Friday, 29 June 2012

Flash fiction, humour and the odd death

Final reminder that the Flash 500 fiction and humour verse competitions close tomorrow, Saturday 30th June, at midnight (UK time). You only have a day and a half to get your stories and poems in. Good luck to everyone who enters.

Here's the reminder I promised you earlier in the week. My collection of seven short stories, Wish You Were (Not) Here (written as Frances di Plino), will be free to download tomorrow and Sunday.



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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Writing in Different Genres


Today we have an interesting and informative post from Barbara Scott-Emmett on the benefits of writing in different genres. Over to you, Barbara ...

Because I write both mainstream fiction and erotica, and have also ventured into the thriller genre, I am often asked how I cope with writing across different genres. In truth, I find it fairly easy to switch from one type of work to another.

At present I am working on a novel which could perhaps be described as literary or general fiction,  an erotic novella, and some erotic short stories for a new collection. I find that jumping from one to another gives my creativity a boost.

If I'm in a, what I call inspirational, writing phase (brand new stuff, hot off the pen) I can usually only produce between 500 to 1500 words in any one session. Once those words are written, that's it until the next day. And if I'm in an editing phase with my main work, I can only edit for maybe two hours before I start to get stale and have to put it aside.

But when one aspect of the Muse has had enough, I can usually tempt a different side of her out. I can turn to editing something else or even to dashing off the first draft of a new story. In this way, I can get more work done than if I was working on only one project.

Also, the different types of writing I do seem to feed off each other. If my main novel is becoming tired and uninspired, I use the techniques of erotica to spice it up a bit, to make the language more voluptuous, richer, more expressive. Similarly, when the erotica starts to become formulaic and repetitive (after all, there are only so many ways the sex act can be described!), I bring in my other writing skills - to increase the tension, to add a bit of non-erotic background, or to develop a character more. I do sometimes find myself using the same words and phrases I've just used in my mainstream novel but as long as I'm aware of that, it's okay. After all, I can't be accused of plagiarising myself, can I?

Writing erotica can also be a very useful antidote to any form of writers' block. I can rattle off an erotic short story fairly quickly (the bare bones anyway) and this helps get the writing muscles moving so I can tackle something else. Writing erotica seems to use different juices from other writing. (Oh dear, why is it that everything sounds like a double entendre when erotica is up for discussion!)

Writing erotica has also made me unselfconscious about including scenes of a sexual nature in other works. As I describe my work as being a combination of sex and spirituality, that's an important consideration. Although I don't believe in adding sex for the sake of it, it is sometimes necessary to focus on that aspect of life and to explore it and its hidden meaning.

Freud thought everything we did was related to sexual impulses; Jung thought sexual impulses were related to spirituality. (Potted generalised versions there, of course.) I am more of a Jungian in my attitude and I like to look at what is behind human desire and what that desire may really be about. This often involves looking at the darker sides of sex, which I tend to do in my mainstream work. For me, therefore, erotica is an exploration of the lighter side of sex - the fun, uncomplicated side.

When I attempted a thriller (Don't Look Down) I used a different technique again. I tried to make it very fast paced and to have some kind of hook or cliff hanger at the end of each chapter. I don't know how successful I was at that but it was certainly a good exercise in trying to make each chapter interesting in its own right.

I used this same technique on the first draft of my current work in progress (The Spiritual Hunt or Poetic Justice) and it helped me get the first part written fairly quickly. I then had to go back over it and slow it down and flesh it out as it turned out not to be a thriller after all. Nevertheless, using the techniques of a different type of writing was a useful exercise as it made me focus on getting the reader to turn the page.

So, for me, writing in different genres has many advantages - when I'm not coming up with the goods in one area, I can turn my hand to another, thereby increasing my output.

Well, that's the theory anyway.

......

Barbara Scott Emmett writes mainstream novels, short stories, poetry and plays under her own name and erotica as Barbie Scott.

