Thursday, 10 May 2012

Ready to Publish? Are you? Are you really?


 by Maureen Lynas. Illustrations by guest blogger Katherine Lynas 

Are your characters ready to be seen?


Has your protagonist had her -



teeth scrubbed


hair brushed,


eyebrows plucked?

Is she dressed for a speed dating party with the harassed agents? 
Is she ready for a blind date with the editor of her dreams? 
Is she ready to be published?

On my last blog I revealed the size of my slushpile.

Today I’ve dragged a story from the bottom of that pile.

Introducing

Eebygum the Pirates’ Mum 




She’s been sulking since she was rejected in 2004 but now I want find out if she was actually ready for publication, or not, when I submitted all those years ago.

Was I a J K Rowling - ‘I just need the right agent/editor to love my pirate,’ or was I a Dotty Delusional and ‘Graargh! Eebygum the Terrible is terrible!’

I haven’t talked to Eebygum for years and I was most surprised to see the beginning began with a joke.

Eebygum the Pirates Mum’s bloodshot eye swivelled over the quaking pirates. “What do you call a pirate whose....” she paused to allow her sons’ trembling knees to become shaking knees, “belly hangs over his trousers?”
“Justin!” roared the pirates.
“Oh no,” thought Justin, the youngest pirate, “Not me.”
“Come on me little jellyfish, it’s bathnight, and you’ll be needin’ your scrubbing brush ‘cos me armpits are filthy.”


In 2004 I thought this was hilarious. Hm. The publishers didn’t. The agents didn’t. But why not?



Let’s start with the vision of a disembodied bloodshot eye swivelling haphazardly over the heads of the pirates  - doesn’t really give a sense of place does it? And, I wonder now – where’s the other one? What’s it up to? Rolling in the rigging? Ruminating in the rum? And why have I split the joke in two? And what about cause and effect? A build up of tension? A hook to the story? And thoughts in speech marks! Oh, dear me.


So, does the opening do anything at all?

Yes. It shouts comedy pirate book, actually it yells comedy pirate book – this is going to be funny – look, there’s a joke to prove it! Hm.

Does it set anything up?

Yes. It sets up bathnight. It sets up a gross pirate who expects her sons to scrub her armpits. It sets up the protagonist Justin.

So, that’s something but it’s a bit useless. I’m starting to think – Graargh! Eebygum the Terrible really is terrible!

Time for a bit of analysis, possible even therapy.

This is what I have so far:
Antagonist – Eebygum, the pirates mum.
Protagonist – Justin. The youngest.
The crew are her kids.
The goal for Eebygum – to have a bath.
The goal for the crew – to avoid giving Eeybygum a bath.

The bare bones are not adding up to a skeleton.

But, what if I switch the order to add in a bit of cause and effect? The intro becomes -

Eebygum the Pirates Mum’s bloodshot eye swept over the quaking pirates. She paused to allow her sons’ trembling knees to become shaking knees.
 “Come on me little jellyfish, it’s Bathnight, and one of you’ll be needin’ your scrubbing brush ‘cos me armpits are filthy. Hm. Now which one of you scabs shall have the honour?’
She grinned wickedly. “What do you call a pirate whose belly hangs over his trousers?”
“Justin!” roared the pirates.
Oh no, thought Justin, the youngest pirate, Not me.

Now what do we know?

Antagonist – Eebygum, the pirates mum. She is gross. She is to be afeared.
Protagonist – Justin. The youngest.
The crew are her kids.
The goal for Eebygum – to have a bath.
The goal for the crew – to avoid giving Eebygum a bath.
We have
Cause and effect – 1. It’s bathnight. 2. I needs a scrubber. 3. You’re it. 4. Aargh!

It’s a bit better, but, who’s there? Where are they? Where’s this bath? Oh no, we don’t know! And those ruddy bloodshot eyes are now sweeping their way over the quaking pirates. There’s dust everywhere. And I used an adverb! Shock, horror! And the joke is tagged on. AND we don’t know who Justin is so we don’t empathise with him when he’s picked to do the scrubbing.


