The way we write

Book or movie person?

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Are you a book person or a movie person? I don’t mean exclusively, most people enjoy both but in my experience we always enjoy one a little more than the other. The balance may be close, but it’s always there. Personally, movies take the lead for me.

I get more inspiration when I can see the action taking place than I can when I’m reading about it happening. A movie enables me to get absorbed into the environment and characters more fully than a book does. When watching a character interacting with his or her environment, I can instantly see whether his reactions could be made better in some way. A book cannot do this. If you’re not clued up on psychology, it’s easy to make your characters less than believable when you have only your mind with which to ‘see’ his interactions.

Watching a movie takes no more than a couple of hours and you can watch it over as often as you want and examine every nuance of each character’s behaviour. In this way, you can watch and learn about how people react in a given circumstance much easier than by reading it. If a movie character seems believable, examining his every move, right down to subtle facial movements will help you when writing your own characters. If characters seem wrong, more careful examination will help you identify why and how they’re wrong and you can avoid making the same mistake in your own writing.

Too often, movies are met with disdain by purist book lovers but I say take the time to watch them closely and you might just learn something valuable.

Are you a book person or a movie person?

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The (not quite) Definitive Guide to Females in Fiction

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So you’re writing a novel? Making a movie? A TV play maybe? Whatever type or genre of fiction you’re creating, the chances are good that you will be including female characters. Women play many roles in works of fiction and their presence is a necessary part of a balanced dynamic within the team of characters. In order to make your work of fiction both entertaining and plausible, your females must play the correct roles in the correct way. Those male writers out there wishing to create the best work possible for their audience, creating believable female characters can be a nightmarish task. Men find women difficult to understand in their real lives, so creating believable fictional ones is an added layer of anguish that they don’t need. Writing any work of fiction is hard work, so anything that can make the process a little easier is welcome, right?

In order to help those male writers negotiate their way through the minefield that is the female, I have drawn up the following Guide to Females in Fiction. I have separated the guide into the following sections:

The pre-teen female.

The teenage female.

The beautiful young female.

The plain young female.

The older female.

The alien female.

This guide is written from the point of view of a male team leader.

The pre-teen female.

The very young female child character will be  streetwise and emotionally strong way beyond her years. She will be clever and show the sort of basic common sense that always tends to evade her older counterparts. As the dominant male, you will probably be her father or her mother’s long time boyfriend. Discipline is not your forte, and she will never obey you when you tell her what to do, but will always do her own thing. This will tend to get you and your team into all sorts of trouble, but she’s a kid and you won’t mind her undisciplined outbursts.

Often, she will be the only one who knows what’s really happening and will have to resort to all sorts of tricks to get the rest of you to realise your new best friend is really a spy, a monster is hiding out a few yards beyond your camp, and that you really can’t trust Sheriff Jones after all. Neither you or your team will believe her, of course, until she single-handedly saves the whole team despite being only seven years and four months old.

Despite loving her Mother, she will be a daddy’s girl and she will view her place as being at your side during your most dangerous adventures. Being streetwise and clever, she will have no problem stowing away in a trunk of equipment to ensure she gets to accompany you on your latest mission. The more emphatically you explain to her that it’s too dangerous for her to come with you, the greater will be her determination to disobey you. Helpful tip – always be sure to thoroughly search all boxes of equipment, and never leave rugs piled in the back seats of vehicles.

If, once you discover your stowaway, you find she’s brought along her pet dog, you will need to be even more on your guard than ever. That dog will run away at the most inconvenient moments, and she will always run after it, even when it’s in no danger and even when she and all of you are in great danger. Yelling at her to stay hidden will do no good. She will dodge bullets and monsters as she follows the little hairy guy, and you will be forced to follow. You and your team may very well suffer injury and loss of life while hunting for the girl and dog, but due to her age and your secret admiration for her self-reliance, you again decide not to discipline her.

The child will, of course, become a captive of your arch enemy. This will force you and your team to divert from the mission in order to rescue her. Once again, you will probably suffer injury and loss of life. Your team is shrinking by the minute. You need not worry about her safety though, her charm and streetwise abilities will ensure she practically rescues herself and/or charms the pants off your arch enemy. The offending dog will help her in this. His sudden new found ability to understand the most complicated of verbal commands will ensure he is able to ensure her escape and incapacitate the bad guys. Having initially wanted to get rid of the dog, you will now begrudgingly accept that he deserves not to go to the pound after all.

As you are no longer with her mother, she will constantly try to find you another girlfriend. She will, of course, easily find the perfect woman for you, whom you will have always failed to spot yourself.

Your team members will never complain about her presence, or the way she keeps fucking up the mission. They will each love her like their own, and she will be on first name terms will all of them. You will trust them all with her implicitly, despite the fact that several of them are time served criminals and all of them have not had so much as a sniff of a woman in weeks.

