Wednesday, 2 October 2013

WriYe - Distractio... ooh, squirrel!

Those Pesky Flies - Distractions
We all have them, whether they are living, mandatory, optional or fun. How do you work around your distractions? Do you separate time out or do you let the distractions come as they may? Are you one of the lucky ones that can shut it all out and write for as long as you'd like?

I'm quite good at procrastinating, but that's different from genuine distractions. When I'm writing at home the distractions usually come in the form of the postman wanting to deliver a parcel, the cat wanting attention in the form of cuddles, food, or to be let out, or phone calls.

Fortunately, my method of writing can cope quite well with distractions. I tend to write in 20 minute bursts unless I'm really caught up in a story, and so if a distraction comes I just stop where I've got to and start another 20 minute session when the distraction's passed and I've taken the opportunity to refill my mug or pop to the loo. I suppose that means I fall into the category of letting the distractions come what may.

I'm not someone who can shut out all distractions, but even if I could I don't think my writing would be any more productive than my 20-minute-at-a-time method. I know it works (and I managed to write 10k in a day on November 30, 2011 using that method!) and if I try to write for longer I find myself getting distracted by researching things that I really don't need to research, or looking at pictures for inspiration, or playing games.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Review: Why Steve Was Late by Dave Skinner and Henry Paker

In the same vein as ‘101 uses for a dead cat’, this cartoon book offers ‘101 exceptional excuses for terrible timekeeping.’

From the incredibly imaginative (although highly unlikely) excuse of the children turning into zombies over breakfast, to the slightly more plausible got off at the wrong stop, the excuses had me giggling with every turn of the page. 

One of the best things about the book is that it’s very easy to pick up for a quick flick when you’ve got a few minutes to fill (and if you happen to have more time on your hands the pictures are all in black and white so you could always grab some crayons and colour them in).

Published by Atlantic Books, £6.99.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Taking a break

Just a quick post - I won't be updating here very often over the next three months or so. I'm getting married in November (having got engaged at the end of July!) and so I'm busy with wedding preparation and not having much time to spend on writing.

I have started a blog about my wedding if anyone's interested - A November Wedding - and I will be updating here every so often, but probably won't ge back into a regular updating pattern until the new year.

Friday, 9 August 2013

WriYe - Keep it tight

Using the Wrench on Your Writing - Tightening Prose
Every word in a short story counts. If it's not moving the plot forward, it's not worth it. Many magazines and short story markets have very rigorous word count limits. So how do you go from writing novels of 50,000 words or more to a short story that has to be under 5,000? What techniques for brevity have you found helpful? How do you tighten your prose to make it still shine, but also carry the point quickly and succinctly? How do these techniques also help your novel writing?

I've never tried to turn a 50,000 word novel into a 5,000 word short story, and I can't imagine where I would start if I wanted to, but on a smaller scale I do a lot of editing for brevity.

Some sorts of story call for long, drawn out, flowery descriptions, but others need to be sharp and quick. Action scenes are the ones I tend to edit most for this, because I often find myself writing too much description so that it loses its impact.

So my top four tips and methods for brevity:
  1. Read it aloud. If you stumble over a word, chances are your reader will too, so take it out or replace it with something else.
  2. If your sentence is longer than two lines (in font size 11 on an A4 page) then it may need revising.
  3. Double check your descriptions to make sure that they're necessary and that they're not repetitive. I asked my brother to proof read something for me once, and his first comment was 'well I gathered she's got curly hair, then'. When I went back to it, I found I'd mentioned the character's hair at least three times in 10 pages.
  4. If in doubt or you don't know where to begin, a second pair of eyes could help. Get someone you trust and who has a good grasp of the language to have a quick look over what you've written and flag up any bits that seem to drag or feel 'clunky'.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Trying something different - WriYe

Breaking Outta Your Box - A Challenge and a Topic
Every year, WriYe has the Breaking Outta Your Box challenge. It's intentions are to get every writer to try something new and see what they can learn from writing in a genre they're not used to at all. I know some of you bloggers have done it so give me some feedback this month. Did you manage to break the box? Did it help you in any way? What did you learn?

