Sunday 31 July 2011

Sometimes it's just got to be said


In some cases the writer doesn’t care that readers are put off by backstory and exposition. They need to know stuff and the quickest way to tell them, is to just tell them. Sometimes it works for the genre. The lead robber of the bank heist will give the “Let’s go over it one more time...” speech, and it's kind of expected.

Sci-fi geeks want to know how your teleportation device is supposed to work (so they can scoff at your poor understanding of quantum physics). And if the reader is heavily invested enough they’ll even let slide the ridiculous rules to your made-up sport that makes no sense (150 points for catching a snitch? Really?) .

However, assuming you want to work in your backstory/exposition in a subtle and elegant way, there are a number of techniques available to you.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Action Stations!


There are some basic rules to writing action in fiction that are straightforward and make sense. Keep sentences short to add pace. Be clear and use simple language when describing complicated moves. Show don't tell.

This doesn’t just apply to fights and chases. Any confrontation, any physical movement, any visual scene will have an action element to it. However, you can’t just replicate Hollywood movie visuals, the picture in the reader’s head won't automatically have the same impact as stunt-work on the big screen. You have to find a way to translate what's on the page into an emotional experience for the reader.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Hello, Mary Sue.


A “Mary Sue” is a character who is too good to be true. They have all the skills, they save the day, they sacrifice themselves to be the hero everyone remembers. In fiction this kind of character is derided as being the overly perfect man or woman who has the all best qualities and none of the flaws.

I think the general attitude towards this kind of character is a little misconceived. There’s always been the character who was good at everything, the hero, the beauty, the chosen one. Whether it’s James Bond or Cinderella or Neo. And in some genres, like Romance or Spy Thrillers, this kind of character is pretty much standard.

The thing that stands out with “Mary Sue” types I come across isn’t what they looks like, or what abilities they have, it’s what happens to them. And it’s what they do. Or don’t do.

The modern-day “Mary Sue” isn't perfect, she's lazy.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Story vs Plot


Aren't these just two ways to say the same thing? Does it really matter if you don't know the difference?

On a very basic level STORY is what happens and PLOT is how it happens. There are various simplified explanations of this, the most famous probably being E.M. Forster’s:

The King died and then the Queen died – is a story.
The King died and then the Queen died from grief – is a plot.

The suggestion being that plot provides a deliberate causal relationship between events that tells the reader the reasons for what happened, and what it means in a wider context. This is all very well but how does it help you to be a better storyteller?

Sunday 17 July 2011

Query querying


Week 3 of the Blogorama is a query contest where advice, suggestions and comments are sought on query letters. Anyone can share their opinion on the following pitch for my WiP Lickety Split. Please feel free to tell me what you think, vague or specific, no need to hold back (I'm sure agents won't).

I've taken onboard people's comments  and this is my second draft:

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Choices, Decisions, Dilemmas


There’s no point posing a question for a character if the answer is straightforward and easy. If the question is “Fish or chicken?” that isn’t much of a dilemma. Even if the character loves both dishes and is at a loss and can’t make up his mind. It’s just a matter of preference.

If the character can decide later, if he can carry on living quite happily with either choice, if he can say, “Actually, I’ll just have a salad,” then why would the reader care about the outcome?

Problem is, there are plenty of people who will tell you something as though it was terribly important when it isn’t. They explain why they took the scenic route instead of cutting through town. Why they chose blinds instead of curtains. How the Cointreau Orange was the right choice for the living room walls because it matches the Ambre Solaire Beige upholstery of the settee. People are generally convinced everything they think of is as interesting to others as it is to them. But how do you prevent a conversation with someone you just met from turning into a dance of the disguised yawns?

Sunday 10 July 2011

What the hell is up with no.8?


As most of you will already know, these are Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for writing short stories:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. 

Seven of these rules for writing short stories are pretty easy to agree with. They make sense and although they may not be as straightforward to employ as the list might make it seem, they’re probably worth pursuing. And even if you choose to do it differently, you can still understand what he meant.

But number eight is an odd thing to say, and one I’ve never really understood. So I'd like to take a closer look at it.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Bunch of Cults No.4: Perdido Street Station


This is part of an ongoing series of weird and wonderful stories from off the beaten path. Others in the series can be found here.

This post is in two parts. Firstly a look at one of the brightest stars in British sci-fi/fantasy, a work of great creativity. And secondly a few thoughts on the way we read, in particular skimming. How we do it, why we do it, and is there anything wrong with it?

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville is a steam punk novel set in a world with similarities to Victorian England, but with odd machines, alien-looking inhabitants and a touch of magic. The world created is very convincing and inventive. The story is about a tyrannical and oppressive regime sent into convulsions when an unstoppable monster is accidentally released into the city skies. (For a more detailed review of this book please check out my profile on Goodreads—anyone also a member of that site feel free to friend me, always looking for fellow readers to discuss books with).

Sunday 3 July 2011

I just had to ask...

Week One of this blogfest is to ask a question, any question, that you've been wondering about with regard to writing. 

So, as aspiring writers (and indeed some of you may already be published authors) we build websites and blogs and twitter and Facebook, and mainly we network with similar folk: Writers. This is great for support, advice, camaraderie, and all that stuff. But how do we expand beyond that to reach our target audience: Readers.

If you already have an established readership I can see how having a place for these people to gather, to have questions answered, their interest stimulated and generally galvanized for the next book is an obvious thing to do. But when you’re setting out to establish your ‘platform’ where do you go to find people who are into the stuff you are into?

I enjoy the company of my fellow writers, but I wonder sometimes if it isn’t a little closed off. I’m thinking there must be non-corporate sites where books are reviewed and recommended in a community that discusses stuff openly and objectively.

Is Goodreads the main place? Perhaps there other similar/better sites, forums, message boards (do these still exist?).

Would love to know your thoughts and suggestions (you don't have to be involved in the blogfest to comment).
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