The teenage female

The teenage female will always be an angst-ridden mess. She will either be a goth or a sex kitten, but whichever guise she adopts, her emotions will bring you and your team nothing but trouble. Her anguish will be a direct result of your treatment of her while she was growing up, combined with her reaction to you having divorced her mother.

Her presence on your adventure will be caused by her mother’s need for time away from her troublesome teen, to go on holiday with her new beau/complete a new contract at work/help her sick father or whatever. Having been dumped on you for the summer, she will resent your presence and regard your mission as a heap of crap.

The teenage female will think the new man in her mother’s life is a jerk, but she won’t tell you that. She will pretend he is the greatest thing since soft toilet paper, just to make you squirm. You will, of course, fall for this badly hidden artifice every time, and the guilt will ensure you do exactly as she wants, thus almost killing your whole team and scuppering your mission. She will refuse to believe your warnings of danger, and will happily put everyone in danger on multiple occasions. Due to your guilt at being a shit father, you continually refuse to discipline her.

She will be permanently plugged into earphones, through which she will listen to heavy metal/punk music to avoid having to listen to you. On occasions, she will spend hours texting her friends on her mobile phone.

If she has adopted the goth guise, she will get herself a criminal boyfriend and have him tag along with you all. You size him up immediately and warn her about him, but she ignores your warnings and indulges him just to annoy you. Pretty soon, he will rob you and try to make off with his ill-gotten gains. The loss of expensive equipment ensures you and the team are trapped in the middle of nowhere and can’t call for help. If you yell at the teenage goth female about this, she will say she hates you and run off after her criminal boyfriend. This will force you to go after her, thereby delaying your mission and causing further danger to all team members. She is your daughter though and going through the hell of her parents’ divorce, so you don’t mind really.

If she adopts the sex kitten guise, she will dress in figure hugging clothes that always expose her midriff and burgeoning cleavage. Your team members, all red blooded males, will never get turned on by her and you will never have cause to worry despite her inappropriate attire around them.

Like her goth counterpart, she will have earphones and the same tuneless music and ever present mobile phone, the latter of which she uses to moan about you to her friends.

She will have a boyfriend but you don’t like him. He will have once been a bit of a lad, but that is all in the past, he’s a nice guy now and only wants the best for her. Despite his continual reassurances, you refuse to trust him and try your best to keep him away from her. You will fail, and when your mission reaches its dangerous climax, it will be he who rescues the situation and helps ensure your survival. Only then do you realise he really does want only the best for your teenage sex kitten daughter, and welcome him onto the team.

As you are divorced from her mother, both of the teenage female types will have unresolved emotional issues with you. This will make itself apparent during your stilted conversations, during which she constantly accuses you of not understanding her, abandoning her, not caring etc. These conversations usually end up with her stomping off in a huff, earplugs in place and Metallica on at max volume. This also applies if her mother is deceased, forcing you into a position of permanent father.

At first, you will deny her claims, and when the conversation reaches the yelling stage,  the sex kitten teenage female will run away with the newly nice guy ex-convict boyfriend. Once she and the boyfriend get into trouble, she will realise she made a huge mistake. The monsters/bad guys with guns/landslide/tornadoes will however, ensure she can’t get back to you. Never mind, the ex-convict, newly nice guy boyfriend will keep her safe. This is usually done shortly before he returns to save your sorry ass.

The teenage female brings with her a lot of emotional baggage. She will claim to hate her mother for dumping her on you. She will claim to hate you for leaving her and her mother. Despite these normal teenage turmoils, her streetwise knowledge and partially remembered science project will be the only thing to ensure your mission’s success.

 

The beautiful female

She wants to come along on your adventure. You don’t want her to, but like the pre-teen female,  she stows away and you don’t find her until it’s too late to send her back. It may be that she’s the only one with enough money to finance it, so you reluctantly agree. She could be a reporter from some backwater newspaper or your nosey neighbour. Whatever her position in life, she wants in and she’ll find a way to get what she wants.

Once firmly ensconced within the team, she causes nothing but trouble. Despite being told to keep quiet, be careful, stay here, don’t touch, listen carefully, she will wake the monsters, get lost, get kidnapped, get trapped inside somewhere, and all manner of other scenarios. All the time she’s doing this, she will believe she’s doing the right thing and not once will she realise that she should’ve just done as you told her and sat down and shut up. You and the team will be forced to waste time and resources searching for her, losing vital equipment or supplies, and getting at least one useful member of the team killed. Despite being a total nuisance to everyone all of the time, you won’t mind because she’s beautiful and you’d like to have sex with her.

She will scream a lot at times when silence really is the best policy. Despite this habit causing the bad guys to find your hideout and/or the monsters to wake up, you won’t mind because you want to have sex with her.

She will fall over when running away from monsters and bad guys.

She will argue with you and denounce your mission as a waste of time, but you still want to have sex with her.

She knows you want to have sex with her, and might use your attraction to her advantage. While you’re having sex with her, another couple of your team members are dying. You mourn them, but ultimately you don’t mind because you hope to have more sex with her.

