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.
  • Writing-World.com 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

J is for Jazz Night

Okay, I admit, this one is a bit of a shameless plug, but J is for Jazz Night - my first ever published poem.

The process of writing the poem started in September 2010 with a freewrite based on a picture by Jack Vettriano (below) and the song 'It looks like rain' by Jann Arden. At the time I wrote 'I can easily imagine this song being sung late at night in a club with dim lights and small tables. I'll see where that takes me and go from there.'

After I'd done the freewrite, it sat around in my files for a few months until I had an assignment for my Open University course on poetry. I dug out the freewrite and looked at it to see if it was suitable for making into a poem, and then started tearing it apart, separating sentences, looking for rhymes and rhythms, and seeing if I could recreate the picture I'd been using as a prompt in poetry. The rhyme scheme was deliberately relaxed - ABBA and not AABB - and loose, breaking down completely in the last stanza.

The finished result was published by Every Day Poets in June 2011, nine months after I wrote the first freewrite. It got some very positive feedback and was also one of the top poems of the month. Writing Jazz Night was a good lesson in patience and revision, as well as proof to myself that I could produce something that other people wanted to read and that was worth doing.

Jazz Night by Pam Griffin

The tables set back from the glare
seat men who come to lose the night
in whisky under muted lights,
in jazz, in blues, in cheap affairs.

No talking here, no friends, no food,
just whisky poured out by the dram,
and saxophone, piano, drum -
The perfect place to sit and brood.

The sultry singer shows her range
and tells about her latest sin,
while drinks are served by faceless girls
who take your cash – and keep your change.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

I is for If

What if a rocket ship crashed on an uninhabited planet? What if the little boy stepped into the road a second earlier? What if the woman accepted his proposal instead of rejecting him? What if they had scored that final goal? What if there was a power cut just as the show was about to start?

I used to be afraid of throwing ifs about willy-nilly. My internal dialogue would go something like this:

'What if an asteroid struck?'
'That doesn't fit with the story.'
'What about if a celebrity came walking down the street?'
'That's just unrealistic and stupid.'
'What if he ordered a takeaway?'
'He can't do that, he's broke.'
'What if...'
'Oh just shut up!'

But my internal arguments have got a lot quieter since I realised that it doesn't matter if the 'what if' doesn't fit with the overall story outline or the way I see my character. Ifs are a great way of moving on a story, even if the ideas don't remain past a first draft. I might throw in a burglary at the old people's home that, as it turns out, doesn't fit at all with the 100th birthday party story, but makes the start of a whole new flash fiction.

Sometimes the most interesting passages come just off the cuff and unplanned, and if a strange 'what if' gets me writing rather than staring at the screen and complaining that I can't think what to write, then that has to be a good thing.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

H is for Heroics

I believe that heroics are part of what makes a story really good, whether it's swashbuckling with pirates, besting a dragon and rescuing a princess, or overcoming personal demons to save the day.

Heroics can also turn a supporting character from a one-dimensional background figure with very little personality to someone who in other circumstances could be the hero of a story in their own right. Good examples of this sort of character are Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter series, Dr John Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories or Batman's young sidekick Robin. Each of these three characters play useful plot points - Dr Watson is the narrator who tells the reader about Holmes' adventures while Dick Grayson, Robin's alter-ego, makes Bruce Wayne more than just a man who fights crime at night; he is now a man with family responsibilities. And how many people aren't even a little bit glad when the sidekick gets his or her moment to shine? Who doesn't cheer when Robin comes in to save Batman from death just in time for Batman to go on and properly defeat the bad guys? Or when Neville stands up to Voldemort, risking life and limb because he believes in something?

The challenge for today is to take a supporting character from anywhere - your own story, a book, film, TV series, videogame, etc - and give that person the chance to shine in their own story for a change.

Monday, 8 April 2013

G is for Genres

A sort of follow-up post to F, G is for genres.

I admit I pinched this idea from Samantha Anderson's post for today where she talked about not getting stuck into one fixed genre for all your writing.

In response, I wrote: I suppose the main reason authors end up sticking with one genre is that that’s what the publishers know people will pay for by that author, although JK Rowling doesn’t seem to have done too badly out of writing an adult fiction book.

Now that's fair enough for people who are paid to write, but what about people who write for fun, or without having being previously published? How do you decide what genre to write in?
Personally, I find a lot of my fiction seems to have a touch of fantasy or sci-fi in it. I find it more difficult to write about real-life situations than fantastical ones. I have, on occasion, attempted to write romance or teenage fiction, but I alway struggle to get the characters to seem real. Somehow it's easier for me to create a believable girl who can turn into a boy than a normal woman having a holiday romance, and the really annoying thing is I don't know why!

