Thursday, 22 November 2012

Colour-Coding: Make your MS easier to edit

Whether you're in the middle of your fiction project or you've completed several drafts, you may notice there’s something wrong with the characters: they all sound the same. Their dialogue is similarly structured, and you realise each needs an individual voice. Possibly they already have a catchphrase or two, but they require much more.

During your first draft this is tricky to implement while your creative urges are charging forward and your inner-editor tries skipping backwards to characterise the dialogue you've just written. When writing The Shadow Fabric, as is often advised for any first draft, I just got on with it. I wrote it all with my inner-editor's door closed.

One of my follow-up drafts was to tune in to each character's voice; to make sure they didn't sound like me. Because I knew they would – I wrote it. I created them. That was when I thought about colour-coding my character's dialogue segments.

Not only having developed detailed Character Bios (even for the incidental ones) where I'd listed their catchphrases, I decided that colour-coding would be the easiest way to identify who says what and how they say it. Please understand that whilst writing the first draft of my novel, I did not stop mid-flow to change the font colour; I went through it on draft No.4. And yes, throughout the whole manuscript... all 100,000 words of it.

It was time-consuming and quite labourious, but entirely worth the effort.

My main character's dialogue was in red, the next blue, then green, etc. This really helped in viewing their speech objectively, and when I printed off a hard copy I could see – at a glance – whose voice was whose. With that, I easily removed the author's voice.

This also aided in getting the punctuation right and making sure there was a balance of gesticulation and scene interaction. Also, you can scan for overused dialogue attributes, and eliminate those neighbouring adverbs which can weaken your otherwise snappy dialogue.

It has certainly sharpened my editing eye, and I know I'll be doing the same for my next novel... when I've finished editing this one. In applying this colour-coding technique, you too can make your subsequent drafts a lot less painful to edit.

Here's an example, taken from The Shadow Fabric:

Goodwin’s door opened, and there he stood. Smoke plumed about his head like a deformed halo.
“How are you?” He waved his cigar into the room.
All morning I’d practiced some kind of speech, to get the story out; to tell Goodwin of Victor’s family visit. Of course, faced with the only family I had, my tongue wouldn’t move. My lips twitched pathetically.
Goodwin’s eyes widened, the cigar halfway to his lips. “What’s up?” 
I collapsed into a leather chair.
“You don’t look yourself.” He circled the desk and sank into his chair. It creaked.
The words in my head were as swollen as my tongue. Finally, I managed, “Victor.”
He jerked his head back. “Everything OK with him?”
“Last night,” I sputtered, “we went to see his brother… Stanley’s dead.”
“What happened?” It was the first time I’d heard the man raise his voice. He pushed the stub of cigar into the ashtray and lit another.
“Victor’s fine.” I dragged my hand from forehead to chin, squeezing my jaw. I’d forgotten to shave. “As fine as anyone can be after watching their own brother die. He killed him.”
“Victor had a knife and Stanley had some black fabric. It came alive, Goodwin. I’ve never seen anything like it… It moved and took hold of Victor’s hand. It made him kill him.”
Goodwin was nodding, suggesting he actually understood me; he believed every word. I was conscious of pulling my top lip down with my teeth.
“The Shadow Fabric took Stanley away,” I added. “Folded around him and took the body.”
Goodwin’s thoughts wrinkled his forehead.
My fingernails continued to rake the stubble. “Never seen anything like it. Stanley’s body vanished into the shadows!”
“Leo, everything’s going to be OK.”

Your comments are always appreciated, thanks.

Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.

Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook:

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Considering Laser Eye Surgery? Seeing is Believing

It was certainly worth the gap in training when I could see Jeremy Kyle whilst I warmed up on the cross-trainer. The TV was, as always, on mute; but I could read the subtitles! Before this moment, the past was a blur – literally – and no longer would I be tripping over a barricade of discarded weights surrounding the bench press, or stumbling into the rack of dumbbells.

Laser eye surgery has changed all that. I knew that it was possible to have your eyes re-shaped by handing over your money to a masked stranger. We’ve all seen the adverts where having such surgery can help in riding a mountain bike through muddy puddles, or assist you in giving your child a piggy-back.

Curiosity landed much paraphernalia on my lap around the same time as golf champion Padraig Harrington was on TV claiming it had changed his game for the better. There has been a considerable amount of sports celebrities (and plenty of Scottish rugby players it seems!) who have gone under the laser. Furthermore, in Hollywood, to name a few stars: Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman, Courtney Cox and Cindy Crawford; and a few other ‘closer-to-home’ celebs have also opted to better whichever game they’re in, such as Coleen Rooney and Myleen Klass, and even a couple of our very own Knights, Sir Elton John and Sir Richard Branson.

