Sunday, 25 May 2014

Quoting Sunday - Gardner

I've been reading John Gardner's The Art of Fiction - Notes on Craft for Young Writers this past week. It's a great book on craft, and I love Gardner's tone. He can be deliciously vicious at times (or arrogant, if you want to put it like that), but he writes a good game and I think I can safely recommend his book if you like reading about the craft of writing. 

Here's a bit that made me laugh (I guess you could also see it as slightly offensive, but I'm going to go ahead and consider it humorous): 

As a matter of fact, most of the books one finds in drugstores, super-markets, and even small-town public libraries are not well written at all; a smart chimp with a good creative-writing teacher and a real love of sitting around banging a typewriter could have written books vastly more interesting and elegant. 
John Gardner in The Art of Writing Fiction 


Friday, 23 May 2014

What makes you pick up or put down a book?

I find this an endlessly fascinating topic, and I posted some related questions over at The Book Bunnies... pretty please hop on over and let me know what you think!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

10 Things about Creating Characters

Hello and welcome (back) to my blog, my dearies!!

Today I want to share with you 10 things about creating characters... what I do, how I come up with them, what helps me and when they give me hell (I'm still not sure I can be helped in that sort of situation, but I do try...). 

Fact #1: For Shakespeare, it's a rose by any other name... for me, rose is rose is rose...unless it's a thorn, of course.

For me, most characters start to come together when I name them. Names are important - I'm kind of obsessive compulsive about them. I look up meanings and everything. Some of my characters change names as their character develops, as if they're changing their skin when the old one gets too tight (ok so sometimes this only happens in my head and not in the actual story but still). I going out on a limb here and assuming I'm not the only one who's obsessive about that kind of thing? 

Fact #2: A little sass never hurt anybody. 

My characters start out very, very cheeky. They're sarcy bastards/bitches, snarking their way through what I'd like the plot to be. They come out with the most outrageous things, just to get my attention, until I throw my hands up in despair and let them mess with my plot, after all. They usually settle down a bit after that. 

Fact #3: Visual aids can be (very) helpful. 

When I've got the bare bones of my character down - hair and eye colour, body type and the likes - I prefer having a photo to inspire Mr Muse. Usually this is some actor or another - not necessarily the one I'd want for a film version of my character, though I've been told some writers like to think of it that way. Just someone who fits the physical characteristics at least marginally, or fits the type of person I'd like my character to be. I know some authors use Pinterest to sort out their visual inspiration. I haven't quite gotten a hang of that, yet, but I think it could have its uses...

Fact #4: Talkshows are popular for a reason.

One of my favourite characterisation exercises is interviewing my characters. Just a chat between the two of us, with both parties asking questions. I guess it's almost a split personality exercise, but isn't all writing like that? We take bits and pieces of our minds and give them a life of their own. Mine like to talk. Lots. In fact, they just LOVE to interrupt me when I'm doing something other than paying attention to them. 

Fact #5: Plot and Character need to mesh. 

I find it really hard to finish my stories. One of the reasons for this is that my characters like to change the game partway through. They no longer fit into the plot I had all set out for them. And no, I don't always figure out where they took the first step down the wrong path. Almost invariably this leads to me redoing the whole shebang. Lately, I've put more effort into making sure my characters actually mesh with the plot I have in mind. I'm hoping things will go more smoothly now, but I'm not holding my breath...

Fact #6: All people have secrets.

Sometimes, the characters keep secrets even from me. I'll get to a certain plot point and BAM! The character I'm working with right then comes up with this little tidbit of backstory I had no clue about. This leads to frantic rethinking plot lines and character motivation on my part. I think it's important that characters retain some sense of mystery for the reader, unless you want said reader outthinking your character every step of the way (that sort of thing probably has its place, but it isn't the way I want to work). I just wish my characters wouldn't keep secrets from ME! Sometimes it makes me feel like my children have suddenly moved out of the house and developed lives of their own (what makes that really weird is that I have no children).

Fact #7: Sometimes, it's love at first sight.

Some characters just sort of click in my head, all charm and picture perfect profile. There he is, Prince Charming himself, perfect for your plot and never possibly discarded. I love these kind of characters, really I do, but they can also be annoying like that too-beautiful cousin or neighbour who just makes everyone else look bad by default. I'm not usually a fan of that kind of person in real life (even more so if they're not only PICTURE perfect, but also very sweet and loving and charming and eugh it's just too much to cope with...)(some of us are ordinary human beings and ordinary human beings don't like to be outperformed on all fronts, now do we?). So what these sort of characters need is a serious flaw or two. Because, let's face it, it might be love at first sight but we don't WANT people to be perfect. 

Fact #8: Sometimes, they grow on you like mould. 

In some stories, I start out really disliking this one character, I designate him as the bad guy, plot him in the darkest of plot lines, let the whole danged thing hinge on his evil deeds. Then he goes and gets this dark sense of humour, and this heart-breaking back story that explains so very much (yes I KNOW that I'm really the one who comes up with the backstory, but hey, that's just not the way it works, is it?). The big bad is suddenly the charming bad guy who has dimples when he smiles his roguish smile. 


