Monday, July 13, 2009

Heed in a Box


I hunch over the keyboard, trying to discern the keys in the darkness. Not because there's no longer enough money to pay for electricity, but because I can't be bothered to turn the light on. The same lack of discipline has kept me from the manuscript this evening.

Been watching Se7en, that wonderously dark film with Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt... ooh, ooh, ooh, and Kevin Spacey (but don't tell anyone, it's a secret).

Hush, my typing's annoying the wife - must type slower, quieter, sneakier.

Watching Se7en for the first time in absolutely ages, I realised that the story isn't about a serial killer murdering people to the tune of the seven deadly sins.

Bare with me here, I did just say I hadn't seen it in a long time (not since school some 10 years ago),

That's our genre, our macguffin (if you can think of it in that kind of macabre way). The story is about the divide between the cynical, soft and experienced cop and the naive, hard and head-strong cop. The play between them is constantly that of wisdom versus wilfulness and cold realisation versus forced optimism.

Which leads me to a point about every aspect of the film: every scene plays on either the forward motion of the macguffin or the wrestling of Mills and Somerset.

Which in turn leads me to pondering the difficulty I'm having with the manuscript - I plotted the main events, I start working at them in the scene and I realise I'm not touching on the themes. I always have trouble writing those extra character bits that expand themes or show characters but don't necessarily progress the plot (I'm talking about minor bits and snippets of scene).

So the question is, when do you fit these scenes into your writing schedule? Are you able to just let it all flow together, or do you write your main plots page by page and then add the character and setting moments afterwards when you've realised your theme, etc, etc?

Yours in grateful mental obscurity.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hello from Hollywood

So...

I managed to go for over a month without a blog entry - that's bad. Real bad.

In the meantime, I'm now 30 (nervous breakdown which included muchos Guitar Hero Drumming, alci-frol and some ruminating over aforementioned manuscript - aforementioned some months ago that is).

Still not disciplined to just get on with it. Wrote 2800 words yesterday though. So, sporadically trying to attack it from various angles - lots of planning still in the offing, so that's good. Only another 16 and a bit chapters to tackle. Keep it bitesized.

Anyhoo, it's been a hell of a week hasn't it, folks? Last Friday's MJ death coincided with the first live Litopia After Dark podcast recording, with Amanda Lees, Donna Ballman, Eve Harvey and yours truly, meeting up with Agent Pete, and his Producer, BBC Director and great sport, Andrew Gillman.

Which was a crazy affair on a very hot day in London where every shop and bar was playing only Michael Jackson music.

In the meantime, LiToon has been going from strength to strength. If you haven't caught it yet, get on over to Litopia.

Today LiToon really went global after Nia Vardalos (Screenwriter and Actress of My Big Fat Greek Wedding) mistakenly commissioned me to write her a script with guns so that she could jump Hollywood's genre niches.

The result will go live on Friday - you can find the link on Twitter :)

In the meantime, check out what Nia says, and particularly what a Hollywood Actress's Twitter can do for you as advertisement. I'm over the moon.



At time of going to press (SIC) clicks were at 51... They're still going up. I'll have to work with Nia again. She was a pro. ;)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Future... Much Like the Past

Largely in response to Solvey's latest post, I'm in a completely different boat with regard to my novel writing (when I get time to do any) - I'm writing at the moment, just to get words on the page - the framework, so to speak.

MG and Solvey have spoken of being involved in the writing... emotionally. Feeling what their characters feel, the sadness of loss, the trauma... and I've got to admit that I'm not feeling any of it.

In fact, I didn't "feel" very much in the ten months of rewrites on those opening chapters. And while Peter seemed to really like them, I fear that I can now jump through the hoops without feeling my way. It's like I'm dead behind the eyes.

As it is, I'm not too worried right now since I just need to get words on the page and keep moving forward. If Christopher Paolini and Cayla Kluver can get pubished before puberty (SIC) then why can't I now that I'm 30 (end of the week - lucky me).

There's no rush, I remind myself, and yet at work I've been rumbled by my boss over the fug I'm in that has permeated my work life, home life and writing life. It's not like one has taken over the other - I told him I've not written anything at work for months (lots of months) - so much as I've given up on everything.

We had a pep talk about my having stagnated and despite doing jobs as soon as they arise and with typical flair and aplomb, I spend much of my time day-dreaming... and people have started talking (bastards - don't they realise they're going to go into my book?)

So, now I'm turning 30, and I've had all of three employers in 12 years of having left school. I don't manage anyone and my IT skillset is largely learnt from the Internet. I don't have any certification beyond my generic HNC, HND, and Degree courses. What future do I have beyond writing? I've cultivated nothing but the belief that I could be in the 0.01% of wannabes who get published.

30, he said, is the new 40. He's retiring next year so sees the light at the end of the tunnel and has long fallen into a fug of his own, but he hates the idea of coming back in 10 years, even 5, and finding me sat at the same desk, doing the same job.

I read my old school report cards a few weeks back which pretty much encapsulated the notion of: intelligent to the fault of being a lazy sod. Had I learnt anything from that I'd be doing my writing and not blogging about not doing my writing.

Oh the irony.

Anyhoo, I feel at times like Anakin Skywalker (sans the intense need to slaughter younglings): I'm not the man I should be.

In other news, did I mention I'm 30 at the end of the week? And a major plot point just fixed itself in my head regarding my manuscript - the essential ingredient I've been searching for (searching as in waiting for it's arrival, not even realising I was doing so).

So I feel partially galvanised.

Will I still be here at 40? Will Atwood?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rambling! The Bane of Pace

This is exactly why Lesbian and Literary fiction never mix! Bring on the finger-frig!You know, this is exactly what I've suffered from all along - and why Lesbian and Literary fiction never mix.

No sooner have I brought my dastardly villain to bear on the damsel than I'm describing the curtains or over-egging the moment with a flourish about who shined the floor.

That's exactly why when I do get around to writing that novel I keep putting off, it's with immediate drive (and I don't recommend you trying this at home kids), and sans description - I hope on the second pass that I can add it in without fluffing it and going back round in a circle.

Anyhoo, some of you may note the name Discordia (tis one of the witches from my novel). Yeah, I know you've not seen a version that mentions her for quite some years. She is still present.

For more literary cartoons, by moi. Check out http://www.litopia.com/litoon.

Friday, May 15, 2009

LiToon - The Spitoon of the Publishing Industry

You knew publishing was a tough nut to crack. So what do the nuts do when the cracking gets rough?

They read LiToon.

Full of juicy, undigested ejectamenta from too many publishers' lunches, LiToon throws up the inside poop and outside phlegm fresh from the remnants of the book business. Expectorate the unexpected.


"For innocent souls wishing to conquer the publishing world in one fell swoop", says JK Rowling, "LiToon is the best possible place to start.*"

So spurn the spissitudes of fate, and remember:

Truth hurts. LiToon hurts more.

(*she didn't actually say this)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Mentalist - The Rote of Police Drama

I never liked Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Miss Marple, Poirot, Inspector Wexford. You can keep your Rebus and your Scarpettas... I just don't do cop shows and and crime fiction.

Why is it then that I am enjoying the Mentalist, have watched Seasons 1 to 3 of The Wire in a couple of weeks, and dip in and out of CSI?

Tis the same reason why we all hang on those other genres (which are layered upon the established groundwork of crime and mysteries): because we like to be surprised, love to try to solve the puzzle, worry about our characters and hope they don't take a hit.

It's just cop dramas are boring (aren't they?). We love sci-fi and fantasy mysteries, from Firefly to Buffy to Battlestar, and high energised shows like 24 and Prison Break, because the hooks keep coming.

Jack Bauer's 24 is a cop drama on a rollercoaster. Bauer must find the badguys... in 60 minutes, or the wheels will fall off his wagon!

So, they're not boring procedurals, are they? This is most apparant while watching CSI and the Mentalist.

