Tag Archives: writing tips

To Plot or to Pants?

27 Jul

It’s the great question of our times. When I’m writing my novel should I plot it out to the Nth degree, or just get on with it (fly by the seat of my pants) and see what happens?

When I wrote my first novel I plotted it out to the Nth degree. The main reason I did so was because I hadn’t done anything quite like it before, so I figured I needed as much help as possible. Think of it as akin to being a kid and riding a bike with stabilisers. Something that’s plotted out in detail gives you a very good framework to write to, and you always know exactly where you are. That is, until a character does something you don’t expect. If you’re working with paper-thin characters, then you can just beat them over the head and tell them to get back in the box and do as they’re told. They play second-fiddle to the action. However, I found that once my characters had developed character, they took on a life of their own and started dictating their own terms. Orders to get back in the box no longer worked. The next problem you encounter is having let a character get away with misbehaving once, they won’t stop. Before long, your carefully plotted story-line has gone by the wayside and you’re in uncharted territory. And that’s exactly where I ended up, two-thirds of the way through novel #1. This time, with novel #2, I decided I didn’t need the stabilisers and instead I was going to pants it a lot more.

Pantsing is great fun, but you have to be able to trust yourself to get to the end at the right time, with the characters and story still intact. This time I only knew the rough story in advance. I knew it involved a 10-year old boy trying to figure out what life was all about, and why was it that grown-ups insisted on making simple things complicated. I knew that he didn’t understand girls, but had fallen for the new girl in class. I knew that he had a gang who were going to get in trouble. I knew that his dad was involved in black-market shenanigans, and that this too was going to cause trouble. I knew the dad was a Tory/Republican and the mother was a Labour/Liberal teacher. I knew that the boy was going to be continually presented with two points of view and he was going to have to decide which parent was right without upsetting the other. Finally, I knew that one of the gang was going to become our hero’s sworn enemy and cause him a lot of trouble in the last third of the book, resulting in him getting thrown out of the gang unjustly. The framework I chose for the story was a school year. This gave me some rigidity whilst also allowing flexibility.

By allowing myself a lot of leeway I was able to develop the characters and go with them. By not being so rigid with the plot, the story developed very organically. At the outset, I thought that the gang of kids was going to encounter bigger gangs of kids and have to fight them, in a sort of computer game ‘big boss’ set of scenarios. After the first gang encounter, I realised I’d put quite a lot of work into developing the character of JJ, the rival gang leader. He really was a chaotic and nasty piece of work. Hence my solution was as follows: in the background, he moves between gangs, taking them over, so that when our hero encounters the different gangs he keeps on running up against his old nemesis. This becomes a much scarier proposition than fighting an unknown. To my mind, this is the ideal mix of plotting and pantsing. I was able to allow my characters to develop their own personalities whist ensuring that all the key events happened at the right time. I also had the added flexibility of being able to change who did what to whom. This allowed me to keep the palette of characters to a minimum, which in turn meant more screen time for my favourites.

The key point is enjoy your writing. If you have to plot in order to do that, then plot. If you have to pants it, then pants it. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it come to art. Be the best writer you can. Go and produce the best work you can, using whatever method works best for you.

Get Back in the Box

15 Nov

cat1Creating characters is not something I’ve ever had a problem with. If anything, it’s the opposite – I’ve got far too many good characters screaming to be let loose who simply don’t fit in with the story I’m writing. If you try and cram them all in, then proceedings becomes overloaded. The only logical thing to do is park them in the box marked ‘spare characters’ and slam the lid tight to muffle their screams.  I’ll give you an example relating to The Ferret Files. Bob Bobson has been with me for a very long time. In a way, he’s Ferret’s surrogate dad, or at least his older brother. Either way, he was always there for Ferret when the boy was growing up. I’ve written pages of their adventures together. Bob is a good, solid character who I know like the back of my hand. As The Ferret Files progressed and I came to know the rest of the cast, they jostled for position, demanding more screen time and poor old Bob, who’s hard done to and takes things in his stride was steadily pushed out to the periphery. I’d intended to write four chapters from Bob’s POV, but once the pace of the story picked up, whenever Bob made an appearance, it slowed things back down again. One of the other characters would whisper in my ear that they belonged in such-and-such a scene, not Bob. I’d listen, give it try, and lo and behold, the pacing was back on the mark. Bob ended up as a minor character who we meet at the beginning of the book and is mentioned in passing a couple of times. His best scenes are all on the cutting room floor. He will make an appearance in book three, as he has an input into the plot. At the moment I’ve told him he’ll have his own Ferret short story (Curses) and being Bob, he’s happy with that.

