Category Archives: Writing

Writing Tools & Adaptation

My preference in writing has always been typing. My tool of choice has been laptops since I first got my hands on one about 15 years ago when I was finally given one for college, and I’ve never been a big fan of handwriting, since it ends up hurting my stupidly weak wrists. Even as a child I asked for a typewriter, which then got relegated to under the bed the minute we got our first computer.

So losing my tool of writing recently has left me rather lost, to be honest… My laptop (generally clunky and useless as it was) became fully DOA and was tentatively diagnosed with Fried Hard Drive Syndrome – which I suspect was due to the idiotically- placed main vent… Some genius thought it’d be an awesome idea to put it in the bottom of the laptop – and thus defeating the whole point of it actually being a laptop (it was more of a sit-it-strategically-on-books-and-magazines-top and the idiot at HP who designed it should be string up with piano wire and over a crocodile pit). Throw in the fact it ran the worst OS in history (Vista) and that machine was a nightmare.

But it was a “lap”top, and my only laptop, and I like how personal they are. PC may stand for “Personal Computer” but desktops are nowhere near the same. Laptops are portable – they can go to your bed, your couch, your Starbucks, on the train, and away on trips with you. Desktops are utterly useless for such things, given they tend to weigh more than a baby elephant and are almost just as big as one too (OK, they’re not quite that bad these days, but they’re still not great). They also come in at least 3 parts and they just don’t move. I like the fact laptops (and ergo your ideas, notes, manuscript, games, internet etc) are portable and follow you everywhere. Now I don’t have a portable friend and feel tied down and trapped – stuck tied to the only working machine in the house… My desktop.

… Except not “desk”top. It’s tied to the big-screen TV to watch online programmes and movies, and was originally set up to be the iTunes archive and player. So writing now actually involves sitting in front of a huge HDTV with a wired keyboard (the wireless one died – this house is cursed!) and trying to concentrate on writing on something big enough to live on, and was bought for movies and games.

So now my “writing office” is the floor of the living room (the keyboard only reaches do far) and my office chair is a bunch of large floor cushions, and my desk is a large box with books in. And if I want to watch anything (or the other-half does), it goes in a small window in the corner of the screen – so very not practical!

I’m now not so much short of inspiration as short of options for where to write them down, and this I’m finding annoying the more of goes on. But then when one does not have the ability to fund a change to the situation, one has to adapt. Even if it’s through gritted teeth!

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Knowing Me; Knowing Them

So, after thinking a little bit more about the whole “write what you know” thing that everyone will always quote at you if you want to write, I got to thinking about what I really did know. And I came to realise that one thing I had been trying to write about I did not know about – and that was happy things.

Now, I’m not meaning to sound like an over-dramatic, self-pitying misery guts here, but the general fact is that happy and cheerful isn’t something I’ve ever really experienced. My life has (in the majority) been difficult, dark, and rather gothic in its execution. I’ve been one of those people who’ve rather suffered through fault of their own and others, and I’ve been to very dark places. I have subsequently not been to very happy places – even if I did (or I even may have) – I doubt I would even know it, to be honest.

Therefore I’m back at the question of why am I trying to write it? It’s hardly going to be authentic as a piece of writing, and what I managed to get from others was that it rather wasn’t really authentic to me. My mother was rather surprised to read one attempt at a manuscript, citing it as something of light-fluff that she finds in her Mills & Boon books. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that until I clocked on that it wasn’t a strange snipe at my writing (trying nicely to say it was rubbish and had no substance) – it was that I think she was rather taken aback that I would actually try to write “fluff”. I’m not a “fluff” person – not to write anyway (though I do like the odd chick-lit and chick-flick).

Back to my usual analogy of song writing, I have not written any “fluff” songs since I was about 15. By fluff, I mean lovey, traditional pop-esque Moon-In-June, lovey-dovey things that Britney might have sung when she was also 15, with basic lyrics and easy rhymes, where silly people always write “mine” with “time” and “sigh” and cry” because it’s too much effort to come up with anything else. I write dark, gothic, and (as some people will no doubt call) “depressive” songs and music – it has a hard, dark theme of suffering and general feeling of being trapped in a nightmare, thus:

Black rose dying from your poison
Screaming ghosts haunt the nightmares in my head
All I see is desolation
Can’t escape the terrors in my mind…

Screaming Alone inside my head
Grasping desperation till I’m dead
Black fingers pouring threads of war
From wounds that I can no longer ignore.

