How I Finished My First Draft of The Stranger, a Paranormal Romance Novel

I tell you all I did to finish NaNoWriMo and my new paranormal romance

I did it! I finished the first draft of The Stranger, previously called The Extra (although the second is by no means now final). As you can see in the graph below, I began writing seriously on the 5th of November for NaNoWriMo, and it took me exactly one month and a day (excluding the first 3K words I wrote earlier in the year). The final word count stood at 63.861. This number will be going up as I will go through the next few edits, and I’m hoping to reach the 70K again.

NaNoWriMo Result

So, how did I do it? Let me tell you.

Research

Concept

Did I start writing the story from scratch? No, I didn’t. I finished Book 3 of the Suckers Trilogy in March 2018, and just after that, I wrote the first few chapters of this book. I didn’t know it was going to be another trilogy, but the more I thought about it, the more ideas I had. I didn’t have time to continue writing, however, as I decided to do major cover edits on the Sucker Trilogy books. This took me a couple of months (next time I’ll let someone else do it!). I then needed to work on promoting the trilogy in October. In between the scenes, so to speak, I jotted down notes on my cell phone. I used the Samsung Notes app every time an idea for the book popped into my head. I have two pages of them (the Note app has a limit on how much you can put on each page). Some notes I have used, some I haven’t, but you never know when they’re coming in handy, so I’m not deleting them. I still have two books to write :).

Location

Alaska MountainMy book plays in Alaska. Why? Because I needed a place where paranormal creatures could live in relative obscurity. Werewolves need to be able to run unseen. Vampires need to be able to drink blood without being caught. And Alaska is a pretty remote place. One day, I Googled the map for Alaska and found this lake called Deadman Lake. I had found the perfect spot for my story!

The Real Research

Now I knew where my novel was going to take place, I tried to read up and watch documentaries on everything Alaska. What were the daylight hours? How cold did it get in winter? What animals live there? What is it like for humans to live there? A mistake I make when writing my first Suckers Trilogy book was that that I assumed what country towns in Maine looked like. I had no clue. I actually made a similar mistake in The Stranger. A typical house in the UK has an upstairs, and I assumed this to be the case in Alaska as well (like in Maine). Only halfway did I realize this was so wrong, and I had to rewrite certain passages.

One of the ‘in-depth’ researches I did was when I contacted another writer who had lived in the area. We had an online, live conversation, and she could give me a lot of answers to questions I had. I also bought Nora Roberts’s book Northern Lights, a story which also plays in Alaska. I haven’t finished it, but it very much regurgitated all the things I had learned so far about living in Alaska. I was on the right track!

The Actual Writing

NaNoWriMo

As mentioned earlier, I only began writing on the fifth day of November, and by the time it was the fifteenth of the month, I only had written for six days and hadn’t even passed the 20K word mark. I was running behind big time and needed to up my game. Competitive as I am, I set all other things aside and began treating my writing as a full-time job. This did it the world of good. I limited my time on social media. I even turned off the notifications on my phone. Sorry, I lie. This was actually a remnant from my filming session with Aberdeenshire Film Productions late October, and I simply forgot to turn it back on again. I don’t think I will, to be honest, as I don’t want to be a slave to Facebook and Twitter anymore.

Writing

Writing At Last

What was it like to actually write after half a year? Awesome! Even though I had been thinking about this story for months, I refused myself to think up an ending already, literally going LALALALALA in my head when my mind even hinted going into certain directions. I didn’t want to make the same mistake I made with Book 3 in the Suckers Trilogy and spoil the fun. I sort of had an idea of what the moral of the story was (oh yes, it has one), but I kept an open mind on how to put it in there. I preferred to let my characters take me on their journey, leaving all directions open (north, east, south, and west). And during all of my writing, I have faced many, many directions. Sometimes I turned into directions that I immediately backtracked and erased. Most times, however, I just took some time looking around at the crossroads and chose the option that was the most interesting.

This story is different in that it definitely complies to being a romance. The Suckers Trilogy is rather dark whereas I kept this story reasonably light. I’m not sure yet if the next two stories are going to stay this light, but romance lovers are certainly not going to be disappointed with this one. There’s (only) one semi-descriptive love scene in it, and I had to change the age of the main character from 17 to 18 to keep everybody happy. No, this doesn’t make it erotica. I had to look up what the difference was to make sure for you, but this story still holds if you take out the loving, so no erotica.

