Another post on the Impossible Spaces blog tour. I’m pleased to welcome Rachel Yelding to the blog, with a post about her writing process.
Rachel’s story in Impossible Spaces is called ‘I’d Lock it with a Zipper’. In case you don’t recognize that phrase, it’s a line from the Tin Man’s song, ‘If I Only Had a Heart’, from the 1939 Wizard of Oz film. That should give you a little hint of what to expect from Rachel’s story – but I’d like to think it will still surprise you.
Rachel’s story is steampunk – and it has plenty of clocks and cogs and Victoriana for fans of steampunk style. But what I like about Rachel’s story is that it never sacrifices content for style. ‘I’d Lock it with a Zipper’ has a wonderfully dark and macabre heart – don’t be fooled by the sweetness of the Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz influences. It is undoubtedly one of the more whimsical offerings to be found in Impossible Spaces, and I mean this as a compliment. I’m a huge fan of dark whimsy (think Jeff Noon’s Automated Alice, for instance) and love the unsettling juxtaposition of fairy-tale cuteness with brutality and pain.
Rachel’s background is in screenwriting, and this comes through in her writing. ‘I’d Lock it with a Zipper’ is a very visual story, and this plays to good effect in both the ‘cute’ and the ‘brutal’. But Rachel has managed to combine this eye for detail with a lively narrative voice and a talent for storytelling. I’m looking forward to reading more of her prose in the future.
Take it away, Rachel…
Hi! I’m Rachel, author of steampunk body horror, ‘I’d Lock it with a Zipper’. Hannah asked me to tell you about my writing process – I’ve already written about how to plan a story on my blog – so today I can talk more generally about how I write and especially how I wrote ‘I’d Lock it with a Zipper’.
I write screenplays and graphic stories, this prose business is new to me – ‘I’d Lock it with a Zipper’ is my first attempt at prose since Creative Writing classes – but whatever I write I never start until I have an outline. An outline is a summary of the story I wish to tell featuring a beginning, middle and end. It can be something simple like a paragraph of basic ideas or a twenty page treatment (though I only ever write something THAT big if it’s for someone else to read). Having an outline of my story makes when I start writing so much smoother as I will have already encountered, puzzled over and pulled my hairs out over any big plot and character problems and hopefully sorted them out. Of course that is not to say that I won’t encounter more problems or decide to completely change a plot point once I get started (stories evolve as they are written and my finished works never look like their original jottings) but I’ve given myself some good foundations on which to build. With ‘I’d Lock it with a Zipper’ I think I wrote two pages of outline.
When writing a first draft (or what I like to call the ‘spew’ draft) I will read over what I wrote the previous day to check for big, obvious mistakes then try and get as much of the story out of my head and written down as I can. On a first draft I try to avoid heavily editing areas until I’ve written the whole story out. This is easy when the piece is short but very tempting to defy when the piece is feature/novel length; however I know too many people who never finish writing good stories because they have gone back to the same part and worked it over again and again and again until they can’t see the overall picture anymore. I write in my fashion for four reasons:
1) It feels a relief to get the whole story out of my system,
2) I will always be hooked up on the fact I haven’t finished my story if I keep working on the same section and this will distract me from doing the best edit I am capable of,
3) Until I have the whole story written out I won’t know how my problem scene fits into the overarching story,
4) I know the second draft is coming and that and all subsequent drafts are for editing.
Of course there are times when I too realise I can massively improve a previous section when writing a first draft. Usually I know when a section isn’t quite working and it will be on my mind (consciously and subconsciously). In that instance I will go back and make the changes – it will put my mind at ease so that it won’t be bugging me whilst I try to write the rest of the story – but I only ever do this with problem areas. Everything else waits for the editing stage.
I’m a visual person. When I’m thinking up scenes I see them as scenes from a movie rather than just words. It’s why I tend towards film and graphic stories. This means that my spew drafts can be overly detailed. In the first draft of ‘I’d Lock it with a Zipper’ EVERYONE had their clothing described… in painstaking detail… because at that moment I needed to write what I saw EXACTLY how I saw it or the image would be lost forever. Looking back I realised so much description wasn’t necessary to create the same visuals, but that’s fine – it’s always easier with writing to take away than to add more – and it’s what the next stage of writing is about… THE EDIT.
The edit is important. I’d never send an unedited piece of writing to anyone.
Spew drafts are easy to edit. I leave them for a couple of days/weeks then return to them and hopefully spot all the major, horrible, embarrassing mistakes and correct them. Then, when it’s looking in reasonable shape, I inflict my draft on someone I trust and hopefully they spot all the major, horrible, embarrassing mistakes I missed.
Much like not going back and seriously reworking a scene when I haven’t finished a first draft I find it is best to only seek a second opinion when I am done with my first draft (unless I’m very, very stuck). Any advice before then can be confusing however getting second opinions when I am ready is essential. Not only will others see the obvious things I was blind to but sometimes their suggestions will trigger whole new ideas that are just what was needed to make an okay story into a great story.
Hannah was a wonderful editor, correcting and suggesting without forcing. The scene where Dizzy tells Verity about the other robots had always gnawed at me but it was only when Hannah highlighted it for another reason that I realised why it niggled at me so – I was breaking the first rule of writing – I was telling rather than showing! Moreover I realised that there wasn’t even anything stopping Verity from experiencing one of the robots first hand… so I rewrote her first minutes in Clockwork. Thank goodness I did! Verity meeting the gramophone robot is one of my favourite scenes now! Not only did it make Verity’s introduction to Clockwork much more exciting but it hinted at what was waiting for her in Brother’s castle.
Though sometimes it might not feel it, editing is good.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out how I write and I hope that some of it will help you write too!
To find out more about Impossible Spaces, or to buy a copy, please check out the publishers’ website.