My writing style is best described as ‘organic’, in that I framework the entire story before I begin, but once the gloves are off, I’m open to cosmetic changes. The major scenes remain the same but how the characters arrive at their destinations can alter. Really, it’s the difference between arriving at a posh club by cab, wearing a suit or arriving dressed as a clown, riding a unicycle. Cyrano, the elegant Frenchman would never arrive in anything but a cab, whereas Ferret might start out in a cab and end up arriving late on a unicycle…

clownTo begin with, I couldn’t tell the difference between a character leading me off down a rabbit hole for their own gratification, and a change of direction by a character that made the story better. In the unicycle example, Ferret might meet a really interesting street entertainer called Prince Regent. Now I’ve done it. The street entertainer, who was an extra with no lines now has a name. You don’t get called Prince Regent unless you have an engaging back story. So now Prince Regent has a speaking part. Before long he’ll be demanding I promote him to minor character, then if I don’t watch it he’ll want a show of his own. This is a distraction. Prince Regent – it’s off to the box with you, to keep Bob company.

After all the jostling and maneuvering, we end up with a big scene where all the main characters arrive on time, exactly as they should. It’s then that I realise that someone is missing. Bob was supposed to be there as Ferret’s foil and there’s now a gap. Bob pokes his head out of the box and shuffles along, ready to play his part. Except I’d need to bring him back in earlier scenes, otherwise the continuity is shot. And there’s no room for him in the other scenes, because the characters with the massive egos have stolen the show. Prince Regent says he’ll do it. On his unicycle, eating french fries. No, no, no! Both of you, get back in the box! Ferret will have to use a random, incidental character as his foil. It won’t be as funny as Bob being there, but it requires less of a rewrite. One of the waiters steps up. He has a name, you know. Alberto. Except he’s not Italian, he’s from Romania. He speaks English like an Italian because an Italian taught him English. And there you go. Suddenly, Alberto has a speaking part and an interesting back story. It won’t be long before he too wants to be a minor character, and after that he’ll want his own restaurant and TV show. Sorry Alberto, it’s off to the box for you too…

Interestingly, the major villain of Ferret book two is a character who’s been in the box for twenty years. I wrote a couple of unpublished short stories featuring him that long ago. He always wanted more. And now he’s getting it. His gang has changed, as in one of them didn’t make the cut. So it’s back in the box for him. The box has an infinite capacity and a life as long as yours. It doesn’t have to be emptied immediately or topped up forever. It’s your box, to do with as you please.

cartoon-waiter-009NOTE: If you’re stuck for characters and you have a story that requires a unicycle riding clown called Prince Regent who juggles French fries, or a Romanian waiter called Alberto who speaks English with an Italian accent, feel free to give them a good home. Prince Regent may well turn out to be a killer on the run. Alberto is more likely to be threatened by the mob for refusing to pay protection $$$. Bob stays in the box. He’s not for sale or rent. Unless he gets written out of book three, in which case he’s up for grabs. IN the meantime, if the Irish band he sings in makes it big, he’s off on tour to have a few adventures of his own…

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Version 1.0

14 Sep

Here’s a question for yoversion-1u: how many versions of a document / manuscript does it take to create a Version 1.0?