So knowing what genres are easy for me to write in is helpful when choosing what genre to write, but sometimes I just get an idea for a character and run with it. It might just be a line of dialogue that pops into my head, but from that I can carry on the character's train of thought and see where it leads. If they start talking about taking the kids to school it might be a more mainstream story, but if they start asking whether their space ship is ready for launch yet then the chances are it's something more sci-fi - or the character is a child playing let's pretend.

I don't like giving advice because I'm not sure if what works for me would work for anyone else, but if I had to offer some advice on choosing a genre to write in, I would say just see where your imagination takes you. If something catches your imagination, the chances are it will be interesting for you to write and you'll have some fun while you create the characters and the situations.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

F is for Fantasy

According to Wikipedia, which is, of course, the fount of all knowledge(!), fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting.

I like writing stories with a touch of fantasy, because the only rules you have to stick to are the ones you make yourself, and you don't have to worry too much about explaining how things work. I've never written about wizards, elves, sorcerers or witchcraft - what might be seen as the staples of fantasy stories, but I have done stories about people who can change their appearance, see ultraviolet and infra-red light, and know just by touching someone whether they're telling the truth or not.

I think the key to writing fantasy is that you can be as extreme as you like as long as you stick to the rules of your universe. You want there to be pink flying elephants? You go right ahead - just make them consistant pink flying elephants. If, in your universe, all pink elephants can fly, then don't throw in an aquatic one just because it would be fun. Keep those pink elephants flying!

Friday, 5 April 2013

E is for Endings

Writing 'The End' is such a lovely feeling. You've actually completed something you're pleased with to the point that you feel you can bring it to a close.

I did another post about endings, or rather, about finishing things, last month, but this is a slightly different. I can finish a story without feeling like it's ended properly. Sometimes it tails out, or feels a bit flat, or I feel as if it's not been properly resolved.

The stories without 'The End' have something missing from them. Essentially, even though they're finished, they're not ended. They're less-than-first-drafts. Very fleshed out ideas but still with something missing. For me, writing 'The End' means that I'm happy with the story, even if I know it's only a first draft and there are all sorts of things I need to tweak and improve. The End is a sign that I know the basic story is complete, like a baby having been born, and what happens next is the growing up stage of the story's life.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

D is for Death

I don't know why I decided today's topic would be death - it was just the first thing that came to mind.

I've only ever written one character's death that I can remember, although I've mentioned that characters have died, or had bodies in my stories. I think perhaps the reason I've shied away from writing character deaths is partly because I haven't felt they're needed for the story, and partly because I wouldn't know how to do it. With the one character I did kill off in text, the death happened as I was writing with no planning beforehand. Perhaps that was why I found I could write it out - because I was just writing it as I was picturing it in my head.

However, looking back through stories that I've written dead characters into, in some of those cases the stories might have been more dramatic with at least some description of how the deaths happened.

My challenge from today's post is to write a character's death.

I might be quiet for the next couple of days - I'm travelling...

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

C is for Colours

Just a short post today. Colours are all around us and can add huge amounts of detail to a story. A woman is just a woman until you add in her hair colour - a limp brown, a vibrant chestnut or a sun-streaked blonde. Colours can bring a character or a setting to life, and make even a dull setting more interesting.

Today's challenge is to write about something that's one colour, like the sea or sky, or dirt, and describe it in great detail.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

B is for Beginnings

Once upon a time there was the beginning of a story... Ever since I started studying creative writing it was drummed into me that beginnings are incredibly important. If the beginning doesn't interest you then you won't keep reading.

I'm a journalist by profession, and beginnings are vital for my work as well. The difference between the two types of writing are quite marked though, and that's especially obvious in the beginnings. In newspapers you have to get the main gist of the story in the first two paragraphs. In fiction, if you did that it would make for quite a bland story and not be as interesting.

In a way, I see newspaper writing as putting in the bare bones of a story. An article could tell you that a man was taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation after his house caught fire. What it won't tell you is how the man escaped, what started the fire, the heat of the blaze, how the smoke smelled, or how the man felt - scared, gasping for breath, relief when he gets out, and so on.

My challenge from today's post is to take a newspaper story and flesh is out to make it into a short story.

Monday, 1 April 2013

A is for Antagonist

Antagonists are the driving force behind any story. The main character has to have something to overcome or fight against.

I have to admit I don't think I'm very good at creating multi-dimensional antagonist characters. My better (in my opinion!) antagonists are not people but situations, institutions or regimes. I find it much easier to write about a character fighting to try to get out of a difficult situation than to write about them fighting against a person. Even when I have a person as the antagonist I still find that they're representative of an institution or regime.

I think my challenge from this post will be to try to create some antagonists as characters in their own right, rather than have them appear only as a necessary plot device.


A is also for Arlee Bird - the guy who came up with the idea of the blogging A-Z challenge! I'm looking forward to trying this for the first time, so a big THANK YOU to Lee for starting the challenge :)