Tag Archives: howIwrite

Random Writing: The Bells

The start of something, inspired by a peal on a Saturday. It’s still quite rough, and I’m not sure where it’s going yet! I may turn it into a flash piece.

It never fails to surprise me how, two cities and a continent away, the sound of the bells can still wake me from my sleep, bringing me bolt upright and sweating into the musty darkness of my room.

It was another life away, that peal – although it was not one, never one. There were bells for mass and ceremony, liturgy and matins. There were bells for birth, and marriage and joy; bells for death and separation and trouble.

And bells for disaster.

It is always that peal I hear, deep in the night. The slow, solemn thud of the ringer against the largest cloche; the deep, throbbing tone ringing out across the rooftops, shaking the birds out of slumber and the mortar in the walls, shaking the cobbles and the bricks, shaking the air itself as it bestirred all of us out of our lives.

Danger. Danger.


Beta reading: Opinion, problems and causes

I’ve just recently finished a beta read for Adrian’s latest novel, and saw him last week to give feedback on it. Well, I sent him an email with the draft and feedback, gave him a day to weep into his ice-cream bucket, and then met him for cake to discuss.

One of the things he and I both agree on with feedback is that it hurts. That never gets easier – no matter how many things you’ve submitted, I think it will always feel like a personal blow to get someone telling you that they hate your novel, and it’s the worst thing they’ve ever read – or in this case, I didn’t like the first half, and thought it needed rewriting. You need a day wallowing with ice cream.

And then you pull yourself together, get some perspective, and get to work.

The interesting thing with beta reads – and the trick to it, really – is to learn to separate your personal opinion and the problem. You need both – when I edit or beta, I make a point to add what I like as well as what I don’t like, because the author needs to know what’s working as well as what isn’t. But for the bits that I don’t like, it’s then a case of doing some analysis.

Do I dislike it simply because I don’t like that sort of thing? Adrian had gone quite Reservoir Dogs, and for me, the strength of the books in many ways is the heroism…and so having some nasty scenes is a jarring moment. Is it because it’s the wrong time in the book, or the wrong character? Is it because it just doesn’t fit?

So we sat and chatted, and spent some time working through what he was going for, what effects he’s using, why the scenes are there in the plot and themes, what works and what doesn’t…and I think we did eventually boil it down to a root cause (which was wrong character POV). But if we hadn’t done that analysis, all that would have come out was “rewrite the first half” – and it could have ended up as bad. I could highlight a problem, but then Adrian can counter with reasons those scenes need to be in there…it’s really interesting to try to get to the bottom of problems, and to understand why the reader is having the issue – particularly as this stage in a book, when the plot and characters are still fairly in flux.

And this is why people say that everything can be fixed in editing, and that you’re writing the first draft simply to find out what the story is. You get it all on a page, and then you tear it to pieces again – and rebuild. One of the other things to come out was that I felt one of the secondary characters didn’t get enough of a showing, despite having a few key scenes – and so the rewrite hopefully means that she can get wound further into the plot, and it will make her contribution better. So the changes potentially solve another problem that might have come up on the next round of edits.

It’s really interesting, and while it is hard work, I’m loving doing it.


*apologies for any spelling mistakes in this; I’ve got a cold and my fingers aren’t typing what my brain wants them to!

A snippet of an angry Ghost

An oddity that didn’t fit into the No Man’s Land canon. I find it interesting how everything coils inside and then come out, current events and news and Twitter feeds and old stories and new stories…it might fit into a wider story, might not.

I glance at my watch. “Luk, time.”

One of them says something in a tone that doesn’t need translating, and gives me a sideways glance.

Luk smirks, and says something with an undertone of laughter. But before I can make any move, he’s swung back to me and pulled me away with an arm around my shoulders.

I let him walk me away; probably better not to leave blood all over the pavement. But I can’t resist asking, “What was that last comment?”

I hope he hears the edge to my voice, but he doesn’t look down. “Just a stupid joke, sunshine.”

“And you agreed with it.”

He does look down now, frowning, not comprehending. “What?”