Your mission might necessitate you venturing into an environment where the average daytime temperature may be forty below zero. There may be mountains to climb or seas to swim across, creatures to wrestle, icy winds that blow down buildings and all manner of other horrors. Despite this, she will wear nothing more than a bra and g string with high-heeled boots and spiky leather wrist cuffs and will never complain of being cold. The acres of exposed flesh will never show so much as a single goose bump. You and your team members wrapped in layers of fur and leather should be in awe of her ability to withstand the cold.

She will never be troubled by the demands of a menstrual cycle, will never need to pee or shit, and will not end up stinking like a camel in a Turkish sauna. Her legs and armpits will remain hair free during the weeks of your mission, her mascara will never run, her facial skin will remain flawless and spot free, and her lips will display a constant rosy blush.

Once your mission is over and her antics have cost you every one of your far more valuable team members, you will marry her.

 

The plain female

The plain female will make up for her lack of looks with knowledge and skills that will help ensure both your mission’s success, and your team’s survival. Not having the burden of being the love interest means she is free to be a contributing member of the team. Her specialist knowledge and skills will do this for her and will more than make up for her lack of beauty.

Her presence will come about by accident. She will ‘stumble upon’ you and the team while in the midst of almost losing your lives and will use her considerable knowledge and/or skills to save your sorry asses.

You will not want to have sex with her and this will enable you to appreciate her skills and quickly realise her potential as a permanent member of your team.

She will know you don’t want to have sex with her and will be content for you to value her for her knowledge and skills.

Her lack of beauty will not bother her, for she has always been more interested in science/martial arts/astronomy anyway.

She will never wear makeup. Her hair will most often be kept short, but if not, then it will always be tied back in a low ponytail or braid.

Despite her lack of beauty and subsequent lack of experience in romance, she will be uncannily wise in matters of the heart and will issue forth pearls of profound wisdom which ensure everyone’s relationships with everyone else thrive.

Her lack of beauty enabled her professor father to indulge her in a superior education of ancient arts and obscure mystical practices, at which she excelled. When he died in mysterious circumstances whilst in the far east, she inherited his journals that furnished her with yet more specialist knowledge.

Her father was spurned by the scientific community because of his weird beliefs and she has suffered by association. This experience gave her personality a hard edge and an ability to endure far beyond that of the beautiful female.

She never speaks about this earlier part of her life and she refuses to discuss the ‘awful things’ she has seen and come into contact with. Despite this reticence, she just happens to be exactly where you need her, when you need her, so that she can translate the artefact/explain quantum physics/reprogram the positronic brain of the artificial intelligence/mix the correct rare herbs/ predict the planetary alignment, which you need in order to succeed.

Once you and your team return from this current adventure, you don’t hesitate to offer the plain woman a central role within your team. She accepts without hesitation because she secretly loves you and knows you won’t survive long without her knowledge and skill.

She knows you don’t want to have sex with her, but she lives in hope.

 

The older female

The middle aged older woman comes in two main forms. The first is an embittered hag. She mourns her lost youth and rails against ageing. She might be financially comfortable, but the money brings her no joy.

She will always wear far too much makeup in an effort to hang on to her lost youth, and will wear clothes more suited to a female half her age.

She will engage in sex with much younger men. She knows they are after her money but indulges them anyway for she knows that she is no longer the younger, more beautiful female. Once they tire of her and leave, she becomes an enraged harpy intent on ruining them for the rest of their lives.

She will fall in love with you and chase you shamelessly. Despite your protestations, she continues to chase you and may grant sexual favours to your team mates in order to gain access to you or information about you that she might use to her advantage.

You don’t want to have sex with her. She knows this and hates it.

She will drink far too much, usually because of some past hurt by a man she used to love who deserted her.

She will have a beautiful daughter with whom you will be in love, but she will not want to let you near the girl. This is because she’s jealous that you don’t fancy her instead of her daughter. If her earlier attempts to gain information about you bore fruit, she will use this in an attempt to convince her daughter that you’re not worth a damn.

If you continue to refuse her advances and pursue her daughter, she may try to thwart your plans or even try to kill you.

The second main type of middle-aged female, is the wilting waif who sobs a lot. The very act of living life terrifies her, and she needs her controlling husband to guide her.

Her controlling husband is often the central bad guy, but she will never believe it of him. After all, he’s always guided her and given her a good life. He can’t help it if she makes him angry sometimes, he works hard and brings in the money.

Her main reaction to problems is to drop into a chair and sob. With constant reassurances, she will dry her eyes and look to you to sort everything out for her.

She is a burden, but she is so nice that no one minds.

You don’t want to have sex with her.

The old, older female also takes two main forms. In one form, she is the landlady, the domestic help, the airplane passenger who comforts the scared beautiful female, the grandparent who spends most of her time reminiscing about her younger years.

The second type of old older female is the wise old crone. The ageing queen of her tribe, she rules with a firm hand and is the sole repository of knowledge of ‘the old ways.’ With her death comes a new age of modernism in the tribe, which often involves some of your team members remaining and marrying fur-bikini-clad maidens.

