Wednesday 30 January 2013

Rewriting a Sentence - a few tips

Here’s a little writing clinic today, on the art of rewriting a sentence.

Writing is, of course, not just about what you say, but how you say it. Here I’ll give you a few examples of how you can rewrite a sentence (sometimes into more than one sentence ...). This is not, of course, to say how one is better than the other, because there will be a time and a place for most sentences.

As a base let’s try this one –

Vincent ran quickly down the street away from the men who were running after him.

It’s not a bad sentence, but it’s a little boring and doesn’t say much despite using quite a lot of words. We can tighten it with some sharper vocabulary. In general, where an adverb is used – “quickly” in this case – a stronger verb exists that implies the same meaning. Sprinted, bolted, dashed, hurried, rushed, fled . . . all of these are better alternatives to “ran quickly”, which by its vey nature does not express the meaning of the words it uses.

Also, look out for phrasal verbs that can be tightened or replaced by a single word verb. Of course, English originates from many sources, and with Romance languages being more lyrical it makes sense to use a verb that came from one instead of a clunkier phrasal verb. In this case “run after” can be replaced by a word such as “pursued”, “followed” or “chased”.

Consider –

Vincent sprinted down the street away from the men who were chasing him.


Vincent fled down the street with his pursuers following him.

Better. We can also omit details we already know. For example, if we don’t care about the street, or if we already know where Vincent is, we can cull the street entirely.

Vincent fled from his pursuers.

Simple, but not very dramatic.

It’s often interesting to add detail rather than take it away. What you’re doing is adding colour to a scene. Just make sure that colour isn’t in the form of –ly adverbs.

Vincent bolted, his feet clattering over the cracked asphalt. Behind him, the men gave chase, their shouts of anger shattering the still of the night.

Interesting, if a bit long winded, and the clatter/shatter thing is borderline weird because of the rhyme. It sounds nice to write but can annoy readers. However, you can sort that out with a Thesaurus.

When trying to spice up a sentence beware of clichés –

Vincent fled with his pursuers in hot pursuit.

“Hot pursuit” is a cliché (in fact, “spice up” might be one too! I’ll have to check…). These are expressions that are so common as to be eye-rollingly annoying. In short, they’re a sign of lazy writing, of relying on tried and tested phrases, so you should try to cut them out. Search Google for lists of them. (here's one) You’d be surprised how many there are. One that got into Tube Riders was “all hell broke loose”. I liked it, but it had to die …

Another thing that a lot of newbie writers forget about is their senses. Remember, real life isn’t just what you see, but what you hear, taste, smell and touch. Use them. Again, they add colour.

Vincent tasted blood on his tongue as his boots echoed off the crumbling asphalt. Behind him, the shouts of his pursuers rang in the air as they hunted him. He grimaced, remembering the coarseness of their rough hands as they held him underwater, the stench of week-old sweat, the salty taste of the cold liquid as it forced its way down his cracked and bleeding throat.

Okay, so I’ve gone totally over the top there and one one sentence has become three, but you get my drift. You don’t have to force senses into every sentence, but just remember they exist. When describing something always keep them in mind, just like you would in real life. What you want is for your fiction to jump off the page, and remembering your senses will certainly help.

So far we’ve focused on Vincent, but of course there are loads of ways we could rearrange this sentence.

You could focus on the people chasing him –

They were gaining on him, Vincent knew, as he sprinted down the street.

Or on outside details –

The howling wind ripping through the trees screamed at Vincent to hurry. The men were gaining.

You could even consider what Vincent is thinking –

The wind howled down the dark street. At the far end, a group of shadows appeared beneath a solitary streetlight. Here they come. They’re gaining. I’m dead this time. Taking what he hoped wouldn’t be his last breath, Vincent turned and ran.

(use italics if possible to indicate thought. Some people use speech marks which is kind of silly since speech marks are used for speech, while some people don’t do anything, which means the thoughts can sometimes blend into the rest of the narrative.)

And one last thing, as I’m going on far long than I originally intended with this, remember the lengths of your sentences. Depending on your genre, short sentences could be better.

