Monday, 31 March 2014

Monday blog: Four hours

Currently reading: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Reading next: Railsea - China Miéville
Camp NaNoWriMo April progress: 0 words
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In less than four hours Camp NaNoWriMo begins (at least it does in this time zone) and I am woefully unprepared for what lies before me. 50,000 words, my self imposed goal, need to be written in only a month; essentially an entire novel's worth of text, albeit a short one. I am not ready.

This of course is the whole point. I'm never prepared, I'm never ready. I'll always find an excuse to avoid the writing, to dodge that moment when fingers must hit keys and words must be formed on a blank white screen. The result could be good but it could also be terrible, horrible and quite, quite rubbish; in actual fact, as a first draft, it more than likely will be. So why not leave the page blank and step away? Why not shirk all responsibility and simply never find out? Why run the risk of proving my inadequacy when wilfully wallowing in ignorance is so much easier and a much less depressing concept?

No more. I've done what is easy for too long. Now it is time to do what is hard and to do what I am meant to do. NaNoWriMo has never demanded quality, only quantity. In less than four hours I shall begin the long march to victory... and it shall be glorious.

This is Frisk,
signing off.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Monday blog: Updates

Currently reading: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Reading next: Railsea - China Miéville
Writers' Bureau course progress: Assignment 2 making progress
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I don't have much to say today and feel I should offer some personal updates as a meagre substitute for a post with any meaningful content:

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014


As a participant of NaNoWriMo in November 2011 I receive emails and updates from the organisations other programs throughout the year. Camp NaNoWriMo is one of these. Camp Nano is basically the same as the main November event except with a little added leniency. Participants are encouraged to enter their own word count goal, anything from 10,000 up to 100,000. The rules are the same, write and meet your chosen word count in only a month to win.

One of the aforementioned emails informed me that Camp Nano is being held in April and I decided that it would be a perfect time to try the activity again after my success in 2011 which produced my original draft of Kin. Kin is now is a position to undergo its new and improved first draft and what better way to do it than by hammering it out in only a month? I have the structure and content in my mind, all I require now is the actual word count, arguably the biggest problem for me, and Nano has been an absolute miracle cure for that in the past. So for the entirety of April I will be trying to meet my previous Nano word count of 50,000. As a story Kin has expanded in size since the beginning days and 50,000 words will surely not be enough to complete it, but it should prove to be one hell of a good start.

Part of any Nano event is to create a short outline of the novel you are working on so the community can see what sort of stories individuals are writing. It turns out that writing a short synopsis for a novel could possibly be even harder than writing the actual work itself! I did the best I could to match the style you would find on the rear cover of a published book:

At 12 years of age Jade already knows she was born to the wrong world. But when an unusual fox steals her only source of happiness, a series of events are set in motion that will change Jade's life forever.

Jade stumbles upon another world, Mera Scova, where the people commune with nature and form lasting bonds with animals known as kin. Jade soon realises that she has the chance to escape her world forever if she can prove her worth by bonding with her very own kin.

Dexderidas is a fox running from a life he'd rather forget. When an impulsive human girl decides to make him a kin he's abruptly thrown into more trouble than he can imagine. Dexderidas will have to swallow his pride and set aside his hatred for humankind if he hopes to survive.



Writers' Bureau course


I'll be the first to admit that I haven't paid enough attention to my writing course since I started it in October of last year. To date I have completed assignment one and received feedback but assignment two has been hanging in a state of mid-completion for some time. This can be attributed in no small part to my uncanny ability to take on a range of different tasks with little regard for how much time they require of me!

Assignment two is all about researching publications that accept short stories, analysing the style of a chosen publication and then writing a short story of no more than 1500 words that could be considered for inclusion within said publication. The section of the course material that deals with short stories out and out admits they they are one of the hardest forms of writing, simply because of their compact size and the requirement to tell an concise and complete story within their confines. I've never really written small before; anything small I have produced is always open ended or intended for a larger work. To stick to such a small scale was proving a tricky concept for my mind to embrace.

However I have chosen a publication to research: The Future Fire, an independent magazine concerned with the publication of speculative fiction amongst other themes. It seems to publish just the sort of content I would be interested in reading and I might just consider subscribing for my own personal enjoyment. I'm hoping to create something that would suit their themes and satisfy the requirements for assignment two in the next week or so. More on this as it happens.