Take away CSI's little torches and their "let's recreate the scene" and you've got a boring procedural. Take away the Mentalist's moments of "psychic" ingenuity, and you've got boring procedural. In fact, the Mentalist's non-ingenue moments are really boring.

Don't even get me started on how formulaic it is with him "always" being right.

Anyhoo, take this scene,
In it our hero, Patrick Jane, uses his psychological know-how to flummox the sherrif at Rock-Paper-Scissors. Not only do we see Patrick use his ability, but we get to see how it upsets the sherrif, so much so that his anger is used against him. It's not magic... it's psychology, and without it the Mentalist would be dull-dull-dull.

Just think on what marks your novel out from all the others. What's the high-concept idea about it, that stops it from being procedural? Do you have a Deren Brown character like the Mentalist, whose every action makes you wonder where he's going, or do you have sci-fi technology, weapons and space flight?

Are you using it enough to keep you audience entertained... hooked even?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Dorset and the Jurassic Coast

A week away to gather my thoughts and worry over whether I can carry off a whole novel on one subject (I've done that since my 180,000 word failure that was a psychic adventure back in 99 - 03). Mephisto in 04 didn't even come close to completion.

Anyhoo, it was a mixed bag of sunshine and showers - quite enjoyably mixed as it happens. The Golden Cap Holiday Park, where we stayed is a mere 100 metres from the sea down at Seatown, where you can wander to West and to East along the coastline, by beach or by cliff top.

When the weather is swells, the sea air down there gusts like no other wind, bringing the rush and roar of the sea.

It wasn't all plain sailing however, as Mum took it upon herself to take a dive. We'd crossed from Eype to West Bay, which, for those of you who know the area, requires (via beach) clambering over a ton of boulders to reach the end of the promenade from the West Bay, shimmy over the barrier and look at the sign which reads - no safe route to beach (or something like that).

Which explains, why, when Mum decided against following our "safer" route and whilst using the dog to pull her up the harder inclines, she didn't make it. I turned back when the dog stopped pulling. Mum had leapt onto a boulder, only for her legs to decide that they wouldn't hold her. She looked like a gymnast who'd just landed and was crouched and waiting to gain control. Except Mum wasn't going to gain control of anything.

She wobbled and teetered and finally - and this we watched in complete horror - slipped her legs forward, landed on her rump, and, looking like a teddy bear (you know the ones - immovable, always sitting)...
...she just toppled off sideways in that teddy bear position, as if she'd blown off the rock. She disappeared into a small crevasse.

It was shocking and funny all at the same time, like those awful You've Been Framed programs, where the canned laughter just can't match the home viewer's empathy for the pained victim.

She was shaken, and rightly so. She's on all sorts of meds, had landed on her head, arm, bum, leg... We shipped her off to hospital and walked the dogs home after a quick lunch at West Bay.

Of course, she wasn't the only one to fall foul of the scenery.

Here's my futile attempt at taking a sunrise shot on the first morning. Note the sea rising on the right. Immediately following this photo the sea jumped on me.

I kid you not.

I'd watched it to make sure the highest it would climb, but didn't factor on it's rising not falling. And suddenly I was thinking: "Oh dear, my shoes are going to get wet. I don't want them to get wet, that would suck."

So, I did that thing we all do, again as witnessed on You've Been Framed, I backed away as fast as I could, which, on shingle and up hill, was daft.

"Aw nuts!" I wasn't going to escape the sea and yet I sped up to escape its approach. Which, still up hill and still on shingle, meant only one thing.

As the horizon became vertical and the waves crashed over me (my arm with camera attached, raised like a main mast) I thought only one thing: "Well, this isn't as cold as you'd imagine."

Anyhoo, aside from wetting myself, we did plenty of walking and enjoyed lots of wildlife.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Coming Together

It's been a long hard slog - both the gestation of my slowly evolving writing skills (if I have any - lol) and completing this NAW course.


Tonight I put the finishing touches on my final project, thanks to some handy hints by our friend, Peter the Agent - who else can rely upon a literary agent for writing advise, eh?

And he was brilliantly supportive and praise-giving too - which, as everyone who's a client of his will tell you, is something he doesn't often do (the praise-giving that is, not being brilliantly supportive - Peter is always that, he's just also clear, concise and honest, which means the writers in his stable are always under pressure to write better than they do).

I want to share his wonderful words... most especially because this is the precipice I've been straining to reach, and from up here I can now see the valley of work laid out before me. And it's nice to offset the one-sided angst I've ridden out on this blog.

So, a couple of months ago I pitched an adult fairytale - face to face (now, who else gets to do that with a literary agent), with the following encouraging words (that should also help you, dear reader):
I've had a good think about this - it's extraordinary. It's deeply creative. It feels epic and archetypal.

Enough of the praise - most people know that I hardly ever give any.

My checklist:

Could I sell it (sorry, but I'm an agent...) probably not. Not easy to define the market. Not easy to conceptualize for the inevitable elevator pitch, and therefore, not a calling-card book to announce a new writing talent.

How did I feel after reading it? And by extension, how will publishers?

Impressed certainly, but not sufficiently involved. It's a quality piece of writing and creation, no question, but it lacks the requisite degree of emotional involvement. The kind of ms you get fantastic rejections letters about. "I didn't quite love it enough..." It's not quite connecting down there, viscerally.

Advice / suggestions? I didn't catch your voice here. I'm aware of a brilliantly fertile mind scheming away behind the scenes. I'm not aware of who you are, your passion, your essence. It feels a bit like a writing exercise, something intended to show off your creationary brilliance. Maybe a bit too calculating and cold-blooded. I would willingly trade a lot of that sparkling creativity for some authentic voice and zeal. I suspect a lot of that has been slowly edited away.

I'd focus on developing that, actually. Finding your voice can take time, can't be forced. Can be accelerated by the right project, something you have no choice but to write.

You may have got to the point of diminishing returns on this. What are your priorities as a writer at this moment? Developing this -or developing yourself? The two may not be the same.
Imagine my excitement at such a response.

Anyhoo, as you all know by now, my final project has engaged me in plotting and writing the open to a Young Adult novel which is essentially Noughts and Crosses meets Harry Potter. The pitch to Agent Pete produced this response:

I really like this. Good style & pace, very page-turning. Nicely odd, too.

Only a few minor points, nothing major or structural.

Nicely disturbing! Feels surreal, very engrossing.

Nice Lynchian imagery, very powerful.

Basically, I think it’s great – there’s a maturity, assurance and control about it that impresses me. Your writing has very clearly developed. Congrats, and keep it coming!
Yippee. So, while I thought this project would end here with the final project and I'm to move onto pastures new, it actually has legs.

I've been writing towards this for 12 years now, 6 of those with Litopia holding my hand. Hold in there people, keep reading, keep writing, and keep learning.

If I can get this kind of response, then you can too. It just takes time and commitment. Anyone fancy a drink to celebrate?

PS: My big-big thanks to Peter for everything he's done to make Litopia such a supportive environment, and for giving me all these chances.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Scribd is a No Show - CEO Trip does a Bunk

Last night's Litopia After Dark tackled the big issues of Scribd's blatant book thefts. Having thrown down the gauntlet to Scribd CEO Trip Adler (a wee 26 year old), Litopia attempted to call Trip for the live show, but he was too busy cowering at the other side of his office, listening to the trill of his desk phone, hoping it would all go away.

The podcast went ahead on the subject and we really beat out the problem, searched for more illicit stuffs saved on Scribd's site, and still had no counter argument... there just isn't one.

Scribd has the opportunity to pick up the publishing industry's dropped mantle, but at the moment they're too busy making their money and pursuing their God-given right to the American Dream.

Intellectual Property can kiss their ass - I guess.

The issue isn't going away and what Scribd doesn't yet understand is that unlike the Pirate Bay, Scribd is hosting the illegal content. They're culpable.