Vincent looked up. The wind howled. There, beneath the streetlights: a man. Heart pounding, Vincent turned. And ran.

Or long ones –

The howling wind tried to mask the sound of pounding feet over the cracked and broken asphalt, disguise the shouts of the men as they raced like a black tide towards where Vincent, his heart pounding, his throat and lungs raw from the torture, turned on shaking legs and began, one fragile step after another, an attempt to escape.

Or something like that …

Okay, I’ve gone on far longer than I intended to with this one, but I hope some of you find this useful. Remember, there are always more than one way to describe something. If your writing feels flat (or worse, other people tell you it’s flat) think about some of these ideas and see if you can’t, um, spice things up a little bit.

Good luck and happy writing.

30th Jan 2012

Friday 25 January 2013

In Praise of Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If you're here you'll know I'm a writer, and there comes a time for every writer when they feel the need to bow down in awe of someone who's skill is infinitely better than theirs.  Today I'd like to do that to Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Spanish author of The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game.

I read The Shadow of the Wind a few years ago and it was an astonishingly good book.  A mystery story set in early 20th Century Barcelona, it had everything: exquisite writing, wonderful characters and fantastic plot twists.


The wife recently bought me The Angel's Game for Christmas and while I've only read a few pages so far it looks to be along the same lines.  When I write I do my best to write well, but sometimes I find myself reading a book that I just can't touch.  One day, I hope, but certainly not now.

Here's a little paragraph for you from page 30 of The Angel's Game -

"More than once I too hoped that would happen, but my father always came back and found me alive and kicking, and a bit taller.  Mother Nature didn't hold back: she punished me with her extensive range of germs and miseries, but never found a way of successfully finishing the job.  Against all prognoses, I survived those first years on a tightrope of a childhood before penicillin. In those days death was not yet anonymous and one could see and smell it everywhere, devouring souls that had not even had time enough to sin."

Read it aloud.  It's like poetry, perfectly flowing and rhythmical.  And that last sentence ... it's literature as art.  I've heard a lot of popular fiction writers criticising literary fiction because of its verbosity, when to me that shows an underlying envy of someone who has mastered their craft.  When one puts pen to paper it is with the attempt to write something that comes alive off the page, and Carlos Ruiz Zafon does that with ease.

His stories are just brilliant too.  If you haven't read The Shadow of the Wind and you like deep, involving mysteries with insane plot twists all wrapped up in beautiful prose, I suggest you give it a try.

26th January 2012

Thursday 24 January 2013

A Year in Self Publishing

A Year of Self Publishing

Those of you who know me well will know that I’ve been writing since forever, but it was only one year ago, January 24th, 2012, that I self-published for the first time.

I’ve been traditionally published before to a certain extent – two short stories in professional magazines and more than 20 times in the small presses. In total, I’ve sold 33 short stories, however a lot of those sales were to magazines that bit the bucket before my story (and my pay check) ever saw print.

I won’t go too much into my reasons for deciding to self-publish, but it was mostly an attempt to save myself as a writer. I’d written what I thought was a seriously top drawer book (Tube Riders) and seen it rejected time and again by publishers and agents (it actually got three partial requests, but that was about it). My confidence in being able to sell was at such a low ebb I was close to quitting. I hadn’t written anything meaningful in more than two years and I’d been wasting my time doing all sorts of random things which weren’t writing fiction, generally throwing away whatever shred of talent I had.

Self-publishing was something I felt I had to try. I wanted people to read my books, had confidence in my writing skills and my stories, and saw it as an opportunity rather than a last chance saloon.

This is what happened.

On 24th January 2012 I uploaded a previously published short story, Forever My Baby, to Amazon, followed a few days later by another short story, The Ageless.

By the end of January I had made four sales – two to myself, one to my dad and one to a mate.

In February I added three more previously published short stories and a collection of ten, Ms Ito’s Bird & Other Stories. By the end of the month I had sold 22 total copies, mostly to friends and family, and made about $20.

So it continued. In March I published my novel The Tube Riders, followed by another novel, The Man Who Built the World, in September. I added several more short stories, the first two episodes of a novella series, and I split Tube Riders into three parts, primarily as a marketing tool.