Surprise

SurpriseAt one point, something happened that I didn’t anticipate at all. All of a sudden, this character appeared, out of the blue, knocking me off my feet, throwing a spanner in the works, so to say. But it made it so much more fun, giving the story so much more depth.  It’s going to be one of the red lines that run through all three of the stories. I just love it when things like this happen!

The Editing

Having an Editor

The first draft is done, and I’ve actually already finished the first edit. I love this story so much that I couldn’t stop working on it! 😀 I’m trying to make this production the most professional one I’ve done so far, so it’s going to be interesting how much time it will take. Being more professional also means I have an editor booked in January (which is pretty organized for me). I have the next two weeks to polish the story and get it ready for the editor. She already told me I’ve got a habit of head-hopping (a remnant trait from my first-person point of view writing of the Suckers Trilogy) before I started writing this book, but I’ve caught myself still doing it. So quite a few scenes need to be re-written.

Alpha/Beta-Readers

I’m hoping I can find some alpha/beta-readers in my email list (but if you’re not, I’ll still welcome you!). I already have one person who has put his hand up for being a beta-reader (yay!). As I write ‘on the fly’ or ‘pantsing’ as they say, my story has no pre-checked structure. I go with the flow and hence some sections may be too slow, too fast, or perhaps not necessary at all. I need someone to tell me this to make the story better.

Editing

My editor will do a light edit. She already told me my writing isn’t bad at all (You have a firm handle on voice, style, grammar, and punctuation), so it will mostly be a vocabulary and possibly a little grammar improvement here and there, plus help with my POV and chapter changes. I’m keeping my fingers crossed she won’t find any plot holes. As I’ve changed directions so many times in the story, I hope I can correct any wrong assumptions I had at the beginning of the story. Once I’ve gone through her notes and made my changes in February, she’ll proofread the work, and it can go to beta-readers to be read in March-April. So, if you have some time in your schedule and would like a free book, put your hand up! (and email me: jackydahlhaus@gmail.com)

In the meantime, I need to organize a cover. At first, I was thinking about a cartoon-style cover, but now I’ve written the story, I don’t think that’s the way to go. It’s not that funny. I still don’t have any idea for a cover, so I’m open to any suggestions (cover or cover designer). Let me know if you know of a great designer.

All-in-all, I can’t wait to get this story on the market and to my readers. I just know they’re going to love it as much as I do!

 

Photos by Massimo Sartirana,  Ben Black,  Andre Guerra, and rawpixel on Unsplash

Fun Friday!

This week has been a productive week for me. I had set myself the goal of prioritizing my editing and I have, apart from Wednesday, edited at least three hours every day. I now have only twenty pages to go. There is light at the end of the tunnel! I found I use ‘just’ and ‘again’ too often and need to erase almost every single entry. Thank heaven (and Al Sendall) for that macro that picks up my ‘unwanted’ words! Let me know if you’re interested in it and I’ll give you the ins and outs of it.

The other positive thing this week was the news that our film ‘Busted!,’ a little brain child of mine, has been chosen to be screened (on Friday the 28th of July during the 8-10pm block) at the Loch Ness Film Festival. That was such a boost! Of course, I don’t know whether they want to promote the local film industry or had nothing else to show 😀 .

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They asked me for promotional material and it took me a whole afternoon to make this poster. I had worked with Adobe Illustrator before, but it is frustrating when you’re not familiar with the controls. I’m very proud of my ‘vampire teeth though. The good thing about Illustrator is that it’s a vector program and you don’t get the fuzzy edges when you rescale the image. I did make the poster A3 size, just to be sure.

What else has happened? I officially lost 5kg since I began my weight loss program six weeks ago. Partytime! I can’t see it in the mirror, but it must have disappeared from somewhere. My belt definitely is noticing the difference. I’ve been going to the gym and eating healthy. You can find my meals on #micvinnyfooddiary. Making photos of your food and posting it on social media is a very good stimulant to eat healthier. No more cheating with a slice of cheese for lunch 😀 .