Ooh-er! Watch and listen to Litopia as this story continues to turn its pages.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Evaluating Masterclasses - Part 2

Ken Follet’s talk on the history and development of the paperback thriller was a step beyond those of his contemporaries, providing nuggets of sound advice (namely, the ramping up of suspense or the change in the course of the story every 4 to 6 pages). However, the presentation was little more than a documentary. Even the Q&A session didn’t allow much of a two-way discussion. It was interesting and the ground work covered was clearly a “need to know” for those following in the footsteps of previous thriller writers, but it might better serve the general public as a one hour television programme.

Ken’s talk fell into the category of informative rhetoric, a category shared by the two agents (Ben Mason and Luigi Bonomi). Their formidable knowledge of the business and their statistical facts about professional publication were as brutally honest as Jim Crace. They shared advice that may be plucked from the pages of the Writers Handbook or the Writers and Artists Yearbook and discussed the steps from writing to publication. Guidance that, while essential to all new writers, I found had little significance to me at the time; having the good fortune to know a literary agent (who has answered all my questions) and currently being in no position to approach an agent, let alone publication.

Yet, they were of more immediate use to me as a writer (who would be looking for representation) than Robert Ronsson’s practical applicator masterclass on self publishing and how best to promote and market oneself. I don’t intend to self publish. So, while this talk was invaluable and its field of reference deep (information a writer looking to self publish wouldn’t find elsewhere), it was of far less importance to me.

Another practical applicator, Ann Lingard’s presentation on research, covered the collaborations between authors and the science community. It raised interesting points about the usefulness of SciTalk (her online project) and the importance and relevance of research to a manuscript as a whole. She explained that research should be used to enhance the world of one’s story not stultify it with detail. She discussed the creation of characters with a science background: they are human beings with human needs. The plot doesn’t have to revolve entirely or at all around their role. “A story about an accountant,” she says, “doesn’t have to be about accountancy”.

Ken Follet, too, discussed the level of research he has carried out for each of his books and how that provided an extra element for a readership to hang on: readers love to think they are learning something. However, his talk didn’t provide the moment of epiphany generated by Ann’s, which demonstrated how research can help us learn things about the characters. Where and how the character works can be a great way to show the character to the reader, providing the writer with many more scenes in which to develop their characters or themes – veritable gold dust.

By contrast, the hands on, tear-it-apart and look inside it, classes provided by James Roose-Evans (on playwrights) and Linda Thompson (breaking down a BBC script for ‘Casualty’) spent as much time on practical discussions as they did on anecdotes. These practical applicators could be argued as being limited in their appeal to one such as myself: not wishing to write for stage or television. But, that is to ignore the accessibility and opportunity presented by all the masterclasses, as I have mentioned above: ideas are transferable; media feed into each another.

When Linda spoke of ‘Casualty’ having one main plot and two sub plots, and that the themes of each mirror the others to create cohesion and synchronicity, her words were just as important when considering the use of subplots in a novel (mirroring subplots, in my opinion, not being essential though they do lend weight to an argument). And, when James suggested a playwright needs to know everything about his characters, not just from a background point-of-view, but also where they were before the current scene, and where they will be afterwards, he provided us novelists with insight: we have a vast number of considerations that may not reach the page but do provide depth (not just for the characters but for the scene and location).

Rather than having little regard for the messages and words of wisdom shared in some of the masterclasses, I understand that the presented knowledge feeds into each other. I’ve catalogued the discussions and will return to them when they become relevant to me.

That said, by far my most useful and informative masterclass has been the skills implementation of Jim Crace’s prose stripping. Hands-on writing-driven teaching holds, for me, the most essential learning elements. With Jim’s deep and extensive look at the inner workings of sentences, word choice and structural design, the relevance of his cynicism and realism from back in the January finally made sense. By getting the students to reconsider the way they critique and write, and their choice of words in any given sentence and then to apply that, he freed our understanding of the craft of writing in a way that the other masterclasses didn’t.

Skills implementation highlights something I have come to appreciate with regard to many of the questions I, and others, have posed to the agent I know. We cannot waste our time on decoration when the structure needs work. Neither my work nor my ability is yet ready for publication and I need to focus my attention there.

A masterclass’s effectiveness is dependent upon the mindset of individual students. Their variations of style are as important as what is said or shown on a slide. A set of stilted, classroom led lessons poring over cold hard facts and “how it has all been done before” does little to garner audience participation or memory after the event. Acting during James Roose-Evan’s playwright discussion, and stripping sentences of another student’s work with Jim Crace have stayed with me. And, while the practicalities and usefulness of each masterclass greatly differ, they each have their purpose and their place. Not just in instruction but in awareness and the suggestibility of how to open doors.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Evaluating Masterclasses - Part 1

This is the second essay from my NAW Professional Development Portfolio. Comprised of two parts, it is my personal view of the masterclasses I have attended - which means it is not a reflection of the quality or content but my perception of how useful those masterclasses have been to me and my learning:

-------------------------------------

The masterclasses have covered a wide range of discussions and skillsets. But, I have found that many aspects of these discussions have been rhetorical, anecdotal, or statistical in nature. Only a few have had practical analysis.

A second issue hinges on the timeliness of a masterclass and where the student is (in their own head). A student involved with reassessing their style or troubled by how exactly they should weight the pace of their narrative is not going to find a talk on the current trends and necessities of submissions to agents of any relevance – which does not diminish the quality of the talk itself. It does mean that areas of perceived irrelevance may lead to the listener overlooking an important message about core skills. Furthermore, much of what has been said that was not of a statistical and set-in-stone nature may be thought of as a one-off or very personal situation for the speaker.

The masterclasses I’ve observed may be categorised into one of the following types:

  • Anecodotal inconsequence (this is how I did it)
  • Informative rhetoric (this is how it is)
  • Practical applicator (this is how you can do it)
  • Skills implementation (try this for yourself)

However, there is always a message of some significance in every masterclass. While the categorisations above don’t necessarily make one more important than another, I have ordered the categories, as I perceive them, from least to most effective. The practical applicator and skills implementation types are more applicable to my current needs and mindset, which are: choosing scenes for their appropriateness and relevance to a story and maintaining brevity by avoiding irrelevant description that does not further the action or narrative.

Talks and classes falling into the category of anecdotal inconsequence may enthuse one listener but bore another. Their topics and situations are not directly replicated by, or transferable to, the circumstances of the students – but are unique to the speaker and their subject.

Barry Turner was one such speaker, whose positive and affirming discussion opened our course in January 2007. The encouraging tale he told of his own introduction to media and onwards into writing was interesting but indicative of the time at which he started out – the launch of television and radio. It had little or no significance other than anecdotally. Again, this by no means diminishes what Barry had to say for his “carpe diem” boldness really excited the students.

The next masterclass was the polar opposite of Barry’s. Jim Crace talked us cautiously through our intended directions and interests and mulled over the difficulties of our labours of love. His was a very sobering discussion, making it clear that we needed to be the passionate ones about our work, that we aren’t guaranteed success, and that some people may have the inclination to write, but not the ability. It ended somewhat bluntly with his admission that he would, in two books time, stop writing altogether! What were we to make of this? Do writers have a self imposed shelf life, only so much in themselves to lend to paper?

The different stances of these two speakers seemed to say far more about their outlook on life, their journey to publication, and successes or setbacks than they did about the audience’s own future endeavours. In Jim’s case this had a greater sense of realism given his interest in the education of new writers. Whatever their positions, cynical realism or intrepid optimism, perhaps both messages were affirming and bookend every masterclass and lesson that followed: encouragement to strive for what we want to achieve matched alongside (not against) our egos stripped of all naivety. That this may be a good thing does not necessarily mean they were of any proactive assistance to the studying writer.

