Vicki being The Girl, solved!

This is a red letter day in the history of this novel. I cracked the last major creative challenge – everything from here is more or less mechanical.

As per the last entry, I almost completely reworked part 8, then found I had to rework it again. I had Vicki being the girl and her appearing to Dale in the dream and after it all worked out. Her appearance made sense in the larger plot, the only thing I had left to do was make it really frightening – it's the last major supernatural scare in the book because after that they go back in time to the bridge collapsing.

And I cracked it, going back to the motif of the clouds of dust thrown into the air by the collapse (I kept looking at pictures of Mt Pinatubo and the World Trade Centre for reference). Instead of her just being a gory zombie kind of monster (which there was no reason for), she appears at the edge of the dust cloud, appearing to Dale like she did in the dream, him believing she's trapped in the faraway and that the entity tortures and kills her there constantly.

He's just about to reach her when the huge jabiru headed dinosaur monster from the expedition bursts through it and bites her in half. Dale's failed and it seems she'll die repeatedly in the faraway and he won't be able to save her and himself.

Like the entity apparently told him through the chat client, he has to take her place. Tim's tried the frequency changing thing and it not only sent everything crazy, Dale got a glimpse of Vicki in the faraway waiting for him. So Dale already has plan B ready – shut down the brace with the killswitch code and throw himself off the bridge.

It's while he's running towards the edge path to do that that the wave comes and he and Tim are sent back in time. It all feels like it fits brilliantly, and for the first time in years, the causal structure and chain of events in Falling feels complete.

Vicki being The Girl, part V

Well I'm still working on the problem of Vicki being The Girl, and I've mostly cracked it. It ended up taking a major rejiggering of part 8, giving Dale more of a reason to want to go back to the bridge and using Tim's idea of changing the frequency of the brace as a pretense to do it.

It's all got to do with the dream he has while sleeping in Tim's front room in front of the TV, having Vicki appear to him and making him think he can go and save her.

The answer has been to make Dale recognise that the place in the dream is the faraway, and believing that Vicki's trapped there and that he can go there and bring her back from it.

A critical part of making that seem real was making that belief follow him out of the dream. You can dismiss a dream as just being something your mind makes up, but if something else happens out in the real world it would make it seem a) like you were right in the dream and b) make it nice and ghostly.

I settled on an IM conversation from Vicki's account – someone that could only be Vicki, and the entity breaking in to taunt Dale about having her captive. It felt pretty strong when I first wrote it but I'll have to see if it works. I like the idea of the supernatural co-opting technology and machines to do its bidding, makes it feel a bit more like it's really happening because it's not all airy fairy and spiritual.

The only element missing is a view or a scene or a reveal that shows Vicki there, something *really* scary that I can replicate when they get onto the bridge and find her.

The challenge there is that when she appears on the bridge to Dale it can't really be scary because he has to be overcome with love and run to her.

It's all reminded me – as every session does, that rewriting is a process of making the reason things happen stronger. When I look back to the first few drafts there were so many things that happened there was no rhyme or reason for, they were just there because they were cool. It's what the phrase 'kill your darlings' was invented for.

Stitching up details

Finally back into Falling and I'm getting very close to letting other people read it (just hope they remember they promised they would from about four years ago).

I've done all the chapter and sequence break-ups, so no chapter should be longer than four pages. It's a theory I've remembered since reading a mostly-forgotten thriller a couple of years back. Some chapters were no more than a page or so, and I think it's going to give the whole thing a lot of forward momentum. It looks big, but you'll think 'just one more chapter' (as long as you're enjoying it) and get through the whole thing quicker.

Next was to go through and fix the whole reveal about the girl problem, and I think I have.

The sticking point was having Dale not remember who her name was from before. I couldn't have him remember because it would make it more certain it was her (more certain to him, anyway) and take away the doubt that partly drives their relationship.

