Saturday, 30 November 2013


Children's Books

I sat down with my daughter today and started reading her some books. She’s got thousands. Most were given to us and most I already know. I actually enjoy reading books to my daughter at night but one thing that drives me up the wall is the repetitiveness of the phrases and the fact that she often asks for re-reads. She’s only three meaning a majority of books for her age are written this way, but I really can’t wait for her to turn four/five to get into some really good ones.

It actually had me thinking about the books I enjoyed and disliked when I was younger. There are some I’m convinced I’ll never find again, like the one about a boy whose refuses to listen to his parents when his tantrum gets out of control. It gets so bad that he destroys his house, his street and eventually the whole world until he’s left floating in space trying to remember why he was so angry in the first place. There’s a lesson in there somewhere and I’m not going to lie, the images were freaky. Speaking of, you’ll see a pattern here:

Sam’s Sandwich
David Pelham

So this kid, Sam, has a sister who wants a sandwich and he decides to make her one…but he also decides to add some extra ingredients. As you read the book, the pages pop out as the reader slowly begins to build this insect infected sandwich. It’s so gross and awesome. Read it to your kid and they’ll never forget it, I promise.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Books on How To Write

Helpful or Harmful?
When I was 19 -22 years old, I lapped up a particular type of book. I’d read it back to back then move onto the next, breezing through its pages for sparks of wisdom. Now they just frustrate and bore me. Nearly all repeat themselves in a weird Chinese-whisper fashion, and yet in my time of anxiety they were a great source of comfort. The light at the end of the tunnel.

They were all “How to Write” books.

Anything that aided my affliction to write was welcome on my bookshelf. I searched their pages for that holy grail of info that would launch me into awesomeness. Looking back, I wish someone had come along and said: “Read one. That’s all. Just one. Okay, maybe two, but that’s all.”

Don’t get me wrong, they’ve helped me but they were also addictive and the truth is, I didn’t learn to write from them. I learnt most of what I needed from actual contact with real people.

The first was my creative writing uni teacher who I only spent ten days with. I can’t even remember his name. He asked me to read out the first few pages of my work and when I did he said a majority of it was back story or character spaghetti which could be debulked then woven in later.
The second was my brother. He got to chapter two and was like; “Holy cow, I had to stop here. That was boring.”
The last was my editor who cut fluff with his ocular sickle.

You’ll notice here that all these “teachers” honed in on one thing: Stuff that bored them. Coincidentally, while writing, these things bored me also. But I didn’t write them because I wanted to, I wrote them because I thought I was supposed to. Once I got past that silly notion, the one that had in its heart the clear idea of what a book was meant to look like rather than read like, I started writing for real. I started telling the story I wanted to tell.

How to Write books are great, but they can only help you so much. Anything you find in a How to Write book can be found on the internet broken down into very small paragraphs, or at best, a bullet point list. The rest I believe has to do more with your ego and ability to self-teach, as well as your innate joy of writing, which you do have, right?
Inevitably, you’ll find you pick up hints and tips along the way but in terms of writing a WHOLE story from scratch? No. No book can tell you how to do that, you have to grind that led all by yourself. The worst thing is, those How To books are mostly sold off the back of "Writer’s Anxiety." 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Trunk Your Novel, Or...

So, interesting blog post I read over at Ava’s Writability about moving on after trunking your finished novel, and it had me thinking about how I view my old works. I’m not sure I understand the real concept of trunking a novel because I’ve not done the whole pitching to agents, so come back to me next year and I might have a clearer view! 

Technically, though, you could say the old WIP’s on my shelf are trunked novels. I mean, let’s face it, I’m never going to pitch anything I wrote when I was 13 years of age. Hell, I wouldn’t even let my mates look at those things (although some already have, but at least they were 13 at the time too!). Yet funnily enough, I’ve never considered these old WIP's "trunked" works but more…recyclable materials!

When I was young, a lot of my ideas were a bit out there and - I’m saddened to say - probably more original that the stuff I come up with today. Back then my brain hadn’t soaked up all the clich├ęs, tropes and conventions the world had to offer. My writing also stunk back then as well but the plots and characters were and still are decent, so give it a blow and a polish and you know what? That’s material right there.
Because what is a trunked story but a story that simply didn’t work at the time? And the good thing about time is that it’ll move on without you. Things change. As do you. Sometimes you look back and see wasted effort, other times, pure potential.

I’m glad to say that in my youth I only ever did that “thing” once…you know, plagiarised. After that, it was all my worlds. I was a true panster too, able to write complex story lines with scary consistency - I’ll add that probably had more to do with the lack of a delete button than skill.

My point is that there’s some good stuff in those embarrassing artifacts. I don't attempt to rewrite them completely but characters, places and plot elements sometimes get a real spit shine. So do I trunk my novels? No, not really. I just put them in the recycle bin.

