Spring has been late in arriving this year; especially in the North of England. Although there are some things you can shove in early, like potatoes and Early Onions, the rest has been waiting for the ground to warm up.
Writing, believe it or not, can be delayed if you are subject to ‘climate’ change. I find that during the winter months, I am more inclined to write multiple short stories – much like keeping the plot (both kinds) ticking over – keeping your hand in for the coming summer months. This is not to say writing short stories is not serious writing – it is, and it’s bloody hard work, especially for those of us who are inclined towards filmic, script-like scenarios.
If you are habitually a writer of novels, this ‘slow’ period might be good for trying new styles (I’m having a go at radishes this year! And historical writing!). Looking for Short Story Competitions is a great way to keep the brain in gear; the ink flowing, so to speak.
Short story writers may want to reverse this and give novel writing a go. Expanding the length of your story pushes your creativity to new levels. Take a look at the latest thing you have written, or are writing, does it really have to be under 5,000 words? Take us on a whirlwind tour of your characters world, create side-stories and let your characters get under the skin of your readers.
You’ve sown the seeds – on the allotment and of creativity. Don’t stand back and admire the clean rows of earth and words. Wasn’t there something else you had to do? Did you leave something out? Have you proofread the whole thing? Simply put – does it work?
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about here – Editing – it’s a bitch, but it has to be done. Weed out the obvious nonsense first. Remember, prune back hard, next year it comes back stronger!
Save. Save Again. And Back It Up
Which brings me to the main point of this update.
I ran out of space on my allotment plot this year. I was offered an unused raised bed, and this morning spent 2 hours clearing it. It was hard, itchy, skin-raking work; and raining to-boot. But my spare seeds have somewhere to go now.
Remember when I told you about losing 3 years of my work? (May 18, 2018 ) I have since learnt my lesson and now have the equivalent of a spare bed on the allotment – an external hard drive!!! When writing, save your piece, next time save it with a #2 after the title and so on and so forth. You might, by the end of writing, have anything from 20 to 50 saves of the same story. Only when you are satisfied that the thing is finalised can you get rid of the earlier saves – then download it onto an external drive. These are incredibly easy to buy, put together in it’s case and use.(Amazon) If you use Windows, then it will be simple, if like me you have Linux, you may have to do a little work to get your system to allow access, but I did it, so can you.
Another way to ensure you do not lose work was recommended to me by a member of Wirral Writers; Amy’s tip is this – e-mail your stories to yourself. This means that, if you don’t use something like Google Drive, wherever you are, you will always have access to your work!
Now spades, pens at the ready – write, write, write!
So here’s an interesting collaboration – American crime writer; Harlan Coben, American lead; Michael C. Hall. British locations; Liverpool, Manchester, Cheshire. Primarily English cast; Amanda Abbington, Marc Warren, etc. French ‘suspect’; Audrey Fleurot. Networks,English, French, International.
I have a number of issues with this show:
Problem #1 – England: Tom Delaney and his children; and the rest of the cast; apart from Pete (Marc Warren) and ‘Bobby’ (Milo Twomey), live in a gated community – so far so good. However, the reason we are given that it is a gated community is an event that occurred many years earlier – when the current adults were teenagers – at the local school, resulting in the deaths of a number of children. So to ‘protect’ themselves from outside danger, they walled themselves off – this suggests that the school itself is within the gated community. I do not know if such communities even exist in the UK, sure, there are small gated estates, but that’s just residential. Smacks of America.
Problem #2 – Idiot family: So you’re having a party for your mates whilst the parents are away for the night. You discover someone either unconscious or dead aaaaand… you don’t call an ambulance! REALLY?! You have to be kidding. Then dad decides not to get help and ‘hides’ the body! REALLY?! You are fucking joking. Mum colludes (‘cos basically she’s an airhead). They then send texts to the ‘missing’ boy’s family thus ensuring they think he is still alive! WTF?! The reason given for their sorry excuse for not alerting the authorities is… their reputation!!!
Problem #3 – No-one works: Tom; the lead dad, is a surgeon, but spends more time running around the estate and all the haunts he thinks his daughter may be. Pete; also a doctor (anaesthetist?) also doesn’t go to work much. Mr and Mrs Chahal seem to live a luxurious life with no mention of how a teacher (she) and her hubby; who never seems to go to work, can afford it. Helen Crowthorne lives in another large house; albeit extremely neglected, and she doesn’t even seem to have a job. At least the police are doing their jobs properly…or are they?!
