Is Any Story Ever Really Perfect?

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Writing the perfect novel

How do you know when a novel – or short story, for that matter – is finished?

At what point should you stop tinkering, put down the quill, lean back in your overstuffed armchair and say to yourself “Right, done! Now to publish”?

The greatly-missed Iain Banks once said:

Don’t try to perfect as you go along, just get to the end of the damn thing. If you try to polish every sentence there’s a chance you’ll never get past the first chapter.

You can hear the years of experience in the quote – there speaks a man who learnt the hard way. Because, of course, we all want to publish the most perfect book we possibly can. And we’re artists, so there’s always a different way to express something, a fancier adjective, a more elegant turn of phrase, a slicker exposition…

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Developing Your Characters: What Has It Got In Its Pocketses?

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Developing characters in your writingA writing teacher (and multi-published novelist) once told me that to really understand a character you’re writing, you should make a list of the items they carry in their pockets.

While I hate to disagree with such an august mentor, I’m afraid that I simply have to.

You see, if you take a peek in my pockets at this very moment – an undertaking from which I heartily dissuade you – you will find a handkerchief, some small change and a couple of buttons which popped off my coat. A character who uses money, occasionally blows his nose and shivers a lot does not a compelling story make.

This may be different for the fairer sex. I have never plucked up the courage to venture into the deepest recesses of a lady’s handbag, so am not intimately acquainted with the traditional contents of such. However, I suspect them to be of an equally utilitarian nature; I would hazard a guess at purse, travelcard, keys, phone and a little spare make-up.

Show me the woman who carries a blunderbuss, a taxidermied stoat and an assortment of kazoos in her bag and I’ll show you a story!

A Room With Views
In short, the whole pocket exercise doesn’t really work for me. No. Far more telling and illustrative are the items which characters have dotted around their living room. In a supposedly private space, we reveal far more of our true natures and past lives than we could ever fit in a pocket.

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Testing, testing…

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Been busy writing

Hello? Is this thing on…?

It’s been a while hasn’t it? Quite a long while in fact. I have been hiding away and have neglected you all, for which I offer my most sincere apologies.

I’ve been busy. Yes, OK, I know how often I use that phrase and I know you’re all frantically busy too and still find time to blog. I really have no excuse. Oh hang on… yes I do…

I have been beavering away at the novel, cracking on with the final (I do so hope) round of edits and using the gruelling opportunity of Camp NaNo to really push toward the finish line. So there, that’s kind of a good excuse no? I dropped the blog about the writing to focus on the writing. Am I forgiven?

Anyway… thought I’d just pop by to assure you all that I haven’t succumbed to a surfeit of lampreys and I’m still extraordinarily fond of each and every one of you. I shall endeavour, in my best boy scout manner, to become a better blogger again.

And – big fanfare please (ta-da-da-da-da-da-DAAAAAAA!!) – in response to some absolutely delightful comments on my previous post (a snippet of the infamous first novel, Dark Energies) I might even pop up a few more excerpts to whet your collective whistles!

Now there’s a promise for a sunny Friday morning eh?

Must dash, the peacocks are nibbling at the peonies again, but watch this space my friends…

The Writing Process Blog Hop

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Writing header

I have to confess to a moment’s hesitation when I was asked by the wonderful Vashti Quiroz-Vega to participate in a blog hop. Why, I thought to myself, would anyone care to know my seventeen favourite carnivorous mammals or the colour of sock I prefer when writing a prologue?

It swiftly transpired, however, that this is a blog hop of an entirely different calibre. Oh yes indeed ladies and gentlemen. This is the Writing Process Blog Hop which, as its name implies, forgoes the frivolity of many others and gets to the heart of a writer’s WIP, motivations and writing habits. But still in a rip-roaring, rollicking, rambunctious manner.

Queensbury rules: I have to answer 4 questions, then tag 4 other brilliant bloggers – and trust me, the folks I’ve tagged are 4 of the very best you could ever wish for – to pick up the metaphorical baton.

Ready? Splendid. Then let’s get going…

1) What are you working on?

My main work-in-progress is my first novel, Dark Energies. It’s currently in the 4th (and hopefully final) series of edits. To be honest, I’d rather print it out and eat it than have to go through another editing round.

The book is a contemporary urban mystery, liberally spiced with romance and quantum physics. It tells the story of Dan Carter, a man in his mid-30s in search of something to fill the void in his life. When Dan is contacted via a social networking site, out of the blue, by a young woman he’s never heard of, it looks like he may have found it. But Dan learns that you should be very careful what you wish for… Cliffhanger alert!