But it occurred to me that as he'd had a blow to the head when he landed, there'd be all sorts of things he'd forget. There's already some stuff about how he had such a long and difficult recuperation period he just stopped thinking about a lot of stuff from before. He did think about her, because it talks about how he thought every now and then to try and track down her parents, but having him forget her name and face thanks to his injuries (scientifically plausible – look up the story of Phineas Gage) took it the next step.

I also put more of the responsibility on Vicki's shoulders. When he starts talking about how it might be her and her fear of the bridge bubbles up, she gets as confused as he does and – something I still have to flesh out – she feels much more strongly than before how sexual arousal is linked to it.

With both of them in a state of near-delirium/terror/arousal, having them sleep together feels much more plausible.

Anyway, after I go through and rewrite those sequences according to the new set-up, I have a few little details here and there like stitching the Waylan Pakesh siege more to what's going on with the Harbour Bridge – tie it in a bit more. Although maybe the 58.45v thing that comes later does that? Is that enough? Without a bit more tangible a link all it's really doing is introducing Tim and showing him and his methods in action, which is kind of the mission statement of the book – applying scientific enquiry to ghosts and hauntings.

After that there's a lot more mechanical stuff, checking for dashes and semi-colons, numbering the chapters now they're all broken up, redoing a scene plan and chronology. But the end is in sight.

Cutting and too much pasting

The joys of structural adjustments. After all the work I did in the last lot shifting scenes in part 8 after realising too much happened at once, I ended up with one particular sequence in two places. The scene where Vicki reads about the poltergeist episode in country NSW ended up in two places, and I didn't realise until I'd almost finished the rewrite of the section.

It worked out kind of for the best though, as there were two sequences that were a problem. The first was the Gilgandra sequence, and the other was the Haiti sequence, where she describes the anthropologist who witnesses the zombie exhumation.

Originally they were right after each other, and Tim realised the brace was the cause at the same time, so in older drafts I'd moved Haiti and Gilgandra away from each other so they weren't so obvious.

Then I moved Haiti somewhere else entirely, so when I figured out I had Gilgandra in two places I was able to move Haiti back to where one of them was – it had been a bit shoehorned in where I had it so it slotted in perfectly.

The end result – two sequences that support the brace theory, but nowhere near Vicki or Tim figuring out about the brace.

At this point I think I'm almost completely finished this more-than-three-year rewrite. The Gilgandra and Haiti thing came out of the notes I had scattered throughout the manuscript in bold red text, and they're in part 8, so I'm nearly at the end of the bold red notes.

Major progress

Well, after a new year's resolution (which I almost never make – I like to think I don't have to wait for a special occasion to change my life for the better, I decided to start a new novel this year.

That means finishing Falling, so I resolved to spend a day a week working on it, and so far so good.

First I finished shortening the chapters. I read a Crichton-esque science thriller a few years back called Entangled, and the thing that really stuck with me was the short chapters – only a page or so in some cases.

After awhile it occurred to me it'd be a great approach for Falling. Some of the science if a bit heavy anyway, so I figure more breaks can't be a bad thing.

But mostly it's about pacing. If the story's working, psychologically we're more liable to put it down if there's a big chapter. If we can see it's only a short chapter we'll be more tempted to keep going just to read a bit more, and before you know it you've sat up all night and finished it.

So I wanted to chapters to be no more than around 1400 words, and most of them were, but I had a bit of work to do.

Some scenes - like the Thai dinner at Dale's place where Tim explains the physics behind ghosts and hauntings – were really long.

That made chopping and changing one of the challenges, because I realised I'd written the rest of the book very much for a chapter to end so the action can shift somewhere else.

If you have a chapter break and then just go back to the same scene it just feels like there's a break for the sake of it. The only other way to manage it if you don't have anywhere else to cut to (and with Donald and Barry dead and Dale, Tim and Vicki really the only characters left, I'd run out of places to cut to) is the finish the chapter on a big bombshell or reveal.

Cutting Tim's long exposition up to include two or more bombshells was the only way around it.

Keeping other advice in mind that I'd heard about what's called Deep Point of View, I reintroduced Albert for two chapters. Previously when the train carriage disappeared I'd left the characters to just describe the speculation, media shitstorm and theories about where it came from and how everyone missed it.

