Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Y is for Young Adult

Y is for Young Adult - or children's fiction, for those of us who are more traditionally-minded. Today is also time for me to go back to work. 

Although I have several unfinished projects, I've decided to start something new. I'm going to try my hand at a fairy-tale retelling. I have selected Cinderella for this maiden attempt, purely on the basis of its widespread and enduring popularity. Something about this story speaks to nearly everyone; I think because it combines so many tropes that are central to the human condition. We have coming-of-age, we have newly awakened love, we have an heroic quest, we have the Turning of the Worm. 

I am not sure what length of story Cinders is going to give me. I'm pretty sure it won't be a full-length novel; I envisage it as a short story, but if there's too much story to fit into that length, then it can be a long story or even a novella. We'll see.

The first thing I always do when starting a new project is to clean up my desk. Today, this is going to be a big job, because it is a right old pig's breakfast.

This is the before picture. A nasty sight.
It takes me half an hour to get it decent. It's an unpleasant half hour, and once again I remind myself that if I would just keep things neat on a daily basis I wouldn't be faced with this every few months.

The After picture. What a relief!
Encouraged, I take a further half hour to do the Wednesday cleaning. Because it's Wednesday - ha! Take that, Flylady! And now I come to the part of a new project that I really love - setting up. You can take the writer out of I.T., but you can't take the I.T. out of the writer. I set up for a writing project the same way I used to set up for an I.T. project, more or less. Here's how I do it:

First of all I clear my desk. Today, I've already taken care of that step.

Then, I create a folder for it in my computer. With this story, I already set up the folder yesterday, because I had a couple of files of the Grimm version and the Perrault version. Of course my story hasn't yet got a title, so I called the folder 'Cinderella Retelling'. It can be renamed once I have a title.

Now, within that folder, I set up an Excel spreadsheet to track my progress. Different pages on the spreadsheet can also be used for other purposes, depending on what I'm doing and how complex it is. The main sheet tracks my daily wordcount and projects the finished length and completion date. Another sheet will be used to keep track of people to whom I've sent a beta copy or ARC.

Then, just because I'm a nerd, I add it into MS Project. Each stage of the work is detailed and a time value assigned. I'm very pessimistic when I do this, and Project tells me that the story will be ready to submit on 11 July. Most of this time is taken up by the six weeks' rotdown, where I leave the completed draft to fester and work on other stuff. I consider this indispensible, and the six weeks is a bare minimum. I also take a few minutes to update the other things in my project plan - the unfinished novel, the book that's with the beta reader, the hardcover edition that still has to have the dustjacket design fixed and the novella I finished last month. Finally, for each stage of the project, I create a task in Outlook. This may seem like a duplication of what I did in Project, but I find that it's easiest to work from Outlook because I will be adding notes to a task as I work. For example, sometimes as I'm drafting I will make notes about things I need to check or fix when I come to do First Revisions.

Now I am all set up and ready to start work on the outline. But first, a break to take Emily for her park walk. That turns out to be the thin end of the wedge - it's a perfect day and walkies stretch on for a long time, so that we're tired when we get home and lie down for a nap together, and then I fall asleep and don't wake up until five o'clock. So much for my productivity. Still, I have an hour before I need to get ready to go out, so I can get started on the new story.

With this being a fairy-tale retelling, I realise there needs to be an extra step in the process. Before I start my outline, I need to be clear on exactly what I'm retelling. The way in which I plan to attack this is to analyse the two versions of the story to get the basic, common elements and reduce it to a sort of skeleton, which will then become the framework of my own story's outline. I have no idea whether this will work, or whether it's the best way to approach it, because it's the first time I've ever attempted any kind of retelling of anything. 

Because of this, I realise that I was hasty in leaving out the physical aspects of setup. I think best with a pencil in my hand, so I will need printouts of the two story versions, and a spiral notebook. That's not a problem; I keep a vast stock of manilla folders and spiral notebooks. Like many writers, I'm obsessed with stationery and have to be physically restrained in Officeworks. 

Here's my physical setup. Can you say 'procrastination'?
After reading carefully through both the Grimm and the Perrault I find that it is the Perrault version on which all the popular versions of the story are based, and I decide to stick with it rather than attempt to synthesize the two as I'd originally planned. The next step is to clothe these bare bones in rags of my own devising. This will take some thought, as it has to be essentially a story of my own; it can't just be a rehash of tired old material. I decide to knock off for the day and let it stew about in my subconscious.

Tomorrow, the last day of my alphabet work challenge, will be brought to you by the letter Z.

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