Jon Dixon

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Coming back to writing after a long sabbatical. Back when dinosaurs and disco ruled the world I had several short stories published. I'm currently working on the first draft of a fantasy novel influenced by the connected Japanese philosophies of wabi-sabi and kintsugi - the embracing of the flawed or imperfect and the incorporation of visible breakages as an integral part of something of great value. The novel's theme and characters have been lurking in my head for decades and now seem to want to emerge into the light of day. I'm finding the process both exhilarating and terrifying.

I earned my living with an earring and a sword mostly as a professional actor for the first 20 years of my career, and then worked in the far less swashbuckling field of user experience design for the following two decades (no swordplay required). While acting I also worked as a freelance illustrator for paperbacks, role playing games and magazines, and I still keep my hand in with canvas and brushes (or more often now tablet and screen) though nowadays just for my own pleasure. So at least I have accurate reference for my characters' physical appearance!

I live in Derby (UK) as butler and general manservant to an elderly Bengal cat.

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Jon Dixon Discussions
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Woke up this morning to an email saying that a little piece of micro-fiction I wrote a few months ag…
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  •  · Thank you! :)
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Thought people might be amused by this website. You can upload a piece of your writing for analysis …
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  •  · As Vin says, it seems to go for type. I think it may even go a level of detail lower than that and p…
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Hello all.I thought I'd share this extremely useful glossary I found online, of useful terms to use …
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  •  · They would apply to most films as well, wouldn't they
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Is anyone else having problems accessing the registration for the March webinars on the members' sit…
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  •  · Thanks, Holly! 🙂 
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Here’s a thought. Tonight, just after twenty past 9, wherever we are and whatever time-zone we're in…
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  •  · Ha ha ha. The tiny pleasures that occupy our tiny minds. Some of us anyway = Jon. Enjoy your sip of …
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For anyone who hasn't come across this before (I hadn't) this nice infographic might come in helpful…
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  •  · So it was Reg who invented the emotion wheel.

Great interview, great advice, and a special :heart: from me for the mention of Tamsyn Muir, whose 'Locked Tomb' books are definitely at the top of my most enjoyable reads of the last year or so; can't wait for the third in the trilogy!

Hello, Emily! Good to meet you. :)

I tried it for a while and really disliked it. But then I tend to dislike most 'automatic' grammar and style checkers. I find them way too proscriptive and narrow in their analysis. Maybe I'm just naturally crabby and easily irritated (or else horribly over-confident in my own ability!)  but I hate it when these programs flag a deliberate choice on my part — say a particularly long sentence, deliberately and carefully constructed for its rhythm and flow — as an 'error', and suggest a 'correction' which feels clumsy and 'wrong'.

Yes, sorry, I think my use of 'epilogue' was misleading. I didn't mean an actual, formal epilogue, but more that (sometimes optional) final stage of the story structure that comes after the main climax and the resolution, when the day has been won, the bad guy is defeated, the challenge has been met and the lessons learned... the very end, when the characters are taking stock and adjusting to their new, 'post-story' situation.

I think 'learning to live with this situation' is precisely right! 🙂 

I think the trick would be to present the new situation as the inevitable price paid for the protagonist's achieving of her wider goal, rather than as a cliffhanger per se, but with just a hint that the new challenges are themselves things that can be overcome or adapted to.

That way, depending on whether the reader expects/wants a second book or not, your epilogue could be read either as a glimpse of future developments: 'now begins another adventure... [x] will return in Book 2...', or simply as a bittersweet ending: 'yes, there was a price, but there's always hope for the future', as your surviving characters walk off into the sunset! 

I don't know about 'advice'(!) but from what you describe, it sounds to me as if both those scenarios would be brilliant 'teasers' for the second book in your series.

It sounds as if, in winning her book onegoal, your protagonist has unwittingly acquired a whole new set of antagonists (or at least people who are going to stand between her and whatever her goal is in the second volume) with the added flavouring of them being people she (presumably) cares for. And she has the whole changed dynamic with her partner to come to terms with and explore.