By depicting Albert trying to deal with it all in the halls of the city government put it back on Earth, gave it some dialogue and cut it all down a whole lot.

That was actually part of a much bigger reworking of the first half of Part 8.

Originally Dale had come to Tim's house to sleep and there were two major discussions about changing the frequency, the pylon monsters (and Tim figuring out what it was) and the reveal about how it can manipulate – and, with the revelation about the train carriage – create matter out of nothing.

It cut from there to the fishing boat that finds the carriage, the media and government fighting and the theories that arose in the public discourse, and I realised I was taking way too long to say stuff that could be much more direct.

For one thing, Dale and Tim have the first discussion in the kitchen while they're eating, and for the second discussion they're back in the kitchen eating.

There was a whole lot more in there to convey as well, including Dale dreaming about the faraway and nearly understanding what it is and also convincingly giving him a reason to think he has to go back and save Vicki.

I tightened it all up and managed to keep everything in, wrapped it all up into about three chapters less and replaced all the omniprescent exposition with character action as well.

Something else I've been very careful about is anchors. I think of a huge load of something with a tarp wrapped around it, and ropes tied tightly around it to keep it together, hooks either end biting into the canvas to stretch the ripes taut.

Those as the anchors setting something up and paying it off in the story, crisscrossing every which way and calling back to older stuff.

If you just shoehorn something in to call back to something else the audience can see from miles away it's just a cheap plot device you just dropped in to set up something else.

To extend the metaphor above, it's a hook in the canvas with the rope just dangling free, and stands out like dogs balls.

The trick is to go back to where the set-up makes the most sense to the story, so it's seamless. If a character says 'hey, what's this red poker chip in my pocket? Oh well, I'm sure it's nothing, anyway, what were we talking about?' the poker chip might as well have a flashing neon light that says 'convenient plot device'.

Give your Macguffin significance to what's going on right there and instead of a jarring speedbump it'll just be a smooth stretch of road full of details the reader is taking in naturally along with the rest of the narrative.

After all the above, I now find myself at the stage where all the major rewriting is over. The rest of the work is just mechanical.

Vicki being The Girl, part IV

I've hit on one idea that's becoming more prominent in my mind. As I said before, the blue dress doesn't work and the loveheart doesn't work, which is a shame because being physical objects, they can be very emblematic and cinematic (just as important in a novel as on a screen, trust me).

But what about the sexy phone call, the one Dale's thinking about as a 19 year old crossing the bridge when it starts to fall? It plays a bigger part in Vicki's story anyway, forever anchoring her sexuality to her fears of the bridge.

During the Vicki being The Girl rewrite I've just expanded and explained that aspect ion the sequence when she's driving onto the bridge to reach Dale while he's in the hospital and finds herself back on the bridge with everything coming back to her.

It also explains how she wants him so much and gives into it, which to be honest might still be viewed as just the love interest falling into bed with the hero.

But it's one thing they'd both remember. Dale remembers it well because it's what he was thinking about when it all started. If I can think of a way she can mention it during the therapy session when they first sleep together, it can be the big reveal Dale realises and becomes convinced it's her.

Vicki being The Girl, part III

The new edits about whether Vicki is the girl form Dale's past or not are working out really well. I'm writing some really good, emotional stuff.

There's one snag left. In her surgery for the second session, when they end up sleeping together, there has to be some event or reveal that she mentions which makes Dale realise – suddenly and unmistakably – that she's the girl.

The only two things I can thing up which makes any sense to the plot are the plastic loveheart from the flowers and the blue dress. Anything else would just feel like a convenient plot contrivance.

Problem is the dress doesn't work because Vicki wouldn't remember it, and the loveheart doesn't work because even if she has it doesn't prove anything – the flowers could have come for her friend at work rather than her.

But I'm about halfway through the edits to each section concerned, so I feel pretty confident something will pop out at me. I'm so confident the construction around it is all there and very solid – I just don't know what it is. So far it's called THE REVEAL! in red bold and italic text.

