Tag: Fiction

2,500 Words A Day

(*grabs ink and quill*)

Remember when I vowed to finish my current novel before I head back to university in September? Like four days ago? Well I’m realising the key obstacle to completing this quest: based on the amount I’ve written and the amount that is left to right, and comparing these figures to the length of time I have left before mid-September, and the need for a few weeks of editing, I have calculated I will need to write 2,500 words a day, every day, for the next two months.

This is a lot for a guy who failed NaNoWriMo by like half the target.

But I shall not falter! I’ve written my 2,500 words for today and I’ve only been up for like eight hours. But, more importantly than that, it felt good to write those 2,500 words. Having started a series of novels with insanely ambitious narratives, and promptly giving up or shelved them indefinitely, I know too well how hard it is to get back to writing if you take a break for too long. Or how tedious writing becomes when you realise that you’ve been plugging away for three hours, and a combination of your perfectionism and procrastination has left you with 351 words and a bold-faced title to show for it.

Actually writing, however, has helped me like the characters and world I’ve created, as opposed to seeing them as a series of outlines I have in my head to mechanically fill in by writing the damn thing. Because I’ve planned this novel out in meticulous detail, writing it becomes more obligation than creation if I were to do it sporadically, and I only had the skeleton of events and characters in my plan to work with. The more I write, however, the more organic the characters become, and, almost paradoxically, the more flexibility I have to deviate a little from the outline because I know who my characters are and what they’re doing, by virtue of engaging with them more often. I’m less reliant on the notes I wrote months ago, and I’m enjoying writing way more as a result.

Now I just have to keep it up for another two months.

Fear Of Writing

(happily I can attack these posts with no semblance of uneasiness, or forethought)

You may or may not know that I’m writing a novel. Not the novel, a thing I’ve been chugging away at for years and is, in my mind, the best idea I’ve come up with and should only be written once I am suitably experienced and skilled at writing fiction, but another novel. A shorter novel. One that will be the first in a long series, the length of which is as-of-yet-undefined.

But you’ll have immediately noticed a problem in my approach to writing in that first paragraph, that I can only try to write things when I’m good enough at writing. Basically, and pretentiously, I think the idea behind my novel is fabulous enough to deserve to be produced well. If a third of a novel is its idea, a third is its written content, and a third is its editing, the last two thirds are technical skills, as opposed to creative sparks, that can be trained. I don’t think I have trained those last two enough to do the creative spark justice. As well as this mindset being insanely narcissistic – ‘only a genius could aptly verbalise my ideas!’ scoffs my writer’s subconscious – it’s practically problematic, that it dissuades me from writing the things that I enjoy and want to write.

This problem is also growing. I started my current novel precisely to build up my skills in writing and editing in preparation for the novel, but have come to respect this novel’s story and characters so much that I feel ill-equipped to produce even this one, and will ned a further sub-project to prepare me for the first sub-project. This is also the reason I failed NaNoWriMo last year, not a lack of time or ideas, but a dissatisfaction with my own skill in relation to the idea I was verbalising with that skill. If NaNoWriMo is the epitome of fast-scrawling, quality-backseating writing fun, where the emphasis is solely on the act of writing, and I can’t even give up my pretentious ideas for that, how in the Hell am I supposed to write a proper novel?

As with most problems, the solution is a Nike cock-sucking ‘just do it’. To be more comfortable writing, I need to write; to be better at writing so as to lose this nagging feeling of inadequacy, I need to write; to have experience in actually knowing what is good and bad writing, instead of just assuming I suck, I need to write.

So I’m going to say this now, and I expect you lot to pester me about this as the Summer progresses – I’m going to finish this novel by the time I go back to uni in September. Written, edited, and completed as much as I can without, like, a proper editor or publisher telling me how to do it. I need to write. So I’ll write.

The Wonders Of Concept Art

(this post is largely inspired by the debut trailer of Mass Effect: Andromeda, which honestly raised by heart rate much higher than the insane finale to season five of Game of Thrones)

I was never one for concept art; when I was younger, it was an easter egg tacked onto games as an unlockable, that cynical 14-year-old James quickly realised was the developers’ way of instructing the player to do more things without actually creating that much more content. I saw no point in trawling through endless pages of sketches and discarded character designs on my TV when I could instead be playing around with the actual characters, and the artistic choices that had been kept, rather than abandoned.

