Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Useful Links

Thanks for you comments on my last blog entry, Sarah, Tara and C.  It's always nice to know that other people feel as strongly about their favourite authors as I do!

Anyway, for today, some useful links.

I have a bunch of websites bookmarked that I regularly return to, not just for research purposes, but for inspiration and instruction.  So I thought maybe I should link to some of them here.  If you have any especially wonderful sites that you love, please let me know!

  • Seventh Sanctum - Stuck for a name, or a plot idea?  This is the place for you.  There are loads of name and story generators on the site, and while most of them aren't directly usable, they're a fantastic place to start.
  • Symbols.com - Contains more than 1,600 articles about 2,500 Western signs and symbols. 
  • Literary Liaisons - A site dedicated to the art of historical romance writing.  The most useful section contains a huge amount of articles about the Victorian period in general.

  • WriteOrDie - A website that does nothing more than force you to write!  If you're feeling blocked or just need an added push to get words on paper, give it a try.
  • 13 Writing Tips by Chuck Palahniuk - I love this man's writing, and I regularly read through these tips.  I've seen several lists of tips, but these are the ones that I relate to best.
  • The Bookshelf Muse - A blog where the authors list a new scenario or emotion or something similar and provide ideas and phrase words to help with your prose writing.
  • Save The Words - A site where you can "adopt" a word that is in danger of becoming extinct!

These are just the ones that I return to over and over again - I'm fairly sure there are some amazing ones missing from this list!

    Sunday, 27 March 2011

    Who influences you?

    At least once a year, I pick up my tattered copy of Stephen King's "The Stand" and re-read it.  The love I have for this book (and all things King) is one of the defining factors in my goal to be a writer.

    I want to give people the adventures that King gives me.  I want to transport them to the places he sends me.  And I want to give them the inspiration that I get from him.

    While "The Stand" was the novel that fully cemented my love for his works, it's his short stories that influence me most today. When I'd completed my first flash fiction (which isn't particularly good, I now realise), I showed it to a few friends.  One of them, also a King fan, gave me the greatest compliment anyone ever could - "It's kinda like a Stephen King story." 

    The way he can take a simple idea and twist it into something that is so much more, so disturbing, and yet so real.  That's what I want my writing to be like.  I want people to come away from my stories with the same goosebumps that I got the first time I read "Firestarter" or "Insomnia".

    I try, intermittently, to write stories that are lighter in theme, less dark and twisted, but each time something happens to the characters, and it ends up with someone being killed, or maimed, or psychologically scarred for life.  I don't mean it to happen like that, but I guess that's the way my brain is wired.  I like darkness in my characters.  I like stories where people don't always act the way you expect them to.  I like situations that make people do things that they wouldn't do under any other situation.

    Maybe I need to give up on writing happy, fluffy stories and just accept it will never happen.  After all, I don't think Stephen King's going to be writing a Mills and Boon novel any time soon.

    So tell me, who influences your writing and why?

    Sunday, 20 March 2011

    Author Biography

    I know, no posts from me in ages, and then two almost at once :)

    My question for you all (if indeed there is actually anyone reading this blog, otherwise it's more of a rhetorical question), is what do I write as an author bio, when I don't yet have anything published?

    I'm submitting some of my flash fiction pieces to various online ezines, but several of them are asking me for a short (3 sentence or so) professional bio.  Without having anything published (other than one twitter-fic!), how do I go about this?

    Do I discuss this blog and my twitter fics?  Do I shrug it off lightly and write something lighthearted and jokey, or is that unprofessional?

    It'll be a lot easier once I manage to get a couple of pieces published, I know, but until that time, I'm feeling like I'm stuck in a catch-22 situation: without being published, no one will look at my work, but without anyone looking at my work, I can't get published.

    Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi fair reader, you're my only hope!

    Saturday, 19 March 2011

    What's Missing?

    I've found myself recently watching films and reading books with a much more critical eye.

    I pay attention to the overall plot, breaking it down to its simplest points to see if it fits in with what I know about writing. I look for the conflict in each character, studying how it helps develop the character. I'm watching out for "show not tell" moments, as I know this is something I need to work on, learning from these people who have succeeded where I hope to tread.

    I'm also using some to teach me how not to write. I'm halfway through a book at the moment that I consider to be poorly written. None of the secondary characters are fleshed out - I can't remember the names of any of them - and there seems to be no conflict at all, either internally or externally. The descriptive scenes are very well written, but it proves to me that it takes more than pretty writing to write a novel.

    There has to be obstacles, there has to be character growth, there has to be something to makes these people stand out. Without them, you're just writing words on a piece of paper, not a story.
    Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.7

    Monday, 14 March 2011

    Afraid to Write?

    I have a short story in my head.  Almost fully formed in my head.  It'll probably end up around the 5 or 6 thousand word length by the time I'm finished.  I have the characters detailed so well in my head that I swear one of them keeps talking to me during the day.

    But I haven't written more than the first 100 words yet.

    The reason is simple.  I'm scared that I won't be able to do justice to this awesome idea I have.  I'm scared that my descriptions won't be able to express the images I can see.  I'm scared that the story will come out flat and emotionless.  I'm actually scared to write it.  In my personal opinion, it's the first story idea I've had that seems "perfect" straight away.  It's something that is close to my heart, but also something that I know others might object to, or find uninteresting.  That's not new - my penchant for writing morbid apocalyptic fic often distances me from potential readers who are looking for fluffy or literary stories - but I want other people to like this as much as I do.

    This is insane, I'm fully aware.  I know that all I need to do right now is get the words on the paper and then I can worry about making them perfect afterwards, but it seems like such a daunting prospect.