All her books can be found at Amazon and Pentalpha Publishing Edinburgh or on her BLOG or WEBSITE


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Friday, 22 June 2012

Stories in and stories out


This post has a two-fold purpose and, funnily enough, both reasons have to do with the end of month weekend.

Firstly, the Flash 500 fiction and humour verse competitions close at midnight (UK time) on Saturday 30th June. If you haven’t yet finished polishing your entries, don’t panic, you still have a week to make them sparkle.

Secondly, I am making my collection of seven short stories free next weekend. On Saturday 30th June and Sunday 1st July you can pick up a copy at absolutely no charge. 

Wish You Were (Not) Here (written as Frances di Plino

I’ll post again next Friday to remind you, but in the meantime, the links you’ll need are:



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Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Can I Write A Novel In A Week?


Can I Write A Novel In A Week? No, not me. That question is posed by my guest poster today, David Robinson, who answers it by saying ...
I don’t know, but from 9-15th July, I’m going to try.
It’s not simply an academic exercise, nor something to keep my tiny mind occupied for a week. There is an underlying purpose to it… aside from producing a novel in a week, that is.
What is it we writers are best at? Procrastination. It’s in the genes. We get out of bed determined that today is the day when we meet the WIP head on and really get to grips with it... after we’ve checked the emails, the Facebook and Twitter updates, and let’s not forget the news. There’s an hour gone. Time to get to it… oh! Ford have produced a new model Ka. Must check that out, and look, here’s a woman who lost two stones in three days. How did she do that?
Between visits to the kettle (or coffeemaker) trips to the shop, chats on IM or the phone, taking the dog for an extended walk to contemplate the direction the WIP should take, the morning soon goes, and then it’s the obligatory hour with Loose Women, and Wimbledon fills the afternoon. Before we know it, it’s yawn time and we need some sleep. Pity about the WIP. Still: there’s always tomorrow.
I like to think of myself as well-motivated and focussed, but the truth is, I’m as bad as anyone else. The road to hell is not a pavement of good intentions; it’s an unwritten novel that needs attention.
I got to thinking about the days when I worked for a living. Long hours and no skiving. I put in anything up to 55 hours a week. True, I was well paid, but the working week was just that; work.
What would happen if I translated that level of industry to novel writing?
I’ve never actually timed it, but I guess a day’s work now amounts to less than three hours of actual work; the rest is smoke. The missus will say, “Have you seen what the government’s done to (choose some contentious theme)” and I will respond, “Leave me alone, I’m busy.” Yes I’m busy all right; busy playing Marble Lines on Facebook.
Suppose then, I apply the principles of the workplace to novel writing. I did some rough calculations. I timed myself producing 1,000 words, and it came to 40 minutes. It’s about right, my typing speed is about 25-35 wpm. So in an hour, I should produce 1500 words. Let’s call the standard working day eight hours.  8 x 1500=12,000. That is the number of words I should produce in a working day. If I then multiply that by seven (no day off for a wicked idler like me) then I should produce 84,000 words in that week. For a cosy whodunit, like my Sanford 3rd Age Club Mysteries, that is a full book. For a major work such as The Handshaker (100,000 words) it needs only two more days work to complete it.
I’m not stupid… well I am. Only an idiot would tackle something like this. But I’m not foolish enough to think that I can have a completed novel in a week. I do believe I can get a workable first draft. I also know enough about myself to realise that I won’t put in eight hours of solid graft every day. Even when I worked for an employer, I took smoke breaks, coffee breaks, and bone idleness breaks. So I’ve decided to be generous with my targets. Over the seven days, I want to produce a working first draft of 60-70,000 words. That is 10,000 words per day.
I said earlier that this is not simply an academic exercise. The finished product will, at some stage, go to Crooked Cat Books, those lovely people who publish my work and that of Lorraine’s alter-ego Frances di Plino.
Can I do it?
Why not follow me and find out? As well as producing the novel, I’ll be blogging my progress at http://novelinaweek.blogspot.co.uk/
Find out more about David and his published novels on his website: http://www.dwrob.com/

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Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Stranger as Protagonist


Today we have the pleasure of another wonderful guest post, once again by a fellow Crooked Cat Publishing author, Mark Patton. Mark introduces us to the concept of...