Then my lovely friends got me a Mass Effect art book for my birthday and I’ve been poring over it like Battlestar Galactica fans desperately rereading the scripts of season four of the show in an attempt to understand exactly who or what the bloody hell Starbuck actually was. As someone more aware of being a creator of stuff these days (I’ve always been writing things, but I haven’t really seen myself as a creator until the last eighteen months or so) I;m now more appreciative of and interested in the process that goes into creating characters and worlds. It’s fun to look at alternative designs for characters, and try to get an understanding of the decision-making process behind abandoning certain designs – if character is supposed to represent y, why would look z portray this the best? Or maybe they weren’t meant to portray y at all!

I’m also aware that I’m going through a similar process as I slowly work my way back into writing my latest hair-brained attempt at a novel; I’m discarding and adding new looks and traits to my characters, to help justify or confuse their actions, and reinforce the ideas I’m trying to get across through them.

I’ve always struggled to see creation as a process; it was more of an initial spark, then a finished thing, without much of a middle. That’s why I started this blog, to create by doing, not just by pondering, and I’m starting to see the processes of others as I go.

The Words-On-The-Go Award!

(quadruple hyphen madness!)

Continuing my relentless pursuit of all largely arbitrary and ego-padding awards on this site, like a small child religiously collecting all the YuGiOh cards to construct an exact replica of Yugi’s deck from the anime using only booster packs and not the character starter deck, I have been nominated for that hyphen-riddled award in the title that I won’t mention again because honestly it’s a hard habit to get out of, following each typed word with a space when a dash would be more appropriate. First, I’ll thank Sam O. Bscure for the nomination, and show my gratitude by running a daily blog yet not replying to her encouragement to participate in this award until like three days – and three posts – later. So cheers buddy! Now the rules:

1) Nominate five blogs and notify them by leaving links on their sites (yay – I’m good at pestering people on social media!)

2) Pick a title from one of their recent posts and make it into a short story (less yay – because of sickness and business I’ve not written anything for about a month now)

Nominations:

The Adventures of Beka

Shannon A. Thompson

Thoughts Of A Curly-Haired Essex Bird (or Kathryn Player – I’m not too sure :/)

Writing Stories Rocks

Urban Shmergin

Story: ‘Before I go’, said the longest Winter ever

‘Before I go’, said the longest Winter ever, ‘I’d like to make a few changes to the way things are run around here.’ There was an audible sigh around the conference room, as the other attendees slumped a little deeper into their high-backed leather chairs, and slipped their fingers from the smooth wooden desk in front of them to their laps, a sign of despair and tediousness so universal it was used and understood by the personification of seasons.

‘Why?’ burst in Spring, her words biting as her winds, and icy as her showers.

‘I just think Winter is underrepresented these days in international weather systems,’ replied Winter slowly, shaking out his grey, frost-hemmed overcoat as if he were cold; at the other end of the table, Summer fanned herself as if warm, and between them Autumn indulged in some improbable mannerism that somehow mirrors the falling of leaves.

‘But why?!’ cried Spring again, banging a slender hand on the table, sending vibrations down to the roots of its legs, ‘Already have Winter in northern places! Brits complain about you all the time!’

‘Actually, that’s more my doing,’ sighed Autumn, now finished his improbably mannerism, and tugging the brim of his auburn hat down further over his green eyes, ‘the winds, the slow decay, the frigidity that never boils over into outright it’s-cold-enough-for-a-scarf weather; I’m the plague of these people.’

‘But cold! Winter!’ continued Spring, gesturing at the great stoic being in the frozen coat at the end of the table.

‘But decay. Loss. Harshness,’ a sigh, ‘Autumn,’ finished Autumn, and closed his gnarled, heavily-fingernailed hands in his lap.

‘Guys! Guys! Listen to me for a sec. Guys!’ This was Summer, having successfully navigated the arduous task of fanning herself, and was now fully ready to engage with a conversation with her fellow seasons. ‘What if, right, we take Winter and, hear me out on this,’ she defended herself against interruptions that weren’t coming, ‘we take it, and put it somewhere else!’

‘Somewhere else?’ asked Winter himself, raising a blue-tinged white eyebrow and gesturing for his warm companion to continue.