By the end of the year I had 21 items for sale on Amazon.

My sales ticked over very slowly without really kicking off. Still, by the end of the year I had sold 415 books and had make a fraction under $700.

Ebook sales totals by month
(all Amazon stores combined)

Jan – 4
Feb – 22
Mar – 15
Apr – 13
May – 6
Jun – 32
Jul – 30
Aug – 27
Sept – 20
Oct – 72
Nov – 33
Dec – 113
Paperbacks (Sept to Dec) - 18
Total – 415

Revenue - $699.66

October’s spike was the first time I offered Tube Riders as a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select free promotion, and in December I did another one. While I’m not a fan of giving books away for free, I am very serious about making this into a career and in the early days it is important to get as many readers as possible. Hopefully in the future I will be able to move away from KDP Select into other distributors and more traditional forms of advertising beyond the free promotions that Select allows. However, so far it has helped me a lot, although for those sales I have given away roughly 16,000 free books through promotions. It is quite some figure, but considering there are probably more than 10 million people with Kindles alone it’s a drop in the ocean, and it allowed me to reach readers that would otherwise have not found my work. It’s a form of advertising, and costs me nothing, whereas billboards or newspaper ads would cost a small fortune I don’t have. So far it’s been worth it.

So, $700. It's a solid figure, but not so much when you consider the outlay. So far, my rough costs have been –

$650 – production costs (cover design, formatting etc)
$200 – advertising (paperback giveaways, competitions, ads sites, websites etc)

And how about time?

It’s impossible to tell for sure, but at a rough estimate over the last year I’ve spent an average of 2 hours a day on writing, advertising, designing covers, formatting . . . so even if I hadn’t had the expenditures I would still have earned less than $1 per hour for my efforts.

What does this tell me?

That self-publishing is no easy cash grab. I have a day job and some days I’m out of the house working from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fitting in so much work on self-publishing around that was pretty hard. In layman’s terms, I busted my ass on this.

Am I satisfied?

I don’t consider myself a flash in the pan or a fly-by hoping to make a quick buck. I am a careerist and sooner or later this will be my full time job. It’s not open for debate. The number of great reviews I’ve had back up my own confidence in my material. I’m currently working on a seven year plan to go full time (by the time I’m 40) so I have six to go. As I write this I’ve already had 113 sales in January which is 528 in my first year. If someone had offered me that at the beginning of 2012 I would have jumped all over it.

While some people blow up with just one or two books and start selling by the thousand, I never realistically expected that to happen to me. I’ve always been a grafter, but that’s fine. Health permitting I’ll be putting out the same amount of product (and hopefully more) each year. Unless there’s some random market crash I only expect things to improve.

I’ll save what I’ve learned from self-publishing over the last year for another post, but self-publishing has already achieved what I needed it to achieve.

It has saved me as a writer.

For years I wrote roughly a novel a year, but by the age of 30 (2009, when I wrote Tube Riders) the years of rejection and failure to find a publisher had taken its toll and my creativity was at an all time low.

Back in June last year, three months after I published Tube Riders, I realised that it was time to start writing again. In the past seven months I’ve written a shade over 275,000 words, or three good-length novels. That is my most productive period ever, and with 24,000 words in January so far it is showing no signs of abating. I’m back, and writing better than ever.

And I’m committed to continuing to improve. Not just my books, but my knowledge of the business side of self publishing.

There’s a lot more to come from me. I hope you’re looking forward to it.

24th Jan 2012

Thursday 17 January 2013

The Hunger Games - Movie vs Book

The Hunger Games – Movie vs Book

I finally got to see The Hunger Games movie last night after reading the book last week. As a writer I don’t do internet piracy and it only got released here in Japan on DVD on Jan 16th. It’s also been compared to my book The Tube Riders so I was pretty excited to see it.

The Trailer

Quite often after watching Harry Potter movies people would say to me, “You should read the book”. I can understand why now. The HG movie didn’t suck, in fact it was quite good, but it did omit or gloss over quite a lot of content and there were sections that I probably wouldn’t have understood had I been watching without having read the book first.

