Saturday, 29 December 2012

New Year's Writing Resolutions

I'm someone who works best from a list. If I'm writing a long story I write out a list of scenes I want to write in any given day and then work through them, and I find I'm much more productive that way that if I just sit down and try to pick up where I left off.

Having said that, it's logical that my writing goals for this year have to be in a list form, so here are my 2013 writing resolutions:

  • Write 150,000 words of fiction in 2013, whether that's character sketches, flash or novels.
  • Finish the first draft of Witness.
  • Try writing a different style to my usual YA/fantasy - perhaps something steampunk or romance?
  • Take part in NaNoWriMo (note: take part, not neccesarily win).

Friday, 21 December 2012

A word game for Christmas

I'm sure several people have done this before, but this is a word game I'm doing with my family at Christmas (they don't read my blog so are unlikely to find the answers here!).

Essentially, what you do is to take a couple of lines from a Christmas carol and run it through Google translate several times and then back into English. I find using Chinese or a non-European language makes it more interesting because they come from different reference points.

As an example; 'Once in Royal David's city stood a lowly cattle shed' becomes 'In Imperial David's city, bad bullpen'.

Read the translated lines to your family/friends/people in the works party and see if they can guess what the carol is. Usually there will be some clue in the translation as to what it is (like Imperial David's city), but some come out so crazy that it can be fun trying to work out what it's supposed to be.

Here are 10 that I did for my family party. The answers are underneath the clues, so highlight the blocks of black to see the answers :)

Sitting on the floor at night, shepherds watching their teacher
While shepherd watched their flocks at night all seated on the ground

Hall of fields, all local flying angel
Angels from the realms of glory wing your flight o'er all the earth

Listening to the Herald Angels Sing newborn King Glory
Hark the herald angels sing glory to the new born king

Christmas, Christmas, three ships sailing
I saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas day, on Christmas day

God bless you all happiness, gentlemen, let nothing you afraid
God rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay

Obviously, at midnight, age, and glorious songs
It came upon the midnight clear that glorious song of old

Was moaning in the dark cold winter wind
In the bleak midwinter frosty wind made moan

In a manger, no crib bed away from the
Away in a manger no crib for a bed

The difference between the field and lay the first Noel the angels, shepherds
The first nowell the angels did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay

Oh, come on, you are faithful to win 
O come all ye faithful joyful and triumphant

Monday, 26 November 2012

I didn't win NaNo but...

I've decided that what with one thing and another, I'm not going to reach 50k by midnight.

I had an assignment due in yesterday, I work full time, I've had meetings that I had to go to in the evenings, and basically that all added up to no time to actually sit down and write.

But! I've decided I'm not going to look on this as a failure. This month I've written a heck of a lot more than I would have thought I could squeeze in around all the other things I was doing. I've got a good proportion of a story that I'm actually very pleased with, and I'm determined to finish writing the story in December. And having decided to accept that I'm not going to race the clock to write 12k words in the next 6 hours, which I probably could do if I really BICFOK'd*, I'm going to not stress and just enjoy finishing my story in December.

Anyone else not going to finish but taking a positive from it?

*BICFOK - Bum In Chair, Fingers On Keys

Thursday, 22 November 2012

NaNoWriMo progress

After a bit of a shaky start I'm finally getting back on track with my NaNoWriMo. In the end I decided to focus the story mostly on Lois McBride, and Morgan and Ellie Callahan, and write an origin story for Lois. I touched on it in Thief, my Camp NaNo story from last year, but she was a fun character and I wanted to revisit her.

In the process of finding out she's got unusual abilities, Lois is having to cope with usual teenage issues like school, friends and parents, and finds herself in the middle of a disagreement between the Callahans and a casino boss they ripped off when they were in Vegas.

My NaNo stats:
3 - number of days I've written nothing
6 - number of days I've written less than 400 words
8 - number of days I've actually managed more than 1667 words
10,000 - number of words behind where I should be
26,792 - number of words I've written to this point

Things I slightly regret doing in the story:
• Setting the story in Alabama. I've never been to Alabama and have no friends there. I'm not even American! I've been spending a lot of time on tourist websites and Google maps.
• I have no major character who's male. Lois's dad plays an important role and two of Lois's school friends are guys, but they're not major characters. Morgan is, but she's a girl at heart, even when she's a guy.
• The bad guys have a somewhat backseat role until the end. They're vaguely implied as they chase Morgan and Ellie, but they don't appear in the flesh until half way through, and the big Vegas baddie so far has only made an appearance via a phone call.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Do your characters talk?

This caught my eye when I was searching for something (and I can't for the life of me remember what).