I've given the BOYB challenge a go a couple of times,but I have to admit it hasn't been a great success. But even though I haven't been able to produce fiction I've been happy with, I have learned from the experience:
  • I learned the genres that I don't enjoy writing in.
  • I learned more about scene setting when I was writing about situations other than the 'real world'.
  • I learned that it's fun to try something different once in a while, and because it was something different it meant that when I went back to my other bits of writing, I was going back with a new perspective and more ideas.
  • I learned that I can't write about zombies! ;-)
  • I learned that change is good and can be fun.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Those dreaded deadlines - WriYe

The Looming Doom - Deadlines
We've all had deadlines to face - whether it be yearly like WriYe, monthly like NaNo, or weekly like LWS. How do you face your deadlines? Any advice to help meet them? Any advice on what to do when you miss them?

I find that deadlines come in two varieties - ones that are very soon and ones that are a while away. Once I know when something is due I can handle it appropriately.

• I make a list of what I need to do - the overall target and any smaller parts of that task. For example, if I have a story to write then completing the story is my overall goal and to do that I have to complete so many chapters or words. If it's for submission somewhere then it will also need proofreading for spelling and typos, then editing, then proofreading again.
• Make the targets realistic. I am not going to be able to produce a 10k story in a week if I have meetings every night and I'm working a full time job. However, I could probably produce a 250 word piece of flash which would only require me to find 30 minutes of writing time each day instead of three-plus hours. If you consistantly set targets that you don't hit then it's easy to get demoralised.
• Finally, once all the lists and targets are set out, prioritise what needs doing first and be prepared to move things around if necessary. If you're writing to meet a deadline for a competition you really want to enter, it's going to be more important than the poem you've had kicking around for the past month that's just for fun. And the school project that has to be in at the end of the week has to take precidence over the competition entry, because sometimes life gets in the way of writing.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

My favourite children's books

As you know, I love children's books, both as a writer and as a reader. In my opinion, the best children's stories are those that stick with you into adulthood and have the ability to transport you back to your childhood when you reread them. This is a selection of some of my favourite children's stories with the reasons why.
The Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton
Enid Blyton comes in for a lot of stick as a writer, but I've always enjoyed her stories. They are simple, fun, and have some likeable characters even if the stories lack depth and are, in some critics' opinions, terribly written. My favourite series by Enid Blyton is the Malory Towers series. I went to a girls' school with a brown uniform myself, so I think it was always a bit of an escape for me into somewhere that was sort of the same as my own life but much more exciting.

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
This is one of my all-time favourite books. I got this when I was about eight, and I loved reading all the descriptions of Moonacre and the people living there. It was a Carnegie Medal winner in 1946 and apparently was J.K. Rowling's favourite book as a child, but more importantly than that it's a wonderful story that mixes fantasy, history, romance and a little but of religion in a fantastic book that I would recommend to anyone.

Ronia the Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren

Ronia was one of the books my mum read to be as a bedtime story. I particularly remember it because it was the first book that she was reading to me that I snuck out and read ahead once it got to the exciting bits. I haven't read it since I was seven or eight, but three parts particularly stick in my mind - the part where Ronia and the boy are leaping across the gap at the top of the tower, the part where Ronia gets her foot stuck in a hold and the creatures that live there come out and demand 'Woffor diddun do it?', and the part where Ronia is exploring the corridors underneath the tower.
Just thinking about it is making me feel nostalgic - I may have to go and have a look on Amazon to see if I can find it again.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Purple Prose - WriYe

The Most Flowery of Language - Purple Prose
Okay, so what do you consider to be purple prose? What is it? Give us an example. Do you love it? Hate it? Find it tolerable or small doses? Or do you think all shades of violet wording should be destroyed?

Again, lots of questions to answer this month!

Okay, so what do you consider to be purple prose? What is it? Give us an example.