 

The alien female

The alien female also has different forms, like those of her Earth counterparts.

The alien female child always behaves with impeccable manners. She has an excellent education and is well versed in science before the age of ten years. Her relationship with her parents is one of respect and obedience. She never yells or swears, but can sob if something really terrible happens.

The adult alien female will always have large breasts, which are clad in nothing more than the flimsiest gossamer. She will wear this garment through wars and picnics, in all weathers and in all environments. It will never become inadvertently dislodged, showing a flash of alien nipple for your delectation, despite her having to fight an army of huge ruddy-legged bog-swagglers on a daily basis.

She will happily discuss her species’ sexual practices without embarrassment and will express a scientific interest in yours.

She will naturally know nothing about kissing or Earth style sex, and it is your sworn duty to teach her. You will of course make sure she knows this is an entirely normal way Earth humans greet each other, to ensure she grants you as much time as you feel you need, to ensure she has learned this most vital inter-species communication technique.

She will always fall immediately in love with you. She has been waiting for decades for her planet to be invaded, just so she can meet her ideal man – you.  Not one single male on her entire planet is good enough for her affections. Nope, you’re the one, buddy.

Despite having a far superior intellect, she will allow you to convince her to put her entire civilisation at risk to save you, just because you do that weird kissing thing she finds so amusing.

You may lose team members on her planet, who choose to remain behind with their new wives.

She wants you to stay with her but you realise that Earth needs you more. You have a tearful goodbye, during which you promise to return one day. She believes you and remains unsullied for the rest of her life, not knowing that you were fucking the beautiful Earth female just days later on the journey home.

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So there you have it my friends. The (not quite) Definitive Guide to Females in Fiction. I hope you find it helpful and educational. To those men out there writing fiction, know that your female characters will follow in the footsteps of those given life by generations of writers before you.  I leave it up to you to decide whether that would be a good thing or bad.

Ideas and Inspiration – How do you find them?

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That moment when a fantastic idea for a plot line drops into your head is one of the most wonderful moments in a writer’s life.  On a par with that moment when you write “The End” or when you notice you’ve made another sale, when inspiration comes knocking, your mind explodes like a firework display.  Time stands still, everything around fades to mist, and your imagination suddenly takes off at near light speed as you see this initial idea suddenly grow and blossom inside your head.  I may be over dramatising it but that’s what it’s like for me.

As time goes on and I write more, these mind blowing moments happen more often and more easily.  I’m at the point now, where I can almost make them happen simply by looking at something with a certain questioning  attitude at the forefront of my mind.  For instance, just now I saw a commercial on TV that showed three women singing, (it was for insurance).  I decided to find out if I could come up with a plot idea, so I watched the advert and mentally asked myself, “what could I make out of this?”  Immediately, I realised that I could base a story around a woman (or man), who comes from a planet where their voices have a much larger vocal range than humanoids from earth.  This person could have developed their voice so that when they sing at the certain wavelength, the sound has a strange effect upon anyone listening, rendering them into a state much like that of light trance.  He/she could then either commit some crime and disappear, or commit a  crime and then continue singing on a different wavelength so that listeners would have no memory of him/her doing anything other than singing a song, thereby getting away with murder or some other crime.

That whole process took me less than ten seconds, and you can do it too, with a little practice.

TV commercials are great sources of plot ideas, because they are already little stories in themselves.  Next time you see a commercial, pay full attention to it and ask yourself a question – “what is the first thing about it that grabs my attention?”  In my case, it was the singing, but it could be the landscape, the way a person looks, what they’re doing, anything.  Whatever it is, remember it and then ask another question – how could I use that landscape/appearance/action etc,  in a story?  Of course, you will have to think in terms of your own genre, and maybe it’s easier for me as a science fiction writer.  I can invent stuff and allow some things that would not fit into, say, historical romance for instance, but the principle is the same.  Pay attention to what you’re seeing and hearing and ask yourself the questions.  This will teach your subconscious mind to practice being imaginative with less stimulus.

You can do this anywhere and in any situation.  I like listening to people’s conversations, and quite often I will hear something in the supermarket that gives me an idea.  Again, ask yourself  “how can that statement be used in a plot?”

Just to prove that this works for any genre, I’ve just watched a commercial for a supermarket chain.  It showed two very famous celebrities going shopping in a market, talking to the stallholders and admiring the produce (meat, vegetables, fruit, bread etc).  I asked myself “how can this be used for a romance story?”   Immediately I see two strangers, a man and a woman, going shopping on a rainy day.  The woman is stressed and is rushing to the market to find something for dinner.  The man is happy and is wandering around trying to find something for his dinner.  The man has just moved into the area and has great plans for his life, whereas the woman has a job she hates and is bored with her life.  They both arrive at a stall selling meat, to find the stallholder has just one fresh chicken left.  Both want the chicken, and the man, noticing how stressed the woman is, lets her buy it and goes elsewhere.  Later, the woman arrives home to her apartment to find the same man has just moved into the apartment next door.  They get talking and, well you can take the story from there.

