YIPS – Definition: Trembling on the brink of an action causing failure of completion.
This sounds more like a problem for a sex therapist, but writers can suffer the dreaded Yips whilst writing their novel. I always do.
Yips is a term used in various sports to describe the inability to competently follow through with an action.
Hands and arms start shaking whilst trying for the dreaded ten foot putt on the golf green,
OR the fingers won’t let go of the ball when bowling at cricket.
Very embarrassing for a professional
For a writer it manifests itself by an attack on self belief and a lack of confidence in:
all the characters,
and flow of words.
- An all-pervading intense feeling that this is not worth the effort to carry on
- It has to be the worst thing every written.
In my case the Yips occur about two-thirds the way through a book, round the sixty or seventy thousand word mark.
I’ve hit the problem in every book I’ve worked on and in fact Yips stopped me completing a couple earlier in my writing life.
There is only one solution to the writing Yips:
CONTINUE POUNDING THE KEYS IN YOUR DAILY ROUTINE UNTIL YOU TYPE THE LAST FULL STOP.
Of course it might turn out at edit time that this IS the worst thing you’ve ever written, but in my experience it generally isn’t.
I guess the Yips is a form of writers’ block except you can still write even though you’re convinced it would be better to stop. DON’T GIVE IN TO IT. After maybe another five thousand words or so self-belief returns and a finish can be made. Put the work aside for several months whilst editing a previous novel and when you come back to it, the writing will seem perfectly acceptable.
THIRD CLASS CONVICT is now available as paperback
1848, the year of revolution.
Bookish Wyatt Faulkner happens upon a Chartists’ mass meeting on Kennington Common and inadvertently falls foul of Conrad Sperling, a police spy.
Wyatt’s childhood friend, Amy Saville, a Chartist, is to deliver a boat full of weapons across the Thames on the eve of the planned uprising. The Chartists, fearing discovery, postpone the action but Amy has already picked up her cargo. Wyatt, believing Amy will sail into a trap, intercepts her but is caught with the guns.
Left for dead, Wyatt is dumped in the Newgate mortuary. He survives but a fractured skull leaves him with no memory. Sperling, learning of his survival, arrests the docile Wyatt and sends him to the Old Bailey. Tried for treason as John Smith, Wyatt is sentenced to seven years in the Woolwich Hulks.
On Hulk HMS Warrior, Wyatt is befriended by Sammy Palmer who helps him negotiate his first difficult days as a convict. Sperling, having expected him to be hanged or transported, fears Wyatt may remember and betray his spying to the Chartists who have already tortured and crucified a traitor. Sperling sends Price, a killer trying to avoid a return to the deadly Bermuda Hulks, to silence Wyatt.
Wyatt unwittingly scuppers the Irish convicts bid to steal gunpowder for an escape. A beating from a murderous Irishman is interrupted but lands Wyatt on the hospital ship Unité.
Two killers await Wyatt’s return to HMS Warrior.
And then there is the cholera.
They say a picture is “worth a thousand words” but a word is often worth at least a picture or two because English is such a gloriously picturesque language.
Half-a-dozen examples of dynamic word usage from the front page of the Financial Times Online from February 7.
“Carney faces Commons grilling”
“MPs seek to draw line under scandal”
“Sterling climbs as Carney speaks”
“Ireland scrambles to liquidate Anglo Irish”
“Shares mixed ahead of ECB meeting”
“NYSE pushed for shorter disclosure period”
And aren’t our brains clever for working out that this isn’t exactly what was meant?
It might seem that my last post, ‘Plausibility’, is not entirely relevant in today’s literary world cram-jammed with vampires, werewolves and other fantasies. But consistency is the issue.
Because the exotic, fantastical and superbly imagined creations have no basis in reality many writers seem to think that any event, character or situation can be included without any underlying logic. This is not so. Even if you have created a whole new world, it must make sense and obey its own ‘laws’. They may be as bizarre, weird, outlandish and creative as you like but they need to have clear foundations for the reader to understand what is going on. Tolkien called it a ‘sub-creation’.
Superman arrived in an escape capsule from Krypton.
You can think of your own examples justifying a presence.
And in the supposedly ‘real’ fictional world, characters and events need to hold together and be suitable for their environment.
We seem to be losing the rigour that is necessary to keep a story honest.
For example, having an ordinary British bobby pounding his country beat and then whipping out a 9mm and mowing criminals down requires an explanation, which may not be necessary in a Chicago cop shooting where guns are normally carried. More and more often no explanation for anomalies is offered.