Another interesting move (suggested here) is to self-publish them, especially if the only reason they've been rejected is because they currently have no place in the market. The feedback you’ll get from reviews will only make you a better writer and harden your skin, and if in the future you decide you've placed an abomination on the e-shelves, you can still pull it and revamp it at a later date into something brand new, meaning you won't lose out on the option of traditional publishing. (Or you shouldn't anyway, but don't quote me on that. Do the research!)

Anywho, this is just my take on "trunking" and I hope it helps bring another, less depressing way of a looking at a dusty, moth-eaten novel.

Character Development

Ugly Truths

A few days ago I sat down to write the last paragraph of a chapter. It was my MC recounting a dream that was a bizarre retelling of a date with his late girlfriend. It had some strange moments, as dreams do. Some things were odd and out of place yet familiar at the same time. I then dithered on writing the next few sentences. I thought that perhaps they were distasteful in some way, and they were, I suppose. I wrote it anyway, just to see it come to life, but when I got to the end I realised, “Hang on, why wouldn't a person do this?” And when I read it back it didn’t seem so distasteful but more a little desperate, a little sad and more importantly…kinda real:

We didn’t have sex. I tried to touch her but she rolled around in my bed, laughing, and her dark skin turned to shadow in the billows of my white sheets until all I held in my hands was a bedspread…
I woke at five am and concluded the dream by myself, though after throwing all the damp tissues in the bin, I sat staring at the patch of sunlight on my floor feeling like a hollow iron barrel - heavy but empty - and I fought not to cry.
Why did she make everything so difficult? Why did I even love someone like that? Why couldn’t she love me? But the answers never came, so I went back to staring at the sun on my bedroom floor.

Was it distasteful to have my character masturbate over his dead girlfriend? Probably. But you know what? People do that stuff. Behind closed doors when no one is looking, we all do some very strange things. I’m not even sure that’s strange but it is private and it’s something that, fictional or not, a person would most likely never disclose. Though I’m trying to tell a story about real people here and if that means showing off their shiny bits as well as their ugly truths, I will. And let’s be honest, we’re all writing fiction but more than anything, we want to write about real people who screw up as well as accomplish things and have embarrassing moments alongside triumphant ones.

They also have secrets.

Another example with a different character of mine is that he’s caring and forgiving, but on the flip side he can be passive aggressive and manipulative. His biggest secret is that he had to look after his ill mother until she died…and continued to do so until the authorities took her body away. Troubling, I know, but it’s had a huge effect on his character.

Another one of my characters still secretly pines after his first love - the same person who indirectly killed his family.

These are ugly truths, but they are human truths and I personally try my best not to shy away from them as I feel it gives a realistic punch to my characters. These truths don’t even need to be expressed, just hinted at, and they don’t need to be extreme either - jerking over the thought of your dead spouse then choking back tears isn’t extreme, it’s just extremely private and revealing. Anything awkwardly revealing in nature can add depth to a character as can knowing very little. 

Either way, don’t be shy to tell the story you want to tell, grisly bits and all!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

First Person POV Tips

Oh I could, could I?

For maybe far too long now, I’ve been writing in first person. I don’t find anything glaringly wrong with doing so, heck, it may just be part of my “voice”. I probably write a lot better this way, but I like the idea of being versatile so would love to try third person again at some point.

Though, having stuck with first person for a decade, I’d like to point you towards some interesting tips. I’ve written a post about filler words that can clog up your writing,so this time lets hammer down on some superfluous phrases often used in first person POVs. It won’t take long.

Basically, anything with the words I could see/hear/feel are pretty useless.

Not to say these “I coulds” are complete no-nos but generally they just aren’t needed. The reason being that the reader senses everything through the main first person POV anyway. In fact, it’s borderline impossible to take in the environment without your main POV, so you simply don’t need your MC to say "I could" because who else would?
If your MC isn’t hearing or seeing or feeling something, who else would it be if not your first person POV? No one. Which makes the “I could” superfluous.

In other words, something like I could hear the engine of a car turns into A car's engine rumbled in the distance or The engine of a car rumbled in the distance. The reader already knows it’s your main POV character hearing/seeing/feeling it so there’s no need for any extra elaboration.

Another one that isn’t as widely spoken about (due to it perhaps being a subjective thing) are the words “I thought.” This one always gets me. Whenever I’m reading some introspection in first person and I see those two words, I’m suddenly jerked out of the story.

How could he be so angry with me? I thought. It must be all those steroids…

The reason I find this so irksome is because in first person, really, the reader isn’t going to expect to have access to any other character's inner dialogue except that of your POV character. (Unless your MC is a mind reader, then that’s fine.) So there’s no need to use the words “I thought”. I thought as in opposed to..?

And that’s it for today, folks. Do what you wish with these words…

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