So with this and April's Camp Nano the blog might go dark for a few weeks while I try to get my head around the tasks I have accepted. If this happens then I apologise for it is not my intention. I shall do my absolute best and I look forward to seeing you on the other side.

This is Frisk,
signing off.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Monday blog: Writing for yourself or the story?

Currently reading: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Reading next: Railsea - China Miéville
Writers' Bureau course progress: Assignment 2 back on track
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I think I've mentioned before in a previous post that inspiration comes in a variety of forms. When I'm trying to develop a certain scene within my story I'll often find snippets of conversation form in my mind and grow outwards from there. Sometimes a particularly interesting action or line of dialogue might enter my thoughts that doesn't actually fit into my current perception of that scene or character. These ideas can sometimes be so compelling to me that I'll find a way to fit them in, no matter what.

But where do you draw the line? When does a really good idea stop being a good idea and start becoming a an active hindrance to the story?

A certain scene in my current story involves a headmaster verbally reprimanding my protagonist, Jade after she broke school rules. I had some ideas for this scene which I liked personally and very much wanted to include; you could say that this whole scene was created purposely to explore these ideas. Although these ideas did fit in with the story well, the fact remained that they were going in simply because I wanted them there and it would make me feel pleased with myself.

Because of this insistence that they remain I put a block on the scene and never added it to my mental list of scenes that need potential revision. This is dangerous, a mistake I've made in the past. At this very early stage, nothing is beyond revision and nothing is beyond improvement. I may have talked before about how removing large chunks of story can leave behind fragments of the old versions which can seem suddenly jarring or out of place because they have been overlooked. This is a similar situation.

Nothing is precious. Nothing should be saved. A writer (I forget who now) once said that if you can truly say that you love your writing then there is something wrong with it. Now this sounds awfully pessimistic and a touch provocative of the old writers perfectionism, but I think it's a good point nonetheless. A writer can't allow personal feelings and subjective preferences stand in the way of the story's integrity. When any decision is made to add, change or remove elements in a story, always consider the questions: Why am I doing this? Does it benefit the story as a whole or only me?

I like to challenge the structure of my story every now and then, simply to confirm that I'm on the right path. I recently looked at my first three/four chapters which take place in London and asked myself how they would work if instead they occurred in a country manor. What resulted was a different structure that might have worked had the setting itself not compromised the tone I was going for.. However exploring this new idea did bring to the fore some other ideas that would work within the current framework. These ideas were surprisingly easy to implement although one of them would mean altering the sacred headmaster scene I mentioned above.

Suddenly the scene that was purely for my benefit had more meaning to the protagonist, it shed light on a previously undeveloped story point and just overall improved the scene. I could still do what I wanted from the scene but I had opened up an avenue I had previously closed and felt all the more free for doing so.

So the moral of this story is to remember that, as a writer, everything is in flux and everything is in your control. Never discount something because you have grown attached to it, in fact it should be questioned more because of it. Don't be afraid to let go; you never have to permanently purge something because if you write everything down it's always there for retrieval if things don't work out. Explore new avenues of thinking and see what you can develop from it. If it reveals something new you had never considered then it was worth the time. If it only confirms that you were on the right track all along then - well - for a writer that could be the most important thing of all.

This is Frisk,
signing off.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Random Fridays: No more

I am sad to announce that my own personal writing activity known as Random Fridays will no longer be continuing.

I have made this decision in consideration of my other projects. Firstly, my writing course hasn't been given a lot of attention lately and I need to focus on that as it's been several months since I really made any progress. The second motivation for this move is my ongoing novel Kin which is now picking up proverbial steam and taking up more of my time. I feel both of these projects are more worthy of my attention at the moment and with only an hour and a half maximum every day to write, time is precious.

Random Fridays has been an interesting experiment and certainly helped me to achieve what I had hoped for: reinforcing the ability to simply write with less regard for self refinement. Some arguably weird stuff came from it and also one spark which could make a possible short story entry for my course at a later date. So, all things considered, it was a worthwhile venture. I would like to thank you for your patience and putting up with my incredibly rough and hastily scrawled musings!

Now, onto new things.