I find that I know when I'm in the proper writing zone when it seems like my characters are talking to me rather than me having to think about how they will act. And when I have writer's block, my imaginary friends don't talk to me ;)

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


It's quite late on October 31, I have an assignment due in in just over 12 hours, NaNoWriMo will start at midnight, and I'm ill. This is not a good combination. My head is all stuffy, my eyes are streaming and won't focus properly, I keep getting either too hot or too cold, and I feel like death warmed up. On the plus side, it looks like I'll be having tomorrow off work, so I'll have a few more hours to get my assignment done...

Monday, 8 October 2012

NaNoWriMo short stories

I've decided I'm going to revisit Dawn Bell for NaNoWriMo this year. Dawn is the character who grew out of a Heroes fanfic that I wrote a couple of years ago.

There were several characters in the story that I wrote that I would like to explore more - Lois McBride, a teenager who can see infrared and ultraviolet; Morgan and Ellie Callahan, felonious siblings who can alter their gender and hair/skin/eye colour respectively; and Dawn herself, who can push abilities from one person to another.

I've decided to do a collection of short stories on these characters rather than set out to write a novel-length story straight away, and if the stories end up intertwined then that's great; if they don't, no worries.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Back again for NaNoWriMo 2012

I've had a couple of months off from blogging but now autumn is here I'm starting to get the bug to write more again. I haven't made a proper concerted effort to write fiction for several months and I want to try to get back into that now.

NaNoWriMo is just around the corner now, so I'm planning to do that. What I haven't decided yet is what I want to do. I've been wanting to revisit a story I wrote during Camp NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago, but I was also thinking about doing a short story challenge, and trying to write a different short story every day during November. Of course, there's no reason why I shouldn't do both - I could use the characters from my already-created story Thief and give them more background with short stories focussing on each characters for longer than the ensemble cast of characters in Thief allowed me to.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Children's stories

I've started another course with the Open University, this time in children's literature. I figure if I want to write children's stories I should understand them.

The first part of the course asked about what makes a children's story - what sort of themes run through them, and what common denominators are there to the story?

Some of the themes I found were that the protagonists are children and the antagonist is adult, there is often a well-meaning adult who stops the hero(ine) from doing something important, the children are always right, and they always get away with doing things which would never be allowed in real life.

Any more?

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

My favourite writing prompt

This is my favourite writing prompt of all time. If I'm stuck for inspiration or I want to create a character, I usually turn to this prompt. I'd been trying to ages to find where I'd got it from so I could share it, and I finally did. It came from Kate Long, who I follow on Twitter.

It goes like this:

1. Imagine a coat on a station platform with 5 items in its pockets. You decide the style of the coat, the platform, and the items within it as a precursor to sketching your character.
2. Begin creating an idea of the motivations of your character. Make three statements about the person that wore the coat based on the items in the pocket.
3. Write for 10 minutes, without stopping to edit, review or re-draft. Flesh out what you’ve found out about your character by putting them in a departure lounge of an airport, inside a busy restaurant or in the bathroom brushing their teeth in front of a mirror.

I usually use this as a basic starting point. The coat and the items in the pocket always come in useful, but sometimes the coat is being worn by someone, not left on a platform. Sometimes an idea from one of the items gives me an idea that I run with. If I'm really lost for an idea then I'll put them in one of the situations above, but usually something else will inspire something for the 10 minutes os writing.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Concentrate one one story, or flit between several?

I decided to do Camp NaNoWriMo this month and set off with my sci-fi YA story quite happily. Two days later I found I wanted to write something different - a short story from a prompt 'better than divorce'. A few days after that, work got in the way and I found myself writing a feature about a trip to Cardiff. Then I got a great idea for another mystery/romance story that I had to start getting down on paper.

The upshot is that at the end of this month I seem to have half a dozen partly formed stories and nothing finished. It's quite frustrating.

Question is, should I just plug on with one until I finish it and then move onto the next, or keep flitting on the expectation that at some point I will finish at least one of the stories? If I had specific inspiration for one story I would work on it now, but I don't, and I've learned not to rely on inspiration to keep me writing!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Review: The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

It takes a skilful author to mix together Jack the Ripper, HG Wells and Joseph Merrick the Elephant Man, but this clever time travel story manages to do all that and add in elements of romance and mystery along the way.
The tale follows Andrew’s quest to find a way to travel back in time to save his lover, who was killed by Jack the Ripper. The story segues effortlessly through African villages, the hidden world of Victorian toilet paper salesmen, and a strange pink world between time, while still, somehow, remaining believable. 

Sometimes poignant, occasionally gruesome, and always entertaining, with a nostalgic feel to the narrative, this would be a great book to take away on holiday.
  • RRP £12.99
  • Published by HarperCollins
  • Available from various places including Amazon

Monday, 4 June 2012

Too tired to write, but don't worry...

I haven't posted in two weeks. This is terrible, I'm sorry.