The word that springs to mind is 'flowery' - lots of descriptive words or decoration of plain text. It's what turns a woman sitting on a bench on a lawn into a seat with rustic wooden slats worn smooth by years of use as the woman with long, blonde hair, highlighted by the sun, sits there reading well-worn pages of letters, her bare feet in the bright green mown grass, the blades tickling her toes. That's actually not flowery enough really. It should also have smells, colours, and the way the sunlight falls through the nearby trees on to the grass.

Having said that, another description I've seen for purple prose is that it 'consists of words and phrases that sound stilted, overly descriptive, or cliché and is derived from a reference by the Roman poet Horace.'

Do you love it? Hate it? Find it tolerable or small doses? Or do you think all shades of violet wording should be destroyed?

Lots of people will say you should always avoid purple prose, but I like it when it's in the right place. If it's just description for description's sake then it annoys me, but when it's used to set a scene, or when a whole story is about the descriptions, then I do really enjoy reading it. I'm reading Affaire Royale by Nora Roberts at the moment, and her descriptions I think really do go as far as purple prose. She paints a wonderful picture of her settings which can often stretch to a page at a time, but they're always tied in with the story and not just there for the sake of it. She can really make you feel as though you're there in the story with the characters, and I think the main reason for that is the way she describes things - she uses colours, feelings, weather, what things are made of and how they interact to paint wonderful scenes.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Review: Lessons in French by Hilary Reyl

Rather like The Devil Wears Prada, Lessons in French follows the story of a young woman in her first job in a big city, working for a vaguely eccentric, very talented and exceptionally demanding boss.

Set in 1989 as the Berlin Wall is about to come down, the story is about Kate, fresh out of university in the US and about to start her dream job as a ‘little-bit-of-everything’ in Paris for the world-famous photo-journalist Lydia Schell.

Once set up in her tiny rooms - for which she has to pay rent out of her meagre salary - Kate has to deal with the eccentric Schell family – grouchy teenager Joshua, delicate princess Portia, distracted husband Clarence and flighty Lydia – while juggling her love life (Portia’s ex-boyfriend Olivier), friends (down-to-earth Christie, over-emotional Claudia and gay cousin Etienne), and trying to figure out exactly what she wants from life.

I found it easy to lose myself in the story, which brought the streets of Paris and the eccentric characters vividly to life, and Lessons in French would make a great summer holiday read for someone wanting a light hearted story to put in their bag and take to the beach.
  • Lessons in French by Hilary Reyl
  • RRP £7.99 (paperback)
  • Published by Harper (this edition due to be published May 23, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0007446268
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007446261

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A to Z Challenge Reflections Post

A short reflection on last month's challenge.

What did you enjoy about the Challenge? 
It got me blogging and made me think - it's not easy trying to find an X to write about!

What could we do better next year? 
I enjoyed it as it was - I don't think there was anything that would have improved it. I liked the challenge and the idea of visiting other people's blogs, and beyond that I don't think there needs to be anything more.

What issues did you encounter? Did you encounter many non-participants?
On a couple of blogs I went to I couldn't find a link to post a comment, which was frustrating! I didn't find any non-participants though, aside from one who had posted until about half way through the month and then posted an apologetic message explaining she wasn't going to be able to do the rest.

Theme or no theme – what seemed to work better? Did you find any great themes? 
I liked the themes but I didn't really look at any posts which weren't to do with writing, because that was what I was most interested in. I found some great blog posts under the writing theme though.

Did you have fun and will you participate again next year?
Yes and yes :)

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Z is for Zzzzzz

This is a very short post today because I'm not feeling well, sorry.

Okay, so I couldn't think of a suitable Z, but Zzzzzz will do!

Sleep, or at least rest, is very important to help replenish the creative juices. When you're tired you can't think properly, so in that way sleep is essential for recharging the batteries and resparking the imagination. I've also had ideas for stories inspired by dreams, so sleep can also act as inspiration.