Fact #9:  And sometimes, you need to kill your darlings.

No matter how much you like a character, or how perfect you think he is for the bad-guy-role, he may not be the perfect boy for your plot. Or girl, or alien, or abstract being, or whatever. Maybe the problem is not the plot but the character. I have a couple of these. I love them to pieces, but somehow, any plot I try to write around them falls apart. They will find their place eventually, but for now, they're on ice. 

Fact #10: And really, you don't have to like them. 

All said and done, there really isn't any need for you to like your characters. There needs to be an attachment, sure, but like? We can't like everybody (unless you're the Pope or Jesus or Buddah or Mother Theresa or The Dalai Lama some such)(wait that's quite a lot of people, isn't it?), so by extension, we should not like all our characters, either. They need to have their flaws, they need to be fallible, and some of them should probably be almost unlikable. The important thing is not that we like them, it's that they evoke emotions in the reader, that they ring true as human (or elvish or alien) beings. They need to be believable, that's the ticket. 

What about you? Any important fact you'd like to add to my list? 


Sunday, 18 May 2014

Quoting Sunday - Hemingway

Sundays are lazy days, time to spend with your family, time to relax, time to catch up on what got left by the wayside during the week, and last but not least, time to do what you love. For a lot of us, this will mean sitting down somewhere comfortable and picking up that pen. 

Write me at the Hotel Quintana, Pamplona, Spain. Or don't you like to write letters. I do because it's such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you've done something.
Ernest Hemingway, Letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald (1 July 1925); published in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917–1961(1981) edited by Carlos Baker (source)
Hemingway has a wonderful way with words, and this is no exception. Ernest certainly hit the nail on the head with this one - I'm sure quite a few of you will agree with me, here. 

Which is why I bought a stack of postcards yesterday and am now in the process of writing actual, physical postcards to send to my nearest and dearest - this way I get to procrastinate, technically I'm still writing, AND it will make them smile to find a postcard in their mailbox rather than the stuff one usually gets (bills, advertisements and similarly unpleasant stuff). 

When's the last time you wrote a letter, or postcard? Emails don't count!


Saturday, 17 May 2014

Will you look at that....

Thank you to The Paperback Writer for this great link...

I've spent way too much time on this already, so I'm going to go ahead and give you the link to Visuwords(TM), an online dictionary/thesaurus that gives you a neural-network-like image of the word you type in and all its possible associations. 

Go on, give it a go.


Thursday, 15 May 2014

10 Things About ... Not Writing

Hello my dearies and welcome to the first 10 Things post I've done in a while.

The topic today is something quite close to my heart, and I assume it's pretty close to the heart of many a writer. It's a close cousin to the Blank Page phenomenon and the dreaded My Muse is Away on Holiday blues.

Today, we're going to look at 10 Things about Not Writing.

Fact #1: Not Writing is Easy Peasy

Not Writing is one of the easiest things, ever. So easy even babies can do it, and most of the world practices it as regularly as sleeping. A lot of people can do it and still consider themselves experts on not Not Writing. 

Fact #2: Not Writing is good for your Stomach

Writers, or at least all writers I know personally, drink a lot of caffeine and/or eat unhealthy things. Who wants to get up and cook a healthy, vegetable-based meal when Mr Muse is FINALLY speaking to them? Why would we want to succumb to something so unnecessary and time-consuming as sleep when the pen is verily flying over the paper (or the fingers tip-tip-tipping over the keyboard)? Seriously, that's what coffee was invented for, right? Which means that NOT WRITING probably involves a lot less caffeine and regular, fresh-cooked meals rather than the odd vitamin pill... 

Fact #3: Not Writing is likely to cause Spontaneous Creative Acts

When you're Not Writing, be prepared for a sudden urge to paint (try to stick to canvass, paper or whiteboards - family members and room mates tend to frown on wall-painting) (if you have little kids, though, you could make it a family activity and hang an empty frame around the best pictures), or perhaps burst into song somewhere other than in the privacy of the shower or in the car (I always sing along to the radio when I'm in my car, which is perhaps a side effect of how much I've Not Been Writing lately) (in fact, I'm certain that's the reason I sing along to the radio). 

Fact #4:  Not Writing is Good for the Environment

It saves on paper, which we all know also saves trees (unless you use recycled paper, in which case it just saves paper, or you only write on the computer, in which case it saves electricity), and it saves on pens and ink, which is indubitably good for reducing the amount of rubbish we leave behind. 

Fact #5: Not Writing is good for your Social Media Presence

Because really, who needs to write anything at all when you can keep your communications with the rest of the world to Status Updates and 140-sign sentences? If you doubt the fact that your whole life can be expressed in 140 signs, check out the wonderful Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less - even bestsellers and classics can be summed up in Twitter speak! Why do we bother with things like paragraphs and chapters?

