Friday, February 26, 2010


I was asked by the publisher to supply some rough maps of the geography for GPL. I've done some rough doodles before, but never really thought about the overall layout and distances and so on.

The experience was daunting, but a lot of fun. I ended up using tech-pens and high-grade tracing paper, having experimented with everything from gouache to acrylic to plain old pencil. The map above is half of the real life A3 version, scanned then fed into MS Word and Paint. It loses a lot of sharpness in the process, so I might need to get it professionally scanned next time. I'm quite happy with how it's come out, though, given that it's a first-draft.

The next job is to do a smaller scale map of the area where GPL happens. I'm hoping to do that one with more of an Asian map feel, something that just wasn't possible with the scale of the above.

The thing I found interesting when I was drawing the map was the number of ideas that kept coming to me for further adventures. I guess once you start visualising the places, the ideas start to flow. It's definitely something I'll have to do a lot more of.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Uncle Pete's Sagely Writing Tips

I'm currently head down tails up doing edits for Ghost of Ping-Ling, but I thought I'd briefly surface for air, as well as to share a couple of useful pointers I've picked up on my travels1.

You know how it is when you've been working on a paragraph/chapter/book so long you can quote it in your sleep, and you've lost all objectivity as to how it sounds and whether it makes sense. Sure, you could give it to someone else and let them take a look. Or you could put it in a draw and throw away the key for six months.

But if neither of those solutions are practical, here's two suggestions.

1) Change the font.

It sounds ridiculous, but it works. If you change the font of a block of text, it helps you look at it with fresh eyes, no matter how many times you've stared at it in the past. I usually work in TNR, and I find changing to Courier works wonders.

2) Listen to it read.

That doesn't mean you have to get someone to read it out to you (of course, if you have that luxury, that would be wonderful). There are plenty of free text-to-speech converters available on the web. They have very listenable voices, and can usually be adjusted to male or female, British or US etc. I paid $50 for the one I use, but that way I get full functionality - which means I can translate my entire book to an mp3, stick it on my ipod, and listen to it anywhere and anytime I like. Money well spent.

So there you go. Some tips I've picked up. Hopefully they'll be of some use!

Now excuse me while I dive back into the dark depths of Lake Edit. If only I could find my scuba gear.....


1 I've picked up so many useful tips from reading other people's blogs, I thought it must be my turn.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Long Does it Take to Tell a Story?

Somewhere along the line, I read that a YA book by a first-time author should never be more than 80,000 words. I think it had something to do with the cost of publishing verses the risk of the unknown, as well as the (apparent) ideal length an average young-adult wants to read.

So, always keen to take on good advice, I've tried to keep to this length in all my writing, and have usually managed to come in almost exactly on target (by dumb luck rather than careful planning, I can promise).

But then recently I've read two books by first-time authors that are more in the region of 200,000 words. The first is Wounded Guardian, by Duncan Lay (well worth a visit to his blog, he gives some great advice), and the second is book 1 of the Monster Blood Tattoo series. Perhaps the 80K rule is one of those things that generally applies, but can sometimes be broken.

For me, though, I've always been comfortable with the 80,000 word target. I think if I tried to write something bigger than that, I'd probably end up fluffing it out with unnecessary detail and would only bore the daylights out of the reader, rather than adding anything of value. Perhaps that's just my style, or perhaps that's the length of book that I prefer as a reader (not to take away from either of the excellent titles referenced above).

Or perhaps it's the nightmare of having to edit a 200,000 word manuscript. I'm finding 80,000 words challenging enough as it is!