This is Frisk,
signing off.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Monday blog: Writing scenes

Currently reading: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Reading next: Railsea - China Miéville
Writers' Bureau course progress: Assignment 2 back on track
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I recently found myself at a point which seemed ideal to begin actively writing my main project, the fantasy novel known as Kin. Over two years of writing, scrapping, planning, rewriting, planning etc. has led me to this point and not only do I feel confident that I've developed a good solid structure I actually feel excited about the prospect of putting text to screen.

It's nice to be writing properly again, writing scenes which make up a small part of a bigger whole. It's great to be contributing to a bigger overall project rather than simply scribbling nonsense for the sake of it. This brings to light more elements of the writing process for my consideration.

In this blog I'm going to be talking about writing scenes. A scene is probably exactly what you would imagine it to be: a self contained section of story that typically occurs in a specific place or covers a specific topic. You can usually easily see the beginning and end of any given scene by the change of location or character. In some books a scene can be a whole chapter while in others it will make up only a portion of a chapter. Imagine how scenes work in movies and you've probably got a good idea of what I'm talking about.

All writers are different and everyone has their own approach. Some writers split dialogue and narrative into two camps and write them separately; some prefer writing dialogue some prefer the narrative more, I am definitely in the former category. Some writers will even tell you that they don't see any need to split the two and they just write. It's comforting to hear that there are people who do things the same way but there's also a strange reassurance in hearing that there are those who do it differently.

I write dialogue first because, as I said in my previous blog, character development is very important to me and I feel that dialogue is the best way to give your reader an instant sense of character. What the characters will say to one another will inform the action of the scene and I often don't know exactly what they're going to say until I write it, this means that I might not know the exact direction of the scene until the dialogue is down. Likewise, however, action will also inform dialogue so it's all a case of careful balance more than anything. Given a choice I would rather write good dialogue and tailor the action around that as opposed to the opposite.

Good dialogue means the reader can tell who is talking the moment they open their mouths and before any confirming dialogue tags are added. Good dialogue is also very difficult. I find it the most rewarding to write but it's by no means the easiest. This means I can sometimes be pondering over a scene for some time and ultimately still come out of it with a relatively low word count, especially when compared to the amount of narrative text I would achieve in the same time.

I shall go back to a word I used a moment ago: balance. This word, for me at least, is the core concept of writing. There are so many avenues of thought, so many techniques and mechanisms that all need to align and mesh together so as to create a smooth running and well oiled machine. Dialogue is one of those areas in which this appears most prominently. Are the characters speaking in their own voices or just mine? Does this conversation feel natural? What have we learned from this conversation? Is it moving the story forward? Would that character really say that?

I often start a scene with bits and pieces, elements that have come into my head over a course of time. This might be a specific action a character might perform, a line of dialogue or short conversation. I'll begin by putting these down and adding piece by piece to it. The result resembles a jigsaw puzzle at mid completion; clusters of recognisable pieces joined but no real coherence with regards to the overall picture. It is very easy to get lost, confused and lose all integrity for that scene even if I had a strong idea from the beginning.

Ultimately there are two main considerations when writing any sort of scene:
  • Form - Does the scene make sense in itself? Is it interesting?
  • Function - What does it contribute to the story overall? Does it provide characterisation or move the plot on?
When thinking about the form of the scene I try to imagine it as a real life scenario in which I am one of the characters. I do this from all points of view just to see how each character would react and see if I have made any glaring inconsistencies. I find it incredibly easy to get carried away with writing things I feel are "cool" or attractive to read about, but sometimes my insistence on keeping these elements can compromise the structure of the scene. Do these people act realistically and true to their established character? I have to be very strict with myself; just because I have thought of the most amazing one-liner for a character doesn't mean that shoe-horning it in will benefit the story, which brings me nicely onto...

Function is what the scene does for me as a whole entity. If form was examining a delicate blossom then function is examining the whole plant, roots and all. Perhaps I've written a witty, sharp and incredibly insightful conversation between two characters but does it actually serve the story in a meaningful way? I want the reader to learn something new with each scene, I want them to feel as if the story is moving onwards and hasn't reached a complete halt. This doesn't mean hair-raising scenes of excitement every third page; a quiet conversation between two characters can move the story along too. Characters are instrumental in revealing many important elements in the plot and plenty can be learned indirectly through dialogue as well as directly.

