Monday 6 June 2022

Planning & Editing: A guest post by Richard Farren Barber

My fine friend Richard Farren Barber has a new novella out from Crystal Lake Publishing called Twenty Years Dead (it's very good) and to help celebrate it, he's contributed the following guest post.

After twenty years in the ground, the dead briefly rise. At his father’s grave, this is Dave’s last opportunity to discover why a man would abandon his wife and young son. Against the protests of his mother and his girlfriend, Dave is determined to learn what happened all those years ago. Sometimes you have to risk everything, but the dead don’t give up their secrets so easily.

Twenty Years Dead is a novella of quiet horror, which explores families and their secrets.

Come listen when the Dead speak...

* * *
You'd have thought after thirty plus years (gulp) I'd have a handle on this writing malarkey. Write. Edit. Publish.


And sometimes that's exactly how it works. My most recently published novella is Twenty Years Dead and that was a straightforward delivery. The first draft was written in 4 weeks and then it took a few more weeks for editing before it was ready to go out.

Not so much the current novella. It's not hideously complex but I've already had to pull it apart and restructure it, shifting around scenes, deleting chapters and adding new material. And still it’s very, very wrong.

It’s not necessarily the chronology of the story which creates complications – in both cases the story follows a conventional storyline, but sometimes it’s clear from reading the first draft that something has gone awry. For me it’s often about character motivation, or development. It’s often the case that something just doesn’t feel right.

There's a part of me which loves the dissection: it’s very satisfying taking something apart, figuring out how it actually works and how it should work. But here's the thing; once you start messing with the order of your first draft it quickly unravels. It reminds me of times as a child when I took apart a toy only to discover I couldn't put it back together again. After a few hours of focussed play you find yourself with a handful of plastic pieces and a knot of wires and rubber bands.

(Quick aside for those brought up in the seventies: The Casdon tabletop football game used a *lot* of strings to make those players move. Who knew?)

You put your story together in what you think is the right order and suddenly characters gain knowledge they can't possess, or reference events which have not happened. It's amazing how complicated simple things can become.

When I'm sitting there staring at my disembowelled story there is a temptation to shove all the guts back in and just hope no-one notices. Even when the major structural work is done and all the scenes are in the right order the details continue to trip me up. It can be something as miniscule as realising you’ve referenced a building which no longer exists, or by introducing characters in a different order they need to change their view on events.

I often find myself wondering whether any reader would spot the inconsistencies or whether I'm self-flagellating. I suspect someone would, but in truth I don't know. But I’d know, and I think that’s the only thing I can offer as a writer: integrity.

Every time I am editing a story I wish I planned my tales better and I promise myself next time I'll write a proper outline. Outlining seems like the Holy Grail as a writer. When I begin writing a new story I usually have a very clear vision of the beginning and an understanding of the end but the middle tends to be hazy. Some of the characters in Twenty Years Dead were known to me from the outset while others bloomed into existence as the pages racked up. For me, that discovery during the first draft is one of the real joys of writing; I just need to find a way to do it before I start page one.

* * *
Me & Richard in Nottingham during a Crusty Exterior
meet-up in April 2019 I wrote about here
Richard Farren Barber was born in Nottingham in July 1970. After studying in London he returned to the East Midlands. He lives with his wife and son and works as a manager for a local university.

He has over 80 short stories published, seven novellas: “The Power of Nothing”, “The Sleeping Dead”, “Odette”, “Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence”, “Closer Still”, “All Hell.” , and “Twenty Years Dead.” His two novels are: “The Living and the Lost” and “The Screaming Dead” (Co-authored with Peter Mark May).

Richard can be found online at the following links:


  1. As a surgeon ( vet) the taking things apart to try and put back together really resonates with me. Awesome author as well !