Actually I've been swamped by work. I'm a journalist and in the last couple of weeks we've had the Olympic torch come through, and then all the Diamond Jubilee events, and I've been getting home feeling like the last thing I want to do is to sit in front of a computer again and write.

I've signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo this month, so I've got a goal to aim for, but I'm having one of those insecure writer moments, where I don't like the things I'm writing, I can't seem to find time to write, and when I do I can't seem to get the pictures in my head out on to the page properly.

Then I got an email from Flash Fiction Chronicles with its weekly pep talk from Aubrey Hirsch. In a nutshell, it suggested to prioritize your writing; learn what kind of writer you are; set goals; eliminate your excuses; accept failures and celebrate your successes.

The most helpful bit of advice was the bit about accepting failures - not letting one bad day throw off the whole thing, not worrying about “making up for lost time,” and not letting guilt cause you to lose more time.

The full pep talk is here. While you read it, I'm off to start my 1,667 words for the day. If I get into the story, I might even write more and get back on track. But it I don't, I'm not going to let it make me feel guilty or stressed.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Happy National Flash Fiction Day!

May 16 is apparently National (and International?!) Flash Fiction Day, so happy flash fiction day!
To find out more click here.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

WriYe: Who inspires you?

Like most writers I think, I love to read books. Some books I love, but fail to inspire me, like the Harry Potter series. Other books I don't really enjoy but I find something interesting in the writing style or in one of the characters.

One author who really does inspire me though is Naomi Novik and her Temeraire series. I love the characters and the way she wove history into her fantasy story, or possibly wove a fantasy element into her historical novel? And the stories inspired my story D'Artagnan's Dragon (which is still not finished two years after I started it. I should get on with that...)

So this week's question is: Who inspires you? Or to be more in depth, which author inspires you, and what do you like in particular about that author's stories?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Book review: The Company of the Dead by David J Kowalski

Mixing history with a touch of sci-fi and adding a good dollop of conspiracy theories, The Company of the Dead was a fascinating read.

The premise plays on the butterfly effect – one small action can have a big effect further down the line. In this case, a time traveller gives the lookout on the Titanic a pair of night vision binoculars, but as history tries to reassert itself the plot flits between 1912 and 2012 – but a very different 2012 to the one we live in.

Roswell, an America occupied by Germany and Japan, and JFK all make an appearance in this fascinating story which is a must for any history buffs who enjoy a good yarn.

**** out of 5
  • The Company of the Dead by David J Kowolski
  • Published by Titan Books
  • RRP £8.99
  • ISBN-10: 0857686666

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Why I didn't enjoy the Hunger Games books

*Some spoilers below*

At the risk of annoying fans of the Hunger Games series, I have to say I was really disappointed by the resolution to the trilogy.

I'd heard great things about the series, so I got the books and started to read them. I thought the first book was really interesting, with an unusual premise, likeable characters and a good plot. My only complaint was that it was a touch too gory for my liking at times, like with Cato's death at the end.

The second book was also good, although it did feel rather unfinished, as second books are wont to do. I liked the character development and I liked getting to know some new characters like Finnick and Johanna. I also liked the way Katniss was having typical teenage issues with boys.

But I didn't enjoy Mockingjay anywhere like as much. My two major grips with the third book were:
  • I really didn't like Katniss any more
  • Prim died
All the way through the story Katniss had been fighting primarily to keep Prim safe. When she died, I felt cheated. If she wasn't safe then what was the point of Katniss fighting? Added to that the fact, I thought she was the most likeable and lovely character in the stories, so I was really annoyed with the author for killing her off.

I thought Katniss's character did get even more unlikeable after Prim's death, but even before that I was bored with her. The start of the book wasn't bad, and I was quite excited about the prospect of finally seeing the Capitol overthrown and Snow getting his comeuppance, but I started to get annoyed when Katniss went into battle. She suddenly started to become whiney, analysing her character, deciding she didn't like herself, but not doing anything to change what she didn't like. I'd been trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, but when she shot the civilian during the attack on the Capitol I decided I really didn't like her any more.

That feeling got more intense when she agreed to a final Hunger Games after judging the Capitol so harshly and after her own experiences in the arenas. I didn't think Prim's death justified her decision, because I didn't think Prim herself would have approved, and that should have held more sway with Katniss. She was also so disgusted with the idea of killing the children in the barracade that I thought she was just completely out of character - or out of the character that I liked to start with - that I considered stopping reading there.

I had a few other gripes, in that I wanted Katniss to choose Gale rather than the wet rag Peeta, and I wanted to know what happened to Annie and to Haymitch afterwards, but they were just little things, and by that point I really wasn't too keen on Gale either. I was also annoyed at how little a part Katniss played in the final part of the story, given that she was the main character. She seemed to be a spectator, and because she wasn't seeing everything, neither was I.