The Stranger as Protagonist

One of the challenges of writing historical fiction (but which can apply equally to science fiction and fantasy, or to any stories with unfamiliar settings) is how to explain to the reader those things that the characters would take for granted. The writer of a contemporary novel, for example, can take his or her readers into a Christian church along with one of the characters, without having to explain what Christianity is, who Jesus was, or why a baby might be baptised. The reader may or may not be a Christian, but will be familiar with the religion as an element of modern western culture. If, on the other hand, I write a novel set in ancient Rome, and have a character walking into a Temple of Mithras, I will need to explain far more in order not to lose the reader along the way.

My novel, Undreamed Shores, is set in the familiar landscape of Southern England, but it is set in 2400 BC, in the context of a culture that, for most readers, will be profoundly unfamiliar. The prospect of visiting Stonehenge whilst it is in use, and meeting its architect, is hopefully one of the things that will attract readers to the book, but I inevitably have a good deal of explaining to do, and not just when it comes to the religion, but many aspects of daily life as well. It was partly for this reason that I chose a protagonist (a young man, Amzai) who is himself, a stranger to this land and culture. The entire novel is narrated from his point of view, and the reader discovers it along with him.

In one sense, this is a tried and tested formula. Homer’s Odyssey and Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels and, more recently, David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, all have protagonists who discover and explore worlds that are unfamiliar to them, taking the reader on that journey with them as they progress. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jonathan Harker travels to, and reports back from, the heart of Dracula’s world before the vampire arrives in England to begin his reign of terror here.

In most cases, however, these discoverers of unfamiliar worlds come from backgrounds that gave them much in common with the readers for whom the works were written. Robinson Crusoe and Lemuel Gulliver are fairly typical eighteenth century Englishmen; Jonathan Harker is a London solicitor; Dante even places himself centre-stage, since it is he who travels, with the poet Virgil as his guide, through the infernal regions, describing them for the reader in terms so memorable as to have informed almost all subsequent imaginings of “Hell” in art and literature (far more so than anything in the Bible). Jacob de Zoet is a different sort of protagonist: an eighteenth century Dutchman in a 21st Century English novel, his own world is only marginally more familiar to the reader than the Japanese milieu that he explores. Here we come face to face with one of the specific challenges of writing historical fiction: our protagonists are always, to a greater or lesser extent, unlike our readers (or ourselves) simply by virtue of living in a remote time period.
 
My protagonist, Amzai, is quite an extreme example of this. He comes (as I do) from the Channel Islands, and the culture and society of Early Bronze Age Dorset and Wiltshire are strange to him. He has to learn the languages; figure out the customs and manners; understand the religion; much in the same way as Gulliver has to find his way around Brogdingnag. He has a guide (a young woman, Nanti, with whom he falls in love) to help him in this, much as Dante has Virgil.

Both Amzai and Nanti, however, belong to their own time period, which is very remote from ours. Theirs is a world without the written word, without maps, without the wheel. In trying to interpret such a world for the reader, it suited my narrative purpose to imagine Amzai and Nanti as coming from very different backgrounds (not only in terms of where they come from), and to give them different sorts of knowledge, which they share with one another in a way that hopefully seems natural to the reader in the context of the story. As an islander, Amzai has an intimacy with, and an understanding of, the sea that Nanti cannot begin to approach. She, however, has a particular gift for languages, and is also a respected healer, with a vast knowledge of medicinal herbs.  

Part of the joy of writing the book lay in the opportunities it created to mix up the very familiar (the landscape, birds, trees, flowers, animals) with the profoundly unfamiliar (the society, customs, mythology and religion - partly reconstructed from the archaeological evidence, but largely imagined); to generate sparks of connection between our own world and that of our remote ancestors.

