Kill your Darlings


Kelly kicked things off last time with her blog, ‘Give your Characters a Birthday’. (You can read it here). For my first blog on Retreat West’s 8 Month Novel Course I would like to share some of my experiences to date and talk about my attempts to rediscover a passion for my novel.

I don’t have time to write every day. I need to edit what I’ve already written before I start on the next bit. I write science fiction, writing about what I know doesn’t apply to me. You name a widely accepted piece of advice; the chances are I’ve ignored it. Working on a series of short stories, I’ve SLOWLY begun to mend my ways. And from time to time I think about returning to that novel I started a while back and a piece of advice I haven’t been able to follow, yet.

‘The Negatives’ is about a ragtag collection of government-employed operatives using their dubious super-abilities to carry out secret tasks; tasks so secret no one understands their purpose. The protagonist, Carl, struggles to escape the secretive programme he was pressured into joining, while simultaneously getting pulled into a disturbing series of events. There are twists and turns, and I think it’s pretty funny, but I’ve struggled with plotting some of the later stages.

Before starting the course, I had a good idea of where the problems lay (too many subplots and overcomplicated character arcs) but didn’t have the discipline to ‘kill my darlings’. What if, in giving up parts of my story, I lose what’s good about it? And if I take something out, what do I replace it with?

My antagonist is an oddball named Richard Sellner who has a bizarre secret plan. Richard’s arc involves falling in love with a shop assistant named Rita. Rita is a secondary character, used to give the reader a better understanding of Richard’s motivations (and his strange plan).

Initially, Rita finds Richard’s quirks endearing, even exciting, but the more she learns about him the more she is surprised to fall into agreement with his outlandish views. Perhaps, you can guess where I ran into problems with these two characters? After, the pair’s initial meeting, their scenes ran out of steam: there was no conflict. To overcome this, I had introduced needless subplots and got lost in them.

Through various exercises undertaken during the course, all designed to make you really get to know your characters, I re-examined Richard and Rita and how they fit into the overall story. I didn’t want to lose the nature of their relationship (as this is their appeal) but their lack of conflict had made scenes between them a chore to write, and laborious to read. In fleshing out these two characters I’ve come to realise that, while there is minimal outward conflict, they have internal struggles… Prior to meeting Richard, Rita has a controlling mother and financial concerns. Richard brings change (often calamitous) into Rita’s life and forces her to face her problems for the first time. Richard in turn, must decide whether to go through with a long-held deranged plan or pursue his new relationship with Rita. The changes are subtle; both characters will end up at the same place I’d originally anticipated, however their journey is now more interesting, and their motivations more clearly defined. More importantly, I’m energised to write their next scenes.

This is what I’ve enjoyed most about the course so far: being able to think about my characters as real people. I’ve dabbled in writing exercises in the past but examining my characters in a range of ways over several weeks has revealed details about them that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. I feel more confident about sitting down to write new scenes. More than that, I’m eager to get back into it, and to spend some time with these misfits.

In addition to the 8 Month Novel Writing Course, Retreat West runs a range of writing retreats. If you’re looking to deepen your writing skills it’s worth looking around the website to get a full picture of everything Retreat West has to offer. Author membership gets you discounts to courses and retreats, copies of the books we’re publishing, and includes entries to the themed flash fiction and other competitions.

Winner of the January 2017 Novel Course

Many thanks to all the writers who entered to win a place on the 8 Month Novel Course starting in January 2017. I really wish that I could give you all a free place.

Once again I dithered and have spent the week re-reading all of the entries over and over again. So once again there are two winners!

Congratulations to Lynsey Summers and Catherine Mark – you both really impressed me with your story ideas and commitment to your writing. I’m looking forward to helping you get those novels written.

If you’d like to join them to get started on a new novel in the new year than as of today there are 3 more spaces available on the course. Get all the info on it here.

Competition: Win a place on the 8 Month Novel Course

We love a comp at Retreat West! The latest is to win a place on the online 8 Month Novel course starting in January 2017. Deadline for entries is 20th November 2016.

It’s a mix of creative writing course through exercises and readings and 1-1 mentoring from Amanda Saint, and by the end you’ll have a short first draft to go away and work with, along with an editorial report to help you develop it. The course is for a maximum of 5 writers to work together at a time and there’s an online forum space where you can chat and share your work with each other. You can get the full info on it here.

You can win one of the places on the course by entering the competition – all you need to do is pay the competition entry fee and submit up to 500 words pitching you and your story idea and why you’d like to do the course. Full T&Cs below.

A winner will be chosen from all entries received by the closing date and will get to join the online, collaborative course in January.

Last time 2 writers won a place – Poppy Peacock and Jacqui Stearn – and they start their course next week. Although the competition is just for one of the places on the course, I found it impossible to choose between them so you never know, this could happen again for the January course too!

Competition T&Cs

  • You can enter as many times as you like with different novel ideas but must submit them separately and pay the competition entry fee of £15 each time
  • All entries must be written in English and received by 23.59 on 20th November 2016
  • The prize is a free place on the online 8 Month Novel Course starting 27th January 2017 and it is not transferable and there is no cash alternative
  • By entering the competition you agree to take part in the course if you win and to having your details announced on the website and in the newsletter
  • Enter using the button below