This week I received an exciting piece of news. A short story I entered into a competition made the Short List. As a writer it is the sort of news that sends tingles down your spine and puts a smile on your face.
Rejection is part and parcel of the everyday when you write, it comes with the territory. So when you get a short list or long list placing you can be assured that your story has had an impact – it is a wonderful feeling. Some days writing is thankless and hard, it can feel as if you are wading through treacle. You try your hardest to make your story sing only to have it land flat. Moments that make you fly are so important. They serve as a reminder that sometimes, just sometimes you can hold a tune!
Thankfully I do not have to wait too long for the results.
This week I have a piece of flash fiction in AdHoc Fictions ebook. Issue 170, the theme is ‘need’. Try and guess which is mine – sorry, I’m not allowed to tell you! Why not pop on over and take a peak? Read and vote for the piece that you like., it really is that easy! Enjoy.
With The Brits oh, I mean The Bryts (I’m so old school…) held last night, I got to thinking about how powerful and inspiring music can be.
Music connects with me in a way not much else can… except…books!
Music reaches into my soul and shines a light into places that are often left in shadow. Maybe it evokes a memory or a feeling. It plays around with parts of me that don’t surface as often as they should.
Recently I set myself a challenge to create a soundtrack for each piece of writing I either completed myself or read. It has been an entertaining and enlightening experience! My musical taste is eclectic to say the least, and I have spent hours pondering whether a character in one of my short stories is more into rock than jazz! If truth be told I would probably want all of my characters to like jazz, but that’s a whole other blog post!
So, what pieces of wisdom did I manage to garner from my quasi experiment? Above and beyond the obvious fact that both mediums tell stories and the sheer good fun of it all?
I’ve learnt that in order to be brave you must be vulnerable. It could I suppose apply to any art form, but my drugs of choice are books and music. They are as interconnected in me as blood and DNA. They exist to compliment each other not to compete. Buried within the words of both is a truth, shared just with me. The wordsmiths have been brave. They have laid out their vulnerability for all to see. The least I can do is try to hear and understand.
2018 spat me into 2019 before I felt ready! The good news is now I’m ready! So, belated New Year greetings!
I have a plan for 2019, well sort of. I slumped my way towards the end of last year after an action packed Spring, Summer and Autumn. I don’t have a crystal ball but this year is not about puppies or kittens or any other sort of fluffy fur-balls as far as I’m aware. This year is about my writing. Thanks to my wonderful diary courtesy of Charlie at Urban Writers Retreats I can hold myself to account. I shall be either patting myself on the back, or slapping myself around the face, depending on how things are going! I’m happy to report so far no faces have been slapped! 🤣 Happy New Year!
After the week I’ve had (I know it’s only Tuesday) all I needed to do was to lie quietly in a dark room and recharge. After a super early start and a 5-mile walk with the naughty dog, I sat down to write. It was to be my quiet time, my time to complete another round in my (editing) chamber of hell. That reminds me, my third novel, I’m pleased to report is being tweaked and polished… Again! As a distraction, I wanted to work on something that did not involve a red pen and lines.
For inspiration, I looked through projects I’d begun and not finished. Works which for whatever reason I’d put onto the back burner but didn’t burn. Maybe secretly deep down I hoped they could be resurrected. After all, where there’s life there’s hope, right?
I spend the first hour or so on the internet doing ‘research’ (OK… randomly doing anything but writing), then set to it.
I had two lightbulb moments –
‘who the hell wrote this dross?’ and ‘some of this isn’t that bad.’
The dross has now gone to the log basket to be ‘recycled’ – the rest? Well, the rest is being restored and will be looking for a home in the not so distant future. Onwards people onwards…
Today I’ve been ruminating… Yes, I am feeling quite well, thanks for asking!
A while ago I wrote a blog piece on the believability of character flaws. They are such a big part of a writers remit that I wanted to revisit them. Recently I’ve read a few books where the characters were not believable and it irked me. The books were well written, and the stories could have been so amazing. Yet the characters were not believable. Those books sadly were just words on a page, there was no life in them and I got bored!
Characters need to be equally at home eating a plate of pasta, as running for their lives. Buried deep within the pages they need to live, breathe and come to life.
As a reader, I need to understand them. If I don’t understand them, I don’t believe them. If I don’t believe them, I can’t connect with them and I hang up. I don’t have to agree with them or even like them, but I do need to have a level of understanding.
As I move forward to write book 4 my head is filled with people. Tall people, short people, fat people, thin people – all bouncing through my mind waiting for their moment to connect. Some I’ve already ditched, some I am curious about and some keep me awake at night!