I don’t write romance, I don’t like romance, but I have just come up with a perfectly serviceable romance plot from a TV commercial.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.  All it needs is a slight alteration in the way you observe everything, and a willingness to mentally interact with what you’re observing.

Trust your subconscious, let it work for you.  You have the ability to be creative, all you need to do is access that ability.

4 Simple truths to keep you on track

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Being an author is, in many ways, strange.  You’d think it would simple; you write down what’s in your head, and after tidying it up and obeying all the normal ‘rules of good writing’ you publish it.  Physically that’s all you have to do and it’s easy, but there are all sorts of emotions that go with being a writer, and they often seem to be at opposite ends of the extreme.

On the one hand, you are happy and fulfilled that you have managed to create something tangible from something so abstract.  Thoughts, feelings and ideas have become a physical thing you can hold in your hands, and that’s amazing.  Then you have disappointment that people aren’t falling over themselves to read it, that people aren’t as amazed by it as you are, and that they don’t gush over it all the time.

Sometimes, other emotions come in and mix everything up and you have turmoil for a while.  Sometimes you feel like giving up and never writing again, other times you wonder what planet everyone else is on because they can’t see what a magnificent and world changing creation you’ve just brought into being.  As an author, you will experience them all, you will swing through the whole arc of these emotions, and many others.  The trick is to keep a few basic truths at the forefront of your mind.

Motive Why do you write?  There is only one right answer to this question, and unless you give the right answer, you will never be at peace with your life as an author.  The right answer is, “because I have to.”  If you answer that you want to make money or get famous, impress your friends, or because it’s therapy for you, then my advice is simple; stop writing.  Writing to get rich just will not work.  Yes you may make a little but you won’t make a long lasting income from this type of writing.  There are many of this type of writer out there; just think of those times when famous books have come out, such as 50 shades, Harry Potter etc.  The moment these came out, there were suddenly thousands of people out there suddenly writing erotica or young adult fantasy.  This is bandwagon writing, and any success will be short, sharp and temporary.  Flashes in the pan go out of fashion even quicker than they come into fashion, and when they drop off the radar, you will go with it and believe me, readers have very short memories.  You will be forgotten very quickly when everyone  has jumped  onto the new bandwagon, whatever that may be, and any income will dry up.  Bandwagon writing doesn’t have the staying power necessary to ensure you slowly but surely gain a steady and loyal following for your work, which is solid, dependably good quality, and true  to the genre you were meant to write in, which tends not to be the one that is the latest fad.  If you know in your bones that you need to write historical drama, then don’t write erotica, fantasy or any other of the latest fashion, (unless of course the latest fashion happens to be historical drama).  If you write true to way your brain and soul are wired, your work will have that spark of authenticity that will be missing from anything you churn out just because it’s fashionable at the moment and you want to make a few quid.

Perspective It really doesn’t matter if you don’t get rich or famous.  If you write with the proper motive, then your goal will be to produce an excellent quality work that anyone who reads will enjoy.  Making money or becoming well known, should not be part of your goals, as they detract from producing top quality work.  Those goals produce lower quality work that is churned out quickly, is often much shorter in length, (many bandwagon authors typically write books less than 40k words), their covers are the same as all the others and badly produced, and the work itself is just dead boring and badly edited to boot.  Of course there are good quality books and stories of less than 40k words, in case anyone is thinking of sending me dog turds through the mail, but many of the bandwagon authors write short stuff.  This is because they aren’t writing true to the write genre for them, and therefore they can’t find adequate creativity to make it longer.  Another reason is so they can churn out more stuff, more quickly and keep their name out there.  Once you let go of the desire to get rich and famous, and concentrate all of your focus on just writing top quality stuff in the right genre for you, the quality of your ideas will go up tremendously.  If you want to be sure of making money writing, join a newspaper.

Originality This is really joined at the hip with motive.  Jumping on any bandwagon will not allow you to be original in your creativity, because the need to churn out the same stuff all the time prevents you from being able to let your mind wander where it really wants to.  There are only so many ways to write about vampires, zombies, dragon riding knights of old and cheap sex, and it all  becomes old very quickly.  Be original, write something new that no one has yet thought of and you can be the trendsetter rather than a wagon rider.  It’s much more fun writing something totally new, than churning out the same boring shit everyone else is churning out just because you all want to make some money.  Forget the money and write something that’s in your soul, no matter if it’s fashionable or not.

The Tough Question This one is simple; do you actually have the talent to write?  If the only way you can produce anything at all, is if you follow the crowd and produce the same 20k erotica that everyone else is producing, but the thought of writing a 100k science fiction or historical drama, crime drama, epic fantasy etc horrifies you and makes your mind go blank and flaccid, then you’re probably not cut out to be a writer.  Be truthful when answering the tough question, and if you discover you’ll not likely to make a writer as long as your asshole points downwards, take a deep breath and find something else to do that you are capable of doing well, do it to the best of your ability, and be better than anyone else at it.  There are far too many people trying to be writers, who aren’t writers of quality and who really shouldn’t be doing it.  Don’t be a mediocre flash in the pan who is quickly forgotten when the fashion changes, do what you are good at and excel at it.