And the final part, with the children, also irked me. I wanted to know the childrens' names. Had she named them after anyone special? Was the girl called Prim, or Rue? Had Katniss's mother come back to 12 to see them? There were too many unanswered questions, and it just felt very unsatisfactory.

I still found the books very compelling, but I wouldn't say I actually enjoyed them.

Feel free to disagree?!

Thursday, 12 April 2012


Today's WriYe question comes from KraziKrys, who asks: When do you title? Before you start? Somewhere in the middle? At the end? Never? Until your story gets a title, what do you call it? Where do you get your titles? Do they just come to you or do you have some magic words you say and your title appears?

I'll split the answers up.

When do you title? Before you start? Somewhere in the middle? At the end? Never?

Sometimes I'll start a story with a title and nothing else. A phrase or word might jump out at me and spark my imagination so that I know what I want to call the story before I have a fully formed story. My April Fools novel from last year, Down With The Ship, was like that. I got the title from a song and then decided to write a story roughly (very roughly!) based around the song. The title brought up lots of images so I didn't have to look too far for inspiration.

Sometimes something will leap out at me when I'm half way through a story, and usually I've got something as a title by half way through. It's only very rare that I don't have a title by the time I'm finished.

The only story I can think of that I didn't have a title for, and am still not happy with the title, is Alive. The title seems to be boring for a sci-fi story, but I still can't think of anything more interesting.

Until your story gets a title, what do you call it?

Looking through my WiPs, I have titles ranging from a freewrite called Oversee to something called He was still there, which is just the first line of the story. I have others named after the main character and some named after a challenge or prompt that sparked the idea.

Where do you get your titles?
Do they just come to you or do you have some magic words you say and your title appears?

I get my titles all over the place! Writing prompts, phrases that jump out at me, some titles, themes, characters and sometimes something will just stick in my head and will refuse to budge.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Who do we write for anyway?

This week's question, courtesy of CrescentLizzy, is: Who do we write for? Do we write for ourselves or do we write to impress others? Do we write to carry on stories that we think need to be carried on?

So three questions in one, but I'm going to answer the first two together. Primarily I write for me. If I'm not interested in an idea then I'm not going to want to spend time and effort in getting it down on paper, or on the computer screen. Sometimes I'll have an idea going round in my head that I need to write down before it drives me mad, or other times it's something that just develops out of nowhere when I'm writing something else, but all of my stories always start off being for me.

I'm doing a creative writing course with the OU at the moment, so some of my stories are also written for other people to read and mark. But they still start off as something I enjoy writing, or feel that I want to write about, even if the style or genre I'm being asked to write in isn't something I would have chosen myself.

Regarding the third question, sometimes once I've started I'll know I really want to finish a story but I won't know where it's going or how to do it. At that point, writing starts to become more hard work, and a few years ago this would probably have been the point at which I'd just give up and walk away from the story, but now, even if I know I'm not going to show the story to anyone, I try to finish them at least with an outline of a plot.

When I'm writing like this I'm still writing for me, but not for fun any more - now it's to develop my writing skills and push myself to work through writer's block or overcome style problems or things that don't fit. So I do write sometimes to carry on stories I think need to be finished, partly because I don't like leaving my characters dangling and partly because it's something I feel I should do to improve my writing.

But mainly I write for myself and I write for fun and as a bit of escapism :)

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Fic-100 prompts

I finished my 30 song prompt-inspired stories a few weeks ago now and I was mooching around the web looking for inspiration when I came across this on a fanfiction website.

Write one hundred fanfics centered around this fandom you’ve chose. You can use old stuff that you’ve written before, or new stuff. Fictions, drabbles, poems, scripts. Anything is game as long as it is set in your fandom. You don't have to post them all at once. You can do one at a time, or a couple, or whatever you want.