“Something along the lines of ‘women, eh? Bunch of bitches! Nagging and whining.’ Yes?” I pull away from his arm and turn, feeling the anger in my chest mingle with an old, remembered feeling. Some people can’t change – or don’t, until they want to.  “And you agreed with it. That’s what you think of me? A fucking nuisance that drags you places and nags?”


“You could have disagreed. You could have objected. You didn’t.”

He’s glaring at me, frustrated. “It was just a stupid comment-”

I spit at him, silencing him. And then I step up to him, nose to nose, even though I have to stand on the balls of my feet to be anywhere close. It’s enough. “Not to that man, it wasn’t.”

Luk flashes into his dark anger as I step away, an uncomprehending and bewildered anger that I know so well. “What the fuck is wrong with you? You’ve done similar, you’ve just agreed with a throwaway thing because you need people to like you and not try to kill you. I didn’t want to fight him. What the fuck did you expect me to do? I don’t think he took it as anything-”

I spin back and jab a finger at him. “You laughed. You didn’t object. You agreed.” I don’t know what he’s seeing in me, but it’s made him stop, condensing his anger back into his chest. “And every time he calls a woman a bitch, every time he gropes someone, every time he raises a hand to his girlfriend, it’s because you’ve told him he can. Because women are bitches, and everyone else agrees with him. Every time you nod and smile, it gets a little worse. It builds up. Because no one disagreed.” I turn and jam my hands into my pockets. “So fuck you, and fuck what you just bought into. I don’t need someone like you watching my back.”

“So what the hell do you want me to do?” he says to my back as I walk away. “Go back and beat him up?”

I turn, still walking backwards. “Next time, you’ll disagree. You’ll say you don’t think that. You’ll defend the woman you’re with, because that man sure as hell won’t respect her saying anything but he might listen to you. You’ll have a think about what your fucking attitude says to the people you hang around with, and what you think of their status. And you’ll apologise to me for implying I’m a nagging, whining bitch.”

“You know what?” he yells down the road after me. “You are! Fuck you, Ghost!”

I give him the finger and vanish. We’ve got a job to do? Well, good luck finding me now, you git.

How to Grow a Thicker Skin

Criticism hurts, particularly if it’s something you’ve poured your soul into – like writing. So how do you minimise the hurt? How do you roll with the punches that are going to come?

Well…in some ways, you don’t. Every piece of writing is something you – I’d hope, at least – have tried your hardest on. It’s a reflection of you, and it’s probably always going to hurt when someone tells you to rewrite, redo, it’s got flaws, just no…but that’s part of the process. If you kept writing the same, perfect, thing, then…well, it’d be pretty boring.

So how do you learn to appreciate criticism, rather than get crippled by it?

  • Write more. Seriously! See every piece as a learning piece, not something that’s perfect. If someone doesn’t like it, ok. That’s fine. They’ll like the next piece – so go write it.
  • Let it hurt, and then keep going. Wallow with ice cream for an evening, then sleep on it and attack it again the next day. It really does help to let yourself be upset – as long as you don’t let that carry on.
  • Appreciate the flaws. You have to make mistakes – and then fix them – to learn.
  • Argue back. If you’ve got a good reason for wanting something in there, keep it in! If you like your writing style, leave it as it is! The writer-critique process is a dialogue. Your editor should NOT be simply telling you what to change.
  • Send it to several people, and see where their views coincide; OR, as you find an alpha or beta that you really trust. Not everyone likes everything, and that’s great! But if two or more people are telling you the same thing, maybe you should be listening.

It’ll always hurt; at least, I think it does if you’re writing good stuff. But with time, and practise, you can turn the punches into pinpricks, and appreciate criticism for what it is – critique that you can learn from, or criticism that doesn’t matter.

How To Plot When You’re A Pantser

If you’re a Pantser writer, you…well, you make it up as you go along. Which is great, but what happens when you aren’t sure what happens next? Or you write a bunch of scenes and then they don’t fit in anything?

NaNo’s coined the term Plantser for someone who plans and plots, and I’ve previously gone into the difference between Pantsers and Plotters – but how does a mixture of both even work?

Well, try it in stages from the top!