Problem #4 – “I did it.” What, you hate your wife so much that you would implicate her as a paedophile?! Wow, this family needs some counselling.
Problem #5 – Same school: Most of the main characters/suspects seem to have attended the same school, then remained in the area; apparently able to afford to stay. And now the kids go to the same school. I don’t know about you, but I do not know a single person who’s children have attended the same school as their parents; especially when you live in a suburb or town where there are many to choose from.
Problem #5 – Archetypes? Check: Smacks of formulaic to me.
The Hero – that would be Tom, the dad.
The Mentor – most definitely Pete, he guides Tom through the lumps and bumps of how to behave; like he’s a grown man and still doesn’t know, in pubs, with neighbours etc. etc. And rolls his eyes at his friends impulsivity.
The Ally – well this can be Pete too, he’s the one who causes distractions to aid The Hero and accompanies him on his journey.
The Herald – Isn’t a character here – it’s an empty bed, time for a life-changing event Tom Delaney.
The Trickster – Jojo Marshall, provides a light break from the gloom of Tom’s storyline. Maybe this archetype fits him very loosely as he’s more of a fool.
The Shapeshifter – Detective Emma Castle. Why is she spying on one of the others. She’s a cop, so she’s a good guy isn’t she? Seems to hover on the borderline – until all is made clear of course.
The Guardian – ‘Bobby’, the owner of the Heaven Lounge. He tries to block Tom, practically telling him to go home and leave off his search. A big flag also waves over this character saying ‘this way lies danger’.
The Shadow – Also Bobby, as he creates a threat and further conflict for Tom.
Problem #6 – Teenage angst. Jenny Delaney can’t confront her father about a tracker he’s had installed on her phone. She has a secret from her mother – that she can’t share with her father. So, instead of having a hissy fit (like most teens), and going mardy in her bedroom because she can’t talk to dad – she ups and disappears!!!!
BUT, despite the spiralling lack of believability in this show, I watched it all. All the way through and, well, I kind of enjoyed it. How does that work?
I know many people have gone on about Michael C. Hall’s accent, but there isn’t anything wrong with it. Americans are notorious for getting British accents so very wrong, but if you aren’t London-centric, then it sounds okay to my Northerner ears.
The acting is superb; especially, I have to say, Marc Warren( who for my money is not seen on TV or in films enough). “People are entitled to their secrets,” he says, thus ensuring the viewer wonders, what kind of secret is Pete keeping? Hall is excellent in a constant state of high alert, panic and fear. Audrey Fleurot is also worth the money with her edgy, slightly neurotic, wide-eyed teacher accused of something teacher’s don’t ever want to be accused of.
The intro theme music is ‘Glitter and Gold’ by Barnes Courtney, love it. An English singer/songwriter, however, the song sounds American to me – imagine opening credits with some sweaty blokes harvesting in the ‘Deep South’, a lovely lass wiping the sweat from her brow as she peers; in her flimsy floral frock, yonder across the fields to a lone tree against a bleeding sunset. Well it’s not that. ‘Safe’, is all big houses, red brick, mock Tudor, green and ‘not so pleasant England’. So a little at odds with the theme.
It feels as though the producers were trying to appeal to as many cross-continent viewers as possible. The story moves at speed, but that’s because there are side stories, red herrings, so many individual secrets that it makes Pretty Little Liars look like a primary school squabble.
It was a great idea, and despite kind of enjoying it, I can’t help but feel that Mr. Coben should have edited his story before submitting it. It didn’t ring true. Hubby and I kept looking at each other and going, “What the…? Really? C’mon.”
Whether a real or imaginary place, a certain amount of Worldbuilding is required. For example, I recently wrote a short story set in early 17th century, there’s some stuff on the internet about the history of England at that time – however – it was set in a none-existent village, in a landscape partially based on reality, with characters from my imagination – bring on the Worldbuilding – houses, the inn, the church, beehives (skeps), brewery, orchard, river, etc. etc. I drew a map, I collected pictures; of landscapes, of replica buildings, of people, I researched dialect and place-name etymology. I created the village of Hope Ghyll.
Do You See What I See?
It’s all about getting your reader to suspend disbelief – if you go too far, i.e. no psychological realism, then you have lost them and the story is senseless. Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien created worlds with fantastical creatures; a land that is always winter, or one whose dangerous element is essentially a visible, intangible evil that can call upon the heinous and chaotic to fight on his behalf. Tolkien was especially adept at showing us his creation without actually describing an awful lot. Instead of slapping a large platter of roast orc, horse sweat and forest before us, he wafted the aroma beneath our reading noses, thus allowing us to create the vision in our own minds – and yet, when we watch the films, somehow we all ‘saw’ the same thing! Now that’s genius!