Let’s have another go. 

Let’s add in a bit of pre-bath tension, a bit of atmosphere. Let’s get Justin in earlier. But more importantly let’s play with expectations in the set up.                
         
          Eebygum the Pirates Mum’s bloodshot eyes hopped/slid/cavorted over the quaking pirates.
Twas the night the pirates feared the most. The night the pirates dreaded. Twas bathnight and a storm was brewing off the starboard bow.
            Justin, too young to remember last year’s bathnight, trembled along with his older brothers as they stood around the bath on the deck of the Happy Home.
Eebygum tapped the bath with a filthy finger. “Come on me little jellyfish, one of you’ll be needin’ your scrubbing brush ‘cos me armpits are mucky.” She surveyed her sons, all thirteen of them. “Hm. Now which one of you scabs shall have the honour this year?’
She paused to allow their trembling knees to become shaking knees.
“What do you call a pirate whose belly hangs over his trousers?”
“Justin!” roared the pirates.
Oh no, thought Justin, the youngest pirate, Not me.

Now what do we know?

Antagonist – Eebygum, the pirates mum. She’s gross. She’s filthy. Mother of thirteen pirates. She is to be afeared.
Protagonist – Justin. The youngest.
The goal for Eebygum – to have a bath.
The goal for the crew – to avoid giving Eebygum a bath.
We have
Cause and effect – 1. It’s bathnight. 2. I needs a scrubber. 3. You’re it. 4. Aargh!
Empathy – for Justin as he’s the youngest and therefore the most vulnerable.
Sense of place – The bath is on the deck of a ship called the Happy Home – bit of polarity in the naming.
Sense of time – It’s a year since the last bath.
Expectations – It’s bathnight for the pirates? No! it’s bathnight for Eebygum! Urgh!

Now let’s start playing with the words. But first – let’s get rid of those eyes.


Eebygum the Pirates Mum’s bloodshot eyes did a double half flip-flop of a somersault over the quaking pirates and ended up as a tasty snack for a passing albatross. Never to be seen again on this blog. Possibly.

          
          Twas the night the pirates feared the most. The night the pirates dreaded. Twas bathnight and a storm was brewing off the starboard bow.
Justin, too young to remember last year’s bathnight, trembled along with his brothers as they stood around the bath on the poop deck of the Happy Home.
“Now,’ cried Eebygum, ‘one of you little jellyfish will be needin’ this here scrubbing brush.” She pointed a spiky brush at each and every one of her thirteen sons from the tallest to the shortest. ‘Cos me armpits are mucky. Me toenails is filthy. And me hair is disgustin.’ She paused to allow their trembling knees to become shaking knees.
“What do you call a pirate whose belly hangs over his trousers?”
“Justin!” roared the pirates.
Oh no, thought Justin, the youngest pirate, Not me.

Most of the ingredients are there now bit it needs more flavour, a bit of yuck factor. Let's increase the idiolect. And let’s have more polarity too. There’s comedy in that there polarity. Big Eebygum. Little Justin. And lets go a bit deeper into the emotional reaction. And let’s increase the visual impact by adding in some action shots. Let’s ‘curve the language’. Oh, and let’s set that joke up properly.

Twas the night the pirates feared the most. The night the pirates dreaded. Twas bathnight on the Happy Home and a storm was brewing off the starboard bow.
Eebygum, the pirates’ mum stood on deck. One booted foot on the edge of the steaming bath, one gigantic scrubbing brush clutched in her hand.
Justin, too young to remember last year’s bathnight, trembled along with his brothers. His head full of tales of scrubbing and scouring and screaming.
“Now,’ cried Eebygum. ‘One of you little jellyfish will be needin’ this here brush.” She pointed the spiky brush at each and every one of her thirteen sons from the tallest to the shortest. ‘Cos me armpits are mouldier than Davy Jones corpse.
 Me toenails is blacker than Blackbeard’s beard, 

and me hair! Well just look at me hair!’