‘Well, basically, right, guys,’ replied Summer, tossing her head as she spoke with as many commas as words, ‘if we’re, like, unhappy with how long Winter is, it’s because we notice it, right? Like if we were all happy with it, we’d not care about it and let it do its own thing, yeah? So if us noticing it is the problem, we just need to, like, put it where we can’t notice it, and we’ll forget about it!’ She closed, and a bright smile stretched across her face.

There was silence for a few minutes, as the other seasons pondered her proposal.

‘Would be an awful shame to change something so entrenched in our world,’ mused Autumn, before being interrupted by Spring.

‘Sounds good! Let’s do!’

‘That sounds like two out of three, you know,’ continued Autumn, plodding along with his slow, whispered speech, ‘what say you, Winter?’ The Lord of the Cold stretched himself up in his seat, rendering it throne-like with his presence alone; he was the tallest and mightiest of the seasons, the terror of humanity from their first days clinging to ice-battered rocks outside of their warm primordial ooze, to their modern attempts to explore and conquer their world by making the geopolitical circumstances around the ownership of Antarctica really bloody complicated. A grimace cracked across his worn face, and his frostbitten fingertips drummed on the table, in thought and anticipation.

‘Screw it, I’ll take what I can get,’ he said, with a small sigh that was met by Summer and Spring with a daft grin and a whoop respectively; ‘but get to choose what we call this new Winter!’

‘Fair enough, my friend,’ said Autumn, closing his eyes and bowing his head over the table.

And what a name it’ll have,‘ finished the proud owner of a whole new point in time.

The Difficulty Of Creating A Narrator

(sadly not everything I write can be in this annoying narrative voice)

Sometimes I feel like Kilgore Trout: I think I’m fairly creative when it comes to writing novels, but I suck at actually writing them; the problems of reworking everything relentlessly to the point where ‘writing’ becomes a series of edits rather than anything creative, and the fact that I honestly have to introduce token straight white males to my stories to balance out all the overly-diverse non-straight white male characters I write for some reason, are still there, but now there’s a new problem – who the frak is my narrator?

This isn’t a problem I considered before, because I was focused on creating characters and events and worlds for these things to happen in, but in reading back my latest stab at a new novel – one which has had its plot and characters meticulously planned out before any writing started, for perhaps the first time ever – I’ve realised how stupidly inconsistent my narrator’s voice is. Sometimes it’s omniscient, being able to see events across the galaxy of the novel, far away from the single canyon on Mars where the actual events take place, and sometimes it knows nothing, because the invading aliens have been noticeably undefined for the entirety of the text so far; equally, sometimes the voice is cold and objective, rattling off facts about a character’s past, or the current state of galactic politics, like a Wikipedia article or a codex page from the fan’s must-have guide that will totally be a thing once my novel is published and is inevitably a runaway success, and then the voice offers an opinion or a judgement on a character, totally out of the blue.

And I understand that constructing a narrator with a single identity can be a bit dull – the readers have too much confidence in the narrative voice they’re presented with, which is why the annoying, untrustworthy narrator Nick in The Great Gatsby is fun for a lot of people – and can limit the narrative, because if I go with an unknowing narrator, that closes off a lot of the world I want to create around the few events of my novel. Yet my flip-flopping narrator is too far to the other extreme, switching between voices often within the same sentence; this isn’t The Picture of Dorian Gray here, where Wilde offers a single opinion in the next through the narrator, the line ‘I think not.’ being a central part of the text.

I think it’s because I’ve not considered this to be a problem before; you can tell from these unedited, largely unplanned posts that my ‘default’ writing style is a bit of a haphazard, jumpy thing, with aggressive cynicism chucked in every other paragraph to get some cheap laughs to replace the lack of narrative consistency – if those jokes are cut out, which they must be in the novel I’m trying to write – you’re left with a bit of an aimless mishmash.

And I’m realising that constructing a narrator – who is omniscient enough to provide context without spelling everything out to the readers so it’s dull, and is objective enough to let readers form their own opinions on the events presented (as they should) but subtle enough to hint at which are the likeable characters and which are the dickheads in the mind of the author – will probably be the hardest part of writing this, or indeed any, novel. Not just because the problem is new to me, but because it’ll require a constant effort, a reworking of not only events and the style in which they are presented, but a checking of the narrative voice back to my original character sheet of my narrator, to check that everything fits their method of presenting information. Then I can start screwing around with those methods, presenting things in an out of character (because apparently the narrator is a character now!) way to mess with the readers’ expectations and understanding of the text.