Thinking now, I know I was probably just trying to use writing as a way of escaping a life that always feels like this – when it comes to songs I always write what I feel. But that just means that I don’t really know what I’m writing about – I do sarcasm, dark humour, intensity, deep darkness, living with fear and depression.

I don’t really do cheerful. So I’m happy to report that I’ve stopped that now. I’ll just stick to dark humour and mild sarcasm from now on. I think it’ll come across as much more authentic, and so will my beloved friends (read: Characters).

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.
~ GUSTAVE FLAUBERT


Characters Are The Life Fiction

Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand. Plot exists so the character can discover what he is really like, forcing the character to choice and action. And theme exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody.

JOHN GARDNER

 

http://www.advicetowriters.com/home/2012/2/10/character-is-the-very-life-of-fiction.html


Narratively Speaking

All right. I think for my latest writing attempt (i.e. Novel manuscript), I’m going to have to completely deconstruct what I’ve already done and realise what’s there (apart from names and some basic plot-points) is just basically useless. It’s sketchy and unfocused. And a bit rubbish, really. The idea’s there, but it’s not translating to paper. Or rather, Word doc.

I’ve agreed with myself that a big part of what I’m trying to write, and the point that I’m making (even in the title), is about isolation. Common sense then says the obvious option is to therefore isolate the narrative – it really should be in First Person. Not every-person, which is what ends up happening in Third Person works. Ones that I write, anyway.

Having it in First Person will keep it focused, bring in more though processes and characterisation of protagonist, and will make that person the driver of the story without getting sidetracked into others’ thought-processes.

I was attempting to do this in Third Person. It wasn’t working. I imagine because it logically made little sense. Also I think it didn’t allow me to really “connect” with them (the protagonist) properly – with what I have in mind for this it would be very hard to make sense of some of the complexities of the character without they themselves being the one to describe them. After all, it’s easier to get sucked into someone’s mind, and someone’s world – even with all their crazy and skewed logic – when they’re the one telling you about it.

Unfortunately this means going all the way back to page one and deconstructing what’s already there to accommodate this. And it’s more that changing that lead character’s name to “I” on the page. It’ll change the dynamic, the observations, writing patter and probably all of the book all over again.

But I like the thought of this. It makes me hopeful it’ll get me somewhere, and also allow me to move on past the mind-block I’ve had for about a week. All hard work, but surely a good thing? I’d like to think I have the capability of creating something that’s actually rather decent – and that eventually I’ll crack the key to my personal style and do just that. Just like with writing songs.

Just for once I’d like to prove to the voices in my head that they’re wrong – and listen to the other voices in there. The ones who are good characters just waiting to be born and given full lives in the worlds of my future novels.


Getting To Know You…

I’m maybe starting to get the hang of this writing malarkey, me thinks. I don’t mean that I’m suddenly Agatha Christie or Enid Blyton (and no, I’m neither 75 nor 6 years old, but they’ve been my favourites since I could read and no one has done better!) – but I think I am starting to learn about putting into practice the things drilled into me studying English Lit. Like what’s the point of the book – what is it trying to say, what exactly is it looking at, and why should the story be told at all… Well, apart from keeping me occupied where otherwise I would be bored out of my brain, of course.

I managed to work out the main focus of my story and what the characters were playing for, as it were. I realised that it focused on a different aspect of relationships, and that the story is telling a tale about something that is really more about the “what happens after the Happily Ever After” ideal, as it were. Especially when (in your character’s opinion) it’s not really the ideal result one would assume that it perhaps ought to be.

I managed to get a lot of character clarification and I organised everything in new notes from scratch. Then I wrote a new synopsis on it to see how it goes together, and I’m starting to get a better understanding now of what I want to do with it. Of what I want to do with then, and the journey I want to take them on. It’s still not perfect, but I’m really now seeing how the jigsaw pieces come together and start to create a picture. The more pieces I put in, the clearer I see the end result and the quicker I can conjure the next correct piece, or where one is not sitting quite right and needs to be moved and replaced.

It took a few weeks to get there, and a few days of rather intense thinking (I would’ve had to have gone to lie down if I hadn’t already been in bed suffering insomnia) to manage to start seeing these previously vague characters as whole people, especially the lead. She’s the first one I’ve really got to know in too many years (I really invested in two others but then lost the MS files on my laptop of the time and subsequently stopped getting emotionally involved – big mistake!) – I think we’re both starting to get something out of it.

Now I’m starting to get to know them, I’m starting to get a real idea of what they would “realistically” (and, yes, I do use that term loosely) do, say, think, feel, react, behave, etc. This has also meant that at least 90% of the original MS is obsolete, but the basic skeleton ideas were good, so they’re being (drastically) modified for integration into the new one.