I’m also concentrating a huge amount of time on my blog at the moment. I provide advice to indie authors to help with their marketing efforts, and the blog is my main vehicle for this. I’m lucky to have a lengthy professional background in online marketing, so being able to help out other indies and let them concentrate on their writing feels like paying something back to those from whom I’ve learned so much about the craft.

2) How does your work differ from others in the genre?

Ooh, now that‘s a cracker of a question! The voice, definitely the voice. The story is told from Dan’s POV and he’s an intriguing character, as well as a somewhat unreliable narrator. So what you read is basically what goes on in Dan’s head, which gives (I hope) a unique tone to the narrative.

3) Why do you write what you write?

I’ve been waiting for someone to ask that for ages! The novel’s actually based on a true story – and it happened to me. Much like Dan, I was minding my own business, feeling a little lost, when a mysterious stranger cyber-stalked me. Out of curiosity, I responded, we struck up a conversation and things kind of went on from there…

4) How does your writing process work?

Chaotically and via osmosis. I am, as stated elsewhere, a Sporadic Trouserist. I never find as much time to work on the novel as I’d like and I am most certainly not a plotter. I kind of jumped in at the deep end and have been learning ever since, whilst fighting my way out from the middle of the story. This means there are constantly characters and scenes and chapters and changes and story arcs and plot points whirling around in my head, with me frantically trying to keep track of what goes where. It’s bewildering, but a whole heap of fun. I’ve started work on a second (very different) novel and am plotting that from the outset, so we’ll see how that works out!

And now to pass the honours to my esteemed colleagues:

Lauren Sapala
I genuinely cannot recommend Lauren’s fantastic blog highly enough. What she doesn’t know about the art and craft of creative writing – and how not to give up when the chips are down – really isn’t worth knowing. Add to that a writing style which manages to be both concise and engaging and I can honestly say that this is one of my top must-read blogs.

J. R. Frontera
Jeni Frontera has a way with words which makes me want to dive head-first into every single blog post she writes and wallow for at least a week. Not only that, but she writes some of the most extraordinarily gripping dystopian-future fiction that I have ever read. And I don’t even usually like sci-fi! In a nutshell, just stop reading this and go there now, OK? Cool.

Andrew Toynbee
Andrew and I began blogging at around the same time and I have followed the progress of his first novel – recently re-launched – with great interest. He is one of the most supportive, most encouraging and downright entertaining bloggers I’ve encountered. His warmth and charm shine through in every post and your life will be at least 63% better for following him.

Nightwolf’s Corner
Kisa Whipkey pulls no punches – she tells it like it is with an irresistible sense of humour and I admire her greatly for that. Nightwolf’s Corner is a blog rich with sound advice, hard-won lessons and an indomitable attitude which will have you gripping your writer’s block by the throat and grappling it to the floor without a second thought. And she’s very very funny.

So there you have it. A peek into the world behind JFC and four new favourites to brighten your day. Enjoy!

Mind The Gap!

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Writing tips - avoiding plot holes

Plot holes, those devious little blighters, have a knack of popping into existence just where you least expect them.

I am not the kind of chap who outlines a novel before jumping in to the fun of writing it. Broad brush strokes, a skeleton framework of ideas and then it’s chocks away! My transatlantic friends call this being a ‘Pantser’ – flying by the seat of one’s pants as the story takes one from point to point in a free-wheeling, fast-flowing fashion. Being from the side of the pond where the cucumber sandwich still reigns supreme, the term ‘pants’ has less savoury connotations for me. No, Pantser will not do at all. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a Trouserist.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that I don’t have the luxury of writing every day. Much as I would love to, the demands of daily life and a mortgage mean that I often struggle to find the time to write. Progress on the novel is sporadic, at best.

I am a self-confessed Sporadic Trouserist.

And that is where the plot holes worm their insidious way in… (you don’t want holes in your sporadic trousers, I assure you).

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Show And Tell

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Show don't tell in your writing

Ah, that most vexatious of subjects – “show, don’t tell.” Advice which is bandied about liberally yet which writers, particularly those newer to the craft, often struggle to comprehend. I speak from experience – it took me years to get my head around the difference between showing and telling.

Yet, like riding a bike or juggling hamsters, it’s a skill which, once learned, will never desert you. Today I offer some examples which I hope will serve to clearly illustrate the difference and give you a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to showing versus telling.

OK, let’s start with a bit of telling shall we?

Lord Farnsworth bustled toward the Orangery. The night air was cold and a light rain was falling.

