January report: A bit done, a LOT more to do

I’ve neglected my blog this month, I’m afraid.

It would be great to report it’s because I have done a first rewrite or something. I have done a bit, but, well, that’s all. I’m only realising just how much I have to do. And it’s quite daunting. On top of that, my own work was been quite busy and I was struck down with man flu for a few days. Boo hoo!

Back to the novel. Well, I’ve read through what is loosely the first half of it. This half is unstructured unfortunately. I wrote it in three parts basically, one for each character.

I’ve done some basic changes, like changing the present tense to past and replacing double quotes with single quotes and general tidying up. Exciting, I know! I’m happy with the quality of some of the chapters, while others are okay to poor. A large number will probably just go.

There are some fundamental things I need to address. Too many ‘he said this, he did that, he saw this’. There’s also a lot of passive voice and probably too much unbroken dialogue.

Many of the chapters with the main character in the first half do not drive the plot. They mostly describe his situation, his relationships, with snippets on his troubled and violent past. I’m a bit unsure if that’s okay. The chapters on the other two main characters – a boy involved in a criminal gang and an investigating garda – are more plot driven, apart from ones involving the boy and the main character, which again is more about the relationship and a bit about the plot.

It’s very frustrating not having time to work on the novel, but I got a chance this morning to speed read over the main character’s chapters and, on the whole, I feel a bit better.

I think spending time describing his situation works as it is key to building up the pressures in his life and tension in the novel. But I also understand the need to keep the book driving forward in terms of the plot. But can a balance not be struck between plot and character? Any thoughts?

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About Cormac O'Keeffe

I am writing my first novel. It's a crime novel, a thriller set in Dublin's gangland, along the evocative Grand Canal. This blog is about my journey. And other things, like fiction reviews and non-fiction reviews, many of them published in the Irish Examiner, a daily national newspaper in Ireland. I work as crime and drugs reporter there, and have been since around 2001. Both my personal life and my professional life have fed into my novel, or, rather, have poured into it. My novel was granted a literature bursary by the Irish Arts Council in September 2014 and my journalistic work has won multiple awards from the Law Society of Ireland over many years, most recently in 2015.
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6 Responses to January report: A bit done, a LOT more to do

  1. I’d say that giving background in those early chapters and showing the character’s situation is all part of driving the plot forward. It’s true that there’s a very difficult balance between developing characterisation and keeping the story moving, but they’re both necessary. Maybe some foreshadowing might help? I generally find that, if I’m in one of those holes where an early chapter is too heavily focused on setting the scene, hinting at intrigues to come gives it a bit of a kick up the behind.

  2. jjtoner says:

    My favourite instructional writer, David Baboulene (www.baboulene.com) says Character and Plot are the same. You can’t have one without the other. I wouldn’t worry at all about whether there’s too much character-driven stuff as opposed to plot-driven. What you need to worry about is exposition (aka info-dumps).

  3. I agree with the above. Just keep at it. Even 15 minutes a day! Hope to have a chat with you at our next meet up!

  4. CJ O'Keeffe says:

    Thanks lads for those great replies. That bit on foreshadowing is a great tip, JFC. I’ve done that a bit insofar as I am dropping bits of information about the character’s violent past and why his family is in such a hole. But I could do more of that. Must check out that website JJ. Now I also know what exposition means! Looking forward to meet-up L and yes I need to do a bit every day.

  5. Dermot says:

    No specific tips Cormac, but it’s generally a good thing if you’re not sure about something. The opposite is usually a disaster! Being unsure keeps one objective and questioning.

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