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.


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!


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 and for updates.