They are ordinary people living ordinary lives…. until something extraordinary happens. How many ordinary lives do you know that are perfectly lived? Exactly!
We, as a species love nothing more than neat little boxes. We want labels on absolutely everything from gender to religion, to leftovers in the fridge (maybe that one’s just me…). We gain a level of security knowing where we are within the world and how everyone else fits into our model.
I, am a walking contradiction. I change my mind more often than not, tell white lies, debate, argue and cry. I laugh at things I shouldn’t and get myself into awkward and tricky situations. Am I perfect – er no! Am I believable? I would like to think so. And that’s the point. It is OK for me to change my mind – I am flawed, it’s part of who I am. It is the same for my characters. They can change their minds too but (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming), as writers, we get so focused on making sure our characters fit into the boxes we’ve created they can become ‘too perfect’. Characters with contradictions, some ‘why the hell did they do that?’ moments grab our attention. Crazy events work well if you understand them. You need events to move your story forward. People are peculiar- not perfect!
Usually, events are character driven, unless you’re a shark, a big great white shark with big teeth! Although, thinking about it, even shark based thrillers require the characters to get into the water!
So lovely people put your characters in the water and watch them swim for their lives! They can swim right?…Cue scary music…
There really is nothing finer than writing – except perhaps reading. Both provide food for my soul. There are times when the words refuse to come, so I read. Then, there are the times when all I want to do is read, and so, I don’t write. They are two sides of the same coin, intrinsically linked by my imagination which flows to and from the words on the page and, as much as it pains me, I love it with all my heart.
Yes, dear reader, it pains me – big deep unabashed stabbing pains of self-doubt and inadequacy fill me. A sense of never getting it quite right sits on my shoulder in judgment as I type away. I often wonder where the words come from and at times am left questioning if it really was me that put them there! Perhaps the words are using me, not I them? A conduit by any other name but a conduit no less. Weird? Not really. Who knows where the words come from. All I know is they burn images and sentences within me that do not abate until they are released.
Each day is a battle to continue, to sit and know that most of what I will write will be dross and disappointing, yet it is because it is dross that I continue. It was Beckett who said ‘Ever Tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’, and that is what I intend to do ‘fail better’.
Don’t get me wrong there are victories, small quiet ‘pat myself on the back’ victories and it is these that make my heart sing. Moments of self-congratulation, however, do not stay long, they are fleeting and come crashing to the floor at every given opportunity.
Sometimes the words I smugly admired not 24 hours before have, overnight, magically transformed into the worst sentences I have ever written! On rare occasions, the opposite is also true and I dance for hours, complimenting myself on such skillful wordplay. But…. when I am there, like really there, in the zone, allowing myself to freefall into the words, there really is no place I’d rather be. It is food for my soul and I love it!
We have all been there haven’t we? You are merrily munching your way through the first few chapters of a book that has sat on your TBR pile for a while and then it hits you…. boredom! Yep, mind numbing ‘I’d rather be anywhere but here’ boredom. Like a beautiful car which has been filled with the wrong fuel, the story splutters and then comes to a grinding halt. I have kicked myself so many times for playing the martyr and plowing through to the bitter end only to kick myself a bit more for even bothering to finish it. On reflection what a lot of these books had in common was simple – a soggy middle. At the beginning I’m intrigued, the writing is good and has me turning the pages with glee and then, somewhere, somehow, the tension is lost and the story becomes like a slow moving stream, no I correct myself more like a stagnant pond! Nothing is moving, the characters are not under any sort of pressure to do anything or see anyone, they are just… well they are just there! I don’t know about you but I don’t want ‘just there’ when I’m reading a novel, I can watch TV for that. I want empathy and commitment, as much from the characters as from myself. Commitment comes from making decisions, if nothing is happening no commitments are being made. All of this equals boredom for me, the reader. Don’t get me wrong I am not proposing that there should be twists and turns on every page but the story does need to move forward. Sadly this vacation I have read two such books.
Sitting here in the Mallorcan sun (photos to follow), I am struck by how important and methodical the editing process needs to be. I don’t want my books to be considered boring and I definitely don’t want a soggy middle! I am the first to admit I write too many words sometimes. Which is why I need to be strong and robust (like a good cup of coffee) when it comes to editing my own work way before an editor gets sight of it.
I’m sitting poolside trawling my way through the draft of my next novel and three things strike me:
– Who the hell wrote this?
– Oh, that’s rather good
– What a load of tosh!