I envisage a clutch of competent reviewers throwing their metaphorical pens in the air when I read comments like,
“Character A starts the book as an asthmatic academic nerd while it suits the plot, but develops into a cold-eyed ex-Navy SEAL later in order to nail the baddie.”
Inconsistencies like this seem to happen more and more.
They ignore the fact that the rabbit-shaped event could never happen in the given animal-free set of circumstances, they just ad lib.
This is sloppy, lazy writing.
Geoffrey Ashe sums it up well in ‘The Art of Writing made Simple’
“The process of getting everything right becomes more vital the further a story moves from familiar ground, the more fantastic it grows…Nearly all his (Ian Fleming) Bond stories are absurd, often glaringly so.” BUT “To enter vicariously into the thrill of Bond’s world, a reader had to be able to believe in it while the story lasted.” The reader must think always, ‘Yes, this is how it would have been.’
A recently aired Inspector Barnaby episode had him uncovering art fraud that was so utterly ludicrous it ought to have had Christie’s and Sotheby’s and every fine art expert writing in protest at the implied suggestion that stupidity is inherent in their professions. It was totally unbelievable and the whole episode was devalued because of it. This kind of thing used to be a rare exception, but more and more poorly thought-out or badly researched plots turn up.
Does it matter? YES, if you want your tale to be credible and consistent and the reader to enter into your fictional or fantastical world. Get it ‘right’ and they’ll follow you anywhere.
Would my character have done that?
This is not a question of an actor stepping out of character. The action may well fit the personality, but is the incident itself plausible in the given context?
Gangster A might be capable of murdering villain B i.e. it is in character, and it is necessary for B to die, but the reason has to hold water.
This is why a decent editor is priceless. Not only do they check for any lines what do have grammatical, ty&po and
format problems (which are incidentally also vital factors) but to see that the tale itself doesn’t have logical flaws or inconsistencies.
For instance, in a recent TV drama several multiple murders occurred behind locked doors in London houses. Police baffled.
Later in the episode it turns out the murderer, a builder, had renovated the buildings and built in secret passageways and hiding places. Now, some Met officers may not be the sharpest knives in the cutlery drawer but they are meticulous, and in such a case it is totally inconceivable that they would have overlooked hidden doors or hollow walls.
Having a character strike a match on a bar of soft soap is more likely.
Suspension of disbelief is one thing, sloppy writing is another.
‘Write about what you know’ was always the advice given to tyros because it helped avoid making howlers. Knowledge helps stop your actors mowing the enemy down at 300 metres with a 9mm pistol or stepping over an exploding grenade and only getting singed leg hairs.
Deus ex machina or ‘with one bound he was free’ solutions have always been scoffed at by serious writers but if my recent reading is any indication (Indie authors rarely employ professional editors), plausibility errors are making a comeback.
The inexperienced might ask, ‘what does it matter?’ It matters more than before if you are in the business of trying to sell your wares. Criticism abounds. People are rapidly learning that intelligent reviews are worth their weight in sales rather than the piles of fluff of the ‘This is the best book I’ve ever read‘ type. When a reviewer points out several “Oh, come on!” moments then a potential buyer will move quickly on. There’s a ton of choice out there.
So, don’t have your circus stunt diver walking away after a ‘double back with half twist’ into a wet handkerchief from the 20 metre board.
If you want your readers throwing up their hands with delight and not despair then check your plausibility. And get someone to go over the grammar, spelling, typos and format while you’re at it. Be professional.
Great to see a growing trend among agents – at least a lot of US agencies.
Their sites flash up the covers of the current books they represent. At a glance you can see if their taste in writing would fit on the same bookshop shelves as your efforts.
You’ve maybe noticed a lot of twitter and blog comments recently (okay not THAT many) where submitters aren’t sure if an agent represents their genre.
“What the heck do they mean exactly by ‘Splatterpunk’, ‘Femslash’, ‘High-concept thrillers’, ‘Literary fiction’, ‘Commercial fiction’,” etc?
Some are confused as to which genre pigeonhole they would be allocated to, especially if their book is a clever mix of several.
A peek at some covers can be great guidance.
Clearly if there’s dollops of blood, razor-like objects and evil characters on every dark cover then they probably don’t represent Southern belle romances. If bright cartoon characters predominate with dippy animals prancing about then it’s likely zombies won’t feature large in their collection.
I would guess a bunch of books like this are not high on unicorns, dragons and dungeons.
I for one find it a marvellously quick way to help decide. When I see a row of twee quilt covers and bunnies featuring on pastel covers then this is an agency that is not on my wavelength.
This front cover doesn’t lean towards Tudorpunk, Romantic comedy or Picaresque.
So, if all agencies smacked up the covers of books they represent, us scribblers can cut out all those wasted hours trawling through sites to find an agency where the duty 18 year-old intern might pass the query and sample pages along to an actual agent.
Another thing while I’m at it. Why have so few English agencies failed to join us in the 21st century? Far too many don’t accept email queries. Don’t they realise how many trees they’re helping murder? Or how much stamps cost?
It is a very feeble response to say that they’d be inundated by queries. Bit like a shop complaining that the place is packed with people looking through their merchandise. Okay they’ll get a lot of dross, but if one percent of your haystack contains a JR Rowling, then the bigger the haystack the bigger chance of turning up another Harry Potter series.
So it’s hard work! But not as hard as writing a novel in the first place.
There’s a revolution going on in your industry – join it or you’ll be tumbril cargo heading for the publishing guillotine.
I’m not a great fan of because there’s always as much advertising as news.
Suffering the same adverts eight times an hour is head-bangingly tedious.
I realise the advertiser’s point is not to entertain and inform but make sure their brand is embedded in the grey matter so that the viewers will grab a familiar product from supermarket shelves – theirs,
I now hold a deep apathy for…well I won’t mention the half a dozen names that spool endlessly during the CNN channel breaks, but I purposely avoid buying their stuff.
So far so bad. But CNN also spend a lot of time advertising their own programmes including the one the adverts are interrupting.
They want me to watch the channel I’m already watching!
One advert a day, no problem, or even several a day if they’ve got a catchy, DIFFERENT, tag but a repetition of the same plea sends me into negative mode.
I wouldn’t pick up their work even if it’s free. I recognise their avatar and don’t even read their other Tweets.
If the writer’s imagination doesn’t allow neat variations on 140 characters then chances are their novel is as dull and uninspiring. I don’t intend to find out.
If my straw poll of friends is indicative then I’m not in the minority in this.
Over-Tweeting your novel is counter productive. Don’t do it.
By the way, have you got PROOF OF PASSING, BLAST RADIUS. REBOOT or RECLAIM? Click on Books and you can pick up your copy.
Squeal of brakes, screech of tyres, blast of angry car horns and a life-saving skip and jump from a startled bus queue.
“How on earth did they pass their driving test?” asks the wife. Actually she said, “Wo hat der seinen Führerschein gewonnen?” She’s from Frankfurt.
Good question, since the motorist in front was blissfully driving a metaphorical horse and cart through the Highway Code. Their spaced-out behaviour suggested that even operating an electric toothbrush might result in a gappy smile. The crumpled car bodywork was evidence that ‘hit’ rather than ‘miss’ was the driver’s forte.
“Some people need to pass a test before they’re allowed out in public,” the missus added five minutes later when a woman’s umbrella almost had her eye out, flipped a quire of newspapers off the revolving stand, and shoved two skateboarder into the busy road while her extending dog’s lead snared two toddlers and a pushchair.
That’s exactly what Amazon needs, I thought when we finally arrived back home in one piece. Any potential reviewer should have to pass a test and obtain a licence before submitting a book review.
Something on the lines of:
- Are you now or have you ever been a friend or relation of the author?
- Do you continually use the expressions: ‘Awesome’, ‘Epic’, ‘Check out’ or ‘Amazing’.
- Have you read at least ten books this year (this decade, this century, Ever?)
- Do you know the difference between a comma and a coma?
- Do you think ‘grammar’ is your mum’s mum?
- If the story has no zombies, vampires, dragons, witches, elves or magic is it automatically rubbish?
No doubt you can think of a load more.
Depending upon the answers, a potential reviewer may be given a Kiddies’ Books Only, a Provisional, or a Full Reviewing Licence.
People who regard Dan Brown, Stephenie Myer or E.L. James as literary giants would never qualify for any licence. We’re all perfectly entitled to enjoy junk food so long as we don’t confuse it with haute cuisine.
Advanced reviewers must be able to identify a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, and other parts of speech. They should at least have heard of: plot devices, story arcs, characterization and conflict. And be able to spell them.
On the other hand it is a massive plus that so many read, or attempt to read, a few of the host of books on offer, and upload comments. Years ago, you went into a book shop (there were lots around in the olden days), and made your choice as best you could (paying mightily for a new novel that initially only came out in hardback). If you were lucky you were helped in your choice because a few dozen books were reviewed in the press although there was still no guarantee that the comments were unbiased or valid.