There are various procedures, yet some not always suitable to each individual, and can treat a high number of short- and long-sighted prescriptions, and also astigmatisms (this was me, by the way.) With a free consultation, I was under no obligation – except to spend ninety minutes (no longer than a workout, sauna and a shower) of my life, undergoing a range of comprehensive tests.

After a lengthy discussion and explanation of why – and indeed, how – my eyes have always been a bane, my options were simple: standard (cheap) and advanced (expensive). I figured if I was going to get it done I’d get it done, and so the price would be whacked up considerably.

A week prior to surgery and I wasn’t allowed to use contact lenses and so had to wear my spectacles. Ah, the dreaded narcissus that is within us all!  Vanity is an evil demon… I hated those seven long days, and found it traumatic to even leave my house. In the gym (only once that week as opposed to my usual three times) proved to be awkward, as a sweaty nose and spectacles are not a great combination when doing press-ups!

The day came, and driven to the treatment clinic by my wife, I spent the journey wondering if it would work. Seeing is, indeed, believing; and I have always stood by that motto – even more so now.

On arrival I was taken into a room with a fancy bed amidst a bulk of machinery. Everything was white. Almost everything, come to think of it, for when I placed my spectacles to the side and laid my tense body into the bed, those trusty glasses glowed oh-so-bright; a familiar beacon glaring in the darkness of a daytime nightmare. Those spectacles: I’ll never forget the look in their eyes!

Anaesthetic drops were applied to each eye and I awaited the attention of the surgeon. Covering my left eye with a patch (playing pirates at thirty-three years of age!), I felt the pressure of activity on my right eye – no pain – and for just a second my vision went crazy: it was a hyperspace-thing, the rushing of colourful stars. Then followed the clicking of a laser while I focussed on a tiny red light in front of me. From somewhere behind me a nurse (I doubt their job description is indeed nurse) was counting down the seconds as the laser took away the imperfections of many years of hassle; taking away that reliance on contact lenses and those vanity-defying spectacles which were no doubt peering down at me that very moment with tears in their eyes. Ten seconds, twenty, thirty – no more – and that was it; time for my other eye.

With the procedure over, a little dizzy on my feet and no feeling what-so-ever in the eye area, I was led (spectacles apologetically held in a clammy palm) out of that white room and into a dark one. Those few paces from bright to effective night was a blurry one. It was like opening your eyes underwater, only with an immense light-sensitivity. In that room of hazy shadows my girlfriend joined me; I couldn’t see her, but I guess it was her holding my hand and not a nurse.

Cautiously, sunglasses on (I felt like an idiot wearing those indoors. Who did I think I was, Bono?), and I stepped out into such brightness! The only discomfort on the journey home was daylight, and so it seemed that I had gone from pirate to vampire in all of five minutes. At home, and I hid in a darkened room; unable to read or watch TV, and I was bored. I couldn’t do anything, so there I was: cross-legged in the corner of the dining room with curtains drawn, wearing sunglasses and strumming my guitar.

There was no pain, simply a dull ache and later in the evening – with noticeable improvement in vision – I could watch TV. Come bedtime I had to wear goggles much the same to those worn by Johnny Depp in his role of Willy Wonka (these prevented me from rubbing my eyes and dislodging those yet-to-heal protective flaps whilst I slept).

Morning came and, sleepily removing those goggles, I stared at the bedside clock: magic red digits! Everything was sharp, albeit with a measure of light-sensitivity which soon vanished entirely after a few days. A week passed – still without a gym session – all the while undergoing a course of eye-drops to aid healing and prevent infection. My vision continued to improve from month to month.

Overall, my new eyes are something I’ve come to call ‘super’ vision. Not quite as good as Superman’s, but pretty near to that which any human can achieve.

So, my suggestion to you, reader: with glasses off, next time you stagger from the shower only to grab the towel of the giant who bench presses 350 kilos, and when you smile apologetically at the dragon tattoo on his bicep because you mistake that flaming artwork as his furious face… consider laser eye surgery.

After years of wearing contact lenses and spectacles my life has changed.  Just like on the adverts and in the testimonials, I wish I had done it years ago. There is one drawback to the process however, and it only occurs when in the kitchen; only a minor inconvenience…

I now cry when cutting onions.

Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.

Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook: