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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Breaking The Silence

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Superhero

Well hello there Internet, how splendid to be back! Please say you missed me, or there may be the most frightful scene.

I have, as the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have observed, been away. I could spin you a sordid yarn of diamond-smuggling and a brief sojourn in a hellish Peruvian jail, but the truth is far more prosaic. I lost my voice. Not in a “warm brandy, kitten round the neck” sort of a way. No, that would have been far more enjoyable.

The Blogger’s Worst Nightmare
In what must surely be the worst professional catastrophe which can befall writers and bloggers, I found myself with nothing to say and no means of saying it. Inspiration dried up so entirely that even the trusty old standby methods of finding post inspiration failed. Moreover, whenever I attempted to write, the words came out flatter than a Friday-night karaoke bar. No fun, no lightness, no substance, no purpose. None of that which regular readers have been kind enough to say they enjoy in my writing. Which led me to thinking…

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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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Why Social Media Is Like A Kitten

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Social media for writersGo on, admit it – I had you at “kitten” didn’t I?

I see an awful lot of posts from indie writers complaining that they simply don’t have time to market themselves and their writing on social media. An awful lot. What with the demands of a ‘real life’ and the time we need to dedicate to writing whatever it is we’re trying to publicise, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

And let’s be honest, there’s no point in spending all your time on marketing if it leaves you with nothing to market. I’m no economics expert (a lucky ‘C’ in O-Level maths in fact) but even I can see that the laws of supply-and-demand demand that there’s at least some supply.

And that’s where the kitten comes in.

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Work in Progress Blog Challenge: Dark Energies

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Dark Energies

It’s sharing time again!

I’ve been invited by fellow writer/blogger Zenobia Southcombe (you HAVE to love that name!!) to take part in the Work In Progress Blog Challenge…

This is probably the most fun blog hop I’ve come across. The idea is that I post the first line of the first three chapters of my current work-in-progress, then nominate four other bloggers to do the same. And not a bucket of ice-cubes in sight.

I’ve bent the rules ever-so slightly to also include the first line of the prologue/introduction, so there are actually four lines here. In my defence, the first line of Chapter 1 couldn’t really get much shorter.

These lines come from my first full-length novel Dark Energies; a contemporary urban mystery spiced with a healthy dose of romance and quantum physics. The story unfolds from the POV of Dan Carter, who is desperately in search of something to fill the void in his life. When he’s contacted out-of-the-blue by a mysterious young woman via a social networking site, it looks like he may just have found it. But you should be careful what you wish for…

Introduction:

Edward Stretton somehow knew that neither he, nor anyone else, would ever see his wife again.

Chapter 1:

Why am I writing this?

Chapter 2:

The hallucinations didn’t begin immediately, nor were they all that strong to begin with.

Chapter 3:

Sam’s flat could only be described as cluttered.

I hope you enjoyed that micro-peek into the dark and disturbing world into which Dan finds himself inexorably drawn. If nothing else, this challenge has shown me that the first line of Chapter 3 seriously needs some work!

And now to nominate the next 4 bloggers:

Jeni Frontera

Andrew Toynbee

Dyane Forde

Lauren Sapala

Over to you comrades, enjoy!

A Place To Belong

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Google Plus for writers

It is time for me to confess. I can hide my guilty secret behind a curtain of self-denial no longer.

I am enamoured with Google Plus. In fact, I may go out and get drunk and have “I heart Google+” tattooed on my bicep.

Now settle down, calm yourselves, please don’t carry on so! Allow me to explain before judging me, if you would.

Don’t Believe The Rumours
For a long time I, like many others, avoided Google+, believing the rumours that its user base consisted entirely of Google employees, a handful of early adopters and several sociopathically vain bon-vivants who could no more let a new social media vehicle pass untested than permit a bandwagon to roll by un-jumped-upon.

Then I saw the light…

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35 Million Ways to Brighten Your Blog

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Embed from Getty Images

Those very generous people at Getty Images have just done us bloggers a massive favour.

Now, we all know that adding images to a blog post increases engagement. What’s that? You didn’t? There’s always one. OK, let’s backtrack to step one for any latecomers – adding images to a blog post increases engagement.

As a species, we’re pre-conditioned to respond to visual stimuli which help us add context to our environment. If those visual stimuli include kittens, our responsiveness increases dramatically. There’s almost certainly some research which bears that out but, to be honest, I was too busy going “awwwww” at pictures of kittens to hunt it down.

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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!

Fools, Horses and Writers

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Self-marketing for writersOK, so here’s the thing about marketing yourself as a writer on the interwebz.

It’s bloody hard work.

Hemingway famously said:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

And he never had to use Twitter.

So Who Made You The Expert Then?
“Ah yes,” you may be thinking sagely, “but just who are you, young whippersnapper, to deign to tell me how to promote myself or my novel online? What makes you such a guru eh?”

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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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