To clarify, V1.0 is something that you the author are happy to publish and distribute to the world. On the cover, after the title, in large, friendly letters, it says:

 

Document Name

Author: YOU

You will be judged on the content, the grammar, the spelling and the layout. If it’s a work of fiction, add the plot and characters too.

halberdPart of my day job is authoring design documents, which are subject to internal review prior to being published. Hence I’m used to criticism. The most complex design doc is the High Level Design, or HLD. I reckon on 4-5 iterations by the time v0.1 goes out for comment. I then expect to go through another 2-3 versions before final publication. I’m really happy if v0.3 is the final version before v1.0, which gives 8 versions in total. If a document reaches v0.5, I start minor increments (v0.51). Once we get to 15 versions (v0.56) , I’m chomping at the bit to get the damn thing out the door. At this point, between me and success there’s always a pedant who won’t be moved because he/she doesn’t like a particular paragraph or requirement definition. All the time I’m boiling away inside, feeling personally slighted and wishing for a medieval weapon.

For The Ferret Files, I tried to follow my tried and tested methodology. It took six revisions to create v0.1. I figured v0.3 should be it. I was wrong. We’re finishing up on v0.53. Where I went astray was my estimation for how long it would take. I thought perhaps weeks. Try two people full time for four months. The final version of Ferret is revision 13. I was not happy with this figure to begin with. Recently, I saw Jeffrey Archer being interviewed on TV. He said that on average it takes him 17 revisions to get a manuscript right, all hand written then typed up. He neglected to mention that he has a secretary to do the dirty work. So by his estimation it takes two people full time for nearly a year to produce a best seller.  Suddenly, I’m feeling much happier.

My copy editor asked me why I was on v0.53 and not v0.8. Well, it all harks back to my first serious job, working for Commodore computers, who made the C64 and Amiga. One day, I met Frankie, a big shot engineer over from California, who was auditing the UK’s manufacturing processes. We got on rather well – he was a solid, no crap kinda guy at work, a hoot down the pub., which is where he told me about a recent chip manufacturing saga.

chip-03“Have you ever looked at what’s stamped on the top of a chip?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s the chip catalogue number.”

“And after the serial number?”

I’d never paid much attention to the last set of figures, which on most chips was ‘-01’ or ‘-02’. Occasionally, there was a ‘-03’. Frankie explained that in order to blow a chip, the engineer must first create a mask. The final set of figures was the mask number. Given that each mask cost $100,000 (in 1982), the engineering department obviously preferred a ‘-01’. Frankie then pointed me to a chip that had ‘-05’ on it, which, I remarked, had  presumably cost a cool half a million dollars to get right. Frankie laughed. The engineer who been tasked with making the mask didn’t know his ass from his elbow. By the time he’d reached ‘-07’, this was obvious to all and sundry. Except nobody stopped him, so on he went creating new masks and muffing it up. Each time, his boss figured he’ll get it right soon… if I just give him one more chance… And so on. Eventually a working chip appeared with the suffix ‘-33’.  It had cost months of messing about and $3.3m to make.  To avoid public humiliation, the suffix was immediately changed to ‘-05’. This was followed by an enquiry, during which the engineer responsible was reassigned and told never to work on chip masks again, and his boss was fired. Presumably into orbit.

The moral of the story for me is quite simple: keep your version numbers low, preferably below 0.5. If you get to 0.5, panic and start the cover up. Management can’t tell the difference between 0.5 and 0.54. They can. however, tell the difference between 0.5 and 0.9. If you’re covering up, don’t leave it until 0.7, as this grabs too much attention. Finally, if it takes 33 revisions to get something out the door, perhaps you’re in the wrong job…

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Libel or Bust

31 Aug

I’m still stuck in Edit Hell – the 7th circle to be exact, which is populated with pedants and grammar Nazis. Trust me, you do NOT want to run into the comma Brownshirts – they’re the worst!