She swung her head and flicks of grease landed on her sons’ faces. They left them there, like dollops of ointment on pustules and pimples.
“I can’t do a thing with it! It’s time for a scrub! And I needs me volunteer.” She inspected her sons with her bloodshot eyes. “Now which one of you scabs shall have the honour? Which one of you scabs will scrub me back.”
 Justin kept his head down.
“What? No one? Then I shall have to pick, won’t I.’ There was a pause as she dragged out the choosing. Then, with a wicked laugh, Eebygum yelled, “What do you call a pirate whose belly hangs over his trousers?”
“Justin!” roared the pirates.
Please no, thought Justin, sucking in his stomach. Not me!

Just a reminder, here’s the original.

Eebygum the Pirates Mum’s bloodshot eye swivelled over the quaking pirates. “What do you call a pirate whose....” she paused to allow her sons’ trembling knees to become shaking knees, “belly hangs over his trousers?”
“Justin!” roared the pirates.
“Oh no,” thought Justin, the youngest pirate, “Not me.”
“Come on me little jellyfish, it’s Bathnight, and you’ll be needin’ your scrubbing brush ‘cos me armpits are filthy.”

So, I may know why they turned it down.

Now, all I have to do next is apply this method to the rest of the book. Oh, and devise a plot, which is TOTALLY missing. 

Maureen Lynas also blogs on her own blog which she creatively named - Maureen Lynas


Maureen Lynas is a UV winner and represented by The Eve White Agency. you can see her other favourite blog posts here and here

Katherine Lynas (Maureen's brilliantly talented, fantastically funny and gorgeous daughter) is developing her portfolio and can be contacted here




41 comments :

  1. Ha ha (me hearties)! This did tickle me – the flecks of grease landing on the poor sons faces was especially hilarious, as was the illustration of Ebeygum's disgusting armpit!

    Lots of really good pointers for editing your work here, I'm off to do an edit/rewrite/rethink/edit again on a text I'm writing at the moment ...

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Kate. And I've just remembered I said I'd look at your text after our last York meeting! Oops, will do it today!

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  2. HI Maureen, only if you have a spare minute, thanks! I'm (rather randomly) trying to write a young fiction first chapter today about a girl who loves solving mysteries ... something my new agent spotted and thinks is worth exploring.

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  3. Fantastic Maureen. Such a generous thing for you to share. This is exactly the kind of detail that I find so useful - and i suspect i'm not the only one! It's so hard to get the balance between starting your story 'with the action' while also having the cause and effect there to build the tension and interest and you've given a really good illustration of how to do both. You little treasure.

    Oh, and p.s. is Eebygum based on your good self?

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    Replies
    1. Of course she is Louise! And she has a friend - Long Legged Lou the scabby cook. Now where did I get her from!

      Delete
  4. Oh goody - i've always wanted long legs! And forgot to say, the illustrations are Fantabulous, Katherine. Are armpit hairs your speciality?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My recent study of armpits has revealed a new and exciting world. Its a jungle under there! I wonder if I should add armpit specialist to my CV?

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  5. Great post, really interesting.

    Is it wrong that I find Ebygum kinda hot?

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    Replies
    1. I could put in a good word for you, find out if there is a Mr Eebygum...

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  6. Ebygum and Justin sound perfect for the funny competition, being both funny, and pirates. Everybody loves pirates.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Lorrie. You're right - everybody does love pirates so I'd better come up with that plot ASAP. Did you mean the Greenhouse comp http://greenhouseliterary.com/index.php/blog/article/announcing_the_greenhouse_funny_prize_open_to_uk_irish_writers/
      It's for unagented writers and sounds great.

      Delete
  7. Fab post with beautiful illustrations. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Hi Maureen. I don't think I've ever read a better/simpler/clearer example of how to edit than this. Brilliant! I see a workshop in the making.
    I dug out some manuscripts from my own slushpile recently, and oh! lawks a lordy! how I blushed. Like you, it showed me how much I've learnt about the mysterious art since I was published, but it was still great to see the principles set out so beautifully like this.
    Job's a good 'un, as we say on the better side of the Pennines.