Thanks for joining me on the A-Z blogging adventure :)

Monday, 29 April 2013

Y is for Young Adult

Twilight, The Hunger Games, Uglies, Harry Potter (or at least the later books) and Northern Lights have all been classed as Young Adult fiction or Crossover fiction. Since I would class a lot of what I write as YA fiction it's something I'm interested in, even if the classifications are sometimes confusing.

I wrote an essay for an OU course on crossover fiction recently. Here's an excerpt:

Changes in society mean that children tend to grow up quicker than they did 100 or even 50 years ago, and so they become interested in older themes sooner. With these changes and with crossover fiction becoming more popular in recent years, this could mean that the way that children’s literature is classified has changed. Depending on the point of view, it could be seen as having expanded, as crossover and young adult fiction could be seen as part of children’s literature and have therefore expanded the age range of readers; or it could be seen to have shrunk children’s literature as by the time children reach secondary school they are reading crossover and YA fiction and no longer reading children’s books.

Certainly the classification of stories would now seem to be children’s stories for very young children, early readers, juniors, and then crossover, young adult and adult, rather than the age-specific range of children’s stories which used to be the classification system even 30 years ago. However, you could also argue that crossover fiction has been good for children’s literature by bringing it to a wider audience and making more books available to younger and older readers by classifying them as crossover.
Crossover fiction, essentially, is something that's written for one age range that is read widely by that age range and another different age range. For example, Harry Potter was first marketed as a children's book, but gained a lot of adult readers and so is also now classed as crossover fiction. The later books in the series touched on more adult themes, so I wouldn't say they were children's books, but they were designed for teenagers - the age range which young adult fiction is aimed at. But because they were also still read by adults as well, those books were crossover and young adult.

An argument could be made that all YA fiction is crossover, because it will be read by younger and older readers than it is aimed for; but not all crossover fiction is YA. Confused yet?!

Saturday, 27 April 2013

X is for Xenophobic (or the writing equivelant)

I have to admit, sometimes I suffer from writing xenophobia. Xenophobia is 'an irrational or unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange', and when finding myself face to face with a new type of writing, I sometimes find myself backing away and telling it to leave me alone.

There are so many different styles of writing, not to mention the genres, that it can be scary to step out of my comfortable little YA/sci-fi/fantasy bubble and try something new. There's screenplays and scripts, radio plays, dozens of types of poetry, biography and autobiography, flash fiction, collaborative writing, songwriting and freewriting just for starters!

But on the few occasions I have tried something different, I've quite enjoyed myself. The OU Creative Writing courses I did were good for getting me to try different styles of writing, and I discovered I actually enjoyed them more than I thought I would.

Today's challenge is to try something different this weekend.

Friday, 26 April 2013

W is for Who, What, Where, When, Why (and How!)

When I started training as a journalist, we were told the things we had to get into the story were Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.I've found it's a good checklist for fiction stories as well, and acts as a good starting point for a skeleton of a story.

To apply it to Star Wars:
Who - Luke Skywalker.
What - A Jedi knight fighting against an evil dictator.
Where - In a galaxy far, far away.
When - A long time ago.
Why - Initially to save the girl, then because he wants to make the galaxy a better place to live.
How - Using the Force, space ships, and a bunch of furry Ewoks.

Or to Pride and Prejudice:
Who - Lizzie Bennet.
What - A well bred woman who is looking for love.
Where - England.
When - The Regency period.
Why - It's the done thing for women to marry, but she also needs to marry well to ensure the security of her family.
How - By meeting Mr Darcy and overcoming her prejudices.

Some fiction may seem to miss out some of the points, but I've found that even when they seem to, there's a hint of all six areas - even if the When is restricted to today or yesterday, and the Where is just here, or a street.

A little PS - W is also for Wonderful, which is what my mum is! It's her 65th birthday today, so happy birthday Mum :)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

V is for Vampires

Vampires have always been popular characters in literature so I though my V post could take a look at some of those characters and how writers have made them unique to their own universes.

Dracula - Bram Stoker's creation which was the template for most modern vampires. Although the character was based in part on Vlad the Impaler, Dracula is a much richer character than just a brutal killer. He is seductive, charming, a nobleman and a sorceror.