While working through the comments I’ve received from beta readers, I was asked to consider whether the following paragraph is libelous:

Led-Zeppelin According to Emerald Room hearsay, the hippy had begun selling weed back in the day, when it was still exotic and difficult to obtain.  Legend had it he’d bumbled his way into a sound check one day and with a combination of charm, cheek and a bag of very good marijuana, secured himself a job working for Led Zeppelin as their new dealer, their old one having been busted with a K of Morocco’s finest down his pants the night before.

That was Woody’s story and he was sticking to it.

 

Tell me what you think in the comments below. Does it constitute libel in your country? If you want to know what I think regarding the UK laws, keep on reading…

In an earlier draft of the novel two incidents were picked up during copy edit as potentially libelous. In the first incident, Ferret says some horrible things about David Icke, then repeats a bunch of facts about Icke’s life, which when checked, were not entirely true. In the second incident, Ronnie Wood pockets a wrap of cocaine. Being of sound and belligerent mind, I had to go check things out. I found the following article to be a very good summary of the UK libel laws, it’s definitely worth a read: http://www.urban75.org/info/libel.html

In the case of Icke, the horrible things that were said are fine. Calling him a ‘shell suit wearing conspiracy nut’ is permitted, as it’s simply an opinion. Relating facts about his life that are untrue – that’s libel and depending on the damage to his reputation, may result in compensation. In the case of Ronnie, a quick search of the internet reveals he was a bit of a party boy back in the day, so it’s definitely something he might have done. However, he’s recently cleaned up his act and become a dad again.  As The Ferret Files is a contemporary novel, Ronnie’s act of pocketing drugs might well have happened yesterday.  One of the reasons I included him as an incidental character is because I once met him at an exhibition of his paintings and he was a thoroughly nice chap. However, I don’t wish to damage his reputation (or mine), so out went the pocketing of marching powder.

Now, onto the Led Zep paragraph. Woody is talking about the early 70s. A quick search of the internet reveals that the Zep were out of control in those days, and a few spliffs was nothing compared to the rest of the well-documented things they were up to.  In context, Woody saying that he became Zep’s dealer, without specifically saying what he dealt, or to whom, at a time when the band were allegedly out of hand on a combination of drugs and alcohol,  whilst entertaining groupies of a questionable age is hardly going to damage their collective reputations. Plus, it’s a story told by a character who, once we get to know him, is not entirely reliable.  Hence, in my opinion, the paragraph stays as it does not constitute libel.

Now, back to Edit Hell. If only I’d brought a ball of string with me and unraveled it on my way in…

 

Edit Hell

29 Jul

They say that a piece of Art is never finished, as in the artist will always find something he/she isn’t happy with, which requires a bit of a tweak. I am that kind of fiddler, and it doesn’t help reading through yesterday’s output before starting today’s.  I like working this way, the only thing is, it slows down the whole process of finishing a story. But, we’re well past that point now, down the final furlong.  I’m not changing any more bits. No more rework. Honest.

And then the suggestion comes from my copy editor – ‘this scene here, it’s good, but if you do it like this it’ll have more impact…’  And damn, she’s right. Three spots, three bits of rework, three scenes that now whiz rather than just motor.Troll

Welcome to Edit Hell.

As each section is redone, it has to be re-read and re-checked. The Comma Fairy thought she was headed for the beach, but she’s been pulled out of retirement and redeployed with her bag of tricks. Lurking in the background is the Split-Infinitive Troll – sentences pass over his bridge, and he slams his hammer down, causing words to jiggle about (damn, he even got me on that last sentence). The Definition Gremlin is my worst enemy by far. You know – when you misspell a word, but it’s still a word, just not the right one – so the Speelchucking Goblin lets it through the gate.  Auger was the last word said Goblin gave a free pass to. It was meant to be Augur, as in someone who tells the future. Instead, I ended up with a tool for boring through wood. Dur!  Another one that made me laugh was ‘chicken coup’. The Goblin let that one through without so much as a light frisking. I’m sure a coup by chickens would be interesting to watch – it sounds like a scene straight out of Animal Farm, but what I actually wanted was an enclosure for chickens, which is a coop. Bad Goblin!

