Month: July 2015

So you’ve finished a draft – now how do you feel?

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I finally finished editing the third draft of my novel last Tuesday.

Everyone, assumes that when you finish something like that that you should be rejoicing in the streets and whilst the initial feeling is like that, once that fades what replaces it is something else.  For every one of my three drafts so far, I’ve felt differently about each one.

The End Of Draft One

I started writing my first draft in November 2013 as part of NANOWRIMO, knowing full well that I wouldn’t make the 50,000 word limit at the end of the month (I’m a full time teacher for goodness sake!) but I was fully committed to the idea that I would write a little bit every day until I finished, no matter how long it took.  It actually only took me four months of writing an average of 500 words a day.

Before then, I had *tried* (obviously not hard enough) to write novels but had always abandoned them halfway through, usually because I realised I had written myself into a corner and might have to *shock horror* delete 2000 words. ( I find that laughable now, when I think of what I have had to do in later drafts, but I digress)

Initially, I felt euphoric.  I had actually completed something! *Pulls party poppers*

But once the euphoria had died down, I was really surprised to find that I felt really sad.  What was I going to do now to unwind from a stressful day?  What would I *think* about when I no longer needed to think about what was going to happen in the next chapter?  How would I fill my free time?

The answer is of course, well, lots of things.  Read other people’s books.  Play a video game.  Watch films. Go out for dinner. Write something else.

One of the great, unexpected feelings was that having finished something, I now felt more confident that I *could* write another novel if I wanted to.  I had already proven to myself that writing a novel with limited time was possible.

My top tip for draft one is: make sure you have another project in mind to start once your first draft is completed. This will help to stop that ‘post-draft slump.’

The End Of Draft Two

Draft two was the most difficult of all of them.  This is because when you reread your draft, you will realise that that great metaphor you used is actually awful.  Your character said what?  They would never do that.  And why did you write something on page 10 that you then directly contradicted on page 125?  You will realise that some parts of your story require a huge suspension of disbelief by the reader for it to be believable.

Working through draft two was laborious but necessary.  This was where I realised that writing the story was the easy part and it is the edit that feels like hard work. Where I had been reluctant to cut out a few hundred words in draft one, here I was deleting entire chapters.

Warning: There are times during this draft when you will think you are a bad writer but this is not true. It *doesn’t* mean you are a bad writer.  It means you have written a first draft and it will need hard work to make it a better second draft.

As you begin to shape your novel you will also read parts that you think sound great or that you don’t even remember writing. These moments are what keep you going.  And because this was the hardest draft for me, it meant that when I finally finished editing it, it was also the draft that was most rewarding and with which I felt the most satisfaction.

My top tip for draft two is:  JUST KEEP GOING no matter how much you want to give up.  (I’ll refer you to my other post The Ryan Gosling Technique for extra motivation!!)

The End Of Draft Three

Last Summer, I visited the locations of the book: Whitby, Staithes and Saltburn by the Sea in North Yorkshire.  This was because when I originally visited this area I had no idea that a few years later I would be writing a novel set there and my memory of it had grown quite hazy.

There is also very little written about Victorian life outside of London (though I am currently reading How To Be A Victorian which should fill some of these gaps) so when I visited this time I bought as many local history books and visited as many places as I could in the hope that in the third draft I would be able to add details to make the novel more historically accurate.

I have added these and I quite enjoyed editing this draft although having now finished, I know there still needs to be a fourth one. But to be honest, I need a break from this book.

My overwhelming feeling this time has been relief!  I just want to think about something else for a while.

So I’m going to ask some friends to read it and see what they think.  While they do that I will write some short stories and start on another book.  Back to draft number one!

My top tip for draft three is: give yourself a deadline to head for.  Perhaps, find some readers who will read your draft once it is completed to give you added motivation to finish on time.

Life Is Strange Episodes 1-3 Review. The Hipster Simulator Goes Bad!

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I’ve often said that I think that narratives in video games are just as valid as those in other forms of media, and that, when done well, the narrative in a game can be just as compelling as any piece of fiction.  Most of the games I enjoy playing are low on combat (unless I’m casual gaming), but big on either story or character which is why I’ve decided to write reviews about these types of video games as well as the books I read.

I first heard about Life Is Strange from another blogger, Gaming Backlog a few weeks back and knew straight away it would be the sort of game I would enjoy. However, the first point to make is that the game using the ‘point and click’ mechanic to play, so if you are someone who only goes for games where you want plenty of combat then this may not be your bag!  The second point to make is that the game is episodic, so at the moment, the final two episodes are unavailable.  This is therefore, only a review of half a story.