Ok. Start with your tagline. A one-sentence summary of what your book is about: Boy meets girl. Hobbit takes the ring to Mordor. Good vs evil.  You can always do several of these if you want, highlighting different aspects.

If you’re not sure, then that’s ok; you can leave a question mark and come back to it.


Then expand your tagline – do a couple of sentences. If someone asked you what your book was about, what would you tell them?

This one is a bit more important: what sort of story do you want to write? Do you want romance? Adventure? Friendship? Dark emotions and betrayal? What’s your world like? Put those together, and you can end up with something like “protagonist goes on an adventure and meets an anti-hero, with romantic elements”…ok, not the most catchy thing, but it’ll give you some idea of what you want for the overall story. Again, this can change, so don’t worry.

Basic plot

Hobbit found by wizard, meets group, gets ring, goes to Mordor, puts ring in fire. Of course, you can then weave your second plotline in; hero raises armies, fights evil, defeats evil, becomes king. But as a very basic summary, what actually happens?

You can do this for character plots as well as action; what does your character discover? How do the events affect them? What do they learn? Protagonist meets friend, discovers secret, falls out with friend, realises they’re wrong, makes up with friend – that’s as much a plot as battles.

If you’re the kind of Pantser who starts from one scene or one element, this is the point that you expand from there. If that scene is at the end, how did they get there? What needed to have happened before for all those events to take place? If it’s at the start, try extrapolating outwards. Who’s annoyed? Who’s pleased? What will a romantic alliance do for the kingdom? (Cliche, I know, but you get the idea).

Expanded plot

For each of the points you’ve made for your plot, expand again. You can either do this under the plot points, or at this stage, divide it into rough chapters. Try to do five points for each section/chapter; what are the main actions in this part? How does the hero reach Mordor – who does he meet, who does he fight? Or in the case of your character plots, what does your protagonist learn? What actions happen as a result of that?

Expand Again

And then you keep expanding. Sooner or later, you’ll start writing – a section, a paragraph, a sentence. Write a scrap of dialogue for a section as a reminder; put a note about scenery; mention someone really cool who’s going to appear here and then turn up somewhere important later. This expansion is where you put the details in, and you’ll find that you start writing…and because you’ve got that overarching plot structure, it doesn’t matter if you only write bits.

I’m all for skipping scenes, by the way – as long as you leave “hero fights nasty thing and gets wounded” then you can move straight onto “hero gets nursed back to health by attractive love interest”, and fill in the fight later.

Going Off The Rails

This is a difficult one. I sometimes find that the bitty scenes I write go in a different direction to the one I wanted them to (being a Pantser is FUN!) because the protagonists have just screamed at each other and now aren’t talking, when I needed them to be at least civil for the Next Big Fight Scene.

So, you’ve got a couple of options.

  1. Move that scene. Is there another fight earlier or later? Or another point where actually, some tension would work? Can you shift the [insert monster here] to another section of plot, and replace it with something else?
  2. Rewrite – and save the scene! I have files and files of odd bits of writing; plot that didn’t work, dialogue I’ve rewritten, scenes I can’t use. Sometimes, you do have to look at what you’ve written, and admit it’s lovely but it doesn’t work…and rewrite.
  3. Go with it! Can you have that Big Fight Scene with them hating each other? Can you fit in an apology beforehand when it’s clear the world is bigger than them? Or do you want to redo the end plot structure completely and leave them hating each other?

The amazing thing about plotting as a Pantser is that it’s flexible. Move things, delete things, shift things, rewrite things. You’ve got the framework, sure, but even that can move.

Mix It All Up

Of course, you can do all of this the other way round. Start with each chapter; what happens in the chapter? Summarise it to the main bullet points, and from there, reduce it down, and then down again. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see what your main plot thread is – and then see what your book is about.

And the expanded plotline is also very useful for your synopsis – what’s happening when? Writing a synopsis is a whole ‘nother thing, but at least you have a place to start – so remember to save your plotline structure before you start writing!


So, there you go – basically, the plot outline is a tool to help you have a loose framework for your scenes. If they go off the rails, no problem. And if you’re not sure what’s going to happen, have no idea of plot or outcomes, and don’t know what sort of story you want…well, revert to pure Pantser, and just write!