And the more I know them, the better I understand them. So the better I write them, and the better the reader understands them – important when the journey is so affected by what they think, feel and fear. And if you don’t understand them, you don’t understand the choices they make- and then neither does anyone else. Then the motivation for what’s going on is lost on everybody. Which isn’t helpful.

Psychology and motivation is definitely a big part of writing literature – yours and the characters’. You need to know your ideas and motivation for writing it, and you need to know the thoughts and motivation of the characters.

I think I’m now starting to get to grips with mine.


Brain Frazzling

Lack of food, no appetite, serious caffeine dependency, exhaustion, inability to concentrate, and the coffee just keeps getting stronger with no effect. Welcome to Brain Frazzling.

I’ve been trying to be clever – re-writing the first few chapters of a new MS I’m working on, one of an old story, and thinking about really giving the protagonist a stronger voice and a much more prominent and clear character. I’ve pulled the entire piece apart, leaving – maybe – 30% of the basic original plot still in there (I imagine most of that will probably go too). Of what little plot is still there, a basic thread of the skeleton is the only thing that remains and I’m hoping in understanding the character, their personality and their past better so I will hopefully be able to create a more believable, “real” character and a plot that is more character-driven.

By that, I mean going forward with the story (i.e. the protagonist & friends’ lives) by thinking about what that driving character would do, how she would move forward and live her life and react to different things that happen – and for that to work it clearly needs to be character-based. Which means both myself, and (hopefully) the reader, will need to understand her.

Unfortunately, trying to pull apart a ready-made character in a book in class is a lot easier to do than trying to do it yourself from scratch, and I’m not sure really how well I’m doing with that right now.

The thing is there’s one big problem in all of this – my brain no longer works. My concentration is shot and I’m not making the best decisions or writing anything constructive in the least anymore. I have notes – lots of notes. But that’s almost the entire extent of it, although at least that’s something. I didn’t have such great ideas before. I’ve been reading back on what I’ve done so far and my brain is barely processing it – although I did manage to recognise that I accidentally wrote that a character was “blow-drying her hand”… Instead of her hair.

It’s hard to be motivated when the only thing you can think about is getting an IV of some serious full-bean and you just can’t feel your brain anymore. It’s even harder to string a thought together, let alone a sentence and then being able to write it, when you’ve got ADD – for the total opposite reason to the usual one. I’m even struggling with Twitter, and that’s just 140 characters. Reading them is hard enough right now – and since writing them is involves actual thinking, there’s not a lot coming from me anymore.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that to be a writer, and to write, you need to have all your faculties intact – and most importantly, have the ability to sleep. Or the superhuman ability to go for months of sleep-deprivation without wanting to resort to living on seriously hardcore coffee and chocolate cake chocolate penguins.

Oh, hey – that’s an actual thought I managed…. Although it did involve chocolate, so maybe that got my attention a little more than usual.

Going to go now and enjoy the novelty of an almost-coherent thought – and maybe go back and stare blankly at the screen again whilst pretending to actually do some work.


Background Work

Funny how these were meant to be about music. Then they end up being about writing. Is that priorities changing, or finding another string to my creative bow?… I hope it’s the second, I’d hate to accidentally give up on the music.

But recently I’ve been thinking hard about the stories, writing stories, and using my “story-writing” abilities from songwriting for writing book(s). Last night I spent, quite probably, nearly the entire night contemplating background support and how relevant it is to stories as well as songs.

With songs, the background is the backing – the cacophony of instruments that the voice (story) sits on – and I realised the obvious (I don’t realise the obvious with music, it’s just too obvious to consider consciously) – that clearly without that backing there is no song, no support, no music – the “story” is bland. Accapella rarely works well – and it doesn’t work at all when you’re pushing particular music genres… Imagine writing hard rock with raging guitars and banging drums! It just wouldn’t be rock – it would be a weirdo screaming strange things, and they would quite probably be carted away to the padded cells.

When I write any, and all, songs, I always start building the entire backing from the beginning, and never move on to the next section until I’ve created the complete sound for that section. Starting at the intro, then the first verse, then chorus (etc, etc), the music is built section by section in its (near) complete form so I immediately have the whole picture of where I’ve been, and subsequently I have a clear idea of where I’m going.

Now in storytelling, surely it must be the same? Without character background and circumstance created at the very least in your head – if not actually mentioned and to be peppered through the book – you surely have little chance of creating anything of substance. Just like if you only put down piano and drums in a song, you’re going to have a very thin story, and support for that story, with just that menial effort. And just like in our own lives, how can we know where we’re going if we don’t really understand where we’ve been?