So down the final straight we go. Just got to re-read the whole novel end-to-end for the umpteenth time, making sure that the Continuity Homunculus hasn’t messed the running order up (there goes the damn Troll again) and we’re done.

Sleepless nights? Not me.

Since I started taking a hammer to bed, that pesky two am in the morning Brilliant Ideas Gopher doesn’t stand a chance…

Nearly There

20 Jul

DucksWhen I decided to write a novel, I had no idea it would take so damn long to get all those pesky ducks quacking from the same hymn sheet.  I started in earnest in November 2012 and now we’re in July 2016.  The Ferret Files is due for release as an e-book the first week of August 2016.

So what have I learned over this time?

  1. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  Many moons ago, I had a meeting with Micheal Jacob, who was head of the BBC’s commissioning arm for new shows ( I was trying to get a sitcom off the ground, with a bunch of pals) and he asked me in the very first pitching workshop we did what it was I really wanted to get made? Well, I thought about it, and thought about it some more. He looked at me knowingly, and said: “It’s not this show, is it?” And he was right. His advice was to find an idea that I truly believed in, then refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer. Whatever it took, believe in it, live it and make it happen.  Ferret is it. When I decided to set-to writing, I spent some time going through all my old notes dating back 15 years and rediscovered the fabulous furry Ferret.  There were a dozen one-off stories and to begin with, I tried to weave them all into one book.  Clue: it didn’t work.  So I took the best story I had and made it into the first novel.
  2. I can’t write and do a full time job.  Tried it, it doesn’t work.  The only way for me to write anything other than magazine articles, reports and short stories is to go at it full-tilt, full time.  3 years and 8 months sounds like a long time, but that’s elapsed time rather than time actually spent on the project. Broken down, Ferret has taken 42 weeks to get from idea to finished item, which I think is pretty good for a first novel. Of course, I’ve also broken the cardinal rule of being a first time author – don’t give up the day job…
  3. Get a support network.  Early on, it was Twitter and WordPress.  Then, when the manuscript had progressed sufficiently, friends and family, not forgetting the artist of the piece, Richard Argent. There was a point when I was hiding behind the illustrations, as in asking everyone what they thought of pictures rather than the text. Every writer goes through periods of self-loathing and hating the novel, it’s part of the creative process. Miraculously, whenever I was having a down period, a picture would appear, either in draft or completed form.  Knowing that someone else gets the characters was really important.  I can’t thank Richard enough for those lifts, especially as he didn’t even know I needed them.
  4. Do it for the love of Art, not the $$$. Enjoy what you do and make your finished work an expression of you. If I’d wanted to bring Ferret in cheap, I could have lost the artwork. But, I wanted to do something unique. Personally, I think the finished novel is better with the pictures – feedback will tell.  One change I made in the final draft, after talking it over a lot, was to remove the names of celebrities and replace them with text such as: ‘a well known English footballer and the ex-popstar missus’.  It’s a detective novel, go work it out. If you’re still stumped, go look at the illustrations. Russell Brand is brilliant.
  5. Find a good coffee shop. Not the Amsterdam type of coffee shop, somewhere where you can take your laptop, have a decent cup of coffee and experience life.  Remove those headphones, and watch and listen. Writing is a solitary occupation, and when you get blocked-up no amount of internal dialogue will unblock you.  It has to come from outside. Most of the situations and characters I create as an author are based on real life scenarios, either things I’ve experienced or stories people have told me. Occasionally, I borrow stories I overhear. Sometimes I borrow people. A coffee shop is a good place to start. If anyone asks you what you’re doing, tell them. At some point, you’re going to have Ferret2to talk about your work and practice makes perfect. So bat some ideas about, see what kind of feedback you get. Strangers are often far more honest than those who are close to you.

That’s it for today.  Now, where did I put my pint of Fursty Ferret?

