The End

Zoë Sharp

One day I’m going to be able to type ‘THE END’ on a work-in-progress and think, ‘Wow, what a masterpiece – and such a breeze to write. Next?’

The reality is that I finish each book feeling like I’ve come through a battle, battered, bloodied, exhausted, and filled with a dreadful wake-in-the-night-sweating kind of fear that what I’ve written is absolute nonsensical rubbish that will be laughed at by anybody who picks it up.

For writers, however, this is normal.

OK, for most writers, this is almost normal.

I’m beginning to think I definitely fall into the category of writers who enjoy having written rather than the process of actually writing. Having said that, the first two thirds of the book were less troublesome than the last third. I tend to self-edit as I go along, so stopping to unravel and re-ravel bits of the story always slows me down, but I just can’t move forwards knowing something isn’t quite right with the bit I’ve already done.

I keep thinking there must be an easier way.

There never is. <sigh>

I’ve been over the typescript so many times I can’t tell if it’s good bad or indifferent. I’ve tried to make sure the emotional tension is as high as the other dangers. I’ve checked my action scenes are physically possible and make sense, and looked at the positioning of chapter breaks.

Of course, my long-suffering Other Half, Andy, has read every bit of the book at the just-written stage, but that means he’s as close to the story as I am. Now I need people who haven’t lived through every twist and turn and aren’t bored silly by it quite yet.

So, now DIE EASY is out with test-readers and having celebrated by doing the ironing (gosh, I know how to live) I have already started to look at my outline notes for the next project.

Basically, this is a coping mechanism so I’m not thinking about their verdict. It didn’t help that one of my test-readers rang up the day after receiving the typescript with that awful question: “Erm, has this gone out to everybody else yet …?”

“ARGH! NOOOOOOO! What terrible mistake have I missed that you’ve spotted it already?”

“Oh, just a few literals and typos …”

We do have a designated First Responder in the valley who has charge of the defibrillator, and I very nearly had to call them out at this point.

I have a small group of test-readers, mainly avid readers but a couple of writer/readers as well. I try not to bother my writer friends too much, as I know how time-consuming it is to go through a t/s thoroughly, and how distracting it can be when you have your own stuff to work on.

My test-readers are not necessarily fans of the character, but chosen both for their insight and their gentle brutality. If there’s something not right I need to know, but in my fragile post-book state I don’t want to be beaten round the head with it.

I suppose first of all I need to know does it keep you turning the pages. I want to have written something that you find hard to put down, that keeps you reading – just one more chapter – late into the night.

I need to know if the pace feels right, with enough light and shade between action and introspection to create the natural rhythms of the story. Is it too slow in the first half and then too compressed towards the end?

Does the behaviour of the characters feel logical and cohesive? Do they feel like real people or puppets to the plot? Do you care what happens to them?

It’s only really in the last instance that I want to know about minor plot-holes. Yes, it’s useful to know if a character stands up twice in a scene without sitting down again in between, or if I’ve managed to include a nine-day week, but that’s the kind of thing that the wonderful copy-editors usually catch, bless ‘em. And besides, I’ll be making yet another pass through the t/s once I have my test-reader comments in. Hopefully there will be a week or so’s distance by then, and I might even spot such stoopid mistakes myself …

And then my editor gets hold of it and I go through the whole painful process again.

We’re just gluttons for punishment, aren’t we?

So, how analytical are you when you’re reading a book? Do you try to work out what made you enjoy it and instantly look for the next by the same author? And to the writers among you, who do you use for test-reading your work? Do you use anyone other than your editor? And finally, any suggestions from people as to mindless (but repeatable in polite company) activities I might be able to engage in to take my mind off the waiting?

This week’s Word of the Week is epyllion, which is a poem with some resemblance to an epic, but shorter, from the Greek epos, meaning word.

Alex has just reminded me that in the interview she so kindly did with me on Jan 19th, we promised a giveaway of one of the first five books to a randomly chosen commenter. Alex told me to pick a number and she informs me that it lines up with Reine. So, drop me an email, Reine, and I’ll send you an e-book!

24 thoughts on “The End

  1. Richard Maguire

    Fascinating post, Zoe. I'm 7 chapters into SECOND SHOT, having just finished FIRST DROP, and it HAS kept me reading late into the night. It's a page-turner for sure, and I love how you handle action, characters and setting. I've been to Boston a couple of times, so I can picture where your scenes are taking place. Also, Charlie is a really well-thought-out character. Tough, but also very human.

    So however hard you find the writing, this is one reader who is very satisfied with the end result. (I've already read THIRD STRIKE.) One question, if I may. Your books are published in Britain and the States…so, when you're writing, do you ignore the American spelling of words where they differ, and leave it to your U.S. editor to make the changes? Did you use American spelling, only, when preparing your e-books?

  2. Pari Noskin

    Mindless exercises?
    Exercise — something intensely cardio so you don't have the oxygen to think.

    If and when I publish my fiction again, I'll probably run it through my critique group. That's, of course, providing I rejoin the group . . .

    For now I'm just writing. It sounds so flimsy, doesn't it? But I'm cultivating the joy of it again and that is taking time.