    Steve Hartley

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    Replies
    1. Awesome! Thanks so much, Steve. I'm so pleased Danny Baker's dad thinks I did a good 'un :)

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    2. I wanna see those manuscripts! Agree with you, Steve ... definitely a workshop in the making!

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    3. They're mine! They're all mine! Hands off.
      I'd love to do a workshop on this, I love editing.

      Delete
  9. This post is a keeper. Thanks so much for taking the time to do such a wonderful job of modeling great writing for us. :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Aargh! That whole post sounds too much like what I did for an hour this morning to my story, Dragon Sandwich! More of the same tomorrow, I guess. Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. Keep going Genevieve, it's what being a writer is all about, persistence, knowledge, application and more persistence! And ideas and characters and...

      Delete
  11. But she has a very jaunty pirate hat.

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    Replies
    1. And you would look good in a jaunty pirate hat too.

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  12. Maureen, you want to keep an eye on that there Mark Jones. He'll be making an appearance in your story very soon... I'm with Steve. It's an excellent post on editing. Really great. I'm going to share it and I'll give everyone the link to NFTSP at my Writing for Children Workshop tomorrow.
    Cheers,
    Clare. PS Nice (?) pics, Katherine!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Clare :) That there Mark Jones could be walking the plank if he rubs EEbygum up the wrong way! Hope you Have fun on your
      workshop
      Maureen. x

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  13. Great post, Maureen. Made me smile during my lunch at work and wish I was at home doing my own much-needed editing.

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    1. I like to make people smile :) Job done.

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  14. Great lesson in writing. Thank you.

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  15. I followed along beautifully until the mother started referring to herself. To me, the point of view switched (which I know sounds strange, because, in theory, it didn't, but I don't know how else to state the reason for my confusion). One minute the story was about trying to get one of the kids into the bath; the next, the mother was describing her filthy self, while pointing the brush at the kids. That's what I found confusing. Great illustrations, though.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting, Shelley and sorry for the confusion. The next lines would confirm that it is Eebygum who is about to be bathed and not the boys. The joke is in the switch but maybe on my next draft I should find a way to clarify that if others find it confusing too. Thanks :)

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  16. Hi Maureen, what a really great post and such a fun way of exploring progression in writing. It's so important to learn and understand how we can improve and develop our craft. Very entertaining and informative, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and can't stop humming the theme tune to Captain Pugwash now. Cheers :)

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    Replies
    1. Now it's in my head! Glad I entertained as well as informed :)
      What a great series that was, and I wonder why isn't it repeated? Just done a search (procrastinating big time!) and it costs £100 to buy the complete set of DVD's. Aargh me hearties! I needs to find some treasure!
      And now, back to work.

      Delete
  17. Brilliant to show us how to edit. reminds me of the article writing class I read, where we kept our versions to show others. Really helpful - and those fantastic piccies too, Kathryn!

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    1. Oops! So sorry for the late reply, Eleanor! Thanks for the comments :)

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  18. Thanks Maureen and Kathryn for the graphic description. Fascinating...even if the subject is 'orrible. I couldn't digest that grease bit myself and feeling a bit sick after looking at those toe nails. I want Justin to escape as soon as possible!

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    1. Oh no! Please be sick over the side of the ship, or Justin will have to swab the decks too! Looking forward to seeing you again in York :) Will leave Eebygum at home.

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  19. Really enjoyed reading this! (and seeing the fab illustrations) Each time you added to it, it got better and better. I definitely think you should look into tweaking the story as I'd love to read it and as one person said, Everyone loves Pirates!!

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    1. Thanks, Anonymous :) but there's a lot more than tweaking needed with the rest. One day I will get back to it though. And - How can people not like pirates!

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  20. Wonderful example Maureen. Thank you.

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