Fantasy and Sci-fi writers, I believe, have the biggest job of all – pretty much EVERYTHING has to be ‘built’.
Where does your story take place? An alternative or parallel universe? Another solar system? Are you on planet Earth even? You are free to make the landscape anything you want, and for it to be any place you want, but it must be justified within the story-line. Your geographical location affects who we are – think about the stereotypes of various nations around our world, you don’t even have to look too far – Londoners are a different beast to, say, Yorkshire folk, inhabitants of Los Angeles have a different mind-set from people living in New Hampshire. Remember that quote from Ken Russell’s Excalibur, “You and the land are one.”? Well so are your characters. Which leads us nicely to…
I love maps. I love looking at the shapes of coastlines, the quaint names of places in Britain; names are very evocative, the distances between one place and another; that in times past, people travelled on foot! I also enjoy making my own. I often create a map when I DM a game of Dungeons and Dragons, there’s something satisfying in being a world creator, the Master hand, dare I say, God. If you can’t draw, use existing places – have a look at Google Earth and take a screen-shot. Not only that, have a look at how our world used to look – the Neolithic Age might be exactly what you’re after for a fantasy ‘off-world’, https://www.eupedia.com/europe/neolithic_europe_map.shtml#early_neolithic. There are templates to be found online of existing and imaginary land masses.
Different planets have differing day lengths; this will affect the character, activities and potential festivals you have in your world. If Counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer has 24 hours to solve a crime on planet Earth, how long will he have on Saturn? Not as long, so he better get a move on!
The history of your setting will have impact on the lives of characters your reader meets. If there has been a robot uprising 50 years previously, that is going to shape the politics and lifestyles of them now. If you are setting it in a prehistoric jungle infested with lizard men, how did they develop? What will their relationship to your protagonists be?
History cannot be ignored, we don’t live in a ‘bubble of the here and now’, wherever you live in the world, think about what your daily life is like, what has affected the way your country is run? Is there a ‘ruling class’? How did they get there? What about your own family, maybe there is a story from your ancestors that you can use as a jumping off point? Your hero hasn’t sprung up fully formed – unless he/she is one of those Greek Gods that emerge from the severed head of its parent! – he/she will have a reason that they’re in the position they are, right from the beginning of your story. Know their history.
Is it a flawed system? Does public transport run late, or is everything perfectly in-tune with the surroundings? Who rules? A Royal family of dragons?! What are the politics? What sort of art/music/dance/sculpture is created there? – If there is, in fact, any creativity at all – maybe you have a warrior based society only. Looking around our own planet, we can see a huge variety of differentiation between countries – education in the Scandinavian countries, for example, is regarded as some of the best, whereas in the Wodaabe culture, because they are a nomadic peoples and the land is everything, they do not have schools or an education structure that many in a Western ‘developed’ country would recognise. What about religion? Even if you yourself do not follow a belief system, chances are your society is moulded by one. There may be laws that dictate your character’s daily life, there may be holy festivals, holidays, observances that shape the mindset of this individual. Every society has a culture – the extent of it’s intellectual achievement is up to you.
You can, of course, write anything you want in your story – it’s your story. You can make up new words for an imagined language, BUT, if you make something too complicated, your audience is going to struggle to read the actual story as they will be so busy trying to work out what the Hell you are talking about! Names; people and places, are a great way of adding texture and signalling to your reader that this is ‘another world’. Baggins, Mordor, Galadriel, Gondor – words that conjure a place and time that is not our own. Tolkien was an expert on the Old Norse language, and incorporated it into his work to give his invented world a real sense of believability.
New Crobuzon, Bonetown, Sil, Besźil – another place and time; totally different to Tolkien’s, China Miéville offers us a future; or alternative reality, that is succinctly expressed with Worldbuilding mastery. If your story takes place in the distant past, again, readers are going to struggle if you write the whole thing in Middle English (see Chaucer), so select the odd word or phrase that gives a flavour to your tale; don’t have your reader struggle over every ‘daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he’.
Let’s be honest, Worldbuilding takes time. The amount of time/research/planning you are prepared to put into it will affect your writing when you begin. You should be the expert on this world you have created. You should know EVERYTHING there is to know about it. You won’t necessarily mention all the stuff you have built into your world; like how long it takes to shear a sheep, but it will have an impact on your mind-set as you write and will therefore add some element of realism. Worldbuilding can be hard work, but if you are planning to write a series, then it will definitely be time well spent.