These four simple truths, if answered correctly, will help keep you focussed during the down times when your emotions are taking a dip.  When you haven’t made a sale in a few weeks and feel worthless, remember these truths, answer them again and get your focus back on track.  Treat them like a self inflicted kick up the backside when you need it most and they will help you move away from all the wrong mindsets that try to misdirect you on your path, whether that path be as a writer or not.

Science Fiction, an alien language

I’m two thirds the way through my Camp Nano science fiction novel and have just passed my nano goal of 50k words, so I’ve officially ‘won’ although the book isn’t yet finished.  I’m aiming to get it to around 75k or thereabouts.

I’m doing two things in this book that I’ve never done before and it’s both interesting and good discipline.  I like to challenge myself and see how far I can achieve something.

I’m doing this book from 3rd person POV but, unlike my preferred style, I’m not doing it as omnipresent.  The story is told in 3rd person but only from one character’s POV.  I like 3rd omni but this book just demanded it be in one character’s POV, so who am I to argue with my muse?

This makes it slower to write and I’m finding, as I did when I wrote in 1st person for the first time for Floxham Island, that the book is growing a little slower and I’m having to go deeper into my main character’s personality.  This is good practice in character development.  I can’t hop POV to ‘pad it out’ any more, I have to let this main character lead the story all the way through.

I’m also inventing an alien language for this book, which is something I never imagined I would ever do.  I must admit, when it became obvious that this was necessary for the story, I was dumbfounded and scared.  The only other person I know of who has done this is Tolkien and he was a language expert and spent ten years building his languages.  I’m not prepared to spend that long, so I had to find a quicker way to do it.

Without boring you with the minutiae of building a language, what I did first was to decide upon my verb conjugations and tenses.  I copied the Spanish language for this, inasmuch as I decided to have three standard verb endings – AN, AKSI and IEL.  I then decided how many tenses I was going to have, and I chose just 3, present, past and future and then worked out how to change the endings for each conjugation.  It was just a case then of inventing the verbs, making sure they had one of my three chosen endings and giving them the appropriate conjugation for the tense in which they are used.  I toyed with the idea of having a preterit tense, but for simplification I decided to use the full, unconjugated verb for the preterit.

After that, with nouns, pronouns etc, I just invented them and made sure the language has a common sound that runs through it.  I also decided upon a rule for pluralisation, which in this case is achieved by adding ISI at the end of the noun.  I’m not bothering with silent letters or anything like that, I’ve done mine so it is pronounced as it’s written, which will make it easier for the reader to follow.

I wasn’t sure about the correct way to display this alien language with its translation and I worried about it for a while, until asking around and settling on having the alien language in italics, with the translation directly after.  I feel this is likely to be the easiest way for the reader to follow and understand it.

There isn’t a lot of the new language in the book, just short snippets of conversation here and there between the three characters who speak it, so it shouldn’t be an overload.  I’ll be interested to see how the book is received and whether people like the language or not.  Have you ever invented a new language?  I’d be interested in hearing how you approached it.

This book should be out in the new year 2014, hopefully February.

Dan Brown – numbskull or pioneer?

The English language is always evolving, despite our attempts to make it stand still.

As authors, we try to stick to the accepted rules of what is ‘good’ writing and we admonish those who disobey these rules.  Us older folks use the rules of grammar and punctuation that we were taught when we where young and to us, that’s the ‘right’ way to write.  Many of the younger writers are bending those rules, either due to a lack of education or a determined effort to change things.

Oh my god, they’re trying to modernise us..!

I don’t want to be modernised.  I don’t want to be forced to use an exclamation mark and a question mark together, just because Dan Brown does it in Inferno.  I like my old fashioned rules; they’re familiar and comforting and I know what I’m doing with them.  I like knowing I’ve been observant enough to remove ninety percent of the hads, thats and gots in my WIP and I positively beam with delight at the pile of adverbs I’ve scraped into the trashcan.  It’s hard work obeying the old fashioned rules of good writing; it means you have to know about writing structure.

I secretly reckon that this rush for modernisation has little to do with a desire for creative freedom and more to do with a lack of desire for getting some real education about how to build your work.  My mother is even more old fashioned than me, because her education was gained thirty years before I gained mine.  She stills puts full stops after a prefix – Dr. Smith, Mr. Smith etc and no matter how I argue with her about it, she insists on leaving them in.

I admit that my education as to how to structure ‘good’ writing was severely lacking, so when I began writing novels, I educated myself by reading articles on the internet about how to it.  I learned how to punctuate dialogue properly, the universal hatred of adverbs, hads and thats, the unwritten rule that you never, ever, use comic sans unless you want to lose your kneecaps along with your credibility and all manner of other stuff I never learned at school because I went to a comprehensive rather than a grammar.