But first I need to set up that narrator, and start putting those ideas I planned into a coherent narrative voice.

God it’s easy to write poetry when the narrator is the conveniently undefined ‘I’.

Characters Create Worlds

(that title should be read in the voice of someone going ‘ohh!’ in a manner of great realisation)

When I’m writing, I think I’m far better at, and certainly gain more enjoyment from, creating worlds than populating them with characters and stories. This is why I’m interested in sci-fi, fantasy and apocalypse genres, because they basically let you play around with whole little universes – species, fictional histories, social conventions – in a rather convenient way; but writing the Twelve Stories Of Christmas, particularly day one which doesn’t really fit into any of those genres, made me realise that world-building can be done without stepping completely away from the real world, that convincing societies can be constructed as much through a subtle change to our current world as it can be through a complete separation from that world, and building something from scratch on a spaceship or whatever.

But now, in finally getting around to writing up an idea I’ve had for like three years, I’m seeing another way to create worlds, one through character. My current project is a military sci-fi one, heavily influenced by Mass Effect and, in turn, Battlestar Galactica; and while there are a load of complex political situations and relationships involved in this idea, the piece I’m currently writing is intended to serve as a short, almost introductory, preface to this universe (because I think of all my half-baked ideas as if they’ll be made into twelve-volume epics).

As a result, I don’t want to overload the reader with facts about this fictional universe when the action of this first part takes place exclusively on one planet; and ‘action’ is an important word, because this preface type-thing is mostly action and combat, with political stuff only being hinted at. I tried to mention these political concerns early on, but found it clunky and unnatural, I was basically dumping some political facts into the middle of a battle scene, which distracted from the action and meant that it was the narrator, not the characters, who spoke the most, which isn’t a good idea when it’s the start of a thing and you’re trying to introduce take establish those characters.

But now I’ve found a solution (admittedly one I’ve been too busy to actually write, but what the Hell), which is to make individual characters representative of those wider political ideas; I have an aggressive, blunt character, and a splinter group of humanity known for their violence and independence – wouldn’t it be helpful if I were to introduce this character in all their obnoxiousness, then explain it through the introduction of that splinter group and their history? I think that’s a way better approach than political statements made in a vacuum; I know that part of reading involves the reader making associations and interpretations for themselves, but it might be asking too much to not link this character with this theme like this, because there are literally no other indicators the two things are linked.

It’s like the endless array of characters you interact with in Mass Effect (apologies if the upcoming references mean nothing to you): Grunt, and Wrex, are representative of the entire krogan race, their ideas, beliefs and actions; Garrus represents the turians, with the race’s history explored through anecdotes from his battles; Mordin reflects the steadily changing views, yet uncompromising demeanour, of the salarians; and Liara, Samara and Morinth show the two extents of asari society – modern and politically influential on one end, and deeply spiritual on the other. It helps to make a world real and believable if lore is based on character in this way, as it creates a world in which people are living (present tense) instead of whole swathes of people being represented with the same interesting, yet broad and impersonal, brushstrokes that I’m used to painting with.

So there’s something else I’ve learned by writing things; a writer may create a world, but it’s characters both make it real, and introducing that world through them makes it believable and worthwhile. Now if only I could fix my complete inability to write dialogue, this writing thing may not be such a hopeless failure.

I Have A Book Called Space Cowboy

(god, aren’t I interesting?)

Another day of crappy phone posting here, so I thought I’d tell you about perhaps the greatest book title known to man: Space Cowboy.

I’ve read most of the book, although several years ago now and intend to reread it as part of my plan to read like two books a month outside of my course for the rest of the year, but the premise is still fresh in my mind: there is a cowboy. And he is in space.

And we’re not talking space cows here (I think), just regular, mooing cows, herded around by a guy in chaps on horseback, that just so happens to take place on the planet of Aletha Three, as opposed to the state of Texas.

The book is written by Justin Stanchfield, who ought to immediately win every trivial writing award known to man (like the Booker Prize) for his effort, and I can already recommend the novel to you simply on its fantastic name alone; because the story may turn out to be total shit, but it’ll always be prefaced with an awesome title, which is something that can never be taken away from us.