Working for a library service I have attended several author events and talks (Tracey Chevalier, Jodi Picoult, Salley Vickers, Colin Dexter, Lionel Shriver, Freya North, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, Ann Widdecombe). All were pitched at a readership level, with interests in the writers’ origins and the concoction of characters and plot. The anecdotal inconsequence never focused any deeper than biography or research, i.e. never touching on the elements that comprise a certain paragraph: on changing subjects, using a metaphor to infer a character’s point of view, or relating a memory that provides synchronicity to the unfolding scene.

The anecdotal inconsequence of Catherine O’Flynn’s masterclass was symptomatic of those other writers. She has an innate ability to write without consideration for how she does it. She has a set routine that she maintains but she doesn’t appear to worry over the disparate skills necessary to juggle the creation of a story. As with the other writers her talk never entered into deep discussions on the complexities of maintaining reader interest, while levelling their narrative for clarity, pace, action and dialogue.

The masterclasses have covered a number of subjects, from self publishing to the expectations of an agent to the operations of the Times Newspaper. We have been handed the broad canvas of the industry’s workings as well as views of the many doorways that might provide access. However, I am reminded that, short of being a celebrity, the only thing that truly sells a manuscript to an agent or publisher is the manuscript, and thereby the talent of the writer – everything else is decoration. In my particular case – a single-minded view to becoming a novelist – the decoration, aside from being informative, is irrelevant. Counter to this is the argument that these masterclasses are meant to refocus my attention and reinforce the lesson that Jim, in particular, went to great lengths to explain: no-one can do it but me.

Though, again, that is not to diminish the masterclasses, since all the speakers that have taken the time to prepare and discuss their subjects with us have been supportive and they have been open to students contacting them at a later date.

Litopia After Dark Live With Trip Adler of Scribd


Tomorrow night (Friday 3 April) Trip Adler, one of the figures behind Scribd.com, "the YouTube for books, magazines and documents" that has this week found itself in the headlines accused of copyright infringement will speak live to writers from Litopia.

"We are delighted that Trip has accepted our invitation," says Litopia's Peter Cox. "Maybe he'll be able to reassure us that Scribd isn't 'Copyright Theft Central'. Maybe he'll be able to convince us that his website isn't getting rich by allowing its members to steal from writers' livelihoods. Whatever happens, we respect Trip's integrity in choosing to defend his company in this way, and I will guarantee him a very fair and polite hearing."

The debate will take place as part of the regular Friday broadcast of LITOPIA AFTER DARK. Broadcasting begins at 7:30pm London, and the show starts at 8pm London, 3pm EDT, 12 noon PDT. Guests on the show beside Adler, include Martyn Daniels, Vice-President of Value Chain International, and Redhammer clients Donna Ballman, a US attorney, and Dave Bartam.

Please help spread the word about this important event to other writers
- the chat room will be open for everyone's participation.

Click here to go to the Litopia UStream page where the broadcast can be
viewed:

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/litopia-after-dark

Late-breaking news will be served on Litopia's home page.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Julie Cohen - Masterclass in Character Development

Actually, this took place a couple of Fridays ago, and I'm only just getting on with the write up now - boy am I out of sorts.


Anyhoo, we here at Bracknell Library had the author Julie Cohen over for a bit of a conflab and spin through how she creates characters.

But first:

Julie is an American living in Reading and started out writing three books for Mills and Boon. As we all know, that's a very specific writing format to fit into, so good on her. Now she's written 9 of them and 4 (of what I'd call) proper books.

She's clearly set on her road of romantic novel writing (more specifically quirky-chick-lit) fairly well, but what does she have to impart to the unpublished author?

Well, she took us on a whirlwind tour of methods for creating characters - you know, fully-fledged, rounded, conflicted, interesting - that sort of character.

We covered eight ways (some longer than others), but first we had two postits and a coin. So, Julie went round the table handing out two alphabet letters per person, which took two loops. We each wrote down the two letters we'd been allocated on one postit and handed that to the person on our right.

Next we came up with a number between 1 and 100, wrote it on the second postit and passed that to our left.

Finally, we tossed the coin and chose our character's sex: heads for female, tails for male and if it landed on a body part or akilter, that meant a robot or asexual or something odd.

Which gave me D. R. A 73 yearold female.

Bear with me, this is just the setup.

I chose to call my character Deane Robards

1. The Basic Description

For this part we were asked to describe our character in anyway we pleased, as long as we used the words extraordinary and yellow. (The words are a way of getting your imagination working - they don't have to be included and they don't have to be extraordinary or yellow).

Deanne sits in an upright chair, keeping her back straight to fight the spasms - a result of her circus days. She has drawn on eyebrows and must constantly wipe her brow to stop sweat stinging her yellowed eyes. She sits quietly for the most part, on the porch of her terraced home, seemingly asleep to the world. But she never sleeps. Not even when it is time to do so. She sits on her porch, still and silent, and seemingly dead, but for an extraordinary ability to greet every passerby long before her ears should have registered their approach.
2. Showing

In this exercise we were asked to walk our characters into a room and get them to pick up an object (of our choosing).
Deane pushed the door open with her cane, let it swing wide and surveyed the bedroom. Everything was still. Everything was as it had been the day she found Bill. She stared at the bed covers, thrown aside by the paramedics and tried to imagine Bill as he had been, asleep, not dead. She couldn't do it. The dresser opposite was still a clutter of creams and curlers, the vanity mirror still tipped back against the wall so that shafts of light lined the ceiling. And her glasses... It was useless to try and see them from outside. The curtains were closed and she had no choice but to go in. She took it slow. Short hobbling steps. The cane used to be a big help, but these days the pains in her legs made it almost too difficult to walk. But she kept going, trying not to look back at the bed again and finally at the dresser she stopped and peered down. Had to push aside some of the mess with the cane. And there they were. She plucked them off the dresser and clutched them to her chest as she turned back to the door, avoiding the sight of the bed. From this angle, she remembered, it looked like an empty cadaver on a mortuary slab.
As you can see I was more interested in getting the character in there than picking up the object - boy does my mind wander - and I had to finish the exercise while Julie talked about the next one.

3. Symbolism

We were asked to consider the importance (emotionally) of our objects.

In my case, the glasses were needed so that Deanne could see if she'd won the lottery - her home was remortgaged to help her kids out (and they've deserted with her money), but she can't stay in the place where she found Bill dead. She needs to win the lottery so that she can pay off her debts and move out.

4. Setting

Obviously, this is about describing the place where the character lives... or rather, locates themselves.
5. Conflict

What does the character want more than anything? This is answered in the Symbolism. And what stands in their way? In this case, Deanne not having her glasses... and then not winning the lottery.

6. Good Quality Versus Worst Quality

Two qualities in a person create conflict.

I.e. A very generous person either: i) puts others first always, or ii) always wants something in return.

i) This leads to the character playing second fiddle to others and never getting what they want, or exhausted because they never have any "me time".
ii) This leads to a need in the character. An expectation that others will always play their part.

The good and bad quality are intrinsically linked helping to round out your character. The character must change the good part of their nature in order to remove/make better the bad part.

Check out Julie's little chart on this:


7. Voice

Obviously, this is about dialogue or writing in the first person. Getting a sense of the character, the way their mind works, colloquialisms, etc

8. Other ways
  • Put character in a place they don't belong
  • Meet a character with different goals
  • Meet a character with same goals but different methods
  • Give them an impossible task
  • They make a horrible mistake
  • They're forced to confront their past
  • They lose everything
  • They win something they don't want
  • They get unexpected/unwanted fame
The interesting thing about Julie is that whatever she writes as she gets a sense of character, she throws out once she starts writing the book, and never refers to her notes again.

I guess she writes fast enough so that it doesn't exit her frontal lobe before she's done.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Litopia vs Scribd

Hey hey - Litopia has finally made it into the mainstream news with The Times reporting on a forum discussion and podcast on the evils of Scribd.