Angel, Spike and Drusilla (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) - Joss Whedon's vampires are all vicious killers with super strength. They look human but have a 'game face' which they reveal when they're going to feed. Angel is a 'good' vampire because he's got a soul, but other vampires in Angel's world are the old fashioned all-bad human killers.

The Cullens - Edward & co from the Twilight series are 'vegetarian' vampires who eat animal blood and not human blood. There are other traditional, human-eating vampires in the books as well. Sunlight won't kill them, but it makes their skin sparkle in a very non-human way. They don't grow fangs, but their teeth are razor-sharp and they have venom which will turn you into a vampire - if they don't kill you first. Some of these vampires have different abilities as well - mind reading, precognition and causing pain with their mind are just a few of those. The Volturi are an interesting addition, as the closest thing the vampires have to a legal authority.

Stefan & Damon Salvatore (The Vampire Diaries) - In one episode of TVD Damon says 'no sparkles'. These vampires are more traditional, although Stefan exists on a diet of animal blood and Damon generally drinks blood stolen from blood banks rather than feasting on people - other vampires in the world are less discriminating. The origin of vampires is explained with the introduction of the Original Vampires.

Who is your favourite fictional vampire?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

U is for Unwritten

Unwritten: Not written or recorded, ie. an unwritten agreement between friends; having authority based on custom, tradition, or usage rather than documentation, ie. an unwritten law; not written on, blank.

This seemed a good word for U because all three definitions can be applied to writing. The most obvious is starting with a blank sheet of paper. All stories start off unwritten, not written or recorded, and just knocking around as an idea before they get onto the paper or screen.

The more interesting definition for me is the second one. When you write stories you automatically create your own world, whether within the real world or entirely different. That world has rules which you don't write down in the story, but which you are very aware of when you do write.

For example, if a person in your story gets knocked over by a bus, then the unwritten rule is that they will get seriously hurt. You don't have to specify that the bus will injure the person. However, if the bus hits Superman, then the unwritten rule would be that the bus would come off worse. Your readers would know that Superman is pretty much indestructable and so they would expect the bus to be dented and Superman to be fine. You can play with unwritten rules to create drama though. What about if the bus hits Superman and, as expected, it is damaged, but Superman energes with a cut on his head? That breaks the unwritten rule, so it creates drama and something which needs explaining, and therefore moves your story forward.

It doesn't have to be Superman either. In an average world, the chances of winning the lottery are pretty slim, so you could play with expectations by making your character win three scratch cards in a row. Breaking unwritten rules to create a story point is something I find happens fairly regularly within most stories. The thing you have to be careful with is to be consistant with your unwritten rules.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

T is for Tropes

If I'm stuck for inspiration when I'm writing, one of the places I go to is the TV Tropes website.

In its own words: Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them. 

There are so many tropes listed on the site that it can be a bit daunting, but generally I'll start with the genre or topic tropes and just have a hunt until I find something that looks interesting.

Here's an example - I'm writing a sci-fi story based on Earth. The characters are part of the space programme and are building a ship that will begin the colonisation of Mars. But now I've run out of ideas! Go to TV tropes, look under speculative fiction and read down the list. There are 1,208 tropes listed under spec fiction, so something is sure to jump out. In this case, let's go for Wetware Body, Absent Aliens and Asteroid Miners. Inspiration found, the story can go on!

As an aside, a couple of years ago I met someone doing NaNoWriMo who was basing her entire novel on tropes. It sounded like an interesting idea.

Have you ever deliberately included tropes in your stories? What are your favourite tropes?

Monday, 22 April 2013

S is for Settings

A good setting is as much a character as the hero or villain - think the Enterprise or Pandora, District 12 or Forks. Creating a good setting is more than just description though, I think - it's also about how it makes the characters feel.

You wouldn't introduce a character into a story and not mention how he interacts with other people, so why treat the setting like that? Some writers anthropomorphise the settings to some extent - the house didn't want them there, or the open door and log fire welcomed them home. Others use settings to create an atmosphere to set the story against.

