Teaser Tuesday – A Lesson In Wickedness!

That’s right, lovely people, it’s Teaser Tuesday! I know it’s normally Thursday, but I’m switching things up, just to confuse everybody. I’m going to share a little snippet from A Lesson In Wickedness, the 5th book in the Grim Alliance series, which is well under way! So enjoy a little light reading on your break, ladies and gentlemen. 🙂 (Bearing in mind this is still unedited!)

Tuesday Teaser

The night air was cool as it kissed Mika’s cheek, still damp from the evening’s rain. She leaned back against the white bricks of the house, folding her arms as she cocked one leg against them too, blowing out a harsh breath. She closed her eyes, welcoming the sting of relief as her tired eyeballs rested for a moment. It had been a long few weeks for all the Reapers, but Mika was feeling it now. As the oldest—besides Greek—she had always felt more wearied from than the others. A cold shiver travelled across her skin as an insect dropped onto her arm, flying off again rapidly as her eyes snapped open to stare at it. You’d think they wouldn’t like dead flesh, but there you go. A morose smile curved her lips as she gazed across the garden, lazily watching the tall wildflowers and grass bending against one another in the semi-darkness of twilight.

Her nerves jumped as she was startled by the sound of heavy footsteps coming through the hallway, and Gabe stepped out through the open front door. He pensively turned his green eyes to Mika, rubbing a hand over the blond stubble on his head, giving a shifty look over his shoulder back inside. The sound of the others chatting travelled out to the still air, and he cleared his throat softly. “Er…you’re not going to tell Talia I was out here, are you?”

Mika raised an eyebrow, grinning coyly. “Why? Lover’s quarrel?”

“No, but there might be one if she spots what I’m doing.” In answer to Mika’s frown, he pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes out of his back pocket, holding them up for her to see before tapping the packet and pulling a slim stick out. He rummaged in his other pocket, finally pulling out a yellow lighter, snapping it and holding the flame close as he took a drag. The tall Reaper’s eyes closed in pleasure, and he took a long drag, placing the lighter back in the seat of his jeans. “Oh, gods. I needed that.” He gave Mika another panicked glance. “Seriously, don’t tell Talia. I’m trying to quit, but it’s fucking hard, you know.”

“Gabe,” Mika admonished, giving a cluck of her tongue. She peered around the corner of the open doorway. The hallway was dark, a shaft of light showing across the floor from the door to the living room, left ajar by a few inches. Laughter came from within, and she could hear the raised sounds of the TV.  Groaning aloud, she turned back to the stillness of the night air, shaking her head at Gabe. “You know I’ll get in trouble if your faerie sees you. And I don’t want to be on the wrong end of Mother Bear.” The Reaper pushed herself off from the wall, her hair bobbing with the movement as she stared at Gabe. He stared back, unblinking, taking another sharp drag of his cigarette as though it might be his last. Eh. It’s his un-life. “Fine. But you have to give me one.”

Gabe scoffed, his forehead wrinkling as he widened his eyes in surprise. “Since when do you smoke?”

“Since you lot never notice me sneaking out the back and spraying myself in deodorant. Since when do you sneak out the front to have one?”

“Touché.” The blond Reaper held his pack out, allowing Mika to take one. He tilted his head back as he passed her the lighter, narrowing his eyes. “You know, smoking is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The lighter made a grinding noise as the flint struck, and a large orange flame leapt up, dying down as Mika pulled it, and the poisonous contents of her cigarette, into her lungs. Passing the lighter back slowly, she blew out a long plume of smoke over her shoulder, resting one hand on her hip. Great, more deep talk. Just what I need when I feel like my brain’s wound down for the year. She cast her eyes back towards the waving wildflowers at Gabe’s statement. “What do you mean by that?”

Gesturing for her to follow with a jerk of his head, Gabe turned and headed over to the far side of the house—the side with no windows—towards a large, black garden sofa. The wooden decking groaned under his weight as he marched over to the couch, sinking himself down into the cushions with a contented sigh, pulling his feet up and resting them against the arm. Mika stepped up to the far end of the corner-sofa, plumping herself down as she continued to stare over at Gabe. I want to know what the hell he meant by that statement. Fear gripped her for a second. She was always worried that her sarcasm and iciness made the others think she didn’t care about their group, when nothing could be further from the truth. I love this gang of misfits—even our new misfits. We’re a family. Even if sometimes it’s like the Addams Family. And I’m Wednesday. Who didn’t love Wednesday?

Copyright © 2016, Miranda Stork.

How To Get Back In The Writing Groove

So, as many of you may have guessed by the massive amount of time I didn’t post anything, I was away. Surprise! *grin* I was busy with family/work/study/various-stressy-things, so I had to leave my poor book-in-progress for a while, gathering dust. Which was doubly bad, because it was the fourth in a series. Yikes.

But, I’ve just published it today (Twice As Guilty, from the Grim Alliance series), so I did finally manage to finish it. And I completed some 28K+ in little over three weeks. It’s rather tricky getting back into the swing of writing every day when you’ve left it for a while, so I thought I’d share some of my tips and ideas to help you, if you ever find yourself procrastinating rather than going back into that story. It’s harder than just starting a book, but there’s less info on it. So, here we go.

