Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Planning and Pantsing

This is a hot topic among writers. Should a book be planned or is it best to just let the muse dictate all the twists and turns of your story's outrageous fortune?

I've seen folk come to virtual blows over it.

First off, I have to say I don't think there is a right way in any art form.  Dogma kills spontaneity quicker than a dose of rat poison.  And what works for one man will be anathema to someone else.  

I used to be more of a confirmed pantser, ie flying by the seat of my pants.  It's very much in the spirit of Nanowrimo which I've raved about in the past.  The trouble is it's inefficient.  You'll end up with a lot of dross and surplus material, scenes you don't need etc.  But it is a thrilling way to write and I recommend it for anyone feeling blocked or jaded.

With each project I attempt I try to plan more.  That's because each time you travel this road you see the pitfalls, the places where you wrote yourself into a blind alley.  If only you had a more reliable road map to see you through the maze of ideas you could simply concentrate on the writing.  So I plan.  Or at least I try to.  My creative mind is infuriatingly resistant to any limitations and tries to take the story off road at every opportunity.  So I've learned not to plan too fastidiously and not to get upset if the story takes off in another direction I hadn't expected.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

A moan

Well, so much for a week off.  Other Half has been laid up with a stinking cold all week, I've had to sit in waiting for gas men fitting radiators and washing machine men fixing me Hotpoint - which, I might add, broke down again a day later.  So what with all that I've ended up doing pretty much what I usually do and missed out on the planned days out and trips to the shops.  On top of that The Great Spider Invasion has started - I counted four of the brutes one windy evening which did nothing to alleviate my stress level.  And an order of my much loved Traquair Ale seems to have gone astray despite being despatched a couple of days ago.

Oh well.  On the plus side I have made some headway with the WIP.  I'm thrashing out the last act now, always the trickiest part for me.  And I've treated myself to a new Moleskine notebook.  Never owned one before so I thought I'd give it a go.  Surprisingly they are not made from moles after all...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A Week Off

Other half and younger son are on a week's holiday so it's a break in routine.  I've been catching up with the bits of painting left over by the professionals and getting a different perspective on things.  Not much time for writing although I'm doing odd bits when I can.

Last week I took my razor sharp editor's knife and cut 4 whole chapters which made my eyes water I don't mind telling you.  The story had taken a wrong turn and it had to go.  My priority at the moment is getting the shape of the story right, and it's proving elusive.  But I now feel I have the bones of something better.  Of course I'll need to write a lot of new material but once I get the form right that won't be difficult.

So I'm taking this week to mull things over before getting back to it.  I feel like a mole emerging from the gloom of his tunnel.  So that's what the world is like...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

My Word Fetish

Alright, time to 'fess up (whatever that means).  I have a guilty secret.  I'm a word addict and not only that, I'm a word fetishist too.  What's the difference?  Well, an addict loves words and can't get enough of them, but a fetishist goes one step further and makes her own.

The great thing about the English language is it's such a mongrel of other languages.  There are umpteen words for the same thing, each with its own unique and colourful derivation. In amongst all that melee of vocabulary it's dead easy to slip in a few made up ones without anyone noticing.  (Of course you do get the occasional dictionary wielding pedant who calls you on it, but don't let that spoil your fun.  They need to get out more.)

Now, if you're thinking of trying this I should warn you that making stuff up can get you into trouble.  But unless you're a finalist in the World Scrabble Championships don't sweat it.  It's harmless fun and very creative.  

A good place to start is insults.  In the heat of the moment folk seldom take much notice of the words you are hurling at them.  Next time you're having a screaming row with your neighbour toss in the odd invention: Don't look at me like that, you scumsucking fenchmallow!  At best it'll take the wind out of their sails, at worst it won't register.

Slipping inventions into your prose might be trickier although not impossible.  The key is to keep it low-key and unobtrusive and don't get carried away.  For example, The wind rustled through the venic leaves, lifting them to flutter in an exotic dance is better than The bartledick rustled through minaries of venic leaves, fletting them to flutter in a partsimious dance which even the sloppiest editor will spot a mile away.

So, start small and remember to enjoy yourself.  Who knows, with any luck you might end up with a few of your inventions turning up in next year's OED. Good fetishing!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Book Covers

Do you judge a book by its cover?  I must confess I've bought books in the past based on the cover art alone.  An interesting and intriguing image can affect sales as it's the book's billboard after all.  The initial point of contact between reader and writer.

So it's surprising to find that the writer often has very little say in the cover art as shown by the story of Polly Courtney who has parted company from her publisher over the style of her book covers and now intends to self-publish.

The issue has spawned much debate among writers.  Do covers matter?  Well, apparently so.  When you have one chance to make an impression on a potential buyer you want to get it right.

But so many covers these days are generic and unoriginal.  You know the ones I mean - you can scarcely browse the Net without a few of them popping up around the margins.  Slick waxed torso of scantily clad young man with an equally scantily clad female draped provocatively over him, a hand lingering on his trouser belt as if to suggest they're coming off sometime soon.  Then there are the sci-fi/fantasy covers with metallic babes wrestling phallic space creatures.

The trouble with this kind of cover is it lumps all these books together in popular perception. If you write an original story shouldn't the cover reflect that originality?  Wouldn't something a bit different get more attention?

And not all books slide easily into the chosen genre.  Women's fiction isn't always about boyfriends and shopping.  Should the covers of chick-lit always feature ditzy thin women in high heels?