Vicki being The Girl, part II

Well I've gone right through the manuscript and sketched out what has to happen and where for The Girl Problem to be fixed (sounds like a great title for a novel in itself).

Happily it shouldn't mean any extra chapters or too much rejigging – I can do it all in the structure that's already there.

Dale still has to be sure it's Vicki because of something sudden, and that also explains why they sleep together the first time in her surgery. Vicki being the girl also explains why she sleeps with him as well – partly to keep the fear and nightmares of her own about the bridge away.

Then the evolution of what they both believe about her being the girl feels more batural. She gradually talks Dale out of it because of how little sense it makes right up until she has the vision at Circular Quay during the experiment with Tim.

I'm also giving Dale a much better reason to go back to the bridge with Tim at the end – something tangible that makes him believe Vicki's there and needs him. At the moment it's just a nightmare he wakes from and then something he sees in the real world that makes him think so.

I'm not sure what I have is good enough at anchoring something else in the plot – at the moment it's just a lipstick message in a mirror that says 'help me' or something – but I'm sure something better will occur to me in the rewriting of those scenes. Something to do with The Faraway or the plastic lovehart or something.

But this is a major turning point in the actual writing. It's the last major plot problem to be worked out before the far more mechanical stage or proofreading, marking up etc.

Vicki being The Girl, part 1

Well that was a gap. I got altogether too busy to continue and this problem with Vicki being The Girl has tripped me up badly. But I couldn't ignore it any more, I had to go in arms swinging.

A friend actually suggested a fix that might work – the fact that her and Dale just went on a few dates in the early days, they weren't in love or anything. Apparently if you date someone a few times in your early 20s you can easily have forgotten what they looked like in your mid 30s.

It feels like a good overarching strategy, but some of the details are still sticking points. One of them is that he'd remember her name, and when he met her he might think 'I dated a girl called Vicki a few times,' and I'm worried if he did that it's what would prompt the memory that makes him think it's her, and I want that memory to be a bit more profound than just being reminded of her name.

Well, as is the usual way to attack it I've gone right through the manuscript to isolate all the sections that talk about it, and the next step is to figure out where the narrative of the subplot has to go, come up with a baseline that makes sense and feels honest (Vicki changing her name or getting plastic surgery just feel like plot contrivances), and weave it back in to the story where it appears now.

The virtue of short chapters

At the moment I'm shortening the chapters. A tacky softcover thriller I've already forgotten most about taught me one thing a few years ago – short chapters encourage the reader to go on. If they're into it, it's only one more short chapter before they have to put it down and finally go to sleep.

To my surprise, I've actually been very good about keeping the chapters short without realising, and I've hardly had to split anything. I still need to system card the whole thing though.

Major rewrite notes done

I've finished all the major major MAJOR rewrite notes, finally. Only one problem remains – how to make it plausible that Dale and Vicki don't really remember each other.

But next job is to system card the scenes and reshuffle them if necessary. At the moment I'm doing a new storyboard.

Over the hump?

Well, I'm down to the minor edits now (apart from the Vicki's identity issue). During the major rewrite from beginning to end I made a lot of bold red notes in the manuscript – aside from all the major edits I've got in my separate editing document – and I got more than halfway through. So the whole thing's looking much cleaner.

A long time away

Well, that was a long absence. And how amazing that I've come back to this journal a year to the day since I left it.

The reason is because I've had nothing much to report. Not that a lot hasn't happened, but it can all be summed up in one word; rewriting.

The rewrite of the whole novel, which I seemed to get through so fast early on, ground almost to a halt as other commitments came up. But I kept at it, the pace got slower, it took longer to move ahead, and every time I attacked it I seemed to move a shorter distance.

But not long after Christmas 2010, I reached that line once more; 'and if there was one thing Tim needed, it was a good rest'.