Ergo I was thinking that to create a decent – and efficient – story, I definitely need to do the equivalent of putting down all the instruments to make a full and complete (ish) backing – only in book-form. By this I mean create full, complete and clear lives, pasts, thoughts and personalities for the characters, and implement them clearly in dialogue, interaction, reaction and character thoughts – especially with the protagonist. And all this to be considered, really, before writing starts. Or shortly afterwards, at least. It’s only in this way will they really come to life and start moving the story themselves.

The one main thing you study in English Lit is obviously character dynamics, character motivation, their reactions and behaviour to circumstances, and their interaction with each other. You’re getting none of this if you don’t bother putting the legwork in first. You’d think after putting the bother into studying it, I’d realise and remember that. Sometimes I’m too lazy to be that bright.

Now I’ve personally so far been very guilty of not quite grasping this concept and been very lazy about such important details – frankly hoping they would just turn up. Naively.

Now I’m going back to the drawing board, to create these characters so I know them as well as their fictitious parents do. I hope it’s going to make my writing a little more coherent and a lot more interesting.

Hoping more that I’ll do a good job and I’m going to get it right.

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(Creative) Absence Makes The Brain Go “Meh”…

That’s just great… My confidence has taken quite a beating now. I’ve tried reading through something that I once thought might actually make a little sense – and not only did it not make any sense, it was a rambling mess I just wanted to cry at. Unfortunately, the lazy part of me just cannot be bothered going back to the drawing board with the new ideas I have for this “story” (this would be the part of me that wishes these things would simply write themselves). On the other hand, if my creative side would inhale some of that waterfall of coffee that I consume every day and wake up again, I would actually really enjoy the challenge of taking characters I think I actually like and think may have potential and reinventing them and their lives.

 

The idea of being organised with spreadsheets and cross-referenced bullet-points and notes would also cheer me up no end usually as well… However, the idea of being proactive at the moment just makes me want to go back to sleep. My Get Up And Go has Got Up And Gone and there seems to be little steam left in the little engine to get it back again, and with it goes my arse to actually want to do anything about writing something new. Which is a bit of an exasperation – if I could muster up the energy to care enough to feel such a thing as exasperation. Currently, it’s more like a… “Meh…”

 

My favourite solution to this problem is generally a continuous slow-drip IV of Full-Bean Starbucks with extra espresso – it makes sure there’s not too much blood clogging up the coffee in my veins. However, this doesn’t seem to be quite working at the moment thanks to being whacked over the head (and run right through the lungs) with a horrible chest infection that’s left me coughing like an eighty-a-minute chain-smoker with emphysema. It’s not been the best way to start off a new year, I rather must admit – and it’s been playing havoc with my ability to give a tiny rat’s ass about anything, including whether the things that I write actually make any sense (and I really doubt they actually do).

 

I have rather gathered so far that when actually writing something, you have to actually write it – being a passive spectator doesn’t really cut the biscuit, it would seem, at all. So far I seem to have come up with gobbledygook with the writing, and I’ve not even bothered with the music (see I’m sensible in that regard with the one thing I’m experienced in – I’ve left the music well alone!) and I am getting royally frustrated by the fact that my brain has turned to mush, and finding out that the ability to breathe properly is rather a useful thing when trying to do something creative. I have also managed to gather that having tizzy-fits and getting hypnotized by iPlayer (I blame the Dickens Christmas Specials & new Sherlock Holmes series that have been shown… Oh, and Downton Abbey, of course… Yes, I know that’s actually ITV, it’s almost the same thing…) and Netflix is also not particularly helpful, and occasionally detrimental – especially when it makes you feel like curling up in a ball and giving up because you know you’re never going to be as good as Dickens/ Conan Doyle/ Fellowes. Well, not outside of your imagination, anyway.

 

Despite all this, I’m going to go and have a bash at reorganizing things for the characters and the story. I am. I will. I’ll get round to it… I  have a notebook – does that count? I even have ideas… Despite the lack of detail and the fact I have no idea how to articulate them at the moment, or the current ability to untangle them from my yearning for more coffee because I’m so bloody knackered, I’m determined to really try. Perhaps if I get out my spreadsheets again and start organizing myself in a way that I’m familiar with, I might get some brain momentum in being geeky and having fun – colouring them all in, rearranging them in different orders, dividing them by chapters and characters and key details… And then probably forgetting that I’m actually trying to write a novel and instead getting carried away in creating pretty worksheets.

 

Maybe I’ll stick to my notebook…

 

 

 


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