As a reader, fresh from the cartharsis of the climax of book one and thinking that all that book's loose ends have been tied up, I think I'd be quite intrigued when the 'fallout' from that climax is revealed and a whole new set of problems for the protagonist appear. I'd want to read the next book.

The only thing you'd have to be very careful of, though, is to make sure that there really is a satisfying and 'complete' pay-off to the book one plot, and that the new developments are just that — new developments — and not unresolved issues from the first plot... since that has the potential to leave readers unsatisfied perhaps.

So my vote —from a reader's perspective, at least — would be to introduce (but not fully explore) these twists after the climax of book one, as part of the 'epilogue' stage of the structure. It's certainly a structural trick that's often used in books and film, especially those with a presumed sequel.

Welcome Sarah! And welcome Frances too! Nice to have you here!

Two pieces of advice that I've personally found very useful as 'guidelines' towards what might be the best moment to start a story (or a chapter, or a scene) as well as keeping things moving forward and focused on the main story, are these.

1. The technique of in media res (into the middle of things) can often be a good dramatic way to start, literally dropping the reader into the middle of in progress dramatic events. The establishing events - how the character came to be in this position - are then filled in as the plot / chapter / scene progresses. In your book, I wonder if the 'real' start might be '___'s fateful meeting with Benjamin Windows? You could still have the narrator be his niece, of course, but we only find out about her relationship with him, and his mysterious background later, once we're hooked by the mystery of the flying car and his abduction. Perhaps through a narrative conceit such as starting the chapter following the cliff-hanger of the abduction with his niece revealing that she's only just learning of these events herself, from his letters or whatever other sources there might be. The reader then accompanies her on her gradual uncovering of the truth, finding out new information at the same time she does.

2. One of the very experienced writers on this board gave me the gift of a wonderful acronym once - RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain. Because we (hopefully) have our characters, scenes and plot vividly in our heads we're tempted to try and get every detail onto the page. But by doing so, we remove the reader's freedom to construct their version of the scene or the character. We have to learn to trust that the reader will pick up the backstory, or historical events, or prior lives of the characters and our worlds through small references, hints and allusions sprinkled into the ongoing plot, rather than needing wodges of exposition to explain these things in detail.

It's something I certainly struggle with. I love detail, and have to constantly be on the look out for passages where there's just too much of it. I always have to Resist the Urge to Explain! 😄 

Good luck!

Congratulations, Paul-Dominique! I'm raising a glass of Merlot to you rather than Prosecco, but that sounds like really positive feedback! Well done. And thank you for sharing the interesting and useful information about the response to the synopsis. Gosh, it's so hard to do, isn't it! Perhaps the ultimate in 'killing your darlings'! 😥 

Hello Nandan, and well done on posting your chapter here. It takes some courage to do so, and I hope you'll take my initial thoughts below in the spirit they're intended. Of course, as always, they're only my thoughts, too, and others may have different views!

First of all, I think your writing has a lovely tone. The style is rather 'old-fashioned' (in a good way) and it feels as if the reader is sitting in a comfortable armchair in a cozy club somewhere with a fellow-member about to entertain the room with an amazing tall story! It's a style that used to be in vogue a while ago, and which I like a lot.

You write smoothly and well, and your characters are vivid and well-drawn, too. They stay just the right side of charicature, while still being 'larger than life', and the little physical oddities and quirks you give them really bring them to life.

That said, as a reader, I have to be honest and say that I struggled to finish this chapter. I did get to the end, but probably wouldn't have read further. The main reason for this is that I was never sure whose story I was supposed to be following. Part of that was the 'blanks' instead of names, which made things a little harder, but the issue for me was mainly one of  structure and point of view.

The chapter felt like a sequential series of 'beginnings', all of them promising, but all of them being interrupted just as they're starting to go somewhere by another, seemingly unrelated, story starting. It may be that all these different stories connect eventually, and the overall story makes sense, but this way of starting the book is very risky, since the reader (or at least this reader) was left more confused than 'hooked'.