  3. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Richard
    Wow, thank you for that. Of course, I shall beam for a moment or two, then go back to worrying that the latest effort doesn’t keep up the standard 🙂

    I’m a Brit, so I write in British English and yes, the spelling changes are made later. I used UK spelling for my e-books, but one alteration I did make was to change from single speech quotes to double quotes throughout. Single is UK, double is US, but I think double quotes are easier to read on screen, which is why I went for them. For the latest book, I’ve written the whole thing with double speech quotes, as it’s less awkward to change them all to singles by find-and-replace afterwards than the other way around. And you’ve still got to go through and check it all manually anyway, for those instances where you’ve quoted direct speech within dialogue. It’s a lot easier to do it at the writing stage, anyway …

  4. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari
    Nothing flimsy about that at all. Just writing takes a hell of a lot of sustained effort and persistence and I am hugely admiring of the amount you’ve written over the last year. ‘Cultivating the joy of it again’ is a very apt phrase and one that I’m also bearing in mind a lot at the moment.

    Right, I’m off to do some mindless exercise …

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Everyone here knows I'm a "enjoys having written" writer, but I actually had a lot of fun writing the paranormal I turned in this week, it was kind of miracle. Maybe that's why people write series, the light may just have dawned!.

    Now I'm in that grueling bloody sweaty struggle to the end of my thriller, so thank you for this post that reminds me it's just normal to think,,, you know, all those things. In the middle of the night.

  6. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alex
    There must be an awful lot of swan-syndrome going on with you then, Alex, because you make it all look pretty effortless 🙂

    Congrats on having turned in the paranormal!

  7. David Corbett

    Congrats on the finished draft, Ms. Sharp. I'm sure, absolutely sure, that the book is in far better shape than you fear.

    Writing is exquisite agony. Rapturous torture. But I'm Catholic, and we tend to such metaphors by instinct. (Our idol is a brutalized man/god nailed to a cross — whaddya want?)

    I give a writer a few pages to hook me with her authority or her voice. Then, if that happens, I pretty much surrender to the experience. I'm tough at first glance, then a complete sucker. And your comments about character are spot on: If I feel engaged with them, and don't sense they're mere plot puppets, I'm willing to forgive a great deal. But not everything.

  8. Sarah W

    I'm not analytical while I'm reading something I enjoy — I just enjoy it. But if something bothers me enough to snag me out of a story, I do stop and try to figure out why.

    At this stage of my wannabe career, I have a First Reader who cheers me on and keeps me from tripping over flapping continuity and a couple of friends and experts who've graciously helped me with things like medical machinery, conversational French and Italian and (cough) assorted weaponry.

    When I'm waiting for them to get back to me, I work on another project, play a *lot* of Words with Friends, and/or watch back episodes of Mock the Week. And knit very tiny elephants.

  9. Gar Haywood


    As a reader, I find that as I get older, the creative use of language has to be there for me to get hooked into a book. God only knows how many great reads I've set aside because the writing was just too ordinary for me to see past it to the story being told. I only realized recently that this is why it takes me longer to WRITE a book than it used to: because I pay far more attention to the language I use than I did in the past. Just getting a line on the page is no longer enough.

    My wife Tessa is my primary reader, and she's a mixed blessing, in that she has a terrific eye for detail, and can be brutally honest, but she reads genre very infrequently (though she just breezed through the GIRL WHO trilogy like a junky through a mountain of crack), so I don't always know how informed her opinion is. If X is not her kind of book in general, how can I expect her to know when it actually kicks ass?

  10. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks David
    I wish I shared your confidence in me 🙂

    I do the same when I’m reading, but when I’m reading my own stuff all that goes straight out the window and I have no judgement whatsoever.

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sarah
    You’re welcome 🙂

    Ah, Mock The Week! Perfect. Haven’t watched the DVD of that for ages. Thank you.

    Erm, knit very tiny elephants?!?

  12. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Gar
    Ah, OK, don’t pick up anything of mine, will you …?

    Like you, my spouse is my primary test-reader. Andy reads a lot of crime and in some ways is more analytical about his reading, but he’s probably as close to this one as I am. When you already know what’s going on because you’ve been privy to the plotting stage, how much do you glean from the page and how much do you bring with you?

  13. Reine

    Hi Zoë,

    I really just like to get into the story when I read fiction. If I find myself getting analytical or too impressed with words and structure, I'm probably bored.

    I'm certain that good writing has to be there to make that happen. I just don't want to be too aware of it.

    If I analyze a book later it's because I want to see what the author did to draw me in. The difference is always in something personally compelling in the story.

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Reine

    I know I've always felt that the writing shouldn't get in the way of the story. It's like being able to see an actor 'acting' rather than becoming the character they're supposed to be playing. The technique might be all wonderful and very clever, but I'm not sure I want to be able to actually see it.

  15. PD Martin

    Hi Zoe,
    Congrats on finishing the first draft! We're in sync because I'm just making final edits to my new 'mainstream' book and for the first time in ages I WILL be looking for test readers. For books 2-5 I didn't have any test readers because once I had the publishing contract the deadlines were tight and I didn't have time to send to readers. I had test readers before I was published but always found the feedback wasn't brutal enough.

    Now I need to find some brutal readers who read 'general' fiction. My hubby is never a reader for me. He doesn't read much fiction and hasn't even read all my books!!!!! It would be handy to have a spouse who's a reader.

    Congrats again and I hope your test readers put you out of your agony next week. In the meantime, how about the movies, walks, the gym? And then there's Facebook – hours could be spent on that!

  16. Zoë Sharp

    Hi PD
    Don't remind me about Facebook – I have been neglecting it shamefully in the push to get the book finished, but now I know I really must catch up.

    Movies would be good. Did get to see Ghost Protocol and that was a blast, but missed Dragon Tattoo and a few others I wanted to see. Ho hum – wait for the DVD.

    What kind of 'general' fiction …?

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