1. Re-read what you have got so far.

Even if you have a writing plan written out (I did a post here on writing out a synopsis, which is what I use – conversely – to guide me at the start of a book, rather than the end), it’s still going to be difficult to pick up the same tone and ‘voice’ you were using previously, if you don’t look over what you already have. But the gem of this is that it should be almost fresh to you, if you’ve left it for a while. So you can quickly pick up parts that worked, parts that didn’t, and get a feel for what you were going for again. By the time you get to the end of what you’ve written, you should be in the same mindset as you were when you last stopped typing.

Source: (By Janpha Thadphoothon – Janpha’s Photo Collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10873988)

2. Take notes on what you have written so far.

Use re-reading as an opportunity for some light ahead-of-time editing. Cut out anything that bores you, anything that seems to drag on, and anything that doesn’t fit nicely. Coming back to a novel is difficult, but it’s also a great reason to really trim the fat of your novel and keep it on track. If you don’t use a writing plan of any sort, make sure to at least note down significant characters and events that will effect what you write later on, especially as the story isn’t fresh in your mind.

3. Get yourself in the mood.

If you listened to a particular soundtrack last time around, or if a certain movie or picture influenced the story, go listen to it/dig it out and watch it/look at it again. Remembering the feelings that inspired your story can help you keep it consistent, so there isn’t an obvious leap from last-time-of-writing to just-got-going-again. People continually change over weeks or months, and that includes you – and that will show up in your writing. Get yourself back into the place you were before, just temporarily, and engage with those emotions for the book’s continuity.

4. Relax!

This is nearly always on one of my ‘lists’, but that’s because it encompasses so many parts of life! If you’re worrying over your novel too much, you’re going to get yourself in a rut again. Just breathe, relax, and write away. The important thing is to write, even if you don’t think it’s the standard you had before. You may surprise yourself, and find your writing has improved with a little break! You never know. Just don’t stop writing again unless you really have to. Which leads onto…

5. Start small.

When you get back into a novel, particularly if you were writing a good few thousand words a day, it can seem daunting to do the same after a break from it. So don’t do it! Not yet. Start small, and limit yourself to doing 100 words a day. Then increase it if you can to 150, then 200 – and each day, if you get to an exciting part, keep writing! Before you know it, you’ll be back to writing 5K a day with no problem. I have two friends who combine this with writing challenges; each setting a total number of words that day to be completed, and sharing the outcome with each other. This means you feel more obligated to reach that target when someone else is doing the same, and it’s also great encouragement.

In conclusion…those are my tips! The most important part of getting back into writing a novel is to keep at it. Everyone panics when they start thinking of deadlines, or “I should have had this out ages ago”, or whether they’ll finish it. Don’t think about any of that (I know, easier said than done, but it helps). Just focus on the story. The story is the consistent part that will remain in your hands, whatever you’re going to do with it afterwards. If you’re enjoying writing, then it will come back to you, and you’ll be finished with that novel in no time. So focus on the story, start small with your word limits, and keep at it! Even 50 words a day is more than 0. 🙂

And remember, many famous writers take years to complete novels! (George R.R. Martin, I’m scowling at you, haha).

What about you guys? Any tips you would add to the list that you’ve found helpful in getting back into your writing?

Just A Quick Newsflash…

IT’S LIVE, PEOPLE!

TAG Banner

A day early, TWICE AS GUILTY is now up on Amazon, B&N, Apple, and a bunch of other places! 😀 This time you get two Reapers for the price of one…

Drew and Devin were always more than twins. More than brothers. More than bandmates.

They even died together.

When Drew and Devin become Reapers, both of them bury their past and focus on saving souls for the Hall of Rest. The darkness of their childhood, and the brightness of their brief stint as a famous band, disappear as they are reborn in their new role. They secretly long for the women who will be their soulmates—and Devin believes he has found his, in the faerie Helena.

But Empusa is already two steps ahead of the Reapers, and a spy in their midst begins to unravel the close connection of the twins, ultimately leading to destroying the Grim Alliance from within. Events will make Devin and Drew question their past, as well as their future, and will test the boundaries of brotherly love. A block on the Hall of Rest means souls are trapped in Empusa’s realm, and puts a strain on everyone involved.

The Reapers must find out Empusa’s plan in time, or the Hall of Rest will fall to the goddess’ grasp, as will the Grim Alliance—and the twins who are at the epicentre of the fallout.

Amazon US

Amazon CAN

Amazon UK

Apple (On Preorder until tomorrow)

B&N (On Preorder until tomorrow)

Thanks for continuing to read about the Grim Alliance, everyone. I’m having the most fun yet writing this series, and it’s not even got to the really juicy parts yet! 😀

