Monday, 31 October 2011

Chapter One: Neuromancer

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The latest genre in my series of first chapter breakdowns is Science Fiction. As with the other books I’ve analysed (Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Notebook and others can be found here), I will attempt to see how a debut novelist managed to create an opening to his story that successfully pulls the reader in.


William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) is the preeminent cyberpunk novel. A good example of a very derivative work on one level (Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, noir and hardboiled all rolled together) that is at the same time influential in its own right, spawning countless books and films and even fashions.

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

This Is Not An Outline

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The reason many people don’t find outlines helpful isn’t because they’re not an outlining sort of writer, it’s because they don’t know how to write a good outline. You’ll also hate toast if you only ever make it burnt to a crisp. With NaNoWriMo on the horizon I thought I’d take the opportunity to go over a few basics.

1. Jacki McLonli, recent divorcee, is at home climbing the walls. Her best friend Debbie calls her up and invites her out to lunch.
2. At a cool restaurant, over a delicious meal, Debbie tells Jacki that Mark, Jacki’s old high school sweetheart is back in town. He’s doing very well, still has his own hair, and is single.
3. Jacki “accidentally” bumps into Mark outside his place of work.

I think you can see the kind of story this is developing into, and each scene has an indication of what needs to happen were I to write it up as a first draft. But this is NOT an outline—at least not a good one.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Pedantic Much?

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When you first learn about the basics of good writing, about how to best employ the senses, or how not to employ adverbs, there comes a moment when it all comes together, when it all makes perfect sense. Good sense that can’t be argued with. And you start employing those ideas in your own writing and no doubt your writing improves greatly.

However, it’s very easy to go from convert to zealot. The main difference being you suddenly feel the need to impress on others the true path. And in many cases others would certainly benefit from knowing the value of show versus tell, or that short sentences make action scenes more visceral. How could anyone disagree with using fewer clichés?

But that doesn’t mean it’s true for all cases.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Third Campaigner Challenge - Show Not Tell

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Write a blog post in 300 words or less, excluding the title. The post can be in any format, whether flash fiction, non-fiction, humorous blog musings, poem, etc. The blog post should show:

  • that it’s morning, 
  • that a man or a woman (or both) is at the beach
  • that the MC is bored
  • that something stinks behind where he/she is sitting
  • that something surprising happens.


Cheesy Feet

Monday, 17 October 2011

Every Question Needs An Answer

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From a writer’s perspective, all story has the same basic purpose: I have something I want to tell you. The problem is, you might be busy, or uninterested, or having fun doing something reprehensible (don’t pretend you wouldn’t). 

So, first I need to get your attention.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Exposition Ninja

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You have information you need the reader to have. Problem is the characters already know, or aren’t interested, or have no idea. Just putting the information (backstory, exposition, general background details) into the text, while simple and effective, is clunky. So how do you go about imparting this info without being obvious about it?


You may not want to put information in a certain scene, you may choose not to, but you should be able to if you have to. Everyone says exposition should be invisible, integrated into the narrative, delivered without being noticed, but nobody tells you how to do it. So how do you do it?

Monday, 10 October 2011

Do Not Trust Your Gut

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Let’s say you’ve written a story, you think it’s pretty good but you know it needs work—and you’re prepared to do that work—but being so close to it, it’s hard to know exactly what to change and what not to change.

So, you give it to a couple of people to read and they both zero in on the same thing that needs fixing. And you’re pleased because you too suspected that part needed work. However, the suggestions they make for what’s wrong with it and what approach needs to be taken to make amends is totally contradictory. One says do more, the other says do less. One says this story needs more of Mr X, the other says it needs more of Mr Y. Make it quicker, no, make it slower.

And the thing is, you can see both make valid points. They both have merit. Either could be right. What do you do?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Hunky Dory

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Most men have a pretty low opinion of romance fiction as written by women. Why? Most stories have some type of romance in them, one person attracted to another. The Great Gatsby or Fight Club or Slaughterhouse Five, they have love story tropes in them too. So what is it about the female version of romance that men find so laughable?

I’m not just referring to full on Romance fiction, the type with a glistening six-pack on the cover, I  include YA, paranormal, chick-lit, historical fiction, thrillers, basically any story aimed at the female market with a strong romance element to it. That means a female lead, and a man she’s interested in. She may not get the man, there may be other complications, but that’s general set up. And I don’t think it can be disputed that these books are hugely popular and one of the most lucrative areas of publishing. 

So what's wrong with how women write men?

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Objective Correlative

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According to T.S. Eliot (and he’s no slouch) the only way to convey emotion through words is to use an objective correlative, in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which creates a formula for that particular emotion.

That means in order to get across sadness it is not enough to simply state that Jack was feeling sad. We understand what that means, but we don’t feel it. You can say Jack was sad because his mother had died, and we understand why he’s sad, but still it doesn’t really register. But if you write a scene with Jack stood at a graveside with rain falling and mourners sniffling and Jack’s tiny hand gripping a woman’s lace handkerchief etc., then it starts to transfer some of that emotion.

The problem is that although it is true that emotions are triggered within us by symbols we all recognise and react to, because those symbols get used a lot (like rain at a funeral) it becomes obvious what the writer is doing. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate the power of those symbols—anyone who’s teared up when watching an advertisement on TV knows it doesn’t matter how corny you make it, schmaltz sells—what it does mean though is that if you want to garner respect for your writing all the seats at the front have already been taken.
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