The other big challenge with settings is to introduce them without using paragraphs of description.

My challenge to myself today (and you're welcome to join in) is to take a setting which would traditionally be thought of in one way and turn it around to make it feel the opposite way, eg. make a dark wood with tall trees and narrow paths feel welcoming, or a child's bedroom seem threatening.

PS... if you didn't get the references, Enterprise is from Star Trek, Pandora is from the Avatar film, District 12 is from The Hunger Games and Forks is from Twilight.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

R is for Romance

Like it or not, a little romance or romantic tension always adds something to a story. I've never really tried to write a straight out romance story (aside from one very short-lived attempt when I realised that I didn't actually have a plot...) but there are lots of websites full of advice for people who do want to give it a try, and I find them helpful for adding in vaguely romantic subplots to main stories.

  • Writer's Digest has pages of advice and is usually one of the first places I check if I want to get tips on writing.
  • has lots of pages of advice as well, and recommends books for further reading.
  • Harlequin has advice for people who are aiming to get a romance story published.

There are lots more pages of advice available on the internet, but these are my favourite three.

Challenge for today is to take your favourite romantic leads (and they don't have to be from the same story) and write a short romantic scene for them.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Q is for Questions

Surprisingly I managed to think of three Qs I could write about - Query letters, Quotes and Questions.

I feel entirely unqualified to write about query letters since I've never actually written one, and while I could write about my favourite quotes from books I've read, I decided to go with questions instead.

When I create a character I'll often start off with a list of questions I ask myself about the character. Sometimes I'll write them down, most of the times I won't, but my basic list is:

What's their name?
What's their age?
What's their nickname/other name that they're called? (eg, Mrs So-and-so, Captain Whatsit)
What do they look like?
Do they have any mannerisms or habits? (Do they bite their nails, or play with their hair, or doodle while they talk?)
What do they want? (Could be as big as rule the world or as simple as to be left alone)
What's in the way of getting what they want?
Who are their friends?
Where do they live?
Do they have any special possessions?

There are other questions that might be added to the list depending on what genre I'm writing. In a sci-fi or fantasy that might be 'what species are they?' or 'what magic do they have?', or in a supernatural is might be 'how did they die?' or 'what is their special vampire-killing talent?'

Does anyone else have lists of questions they use to flesh out characters?

Thursday, 18 April 2013

P is for Pantsing

While pantsing may, to some people, conjur up images of students running around pulling down each others' sweatpants, I'm not actually referring to that!

Pantsing is a term I picked up from NaNoWriMo, as in, 'are you a plotter or a pantser'? From this you can probably guess that pantsing is writing without a plot, or at least without a details plot. The term comes from 'seat of the pants', which is 'based on or using intuition and experience rather than a plan or method; improvised'. It sounds simple, but it turns out there are many levels of pantsing!

The least pantsy way of writing is when you have a plan, you know what happens in one scene and the one that comes a little bit later, but you just need to get from one scene to the next, so you just write down the first thing that comes into your head to fill the gap.

The method that I tend to use most of all is that I have a rough plan of my story with a few key events, eg. The Prince has to rescue the Princess. She's trapped in a tower. He finds her. He fights the dragon. She escapes. They all live happily ever after. It's a plan, but it's not at all fleshed out, and even I have no idea why she's in the tower or how the Prince is going to beat the dragon. I don't even know why the Prince happens to stumble across the tower, who the Prince and Princess are, or whether it's going to be a serious drama, a comedic romp or a fairytale yarn. Using the plan as a foundation I'll choose a scene and just start writing to see what comes out.

That was an extreme example, but it is generally how I write except in a very few situations where I'll have a clear idea of what's going to happen and have a very detailed skeleton story drafted out to write around.

The most extreme pantsers just start with an idea and set off with no road map. In some ways it's like a freewrite, but slightly more focussed. The extreme pantser might think 'I'll write a story about a Prince rescuing a Princess' and set off without any thought of what he's rescuing her from or how he's going to do it.