News About A Unicorn

Wow, is that…is that a cobweb? Dust? Sock-eating monster? I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to tidy up after having not been here for a while, haha.
SOME GOOD NEWS ABOUT A UNICORN!
Okay, so now I have your attention…there is no unicorn. Got’cha! BUT…I do have some book-related news. The last three months have pushed stuff back even further, but I put my head down and…
*drum roll*
TWICE AS GUILTY, BOOK 4 OF THE GRIM ALLIANCE IS FINISHED!
It’s currently going through editing, but it will be available to download and continue the story of Drew and Devin on FRIDAY 11TH MARCH, people! So make a date in your calendars, or use that handy Siri/Cortana feature you’ve got, and make a date. Just to give you all a tease of what’s to come, here’s some of my favourite random or funny quotes from the book. 😉 (Yes, Greek is there twice, but really, who doesn’t love Greek?)
“You know why,” Greek promptly replied with a grin. “Remember when you and Drew crashed that guy’s bachelor party? With the sheep, and the transvestite stripper? That club had to close down and become a sandwich shop. They never did get that stuff off the walls.”
Helena straightened herself, dramatically throwing her arms around to indicate a mess. “You kind of ‘artfully arranged’ everything. That is, you turned your box upside down, threw everything on the ground, and curled up in your bed for a nap.” She turned around with a smirk, her eyes lit up at teasing the Reaper. “I left your tea on the nightstand. Seemed the only reasonable thing to do.”
Snapping her fingers to light her cigarette with a steadier hand, the Soothsayer narrowed her eyes at the group, leaning over to Greek. “Are they always like this?”
Greek rolled his eyes dramatically, throwing his hands up. “You have no idea. You should see them on Pizza Saturday. Chaos.”
The Soothsayer grinned. “And you’re the ones who don’t get punished? You poor man.”
Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000447_00008]
Copyright © 2016 Miranda Stork, The Grim Alliance Series

Writing 101: How To Begin Your Novel

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a first chapter is worth an entire book. The first chapter of any novel is everything – the set-up for the story, a dramatic entrance, and the selling point. If your first chapter doesn’t appeal to someone, they won’t bother with the rest of the book. Obviously there are always books you pick up and don’t like the first chapter to. It doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad chapter, it may just mean the book isn’t for you. But we’re aiming for the people who are the target market to fall in love with your beginning, right?

Make lots of notes before you actually start writing out your first book chapter. Source: Public Domain; Wikimedia Commons

How To Start

The very first sentence is the beginning of the beginning, and the ultimate tool at a writer’s disposal to hook people in. I did a post a while back about my personal favourite opening sentences and how to do a good one yourself, and you can take a look for some inspiration. I’m not going to repeat everything here, as I did a ton of rambling words on that post, hehe, but I’ll pinpoint the important things to remember here:

  • Go straight into the action. Don’t hesitate or worry about whether the story is clear at this point. An opening sentence is not about that. It’s about throwing yourself in, a bit like catching the middle part of an interesting conversation when you come around the corner.
  • Short and sweet is the key. Try not to use more than two commas in there, and think ‘snappier, the better’. I’m not saying don’t use a longer sentence, if it fits the bill (this especially applies to historicals and science-fiction). But we all know how much drama and impact a single word, or just a few words can have. Use that impact.
  • Think about what would catch your attention. Does your sentence do that? Imagine that sentence, and just that sentence are on a billboard. Would you stop to see what it was about?
Can you see your opening sentence on here? Does it make you want to stop and read more? Source: Public Domain; Wikimedia Commons

Can you see your opening sentence on here? Does it make you want to stop and read more? Source: Public Domain; Wikimedia Commons

How To Carry On

Okay, so we’ve got a strong opener, now what? Don’t let it fizzle out, but don’t rush everything, either. Draw the intro out, draw the reader in. But drop hints of the action or events to come (hopefully in the second or third chapters). A little bit of foreshadowing is okay, as long as you don’t hit your reader over the head with it! If you started your opening sentence as a part of someone’s speech, have it end in an argument. If the action started in a bar, why not have it end in a bar brawl and a crash where the main character becomes a reaper…okay, that’s a shameless plug for Reaper’s Deliverance. 😛 But you get the idea. The point is, pull the reader in by introducing your world slowly, but keep them there by blowing something up, or making enemies of two characters – or anything else that works.

  • Think of fishing – keep it slow for the intro, then speed things up. Make it comfy for the reader to settle in, then glue them to the chair so they can’t leave.
  • Foreshadowing is okay, but don’t overdo it.
  • Keep everything flowing at a steady pace.
You've got them! He'll be reading that for hours, now. Source: Randi Hausken, 2009 under a Creative Commons Licence, Wikimedia Commons

You’ve got them! He’ll be reading that for hours, now. Source: Randi Hausken, 2009 under a Creative Commons Licence, Wikimedia Commons

How To Finish Up

You’ve got the perfect opener, and you’ve drawn your reader in nicely. Now how do you keep them reading through the next several chapters? The end of the first chapter is often the weakest point, overlooked after so much care has gone into the rest of it. You have to keep a steady pace, otherwise your reader may go into the second chapter, and put the book down. For good. *horrified stare* So how to end it? The best (and classic way) is with that favourite – the cliff-hanger. They’re not just for the end of a book! Putting a cliff-hanger (or a ‘semi-cliff-hanger’, as I call them when it’s for a chapter) can be a great way to keep the excitement flowing. Did that argument end up in two friends becoming enemies? What are the consequences of that? Did they work together, and one of them fired the other? Are they a couple who have broken up? What if the chapter opened with a scene of action, maybe a person on the run from the law, or some dystopian police? Have they found themselves cornered? Lost their way? Been grabbed by an unknown person? End the chapter with another question, one where the answer will appear over the second chapter.