 

It’s a Wrap

8 Jul

Ferret in London

Ferret in London

Thirty months ago I set out to write a novel, not really having a clear idea of where to begin.  Being the sort of chap who learns best by doing, I threw myself headfirst into the task of producing a framework with major plot points.  It took six weeks to create the novel’s back story and the character arcs.  The writing commenced shortly afterwards and I proceeded at pace, adhering assiduously to the plan.  Two months in, I published some excerpts to this blog and after considering the feedback, realised that what I’d proposed was: a) far too long for a first book; and b) was not going to fly in its current form.

Rather than soldier on, I changed track, rethought the plot and cut the size down, turning one book into two.  In the process, I was forced to edit out two of my favourite scenes.  That really hurt.

The first draft took nine months nearly full time.  I spent roughly 4 days a week, 8 hours a day writing, and 2 days a week reading advice columns, character hints and other writer’s blogs.  All very useful stuff and I urge anyone who’s struggling with a first draft to do the same.  The ending was all a bit rushed, I needed to get it finished so I could go back to work.  So much was missing, so many loose ends untied.  That was June 2013.

Steady, cowboy

Steady, cowboy

Two years later and the second draft proper is finished, with the ending now complete.  One of the advice columns I read – I can’t remember who said it, or I’d post a link – but paraphrased it goes like this: think of yourself not as an author but a pilot.  The audience has climbed aboard your plane, participated in the take off, flown the flight.  If you’ve done the catering right, they’re all still aboard (apart from the ones who freaked and parachuted out early on).  Now, they’re trusting you the pilot to land the effing plane, so you better not disappoint.  In the case of Ferret, the plane has an outbreak of snakes, there’s a pair of armed terrorists aboard, food poisoning has incapacitated the flight crew, the landing gear is jammed and there’s a storm directly ahead.  Oh, lordy…

Truth be told, it’s the most fun I’ve had in years.  Well, since IBM declared me persona non grata for producing a series of films, with the participation of their top brass, which supposed the firm was run like the mafia.  They terminated my contract and tried to impound and incinerate every one of the DVDs.  Fortunately, they failed.  Anyone who know me knows that every once in a while I have to create some noise and cause trouble.  It’s a genetic trait – I blame my father for instilling in his children a healthy disrespect for the establishment and their organs of justice.  Company newsletters were my thing for a while.  Three times I went too far for the liking of management, collecting one written and one verbal warning.  Fidelity Investments took great exception to a piece about tattooing barcodes on the back of their employee’s necks and checking them in and out with a barcode reader, for security purposes.  Shortly after that I moved on to short stories published in various magazines, regarding working practices in IT, with names changed to protect the guilty.  The guilty may not have spotted themselves, but their co-workers did, which forced me to switch to a series of pen names.

All in the Edit

All in the Edit

Ferret ups the ante considerably.

Whilst it is a work of fiction, it takes many real life experiences garnered from hanging about with consultants, working in high finance and on confidential government projects.  I’ve not set out to spill any secrets, merely write a tale of how these organisations behave under the covers.  Believe me, this is a full-on cage rattler – lord knows, I’ve taken enough time to get there.

I’m now commencing the final edit, which I’m really looking forward to.  I know from making movies, that the editing studio is where those six hours of footage become 5 minutes of freaky fun.  Hard work looms, but I can’t wait to see what comes out the other end.

 

Musical Influences

22 Jun

music is what feelings sound likeI’m a big listener of music, always have been and if I need to escape from the world for a while it’s the headphones that I turn to.  Judging by the number of people I see on a daily basis wandering around the city, on public transport and even down the gym, I’m not alone in this pastime.  With so many people on the planet tuned into their favourite sounds, it will come as no surprise to learn that fictional characters have musical preferences too.  Let me put that another way: if you’re writing a character and they DON’T have a favourite tune or band, you’re missing a trick.