And the catch: each of the fics must fit into one of the following prompts.
001. Beginnings. 814 words, April 23
002. Middles.
003. Ends.
004. Insides.
005. Outsides.
006. Hours.
007. Days.
008. Weeks.
009. Months.
010. Years.
011. Red.
012. Orange. 513 words, April 24
013. Yellow.
014. Green.
015. Blue.
016. Purple.
017. Brown.
018. Black.
019. White.
020. Colourless.
021. Friends.
022. Enemies.
023. Lovers.
024. Family.
025. Strangers.
026. Teammates.
027. Parents.
028. Children.
029. Birth.
030. Death.
031. Sunrise.
032. Sunset.
033. Too Much.
034. Not Enough.
035. Sixth Sense.
036. Smell.
037. Sound.
038. Touch.
039. Taste.
040. Sight.
041. Shapes.
042. Triangle.
043. Square.
044. Circle.
045. Moon.
046. Star.
047. Heart.
048. Diamond.
049. Club.
050. Spade.
051. Water.
052. Fire.
053. Earth.
054. Air.
055. Spirit.
056. Breakfast.
057. Lunch.
058. Dinner.
059. Food.
060. Drink.
061. Winter.
062. Spring.
063. Summer.
064. Fall.
065. Passing.
066. Rain.
067. Snow.
068. Lightening.
069. Thunder.
070. Storm.
071. Broken.
072. Fixed.
073. Light.
074. Dark.
075. Shade.
076. Who?
077. What?
078. Where?
079. When?
080. Why?
081. How?
082. If.
083. And.
084. He.
085. She.
086. Choices.
087. Life.
088. School.
089. Work.
090. Home.
091. Birthday.
092. Christmas.
093. Thanksgiving.
094. Independence.
095. New Year.
096. Writer‘s Choice.
097. Writer‘s Choice.
098. Writer‘s Choice.
099. Writer‘s Choice.
100. Writer‘s Choice.
I don't tend to write fanfic, but I'm going to try to work through all of these over the next few months.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

March Madness - WriYe

The idea of March Madness is to catch up on all the challenges on the WriYe boards from the first three months of the year. It's also a good way to set yourself deadlines and get a lot of writing done, so I've set myself an insane amount of targets!

March Madness - 20 - 31 March 2012

-- 01,664 / 01,500 - January FMM - 24 hours
-- 01,351 / 01,000 - February FMM - 24 hours
-- 00,000 / 01,500 - March FMM - 24 hours
-- 00,000 / 02,500 - January 5K Weekend - 48 hours
-- 00,000 / 02,500 - February 5K Weekend - 48 hours
-- 00,000 / 05,000 - MLK WriDay - 24 hours
-- 05,000 / 10,000 - Valentine's WriDay - 24 hours
-- 00,000 / 10,000 - Leap WriDay - 24 hours
-- 00,000 / 05,000 - St Patty's WriDay - 24 hours
-- 00,000 / 02,000 - January Hint Fic
-- 00,000 / 01,000 - February Hint Fic
-- 00,000 / 02,000 - Write-A-Thon Goal #1 - hit 2k then set another goal and keep going!
-- 00,000 / 05,000 - KWIF - romance
-- 00,000 / 10,000 - Daylight Savings - 10k in 5 hours

January hint fic prompt - Boring Sermon
When the hymnal fell he lost his place and, fumbling, ended with a quick Amen.

February hint fic prompt - Through Tiny Windows
When they opened the cadaver, they found a house. A couple argued inside. There was rhythm to their words, like the beating of a heart.

Monday, 19 March 2012


I've managed to procrastinate over writing this blog post for a good week, so I'd better get on with it now...

I'm an expert at procrastination. If there was an Olympic event I'd miss it because I'd find something else I really needed to do before turning up. The usual suspects - YouTube and checking my mail - usually find a way to interfere when I'm on my computer, and when I'm not, somehow I always find some housework that has to be done that second.

When I give myself a deadline I find it easier to not procrastinate, but I can still get sidetracked.

The only time I find myself not distracted is it I've got an idea that absolutely must be written down - and they usually come when I'm doing something else. Like driving. It's amazing how many notes I've got on my phone voice recorder with little ideas for stories!

But I digress...

So yes, I procrastinate a lot, even when I'm trying to be focussed. I'm not sure what my best solution is, aside from sticking me in a room with a kettle, tea bags, milk and no internet connection!

(Oh, and I procrastinate by writing blog posts too....)

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


I’m going to invite the people of the WriYe blogging circle to make a confession about their writing
Hmmm, confessions.... I'm not sure where to start. I could confess that I spend time at work jotting down ideas I've had for stories, but it's not especially scandalous, is it? After all, you're supposed to catch ideas on paper (or screen) when you get them, aren't you?

So my confession is - I often start a story with absolutely no idea where it's heading, but I always seem to know how long the finished story will be.

Last April I decided to write an April Fools novel and I picked something I'd never tried before - a romance. To make things slighty easier for myself I based it on a song, so I had certain lines of the song that I knew would relate to certain instances in the story. But aside from knowing I was going to write a story based on a song, I really had no idea what I was doing. I had no characters, no setting (except that it was going to be on a ship - the song - and the eventual finished story - was called Down With The Ship), and no real idea of a storyline.

But as I was thinking about the story and the ship, the two main characters started to create themselves in the situation. I wrote a couple of scenes which would take place between the two of them and as I did, the world they lived in started to take more shape. Then I could move on to scenes involving more people and more places.

Eventually I knew my characters and setting well enough that I could start to pull the scenes together into a more cohesive story, and eventually I did finish the story.

That's not quite typical for me - usually I start with a character in a situation rather than a song, but it's quite often how I end up piecing my stories together.