But there are other ways, too. How about revealing an early twist? This can be a good tactic in a murder mystery or thriller, for example. Perhaps the reader knows who the killer is from the first chapter? Or perhaps they see the scene through the killer’s eyes, but don’t know who they are yet? Putting a good twist so early in can also make sure the pages keep flipping over, to see what catastrophes or happiness come from it.

 

So, that’s a few tips I try to use myself – what about you guys? What tips can you add to making a great first chapter? Do you agree or disagree with the tips here? Let me know in the comments below, I love to know what you guys think! 😉

 

Other Sources of Tips

This lady has a TON of great advice, and puts a lot of stuff across that I haven’t touched on here – even offers a different point of view on some stuff. Well worth a watch (and a bit of note-taking). 🙂

 

And if you’re looking for some help on doing the synopsis (I like to do mine before I start the book, maybe you do too!), you can check out my Hubpage on the subject here. As always, my ideas are subjective, but see if it helps if you’re stuck in a rut for how to do it. 🙂

A How-To Guide For Writing The Perfect Book Synopsis

To Be Or Not To Be…That Is The Research

My last post was all about how writing about historical characters can actually improve your writing, just by their being real. This time, I’m considering how research can help flesh them out so that they’re not only realistic, but realistic for their own time. 

Stanwick Fortifications - it's not the best picture, but it was evening, raining, and my good camera wasn't charged. :)

Stanwick Fortifications – it’s not the best picture, but it was evening, raining, and my good camera wasn’t charged. 🙂 (© Miranda Stork 2015)

A few of you might know that I’m not only writing at the moment, but also doing a History/Classics degree. We’re currently doing the Odyssey, (which is an amazing epic poem, by the way) and part of what we’re doing with it is looking at how Homer may have put the ideas and culture of his own time (known as the Greek ‘Dark Age’, roughly 1200 – 800 BCE) into the poem, which is set in the Greek Bronze Age, quite a long time past when the epic was written! But it’s not an uncommon thing, to put your own ideas about things into the past. It’s the reason we get so angry when we read about injustices of the past, even though it was commonplace at the time, or get surprised when we hear about something we didn’t expect. And in five-hundred years or so, people will make assumptions about us, too, as well as generalisations. I don’t like to think about the negative things that will be remembered over the good things, but hopefully some of our culture will be preserved in ways they didn’t have even a century ago.

But getting back to the point…it’s something I know I have to watch out for in Daughters of Brigitania. Reading back over what I’ve done so far, considering I’ve still got a third or so to write, and it’s unedited, I can already see problems – mostly with speech. No, I haven’t got them saying things like ‘See you ’round’, I’m not that daft! Haha. But in some places, it feels a little too ‘modern’, and in others, they sound Shakespearean – which is closer, but it’s still not right. I can do research to find out how the ancient Britons looked, where they lived, what events they took part in…but how do I find out how they spoke? It’s made doubly hard by the fact that we don’t even know what language they spoke, even though there are modern descendants of it such as Welsh. Lucky for me, the period I’m writing about at least includes the Romans.

The amazing Vindolanda museum from the air. (© The Vindolanda Trust, 2014)

And there is a few ways to see how the Romans spoke. A few months back I went to the awesome Vindolanda museum, not far from where I live. (If you like in the UK, or you’re going to visit, and you love anything Roman, GO. It is a fabulous museum, and they have a live archaeological dig all year ’round). One of their biggest exhibits are the so-called ‘Vindolanda Tablets‘. These are a series of documents written down by Romans on thin wooden slices with ink, and cover a multitude of subjects, from shopping lists and writing exercises, to military documents and letters home to mum – there’s even an invitation to a birthday party. Seriously, take a look at them, they’re fascinating. But as a writer, aside from the excitement of seeing early writing, they are a look at how Romans spoke. When we write, we essentially put down the words we’re thinking in our heads, in the pattern of how we speak.

Look at them! I get very History-Geek Girl about these little bits of writing.

Look at them! I get very History-Geek Girl about these little bits of writing. (© The Vindolanda Trust, 2014)

As part of my degree, I recently learnt a bit of Welsh, too, and that helped with the pattern of how that language works – as well as a little ‘Cumbraek‘, another dead language from the same family that was spoken in my part of the country. By combining this with the Latin spoken by the Roman invaders/visitors, I can start to compile something which gives a hint not only of the patterns in which people spoke, but also any slang they may have used, contractions, and that sort of thing. It gives me a basis to work from, a framework of a language that will (hopefully!) give a flavour of actually being there with the ancient Britons. Having said this, there’s always going to be a little of my own impressions put in there, and I can’t avoid that totally, as it is being written in English.

So maybe I get a little bit of what Homer what aiming for with the Odyssey. A flavour of the old world, with some understanding from the present. But hopefully, I’ll get somewhere closer to the past to really transport people there – I’ll post up a teaser soon so you guys can judge for yourselves!

 

What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s possible to completely detract from modern ideas and culture in a historical novel, or is it inevitable that it will happen anyway? As always, leave your comment below, I’d love to know your thoughts! 🙂

Historical Characters in Fiction: To Exist or Not To Exist?

