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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7 Easy Steps To Win At Twitter

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How to win at Twitter

In the grand pantheon of social media platforms, each most definitely has its own character.

Facebook is a faithful old friend with whom I’ve shared many a good time over the years and holds a special place in my jaded and cynical heart. We don’t speak as much as we should, but whenever we do get together it’s as though nothing has changed. Quiet comradeship binds us and no matter what else changes, Facebook is always there.

Google+ is my new BFF (as the kids, I believe, would style it). G+ was a friend-of-a-friend and, on paper, we have little in common at first glance, yet we have bonded astonishingly quickly over a shared love of certain mutual interests. So compatible are we that I now spend more time with G+ than with some of my older acquaintances. We just work together, you know?

Pinterest. Ahhhhh, Pinterest Can you hear the sighs? Pinterest is the pretty, intriguing-looking newcomer who I worship from afar, too scared to approach for fear of finding I have nothing of interest to share with her. There she is, all fresh and lovely and multi-faceted and what do I have to offer up? Nothing but my stories. One day Pinterest and I may share lunch, but that day is not today.

And then we have Twitter.

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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!

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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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?

Killing Your Darlings

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The Rules of Writing

It seems there’s barely a day goes past without someone somewhere posting about the “rules” of writing. Now, I’m not entirely sure that I agree with this; I feel there are far too many so-called rules imposed upon one of the most creative pursuits imaginable.

Creativity doesn’t follow rules – creativity bends, warps and downright breaks rules. Look at James Joyce, Flann O’Brien, Dalí, Picasso, Man Ray, John Lydon… you can add plenty of your own favourites to that list.

Or, as Thomas Edison so beautifully put it:

There are no rules here, we are trying to accomplish something

Of course, some rules should be followed, but only because they work. I prefer to consider these principles, not rules. A couple of examples which will be familiar to all writers:

  • Active voice is more dynamic than passive and drives a more immersive story;
  • Showing will deliver a more lasting impression than telling every time;
  • Adverbs will slow down your plot and bog down your readers;

However, there are others which simply beg to be broken in the name of trying something new. One of these, for me, is the advice to “kill your darlings” – that is, no matter how much you love a particular phrase, situation or scene, if it doesn’t fit the story, you have to get rid of it.

Really? Says who?

Unless it’s a major glaring departure from the rest of the book, I reckon you can work it in. OK, so I have a hard time imagining blue-skinned beings from the planet Morgos landing on the deck of the Pequod with laser harpoons – although it would, admittedly improve the tale no end (you can read my thoughts on Moby Dick elsewhere in this blog.)

Otherwise, if you create something of which you are justifiably proud, should you really allow perceived wisdom to stifle that creative impulse and shut it away in a box labelled Conformity?

One of the key purposes of any art form is to bring innovation to light. By adhering too strictly to what should actually be flexible guidelines, writers – particularly new writers – run the risk of inhibiting themselves and diminishing their work. When we start out on the writing journey, we find ourselves suddenly (Elmore Leonard says never to use “suddenly”, but sorry Elmore, been and gone and done it) in the midst of a wilderness with no signposts. So we turn to age-old wisdom and advice. This has to be framed somehow, so is given the label “Rules of Writing.” Before you know it, off we go down the path previously trodden by everyone else and end up creating something which… well… has been done before.

I have one particular phrase in my novel which I love. I’m very proud of it and I believe it encapsulates a feeling we’ve all had at one time or another in our lives. I have never seen it expressed in the way I’ve put it (apologies if that sounds arrogant by the way.)

But…

It didn’t fit within any of the versions of the scene I had written. I knew it was the right place, the right time and the right phrase. But it stuck out like a sore thumb nonetheless. “Kill your darlings,” my inner editor yelled over and over again, “get rid of it!”

So I did. And I missed it. And the scene missed it, And the book missed it.

That’s the point at which I tore up the rule book and decided that rules are indeed there to be broken. It would have been far easier just to lose the phrase and move on. Instead, I stuck to my guns, re-worked a whole chunk of the scene and lowered the prominence of that phrase, so it blended seamlessly.

And do you know what? It works. The scene is stronger, more natural and imbued with greater significance.

So before you succumb to the safer option of following the rules regardless, I say try throwing them out of the window, but make sure they land within easy reach just in case you need them again in future.

Am I wrong? Have you fallen foul of rule-breaking in your own work? Or do you find a little occasional bending a liberating experience?