Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Writing Tips I'll Be Using During Julnowrimo

Only one day to go. One. Bloody. Day. I am wondering what possessed me to sign up to this julnowrimo thing but I'm hoping it will be like school parties; you dread going but once you're there it's not so bad. By complete accident I've just finished reading a book about writing and a lot of the advice has stuck and is going to be written on notes and stuck on my cork board. The book is called "Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey" by Chuck Wendig. If you have yet to experience the unique charm of Wendig head over to his site Terrible Minds - it is full to the brim with writing tips, advice, swearing and much mention of how pants (in the American sense) are not necessary when you're a freelance writer working from home. Oh, and the joys of alcohol. I like it as it imparts genuinely sound advice in a non-pushy, passive-aggressive way. That and it makes me laugh. Reading his book on the London underground I got funny looks at times as I had to stand there and try not to guffaw into the armpits of my fellow passengers while waiting to get a seat.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Censorship - Stupid, Confusing, Necessary(?)

I've been meaning to write about this for a while. As you may (or may not) know the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has refused to give a rating to "The Human Centipede II: The Full Sequence", for home entertainment release. It can still be shown in cinemas, at the cinema owner's discretion, but it can't be released on DVD or Blu-ray for home use in Britain, as it has no age rating. The full statement of why they made the decision is here, and reveals a lot of the plot in the process. Their general reason boils down to that it combines a sexual element with torture, and could thereby be "harmful" to viewers, as well as the possibility that it breaches the Obscene Publications Act. While I don't like the reasoning I have found I have reacted in a most unexpected way to the "banning" - I don't really care...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

A New Challenge Awaits (Or; Never Volunteer, It Will Likely End In Work)

Wow, almost a week since I last blogged. Sorry for being so rubbish lately people, I have no excuses - apart from the ol' classic "couldn't be bothered". I've also been up to other things; I've written an article for a small London online magazine (more on that when/if it's published) and I've been doing repair work on my novel draft, going back and checking/fixing what I've already written. Mainly just surface adjustments, like spelling and grammar but I'm also doing some adding and subtracting, to get what I've written already to match the stuff I came up with in my new outline. Also, character studies, plot ideas, notes etc. And I kind of have a deadline. You see I've gone all masochistic and signed up to "julnowrimo"...

Thursday, 16 June 2011

It's Thursday already?!

Hi all, been another one of those weeks where you're all chilled and looking forward to the week ahead and suddenly you realise the week is almost up and you haven't got half of the things done you'd set out to do. Yeah, one of those.

I've been mainly getting to grips with my Mac, learning how it works and more importantly where everything is. The keyboard especially takes some getting used to after years of PC keyboards, but it's not too tricky. Saying that, the absence of an obvious hash tag key had me stumped for a bit, as I was convinced I'd suddenly gone blind. Tip: alt + 3.

I've also been setting up my first draft of Wolfsbane in Scrivener, a writer's programme for writers. It let's you lay out the manuscript in a much more logical way, with each chapter having it's own folder on the left hand navigation, and it allows you to pick them up and move them about as you like. You can also do a full outline, with each chapter marked out and ready to be filled with lovely words, like jam into doughnuts. Mmmm... doughnuts. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, Scrivener. I highly recommend it if you want to have a go at a writing programme that is actually trying to help you write. And you can try it for free for 30 days before you buy. (I make no money if you do buy it, I just think it's a really cool tool and I wish I'd known about it years ago.)

The only other thing I did this week of any import was go to the Bad Teacher screening. My review will be on Lost in the Multiplex shortly but thought I'd describe what a screening involves, in case anyone has ever wondered. First off they are not as glamourous as you might imagine. Normally it's a bunch of tired looking, hunching film reviewers all piling into some corridor or small room waiting for the screening room doors to open, before you take your seat and hope to whatever force you believe in that this won't be another Charlie's Angels. But the Bad Teacher screening was an example of how it can, and should, be done. It was in Sony's building in London (how cool would it be to work in a building with your own screening room?) and they have a bar and seating area outside while you wait. I've been there a couple of times with LOVEFiLM but it had been a while and I'd forgotten how nice their building is.