There is nothing more annoying than purchasing a book on the basis of the cover and finding it isn't at all what you thought it was going to be.  So Ms Courtney has a point.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

In Praise of Limericks

A small diversion today.  One of the poetic forms I find irresistible is the Limerick.
There's something so satisfying about the rhythm of a carefully crafted Limerick, and when coupled with funny or clever word use it hits the funny bone like no other form.  Finding the perfect rhyme for an awkward word is a challenge - trying to find a unique and witty response can be maddening but most gratifying when you come up with something apt.  It's not unlike doing a crossword puzzle in that only the right word will do and you know it when you find it.

How about finishing this one:

An ambitious scribbler from Kent
Thinks her dodgy verse is heav'n sent
But sadly it seems
Her poetry teems...

And if you like Limericks why not try a few here.

Sunday, 11 September 2011


Where do you find inspiration for stories?  

Stories are all around and it's difficult to avoid them.  The news is full of human tragedies, large and small, which can be the starting point or conclusion of your novel.  Many authors were inspired to write about 9/11, an event ten years ago this very day.  Personally I am more intrigued by the smaller but equally devastating tragedies which wreck people's lives.

Being a lover of history I get some ideas from events in the past.  There are hazards in poaching the past for ideas though.  People lived very different lives and unless you have thoroughly researched the period there are many pitfalls to watch out for. 

And music is a constant source of inspiration for me.  It stimulates a drama to unfold in my head like nothing else

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Writers Online

The internet has revolutionised communications.  So what does that mean for the aspiring writer?

In the Bad Old Days you'd sit in your draughty garret scratching stories onto parchment with only your own dark thoughts for company.  Nowadays you don't need to be so isolated.  One click gets you onto Facebook, Twitter and the myriad of writers' forums out there.  In the early days it's nice to meet like minded people and get some answers to your newbie questions.  But you can get so involved with this online community you forget why you ended up there. 

These days display sites have eclipsed the standard critique sites.  Display sites, like Authonomy and Book Country (to name but two - there are plenty more) are more about platform and discoverability.  Mutual backslapping is the order of the day, and anything resembling honest, ie. critical, critique is likely to be met with hostility because it is deemed "unsupportive". 

So, is the internet a good place for writers or just another procrastination technique?

I think there are hazards as well as benefits.  The internet is great for instant research and you can pick up lots of advice.  There's bad advice too, of course.  But as long as you're selective and trust your own instincts you shouldn't go far wrong.  The support group and mutual praise is nice in the early days when you're feeling shy and insecure but beware it doesn't become a crutch.  Your work is for the public at large, not just your little clique of mates who never dislike anything you write.

So really, nothing much has changed.  The internet might have made people more accessible, but writing is still a solitary activity and too much company might just blow you off course.

Monday, 5 September 2011


Something funny is happening with Blogger.  All my old posts seem to have gone into italics.  It wasn't me what done it, honest.

But it started me thinking about italics.  Do you use them much?  I confess I do.  I like to lapse in and out of flashbacks and inner thoughts and italics are just perfect for inserting the odd line of dialogue without interrupting the flow.  But I try not to overdo it because once italics take over pages of text, they become the norm and lose their impact.

It's another case of "less is more".  Someone should tell Blogger that.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Last Word About Reviews

Just spotted this great post by Joe Konrath on The Newbie's Guide to Publishing which I want to pass on.

Wise words.  And he's right.  I'd even go so far as to say you can't have anything meaningful to say until you're willing to shrug off the opinions of others.  

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Guest Blogger: Marvel Gumshoe

Just for a change, here's a little break from my incessant yapping. Fellow aspiring author and online buddy Marvel Gumshoe gives his unique view of this writing life.

  The Glass Ceiling 

 “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.” Bill Cosby 

 “You've got to believe you can be a stand-up before you can be a stand-up. You have to believe you can act before you can act. You have to believe you can be an astronaut before you can be an astronaut. You've got to believe." Eddie Izzard 

 “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” Douglas Adams 

 I’m terrified. 
 On the very cusp of jacking in work, becoming a stay-at-home Dad and writing full-time, I’ve realised that my magnum opus has a plot hole big enough to destabilise the space-time continuum. 
 I may be the greatest chump in existence. 
 How can I still believe that it is possible to make a living as an author? Statistically, I am more likely to be struck by lightning on the day I win the lottery. 
 I must be mad. Certifiable. 
 But it’s irresistible. 
 The hint, the scintilla-wisp of possibility, the world espied through a chink, the scent of fresh-cut grass teasing through the curtains – how could I not do this? 
 Here’s what I’ll resolve to do – run out screaming and, if I fail, run back in screaming, take a breath and run back out again. Like swimming in the cold Atlantic, at some point you either get used to it or die of hypothermia. 

I am mad. Certifiable. 

 “But I tried, didn't I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.” R.P. McMurphy

 Marvel Gumshoe is originally from Kildare in Ireland but moved to Limerick (also in Ireland ) just before the end of the millennium, to get a better view. 

Marvel’s poetry has been published in several low-key journals and accidentally broadcast on local radio. 

 To earn his crust, Marvel works for a small children’s charity. The charity is small, not the children. Although, some of them are but that isn’t the point. 

 Marvel is currently working on several novel projects: 
The Unbearable Shiteness of Being 
The Flesh-eating Diplomat from Outer Space 
St. Unsub and the Dragon 

 He can be found on the interweb, at twitter@Marvel_Gumshoe and loitering around the halls of Litopia.