Will that do for a confession?

• The song was Down With The Ship by Naomi King, and it is fantastic!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Tumbling about the web...

I've decided to branch out and try out a Tumblr to see if I like it and what it's all about. At the moment I'm keeping it for specific projects, with this one for more general things. We'll see how it goes!

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Eavesdropping story prompts

I get to overhear some really unusual conversations in my office at times, and sometimes I think they'd make great prompts for stories. Here's a selection of a few of the exchanges:

'Why haven't you gone home?' 'Because I'm chasing bodies up the Wrekin!'
(For context, the Wrekin is a big hill in Shropshire)

'I've done the flasher.'

'I never showed you a picture of Mr Sausage, did I?'

Does anyone else overhear things that make good prompts?

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Characters who will not shut up!

This week's WriYe questions is about characters who will not shut up. Do I have any characters like that? What's the cure? Or is it helpful?

Actually I don't often have characters who don't shut up, and usually when they do go off - or when I get really into writing a particular character - they go where I want them to end up even if they do something different in the middle.

So yeah, sorry to be boring, but there's no interesting answer to that one!

Monday, 27 February 2012

How do you deal with writer's block?

Writer's Block. Two words that strike dread into the heart of any aspiring author.

I had a bad case of De Quervain's Tendonitis in my right hand at the end of last year and it meant I couldn't hold a pen or type properly for a good six weeks. It was very frustrating to keep getting ideas and not be able to jot them down. I even resorted to recording myself notes on my phone so I'd have something to come back to later.

But over the last month (typically, since my tendonitis cleared up!) I've found I've been having trouble thinking of ideas, and when I do get an idea I have no idea what to do with it. This, I'm finding, is infinitely more frustrating than not being able to write down ideas.

I've been quite lucky and not had this problem very often before, but it's really annoying me at the moment. I've tried my 10 word prompts, where I take 10 random words and try to fit them into a story, I've tried random story generators, and I've tried using pictures as prompts, but it's still not shifting the wroter's block.

I'm hoping it's going to be something that will just disappear in time if I keep plugging away, but if anyone's got any good tips on how to get rid of writer's block that would be really helpful!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Same Universe, Different Series

This week's WriYe was more of a prompt than a question:
Stories in the same universe, but not necessarily part of a series. Same Universe, Different Series (SUDS). Maybe.
The first thing that leapt to mind was fan fiction. I love writing fan fiction as a way to get myself writing. Without having to worry about creating characters or settings, I can just get into the story straight away. Once I'm there I'll find myself making up new characters for people to interact with and then, sometimes, they even take on more of a life of their own and I start writing stories about them, with only passing reference to the canon characters of the universe they inhabit.

One example of this is Dawn Bell. She started off as a minor character in a Heroes fanfic I was writing, based on a dream I had. Se was just as someone that Peter and Claire happened to bump into and then go off to another adventure. But I really liked her as a character. She'd got an interesting ability, to be able to 'push' abilities from one person into another. In the story she first appeared in I had her push Claire's healing ability into Peter so that he could heal a gunshot wound.

Then I started thinking, what if someone wanted to use her ability to get more power for themselves? And suddenly she was the star of her own story, with just a quick reference to Peter and Claire at the very start of the story and a whole raft of new original characters to interact with.

Same Universe, Different Series.

It's not just fanfic writers that use this trick though. How many stories have been set in the Marvel universe, with crossovers between various characters, other characters making a debut in one series only to go on and get their own stories, and hidden references to other superheroes in various comic books, TV series and films.

I could probably think of more examples, but I'm going to stop there. I'm getting all nostalgic about Dawn Bell now - high time I resurrected her for another adventure, I think...

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Weird Things You Do When You Plot

The latest WriYe Blogging Challenge was to admit the weird things you do when you plot. Honestly, I don't think I do anything weird when I plot!

Generally when I have an idea I jot it down in my notepad (or in my phone if I don't have paper to hand), then transfer it to my computer to flesh it out. I think about characters, then the story, then the details of the settings, and jot notes down as I think of them, then I rearrange them into some sort of order and save it.

Next I open a copy of the file, change the font colour to something bright, and start expanding on the sections in a black font, deleting the coloured text as I use those ideas. By the time I've finished doing that I've usually got a pretty cohesive plot outline, and sometimes even a couple of short scenes drafted out if inspitation has struck!

Sometimes I'll use Star Trek Online's character creator to get an idea of what my characters will look like, and that can help me when I'm writing later, or if the character is supposed to have a particular quirk. I'm not sure if that counts as weird, but it's the oddest thing I can think of!