 

Caractacus, King of the Silures, delivered up to Ostorius, the Roman General, by Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes - print by F. Bartolozzi, British Museum

Caractacus, King of the Silures, delivered up to Ostorius, the Roman General, by Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes – print by F. Bartolozzi, British Museum

At the moment, somewhere inbetween using Nanowrimo to finish my paranormal novel and knitting small white and red stocking decorations for Christmas, I’m also writing my first historical novel, Daughters of Brigitania, that will (eventually!) be under the pen-name ‘Miranda Christon’. It’s going well, but I’ve found that, compared to the paranormal novels I put out, it’s going really well.

This isn’t me boasting, by the way. I’m just amazed at how much easier it flows. I don’t know if this has anything to do with the paranormal genre being something of a fluke/phase for me, and I’m supposed to be writing historical novels, but I suspect it also has something to do with the fact that the characters within the book (with some exceptions) actually existed. All other characters I’ve used in any book might hold traits of people I know, or actually be very similar to someone I’ve met, but they’re nowhere near real. Whereas with the historical characters, even if I have to use a bit of creative interpretation in their conversations and movements, there is also a solid basis to use for their character, their essence.

And sometimes it isn’t a lot to base them on, either. Take Cartimandua, one of my main characters. She was a client queen of Rome when they invaded Britain, and ruler of the Brigantes, the ancient British tribe who pretty much cornered the market on owning northern land in what is now England. All we know of her is literally summed up in two paragraphs, written by the Roman historian Tacitus, about 50 – 100 years after the events of her reign actually occurred. He’s pretty damning about her (as he is about Cleopatra, and I suspect, though I haven’t read his Annals and Histories cover to cover, about a few other women in charge as well. He didn’t seem to like the idea much). I’m also studying history at the moment, and the first thing we learn is that one source does not a conclusion make – in other words, he is putting his own spin on things. This makes the two paragraphs which are our only source for her life, pretty weak in terms of saying, “Yeah, this is how she was and when stuff happened. Fact.” But nevertheless, she did exist, she was a ruler of the Brigantes tribe, and she did exist in what is now the north of England.

As I’m writing, this does give me a certain basis to work from. By knowing what events occurred during her life, however accurate the times might be, I have a ready-made framework from which to pad out her story. I try to put myself in the mindset of an Iron Age ruler (because we’ve all been there, right? Ha, ha), and work out why those events happened. What other real-life events took place at that time? Who else was around her? What external events may have forced her hand in some situations? But then it also comes down to my own personal opinion, which I feel does have a bearing on how I’m going to portray her. I’m trying to be fair and balanced, but I’m wary of falling into the same trap as Tacitus did – for practically the opposite reasons – and creating a woman that I’m wholly sympathetic to without offering bias. But being able to refer back to the real-life events, historical knowledge from that time, and the little we know of how Roman writers thought, it’s possible to reconstruct something fair and balanced that helps with the writing. I’ve found this means there’s something gritty and permanent about the story once all of this is included, something that – in my humble opinion – doesn’t exist in a purely fictional novel. Because no matter how many people a fictional character is made up of, there’s nothing truly rooting that character down. And the ‘real, existing character’ doesn’t just apply to historical novels, of course.

So to go back to the original question – does writing about a historical person who actually existed make the writing easier? Yes, I believe it does. Because there’s a root for them, a template that writers can refer back to. We also have the indulgence of hindsight, and that allows us to look back over their decisions, and try to work out why they did such-and-such a thing. If it’s a fictional character, often this gets applied backwards. We want them to do a certain event, or make a certain situation happen, so we have to invent decisions for them that will fit. Real life doesn’t always include decisions that fit neatly, so this is – my hand firmly held in the air – something that can be worked into a purely fictional novel to create a story that is more realistic, I imagine. The reason I think this is that the method of working with hindsight for Cartimandua’s decisions is rubbing off on the characters I’ve invented around her, as well. (If I went with just those we know of, she would rule a tribe of three people, and that’s just silly). Because of her ‘real-life’ decisions, the invented characters suddenly also have a framework to work backwards from, like a vine gripping to a parent plant. When a situation happens that was unexpected, they have to change their plans. “Alrighty, then,” they say. “I guess we’ll put the pub crawl on ice, for now. The Romans are attacking. Drat.” Or something Iron Age-y.

So yes, having historical characters who actually existed doesn’t just make the writing better for them, it also applies to all the fictional characters around them. Mostly because a lot of the decisions made in real life throughout history would make a fictional book seem ‘implausible’, sometimes. So I’m going to try this with my paranormal stuff – I’ll make decisions for the characters, and they’re just going to have to work around it. Sod ’em.

 

Do you agree, or disagree with the idea of real-life characters having a better basis for writing? Can it be applied to purely fictional characters? Let me know what you think in the comments below, it’s always great to see what everyone thinks. 🙂

Writing 101: Catching Your Own Imagination

Yes, Writer Tip Wednesday is a little behind, but in my defence, I was stuck on a road to and from Manchester last night for more hours than is humane…so my blog post didn’t go up – you can blame Manchester! Hehe. Following on from my In Search of Originality post, it got me to thinking. Whether we’re creating something unseen before, or merely imitating, the birth of either comes down to one thing in the writer’s mind, no matter what experience is added: imagination.