I’m listening to Ian Fleming’s ‘From Russia with Love’ at the moment. Usually during my trip to the gym. It’s my second audiobook (the first one being ‘The Hostile‘ by Joy Mutter) and very different from the movie as I remember. When I’ve finished the book I will watch the movie again and give you my review of the book. I’m also trying to finish a book I bought in a review thread on osfarg. It’s a lovely story, but the grammatical mistakes and punctuation errors are tremendous. I can’t understand people don’t see this themselves. One of the reasons I’m not promoting my books at the moment is because they’re not perfect yet. I don’t want to have my name associated with something that is mediocre. But that’s me for ya.

From_Russia_With_Love

On Wednesday, I went to the Meldrum Writers’ Club. It was nice weather, I felt great, and… nobody else turned up. That was a bit of a shame as I had busted my guts to finish this lovely story for it. But I can’t blame them. When the weather is nice in Scotland, you have to make use of it. It could be a while before it returns, a whole year perhaps.

I am a bit frustrated with people not contacting me back after I have asked them to contact me. As you may know, I’m not a very patient person. This doesn’t mean that I’m punctual and without fault myself. I run late for meetings and forget to send people stuff (anxiety plays a role here too). Hence, I (usually) don’t comment on it when people finally do get back to me. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t frustrate me though. If I know them well enough, I do let them know and they can take it or leave it. That’s who I am. After nearly fifty years, I don’t think I’m going to change.

No going to the movies this weekend. At least, not that I know of. Maybe we’ll go and see Baywatch, maybe not. I’m not aware of any other movie that is a must see at the moment (that we haven’t already seen). What we do have planned is painting the dressing room. Finally! All that prep work is done (after a few touch ups today) and we can show it off soon. Next weekend IKEA?

So, what have I been sending meme-wise? Here they are:

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean – Salazar’s Revenge, aka Dead Men Tell No Tales

My take on the new Pirates of the Caribbean installment

Score: 6/10

Severe Spoiler Alert! –

PofC_Salazars_Revenge.jpeg

Please remind me never to go see a movie the first weekend it’s released. I always seem to have a kid behind me that finds it imperative to kick the chair in front. Looking around didn’t help, cursing in Dutch didn’t help. What is it with these parents nowadays? Do they not teach their kids social graces anymore? I agree I could’ve said something, but I had too much empathy for the kid and didn’t want to embarrass their parent in public. I hate confrontations. I should have though, for the sake of humanity.

I must admit I was tired when we went to see the movie. I tried to sleep in the car on the way, but it didn’t work. So, unfortunately, I’m sorry to say I fell asleep during the movie, my own snoring waking me up, as it usually does. My husband once told me I even scorned myself for snoring when it woke me up in the middle of the night 😀 . This time, I remember letting myself drift to sleep during a battle scene and I woke up near the end of it. I missed nothing. As there’s not much good to say about the movie, let’s analyze it, just for fun.

Movies are made to take you away from the here and now. The biggest taboo that could happen is to be taken out of that fantasy world abruptly during the movie. Unfortunately, this happened several times last night. The first thing that annoyed me was the senselessness of the first scene when we encounter Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Jack wakes up drunk in front of a firing squad. And nobody shoots him. Nobody. Then there’s the scene where the girl (Kaya Scodelario) meets the boy (Brenton Twaites) in shackles and, with a pin, she frees him from his bonds. She gets taken to prison, but lo and behold, with that same pin that was left at the scene of the crime, she draws on the walls. Did she have two identical pins? Surely they wouldn’t let her pick up her pin with which she opened locks before they took her away?

Then there’s Captain Salazar, a great performance from Javier Bardem. But why is his hair waving around as if he’s underwater? Why does he have black dribble running from his mouth as he speaks? What did Jack’s compass have to do with his predicament? Regarding his waving hair, his ship didn’t sink, it blew up. Salazar got thrown into the water by the blast, maybe that’s it. But why would it wave like that when he’s above water? It doesn’t make sense. My only reason for making it happen would be because it sort of imitates the ‘living’ beard of Captain Davy Jones (played by Bill Nighy in Pirates of the Caribbean-Dead Man’s Chest), which looked cool. There also was no curse mentioned at all for him to roam the seas forever, dead or alive. Apart from him being blown up in ‘unchartered’ waters. Why is he now cursed to be a zombie? Is that why he has black goop escaping his mouth? As to the compass, I’m completely directionless.