(warning – spoilers coming up)

What I liked

The bleakness of District 12. It was pretty realistic, as was the almost absurdly colorful Capitol. It was teeny and fantastical yet believable.

The telling of the backstory. The book is from Katniss’s point of view which meant it was necessary to fill in the backstory and the wider world in a certain way. Explanations of things such as the sponsors and the arena, while brief, were done quite well.

Jennifer Lawrence. She really is a great actress. She’s not especially good looking and also has the perfect level of awkwardness to portray Katniss from the books. She was also really good in The Winter’s Bone.

Effie Trinket. In the books she becomes something of a comical airhead idiot but in the movie she was a cross between creepy weird and hot.

Donald Sutherland as President Snow. In the books (okay, I’ve only read 1 & 2 so far) Snow is a non-event. He has a typically unspectacular young-adult name, doesn’t really do anything and isn’t particularly sinister when he shows up. In the movie he was way better. He didn’t really do a lot but what he did was great.

Rue. She was dead cute and her death was really sad, even if she had way less screen time than she has in the books.

What I didn’t like

The portrayal of Peeta. Yeah, so Josh Hutcherson is the heart-throb of the moment and all that, but his character didn’t really have any meat to it. The movie conveniently forgot about him killing the girl at the campfire in order to make him look nicer. He also wasn't shown fighting off Cato, nor was there any explanation as to why he was hurt. He also didn’t seem to be particularly sick after his leg was half chopped off.

The omission of certain details. Clearly the movie was made on a budget, but where were the hovercrafts to pick up the bodies? The mutts went from being really scary representations of the dead tributes to being rubbish computer-animated dogs.

The bread-throwing scene from the backstory. Shown as flashbacks, it forgot that Katniss was supposed to be a near-starvation twelve-year old and instead had her at the same age, looking despondent as she leaned against a tree. A big scene in the book was made kind of irrelevant in the movie.

The camera work. Arty, POV or whatever, the shaky camera did my head in. I hope they stop that for the second movie, but I think it’ll get worse if anything.

Gale. He did nothing except look moody a few times. It would have been easier to understand if the complex relationship between the two leads had been explained properly like it was in the book, but he just looked like a pouting extra from Buffy the Vampire Slayer inserted to play a jealous boyfriend, and if I hadn’t read the book that’s what I would have assumed he was.


Not a bad movie, but the book was better. It probably would have benefited from being a bit longer. I’ll still watch the second one though. I gather there’s a bigger budget this time around, which should make some difference.

Monday 7 January 2013

The Hunger Games vs The Tube Riders

Over the last weekend I bought and read the first volume in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Trilogy.  I’d heard a lot about it but bought it kind of on a whim while I was picking up a few other books.  I read it over three days (usually takes me a month to read a book that long) and thought it was really good.

By a slightly scary coincidence (no, it had nothing to do with me) a new review last Monday for my book The Tube Riders had this to say -

“If you loved The Hunger Games then you will love this one. I couldn't wait to read what happened next and will definently (sic) buy the sequel.

After reading THG, I have to say that there are definite similarities.  Therefore, I thought it would be fun to write an utterly pretentious blog comparing the merits of a multi-million selling series (with a movie to boot) against my book, which at last count had sold about 150 copies.

I’ll try to be as objective as possible, because this isn’t supposed to be about which book is better, just how they compare.

(be warned, there are some spoilers coming up)

The World

Hunger Games is set in a future North America called Panem.  The capital city is called Capitol, and the rest of the “world” is split up into 12 districts, each of which serves a different function.  There is some mention early on of wars and natural disasters that have changed the landscape.

Tube Riders is set in the renamed Mega Britain in 2075.  Mega Britain is very recognizable as Britain except for surface detail, such as the perimeter walls surrounding the cities and the buried towns and removed roads in the countryside, known as the Greater Forest Areas, all of which is designed to prevent movement of population.

Result - Draw

The Leader

The Hunger Games doesn’t really involve President Snow too much.  We don’t know much about him except that he is angry at Katniss at the end.