I arrived there with lots more notes, which at this stage look like they'll take less time to get through, but it's not even close to there yet. What I have is essentially a first draft of the second major rewrite. I have a few people lined up to read it (and to be honest I'm not expecting impartiality, if they find the grammatical and spelling errors that'll be enough).

So little progress to report yet, but I hope things move apace soon.

Goddamn real life

Well, my plan to take the whole of January off to do the entire rewrite was …interesting. I had to go to Sydney the other week, which of course had an effect, but then I came back with so much piled up and work to do it quickly blew the last week out too, and now I have at least another week or work ahead of me. No cause for complaint as it pays the bills, but it's the unpublished writer's curse - we have to pay the bills somehow.

I got into this freelance writing thing to get some professional backing and a name as a writer but here's what they don't tell you when you start it - when it comes to sending stuff to publishers or agents, it doesn't make a lick of difference.

That sounds bitter, and it isn't. I can't put a price on the contacts and experience of the industry I've collected, but so far I haven't had a single inkling that a manuscript I've sent to a publisher has got any further because I list 30 magazine credits at the end of the letter.

So to be honest, it's served it's purpose, and all it's doing for me at the moment (apart from me being one of the lucky few who loves their job) is paying the mortgage – again, no cause for complaint.

So when I get over this hump of work I intend to put some more serious time into it. I flew through parts 1 and 2, part 3 needed a lot of work, and so has part 4. And that's as far as I got in just a couple of weeks. It might have been naïve to think I could do a whole rewrite of all eight parts in less than a month, but I got a good start and found a lot more to improve than I thought I would, which is what slowed it down. Again, that's no cause for complaint because it's a much stronger book now - it's the other writer's curse that nothing's ever finished because as your skills grow you'll see more faults with your work.

Adventures with publishers

Pan Macmillan is the most populist publisher in this country, and it's the one I've never had a decent contact at. After emailing a girl for years she eventually told me she wasn't even a publicist, she was just a co-ordinator.

When I did ask her if I could visit one of the publicists during a visit last year she just brushed me off with a 'sorry, they'll all be too busy'. I wanted to say 'do you want me to publicise your fucking books by writing about them for you or not?', but even though I haven't tested that approach I doubt it'd work.

A few months back I somehow got hold of an email address for a real publicist. I suggested getting together with her on my last trip to Sydney (last week) and she was so lovely and very professional, so finally I have an inside man at what's – by several measures – the best publisher in the country.

I told her about the books for boys story and she seemed very excited by the possibility. We got talking about it because I mentioned that I'd love to interview John Birmingham, who's one of theirs. He has a book coming out this year and it'll be the perfect way to start contact with him.

Full steam ahead

The rewrite is going better than I could have hoped. I worked really hard before Christmas and got almost everything done I had, so I could leave as much of January free as possible. I never thought I'd be taking almost a whole month off to work on a novel, but here I am doing it.

I've done a lot of planning, storyboarding and notations, now I'm into the actual rewrite. And true to the way stories are, you can never finish improving them. With all the notes I've made the structural changes are writing themselves, and I'm putting things into much better words as well.

I know it's faster, leaner and better because I've stripped out a lot of backstory and exposition, and the stuff that's absolutely necessary I've stitched to the action far better.

But I won't say I regret it a little. Part of the charm of the original manuscript was how real it felt talking about the business community of the near future. A lot of that had t do with Albert the investigator and his side of the story, and now much of it's being lost.

I also always enjoyed the asides. No matter how much it was in the wrong place I liked the long entire sequence of what went wrong in the 1950s to cause the bridge to fall much later. I once read a critic say Neal Stevenson didn't do anything like it in his novels, freezing the action for pages and pages to go into reams of backstory, exposition and explanation. There was always something about that approach that I took with Falling, and I liked it.

So that's why I'm trying to take a media-savvy approach with it. I'm keeping all the cut material so when it becomes a hit people are going to want to look at the deleted scenes in the ebook version, just like they do on a DVD copy of a movie they love.

Anyway it's only three days into the new year and aside from probably a week or so of work I have all this month. I'm already at the end of part 2 with the rewriting, so it looks very good.