    The other problem is that while this is in my head, it seems to be pushing aside every other thought.  So I really, really need to write it.  Maybe I should just sit at my desk and switch off my brain and just write.  Let the words flow and not even think about it.

    Any suggestions?

    Wednesday, 9 March 2011

    Back To Basics

    I’ve discovered (yet another) bad habit of mine when it comes to writing.  When I say “discovered”, of course, what I actually mean is “finally acknowledged something my husband has been saying for years”.

    I over-edit my story ideas. 

    Like most people, the reason I start writing a particular story is because something about the idea excites me.  I barrel in with my newfound enthusiasm and get straight to work on it, until I hit some kind of brick wall.

    Usually, what this brick wall means is that there is a specific feature about the story that isn’t working.  I trust my instincts, and try  to pay attention to them, so I stop and re-think the whole story.  Quite often, this involves my brain wandering off at a dozen tangents and deciding that the story would work better in a whole other country.  Or time zone.  Or universe.

    A perfect example of this is my 2009 NaNoWriMo attempt.  If you haven’t ever heard of NaNo before, it’s a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November.  I’d half-heartedly attempted it a few times – usually giving up before I hit my first thousand words – but in 2009, I had a perfect idea.  It was going to be a crime thriller with a main character who has a unique psychic-type ability.  I had it all planned out, including detailed character biographies, a timeline and lots of other useless detail.

    Two days before I kicked off, I (probably correctly) deduced that my main character wasn’t using his abilities enough to make it stand out from every other crime novel on the shelves.  It needed something more.  Something to make it more unique.  So, instead of doing what I should have done and re-worked the plot to utilise his ability better, I made the dramatic decision to set the entire story on another planet and make it more of a Sci-Fi Western.  As it happens, I did successfully write the full 50,000 words, albeit without actually completing the story.  But I wasn’t happy with it.  

    I know what the problem is.  I turned my back on the original story – the one that had excited me.  This was no longer the novel I had wanted to write.  The characters had changed beyond all recognition.  The world was one that felt like it had stepped out of an episode of a generic cowboy show.  There was nothing left of my original gritty crime story. 

    So I’m planning to go back to this.  Starting at the beginning and reminding myself why I fell in love with the character and the story.  Maybe this time, when I hit that inevitable brick wall, I’ll be able to keep my mind clearly focused on the basics…

    Monday, 7 March 2011

    First Rejection

    I knew it had to happen, but today I received my first rejection.

    I'm not upset about it - I'd pretty much convinced myself it was going to happen - but I am grateful for it.  The editor was very kind in his response, explaining why my story didn't work for him and stating that he liked my writing generally.  And now that I am thinking about it, I can see that he's right about the story itself.

    The piece was submitted before it was ready, with me relying on what was really only an early draft.  I should have taken more time to perfect it, rather than just saying "that's ready, let's submit".  It's something for me to think about more.

    I'm going to let the story sit for a while before I try and go back to it - I have plenty of other ideas to work on at the moment, so that's not a problem. 

    And maybe the next one I submit to him will be a better fit for his ezine...

    Sunday, 6 March 2011

    Why Not Me?

    On a pretty regular basis, I find myself reading an article about the Twilight phenomenon and wonder "Why Not Me?"

    How did Stephenie Meyer manage to get those books published when her writing is - in my humble opinion - not all  that great?  And why can't I?

    I'll usually sit and bemoan the fact for a while, complaining loudly about the flaws in her style and how the story isn't even all that good (or original).  Until this most recent time when it finally occurred to me.

    It doesn't bloody well matter.  She had an idea (no matter how cliche and trite it may seem now to us), and she rolled with it.  She sat herself down and she wrote.  She saw something she wanted and she went after it.

    After realising that, can I really sit here and complain that I haven't managed to get any of my short stories published?  Have I any right at all to fling negative comments around about the Twilight books?  Well, yes, but that's a whole other blog post.

    But the important point here - there is one, I promise! - is that she did it.  Unless I can honestly say to myself that I have put 110% effort into my writing, I have no right to moan about not being published.  If Ms. Meyer can do it, so the hell can I!

    New Technology

    I love my smartphone. I love being able to write notes and story ideas down wherever I am.

    And now, if this new app works correctly, I can post to my blog from anywhere too!
    Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.7

    Friday, 4 March 2011

    One Word At A Time

    I've tried writing blogs before, but I never seem to have anything interesting to say, so I give up. I'm starting to realise now that part of being a writer is about a) finding something interesting and b) writing whether people are reading or not.

    So here I am again.

    WriteWords encouraged me to start a blog - along with all the other wonderful opportunities it has provided - so it would be rude of me not to try. After all, if I'm a writer, I need to write.

    I'm still learning how to write. Not the technicalities, but the discipline of sitting down each day and making myself write, whether I have an idea or not. Maybe with a blog I'll write more. Who knows.

    In the meantime, I'll end this initial piece of rambling with a quote from Stephen King. He is the author that I most aspire to be like. I love his writing, I love his talent, and I love his ideas. I recently bought his non-fiction book "On Writing" and discovered that on top of everything else, he's a damn good teacher too.

    He was asked in an interview how he writes. A ridiculous question, I'm sure we'll all agree, but his answer is one that has stuck with me firmly. "One word at a time."

    After all, that's what it's all about, isn't it. Just writing. Not sitting down to write a novel, or even a short story. It's just about sitting down and writing one word after another. And then the next. And the next.

    And if I can do that? Maybe I can be like Stephen King in other ways too.