Friday, 16 May 2014

Levelling up

I like video games.
I play them fairly often and I have done for years, my current favourite is the Uncharted trilogy which combines great story with well developed characters and has lots of shooty, climby type action to keep me entertained.
The thing I've noticed about all video games is that in order to complete them you have to level up. Games have different ways to help you with this, some start off with tutorial levels to show you exactly how to control and use the game, all of them tend to start off easy and gradually get harder and most will have different difficulty settings such as: Easy, medium, hard or beginner, advanced and expert.

The reason I mention all this is that there are a fair few similarities here to writing. In order to get better and have a chance of getting published you have to constantly improve or level up.
The easiest way in both gaming and writing is to practice.  The more you play/write the better you get. So you put in the hours and the work. You read books or internet articles on how to improve/succeed.

But that's not always enough.
It can take us a fair way, maybe move us from beginner to advanced but most of us need more help to really improve.
To advance to the next level may take outside imput. Playing against other people, judging your work against someone else's, asking for advice - the basics of a crit group, or one to one feedback from an agent or editor at a conference.

I felt as if I'd done all of these things for the last couple of years - I'd written and edited three books, I'd read books on writing, I'd had feedback from agents and publishers, I'd been to events and conferences, I'd joined a crit group...
I had levelled up a fair amount but still, when I looked at my current w.i.p I felt that there was something missing, that despite it holding together as a book with a decent plot and interesting characters it wasn't as good as it could be.

I could recognise this because of everything I'd learned but as yet I hadn't learned enough to know how to make it better. Not really better, not the better that will transform it from a decent bit of work to something damn good.

So at the end of last year I got in touch with the Golden Egg Academy  run by Imogen Cooper and I asked for help. I knew I needed an expert eye and I hoped they might be able to push me to the next level.

I saw Imogen in January of this year and left that meeting feeling like I was finally on the right track. Imogen's homework was for me to read "Into the Woods" by John Yorke and I can't thank her enough for recommending it.

It's not a book I would have picked up for myself but reading it has made such a difference to my understanding of plot and structure. What I found fascinating about it was that he uses plots from popular films to illustrate his points and there were light bulbs going off everywhere as I read!

The next bit of homework was to write my bookmap, a patented device that Imogen uses with all her writers that forces you to consider everything about your book in detail and in relation to everything else. It made me realise how little I really knew about some of my characters so I spent ages working out their history and character and this sparked off new ideas and scenarios. I finally felt as though my book was coming alive, the world, the people, it was all finally, really, there.

It felt as if I'd been pushed up several levels already. It was a heady rush of exultation, this was what I wanted, this new understanding and already I could see huge areas in my work that could do with improvement

More excitement came when I was offered the chance to be mentored by Maurice Lyon and when he read my m.s he sent me comments and we met to discuss in March.  Time sped by as we talked and discussed everything about my book in minute detail. I told him my ideas and he helped me fine tune what I needed to achieve and when he left I felt so motivated and more importantly even, I felt as if I had a clear idea of what I had to do now.

The last couple of months have involved some of the most enjoyable editing ever. Enjoyable because I knew what I needed to achieve and because all those months of preparation had given me the tools I needed. And of course I now had a mentor I could ask for advice if I got stuck, knowing that made it even easier to keep editing.

So the reason I've been so absent from this blog is because my brain has been exploding, it feels that since joining Golden Egg I've managed to move up several levels and although I may still be a fair way from the very top I think I may now have the tools to get up there one day.

First though I just need to scale a couple of walls, leap across a chasm and take out the baddie with my sniper rifle...

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