I don’t mind moving with the times but there is no way on this Earth I’ll be using an exclamation mark and a question mark together.  I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what Dan Brown does.

Proof reading? Let Hazel help you

A facebook colleague recently introduced me to a nifty little add-on for Word that has proved to be invaluable when proofreading and editing.  Honestly, I don’t know how I coped without it in the past.

I’m your typical destitute author and because of this, I do my own proof reading and editing.  Actually, I prefer to do it myself and even if I was rich I’d probably still do it.  One of the methods I employ to help me is to read aloud, as this brings a lot of mistakes to your notice that would pass you by when reading silently.  When mother is visiting me on her regular trips up from Cornwall, I read it to her.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a facebook colleague and he told me he finds it helpful to have his computer read his book to him.  When I heard this I was like, “huh?” and he then told me about Wordtalk.  Now, you’ve all no doubt been using this for decades, I’m always the last to know but just in case anyone hasn’t heard of it, it’s fantastic.  It’s an add-on to Word that you can download here.

It will appear on your Word taskbar as Add-Ins.  Click on that and you’ll get the Wordtalk controls.  I have the option of an English speaking chick or an American gal and once you get used to her monotone voice, you will find it amazingly helpful.  For instance, it is programmed to pause slightly at a comma, so I notice right away if I’ve missed one as she drones on forever without taking a break and it sounds totally unnatural.  Put the missing comma in and she takes a breath at just the right place to make your sentence sound just right.  When I read this same sentence aloud myself, I will naturally put this pause in, even without the comma there because subconsciously I know what I meant and how it should sound.

I’m finding that I’m catching a lot of spelling errors and duplicated words that I would skim when reading it myself.  Being a non human without a human  brain to interpret what is meant, all Wordtalk can do is reproduce what is written exactly as it is written, mistakes and all.  This makes the errors much more obvious and easy to correct.

There are some things it can’t cope with and there doesn’t appear to be a way to add to its vocabulary.  For instance, in dialogue I sometimes have my characters say “umm,” when they’re not sure about something.  The Wordtalk gal (Hazel or Zina) doesn’t recognise umm as a word so she speaks the letters individually, “you em em.”  There are a couple of other words I’ve noticed so far that she pronounces strangely but that may be due to differences in English and American English spelling.  It’s not a huge deal though, it’s quite amusing actually.

If you haven’t tried it, download Wordtalk and give it a go.  I recommend it highly.

The Big Editing Services Scam

This morning I decided to do a little fun research about the cost of hiring an editor.  Now this is in no way a scientifically based study, I googled and picked one at random, to check out her rates and qualifications.

She charges £17 – £22 per 1000 words.  Multiply that by the number of words in your novel and you’ll get a final cost.  Multiply this final cost by how many books you write per year and you’ll get a yearly cost.

She has some qualifications (allegedly).  A PhD in English Lit, BA in English and an MPhil in medieval studies.  All good qualifications, although I fail to see how a degree in medieval studies makes her qualified to comment on my space operas..!

The job of editor is multi layered.  They have to find your structural errors – spelling, punctuation, grammar, tense, continuity errors, passive voice and all the other structural mistakes we all make when we write.  On top of that, they give their opinions on the other, more abstract areas of your writing, which generally consists of comments about your characters, the environments, situations and the action within the story; whether they like it or not is basically what this part of the job means.  Okay that is simplifying it somewhat, but in essence that what it is.

The structural errors are things we can all learn to correct ourselves.  We don’t need an editor to find our spelling mistakes, wrong tenses, bad punctuation (or none at all), and faulty grammar.  You can google and learn how to punctuate your dialogue correctly, you can learn about the correct use of tenses and you can easily brush up on your grammar.  There are millions upon millions of articles about passive voice versus active voice and it doesn’t take long to find out what a dangling modifier is nor how many adverbs are too many adverbs.

You don’t need to pay someone to do this for you.  You can do it yourself easily, by researching and buying a few books on writing basics. If you pay someone to do this stuff for you, you are either too lazy to do it yourself or you have far more money than sense.  Good for you, whatever blows your skirt up.  Most of us don’t have that kind of money and we’re made to feel unworthy as writers for not shelling out hundreds and thousands of pounds to have someone do it for us.  I once had a gal on facebook tell me she charged “up to 1500” for editing.  Although she didn’t say whether that was pounds or dollars, it’s still a lot.  When I told her I couldn’t afford it, she then posted on her page, naming me by name, that I obviously didn’t value my own work highly enough and that if I did, I would pay.  Those who know me well enough won’t need me to explain how I reacted to that..!

As for the more abstract areas of writing, this is where I have the biggest problem with editors.  No matter what qualifications you have, your opinion as to my characters’ depth (or lack thereof), my story arc, the realism of my narrative or the enjoyment to be gained from reading my work is of no more value than anyone else’s.  This is not something that a degree in English can teach, it is felt by each individual reader.  Some will like it, others will not.