Friday, 27 January 2012

OU Creative Writing update

Just thought I'd give an update on the Open University course I'm doing. The course description says:
By the end of the course you should be able to
  • Write fiction, poetry, life writing and drama with a mature and sophisticated style and a greater awareness of elements such as repetition and analogy.
  • Understand more fully the possible relationships between fiction, drama, life writing and poetry.
  • Carry out background research for your writing, including the use of information technology.
  • Empathise with characters and fully imagine and realise different eras and imaginative worlds in creating new work.
  • Understand how dramatic writing methods might be transferable to other genres, for instance, to improve and develop prose style and voice.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of dramatic writing, including knowledge of conventional layout for at least one medium.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the strengths and limitations of writing for different dramatic media, and what might be needed to write dramatic adaptations of fiction or life writing.
  • Write with a greater awareness of formal constraints.
  • Exercise a disciplined practice including willingness to revise and redraft.
  • Present manuscripts and media scripts to a professional standard.
  • Give objective evaluations of your own and others’ work through constructive criticism.
  • Produce a piece of writing of substantial length which in its style, complexity and editorial awareness is drafted and redrafted to a high standard.
I'm really enjoying it so far, and the radio script writing was a lot of fun. The next assignment is to start planning a story which will comprise the end of course assignment. Must start thinking!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Sidekicks and Secondary Characters

A sidekick is a superhero partnered with another in a lesser capacity. Used for comedy, to relate to readers, but also to move plot, and in some cases to become an integral part of the mythos.
Or so says Comic Vine, which should know about sidekicks.

Sidekicks can often be as heroic as the people they are following. Take Ron Weasley in Harry Potter, or Amy Pond in Doctor Who.

They could be a younger person learning the ropes, like Robin to Batman. Robin eventually went on to become a superhero in his own right, as Nightwing.

Or the sidekick could be an essential part of the hero's armour, like Ando in Heroes. Without him, Hiro wouldn't have been able to get anywhere, because he couldn't drive, or to understand anyone in New York, because he didn't speak English.

For some reason most of my completed longer stories seem to be ensemble casts, but there are one or two which have had secondary characters - I don't think this is one of my strengths as a writer, and it's definitely something I need to work on more!

My main problem with secondary characters is that they either don't have any character at all, or I get too attached to them and end up giving them way to much background and character, then having to cut it all back out again when I realise they've become a main character and they shouldn't be.

Sidekicks are easier in some ways. Everyone loves it when Robin sometimes steps up to save the day. Sidekicks can have a developmental arc that is more dramatic than the hero's - they could go from a shy and scared kid to a brave teenager who helps to save the world. The key is to give them a bit of depth and not let them take over the story.

Yeah, I'm still working on that...!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Heroes and Villains

Keeping with the theme of characters, today's WriYe blog is about villains and heroes.

Nobody likes a know-it-all, or a goody two shoes, and someone who appears pure evil isn't necessarily the most interesting villain.

Take Adolf Hitler, for example. I don't think I've ever seen him portrayed as anything other than a one dimensional man intent on world domination. Now I don't want to get into any political debate, but I'm sure the man must have had more to his personality than being a Nazi.

He must have had hobbies, or friends. Maybe he liked to listen to music in the evening. And surely he must have fallen in love at some point.

What if you wrote a story about Hitler making the decision to open concentration camps while looking at a picture of the woman he loves, or while carefully tending his garden? Doesn't that instantly make him a more interesting character and a more intriguing villain?

The same is true of heroes. A perfect hero is boring. Give him a fault, a flaw or an irritating habit, or load him up with lots of problems in his personal life. Then when he triumphs in spite of all his problems we can really cheer for him.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Naming Characters

Today's WriYe topic is 'How do you name your characters?'

I have two ways of naming characters. Sometimes I know what a character is going to act like and I choose a name that's appropriate for that characters, and other times I just pick a name I like and the character in part grows from that.

To give an example I'll go through my characters for Alive!

Keller Anis - Her first name just popped into my head when I was creating the character. It sounded strong but still female. I gave her a surname taken from the star anis plant, because the name was interesting and it seemed appropriate for someone who travels in space.

John Park
- John was a character before he had a name. I wanted a nice normal name to fit with his nice normal, laid back character, so settled on John. His name did influence his character a bit, because he wasn't Korean until I called him Park - which I then discovered is one of the most common Korean surnames.

Shanran Dak
- Confession time. Shanran was originally a character in a Star Trek fanfic set some time in the 26th century. He was Shanran Dax then, but obviously I couldn't keep the name Dax, so I altered it to Dak. Actually the character he became then deviated a lot from the original Dax character I'd written, so his name may have influenced the character a bit.

Dr Anna Smythe - Anna was always going to be a predictable, stable character, so I wanted a name that reflected that, but also hinted at her being a classy lady. Smythe is very similar to Smith, but sounded more upper class, so it fitted well with the idea I had of her character.

