Friday, 30 July 2010

Twitter Stories

I joined Twitter a while back, only because everyone kept going on about it and as you know I always follow the herd. I wanted to know what the fuss was about. At first I confess I couldn't see the point of it - who apart from fans and stalkers cares what minor celebs get up to between gigs? And let's face it most of us aren't remotely interesting in the minutiae of our dull dreary lives. Or so I thought.

Over time it's really grown on me. I don't follow a huge number of people, about forty or so, enough to get an interesting cross section of thoughts and activities. So there's usually at least one interesting post when I visit. And if there isn't, well it's only a sentence or two so no time wasted. Unlike blogs people have to get to the point pretty sharpish. I like that. And over time you see a pattern emerging in people's posts that is more revealing of them as people than their more showy blogs and websites.

So it's taken me a while but I finally see the point of Twitter. It's a rare skill to condense your meaning into a few words - anyone who's wrestled with poetry will appreciate that. Yes, we all know about the joy of unrestrained prose and being drunk with words, but those words we're drunk on are usually more rewarding to ourselves than those we're communicating with. Mostly it's unmitigated drivel. Restraint is good. It makes us artful - every word must count. Real writers respect words and know their power; diluting them is wasteful.

So I wonder if it's possible to write a story in a Twitter post. 140 characters, including spaces and punctuation. Beginning, middle, end. You know the drill: get to it!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Sky Is Falling...

Hot topic this week is literary agent Andrew Wylie's deal with Amazon to epublish his clients' books, cutting traditional publishers out of the loop. With such an illustrious client list as John Updike and Saul Bellow this has caused seismic ructions in the publishing community and been met with much gnashing of teeth and cries that this is the End of Publishing As We Know It.

I don't pretend to know enough to offer an opinion on this, but we certainly do live in interesting times. The implications are huge. One author I know of, Joe Konrath, has launched himself as a self publisher after being dropped from his traditional publisher with apparent success. If high profile authors can publish themselves why would they need publishers, or even agents for that matter?

Joe Konrath discusses the issue on his blog. It's food for thought.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Short Story Contests

The trouble with novel writing is it's delayed gratification to the nth degree. What with all the planning and character building and research you can easily spend months of your life never writing a word of the actual novel. Then when you do get down to it you have to honour the drafting process, so even when you write those magical scenes and dialogue you know there's a good chance it won't stay like that for long. Come back to it in a month's time and what do you know - it's a lot shittier than you remember and in need of a rewrite.

So by the time you get to the stage of saying "It's finished" you've lost all but a glimmer of that earlier excitement - you know, the giddy feeling that kept you glued to your Mac when every sensible person was outside sunbathing.

And it can be depressing to keep depriving youself of that satisfaction. So it's not a bad idea to do the odd mini project in parallel with the Magnum Opus, just so you can say "I've finished" more than once a year. With this in mind I've entered two flash fiction competitions this month.

I like flash fiction. It's short and snappy - not too demanding of time and effort - and when you write something you like it's immensely satisfying too. The challenge of a word limit - in one case as low as 150 words - imposes a strict discipline that makes you prune and edit ruthlessly, questioning the value of every word, trying to find one word instead of three. It's definitely a useful exercise and having a deadline to meet helps keep you focussed.

I haven't entered many short story contests for the shameful reason that I don't take defeat very well. When I post my Little Gem I can't wait to garner the accolades of my peers and if (or should I say When..?) they judge it less worthy than I it's a painful rebuke. It can take me weeks to recover from my hurt feelings.

But at the same time I do enjoy the nervous anticipation of waiting for a result. And if it's decided by poll, getting one person's thumbs up is thrilling beyond measure. Just the thought that one person thought mine was the best entry is enough to make my day.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Feeling smugly pleased with myself

No, I haven't landed that £1m book deal, but I have managed to figure out how to print index cards! It took a bit of faffing about, but I finally succeeded by using the labels format and setting the dimensions manually. Is it only me who gets unbelievable satisfaction from solving computer problems?

I've also had a bit of a breakthrough with the old plot analysis I mentioned in the last post. I had been writing the story with the wrong main character. Instead of the haunted female, why not make her love interest the lead? Tell the story from his POV and make his character arc primary to the story?

I took a couple of days to break it down and dammit if it doesn't fall into place. Not only that, I'm feeling a bit of the old excitement rising - he is a much more interesting character to play with and there's more scope for tension and mystery.

Hence the need for index cards. In sorting out the plot lines, I need to have the beats in front of me. You can invest in software for this (I know because I've road tested most of it) but nothing beats a 2x4 board and some 3x5 cards stuck on with blu-tak. You can move them around, shuffle or discard - even in a power cut.

But handwritten cards are hard to read and don't carry enough info. Printing is best. So you can imagine my delight at figuring out my little computer conundrum. Result!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Blind alleys

I've recently been trying to resurrect a WIP I put aside a month or so ago, a paranormal mystery I'd been working on since Christmas. To help me past the logjam I'd been reading a few how to books, most notably "Novel Writing" by author and literary agent Evan Marshall. His approach is very formulaic which I'd always fought shy of in the past. But it's a meticulous and painstaking process and in forcing me to sift through the facts it is already firing some new ideas in my head.

I don't know about you, but I find it very easy to write myself into a blind alley and get stuck. I think it's because I'm too impatient to plan properly. Trusting that things will work themselves out is a gamble and on this latest WIP it hasn't paid off. Using the Marshall plan has made me go back to basics, to looking at my characters and my original set-up with a critical eye. I'm beginning to think this book can be saved, but I need to do some radical changes to the whole concept.
The more planning I do the more sold I am on the whole idea. I'm not going to write another word of this WIP until I get a proper outline of the story however long it takes. It may never happen, of course. Some books were never meant to be written. I suppose it's another lesson along the way, discovering which ones to write and which ones to ditch.

Comments (added because the comment function keeps losing them)
Juliet Marillier apparently plans everything in detail before she starts and edits as she goes so that when she finishes the draft it only needs a polish, not a redraft. Sounds like a good idea, but I haven't tried it. I'm a lousy planner. from Kate

Sandra I am the world's worst at planning, and you are not alone in writing yourself into a hole!

Writing short stories without a plan is never a problem for me, but my novel is pretty stuck at the moment and a framework would be very helful. Back to the drawing board, I think! x
from Joanne Fox

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Bulwer-Lytton Awards 2010

Just a word about the Bulwer-Lytton Awards 2010 which are out this week. Of all the literary prizes this one has no inbuilt bias towards those with talent, in fact it only gets in your way. Started in 1983 by Professor Scott Rice it has been a boon to bad writing ever since, regularly flooded with so much tortured prose you'd wonder how the judges can cope with it all and retain their sanity. All you have to do is come up with the most eye-wateringly bad opening sentence. The link provides plenty of good examples, and so inspired I couldn't help having a go myself.

The day began badly, not for the usual reason that the sky was as leaden grey as a businessman's suit, the sort bank managers used to wear back in the days there were such things, bank managers that is not suits, but because the dull thud of mail on the mat did not herald the arrival of Isadora's much anticipated acceptance letter but yet another sheaf of form rejections.