In some ways I expect that's a very exciting way to write, but as I mentioned a few days ago, I like my lists :)

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

O is for Open University

I absolutely loved the creative writing courses I took with the Open University a couple of years ago, so I thought I'd do a blog about them today.

The two courses I took were Creative Writing (A215) and Advanced Creative Writing (A363) - one at level two, equivelant to a second year university course, and the other at level three. Both courses encourage students to share their writing within a private tutor group forum so they can get feedback and help critique other people's work, and I found that a really helpful part of the course. The forum was also a good place to ask stupid questions and not have to worry about people thinking you were daft!

A215 was the lower level course and I think would probably have been suitable for someone who'd never written fiction before at all. Even for me, having been writing for years, it was really really useful, and I picked up so many useful tips and bits of information during the 9 months. The course book is a fantastic resource as well, and if anyone is looking for a creative writing book I would recommend it for the exercises and advice it gives.

From the OU description: The five-part course starts by showing ways of using your memory and experience and building a daily discipline. This is followed by demonstration and practice of the three most popular forms – writing fiction, writing poetry, and life writing (biography and autobiography). The concluding part aims to demystify the world of agents and publishers, teaching you how to revise and present your work to a professional standard.

A363 was more of a developing course and assumed that students already had a grasp on the basics of creative writing. It has been designed to follow A215, but I think it would probably be suitable for someone who has done any sort of basic writing course and knows the various terms and techniques. Something I particularly enjoyed was the chance to follow through a piece of writing and develop it. One of the first assignments is to write a short story, and then a later assignment is to turn that story into a script for stage, radio or film. It was nice to work with something I'd written and play with it to see what it could become, and it was something I probably wouldn't have tried if I hadn't been taking the course.

From the OU description: The course works on the forms introduced in the A215 – fiction, poetry and life writing – and supplements these with dramatic writing, showing you how to write for stage, radio and film. You’ll explore how these scriptwriting skills might enhance your prose style, improve your writing across the range of forms, and further develop your individual style and voice. The course offers guidance on professional layouts for the dramatic media.

For anyone interested in the A215 coursebook the details are:
  • Creative Writing: A Workbook with Readings
  • by Linda Anderson and Derek Neale
  • RRP £25.99
  • ISBN-10: 0415372437
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415372435
  • Published by Routledge

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

N is for Novels

The concept of novels has for the past few years actually been quite confusing for me, and the reason for my confusion is the issue of length.

Wikipedia, that fount of knowledge, describes a novel as 'a long prose narrative that describes fictional characters and events in the form of a sequential story, usually.' But how long is long? Or conversely, how short is too short?

I've done NaNoWriMo for the past decade, and that had led me tobelieve that a novel is about 50,000 words, but I've heard figures bandied around as high as 100,000 words for an average novel. To add to the mix, different genres seem to demand different word counts, and then we get into other terms like 'novella' and 'short story' - the latter of which can run into tens of thousands of words, which to me doesn't seem that short!

To try to clarify things I did a bit of digging and found this blog post by former literary agent Colleen Lindsay which has a guideline list. Some of the figures she suggests are:
  • Children's fiction can be anywhere from 25k to 40k, with the average at 35k
  • Young adult fiction can be anywhere from about 45k to 80k
  • Mainstream fiction and thrillers can vary from 65k to 120k
  • Science fiction and fantasy is often about 100k
  • Anything under 50k is usually considered a novella, with the exception of children's books

For the full list and some really helpful information I do recommend her post as the best place to start.

Monday, 15 April 2013

M is for Music

I love to write to music, and part of the time I spend fleshing out my characters is spent in finding music that seems to fit their personalities.

Sometimes it's the type of music that sets the feel - a sophisticated classical music character or a lively country music characters - and sometimes it's the lyrics in a song that fit.

