Friday, 28 December 2012

Congratulations, you're a sell-out

Today's post is about the line between accessibility and academia. Quite a wide margin, one might think. But the pitfalls are the greatest for the people who fall on one side or the other. So, what's the difference?

First, let's examine the difference between the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings, as you may well know, is academia at its heaviest and least accessible. You can read it, sure, but its lumbering prose lulls you into a stupor faster than almost anything else. The lengthy musings on bloodlines and rightful heirs only serves to worsen things. I've read it, don't get me wrong, and I plan to read it again. It's just a bit more of a chore than I would like it to be.

Okay, so how does the Hobbit differ from this? Well, first off, the Hobbit is often described as a children's novel. Not that I think it detracts from the book at all, it simply means that the writing is a little more light-hearted and the story a little less gloomy. To me, this is a very good book. It may skim over the bad parts, and the story and characters may be a little underdeveloped, but it succeeds in what it attempts to achieve, and that is to entertain.

Now let's enter the other end of the spectrum entirely. Take a series like Twilight, or Fifty Shades of Grey. The two are interchangeable for me. The writing is in first person, description is almost non-existent.It focuses on an obsession with a single man - his life consumes the protagonist's existence. It's supposed to be a book one can slip in to - to be the protagonist, to forget she's even there. Simplistic writing (read: no big words) lets the less academic demographic, and the readers who are not avid readers, engage easily with the story. This expanded readership results in widespread liking for the novel, resulting in a cult following (or at least very high sales).

Before you consider writing a book like that and becoming filthy rich, observe the trends in the market. Since both Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, thousands of copycats of each have flooded the market, some of them vastly better than what came before. None of them have reached the cult popularity of the first. If you're going to write something, either make sure it's sufficiently set apart from the current obsession, or make it good. Really good. Maybe it's not accessible enough to create a cult following, and you may not get movies, but it will last a hell of a lot longer than Twilight.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

A Fantasy Serial - Chapter 1

May I present to you a new project of mine. This here is a novel idea I never managed to finish. Let's see if a little more experience and the incentive of the internet won't spur this one towards its finish. So tell me: what would you like to happen next?

I shouldn’t have been out that night. It was a silly and reckless thing to do, brought on I think by an excess of drink and an absence of disapproval. There was no one to mind me, all of them occupied with other things, the doings of a young girl holding little interest to them. I was no more than an irritating puppy, to be played with at times and shooed away when it got tiresome. So there was no way they were going to miss me.

The night was cold, and I wrapped my shawl tighter around my shoulders. What was I doing out here? Heaven only knew. All I knew was that I had to get out, to clear my head. I took deep breaths of the night air, drinking in its cool freshness with slightly drunken pleasure. I did not notice him creep up on me, and when his hand was clasped over my mouth, I was too stunned even to scream. He gagged me, binding my hands tightly behind my back. He then dragged me, stumbling, into a side alley. Only then could I get a proper look at my captor.

Chocolate coloured skin was the first thing I noticed. It had a richness to it, as deep and dark as fine wooden furniture. The whites of his eyes looked out of his face with a startling contrast, as if he were merely a shadow, simply a pair of eyes staring at me from the darkness. His expression was neutral, neither kind nor ruthless. He checked my dress for pockets, his fingers moving deftly. Soon enough he had realised that I carried no purse. Instead he groped for my necklace.

No. I began to struggle, as futile as I knew it was. Tears pooled in my eyes as he undid the clasp, and he thrust the necklace into one of his pockets. If he noticed, it didn’t show. I might have run then, if I had any notion of where I was. Instead I stood there and waited for him to finish taking my belongings, swaying slightly with the wind.

It didn’t take him long. He drew a knife, and I shrank back in fear. But he grabbed my shoulder and swivelled me around, too strong for me. I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable.

It never came. He cut my hands free and started to run. I reached up and undid my gag. “Wait!” I screamed madly. “Please.”

Did he halt in the darkness? I did not know. Perhaps he didn’t care. I decided to talk regardless. Maybe he would hear me. “Please,” I said again. “It’s all I have of them.”