This, however, is just how I have done it. Who are your favourite protagonists in stories with unfamiliar settings, and why? How do you go about the process of creating a protagonist in your own writing? What characteristics should a great protagonist have?


                  


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Monday, 11 June 2012

Character by the seat of my pants


This week we have a wonderful post on character creation from the author of The Dragon Ring, Maggie Secara.

Character by the seat of my pants

Some people plot, as they say, by the seat of their pants. I can’t do that, but I do tend to let characters just appear when they need to and tell me who they are as we go along. The last thing I have any use for, no matter how good the questions are, is a “character sheet.”

If that’s an unfamiliar term, a character sheet is a tool many people suggest is absolutely necessary for creating a character before the story even begins. Do an internet search for “character sheets for writers” and you’ll get more examples than you can possibly use. In general, it’s a list of questions. Personally, I don’t need to know my guy’s height and weight, favorite color and favorite band before I can start talking about him. If they’re important to the story, or to how he reacts to events, those things will reveal themselves as the story develops.

When I first started imagining The Dragon Ring, my main character Ben was supposed to be a college professor who had to solve a mystery. That’s all I had. Without knowing more about the problems he faced and how he’d react to them, how could I answer questions about his character? What good were they?

I started making notes, just dashing words on paper to see what kind of story this was going to be. As various plot elements began to take root, he became a writer, then a musician. With a young son. That meant a wife—okay, a living wife, not the classic single dad. Her name could wait. A harassed musician who didn’t have time for his son… STOP! Cliché alert. No, a harassed musician with no time for his music… why? Ah ha, the first actual question. Answering it led to a whole new career for the main character, and a unique situation.

In The Dragon Ring, when I first put Ben Harper in a pub in Devon, I didn’t know or care about the color of his eyes (quite ordinary brown). I also didn’t know exactly how he’d react to an undeniably magical event happening right in front of him.  And then the guy buying hm a pint turns out to be the King of Faerie. I found out right as I wrote it that he had once been a believer but consciously set the mythic part of him aside. Not grown out of it; set it aside. What part of a character sheet would have given me that?

Now I realize that in a character driven novel, which Dragon Ring is, you can only go so far with this casual approach. Once things start to happen, there are some things you really do need to know. 

What questions do you really want to ask about a character? Here are a few I had to address before I got too far along.
  • What does he want? This may be the whole goal of the story: to find a treasure or a murderer, to save a child, to save the world, or just to get to the end of the trail. To start with, Ben thinks he wants to be left alone. His world is quite interesting enough, thank you; but Faerie is about to provide him with goals he wants even more.
  • Strengths? What makes it possible for him even to begin his quest? Ben has three special gifts: True Sight, that lets him see the faerie world; True Finding, which means he can find anything he has a connection to, including himself (he never gets lost); and True Music, perfect pitch. Since in my universe, faerie magic is inseparable from music, this allows him to navigate the veils that separate our world from Faerie, and travel into the past. There are others, as I found along the way, but these are the ones without which the story can't proceed.
  • What are his… people usually say weaknesses but let’s say vulnerabilities. Everyone has them and so does Ben, whether he’s aware of them or not. In story terms, these are the features that his adversaries can use against him, to threaten or control. Vulnerabilities are not the same as fears, and aren't necessarily a negative, though the villains usually think so. Ben might be afraid of drowning, but it won’t stop him from taking an interview with a naiad at the bottom of a river. However, his love for his family--certainly not a weakness--can be turned against him. When his son Sparrow  is threatened, Ben is helpless, over-borne by the faerie queen’s magic; all he can do is beg Oberon to step in. 
All those other questions about siblings, childhood memories and the kind of car he drives can be answered when they're needed, or never, if they’re not essential to this story. Right now, as far as I know, Ben Harper is an only child. But who knows? When you’re creating a character by the seat of your pants, anything’s possible.


               
 
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