You can read it here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

DESCENDANT ARG - The Climax


If you've been following the Descendant ARG (part of the Joshua Files series), then you should know that today... in a few minutes, the final run begins, with Gabi desperate to get across Mexico in time to reach her missing aunt before 7:30am and before Runig's men capture her.

I think this is it! The culmination of Gabi's month long investigation into her father's murder.

Can you help her get to her aunt in one piece?

DO IT NOW!

Only YOU can save her!

http://geekgrrlgabi.com

If you've missed the trauma of her adventure, go back to the start and learn her story. These links should help you:

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

MG Harris launches Ice Shock



It all begins with a talk and a Joshua Files cake - yumm, let's hope it ends in a similar fashion too. It was a great night that no wannabe writer should ever pass up: the chance to attend a book publication event. There's always the agent, the editor and the publicity specialist, and they all have lots of juicy info about the publishing business.

Really enjoyed myself, MG. Thanks for the E-vite.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Ice Shock and The Descendant (The ARG has begun)

By now you should all have got out there and bought your copy of MG Harris's Ice Shock, the latest installment in the Joshua Files series. It's now available in all good bookshops, and a host of nefarious online stores.

I had the pleasure of reading Ice Shock before Christmas and it rocks along just as swiftly, just as excitingly, as the previous episode. Check out this quick review.

And once you've got your copy, and set to deciphering the clues in the book, you need to get on and register yourself at themgharris.com and start investigating The Descendant - The Joshua Files's ARG - The Descendant - that has been rolling now for a couple of days - something big is about to happen... about to shake young Gabi Beltran's world to the ground.

Check out the video... if you can discover the password (clue: you'll find it amongst those links)

And don't forget this video... the Ice Shock video - everything is connected.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Emotional Topography - Part 3

So, finally, lets have a look at version 12 (I kid you not - and this is just for 2009) of my opening chapter to my final project. In the light of Wolf Brother and Invisible City, I imagine that my chapter is going to rush sloth like from branch to branch, stopping to admire fruit here and there.

Curse of the Library - Page 1
  • Confusion, overridden by...
  • Horror of expectation
  • Uneasiness but inner defiance
Curse of the Library - Page 2
  • Irony and nerves
  • Anxious and rationalised will
  • Irritation
  • Fear
Curse of the Library - Page 3
  • Labelling himself an idiot
  • Replay what he should have done
  • Too much noise to think
  • Trapped and doomed
  • False composure, will to run away
  • Fear of knife and wariness of antagonist
Curse of the Library - Page 4
  • Overcome fear
  • Sickness and ache of longing
  • Determination
  • Tense, dread
  • Realisation and self blame
  • Action - to escape
  • Strain
Curse of the Library - Page 5
  • Physical pain
  • Tears
  • Horror and fear
  • Sickness
Curse of the Library - Page 6
  • Realisation of worse to come
  • No escape
  • Ridicule but keeping spirits up
  • Fight the flight and think
  • Nausea and tiredness
  • Cold
Curse of the Library - Page 7
  • Pain and lethargy
  • Give up
  • Defiance and avoidance
  • The truth hurts
  • Be angry
Curse of the Library - Page 8
  • Fear of death
  • Tired defiance
  • Indifference to own plight
  • Nausea and resignation

Hmm, I didn't imagine that I'd have so much myself!

Can I make one thing clear - good use of emotionality doesn't make a good story (certainly, I might not even be evoking the emotions properly). MG Harris and Michelle Paver both weave very different narratives, but they're going places and dealing with issues - I fear mine is a very static piece by comparison and my wife said of the iteration before this one that she could clearly see the antagonist character but not the protagonist.

That's it darling! Identify with the badguy, why don't you.

How do I like them apples?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Emotional Topographies - Part 2

Looking now at the emotionality of MG Harris's Invisible City

Invisible City - Page 1
  • Troubled - too many thoughts
  • Alone and with dark thoughts
Invisible City - Page 2
  • Foreshadowing through being unaware
  • Joyful past time interrupted
  • Slow realisation of reveal
  • Mounting tension
Invisible City - Page 3
  • False emotion of others and avoidance
  • Dread and thoughts of the worst kind
  • Momentary denial
  • Tactile dislocation from emotion
  • Emotional dislocation from tactile - horror and anger
Invisible City - Page 4
  • Body takes over where the mind can't comprehend
  • Avoid restraint of physical contact and unleash aggression
  • Sickness and horror
  • Submit to physical contact and thoughts of reversal
  • Tears
  • Kernel of denial, something to clutch at
Invisible City - Page 5
  • Searching for the silver lining, the logical truth
  • Sadness in the face of reality
  • True horror - the body shock
Invisible City - Page 6
  • Emotional shut down
  • Mechanical reactions
  • Playing over the scenes
  • Placing blame and unable to absorb anything
  • Taking responsibility
Invisible City - Page 7
  • Looking for the chance of optimism
  • How he should be reacting and how he is reacting
The remainder of the chapter enters into blog posts that cover a reanalysis of what must have happened in the plane crash, but we've got all we need from those first seven pages. Another opening jammed with emotionality.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Emotional Topographies - Part 1

It's been suggested that as my mind has a tendency to jump from one act to another like a gazelle fleeing a cheetah, and since that doesn't bode well for the emotionality and reader hooking, I should look at the emotional topography of other writers' first chapters and see what they're doing.

So, let's do that by starting with an old fave of ours - Michelle Paver's Wolf Brother - but before we do so, let's pay attention to the fact the story opens in third-person-limited to Torak's pov. So the emotional topography relates to him:

Wolf Brother - Page 1
  • Tense fear at waking
  • Empty, afraid but loyal to his father
  • Why us?
Wolf Brother - Page 2
  • Horror at the abnormal bear, on edge, it could be anywhere
  • Sad desperation about his father
  • Distracted by his fear and shaking, then sick
  • Out of his depth, the world on its head
  • Attempt to be an adult by fighting his fear
Wolf Brother - Page 3
  • Attempt to be an adult by fighting his fear
  • Confronting the imminent death of his father and denying it
  • Choosing physical pain to take away the inner
  • Fear of surviving alone
  • Forced against his will to leave
Wolf Brother - Page 4
  • Shock at his father's request to swap knives
  • Ignore the imminent death
  • Tense surprise at movement in the forest
  • Expectation that the bear returns
  • Avoid the goodbye - he can't deal with it
  • Fight the fear and sadness
  • Breakdown
Wolf Brother - Page 5
  • Holding his breath
  • Supernatural fear
  • The hush
  • Disbelief
Wolf Brother - Page 6
  • Denial and misunderstanding
  • Feeling the burden
  • Unexpected reveal
  • Holding on to the last moments
  • Afraid but doing what is asked of him
Wolf Brother - Page 7
  • Bitter sadness and resignation
  • Acting on impulse alone
  • Another denial
  • Care over the final rites
  • Overwhelming sadness at meeting death head on
  • A final denial
Wolf Brother - Page 8
  • Keeping from tears
  • An attempt at smiling
  • Horror at spotting the pawprint, searching for the cause
  • Jumpy
Wolf Brother - Page 9
  • Realisation of his precarious position
  • Trying to hold it together
  • Keeping quiet to save himself
  • Labelling himself a coward
  • Rationalisation
  • Denouement - fight or flight - he stalls
  • The height of fear and fleeing
I'd like to note the word SHIT at this juncture. Not Ms Paver's writing, but at just how much emotional movement she packs into 9 pages. Dare I look at my own?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Critically Reviewing 3 How-To Write Books

So there we have it, you can now access my full essay on Critically Reviewing 3 How-To Write Books:
I hope it gets you thinking ;)

Critically Reviewing 3 How-To Write Books (Part 3)

Technique isn’t beyond the intelligence of any writer. It requires awareness and an ability to absorb the skills employed by others. Burroway’s teaching textbook is, in contrast to the previous two guides, more akin to an academic set-text and far better as an example of good pedagogy. It provides readers with literary explorations otherwise to be found in Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer.