However I would prefer to further separate characterisation from plot progression. I believe that characterisation should be happening all the time, even if it's just a passive effect in the background; every time a character is in a scene, every moment you spend with them you can potentially be learning more about them simply through their actions and dialogue. This shouldn't even require a huge amount from the writer themselves; if the character is realistic and reacts to the world according to how you have imagined them, the rest should fall into place naturally.

I feel that it is important to break each of these elements down to better understand them individually. However it's also vitally important that they are put back together and examined as a whole because as essential as they are individually, it's nothing against how well they perform if crafted together correctly.

These are my thoughts from only a few days of writing dialogue for my first chapter. It's what I believe to be true and it's my own personal approach. You may find something to relate to in my musings or you might disagree entirely. Either of these options is fine and that's exactly what makes writing such a magnificent craft to enjoy.

This is Frisk,
signing off.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Random Fridays: 07



POV:           Third person
Genre:         Science fiction
Subject:       Stone, Metal & Parsimonious

‘Come on, Dan. What are a few more tons between friends?’

‘When I last looked we weren’t exactly friends, Murph. I can’t give you that much.’

The man standing before the desk was twitchy; he clutched a grubby cloth cap, passing it through his hands endlessly. Round and round and round. Murphy never had been a stable man, even outside of work deadlines.

‘Look man, my foreman’s literally on my back with this one; we need this project finished by Friday. There’s just no way we can do it without these materials,’ Murphy pleaded.

‘So tell the tight bastard to get off his perch and order some,’ Dan replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. ‘We’ve got a queue runnin’ here; he can get in line like everyone else.’

Murphy’s eyes bulged as if he hadn’t anticipated the trouble.

‘Don’t you get it? This is more important than queues and lists. This is a landmark moment, a project monumental in its scope and design.’

‘Yeah, yeah; spare me your preachin’ bullshit,’ Dan said wearily. ‘I don’t care if you’re buildin’ God’s own en-suite down there; without a signed requisition order you ain’t gettin’ nothin’. That’s just how things are.

‘Well that’s just great, thanks a bunch. You know I came here because I thought you were alright, I had a good feeling, thought you’d do the decent thing and help a guy out. Clearly I was wrong.’

‘We met like once or twice…’ Dan placed a hand against his forehead and was silent for a moment. ‘Look, we’re already pullin’ this rock apart as it is; there won’t be anythin’ left soon enough. This isn’t just me being stingy, it’s me being realistic. You want a planet we haven’t sucked dry? Try over on Leopold VII; they might have some stones you can carry off.’

Murphy’s eyes bulged even further. Dan was worried he might have to scoop them off the floor.

‘What? Are you mad? That’s on the other side of the quadrant,’ Murphy gasped and flapped.

‘Sounds like we both benefit,’ Dan said irritably.

‘OK, alright; you made your point. Thanks for nothing, douche. Love to the wife and kids,’ Murphy called as he stormed from the office.

‘Yeah, they send theirs too, asshole,’ Dan mouthed as he watched him pass the window outside.

For a moment the office of Signus Mining was silent, except for the constant thrum of machinery from the planet’s surface below. It had become such a fixture of the environment that it no longer felt like a sound, more like an enduring tone; a texture of the very landscape. As barren as that landscape was, it was about the only element left that gave any impression of life.

Dan poured some water, dropped a pair of Alka Seltza and watched them fiz momentarily before downing the lot. He leaned back in his chair, enjoying the silence before the intercom’s light flashed predictably before him. He pressed a switch.

‘Yeah,’ he murmured, barely trying to hide his weariness.

‘Daniel Walgreen?’

‘Speaking,’ he said in a sing-song voice, tired now of formalities.

‘The man that just stepped out of your office, he would like to reconsider his previous request for supplies.’

Dan leaned forward to get a look at the desk mounted telescreen. It showed no face, just a light-lined silhouette in a darkened room.

‘Oh does he now? Look guy, I’ll tell you exactly what I told Murphy…’

‘No, you won’t. You’ll soon see that I need not have made this call, but I consider myself a civilised gentleman so I’m offering you a second chance. Give the man the materials he needs to complete the project on Tamar Dey or I will have to take action.’

The voice was smooth and well spoken. Dan imagined an immaculately groomed young man sitting in an oak-panelled office with a cigar smouldering in an ash tray nearby. An antiquated notion; there was no oak left any more.