When I was writing about Dawn Bell in Thief, a character who is in her mid-20s and had just discovered she has a strange ability, Just a Little Girl by Trading Yesterday seemed to fit very well with what I was trying to get into her character. The lyrics talk about a character who runs away from a relationship because she couldn't admit she'd done something wrong and couldn't understand 'the demons that I faced'. The next line is 'So go ahead and bat your eyes and lie right to the world / For in everything you are / You're just a little girl'. While Dawn wasn't running away from a relationship, she was running away from something she'd done and was trying to justify it to herself while pretending to the world that she was a normal person, and in some ways feeling like a lost little girl in a big grown up world. If I ever found myself writing what seemed to be out of character for her, I'd pop the song on and she'd be back on track again very quickly.

So to sum up, I know that writing to music isn't something everyone can do or likes to do, but personally, I find songs and music a very useful tool to help with character development.

Challenge for today - find a random song or piece of music on YouTube and write a character based on the feel of that music.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

L is for Lists

This could probably have gone under P for planning, but I have another P lined up already.

I love lists! When I'm planning a story I make so many lists of scenes I want to include, character traits to include, places to take the character, lists of 10 random words to use for inspiration when I'm stuck for an idea, and lists of things I need to do during the day around my writing.

One of these lists I wrote a couple of weeks ago went like this:
  • Write 500 words
  • Washing up
  • Write 500 words
  • Car tax!
  • Write 500 words
  • Do the washing
  • Google coffins
  • Write the confrontation bit with Ali and Nexus
  • Lunch
  • Write 500 words
  • Figure out why she goes to the dock
  • Wash hair
 In case you're wondering, the coffins were related to the story, not to a personal bereavement!

Friday, 12 April 2013

K is for Kansas

Kansas? I hear you ask. Well yes. K is a difficult letter to think of anything writing-related to write about, but Kansas leads me nicely onto contrasts.

The magical land of Oz is an amazing place. L. Frank Baum's descriptions and characters create a wonderful setting for Dorothy's adventures.

But without the contrast to the dusty farmhouse in Kansas and the homely comforts Aunt Em provides, Oz doesn't seem quite as amazing. We miss out on something because there's no contrast to 'normal' life. J.K. Rowling uses the same techniques of contrast between 4 Privet Drive (where, if you haven't read the books, Harry lives with his mean aunt, uncle and cousin) and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Contrasts don't have to apply to settings, of course. You could have a character who is full of contrasts - the hardened criminal who has no mercy on his victims but who rescues a kitten from a rubbish bin, or the weedy kid in a playground who manages to stand up to a bully. The idea of contrasts is often used in superhero stories - Superman's 'meek and mild' alter-ego Clark Kent, or He-Man's alter-ego the coward Adam.

The writing challenge for today is to create a character who has contrasting traits.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others starts slowly, but is immediately intriguing. Told through the diary of a 14-year-old Welsh girl, Mori, to begin with it appears that the main action has already happened - Mori has run away from home after some terrible magical occurance which left her crippled and her twin sister Mor dead.
Mori is then forced to live with her father, who she has never met before, in Shrewsbury, which feels very far away from the rolling Welsh mountains and the enigmatic fairies Mori is used to.
As Mori is sent to boarding school in Oswestry, the story takes on a slight Harry Potter feel, but in reverse, with the magical girl having to try to fit in at a very normal school.
Mori's love of sci-fi is a theme throughout the story, but even without knowing the authors she mentions the story still flows, and the books she reads eventually turn out to be more than just a diversion for a crippled girl who can't play sports.
Living in Oswestry myself, I found myself wondering if girls from Moreton Hall boarding school had ever caught the bus into town to look for fairies, or if the school had been the basis for Mori's school, especially after finding out that the author, Jo Walton, went to boarding school in the town when she was the same age that Mori is in the story. There are lots of little hints of description when Mori visits Shrewsbury or Oswestry, and a lovely diary entry chronicling the train journey through Shropshire on the way back to Wales - all of which will have a very familiar feel to anyone who knows the area.
Set in the 1970s, Among Others has a nice, almost old fashioned feel, and it was a captivating read that I didn't want to put down.
5 out of 5