Burroway’s formal style is more accessible than Wall. She expands her reach with quotations and a multitude of examples to substantiate her meaning and strengthen reader comprehension. Technicalities over the mechanics of prose style and rhythm are as clear as her delineation of point-of-view (A preface informs both instructors and students separately, establishing the book as serious and, perhaps, more responsible than either Frey or Wall).

Layering her textbook with literary technique and structural tools, Burroway breaks elements down into modes, i.e. iterations of dialogue, methods for presenting characters, symbology of setting and theme. By naming and working methodically through the tools, Burroway enthuses and educates in a way that Wall and Frey fail to do. No subject is approached solely on its own terms. They are layered with instructions to the reader: how to match the scene to action and theme, emphasising setting with the views of the point-of-view character, evoking atmosphere (given the emotion, mental state of the point-of-view character, directing the reader to a particular feeling). Doubling-up in this way bolsters the reader’s knowledge and perception of what is possible.

Burroway’s examples are never restricted to a specific genre or style. In providing always at least two examples for each subject she highlights more than one way of achieving the same goal. This prevents readers from taking a “defacto” view and rigidly adhering to one writer’s voice or style. But, Burroway takes her examples a step further by including two short stories at the end of each chapter to stress her topics, in a prolonged capacity. As with the depth covered in the Fiction module on the varied short stories covered, I found I had a fuller understanding of Burroway’ techniques. Use of examples worked to strengthen chapter learning, and this is the best use of pedagogy, to show and tell.

The exercises are where the book comes into its own. As a classroom textbook, exercises engage reader involvement. Never numbering less than six, they are separated into individual or collaborative tasks and have real consideration for the chapter’s aims and the reader’s needs. As per the Fiction module they have justification and direction and the reader clearly understands the outcomes. They are multi-faceted so as to respond to the initial task, but allow readers to consider their choices. As the book continues, the exercises draw upon the reader’s prior learning, interlacing and developing their ability to write multi-faceted narratives. This too, pedagogically, helps to create a linked structure of learning.

Of the three, Wall’s book is of least relevance and is least pedagogically effective. Its topics are covered in greater detail and with more interest in both Burroway and Frey’s. Its documentary format portrays anecdotes similar to the rhetoric of some of the masterclasses but it fails to support or develop the reader. Frey’s covers essential elements of crafting that both Wall and Burroway don’t attempt, but Frey alone will not create great writers. His philosophy for teaching is far too single-minded to support a reader’s learning needs. Burroway’s, however, is nigh on essential to any writer perfecting their craft. As with the Reading into Writing and Fiction modules, its assessment of varying styles, techniques, and exercises is the only way for a writer to advance.

That there are still further areas of crafting, concepts and techniques not covered: building tension, foreshadowing, managing pace, introducing exposition, writing exposition, evoking reader emotion, logically guiding a reader without confusing them; suggests only that a reader must read as widely in literature as possible.

Burroway’s use of chapter instruction, followed by examples, then exercises, best mirrors the pedagogy of the classes I have attended. Not only does the repetition of the information reinforce a reader’s learning, but the varied approach helps the reader consolidate the techniques. This is the most important aspect of the pedagogy, to ensure that afterwards, the student/reader retains the information they’ve been taught.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Critically reviewing 3 How-To Write Books (Part 2)

Wall’s book is concise and focused, eschewing straight “how-to” lore in favour of accompanying the reader on a journey through established texts (From Flaubert and Swift to Atwood and Moorcock). It deals in concepts and is designed almost like an “Idiots Guide to…” Documentary-like discussions make up the brunt of the work, utilising information-bubbles to develop a specific point to a deeper level (like footnotes) or to suggest exercises.

Examples are literary based, but, extracts or quotations are rarely used. This is Wall’s greatest failing. Other books provide extracts to better express theory behind explanations but Wall labours on abstracts by discussing notions instead of showing concrete examples. It’s here where Wall is most contradictory: a short book designed with bite-sized info-dumps meant to be easily accessible, but with heavy concepts and extremely literary examples that lack appropriate quoted-detail.

Furthermore, short chapters on Irony, Humour, and Themes feel rushed and shoe-horned in, lacking in impact or development. Their importance is established by their range but, like any overview, I felt as if I were being made aware of concepts without being shown the appropriate techniques to apply them myself. A subsection rushes through character archetypes that Christopher Vogler spends an entire book discussing in The Writer’s Journey. This highlights Wall’s greatest failing, by attempting to cover too many subjects too abstractly. From a pedagogical viewpoint the reader is being rushed through too many disparate topics, without an opportunity to secure their understandings.

Wall hasn’t aimed his work at the new writer. He requires ability and self-motivation that even I lacked while reading. I was put off by most of the exercises:
“Make up ten modern-day insults you could use in a work of fiction”
“Describe your hand”
“Consider the following opening sentences and the way they convey information…”
Examples provided by better guides translate into reader understanding that Wall fails to convey. Good pedagogy investigates a specific topic, detailing points, examples and follows up with exercises. They don’t appear alongside theory in mid-chapter. Readers wish to complete a chapter before attempting exercises, but here they feel disinterested in revisiting.

Very much like the Reading into Writing module, Wall requires a certain ability and mental capacity from his reader. Reading into Writing benefited from the class’s ability to throw ideas around, highlighting what they learned from chosen set-texts. Wall’s refusal to do this means the reader must do the hard work themselves (if they come to the right conclusions).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Critically reviewing 3 How-To Write Books (Part 1)

Those of you who know me, may be aware that I've been doing a course in writing - whoop-de-doo. My most recently completed module has been in my own professional development (a very important aspect, I'm sure you agree). Anyhoo, now that it's done, and hopefully marked, and in the interest of continuing to provide content for my blog, I thought I should share some of my essays - maybe they'll give you writers something to think about. Maybe I'm just gassing.

You should agree that this essay highlights the need for a writer to read widely (and not just fiction).

Anyhoo, what follows, is the first part in my essay on critically reviewing 3 different How-To Write books - and please, if you disagree, keep it to yourself (kidding - let's discuss):

--------------------------------------

My understanding of teaching creative writing results in the use of three categories (which encapsulate literary tools):
  • Crafting
  • Concepts
  • Techniques
Both classes and textbooks shift between these categories to varying extents. Those that assist students/writers by covering multiple examples and using a number of different exercise techniques are clearly better facilitators for pedagogy. However, a writer wishing to learn more about writing needs to rely upon more than one textbook in order to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the subject, because I don’t feel that any of them cover enough areas of creative writing’s broad canvas.

I selected the following textbooks because they varied in styles and I hadn’t read them:
  • How To Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey
    (A step-by-step no nonsense guide to dramatic storytelling). New York: St Martin’s Press, 1987.
  • Need to know? Writing Fiction by Alan Wall
    (The best guide for anyone with ideas). London: HarperCollins, 2007.
  • Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway
    (A Guide to Narrative Craft). US: Pearson Longman, 2007.
Frey’s introduction to the art of writing falls largely into crafting, but touches upon concepts. With a pulpy feel that never strays beyond his remit of creating characters, developing a premise and telling the story, Frey expresses his topics candidly and I grasped them easily. However, they lack depth and exploration, i.e. discussing the basic psychology of character, Frey never fully realises a character’s development mid-novel (such as epiphany/evolution). He briefly examines concepts of point-of-view, voice, and dialogue but fails to use established literary examples and, as topics, they feel tacked on at the end. From a pedagogical standpoint this tells me rather than guides me through the process.

Mostly, Frey’s approach ticks boxes with effective and accessible examples from established fictional works, i.e. analysing rising conflict using A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is first confronted by a ghost. He also generates his own examples to maintain consistency in the crafting process – create character, put them in conflict, wrap in a plot, beat the story out to a climax. I found this focus valuable in applying Frey’s advice to my own writing.

