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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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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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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Changing With The Times

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Harold Lloyd

I have discovered that my protagonist speaks differently at different times of the day.

After reading Kisa Whipkey’s splendid post How To Fix The Morphing Voice earlier this week, I started to notice my own oscillations (as it were!) I began considering not only how to fix these, but why the morphing began in the first place.

It’s partially due to the same problem of being a slow writer – there’s a lot of life going on outside the writing, which makes the process more protracted than I’d like. That naturally affects the flow of scenes.

But I also discovered that my narrator’s voice depends very much on the time of day. In the mornings, he’s bouncier, wittier and more free-flowing. By the afternoon, he’s fairly easy-going but somewhat more verbose, with a tendency toward flippant sarcasm. As evening rolls in, he becomes contemplative and philosophical. Or drunk.

I don’t have the kind of daily routine which permits me to write at the same time every day, so it’s a challenge I have to endure. Yeah, OK, ‘endure’ is a bit over-the-top, but you get my drift daddy-o.

Does anyone else find the same vocal time-shifts creeping in? How do you overcome them?

The Future of Storytelling

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The FutureWhatever your feelings on eBooks and eReaders, there can be no question that digital storytelling is with us to stay. The debate rages on about the merits and drawbacks of each medium, with the one true essential often getting lost: namely, that it is the content which is paramount, not the method of delivery.

A great story is a great story whether it’s spoken aloud around a campfire or downloaded to a mobile device.

But what of the opportunities to enhance a great story and create something truly outstanding? Part of my lingering reluctance to adopt eReaders in favour of paper (which I’ve touched on in a recent post) is based on the fact that I’m waiting for the Next Big Thing. Regardless of the convenience afforded by a slim tablet housing an entire literary library, the sheer viscerality of paper still held sway for me.

Until now. Now I have seen The Future and it’s mind-blowingly exciting.

It looks like this: ‘Avalanche at Snow Creek’

No longer is a digital story limited to being a straightforward rendering of the physical book. True immersive multimedia has come of age and is enhancing the reader’s experience at every turn. As you scroll through the pages of ‘Snow Creek’ you fall further and further into the account until you can almost feel the snow pressing in around you and hear the search-and-rescue teams calling out in increasing despair.

The advent of HTML5 – the latest standard for web markup language – enables storytellers to add dimensions to their words which will take the reader to a whole new level. Yes, of course we still want the reader’s imagination to do most of the work and forge their own images around the tales. And yes, of course we must still craft and revise and polish our words and phrases to enable them to deliver that world to the reader.

That has always been the storyteller’s trade and passion, regardless of medium. Except now, we have a whole new box of tools with which to expand the horizons for our readers and make our stories live. And that can only be a good thing.

How will you embrace the new to bring extra dimensions to your work?