It’s the ‘what a load of tosh’ that is bothersome. These are the sections where I need to channel a high court judge and become harsh but fair! Sometime the ‘tosh’ can be salvaged, sometime not. If there is a meaningful reason for the words to be there I will play around with them. If, however, they are acting as fillers for the main act then they have to go. No ifs, no buts, they must be crossed through with a red pen never to be seen again.
I have asked myself the same question over and over today – what would happen if the words weren’t there? If I can not defend them then they have to go !
I am doing well arguing with myself, although the lure of the pool is proving powerful! One more chapter then time for a swim….
I know, I know. I have been a bit neglectful of you lovely people recently. I wholeheartedly apologise. I feel as if I have been living in the fast lane but without the F1 shizzle that goes with it!
In a nutshell, and hopefully without boring you beautiful folks, here’s how I’ve been keeping out of trouble:
I have been watching some of this…..
Found a few of these bad boys… yep in a field! Who would have thought it?
And as if that was not enough, I have been getting stuck in lots of traffic, Devon style
So, there you have it my friends, I blinked and missed most of September and some of October. In addition, I have been editing ’til my heart’s content. The finishing touches are being added to my collection of short stories and my historical fiction novel is…well, let’s just say I am investing in some new red pens! I promise to get my groove back shortly and will be boring you all silly with my random posts.. Until then enjoy lots and lots of this…..
What have you guys been up to? Please leave a comment below…
Today has been a very good day. Today I have managed to finish another 3,000 words and it is only 3 pm! Not bad, not bad at all. By way of a reward, yes I do need to reward myself, I have started on the chocolate. Lindt chocolate with hazelnuts to be precise. Now 4 squares in, I’m starting to feel a bit sick. I love chocolate but it must be said I am a light weight. The same is not true of wine. Wine deserves a blog post all to itself! I digress, now where was I?…Ah yes, today has proved to be a good writing day. If I had to sum it up in one word I would say ‘hooked’. Yep, that’s what I want my readers to be, hooked from the very beginning, in a way that is entertaining and keeps them turning the pages. Managing hooks and the expectations around them are never far from my mind. I worry a lot, about pretty much everything, but I especially worry about the beginning of a book and how much to reveal straight up. Are the first few pages interesting enough to warrant continued effort? Have I revealed too much too soon? It is a dilemma, a happy dilemma to have, but only when you get it right!
If you don’t get the beginning right nothing will fit correctly. Hooks are, in my opinion, inextricably linked to the first few pages. Of course, they feature throughout your story especially in thrillers and suspense novels. However, it is the beginning which will set the tone and pace, and push your story forward. You know when you’ve got it right because everything slots into place. Like a good solid jigsaw puzzle, the whole picture starts to emerge as each piece is placed correctly. Today has been a ‘placing the pieces correctly’ kind of day and I am over the moon.
I want my readers to open my first page and be transported into a personal version of the world I’ve created. Today my 3000 words flowed with ease because I reworked the beginning. Yep, I went back to the beginning, red pen and all. Earlier this week writing had been a struggle. I sat, looking at a radiant blank screen. It remained blank for the whole day! There was nothing for it but to go back to the beginning and try to figure out what was going on, and that’s when I realised some of the pieces had been misplaced. I shifted around a few key sentences and rearranged those opening lines and viola! Success!
You get one shot and one shot only at asking readers to invest their time and emotions into your book. They will want a return on that investment. Your opening is your big reveal, you do not want to disappoint. Being able to fulfill your readers’ anticipation and carry them with you as the story develops is the most amazing feeling, as I said, you do not want to disappoint. If you lose a reader at the beginning it will be hard to pull them back, first impressions really do count! So with that in mind, I have put together a few questions that I asked myself when I faced the dreaded blank screen! Challenge yourself and ask yourself the same questions, you may find they help you complete your own puzzle. Sometimes you have to write the opening last, sometimes you have to write it or rewrite it midway through, as in my case. Whenever you turn to the opening, make sure you give it your full attention.
Have I grabbed the readers attention within the first few paragraphs?
Have I grabbed them firmly or is it more of a gentle nudge? ~ If it’s a gentle nudge rewrite.
Is the opening talking to the readers I’m trying to attract? ~ No good telling them about lemons when the rest of the book is about pears!
Am I showing or telling? ~ Show, always, no telling…
Is there emotion? ~ Are my readers able to feel the pain, anger, happiness, envy, love etc.
Is my narrative voice compelling? ~ Can readers connect to my protagonist’s voice.
Why here? Is the starting point a pivotal moment.
Am I intrigued, do I want to know more?
My favourite opening lines are from Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, what’s yours? Please leave a comment below I’d love to know!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times