Personally, I’m a fan of singer/songwriters with a story to tell (Neil Young, Bob Dylan), symphonic rock (guitars plus keyboards and an orchestra), and plain old guitar driven rock.  In years gone by I’ve listened to practically everything from high tempo punk to stoner rock with its gyrating, sludgy bass.  Somewhere in-between comes the Seattle sound, led by Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

I find with music that certain songs act as an anchor to certain feelings, and simply playing the right song takes you back to the right head space.   Conversely, if you have a favourite song that you used to listen to with an ex, it can be too painful to listen to that track or album for years on end.

Resistance is Futile

Resistance is Futile

The Ferret Files is a mix of high finance meets secret societies meets government conspiracy; the right band to get me in the Ferret headspace is without a doubt Muse.  Matt Bellamy of Muse is a musical geek who loves a conspiracy theory, which is just perfect.  The other band I listen to a lot is Nightwish, a Finnish female fronted rock act who deserve to bigger internationally than they are.  Fantastic live.

In order to tell the story, I’ve chosen a number of characters who each have POV chapters.  When writing, it can be tricky to flip between them and get in character.  As each of them is a different person, with differing musical tastes, one of the tricks I use is anchor songs.

Ferret’s anchor song is ‘Uprising’ by Muse.  Cyrano, his drug dealing tricky best mate’s anchor song is ‘Somebody Put Something in my Drink’ by the Ramones.  Marcus, the gay government official is anything by Kylie, but specifically ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’.  Juliet, Ferret’s posh girl-gone-bad girlfriend has a thing for bad boy rockers, so it’s Guns N Roses for her, ‘You Could Be Mine’.  Damien, the confused Account Executive who wants to tread the boards, but daddy would disinherit him – he’s fond of Les Miserables.  Flamen Dialis, High Priest of Jupiter – he listens to Pink Floyd.

conflictFor me, my character’s differing musical tastes help me to feel the conflict brewing between them, and ultimately it’s conflict and conflict resolution that drives any good story.  If everyone listened to the same music and wanted the same thing – well, there’s no point in me picking up a pen.

Cyrano, for instance, with his love of fast tempo punk is never going to get along with Marcus, who’s busy secretly prancing about in feather boas.  He’s also going to have a thing or two to say to Ferret about liking safe pop/rock.  Ferret & Marcus on the other hand, they get along just fine.  Whilst Matt Bellamy of Muse isn’t a true bad boy, he is quite bonkers, so Juliet will live with this while dating Ferret, just as Ferret will live with the odd bit of G’N’R in his life.  Cyrano and Juliet: funnily enough, they’re instantly drawn to each other, and such an attraction is never going to sit well with our hero.

Have a great week.  And while you’re at it, have a think – what’s your theme song?  What single song sums up who you are, your wants and desires?  One day you’ll have to make a fabulous entry, and that’s the song that you’ll want playing.  By all means, leave a comment and let the world know what it is.  In the meantime, never underestimate the power of music to evoke powerful, positive emotions in both you and others.

 

 

 

 

 

Groundhog Day

31 Jan

Groundhog DaySo here I am once more, back on the final chapter of the Ferret Files, nineteen months after the last time I was here.  Things have moved on – in a good direction, the whole novel feels much better and my characters are much happier with their lot.  How do I know? They’ve stopped bitching to me about unfulfilled desires and hanging plot lines.

So what have I learned during the second revision?

1) If you have a novel inside you that’s demanding to see the light of day, write it.  Perseverance is key.  Set to and don’t stop writing until you’ve finished.  No excuses.  Really want it.  Focus on how great it will feel once you’ve reached that final chapter.  Make pictures of the day you write ‘The End’.  Chances are you’ll have to reorganize your life and miss out on things you’d otherwise do.  Sacrifice is no bad thing.  It hardens your resolve.