You may not want to read this if – you have a sensitive nature, you haven’t eaten yet, or, you have just eaten.
Writing is much like taking a dump.
I shall repeat that – Writing is much like taking a dump. It’s true.
So join me today when we’re going to use (cue Ta Da music) The Bristol Stool Chart to decide what kind of writer you are and what you can do about it.
Well here we are ladies and gentlemen in the world of poo. The Bristol Stool Chart is a real thing, honestly. They use it for patients to point at what their shit looks like and the doctor diagnoses the problem and gives dietary advice, so without further ado, let’s find out what kind of writer you are –
#1 – These writers lack a normal free-flow quality, because research, experience and/or knowledge are missing and there is nothing to retain ideas. Ideas are painful to pass, because the lumps are hard and scratchy. There is a high likelihood of emotional bleeding from laceration of the mind. Even brain farts are missing. You probably like the idea of being a writer more than the actual reality.
Solution – Stop trying so hard, don’t push it. If you’re meant to be a writer it will happen. Otherwise, stop lying to yourself.
#2 – A combination of Type 1 writers impacted into a single mass and lumped together by some vague notions. Mental constipation is the most destructive by far because its size is near or exceeds the maximum opening of the creativity aperture. To attain this form, the idea one is a writer must be in the mind for at least several weeks instead of the normal 72 hours. A history of minor dabbling with writing is the most likely causes. Minor brain flatulence is probable. This writer is likely to be irritable because of continuous pressure of large ideas with little skill or experience to open the dam.
See #1 for solution.
#3 – This form has all of the characteristics of Type 2 stools/writers, but the transit time is faster, between one and two weeks. You write in little bursts, relieving the pressure or build up of ideas. It is likely you will be irritable; with yourself mostly. Brain farts are a minor issue, because creative defecations are regular. Straining is required.
Solution – You know you have something. You can feel it brewing. Get some more variety in your reading diet and you’ll begin to flow!
#4 – This form of writer is normal for someone defecating/writing once daily. Pages may range from 1 to 100, the larger number suggests a longer transit time (thinking) or a large amount of dietary fibre in the diet (reading).
You almost got it. Keep going!
#5 – This is considered the ideal form. It is typical for a person who writes daily, after major meals, (no, not really after major meals, that’s definitely stools). You are a regular reader, you are interested in variety in your life diet, you write daily, because, let’s face it, what else are you going to do? You are a natural creative, but that doesn’t mean you can become lax in your exercise regime!
#6 – Borderline normal. It may be difficult to control the urge, especially when you don‘t have immediate access to a keyboard. These kind of scribblers may be a little neurotic about themselves or their writing. It can also indicate a hypersensitive personality prone to stress.
Solution- you can actually do this, you just worry too much what other people will think of your work. Write for yourself first and foremost.
#7 – Whoa! This, of course, is verbal diarrhoea. Two causes here – It‘s typical for people who are new and inexperienced or convalescing from faecal/idea impaction; ideas have built up and up and have no place to go but out onto the paper. The large creativity centre is stuffed with impacted ideas throughout its entire length. The other; more unfortunate, is the belief that , ‘Hey, I’m good at writing, my mum says so, so it must be true.’ and then proceed to pump out story after story after story of trite nonsense. Some good stuff has been absorbed, the rest accumulates in the rectum of the mind. Unfortunately, it‘s all too common.
Solution – find a trustworthy Beta Reader. Listen to constructive criticism. And slow down before you drown us all in word poo!
I hope you found today’s advice useful. Remember – not a doctor!
My husband was born the same year as me. He always uses the Metric system; crucially when working on art – being precise about measurements is crucial when creating sundials, and you can’t do that in inches!
I’m always saying “Well, what is that in feet?” And he replies “Forget the feet, think in centimetres and metres.” I can’t imagine the size of some creature when described in metres – I need feet dammit!
I just can’t, my brain seems stuck in Imperial Britain!
Anyone remember that scene in This is Spinal Tap, when someone got their inches and feet symbols confused? (Just to be clear, this is 6 inches = 6″. This is 6 feet = 6′). Hilarious – because it’s true.
Years ago, my mother found an article in a British newspaper, it was a little rhyme to help Brits convert in their heads, goes like this –
‘A litre of water’s a pint and three quarters’
‘A metre measures three foot three, it’s longer than a yard you see’
There was more, but I forget it. She kept it taped up on the inside of the kitchen cupboard for years; some of it sank into my skull.