Such a powerful word, isn’t it? In an instant, it conjures up images of writers from the past thoughtfully chewing on the end of a quill pen, sitting at a cheaply candle-lit desk in a scruffy loft. Or of a bohemian shawl-clad woman smoking copious but elegant cigarettes as she shuffles through stacks of paper to find the said pen. There’s a whole discussion on where exactly imagination comes from, and some scientists now believe the brain as a whole calls on different areas when creating – so no single ‘place’ where the muse sits. So how do we catch hold of this ghostly force floating around our minds?

I think every writer is familiar with ‘writer’s block’, that irritating period where your brain conks out, puts its feet up, and has a drink without you. “I’ll call later,” it says, before hanging up on you. And you just know it’s having fun without you. But after writing professionally for a few years now, I think writer’s block isn’t a brick wall as such, maybe just an obstacle. And with all obstacles, there’s a way around them. I’ve had a few hellish times with blocks in my writing time, and I think I’ve come up with a few (if some are a little strange!) ways of dealing with it, and finding the left turn around the obstacle to your book. So, I’m going to share them with you guys…

 

Stream Of Conscious Writing

This is good for if the story is coming through okay, but your descriptions and words just aren’t up to the task just yet. You’re going to need a pen and paper for this one, and possibly need to travel to places similar to those in your story. I’ll give an example for this one; in a recent chapter of the book I’m writing now, I need to describe a wet, autumnal day. I just couldn’t feel the scene like I wanted to, so…as it’s currently autumn here in Britain, and wet, I went outside with a pen and paper, at 11pm, and using the outside light in our yard, starting writing everything I could see, hear and feel around me, without stopping to consider what I was writing down. I wrote things like ‘Strange light of the dusk’, Sweet and musty’, and ‘frenzied buzzing of a bird’s wings’. I may not use those exact words or phrases in a book, but as I read down the sheet of paper, it brings the memory of a wet, autumnal night back to me sharply, helping me to create the scene I need. I’ve since done a few others, for a ‘cold, crisp autumn morning’, and ‘sunny afternoon in autumn’. Obviously, I’ll have to wait a while for the rest of the year until I have a whole collection, but you get the idea. So if you’re stuck on how to accurately describe a shopping centre, go and write whatever you see, hear and feel there, without stopping to think what you’re noting down. Need to know what a quiet afternoon in the countryside is like? Go visit it for a bit one afternoon, and take your pad and pen! I promise it’s surprising how well this simple exercise can help, and it’s interesting to note all the things you never notice when you’re thinking too hard about it.

Yes, you will actually type this fast. Good, huh?

Yes, you will actually type this fast. Good, huh?

 

Relax For A While!

Yeah, thought you guys might like that one, haha. But seriously, if you’re thinking too much about any one thing, you will get burn out. It’s not pretty. *shudders* But don’t relax too much, that’s the key. If you’re having trouble concentrating on your scene because nothing is coming forth, go and do something else for a while, but make sure it’s still something creative. Go bake a cake, put a shelf up, paint something – as long as you’re still engaging those practical, imaginative parts of your mind, it can be good to change what you’re doing. Continuing to do something creative (based off when I’ve done it, mind, I can’t guarantee results) that’s different seems to help your brain figure things out differently, but by still engaging the same parts of your mind, you’ll find your thoughts drifting back to your book – and nine times out of ten, you’ll also figure out the problem that had you stuck while you were writing. Try it out, and see if it works for you.

Hmm....maybe this isn't the best way to relax. Maybe.

Hmm….maybe this isn’t the best way to relax. Maybe.

 

Talk To Yourself

Okay, I know. This one does sound we’re going into crazy people territory. But show me a writer who doesn’t have a little madness in them. This method can be useful if you’re having difficulty penning out a conversation between two people, and you don’t want it to be flat or dull – you’re also going to need either a good memory for this method, or a pen, paper, and fast hand. Clear a space where you can walk about and imagine the setting for the conversation – I suggest doing this when you’re on your own, by the way. Nothing more embarrassing than being walked in on when chatting with yourself. 😉 Pretend to be the character who initiates the conversation, really get into their mindset. Walk as they would walk, think how they would think, even do a ‘voice’ for them, if you like. Say the first line they would say, then get into the mindset of the other character (or characters) and think of how they would reply. It help to imagine what your response might be to what was said. (What would you say to “I am your lost-lost brother,” for example? Or, “I killed them,”?) Play out the conversation between the characters, and don’t forget to imagine what arm movements they would use, whether they would sit or stand, and where. What expressions would they have while speaking? It might sound mad, but I promise, do this and memorise it, then write it down; or write down notes and write it down, and it will be one of the best conversations your characters have ever had.

Turns out, he was just writing a book. Who would have guessed?

Turns out, he was just writing a book. Who would have guessed?