Frey restricts himself with brief quotations from the majority of his examples, favouring A Christmas Carol and his own examples. These become monochromatical. I’d have benefited, as I did in the Fiction module, from multiple sources - greater learning is stimulated by casting a wider net. In the Fiction module we assessed two very different short stories, discussing how their content, style and technique varied. Frey avoids detailing how his chosen examples and their authors may differ in their approaches.

Frey’s written the opening to a full “narrative craft” textbook. He touches upon the structural subjects of rising tension and beats that are the mainstay of (and better discussed by) Robert McKee in his technical manual Story. He covers, too, elements that were discussed in the Screenwriting module, but, again, doesn’t meet the same level of depth. Finally, there are no exercises to stretch the reader beyond the methods presented by Frey’s topics, which the reader must extract and copy themselves.

The value of Frey’s book is important for the complete beginner, but it offers no unique advice. Besides lacking topics on scenery, evoking atmosphere or creating groundbreaking imagery from literary techniques it fails in a pedagogical sense to engage the reader to try things out for themselves.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Show don't Tell! Damn it!

Recently I got very angry. Very angry indeed - that's me telling you how upset I am at this. Alternatively, I could just throw into a rant... ahem:

I cannot believe that they just sit there ripping it out of my work as if no one else does it... gets away with - nay gets published committing it! It's how I write, damn it! How I write! Don't they see that real authors do it all the time? Don't they see that editors let this sort of thing stick because it expands the narrative's world... gives the back story? Heathens!

I'm not really angry - okay, a tell again - certainly not a those plucky individuals who'd been good enough to crit my recent return to my final project. I did feel naffed off that I can't just write the way I want to, the way established authors do - I tell you, they have a lot to answer for, with their five pages here and there of unbridled backstory that stops everything dead - it rubs off on us non-published folk and messes with our heads.

Take, for example, James Herbert's Once... it opens with a car crash. Succinct and crashy and then we're trawling through the countryside with protagonist Thom almost 20 pages as we're brought up to speed on everything that's come before.

Same with The Testament of Gideon Mack by... so-and-so. Big, long, winding tell to frame the story.

Sigh! The problem is that I'm not reading the type of book I'm writing (YA and teen) and so that's messing with my head.

Fortunately everything's salvageable and I'm learning to prune.

So, that's where I am - a happier, more aware place, thanks to my critiques. Thanks guys.

Monday, February 16, 2009

New Thriller Author - Matt Hilton

Here's a shout out to new thriller writer, Matt Hilton, who was signed to LBA last year and agent, Luigi Bonomi.

An informative interview with Matt's arrival (per se) can be read on Col Bury's New Crime Fiction blog.

I find it's always useful to read this stuff as it reminds you how long it takes from getting an agent to publication - often longer dependent upon the state of the manuscript. It also helps you think about how many new authors are in Matt's situation as we wade into our recession, and wonder what could happen to some as publishing houses cut themselves to shreds as they attempt to survive!

Good luck, Matt!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Joshua Files - ARG, coming in March 2009

I'm out of it for a little while and things start to happen... like lots of snow and lots more books in print.

Sheesh!

Anyhoo, I've been backpeddling through other blogs on a catch up mission and come across our MG, saying none other than:

I’ve also been working on the ARG (Alternate Reality Game).

I forget - have we said what it’s going to be called yet?

Nope, I don’t believe we have. Well, it’s called THE DESCENDANT, which is the title of the techno-thriller novel I wrote back in 2005, before INVISIBLE CITY. It’s from this manuscript that the backstory of Joshua Files is drawn, as well as the ARG. I originally conceived a sequel, which was to be entitled THE FIFTH CODEX.

But then it struck me that the hero of THE FIFTH CODEX could be a youngster. And from that, I had the idea to write for children. (That and a reluctant-reader teenage daughter who I longed to see reading…)

At the beginning of THE DESCENDANT two DNA scientists meet to swap secret biological samples. One scientist is murdered and the other goes on the run. Is he the killer? Or is he running from the killer? The story moves from Mexico to Europe and then to Iraq, where a mysterious underground chamber hides an ancient secret about human civilisation.

For the ARG, we introduced a new character, Gabi - the teenage daughter of the murdered scientist. Her father has been killed - but why? And by whom? Like Josh she’s all alone…stressed out…can’t believe what she’s hearing about her father…and increasingly close to danger. And since her Dad was Josh’s godfather, Gabi turns to her old friend in Oxford for help.

Josh is ready and happy to help…but it won’t be long before his life is taken over by the dramatic events at the beginning of ICE SHOCK.

When we launch THE DESCENDANT ARG you’ll be able to watch as Gabi’s story unfolds. Who’ll solve the mystery first - you or Gabi? And will Gabi survive to tell the tale? In a real-time interactive finale you’ll be able to watch and assist as Gabi goes on a midnight run - with her life at stake.


Say it with me... Oooh!

And:

Just finished closing down the beta run of The Descendant ARG. Phew, what a month. All put to bed now, until March!


I enjoyed both books (yes, I've been lucky to read the second novel, Ice Shock, due out in March... to coincide with the ARG, no less) and am looking forward to getting on with the ARG. I think it's going to be something big, considering my joy at scrounging the net for the LOST ARG. I just love getting the background information on existing story worlds, because they always have titbits that expand the existing story.

Check out http://www.joshuafiles.co.uk/ and www.themgharris.com for updates.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Controlling the Narrative - ***Adult content Warning ***

First and foremost, here's a warning about adult content! Don't go deeper if you don't want to!


There are two ways of writing a narrative!

Bold statement indeed. Please follow...

In the first, the writer is not holding anything back. And I don't mean they're avoiding maintaining suspense. I mean, their story is unfolding with a clearly established scene involving a couple of characters who are immediately set in the reader's mind, and whose dialogue / action is clearly visualised and understood.

Now then, there is a second way of writing... and is favoured by some brave souls when opening a story. An opening such as mine - one in which I am attempting to deliver myself whilst being brave but possibly without the nous to pull it off.

This second way involves the development of a feeling of senses or style rather than immediate understanding. It's meant to bring along the narrative but does so in a way that is trying smoothly to deliver an experience instead of simply stating: "Here we are, this is what we're doing".

Still with me?

Okay, imagine this... or rather, read it:

At first Rapunzel was terribly frightened when a man came in, for she had never seen one before; but-

Rapunzel withdrew as the Prince leapt in from the window, forcing the awkward placement of his rapier to the side. His circlet of gold shone in the sun’s heavenly light and yet Rapunzel felt ill at ease from his arrival. The jut of his codpiece was unnatural; unnecessary and distracting. His face lacked, like the Old Witch, all feminine charm. But he might have seemed easy to behold, appealing even, had it not been for the intensity of his gaze; Adam regarding Eve for the first time. What could he want with her? What were his intentions?

-the Prince spoke to her so kindly, and told her at once that his heart had been so touched by her singing, that-

A strange sensation akin to nausea (but not so repulsive) bloomed within...
Here we have the opening of my latest work (after the preface you have already read, of course). In it we have two narratives that relate directly to one another.
  1. The words from the fairy tale "Rapunzel" - begun mid-story - and pasted exactly as the Brothers Grimm intended. This is a narrator's voice, no?
  2. My own narration of Rapunzel's meeting with the Prince, after he climbs up her golden tresses.
Is that easy to follow? I'd imagine so.

Now then (this does relate to my previous post on dealing with questions as they arise in the reader's mind, BTW), the narrative swings back and forth between Brothers Grimm and myself for just over a page as the BG narration moves on unfalteringly, but my own narration places Rapunzel and the Prince in bed with each other.

But, I don't want to deal with the reader's question of: Well, why are we having to listen to the BG narrative as well? What's the point.