The reason this is an issue now – well, it’s always an issue, but relating to my writing, is because if I (or you) want to self publish, you better know how many inches make 16.84 x 26.01 cm, (that’s the standard size of a graphic novel in case you’re interested). There are many publishing sites online, mostly American, so you know already the measurements will be in inches! But if you are familiar with Metric, then this is a bind. If you are more comfortable with Imperial system,then some companies are going to fry your mind, as they work in millimetres!
“My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. I’m a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown[sic] Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing[sic] professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under “Wizards.” Believe it or not, I’m the only one there.” Harry Dresden:Storm Front. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Storm-Front-Dresden-Files-Book/dp/0356500276
Dresden is hired by a woman to find her husband, Victor. She tells Harry that Victor is an amateur magician who has been acting oddly; Harry suspects he is having an affair. The same day, Harry gets a call from Lieutenant Karrin Murphy, director of the Special Investigations (SI) Unit of the Chicago Police Department; Harry occasionally works for the police department on ‘unusual’ cases. He is shown the bodies of two people, who have died by having their hearts ripped out – apparently by magic. Dresden himself quickly becomes the chief suspect for these murders.
I’m one of those people who remembers all the films I have watched, well, pretty much all of them – 99%. I also remember the books I have read. So imagine my surprise when I took this title to the library counter and was informed I had already taken this title out some years earlier. I imagined I had borrowed it with a bundle of too many to read and re-borrowed – then when I began reading it, remembered I had started it and not liked it, so gave up on it.
I decided to read the whole thing to figure out what had curtailed my previous outing with Harry Dresden; after all, it apparently combines many things I am interested in; crime, Private Investigators, magic, humour. It was originally recommended by a friend in the Steampunk community, so I imagined it would have elements of this genre – it doesn’t.
Storm Front is, if you can imagine it, Philip Marlowe meets Merlin. A detective story with a large helping of magic; there are echoes of Raymond Chandler as Harry Dresden pisses associates off with his smart mouth in true ‘hard-boiled detective’ mode. Even when the Wizarding version of the police; the White Council, send a Warden, in the form of Morgan; with his huge muscular stature and mighty blade, Harry can’t resist deliberately annoying the guy.
As a wizard, Harry’s good – no, not good, the best – or at least that is what he tells us – and he is the only one in the phone book! The magic is actually well managed in this tale – Butcher gives explanations in some instances of how magic works, what faeries like to eat, and how wizards get assistance (a spirit in a skull in Harry’s case), there is psychological realism in the magic, which means it doesn’t go too far into the realms of ridiculous fantasy, the emphasis is on Harry’s interior character, his motives, and circumstances which create his external actions. Also, I like that Butcher has written a wizard into the modern world, usually wizards are to be found in high fantasy and wear robes, have beards and make grand gestures (don’t they?) – Harry’s a wizard for the modern age – though I have to say – I was never quite sure whether we were in Chicago of today, or the 1940’s.
I have heard that many readers do not progress beyond this book because of the portrayal of women; victims, seductresses – but it’s Harry’s POV – and he tells us he’s a chauvinist. I have no issue with that, besides Lieutenant Karrin Murphy and Susan Rodriguez are tough women; emotionally, physically, or both. And Harry doesn’t take himself too seriously; he doesn’t always have the upper hand – he has very human foibles.
I think what irked me initially, was my perceived theft of Philip Marlowe’s ‘voice’. Marlowe is one of my favourite literary characters and I could hear him in Harry Dresden – but to a lesser, feebler, weaker degree. But hey, don’t we all write under the influence of previous creators?! So I decided to forgive Jim Butcher and just get on with enjoying the book. And I did.
There are a number of layers to the story involving magic, gangsters, Harry’s history, supernatural elements, that are woven neatly together. You may guess early who did what to whom, but the journey there is pretty cool.
Butcher has an easy reading style to his writing, but is it enough to keep me in a long-term relationship with Harry? (17 books and counting!). I honestly do not know – I might skip a couple and see if Harry manages to grow up emotionally, get a new home (he lives in a basement flat), and get a wash! Often described as urban fantasy, Storm Front is set in the modern day so wandering around the city in a long leather duster strikes one as either immature (like a mardy teenager), or posy – plus, and I know this is not important(or is it?), he is portrayed on the covers as wearing a hat, a fedora to be exact – but he doesn’t actually wear one in the story! Go figure!