(Do go ahead and read Twitterature, it's a hoot)

Fact #6: Not Writing will make you Popular

With all the time you save by Not Writing, you can go have coffee with your friends (instead of sitting there with your ever-present notebook, writing down snippets of conversations or a scathing commentary on the world in general), or go volunteer for a charity (which you probably do anyway but now you can leave the notebook behind), or perhaps go visit your grandma/grandpa/favourite aunt/uncle (without pestering them to tell you that story, one more time). 

Fact #7: Not Writing will let you Catch up on All Your Favourite TV Series

Like I said, Not Writing saves you time - you can now make time for that Breaking Bad Marathon Session you've been wanting to organise, and you won't be tempted to press pause every five minutes to pet that plot bunny that just hopped by (if you have an actual pet, feel free to pet it - that would also count as Not Writing) (if your pet is a fish or similar water-dwelling creature, make sure you dress appropriately before trying to pet it) (if your pet is a merman or selkie, try to remember you're NOT WRITING and get rid of that pesky plot bunny). 

Fact #8: Not Writing is good for Commerce

When you're Not Writing, you suddenly have time for things like shopping, both online and at the local mall/high street/shopping centre. Think of it as spending time (and money earned doing Not Writing things) supporting the local economy. You could almost say it's community service... 

Fact #9: Not Writing is good for your Sporting Ambitions

When you're Not Writing, Not Watching TV and Not Supporting the Local Economy, you can start training for that Half-/Ultra-/Normal Marathon you've always wanted to do. Or you can run the Wings of Life World Run, which is what I did... 

Fact #10: Not Writing is the most Difficult Thing A Writer Can Do

And lastly, here's the truth of it. Not Writing is the most difficult thing a writer can do, because it goes against everything he is, everything he wants and needs. Not Writing goes against the grain. If you're a writer who practices Not Writing, you will probably suffer from a whole list of symptoms. 

You may have trouble falling asleep because the stories you're not writing play like a film on the back of your eyelids. 

Your fingers could itch whenever you even see a pen, a phantom pain that gets worse over time. 

It could be that you start disliking your laptop, because every time you see the file titled "Writing" on your desktop, you feel like someone stomped on your heart and you're bleeding ink into your stomach cavity. 

You may spend ages rummaging through your handbag or checking all your coat pockets to find that notebook you always used to carry around. 

You suddenly have an oversupply of post-its and a very empty cork board/white board over your desk, and you're not sure why. 

You may also find yourself buying notebooks, even if you don't use them because you're Not Writing, and watch the stack of them grow almost organically until they cover your entire desk like mould. 

Not Writing is like a part of your soul is moulding away, like an essential part of you is being bleached out by a merciless sun until only a faint shadow remains. 

Don't be like me and let that happen, because if you truly are a writer, Not Writing is painful as hell.   


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Uhm... I think I'm back, now...

Hello my dearies!

I'm sorry I've been so inattentive lately. I've even forgotten to do the Insecure Writers' Support Group post, that's how bad I've been. 

I don't know about you, but sometimes, everything just comes together perfectly, and as if the universe or The Old Man Up There has scales that need to balance, sometimes, pretty much everything goes wrong. 

For me, 2012 was a year where everything ran smooth and sweet as honey. I finished my second university degree, started on my PhD, lost all the weight I'd been trying to lose for ages, the company I run with a friend of mine had a GREAT year, NaNo was fantastic and Mr Muse was smiling down on me. 

This year (and I'm speaking academic year, starting Autumn 2013), things just don't seem to jibe properly. I've hit a storm-levee sized wall in my thesis research, we had a bad season last year (an aspect of my day job has to do with agriculture) and have to scramble to finance our current projects, my parents were both ill, one after the other (better now but health scare is health scare), my siblings had their own crisiseseses (these definitely deserve all the eses they can get) and I have (very) recently been diagnosed with celiac disease (or coeliac, if you're British). 

And then, of course, there's writing. 

My plot bunnies are all still multiplying at inconvenient moments (see 10 Things About Plot Bunnies if you're curious about that), my Muse is as volatile and moody as ever, my characters still have minds of their own and scream at me from time to time, but things are still stuck. Or rather, I'm stuck. 

Because this is not the state of being I want to remain in, I have made a plan. You might even say I'm plotting my future, writing-wise. 

I will...

  • ... start posting on writing craft again, to remind myself what it's all about and share the experience with you guys and gals
  • ... go see how you're all doing, a social activity I have been embarrassingly bad at for the last couple of months
  • ... write. This, of course, is the most important of all...not that chatting with you isn't important, it's just that writing is even more so. You know what I mean? 
After all that, my question for you: when was the last time everything went right for you? Do these things come and go in waves for you, too? 

Love you all, 


ps. I was happily surprised to see one of my posts (the one about Plot Bunnies) has been recently retweeted by no less than Writer Unboxed!! THANKS!!!

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