 

Listen To Music

It’s on my list, but I think this is one method (from all the writers I know) that already gets used a lot – because it’s so good! But, I think you get the best results when you choose music for a playlist with no words at all – so that basically means no setting up all your favourite popular songs. The reason for this is that sometimes hearing other words spoken can be distracting, and you’ll find yourself spending more time singing along than writing, haha. Is your book set in Ireland or Scotland? Find some powerful Celtic music to set the mood. Maybe you’re writing a novel set in the Roaring Twenties? Search for some sultry jazz music. Keep softer, gentler music for emotional scenes, and fiery, powerful music for battle scenes or arguments. Choose music that will fit the ‘vibe’ of your book, and make a playlist that lasts twice as long as the time you set aside for writing each day. (So if you write for two hours a day, make the playlist four hours). This means you won’t be listening to the same piece over and over, unless you want to, of course! Set the playlist to ‘shuffle’, plug in your headphones, and let the writing begin. It’s incredible what emotions and thoughts can be stirred by listening to an appropriate piece of music, and I’ve found ideas usually flow endlessly after you hit the right track.

You know it's good when your cat nods along.

You know it’s good when your cat nods along.

 

So these are some of my favourite methods for cracking down on that irritating writer’s block. Try them out, and let me know if any of them work for you! What about you guys, do you have any other methods you like to use? Share them in the comments below, I’d love to know a few more! 🙂

In Search of Originality

There were two things I watched on TV last night which made me wonder how genius in writing comes about. The first program was Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, easily my favourite of his plays; and ‘The Gambler’, an average film in which the main character attempts to teach what I’m asking at one point. What did make Shakespeare such a genius? I did a little reading last night, and my personal favourite of the theories was Jack Kerouac’s explanation – that it is divided by those who create original work – ‘geniuses’ – and those who imitate, even brilliantly imitate – ‘talent’.

He stated, in an essay for Writer’s Digest titled Are Writers Made or Born?, written in 1962which was also later on included in The Portable Jack Kerouacthat he thought this was the case. He started the essay by stating, “Writers are made, for anybody who isn’t illiterate can write; but geniuses of the writing art like Melville, Whitman or Thoreau are born.” He went on to say that no one else could have written Moby-Dick, Leaves of Grass, or any of Shakespeare’s plays – that the writers of these works of literature had something they were born with, something that couldn’t be taught. To explain the difference to talent, Kerouac used the following example; “Some perfect virtuoso who can interpret Brahms on the violin is called a “genius,” but the genius, the originating force, really belongs to Brahms; the violin virtuoso is simply a talented interpreter — in other words, a “Talent.” Or you’ll hear people say that so-and-so is a “major writer” because of his “talent.” There can be no major writers without original genius. Artists of genius, like Jackson Pollock, have painted things that have never been seen before… Take the case of James Joyce: people say he “wasted” his “talent” on the stream-of-consciousness style, when in fact he was simply born to originate it.”

On the other side of the argument, there was Mark Twain, with his famous quote; “…all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them…” This was from a letter written to his friend Helen Keller, after she was accused, and later acquitted, of plagiarism. This is the most common theory of originality most of us know – I even remember a teacher from school saying something very similar, something that upset me at the time. As a child, I’d unconsciously remembered a story (I can’t even remember which one anymore!) and elements of it ran parallel to the short story I’d written. They noted, delightedly, as a child had took on reading something they hadn’t expected, that it reminded them of this other story. I hated the story I’d written after that, glaring down at my pudgy little hands, holding the sheet of paper with childish disgust. I’d thought my story was unlike all others! Once I grew up, and read a lot more books, I realised that it was near impossible to write something that truly is original, something that uses no other elements any other book has. The very fact my own books fit neatly in genre categories shows that there are many of us in the same boat – most of us, I expect. That feeling I had as a child stayed with me though, and it made me not want to write anything for a long time. As Salvador Dalí even said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

But I think there’s some common ground between these two ways of thinking. On the one hand, I agree whole-heartedly with Jack Kerouac. I think genius is born, not made, and most of us – including me, haha – can merely hope to fall into the ‘talent’ category. But I also agree with Mark Twain. Whatever we think is original, may have been created a long time before those stories were written down. Who knows? Having said that, I have a hard time imagining the way Shakespeare spun words together, or the way Herman Melville brought a raw accuracy to the characters of his book, could ever have been repeated before. But I think while we’re imitating genius and trying to hone our stories as well as we can, we can always aim for that elusive ‘original story’. Because without aiming for genius, talent can never be as good as possible. 🙂

What are your thoughts, guys? Which side of the argument do you lie on?

 

Top 10 Literary Villains (Or Maybe Anti-Heroes)

This is something I posted a while back over on another blog as part of a tour, but it’s always fun to give things an airing a little while later – and who doesn’t love a Top 10 list? There’s a lot of heroes in my books who turn out to be villains, or at the very least, an anti-hero. So without further ado, here’s my Top 10 Literary Villains (Or Maybe Anti-Heroes).

 

  1. Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights

There’s an argument that Heathcliff isn’t always a villain – he’s maybe the villain on this list who is most a product of his circumstances. He is a tortured soul, thanks to Catherine, but I just can’t forgive how he later twists Catherine’s daughter into a cold, distant person like himself. But, there’s something of the hero in him at the start of the book, so I can’t condemn him completely as a villain.

Lookit the brooding. The TORTURED BROODING, PEOPLE!