Compass2.jpg

Talking about the other installments, even my son (he’s just turned fifteen) mentioned that the other movies at least had red herrings running through the main storyline. The relationships between Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, her relationship with her father. The father’s relationship with the Navy, the Navy’s relationship with Jack Sparrow, etc. Salazar’s Revenge had none of this. It was a one-line story, at least that’s how it felt. There was a brief moment involving the Navy (impersonated by David Wenham, to me always the monk from Van Helsing) and a witch called Shansa (played by Golshifteh Farahani), which I thought could have potential. However, the witch didn’t have the same dread as Calypso had (played by Naomie Harris in Pirates of the Caribbean-At World’s End). Not sure if it’s a director or editor issue. The whole sequence also kind of felt wasted when she didn’t appear in the movie further along.

The storyline was very predictable, very American. The biggest surprise/WTF-moment was at the end when Will Turner walks up to his (now grown) son. His son rips off the necklace his father had given him as a child, offers it to Will and says “Father!” Upon which Will Turner says “Son!” Really? If he didn’t know that was his son, why did he, of all the people on the planet, chose to walk up to him? I’m not even going to discuss Elizabeth Swann turning up that very moment.

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Now, CG-wise, this movie was awesome. It must have taken a tremendous amount of work to make it all look like it did. The wavy hair, the water, loved it (even if it didn’t make sense)! I always wonder how they do the water. In my opinion, the green screen was pushed too far, with dead pirates consisting of only a hat and an arm ‘walking’ around. Come on. And the dead pirates ‘jesussing’? WTF? This is inconsistent with what the cursed pirates did in Pirates of the Caribbean-Curse of the Black Pearl, where they walked underwater.

I can’t stop myself from mentioning the Barbosa’s monkey. Did anybody else notice it wasn’t the same monkey? I’m not saying ‘know thy monkeys,’ but this monkey definitely had a bigger nose.

There was one scene in the end that didn’t feel right for no apparent reason; when the boy gets the girl. No, I don’t count this as a spoiler, it is, after all, an American movie and you know from the beginning this is going to happen. Anyway, they stand all alone on a green hill, sun setting in the background, clumsy words are exchanged, and they kiss. And… it all feels wrong. It wasn’t the music, music was great. The setting was great too. I’m still not sure if it was the angle of the camera, the directing, or the editing that screwed it up. But there was something not there, like the scene with the witch. Maybe it was the casting. I thought the boy a bit too young for the girl, but maybe that’s just me being conservative. I don’t know. I’m going to put my money on the editing. Let me know your thoughts after you’ve seen it.

Do stay until after the credits. There’s a nice surprise waiting for you there. Even though it makes absolutely no sense at all 😀 .

Salazars_Revenge700.jpg

Finding an Editor

As I am in the process of editing my second novel for a relaunch, I thought it would be a good idea to hire an editor to make it the best it can be. I know I fall into repetitions when I say my English is not my first language, but it really sucks at times, particularly regarding tenses (pardon the pun 🙂 ). I also realize you need an editor because you can never edit your own work.

GreatFriendsCanada.jpg

So where to find one? For my first book, I used someone from Canada (my book is in US English). She wasn’t a professional editor but offered her services to me for a fair price. She did a fantastic job and we have become close friends, still chatting on a daily basis. I don’t know if I got spoiled, but that’s what I’m looking for in an editor. It needs to be a relationship that ‘clicks.’ They need to feel where you’re going to with your story and help you make it better and help you become a better writer as well. Unfortunately, my friend is no longer available for editing due to time restraints and I need to look for someone else.

Usually, recommendations are the best. So I went with such a recommendation. I contacted this editor and she agreed to work with me on my novel. She said she would get a quote to me within the next 24 hours. That was Sunday. After prodding her three days later, I finally received her quote. It was near twice the price quoted on the website where her services were advertised. Two things happened. First of all, there was a short communication on excuses and, of course, her pricing. As the prices on her own website weren’t current either, she agreed on an (above) mean price. The most important thing for me, though, was that the vibe between us was gone. How could I work with her when she didn’t think my work was important enough to keep her word? Even though her pricing was still fair, I had to decline her services.

Trust

So I am looking for another editor again. Someone who likes what I write and feels the same way about it as I do, someone I can ‘click’ with. Anybody?

(Trust image from memesuper.com, by mrs marcia hunter)

Writers’ Corner update 19/01/2017

Do pirañas speak fish pirahã?

Check out my Writers’ Corner update 19/01/2017!