2) There will be days when you want to tear your hair out, days when you think you’re a dillweed for ever imagining you can write and days when you don’t get started until 8 hours after you planned.  On the flip side, there will be days when you feel amazing inside.  You’ll have a smile for everyone, especially yourself, over some delicious one-liner, a clever plot twist or a paragraph of narrative that’s good enough for Jehovah.  Those are the days that make it all worthwhile.  People will think you’re on drugs.  Let them.

3) Listen to your characters.  They know what they want better than you do.  If you push them about, they will fight back.  Take heed of what they say, take a deep breath and go with it.  You’ll learn things about your characters that you didn’t know and that’ll make you feel on top of the world.  See (2).  Any good story is the story of characters and how they change over time when faced with issues they didn’t expect to encounter.  If you’re ever in doubt about who your characters are, imagine them all at a dinner party.  Who forgets to wear a bow tie?  Who takes two, just in case?  Now lob a grenade in the room and watch them react.  This is a metaphor for something unexpected BTW, it doesn’t have to be a real grenade.  The point is to take your characters out of the novel, put them in a situation that doesn’t exist in the novel, add some chaos, watch and learn.

4) Not every brilliant idea you have has to be used immediately.  If it doesn’t fit, don’t try and cram it in.  Some ideas are so good, they’re novels on their own, they need space to develop and breathe.  So keep a notebook, jot them down and then leave well alone.  Rabbit holes will derail you. and once you’re down one, it’s easy to forget how you got there.  Think Alice in Wonderland.

5) If you’re stuck, blog it.  Social media is your window to the world.  If you have something that’s bothering you in the way of the plot, characters or even technique, write about it, put it down for a day and then think about pressing the publish button before you re-read it.  That should get the juices flowing.  Now you can re-read.  Saying something out aloud is very different to saying it in your head.  Often the shock will provide the answer.  If not, bash the problem around.  I tend to use other writers rather than my friends, just because they’ve not been up to their elbows in words and don’t fully understand what’s going through your head.

6) Write about stuff that interests you.  You don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert on brain surgery to have an interest in it.  Research is all part of the writing experience, whether you do it before you start, or while you’re going along.  If you find brain surgery to be as dull as ditch water, then leave it well alone.  Ultimately, you’re no different to anybody else out there.  If you choose to write about something that you have no interest in whatsoever, it will show.  Excuses will abound and you’ll find it difficult to finish.  Overall, you won’t enjoy the writing experience and readers will enjoy the reading experience even less.  Being happy is the key to being productive.  Writing about things that interest me while listening to music I love – there’s no better feeling.  See (2).

7) Read often.  The more you read good fiction, the more you learn unconsciously about the writing process and the art of story telling.  If you have difficulty with a particular plot point, see how your favorite author deals with it.  Ultimately, every story has already been told, but not every combination of words has ever been used to reach the conclusion.  Writing and music have a lot in common.  There’s only so may notes, yet new songs come out all the time and they still manage to be original.  Musicians have their influences, authors too.  Read.  Digest.  Be inspired.  Dare to reach for Heaven.

That’s it for today.  Now I’m back in the flow, I can’t seem to shut up…

 

My Top Six Writing Tips

25 Jul

I don’t normally do reposts, but this is so spot on it deserves a mention.

My Top Six Writing Tips.

The Slog

A Cognitive Dissident

Literary Avenue

Take a stroll along the Avenue of Artistic Ingenuity

Books and Mor

Let's Read

Darcie Cameron

Flow with an Open Heart

Change The Code

Live Your Best Life

Flash-365

Oh! Take a shit, read a story. - My Mother on flash fiction

The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

Debbie Young

Author of mystery, mayhem & comedy in the Cotswolds

Amber Jones Barry, Editor

Making marks to achieve better copy.

The Ferret Files

The home of London's Premier Detecting Consultant

Short Tale Shrew

A Flash Fiction Writing Community

Natalie Breuer

Natalie. Writer. Photographer. Etc.

Nail Your Novel

Nail Your Novel - Writing, publishing and self-publishing advice from a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor

OffGuardian

because facts really should be sacred

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