In The Tube Riders, the leader, Maxim Cale, known as the Governor, is a seven-foot tall albino black guy with red eyes and telekinetic powers.  He has been in charge of the country for 40 years give or take, and doesn’t seem to age.  He features fairly strongly as a major character.

Winner - the Governor

Katniss Everdeen vs Marta Banks

In the battle of the leading ladies, Katniss is clearly the more badass in terms of skill, although Marta can do a mean tube ride.  Katniss has excellent hunting, archery and foraging skills.  Marta, having grown up in the urban waste land of London Greater Urban Area, is only really good at tube riding, although she can use a knife a little and “does what’s necessary” to get by in London.

Winner (in a fight) - Katniss
Winner (catching food) - Katniss
Winner (catching a train) - Marta

Peeta vs Switch

The battle of the leading men swings back the other way.  I really liked Peeta.  I thought he was kind hearted, gentle (except in a few certain situations), and honest.  He also seems to be pretty good looking.  Switch is a scrawny little man with a bad eye, no redeeming features and will kill without mercy or morals.

Winner (beauty contest) - Peeta 
Winner (fight) - Switch

Cato vs Dreggo

Cato was the only real villain in THG, and he had very little screen time, mainly because the book is written from Katniss’s point of view.  Dreggo, on the other hand, gets almost as much screen time in TTR as Marta, has been described as “a walking horror show” and is a hate-filled agent of vengeance.

Winner - Dreggo

The Brutality

I was very surprised with how much blood and gore was in THG.  Not that it bothers me, I just wondered how such violence can be considered YA yet there wasn’t a swear word in sight.  People get blown to pieces by landmines but no one so much as utters s**t.  TTR contains the same levels of violence but there’s a lot more bad language to go with it.  Mind you, TTR isn’t aimed at the YA market, whatever that really means.


The pacing

The Hunger Games really raced along.  I actually thought the whole reaping part was over way too soon (one chapter) while the middle section before the games started was too slow.  The Games themselves, though, absolutely rattled along.

Here is where it’s difficult to comment objectively (because I wrote it) but reviewers have tended to agree to the same with The Tube Riders.  However, with so many POV characters it is inevitable that there are some slower chapters.  Overall, though, for a 600-page book people seem to agree that it’s pretty fast paced.

Draw, THG maybe shades it

Sales figures

Millions vs not a lot.

Winner - The Hunger Games by an absolute mile!

I hope you enjoyed this little comparison of what I think are two awesome books.  Most people are familiar with one but I think the other is worth checking out.  Yeah, so you might think I’m being a pretentious writer in comparing my little book with a literary sensation, but you don’t need to take my word for it.  All you have to do is go over to Amazon and read the Look Inside (five chapters) and then come back and agree/disagree.  Nothing lost, nothing gained.

I haven’t read parts 2 & 3 of The Hunger Games Trilogy but I will be doing so shortly.  As for parts 2 & 3 of The Tube Riders, they’re currently under construction.  Watch this space.

8th Jan 2012

Sunday 6 January 2013

Beat Down 3 - Badassaur now available

I'd just like to give a big up to my nine-foot tall alter-ego, the most badass action/comedy writer on the planet, Michael S. Hunter, who released a new novella today.  Entited Badassaur!, it's possibly his finest book yet, with more bizarre twists and turns in the name of awesomeness than you can poke a whole DIY store's worth of sticks at.  It rocks, it's badass, and it's just $1.49.

Michael also his his own blog at where you can go and hang out.

7th Jan 2012

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Plans for 2013

Happy new year everyone from me, Chris Ward, at A Million Miles From Anywhere.  January 24th will mark one year in self-publishing for me and of course will see the big "reveal all" post about how well the first year turned out.  However, prior to that I thought it would be interesting to focus on the future and think about a few plans for the coming year.

As of today, January 2nd, I have 21 items available on Kindle.  These two lovely novels

 as well as one collection, two novellas, Tube Riders in three separate parts and a bunch of short stories.