So far, so factual. A clear description of the weather, very useful if you yourself are planning to go for a walk and wondering if you need your trusty brolly. But it’s not particularly compelling is it? In fact, it’s rather dreary. Much like the weather afflicting his Lordship.

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What Writers Can Learn From Facebook’s Birthday

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What Writers Can Learn From Facebook's Birthday

Anyone with eyes or friends can hardly have failed to notice that this week marks Facebook’s 10th birthday.

If you’re anything like me (and I do hope you are, you lucky people you) then your timelines will have been inundated with My Facebook films. If, at this point, you’re asking “what’s Facebook and what’s a timeline?” then your Author Marketing Plan is #failing #abysmally. Much like hashtags on Facebook really.

One ring to bind them
Yes, this week we’re all awash in personal lookbacks over the past however many years we’ve been sharing our lives online. Top-rated photos, most-liked posts and sundry other reminiscences all rolled up into a one-minute-five-second film encapsulating what FB regards as our most notable assets.

So, I hear you wondering aloud, what has any of this got to do with writing?

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The Secret To Motivating Yourself To Write

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Writing motivation

In my previous post, The Unicycle Of Prevarication, I explored how we indie authors often self-saboutage by “not being able to find the time” to write. This, despite the multitude of less pleasurable things we do find the time for, such as cleaning the moat or milking the peacocks.

Today, I intend to lay bare the One True Secret of how to find the time and motivation to write even when the odds seem stacked against you like handcarts against the barricades.

But first, I feel I need to issue a warning.

WARNING: You’re not going to like the answer.

You see, there genuinely is an answer to the eternal problem and it’s one that I’ve learned the hard way over the five years in which I’ve been occasionally toying with, and occasionally grafting at, my first novel. Are you ready to find out what it is? Excellent. But first, please put down any sharp objects you may be holding, as I don’t wish to find myself impaled.

Here goes then…

You have to force yourself.

I said you wouldn’t like it, didn’t I?

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The Unicycle Of Prevarication

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Why writers avoid writing“No, really, I DO want to write, I just haven’t had the time!”

How often has that line played out in your head? If you’re anything like me, probably around 1000 times a week I’d guess. And that’s on the quiet weeks.

We want to write in exactly the same way we want to go to the gym, or train for a run, or learn to unicycle. They’re all things that, once we’re actually in the process of doing them, we enjoy. But they also have one other factor in common – it takes a great deal of effort and commitment to start doing them instead of doing something easier instead.

Here’s a perfect example: this weekend I was absolutely, definitely going to commit at least one hour to my current novel. I did it last weekend and it felt amazing. Only, this weekend, I also had to take the cat to the vet. And then hit the sales to buy a new pillow (there’s no stopping the rock ‘n’ roll some days, I tell you!) Oh yes, then to the supermarket to pick up ingredients for dinner, followed by creating a pie for the aforementioned repast. By which time it was 8pm, I was tired, hungry and there was some mindless TV on.

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Hello, Mojo?

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Not coming out!I think I’ve lost the mojo.

Now, I’m not 100% sure what a mojo looks like, but I’m pretty certain there hasn’t been one around here for a while.

This is my first blog post in 3 weeks. I wish I could say it’s because I’ve been beavering away at finishing the novel. But it isn’t. In fact, the last time I touched the novel was a fortnight ago. And that was the first time in a month.

I still yearn to complete the novel and to crack on with number 2. I still love writing. I’m still hopelessly addicted to the idea of writing for a living.

So what’s gone wrong?

I have pondered and mulled and cogitated and, on occasions, even ruminated. And I think I have come up with an answer, or something very much like one.

It feels a lot like work. And I’m slightly scared.

When I sit down to edit the draft (for the umpteenth time), I feel like I’m trudging over old ground when I want to be gliding gleefully across virgin territory, meeting new characters and plunging them into breathtaking adventures. Not hanging around with the old crowd who I know so well that I can predict their every action.

I’m also scared that re-visiting the novel will cause me a) to become convinced that it’s a simmering cauldron of turgid ineptitude and b) that to transform it into a banquet for the senses will require another 5 years of undaunted effort toil.

Therefore, I find it far easier and vastly less terrifying to fire up the X-Station and sneak around like a ninja, shooting unsuspecting monsters upside the head.

After which, I feel a profound sense of disappointment at not having spent the hour finishing my masterpiece and propelling myself toward the life I most desire.

Writer’s Fear. It is that of which I am in the grip I believe. And it’s hidden my mojo somewhere.

Has anyone seen it?