‘I can’t; everythin’ here is accounted for. Once we’ve filled these orders the whole facility’s shuttin’ down. There is literally nothin’ left.’

‘Not my concern. Give us the materials or we shut you down early and take them ourselves.’

‘Look buddy, you think I haven’t had threats before? The whole quadrant’s goin’ nuts over metal and stone these days; I get fruit loops like you every day. Just who are you anyway?’

The entire facility went dark, the machinery fell silent and Dan was plunged into a true silence that he didn’t remember existed. All that remained in the pitch of his office was the faint glow of his illuminated telescreen, the mysterious figure no less obscured.

‘Let’s just say I’m someone with a little more clout behind their threats than most.’

Dan sensed the presence of someone behind him. Impossible! He felt the cold, hard press of something against the base of his skull, the sharp click of a released safety; the gun burrowed into his skin and remained there.

‘I’ll say it one final time: send us the materials we need or we’ll shut you down, permanently.’

The voice wasn’t coming from the telescreen any more.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Monday blog: Character development

Currently reading: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Reading next: Railsea - China Miéville
Writers' Bureau course progress: Assignment 2 back on track
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Character development is vitally important to me, after all it is the very core of any story. We change constantly throughout our lives; even the tiniest situations and interactions can alter our entire perceptions and behaviours. So if you were to read a story with characters that don't develop in some way as a result of their experiences they could come off as feeling one-dimensional or it could even render their actions within the story inconsequential.

No single character in any story is more worthy of good solid development than the protagonist. The protagonist of any story is the character through which the story is told, whichever fashion the author chooses to present this. They are arguably the most important character as far as the reader is concerned, even if they aren't necessarily the keystone of the actual story. The reader follows this character closely and, in some situations and to varying degrees, may be able to relate to them personally. So if we change naturally, so too should the people we read about in fiction. This doesn't always mean it needs to be a positive change however, but it does need to make sense.

I'm used to absorbing content from wherever I can find it: books, movies, video games, etc. They're all perfectly valid forms of story telling. But a common trend I'm noticing, especially in a lot of blockbuster movies of late, is a lack of focus on character and development. This is most especially prominent in the recent instalment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The desolation of Smaug. So much time and effort was put into large and impressive set pieces and action sequences that many of the actual character focus was lost. The aforementioned Hobbit himself was absent for most scenes and the little development we did see was promising but thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread, as Bilbo himself said in Tolkien's opus, The Fellowship of the Ring.

But I'm not here to write a movie review; that can wait. My point is that without good character development the reader, or viewer in this case, has little cause to care about the plights of the protagonist nor anyone else within the specific world that is portrayed. If none of the terrible, terrifying and surprising events that just occurred had any effect on Blandy McStoney-face then why should I care about what happens next? My most common complaints about any sort of fiction usually revolve around character inconsistencies or the lack of any real development. The barrel out of bonds scene in The Desolation of Smaug was all very exciting (if not a complete deviation from the source material, grumble groan) but it still doesn't conceal the fact that Jackson created a female character specifically to make her "the woman" and "the love interest," a very shallow move that I'm both surprised and ashamed to see him make.

But I digress, again. I have spent a very long time making sure that my protagonist, Jade, is a fully realised, well-rounded and realistic character. She's flawed to begin with: impulsive, brash and somewhat selfish in her actions but through her endeavours in another world she comes to realise her past errors. The most important part of this for me was that she was never seen as being a bad person; Jade is naturally all these things but she shouldn't have to banish them from her personality in order to be a better person. Instead she must be aware of her actions and use her strengths to affect people positively. Her impulsive behaviour can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on how she uses it. I still don't know all the details of Jade's life but I'm pretty certain that I have a good enough idea such that when I begin to actively pen her tale she will guide my hand.

I believe characters should be treated as you would approach individual dog breeds: sure, each breed is different and their breed traits certainly have a bearing on their behaviour but one must not forget that underneath it all they are still dogs and they will do as dogs do. The same goes for characters: male, female, child, adult - these traits will help define their personalities and guide their actions but they are all still human and should be given the opportunity to behave as such. Just because a woman is a woman doesn't mean that all she can possibly be is someone for your protagonist to fall in love with.

That is all I have to say.

This is Frisk,
signing off.