Keeping critiques in perspective

A guy from the critique group came back with his take on the chapter plan and he still didn't like it. But it's mostly good news. Most of what he didn't like fell into one of three categories. First was that he didn't believe characters would do certain things when I said they would, a problem of motivation.

Here's the thing with that; I read The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan, ostensibly a comment on the paranoia of our times but also a thriller of sorts. In it, a woman accused of being a terrorist goes on the run and hides from police. It makes for an effective thrill but the problem I had was that I didn't believe a word of it. It was a case of mistaken identity and I can't believe and intelligent woman would try to hide even while knowing she's done nothing wrong. She's even in the police station to give herself up when a scuffle breaks out, and she runs away and decides to keep hiding.

Anyway, if Flanagan's a best selling author with motivation that flimsy, I've got no problems. The motivations make sense to me because I know the characters. Nobody else has read the book, only a chapter plan – which is the second thing he didn't like. A lot of nuance is left out in the chapter plan, and he's asking about stuff I know is in there.

He also says a couple of times that stuff he didn't like from the first time is still in it, and that actually made me feel glad. A lot of this has been getting other people to identify stuff that needs changing, but it's also been about being certain of what I want to stay, and when he mentioned some things he still didn't like, it didn't faze me because I was so certain about them.

Finding weak spots

I worked on my notes some more and started fleshing out the storyboards more. When I've finishes this I'll have a sentence or a paragraph of every single scene including what happens in it, what it achieves and what it means is happening to the story (even though the reader might not know at that point).

I understand what writers say about writing your first draft just for your own amusement and just turning off your internal censor. The first draft is very much where you flow, just go along for the ride, enjoy what's happening and where it's taking you and feel tripped out by your own imagination.

But here is where I've attacked it methodically, like a publisher or editor, making sure it makes strength, shoring it up and raising the stakes.

And one thing it's doing to the whole manuscript, it's making it seem so much shorter and more manageable, like when I start on it it'll only be a few weeks work to get it perfect (I'm sure fate will disavow me of that notion) and ready.

The story I did for Bookseller and Publisher on distributors and how they're going in the bad economy still hasn't appeared. It's been so long the bloody economy's getting better, but that's okay. After chasing the editor Matthia a few times she emailed to say she's doing another job and Angela's taken over. She's the girl who does the reviews every month and seems nice, so I'll try to get her to run it, then I have a couple of distributor contacts to hit up for advice and business when the time comes.

The last* rewrite (*might not be the last rewrite)

I'm excited. I'm about to embark on the biggest major rewrite of Falling since I started it in (can you believe this?) 1991. Based on quite simple comments from the crit group, stuff I couldn't believe I couldn't see before, I have a page of notes that will strengthen the plot, stitch stuff together better, create nice throughlines, trim and tighten and more. It'll be a big job but I can't wait to get started.

Falling didn't fit it, and I have what I wanted from the process. But I did hear back from my friend Mat who promised to read it and is now reading an old copy. I feel kind of guilty, but if he finds one spelling mistake it'll be worth it.

Considering the tone

Lots of new ideas to strengthen the text, and as every writer knows (or finds out), now someone's pointed them out to me they're obvious.

I've had to separate a lot of chaff advice from the wheat, which feels good as I feel it shows my maturity and belief in my idea, like defending myself against the self publishing nay-sayer confidently. I also rang a grant organisation about applying and when I said 'self publishing' you'd think I'd said I was going to rape the woman's grandmother.

She ended up saying I should leave anything about self publishing off the application and I promptly dropped it in the bin when I hung up.

I wanted to be further along now, and this flies in the face of what I said to begin with about how the text almost doesn't matter, but I still want it as good as I can get it. I just have to keep in mind when I'm doing cuts and tightening that I never wanted this to be a hundred mile an hour thrill ride rollercoaster. I want a kind of cerebral – or at least considered – air. That way when people buy it expecting pulp horror they'll be pleasantly surprised. It's all in the marketing…