All authors out there feeling bad because they can’t afford an editor, stop feeling bad.  Buy books on punctuation and grammar.  Research the internet about these basic building blocks of writing, all the info is there by the truck load for you to read.  Once you’ve corrected the spellings, punctuation and so on, get family and friends to read it and ask them intelligent questions.  Are the characters believable? Are any characters superfluous to the story? Does the story flow? Are the environments realistic enough?  Is the action right for the story?  Their answers to theses type of questions, rather than just “did you like it?”  will tell you what (if anything) needs to be tweaked, added or taken away.

This gal may be very good at her job, she may be a total fraud.  The thing is, you could be paying her thousands of pounds for a job you can do yourself, with a little time devoted to learning the basics.  People think that because someone calls themselves an editor, that what they say about your book is gospel and you’ll be bound to fail if you don’t apply their recommendations.  This is bollocks.  All they do is give their opinion, which is no more valid than anyone else’s.

Don’t shell out your life savings or remortgage your condo to hire someone to do something you can do yourself.

Second volume is now finished

Last night I typed those immortal words ‘The End’ and breathed a sigh of relief and satisfaction.  Yes, I just finished the first draft of the second novel in the Sinclair V-Logs series and I’m proud.

I’m proud not only at having finished it but also because of the way my main character, Sam Sinclair, is evolving.  In this second novel in his story we find out more about him as a man and what his mind is like, his fears and drives, motivations and his achilles heel.  In this new story, Sam suffers some mental and emotional anguish but a lot of growth takes place because of it and I believe we get a much closer and intimate relationship with him as he allows us deeper into his psyche.  For me, this is a necessary part of a series and is closer to the way we interact with real, living people in our daily lives.  When you meet someone, whether it be via work or socially, you don’t know the whole person right away.  It takes time for the other person to open up and allow you in to get to know the real person inside and I believe a series of novels should reflect this.  If you knew everything about the main character from the very first book, there would be no more to discover about them and you wouldn’t have that growing intimacy with them that you feel as you read each subsequent book.

As we go through our life, we face challenges and trials which teach us stuff and offers us a chance to grow emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  Life doesn’t stand still for us so why should it for my character?  His life is the same sort of continuous growing process as ours are and he faces challenges and trials too, albeit different ones to ours.  I try to make my characters believable and although their lives and experiences are set into a science fiction and very futuristic environment, I want readers to be able to relate to them, to recognise them as real people, to see themselves in them.  Making a bond with someone is a slow process in real life and I like to bring that to my series’ as I feel it makes the characters real and allows readers to believe in the whole setting, science fiction, monsters, space travel and all.

Of course, in my stand alone novels, which aren’t part of a series, I have to do things a little differently.  In those books I have to bring the character out much quicker so readers can go through the ‘getting to know you’ phase before the last page.  In a way it’s more challenging to write a stand alone because this whole process has to be done so quickly.  The next novel I shall be publishing, in June, is a stand alone I wrote for November 2012 NaNoWriMo and it was quite a task to bring the main character, Jake, out fully in one volume.

I’d be very interested to hear your opinions on this process of getting to know our characters.  Do you take it slow in a series or do you like to bring your character out fully in the first volume?

One Big Universe

I’ve never blogged about this before and only ever really discussed it with my mother.  I don’t know quite why that should be, I guess it’s never occurred to me to mention it before.  It seems so obvious to me you see that I never thought I was being unusual or unique.

My characters all live in the same universe.

“So what?” I hear you yell.

Well, other books I’ve read don’t seem to make a point of that.  Let me explain.  At the moment I have one complete 4 part series out called The Lilean Chronicles and the first of a new series called The Sinclair V-Logs.  I also have one other stand alone novel finished and in the process of editing.  I’m halfway through writing a second Sinclair V-Log and have 2 other stand alone novels planned for the April and July Camp Nano’s.

All of these novels take place within the same universe.  You’ll meet characters in one series that you first met in a previous series.  For instance, a peripheral character in the last of The Lilean Chronicles series has become the main protagonist in The Sinclair V-Logs.  He is also a peripheral character in one of my stand alone novels and the main protagonist in one of my stand alones has a couple of mentions in one of The Sinclair V-Log novels.  From book to book, series to series to stand alone, you’ll hear planets mentioned that have been visited before or mentioned before in previous series’ or books.

For me, this gives added cohesion to my books; a sense of familiarity that ties them all together.  After all, we actually do live in the same universe, so it makes sense that my characters would too.  It makes me smile when reading one of my books and I come across a name I know from a previous book or series, or hear a character talk about this planet or that planet.  I think to myself  “Oh, I’ve been there in such and such a book.”

When meeting a character that I’ve already met in a previous book, I immediately feel a sense of connection which I feel helps the reader to feel at home in my universe.

I’d be very interested to know your thoughts or observations on this.