You're given a print out with a lot of information about the film, cast and crew, which you always read if you're on your own and never read if you're not, and then you wait to be let in to the screening room. The difference with this one was there was a minor celebrity there, as Fearne Cotten had also turned up for the screening I went to. I must be honest - I had no idea who she was the whole time I sat in that bar area. I kind of did that thing, where you recognise someone but you're not sure from where. Then it dawned on me "she's on the telly" and the name popped into my head. I then completely ignored her and went on into the screening room, as I've always thought it's weird when people talk to someone just because they've seen them on TV or in films. Now if it had been Stephen King sitting there I would have been having palpitations and kicking myself for not having his "On Writing" book with me. Or a pen for that matter. Always make sure you have a pen.

That reminds me, I really need to put a pen in my bag - so that the gremlin that ate the last one doesn't starve.

So that's been my week of few words but fun experiences. How was yours?

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ooh, shiny

After a very good birthday weekend I waited today for my present to myself; an Apple iMac. I've been wanting to convert to Apple for a while now and have finally taken the plunge. It arrived today, and I'm writing this post on it. If there was sound with this you would hear much squealing of delight.

Why did I want a Mac? Well I kept hearing that they were better for writers, as it has writing programmes that give you more options and allow you to do outlines, background notes, character studies and such, all in one place. And I hate MS Office. Really, really hate it - it just seems to make writing harder than it needs to be, with few options to segment your work or make referencing easy. Writing a 10,000 word dissertation was hard enough in that bloody thing - trying to get to 100,000 words was proving incredibly unpleasant. I also wanted one because, well, they look cool. I am that shallow.

So now I have my shiny Mac set up and so far I'm not suffering from Microsoft fever but have found it to be pretty sensible and well laid out. No doubt I'll get confused over some things but then that's part of the fun.

And while I have everyones attention, I want to give a big thank you and hug to my fabulous friends, for making my birthday so much fun this year. Partying until the wee hours is something I've not done in ages and almost makes me miss being a teenager. Almost.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Outlines - Tricky But Neccesary

I'm not dead, just outlining. I reached a point in my story where I really had no idea where to go (and neither did my characters) so we all had to have a chat. I've been working on the outline again so I have more details and now have a chapter by chapter plan.

I usually don't do much outlining, as normally the things I've worked on have been short enough to not need one (at least in my experience). But I have discovered that for long stories I need some sort of map when the long road starts to get covered in the fog of confusion and conflicting ideas. So I sat down and asked myself the following questions:

  • What is the goal of your story? Not the outcome, the goal. (The goal doesn't have to happen, but it has to be there in the background, acting as the cattle prod to keep the main character going.)
  • What will happen if the main character fails, what are the stakes? (After all failure is an option and has to seem like a real risk to the reader)
  • What has to happen for your character to attain their goal?
  • What could happen to hold them back or stop them attaining their goal?
  • What must they sacrifice for their goal?
  • What changes (internally and externally) does the character have to go through before they can attain their goal? Its best to list both good and bad changes in equal measure.
  • What will change for secondary characters, whether they be good or bad?

With these few questions I punched a hole through the big 'ol clueless wall I was facing and can see where this is all headed. It also means I already know some stuff I've written has to go or be changed in big ways but then you don't get a fine delicate omelet without breaking some eggs. Or rather you don't find the gold without having to first trawl through a lot of sludge.

So expect the word count to be going up soon, as I have a course plotted and will follow it through until I hit some other unforeseen obstacle.

If you too find your writing slowing and stagnating into a pile of rotten goo then I recommend trying out the above. Don't hold back, let your imagination run wild and let your characters stretch their limbs a bit. It's amazing what this one simple act of reviewing can do for your story.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Flash Fiction: An Unexpected Guest

I've decided to have a try at one of Chuck Wendig's flash fiction competitions and this is my first go. The upside is all you lovely people get to read one of my stories, such as it is. Chuck Wendig does these weekly so if you're inclined to have a go (I recommend it, flash fiction is fun) you can find him here: He's also well worth a read in general as his writing advice is spot on and he is very funny.

So without further ado, here is my entry to the flash fiction competition.


An Unexpected Guest

Wailing pierced Ned's skull, scraping away a little more of his patience. He hadn't wanted to have a birthday party (in Ned's opinion birthday parties should stop after you turn forty-five, at the latest.) but his daughters had insisted. And then brought along their children and newly arrived grandchildren. What a way to make a guy feel young on his ninety-third birthday. They'd all been so excited, putting up streamers and balloons all over the house, which seemed to pop just as any kid so much as looked at them, resulting in the cheerful sound he was now being tortured with. Even sitting out in the garden like this wasn't enough to improve it, with them all floating around him like he might keel over any second.