In my household, we actually call this game ‘The Hipster Simulator Game’ due to the iconography, plait shirts and fantastic soundtrack which includes artists like Alt J and Amanda Palmer. The soundtrack by the way, actually has to be ‘turned on’ during most scenes, by your character using the music player in that particular room.  The graphic style of the game makes it look as though it has been hand painted by an art student.  All of this adds to the charm of the game.

Max Caulfield

So as for the plot of Life Is Strange: you play the character of Max, who has recently started studying photography at Blackwell Academy. (Just a quick aside – it is refreshing playing a female character who doesn’t get kidnapped/killed/raped in order to move the plot along and doesn’t have two giant bouncy globes on her chest to distract you from the gameplay!) You start the game sitting in class, taking a few polaroids (how very retro) of the items around you and avoiding the bitchy Victoria.  So far, so high school drama.

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However, you very quickly discover that for some inexplicable reason, Max is able to rewind time.  This has huge implications on the narrative of the game. You can now walk around campus and talk to characters, choosing your responses and if you think you may have handled the situation badly, hey presto, you can rewind time and choose another option.  Bear in mind that every major decision you make will have implications for your character later on.  (It’s a bit like a cross between Heavy Rain and 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.) This means you can steal useful items without anyone spotting you if you rewind time after the event, or you can alter circumstances to prevent characters hurting themselves or others. Think of it as an interactive ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ graphic novel.

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This is where the game is the most fun. Although for someone like me, who finds it hard to decide what to have for lunch on a daily basis, it meant agonising over my choices until I made a decision and then sometimes I would quickly rewind to change it again, and still obsess over whether or not I had done the right thing.  

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But there is more to Life Is Strange than just pretending to be a hipster girl. It turns out that there is a sinister side to Blackwell Academy and Arcadia Bay.  Firstly, there is a student, Rachel Amber, who has gone missing. Arcadia Bay also has some pretty strange freak weather, such as tornados and snow in the middle of Summer.  And, there are the disturbing events of the exclusive Vortex Club to investigate, if you can ever make it onto their guest list, that is. All of this gives the game a real Twin Peaks feel.  (There are actually a number of Twin Peaks easter eggs hidden in the game if you look closely enough for them. In fact, there are lots of pop culture and literary references.  For starters, Max’s surname is Caulfield like the protagonist in Catcher In the Rye.)

And then there is Chloe.

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Chloe says hello!

Chloe is your dysfunctional best friend and she is hella annoying. (I have since wondered if this is on purpose)

She is hella angry.

And hella sweary.

And she says hella a lot.

Which brings me to the one flaw of the game and that is the terrible, clunky dialogue.  Chloe alone is responsible for cringeworthy gems such as ‘ready for the mosh pit Shaka brah,’ ‘you got hella cash’ and ‘this s***-pit has taken everyone I’ve ever loved.’ I suppose this highlights the difficulty in writing dialogue that represents teen slang.  Realistic slang dates very quickly. Slang that is not already well used sounds ridiculous.  All slang sounds stupid when overused.  And in Life is Strange, it is definitely overused.

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However, one of the strengths of Life Is Strange is its themes. Once again, like Twin Peaks, characters have their fair share of secrets and by the end of Episode 2 it seems that Arcadia Bay is very dark place indeed. The unpleasant nature of social media, drugs, bereavement, sexual exploitation, bullying and attempted suicide are all explicit themes of the game, along with several hints that the apocalypse might be on the way. Such deep and meaningful themes make the game quite different to other games that I’ve played.

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So, when I played it, I downloaded episode 1 and played it through to the end.  It was fun making choices and being a teenage hipster but I didn’t bother with the second episode until another friend at work started playing it too as at the time, the narrative didn’t grip me enough.  However, in conversation, we realised that we had both made very different choices to one another and that he had experienced some events that I hadn’t, due to those choices.  We thought it would be fun to see how our games compare.

So I downloaded episode 2 and boy, did some of my choices come back to haunt me!  The themes start to get dark here, and there is a major event in this episode (due to the bad choices I made) that can really alter the narrative of the story. (My friend, incidentally, had a different but no less dramatic outcome. People were overhearing our conversations at work and thought we were talking about a soap opera, not a video game.) This is where the decision to release this game as a series of episodes is a genius move.  Its episodic nature means that in each episode the plot is structured like the chapter of a novel, with mini cliffhangers at the end of each chapter that urge you to keep going.

So I immediately downloaded episode 3 to continue playing.

The end of episode 3…OH MY GOODNESS! There is such a shocking twist in the plot (and maybe genre now, who knows?) caused by my rewinding and choices that I CANNOT WAIT for episode 4 to be released.

In the words of Chloe I’m sure it’ll be hella awesome!