Lookit the brooding. The TORTURED BROODING, PEOPLE!

 

  1. Marquise de Merteuil from Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Seductive, witty and charming, the Marquise also plots what is a horrific downfall in a young woman’s life, ending with her eventual disgrace, the death of Valmont, and the Marquise’s own disgrace. There’s a calculated, cold edge to her words in the book (which is made up of letters between the two main characters) that comes through even in her charming moments, and always leaves me with a shudder along my spine.

"Tell me you did not just diss me to my face. Tell me you didn't."

“Tell me you did not just diss me to my face. Tell me you didn’t.”

  1. O’Brien from Nineteen Eighty-Four

A villain who lives up to the backstabbing nature of one, O’Brien is first portrayed as a good person, one rebelling against the Inner Party, when in fact, he’s completely on their side. With a determined calculation, he easily weaves Winston and Julia into their own demise, eventually ending in breaking Winston’s spirit. And what could be more evil than breaking down the inner psyche of a person?

Just look at the plotting...or he's forgotten what he was going to say.

Just look at the plotting…or he’s forgotten what he was going to say.

  1. Cruella de Vil from The Hundred and One Dalmatians

This woman was the stuff of nightmares for me as a child. Surely there can’t be anything more evil than seeing puppies, and instead of wanting to cuddle them, wondering if you can get matching gloves out of them after making the coat? Aside from her obvious cruelty and nastiness to those around her, Cruella just can’t be forgiven for wanting to commit a monstrous act against innocent animals.

The face of pure evil.

The face of pure evil.

  1. Long John Silver from Treasure Island

A mixture of father-figure and cutthroat pirate, this is another character who flits that line between good guy and bad guy. There’s something likeable about him at the start of the book; taking a young boy under his wing, doling out worldly advice while whistling down mast-lines. But in the end, like all the characters on this list, he shows a darker side and shows that bad guys finish last.

That is a pretty nifty balancing act.

That is a pretty nifty balancing act.

  1. Patrick Batemen from American Psycho

Here’s a villain…who might not be a villain. We have no idea, thanks to the psychotic mind-set and hallucinations that Patrick suffers from, but there’s no doubt that his mind is at least villainous. A shallow, modern version of a villain, this character brings to light all the bad traits that most of us have at one point or another experienced – greed, envy, the list goes on.

Patrick had finally got sick of waiting on the so-called customer service line on the phone. "Second in line? I've been here for seven hours!"

Patrick had finally got sick of waiting on the so-called customer service line on the phone. “Second in line? I’ve been here for seven hours!”

  1. Moriarty from The Final Problem by Arthur Conan Doyle

No list would be complete without the ‘Napoleon of crime’. The somewhat chilling aspect of Moriarty is that he was based off real-life villains (most notably Adam Worth), giving him an edge of something we might see every day on the news. This is a criminal mastermind, who while an absolute bad guy, you can’t help but admire for his intelligence and skill. Although he actually only appears in one book, you can’t mention Sherlock Holmes without remembering this nemesis.

"Maybe I wouldn't be so evil if I went into colour..."

“Maybe I wouldn’t be so evil if I went into colour…”

  1. Mr Hyde from The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

What I love most about this villain is that while he actually has a physical appearance in the novel, he is also a clever metaphor for the duality of all people – a ‘good’ side and a ‘bad’ side. Over the course of the novel, Dr Jekyll actually tries to cease becoming Mr Hyde, but his efforts are fruitless, again showing how difficult it is to stop being a monster once you become one. A great villain in a great book, and one of the best images to describe humanity.

Peeping at keyholes. It doesn't get much worse than this, people. Oh, wait...

Peeping at keyholes. It doesn’t get much worse than this, people. Oh, wait…

  1. Bill Sykes from Oliver Twist

The drunk, abusive, murderer of prostitutes-with-a-heart-of-gold only misses out being number one on this list by one place. This villain gets a scathing description in Dickens’ novel, and there’s little to no redeeming features about him. A gritty look at the actual kinds of people who hung out in dark alleyways during the Victorian period, he’s a villain that reminds us of a gloomy and frightening past that wasn’t actually fictional at the time this book was written.

Someone really needs to introduce Bill to shampoo. I'm just saying.

Someone really needs to introduce Bill to shampoo. I’m just saying.

  1. Claudius from Hamlet

Let’s see…murders his own brother by poison to gain a throne, then marries his brother’s widow and then plots to murder his nephew. That’s pretty damn evil. The unfurling of this villain throughout Shakespeare’s play starts with him shown as a pretty decent king – until Hamlet’s ghost appears. His motives become clear, and his only remorse is private, sealing his fate. His villainy also famously ends in pretty much everyone but a dog called Tom and a maid picking berries in the garden ending up dead, as the poison gets a thorough splashing over young Hamlet and his mother.

"So I said, 'new drapes? Sure, if...um....if they're poisoned.' Er, wait. Forget I said that. Everyone drink up."

“So I said, ‘new drapes? Sure, if…um….if they’re poisoned.’ Er, wait. Forget I said that. Everyone drink up.”

So there’s my list! Even as I wrote this, I thought of a lot more, and I’m not even decided on the positioning of each one. So who have I missed out that you would put in the list? Who are your greatest book villains?