a hit again in 2005, it was more or less certain that the Doctor would face off with his ultimate adversary again. But which Master would it be? Another re-tread of the Delgado Imprimatur, all beard and convoluted plans and gloating? Or someone new and naturalistic, someone that would be genuinely fearsome and scary and funny and dark and aimed squarely at providing the antithesis of whichever Doctor he encountered?
John Simm blew the doors off the part within the first five minutes.
Having had just about that long of Sir Derek Jacobi delivering the Anti-Hartnell, the Simm Master exploded on screen and began immediately matching David Tennant’s Doctor, trait for trait. There was the post-regenerative chattiness, there was the techno-skill, flying the Tardis with gusto, there was the glint of mad humour and the smile. And there – right there at the end of Utopia – was something new and modern. When the Doctor says “I’m sorry”, Simm’s spitting of “Tough!” is visceral and dangerous, it’s a boot to the Doctor’s face, and a note of the savagery behind Delgado’s suavity, Ainley’s chuckle and Roberts’s…whatever-that-was.
Simm went on to imitate Delgado not in any of the trappings of his Master (though the red-lined jacket was a nice touch), but in the fundamental philosophy of what a ‘natural’ Master was. This time, he was absolutely the Anti-Tennant, and the terrifying thing about the script of The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords is that it’s the ultimate version of the Pertwee scripts – disguise, hypnosis, cunning plans and world domination – but given a brave new twist. Simm’s is the Master who won. This is a devastating proposition, because the Master is no ordinary villain – he’s the philosophical opposite of everything the Doctor stands for, embodied in an equal, who can argue his corner and make the viewer question the Doctor’s position. It’s the combination of the scale of what the Master does to the Earth once he’s won it – “the only person to get out of Japan alive…”, and the unbridled glee with which Simm delivers his ‘stark raving bonkers’ Master, complete with dancing, disco and decimation, that make his Master something fresh and vibrant in those two episodes.
And then of course, the production team, having well and truly had its cake with a fantastic, energised Anti-Tennant Master, decided to eat it too, and gave us Simm as the body-snatching Master, the ‘other’ Master. And like disembodied Masters before him, Simm had no option but to play the character subsumed by plot, this time knowing his body was ‘born to die’ but multiplying almost endlessly and aiming to stop the drumming in his head. The End of Time is a busy script, but Simm manages to deliver the furious need of a disembodied Master more effectively in the burger-chomping scene than either Pratt or Beevers were allowed, because he keeps (largely) his own face and delivers the performance through his own interpretation of the Master as a creature propped up and kept sane by nothing more than ravenous consumption. Again, the Master is victorious in this story, though it feels (like the character himself) more hollow and reversible this time, and when events spin out of his control, the Master falls back on another old trope – the idea of joining forces with the Doctor to confront the greater threat. What is unique in the Master’s long on-screen history though is what Simm does in his final moments – he makes us sympathise with the Master, driven mad by ‘grown-ups’ who abused his mind if not his body; he is the child who never stood a chance, and grew up determined to be noticed. Simm’s exit might be a cliché, but it’s arguably the best and most worthwhile cliché in fifty years of Doctor Who.
Writing hat on head – Check. Tardis in background – Check. Head full of words – Check. Challenge accepted.
Hello writers, readers, agents, publishers, and occasional wanderers-in.
My name is Tony Fyler, and when I was 24, I was going to be a writer. That was it, there was no Plan B, no pension, no pretension to actually working for a living, nothing. I was going to be a writer. I’d known this with a certainty you could break rocks on since writing a story in primary school, aged 9, in which the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Martians from War of the Worlds, battled each other for the planet, and my teacher had given me an A for it, along with the somewhat cryptic and exhausted comment, “Very Imaginative”.
So when I was 24, I wrote a novel. Just like that. Locked myself in my room for a couple of months, and just wrote it. As it happened, BBC Radio Wales had a book review show at the time, on which unpublished authors could send in their first few chapters, and if they were good enough, get a critique from a publisher. A real one, like John Jarrold, Simon Spanton etc from companies like Pan MacMillan, HarperCollins, Orion and so on.
I got on the show. In fact I got on the show several times. A couple of publishers were interested, but one had “just signed someone similar”, the other needed changes made to the manuscript etc. I spent the best part of a year talking to and rewriting for HarperCollins, before ultimately, they turned it down. (Oh yes, brother writers, I have known your pain!)
Not knowing what to do after that, I became a journalist, pretty much to spite them. The thing is, I’ve always, since that time, thought of myself as a writer, despite not doing very much in the way of proper creative writing. I’ve dabbled, and I did finish a second manuscript, but that was very much too long and complicated, made little sense in the third act and has what I’m reliably informed are “tonal issues” here and there.
Now, I am an editor by trade. I still have no pretensions to actually working for a living, but now some people are nice enough to give me money to edit a magazine and a website, and lots more people are nice enough to give me money to tell them how to fix their novels, and yet I still haven’t written and published one of my own.
That’s going to change. From 1st August – 31st October, 2014, I am taking a three-month sabbatical from my editing company, to focus on my writing.
No, I’m not mad enough to think it only takes three months. No, I’m not going to give up after that. But clearly, nearly 20 years on, I’m many things, and I still think of myself as a writer. Which means it’s time to finally write something. Write it and sell it. So that’s my challenge to myself: One of my day jobs continues – the magazine and website one. But I’m taking time off my own company to invest in my writing. This website is where you’ll find out how it goes. There’s information on my current Works In Progress – the two books I’m aiming to push forward first, entitled Wonderful and Happily Ever After respectively. It’s also where you’ll find links to my short fiction and non-fiction articles when they’re published elsewhere.
We have links to some realy cool stuff – some of it writing related, some which will just improve your life immeasurably. There will be blogs – on the process of writing, the inspiration, the frustration, the challenge and hopefully the triumph. There will be blogs about editing and publishing too – what to do, what not to do, and why, and how, and lots of other subjects beside, though all writing-related. And there will be news – both of my work when it’s published either online or in traditional format, and news from the literary world, competitions, opportunities to get noticed, published or to win a bit of cash.
Three months to write, edit and begin to try to sell at least one market-ready novel, maybe two. That’s the challenge. Deep breaths, everyone. Challenge accepted.