Finally his eldest came running up and carried away the screeching child from "Great Gran-da". Ned hated that name but was resigned to it, much as he was resigned to his dodgy hip, his aching knees and his inability to go longer than two hours without needing a piss. The joys of aging. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered to wake up in the morning. He'd done as much as he was ever going to. Unless farting became an Olympic sport.

Eventually the party seemed to continue without him, which suited Ned fine. That old ache in his chest was back, but to hell with them if was going to mention it. He was in his nineties for Christ sake, what kind of condition did they think his health was supposed to be in? He bent down to reach for the glass by his foot, his fingers finding a purchase even though they didn't bend as well as they used to. But when he sat back he was surprised to see someone sitting next to him. Surprised because he didn't know him and even more so because a moment ago there had been no seat there for someone to sit on.

"Who the hell are you," Ned asked, in his usual direct way.

The younger man smiled. He seemed to be in his forties, and was wearing a smart pin stripe suit. But no tie. Ned's mouth wrinkled in distaste. What was the point in wearing a goddamn suit if you don't put a tie on?

"You know who I am Ned. I certainly know who you are."

"What are you talking about? I've never seen you before in my life." Ned took a sip from his drink, looking at the man from the corner of his eye.

"Oh Ned, you know better than that. Or don't you remember me sparing your life all those years ago?"

Ned had a flash of memory. Korea, an explosion ripping his unit apart, blood everywhere, some men screaming, some men silent. Ned had been next to Pete, holding the man's guts together while trying to stop the flow of blood from his own leg.  A hand had appeared from behind him, taking his away from Pete, a voice telling him it would be alright, and then his friend was dead and Ned was still alive. There hadn't been anyone else around and Ned had always suspected some other force at work that day. Apparently he'd been right.

"You got a hell of a sense of humour turning up on a man's birthday."

"Well," the man smiled, in a kind but inevitable way, "as they say, when your time's up, it's up."

"Who says that shit?"

"You do, Ned. All the time. Whenever you hear about one of your old friends popping their clogs, off you go with your wisdom."

Ned looked at him for a while, then burst into laughter.

"Well, it's true ain't it? Can't fight what you can't control," Ned replied.

They sat in silence a moment, both with small smiles on their faces. Then Ned asked, "Why now instead of then?"

The man looked down at the ground, as if working on a puzzle, before replying, "It wasn't your time I guess. At least that's what my files said."

"Your files? Since when did you become some paper pushing pussy?"

"Since the dawn of the new age old friend. I don't go around dressed in a cloak or carrying a scythe anymore either. Thanks to the Pratchett chap no one takes that seriously anymore."

Ned had never heard of this "Pratchett" but smiled anyway before turning his eyes back to his family, buzzing around the garden like a hive of bees.

"Does your file say anything about what happens next? Do I get some cloud in heaven? A dozen virgins all to myself?"

"I don't know about all that Ned," his smiled wavered a little, his eyes a little distant, "I just collect you and send you on your way. I never get to go that far so have no idea what lies beyond. You get to find that out for yourself."

"Hmph, figures. In life there's no answers, and in death there's even less."

"Yes," the smile changed again, reaching up to touch the man's eyes, "yes, that is very true."

They both watched the children playing some sort of tag game, which seemed to involve pushing each other over when they were caught and then looking innocent when the other started to cry. The breeze was cool and the sun was bright.

"Well, no point in waiting I suppose," Ned said.

"Don't you want to say goodbye to anyone first? I can give you a little time."

"Nah, I said enough to them all through the years. If they don't remember it, well, it will give 'em something to do when they all get together for the wake. The only people I want to talk to now are the ones that are up there... or wherever, waiting for me. Pete especially. I've missed that old sot. And the wife I suppose. Even if she is still complaining."

"Okay Ned. Just take my hand and we'll be on our way."

Ned reached out his old hand, the veins protruding along the back and even along the fingers and took the man's cool firm hand in turn. He stood up from his chair and walked some way with him, looking back once at the slumped shape he was leaving behind. He turned around and walked into the unknown, his companion by his side.