The Amazon review system is horribly flawed but can guide you as to where you might risk your hard-earned cash. The quality of a review alone is often a pointer to its merit and validity.
Ignore the first ten 5* reviews made within the first weeks of publication – fifteen, if you know the author has a big family. Always read the ‘Look Inside’ sample. At least it should tell you if English is the author’s first language.
Incidentally, if you pick up one of my novels, I’d love a review; licence or no licence.
I’ve changed my approach to Amazon reviews. I’m now sneaking round the back and reading the lower star ones first for any particular book.
1* reviews are often more indicative of quality than a string of 5* ones.
Let’s be clear about this. If a book had 150 comments rated 4* and 5* then chances are it’s a damned good read.
Most definitely worth a at the very least to see if it’s your thing.
But there are clearly cases where sock puppets or the family and friends have contributed far more than their fair share to plug their pal’s efforts. How do you tell the difference between the Good, the Bad and the Plug-ly?
• A lot of the reviewers come from the same area.
If five of them are from Washbag, Indiana or Coalface, Co. Durham then it’s probably alarm
bell time. I once came across a series of reviews done by the author’s students. Naturally all
were totally positive if only partially literate.
• Certain telling phrases and comments are repeated almost word for word.
It’s action packed and a belting good read;
the characters are so lifelike I felt I knew them all;
I couldn’t put this book down and raced through it in one day
• Downright fairy tales.
I have enjoyed every book I’ve read by this author
when it clearly says in the blurb this is a debut book and was only published a month ago.
I have NEVER read anything this good
• Everything: plot, character, prose, atmosphere etc. is in the superlative.
If it were true this is the next Man Booker or Nobel Lit prize candidate.
I’m also not sure I can take a reviewer seriously if it seems they skipped most of their schooling.
This were the bestest buk I ever red.
So you work your way down to the last review which often begins with, I downloaded this because it had lots of five stars. What? Are they all on drugs? This was utter rubbish.
With luck the writer will then go on to point out in detail some of the offences against the English language committed by the book’s author. Often the analysis is specific, well-argued and grammatically correct. This kind of thing is worth twenty dodgy five star ‘big ups’.
Okay, you occasionally you come across a vindictive review by the author’s ex or as a revenge for some slight. These are usually easy to spot because they go way over the top.
This is the worst thing I’ve ever read. My four year-old writes better. The writer’s typing fingers
should be surgically removed. Hanging would be too good for him/her etc.
Now, I save myself a lot of reading time and go straight for the 1* jugular. A ‘Look Inside will often confirm the review but sometimes you can be fooled because the writer is not a story-teller. The first few pages seem okay but nothing develops, goes anywhere or makes much sense. How often have we kept reading in the hope things will get better and our money has not been wasted? Too often. A decent 1* review can save frustration, time and money.
Write an honest review even if the author is a friend of yours. Remember:
Some songs set your feet tapping and the tune is so simple even non-singers test their lungs. I recently heard a modern cover version of a such a hum-along. Only now it wasn’t.
Picture a marching band and a symphony orchestra simultaneously being shoved down a very steep flight of concrete stairs while still playing, that will give you an idea of the production. It reminded me of our school band when we were eight years old – everyone got an instrument to blow, bang or strum with all their might. Name That Tune. No chance.
I produce a similar result whenever I try to cook. I keep adding things in the hope of beefing up (or chickening up) the original recipe. I go from one end of the spice rack to the other: Chillis, Oregano, Sea Salt, Cumin, Ginger, Basil. You name it and the chances are a pinch will be sprinkled in the pot. The result – as flavoursome as chewing on the end of a pencil.
“What do you call this?” guests ask. Not because they want to chase up the recipe, but they’re hoping I might give a hint of what it originally was: beef, chicken, pig, or fish. Animal, Vegetable or Mineral.
Switch from the music and the food, to writing.
I’m not a big believer in all the fences and high jumps put in the way of telling a good story. You obviously need the tools of decent grammar, spelling, and some sentence structure or your tale will read like those well-remembered assembly instructions for flat-pack furniture.
AND you’re in danger of getting much the same effect as the musical clamour and culinary overkill if you use bunches of adverbs and adjectives.
What you’re trying to get across is lost in the background clutter. And it’ll end up like the pot mess with too many herbs – stodgy, tasteless and boring.
Keep it clean and simple – an unaccompanied gospel tune or river fresh trout need few additives to be perfect. If you’ve got the right word, chances are it won’t need embellishment.