Last Friday was Friday the 13th. But Is It As Unlucky As You Think? Find out in an article by Amy Willis. There are a lot of other articles this week in my Writers’ Corner. Like the one about the Insane Weapons the TSA Confiscated in 2016, the one that says that Novels Are Never About What They Are About, the one that gives you 7 Steps to Captivating First Chapters, and more.

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One I had a bit of trouble with reading, but I though was very interesting, was the one titled ‘Why language is not everything that Noam Chomsky said it is,’ by Daniel Everett. It is a long piece, with difficult words. For example, I didn’t know the word recursion. This word is crucial in Everett’s discussion of the language of the Pirahãs, a group of people living in the Amazon. Their language doesn’t have recursion, something Chomsky says is crucial for language. If you have a bit of time you should read it. Not only does it give insight into a rather unknown language, it also shows that if everybody thinks something is right, it doesn’t mean that it is.

Focus on Filming had a favourite this week: Art of the Cut with Thelma Schoonmaker on Silence. She gives us an insight on how she edits her movies. Eye opening.The latest one, The Survey that should scare the shit out of anyone in TV, I got today. I was amazed how many people in the US never heard of Game of Thrones.

I only have one new entry in Health Herald and you may not like it. It tells you to Eat Lentils for Lunch. I must admit the thought doesn’t sound appetising, but apparently it’s very healthy. The other day I made a salad with spinach leaves, feta, cherry tomatoes and tuna. Now that I could eat every day 🙂 .

No posts for now…

Due to work load…

My dear readers,

I’m sorry to announce that I will have no posts for at least three weeks. This is due to my deadline of making my first novel printable and ready for the book fair. If I want to pull this off I will have to work day and night!

My apologies for letting you down. I promise I will make it up to you in November!

Love always,

Jacky D.

Lessons Learned #17

We want action!

We want action!

Fooled you! I’m not writing about my filming antics, I am talking about writing. There was this article I read in Flipboard a few weeks back that stated that a famous writer was given a manuscript of a driver. After seventy-five pages the writer tossed it back to the driver with the statement “readers want emotion, not information.”

This little sentence made a huge impact on me. Like the driver’s book, the first seventy pages of my first book are full of information only. I am describing my protagonist, her friends, her family, her situation. Nothing exciting is happening. I knew this was a problem as I could see why people would put my book down again, but I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly or how to fix it. I needed to convey this information to understand my protagonist. Then I read this sentence and realised; there is a lot of information and no emotion! People are not moved to be scared, sad or extremely happy whilst reading these first chapters.

I recently read a book by a novice writer, Ruth Ware, called ‘In a dark dark wood.’ I purely bought the book as research as it was advertised as ‘genuinely chilling and totally compulsive’ and ‘a tense, terrifying novel.’ I wanted to know how to write suspense so I thought this was a good way to find out. The story isn’t actually that great (sorry, Ruth, just my personal opinion) as it is very predictable, but it is set up in a way that wants you to keep reading. How? Let me tell you.

Ruth Ware starts the story with the present where things are all very bad, but the reason for this is unknown. Then she flips back to the past, to where it all started. Slowly but surely she weaves the present and past together (in separate chapters, to not get you too confused too much and keep the grammar easy, i.e. all is written in the past simple) until a point 2/3 into the book where everything that has happened in the past is known and the present continues. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it is a very clever set up. Until you know what has happened in the past you want to continue to read to find out why the protagonist acts the way she does. From then on the story must grip the reader to read on and this is where I found it lacking. But then again, I’m a big action-adventure fan, so if this doesn’t happen I’m always a bit disappointed.

It was a big decision, but after that little statement from this unknown writer (I don’t think the name was ever stated in the article) I decided I had to re-write my novel. Definitely the first and perhaps also the second. When I wrote my first novel I realised I was very ‘short’ on dialogue and descriptions (the book is only 55K words long, where standard novels are usually over 70K words long), but I didn’t want to bore my readers. Now I know that I was a bit harsh and need to expand the story. I have also completely thrown the first and second part together, integrating the information bits with the action that happens in the second part. The hard part is, of course, to leave out any text that ‘doesn’t fit’ anymore, to throw away my babies, but I’m hoping that the newly added and integrated text will make it much more ‘readable, interesting and fun!’

Have a Happy (Re-)Writing Weekend!