Tag Archives: thought

No learning is ever wasted

I’ve had quite a few people over the past few months apologising for talking about something they love, or that I don’t know anything about, or that they think I’m not interested in.

And fair enough, if you talk AT me about football for more than about fifteen minutes, I will probably end up trying to keep the blank look off my face, and escape as soon as possible. But for anything else? Hell, no! I love it when someone’s passionate about something – you can see them just light up, and that’s just amazing. Listening to someone talk about something that they’re passionate about is a real pleasure. I’ve had discussions with my colleague about swordfighting, mythology, Frankenstein, bitcoin….I know a bit about some of those things, but it’s just such a nice feeling to talk to someone about something they’re interested – and knowledgeable – about.

And even if it’s something you think is silly, like Pokemon (the amount of people who have apologised for being interested in Pokemon…) or computer games or…just STOP. They’re all interesting! They’re all something you’re passionate about! Allow yourself to be interested! Ok, yes, sure, you need to read the conversation, and be aware when you’re boring someone – but then that’s the difference between talking TO someone and talking AT someone.

And – honestly – I love learning. As the title says, no learning is ever wasted – I’ve got so many random things squirrelled away in the back of my brain that will likely go into a book, or drop into a random conversation, or just make some odd connection that I can be interested in myself.

So don’t ever apologise for being interested in something and talking about it. Nothing’s ever wasted when you’re talking to a writer!

Random musings on “no new stories” and writing new stories

I’ve been plotting a series of cozy murder mysteries (which may or may not have resulted in me wandering around the house muttering to myself, occasionally absently chatting to my mother about the best way to sneakily kill someone, and maniacally laughing) but I’m struggling to write them, and I still can’t get the damn voice for Necromancer’s Charm right. I’ve been feeling grey and annoyed; writer’s block at its finest, when there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping me writing, but I just can’t get it right.

So I trundled over to see Adrian last night for a kick up the butt and some advice (and a few board games).

“Well, it’s yer ego.” (He’s actually insufferable if you ever meet him in person. Half of my job is a beta reader and half is his ego-flattener, because he needs both :-D). “You’re trying to write something popular, not what you want to write. You’re a good writer but you aren’t writing something you’ll enjoy.”

I promptly argued back that No Man’s Land was what I wanted to write, and that’s not what anyone wants right now. I do need to at least have one eye on what agents/publishers/readers want…so we had a discussion, and I threw some ideas at him. And then he threw one back at me.

Now, there’s no new ideas. Every story boils down to a few things, and as Desire says in Gaiman’s Sandman, every story boils down to the same thing; someone wants something. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t.

But one of the problems of being a writer is that you have far more ideas than you could ever write. I have a folder stuffed with them! But because I can’t ever write them all, I’m happy to give them away: after all, if someone can write that story, then best of luck to them! And I’m lucky that Adrian thinks the same.

Besides, as I spotted the other day someplace on Twitter; every story has already been told. It just hasn’t been told by you.

So I have a base idea from Adrian, fitting in with the general time period and theme that I wanted to use. How I tell it is going to be my story; I’ll add twists, tell it in my own way, give it my own spin. It doesn’t stop him using it; if he ever did want to, he’d put enough of his own spin on it that it wouldn’t be the same story, even though it might have come from the same root. Maybe we could start a new genre…

Anyway. I’m not going to tell you anything about it, beyond that it’s a cross between Moist Von Lipwig, Agatha Christie and Only Fools And Horses – and may involve a parrot. Watch this space and we’ll see if this works!

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!

Tagline

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.

Blurb

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!

Ideas & Inspiration: Portals of London

Portals of London is an absolutely fabulous blog, along with a Twitter account @PortalsOfLondon, that catalogues London’s inter-dimensional gateways. It is, however, important to note that it is not a user’s guide. They are very definite on this score.

St Michael, demolished, from Portals of London blog
St Michael, Crooked Lane. Demolished 1831 | public domain

The blog itself is a record of…oddities. Strange buildings. Places that aren’t quite right. The Mithraeum, maybe, that houses something more than just an archaeologically interesting temple. The path on a common that isn’t often there, but maybe you’ll spend your life looking for it. Temporal anomalies, mysteries on river-beds, and frightening machines…

The blog is definitely in the same genre as Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and China Mieville’s “Reports of Certain Events in London” from the Looking For Jake collection (which, by the way, is excellent. And as a side note, I adore being able to reach out and just take the book I want off my shelves. It’s luxury!) There’s touches of Paul Cornell’s London Falling, too, mixed in with Underground London by Stephen Smith and snippets from histories and folklore…

And honestly, I’d say it’s as good as any – or all! – of the books listed above. I adored – and still adore – London; I found myself including Kaerlud in No Man’s Sky, in amongst the Fae-touched world, as a jumble of buildings and history and shops and people. In Portals of London, I love the mix of reality and fantasy, the scientific and questioning nature and the plethora of images and fragments that come together into something unsettling. London is strange, and I love that these fragments pull out that strangeness and make it sharper, turn it into a mystery and a figment and something that I just have the urge to check, just to see, just in case it might be real…

My favourite post so far:

Wren’s Restless Sanctuary: The Church of All-Corners-Within-the-Wall

Settling for ‘Good Enough’

Not in your love life (hell no!). But in writing.

I know the ideal is to always strive for perfection, and to keep working until something is the best that it can be, both for yourself and for the thing. It’s Art, dahling.

Frankly? F*** that. In a general sense, I think that striving for perfection damages you. It will never be perfect. It will never be exactly how you want it to. My choice has always been to get it as good as I can, admit the flaws, then move on. I take what I’ve learned and I do better with the next piece.

However, in a specific sense, I do try to get the best I can. I do aim for some level of perfection. I want to write the best work I can; I want to iron out the flaws, fill the plot holes, make the characters tug at the heartstrings. I want my readers to immerse themselves in a story without getting dragged out by flaws or problems.

And most of the time, I succeed. If it’s three major edits and countless minor ones…or another proofread on top of the one I’ve just done…or a complete rewrite…I do want what I push out into the world to be as perfect as it can.

Unfortunately, for one piece that I’ve just completed, I’ve had to just say f*** that. It’s done.

It’s not perfect. It’s good, sure. It’s ok. It’s probably got some flaws and some holes. But meh. It’s as good as it’s going to get.

Part of the problem is that I’ve had so much criticism of the piece that I can’t see where the flaws are any more. I don’t have any distance or confidence in myself to be able to fight back. I’ve been advised to almost completely re-write it, and that is a bit of a shock when I considered something pretty good. Is my judgement flawed? Am I wrong? Am I truly as crap as I feel when I’m reading the critique? I have tried to take the advice on board, tried to be reasonable, and some of it I have accepted and changed. But…at the point that I’m shouting at the screen? At the point I’m nearly in tears? At the point I’m considering giving up writing, because I obviously can’t do this? No. I can’t do more work on this; I just can’t. It’s finished. And that means that my choice at this stage is simple. I put this work out in a format that’s Good But Not Great, or I scrap it. That’s it.

So much as it frustrates me, I have to accept my limitations. I am not perfect, and in this case, I have not achieved the perfection I wanted. It’s not awful, sure. But it’s not as good as I want it to be.

And in this case, I’m fine with that. I make that choice, and move on. I’ll do better next time. I have to do better next time.

And I think that’s what matters: keep learning. Always keep learning.