Obviously novels are the big sellers, and while I had hoped to have four online by December I failed, basically because I also have a day job, a wife and a cat to look after and novels take a serious amount of time to edit/format.  However, because I was writing towards publication for fifteen years before I started self-publishing, I have A LOT of material in the can, and while some of it is junk (no modesty, it really is) and will never see the light of day, I have enough material that is significantly better than most self-published stuff I read to give me the confidence to eventually publish it.  My aim by the end of 2013 is to have 40 items available, which shouldn't be particularly difficult, although probably twenty of those will be short stories.

I have four old novels that will most likely be published eventually, Possession, Hooks, Head of Words and My Perfect Life.  Of these, Possession and Head of Words are in the best shape (and the shorter two of the four - Hooks is 193k ...) so I'm looking at a spring release for both of these provided they pass their screening tests.

After that . . . I'm working hard on Tube Riders 2, currently called Exile.  The first draft is crawling along, but as of today is sitting at 97k.  The problem is that I'm not naturally a series writer - in fact until I wrote the first Tube Riders book in 2009 I had a rule never to write sequels.  I liked the first book so much that it's hard to bring the second up to the same level while maintaining the thread of story and the themes that are involved.  I'm not one of these people who can churn out trilogy after trilogy, however a lot of indie writers cough up three-book "series" that are actually shorter than the first Tube Riders book on it's own.  No wonder I'm not rich.  Anyway, I'm tentatively hoping for a summer release.

In addition to this my worst kept secret is that I write comedy/action novellas under the name of Michael S. Hunter.  These all come in at about 20k and I've released two so far with a third due this week and a fourth half written.  I'm going to write five initially, then bundle them into an overpriced paperback/omnibus edition.  I absolutely love writing it because it is just hilarious and I can do what I want in terms of story because in comedy anything goes.  Vegetarian zombies anyone?  And don't get me started on The Chicken Whisperer or Hell-Yeah-Dorado.  The central character is a borderline immortal wrestler, but that's about it for the wrestling part except for some OTT fight scenes.  Anyway, while I love writing it unless it takes off I can't really justify the expense of the beautiful covers (see them here).  At the same time I've had nearly zero visibility for Part 1 so far.  I've tried a couple of promos but it doesn't have any reviews yet so it won't get picked up anywhere big which is what it needs to kick off.  However, there'll definitely be five episodes (and maybe a Christmas special ... there's SO much I could do with that!) and more if it starts to pay for itself.

Back to the mainstream stuff, I figure it's about time for another short story collection, so I'm going to put one out in the love/loss kind of vein.  It'll be a mixture of new stuff and old stuff, so once I've chosen the stories it'll probably be up in a month or so.  Also regarding short stories, I'm looking at getting a paperback done for Ms Ito's Bird and Other Stories.  Hardly anyone ever buys it, but it's one of those things that needs to be done as part of building the brand.  Audio books are another thing that's also on the horizon, but they cost a fortune to set up and when I'm selling hardly any ebooks let alone paperbacks, its really not worth the effort right now.

Looking much further ahead, I have a couple more projects in mind.  One is the romance novel I'm working on.  It's gone beyond halfway so will likely be finished at some point.  It's a simple affair, but if I deem it worthy of publication it'll be under a pen name that I'll likely tell no one about in case it tanks.  I've never written romance before so I don't know how well it'll stand up.

Beyond that, I'm also hopeful of finishing off my Tube Riders-related novella, which is also ticking along.  I have a tentative plan to expand it into a short companion novel of around 80k, but it'll probably be winter before I get to it.  After that I want to write another science fiction novel, based on an old short story, called Changing Sides.  It deals with age segregation.

Okay, so more or less, here's my rough publication schedule for the coming year -

Spring -

Possession (novel)
Head of Words (novel)
Beat Down (as Michael S. Hunter, 3 novellas)
Together Alone: Tales of Love and Loss (collection)

Summer -

Tube Riders : Exile


Tube Riders - The Hunter (short novel)
Beat Down Xmas Special (as Michael S. Hunter, novella)

In more general plans, I hope to write at least 500,000 new words and expand my social reach a bit, for example 1000 Facebook likes, etc. I'll probably fail miserably to make those targets, but we'll see.  In the meantime, back to the writing desk ...

2nd Jan 2013