I, myself, have fallen into this trap in the past, so believe me, I know how hard it is to find the right 'start' for a book... I'm still searching!

You start with our un-named narrator telling us about her childhood and her relationship with her eccentric uncle. So far so good. OK, it's back-story, but it's interesting and funny, and has a lovely, slightly grotesque 'Lemony Snicket' feel to it. 

But then, just as we're starting to sink into this childhood but before anything happens that seems pertinent to any plot, we're suddenly fast-forwarded into the 'recent future': 'It was a couple of months ago, on a bright, hot April morning that I received a letter from the family lawyer based in London.' This feels like another (rather good) beginning... but to a different story.

There are a few comic interludes with the scented air conditioning and the smoker and the rather Dickensian solicitor, but nothing really happens for a while other tha exposition. You're telling us about stuff but not showing us anything happening. We're eight pages in before the ghost of a possible plot is revealed, with the disappearance of the narrator's uncle seven years before. But even then, we immediately swerve into an anecdote from the solicitor about his life which seems to have no bearing on the main story.

We follow the narrator to her uncle's flat, the mysterious note is revealed (good), another month apparently passes while the narrator does things she doesn't really tell us about, and then, on page ten: 'This is the story of my uncle, the late ____, and how he arrived at the state that earned him that very prefix...'

Another beginning. To another story. A story not about our narrator but about her uncle.

'The morning of the ninth of August, 2003, was not a particularly remarkable one for the great, big, bustling city that was London. It certainly wasn’t a remarkable one for ____. '

I wonder if this might actually be the beginning of your book! 

It's not long, though, before we're sidetracked again into another story, this time reported by Benjamin Windows: '“Let me start from the beginning. My name is Windows. Benjamin Windows. I work at a paint factory in Chelsea; have for the past six years..."'  

Yet another beginning! To what feels at this point like yet another person's story. As I said earlier, by this time I was really confused as to whose story I was supposed to be reading. The 'russian doll' structure of story within story within story within story makes it so difficult to decide who the story is about — is it our narrator, her uncle, or Benjamin Windows? 

The scene in which Windows relates his story about the flying car is well told, intriguing and the dialogue is good. This scene actually drew me back into the story. It's good writing. Finally, I was reading what felt like a compelling and forward-moving story. Honestly, I found myself wondering why I'd had to read the preceding dozen pages of the 'set up' of the narrator's childhood, the uncle's death and the mysterious letter to get to it.

And then, story told, we're back to the seemingly unconnected scene at '____'s' newspaper office. And I drifted again. It's well-written, as before, but it feels like another diversion from the story rather than a new stage in the narrative that builds on what's come before. I want to know more about the flying car, not the minutes of an editorial meeting. The important thing, of course, is the police report of Windows's disappearance, but we have to get through quite a lot of (seemingly) unrelated detail to get that information. 

From here, the pace does escalate. The police interview, balconey scene, lawyer call and final abduction are all fine... but I think they suffer from the very slow and rather confusing build up.

So sorry if this is a bit disheartening. You write really well, and the premise is really intriguing. But I think what's currently taking twenty-four pages to tell could be done far more succinctly. Throw us right into the mystery without the several 'false starts' of reminiscence, lawyer meetings and mysterious notes. Or, if you feel the uncle's disappearance is crucial to set up his story, try and do it in a short prologue perhaps rather than the first half of your important first chapter.

As I said, I know what this will feel like to read, because I've been there myself. And it hurt! But after I'd processed the feedback my ongoing rewrites and some heavy editing and 'killing my darlings' have tightened and strengthened my own first chapter enormously.

On the other hand, feel free to dismiss the above thoughts as the ravings of a madman! It's your story, after all. And I'm just one reader, with personal opinions that are often wrong!

Take comfort from the fact that I think the writing itself is really good! It's the editing that might make it even better!

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