Because if I did so, it would ruin the effect I'm trying to create - an effect I'm hoping will lead the reader on rather than bore or confuse.

The problem arises that if the reader does become confused, then I, the writer am not controlling the narrative.

This is exaserbated when my narration swaps the third-person pov of Rapunzel and the Prince with the first-person pov of me... okay, well not, me! Per se:

-she put her hand in his and said: “Yes, I will gladly go with you, only how am I to get down out of the tower? Every time you come to see me you must bring a skein of silk with you, and -

He held her down with the heat of his body alone. And she, open to his advance, floated in that ruby sea and drew up its velvet waves in her fists, exclaiming her elation with a hoarse cry that roused the night dwellers of that great wood. Breathless, she could not be fulfilled.

-I will make a ladder of them, and when it is finished I will climb down by it, and you will take me away on your horse.” They arranged that till-

I spread myself beneath him, let him push against me. Felt the heat flushing from me, chest to neck to face, as I cried out. Again! Let him thrust. Take me! I wrapped my legs about his waist, let him deeper.

-the ladder was ready
Forgive me! I write like this under the lame pretense of literary wantonness. :)

So, while I'm lost to my own excesses I'm failing to keep the reader attuned. They get to the change in tense and think: "I've lost it! The narrator hasn't a clue, and neither do I. Why the double narrator? And why the change in tense? Is this a schizophrenic narrator?"

This is made worse when, half a page later, my narrator discusses a whole new scene while the BG narrators continue.

The fact is that literary curlicues and clever tricks require grounding so that the reader feels that they are being led by someone with a map and compass. Not someone who's going to take them through this field, turn about... look at the horizon for a clue about where they're going... you get my point.

So, in controlling my own narrative, the above passage can be changed to:

He held her down with the heat of his body alone. And she, open to his advance, floated in that ruby sea and drew up its velvet waves in her fists, exclaiming her elation with a hoarse cry that roused the night dwellers of that great wood. Breathless, she could not be fulfilled.

-I will make a ladder of them, and when it is finished I will climb down by it, and you will take me away on your horse.” They arranged that till-

I spread myself beneath him, let him push against me.

The two characters entwined atop Rapunzel’s tower were gone. They had suddenly, and without my wishing, escaped my day-dream. Replaced by Holden and myself. My much shorter braid was coiled above my head and the sun-starved body of the Germanic prince was now the chocolate colour of an African-English boy. I tried to hold that moment, tried to ignore Mr Gimli’s droning narrative, or the rest of my English List class who were listening idly along with me.

It felt insalubrious to have such thoughts in public but after the fire of imagination Rapunzel’s story had started within me, I couldn’t help myself. I could see Holden pause above me, pushed up on his arms so that we could regard each other, allowing me to run my palms over his chest. My hands so pale against his dark skin.

He came on again. I felt the heat flushing from me...
Does that make it clearer? As I said, I didn't want to have to break the effect I was creating, but I have a responsibility to the reader. I was going for the effect drawn by movies when a voice over narration continues over changing visuals - but of course, the visuals will speak for themselves. We'd see the characters change from Rapunzel and Prince to... err... "Rapunzel" and Holden.

Monday, January 12, 2009

But Why? When a Reader Asks Questions

[Don't leave the reader with too many questions]

When a reader sits down to read your manuscript (obviously once it's all been polished and reshaped into a rectangle box filled with yank-free toilet paper) they do so on the pretense of a good story.

However, the one way street we all so assume we're creating here. Listening to one of Peter's Pitch responses recently and also in a discussion I had last night with MG, it is clear that the act of reading is a one way experience certainly: the acceptance and absorption of story. However the total experience does not end with boredom, annoyance, tears, joy, or thrills.

There is a separate and entirely essential element: questioning.

Writers are constantly looking for ways to hook the reader, if it's not simply to get them to start reading, then it's to keep them reading, keep them thinking, keep them guessing. The easy genre for this to work in is mystery and crime: Who dunn'it, will the cops get the badguys? Will the detective rescue the heroine in time?

But, these are your standard quizzies - look closer, there are more important, more basic questions that pop up in a reader's head as you woo them with story. Questions whose answers - answered / ignored /alluded to but put off - may have a stronger bearing on whether or not the reader gives up.

In my latest attempt at a manuscript I've started very late in the plot's development. So much so that MG asked why would I do that, considering the important facets I was leaving behind and would therefore have to deal with in flashback - not a great dramatic tool (and remember we're trying to be dramatic to hold the reader's attention.

But then, I've taken the choice to unveil the flashback as a series of vignettes throughout the novel to force the reader into changing their view of a couple of characters. Let's hope that works.

In doing this what I'm essentially doing is making my reader have to deal with a lot of unexplained issues, background elements and character motivations that I may elude to but not wholeheartedly explain (for fear of giving the game away). I cannot, however, ignore the fact that as a reader reads, questions are raised, points of interest that they instinctively want dealt with so that they can file it and move on in the narrative.

If I avoid considering these questions, and then fail to answer them at the point in the narrative when the reader thinks of them, then I'm going annoy them. Certainly, I won't be deemed the authority on my own work and therefore why should the reader keep reading?

How many books have you read that failed to tie up certain niggling plot points - and you were happy about that? None. Because we want resolution, we want to know - it's the gossip in all of us, the need to understand the truth of the matter.

Same principle with those little questions, that wish for the author not to skip ahead while the reader is still dwelling on the brief mention of the dead mother, the lesbian who used to be friends with the protagonist, what kind of town the characters live in, how that character got from A to B.

If you can't consider these for yourself it may be worth asking your beta readers to write down questions that emerge in their head as they read your work - they may not all be relevant, or the same. You may specifically wish to hold back. But if you raise too many unanswered questions, you're not on a winning streak.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Twilight

You quote something as being like your own intended manuscript and what must you do next? Read it. *SIGH*

I'd heard that Stephanie Meyer's book wasn't as good as the movie (I was forced - honest - to go and see the movie before Christmas - dragged there I tell's ya) and that many critiques were particularly critical about the book (the series in fact) for not being written brilliantly.

I guess that's a bonus for Meyer since poor old JK Rowling gets slated personally for failing to be a great writer. Meyer's got away with only her books being bad - not her.

Anyhoo, so, I've picked up a copy and found the preface pretty straight forward. All well and good. Nice hook. So, I kept reading... and I'm not sure how much further I can go.

The girl whose book I borrowed claimed that she got really annoyed by Bella's narration but still loved the books (that's a big pointer right there that the book might not be my thing). Bella's girly insights and her self-obsessed moodiness and commenting on absolutely everything, while SHOWING us her character also serves to cause the narrative to jackrabbit down the road rather than drive smoothly.

Case in point, this from the opening chapter, provided by TheTwilightSaga.com:

Oh hang on, they've got a funny way of editing their excerpt! Try this section instead from only a few pages in:
"Where did you find it?"
"Do you remember Billy Black down at La Push?" La Push is the tiny Indian reservation on the coast.
"No."
"He used to go fishing with us during thesummer," Charlie prompted.
That would explain why I didn't remember him. I do a good job of blocking painful, unnecessary things from my memory.
"He's in a wheelchair now," Charlie continued when I didn't respond, "so he can't drive anymore, and he offered to sell me his truck cheap."
"What year is it?" I could see from his change of expression that this was the question he was hoping I wouldn't ask.
"Well, Billy's done a lot of work on the engine - it's only a few years old, really."
I hoped he didn't think so little of me as to believe I would give up that easily. "When did he buy it?"
Does this girl have to comment on absolutely everything? And she seems so bitchy about it too! I only wonder because it allegedly gets worse.

What this does show us from a learning point is that in order to get us to know the protagonist we need to have a sense of who they are, and Meyer does this by bringing forth Bella's anxiety over the new car. We definitely get a sense of her character.