Dr Connor Rivers - I wanted a kindly name for the ship's doctor, something that sounded respectable, friendly and like someone you could trust.

Elliot Macintyre -The same with Elliott, I wanted something that sounded friendly, but that sounded a bit younger than Dr Rivers. I've never known an old Elliott, so that seemed to fit the bill nicely. Macintyre had a nice lively sound to it as well, also pointing to a younger man... or at least that's how my mind worked when I was choosing his name!

Jackson Brown - I really can't remember how I ended up naming Jackson. One thing I did try to do with the humans though was to keep their names all grounded and be quite normal. I hate sci-fi where all the humans have exotic names. Of course there would be some odd names - just like the Pixies, Summers, Lourdes' and Brooklyns we have now - but I always find it very difficult to keep track of or get involved with too many people with pretentious/made up/strange sounding names. I think I came up with Jackson's character before I named him, but I really can't remember. He actually started as a much more minor character than he ended up being.

Delta - The red-eyed cyborg saboteur needed a more interesting name. She's a bit of a mystery, so she didn't get a last name to add to that sense of her being someone we don't know much about. I liked the name Delta for her because it hinted at something robotic (ie. Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma...) and it could also be a girl's name (eg. Aussie singer Delta Goodrem).

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Creating characters

Throughout the year I'm going to be doing WriYe - basically a group of people on a forum who get together and encourage each other to write a certain amount of words/projects/challenges throughout the year.

One of the challenges suggested was to write blog posts on set topics throughout the year, so I though, 'why not?'

The first topic is 'Characters'.

I find characters can be the easiest and at the same time the most difficult parts of any story. If they're not done well the whole story can fall apart - after all, is anyone interested in a hero that you can't understand, or a villain who doesn't seem to have any personality at all?

When I'm creating a story I usually start with a train of thought from my main character. Sometimes a story will even start with a character rather than a plot. I have to decide how old they are, and what gender, and then I just get them thinking about something that's going to happen in the story. Quite often what I write won't make it into the finished story, but it really helps me get to know my characters. It gives them a personality, a speech pattern, and opinions. Sometimes the character hasn't even got a name at this point, but after I've written a few paragraphs of their thoughts I've usually got a much better idea of who they are.

Another thing I use to create character is clothes. I describe my character and then try to delve a bit into why they dress the way they do. Does the woman in the red dress wear it because she likes bright colours? Or is she a hooker? Is she wearing the dress because her boyfriend has told her he likes to see her in it? Does she feel uncomfortable in it? Has she tried to hide it under a cardigan, or is she accessorising with diamonds? Is it an expensive dress, cut to flatter, or does it pinch a bit too tight and show all her lumps and bumps? Is she mutton dressed as lamb, or is she absolutely stunning?

When I'm writing descriptions I also try to think about any tics or characteristics the character has. Do they appear to be nervous? If so, how is their body language showing this? What is their hair like? Is it tidy or does it look as if they keep fiddling with it, or running their hands through it? Are they playing with something in their hands, or are they relaxed?

Here's an example of the way I create a character. (It's just train of thought typing, so please excuse any typos, etc...)
She's sitting at her desk in front of the computer, reading her emails. She keeps looking around as if she's not supposed to be doing something or she's afraid of getting caught. 'Come on, reply. I need to know the answer now. Do I have that job or am I stuck here? I hate this place. It's mind numbing. There's nothing for me to do here, I'm always tired, I go home feeling miserable. Maybe if I get this job I could get a pet. I'd have more time. I wouldn't have to drive 50 miles to work each day. I wouldn't be so tired in the evening. I think I'd like goldfish. They're relaxing. And I want time to read. I wonder if Shelley would like to catch up for lunch sometimes? I'd be able to take lunch breaks and actually get some fresh air. I'd like that. Still no email though. What will I do if I don't get this job?'

She looks up quickly as someone walks past, clicking from one window to another on her computer. She keeps tugging at a tube bandage on her right hand - the resultof RSI from her job. Her hair is pulled back untidily into an unflattering ponytail, more to keep it out of her face than for any style reasons. She's wearing a woollen dress in an odd faded mustard colour. It looks well worn. She pulled it on because it's comfortable. She has to leave the house so early in the morning to get to work on time that she doesn't pay much attention to her clothes as long as they're clean.
She's not wearing any make up - again, there's no time for it. Bags are showing under her eyes and she has a spot on her chin. She's in her thirties maybe, but she looks older and very tired. You'd feel sorry for her.
From this I could start to think more about how she acts with her colleagues, the way she acts and speaks, and why she needs the new job. I've also somehow come up with a friend for her - Shelley - although I don't really know who she is yet.

The story may be how she escapes from the horrible job she hates or it may be that she has to stay there, but either way I have a better idea now of who my character is and how she might act.