“Do you not have memories?” The voice which spoke to me sounded educated, not brutish in the slightest. “Funny how we hold on to objects, assign them special value.”

I swallowed and tried to calm my breathing. “It helps me to remember.”

“Don’t those memories make you sad?” he asked. His voice was coming from somewhere elevated, like a rooftop. “Don’t they make you want to rail at life itself for being so unfair? Memories are trash. Better not to think of the dead, and occupy yourself with the living.”

I wanted to scream at him, but that would not help me. If anyone came, he would simply flee, leaving me with nothing but memories and a bare neck. Instead I calmed my breathing and spoke quieter. “To me, they are valuable memories. They make me want to cry, but it is sweet in its bitterness. I laugh at the same time.”

I waited for a response, but the night was still. Eventually I came to realise that he had left me here, stolen away while I was speaking. I returned home. An educated, well-spoken thief was still a thief, after all. I had been a fool to think that he would listen to me. Perhaps in time I would learn not to keep up such hopes, and be glad that all he had wanted were my jewels.

Monday, 24 December 2012

It's Been A While

Okay, a couple of things. First, I've been a bit lax with posts, as you might have noticed over the past month. I've been busy making Christmas gifts for my family, but that's really no excuse. I could have made time if I wanted to. That's what this post pertains to. Maintaining consistency in your writing habits can be a real problem.

Well, why should we keep consistent writing  habits, and not just write when the mood takes us? There are a couple of reasons, but I'll start with the most obvious. There will always be other things, and if you don't set aside at least a little time, you will end up with a lot of ideas and very little on paper. Also, keeping a writing schedule helps keep your story fresh in your mind, avoiding embarassing things like plot inconsistencies.

So, what to do? Think through your day. What time do you have for writing, and how can you use it most effectively? Is it evenings when you most like to write? Set them aside, then. Your morning commute is a chore? Use those few precious minutes to get words on paper.

I suppose the best advice I can give at this point is to soldier on. Even if you don't really feel like writing, do it anyway. Make a commitment that you will get those words written. If you like word count goals, you can set yourself one, like NaNoWriMo. Anything to motivate you. And if you're terrible at motivating yourself, get someone else to do it for you. My sister does a great job.

That's it folks, short and sweet. I'll be back soon with a new kind of post. I've been thinking about how to spice this little blog up, and I think I've got something. See yas.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Jump off a Cliff, See if I Care

This post deals with making characters likeable and interesting. I have been recently playing Assassin's Creed III, which has brought this question sharply to mind with Connor Kenway. Though he has a wonderfully interesting backstory and cool skills, I still don't really like him as much as Desmond, Ezio or even Haytham Kenway, his (SPOILERS) evil templar dad. So why is this, I wonder. I guess to find the answer I had better pick apart the characters.

First, Desmond. He is an unwilling and unlikely hero, to begin with useless at being an assassin. He is captured by the templars and stuck in the Animus, a device which allows him to relive the memories of his ancestors. He finds what they want before escaping with Lucy, who brings him to a small group of assassins. Then he relives the memories of Ezio Auditore, in order to recieve Ezio's skills. Now, why is he interesting. For one thing, his reactions are something we can all relate to. We believe we would react the same way in his situation. We have also had four games to 'bond' with him. It helps as well that his story compelling.

Now, Ezio. Ezio Auditore da Firenze loses his father and brothers when he is a teenager, and he and his mother and sister run to the small village of Monterregione. His story is one first of revenge towards the ones who killed his family, then a struggle against the Borgia family. We can relate to Ezio because he is also human; though he has an innate goodness and nobility and later wisdom (plus assassin skills), he also has the very human desires for love and revenge.

Haytham Kenway is an example of a character I probably shouldn't like, but I do. Is it his english accent, his quickness to come up with a plan, or his self-assured manner? Maybe it is a combination of the three. He seems gentle and understanding, dealing with the captured Native American woman as he frees her brethren. He is patient, waiting several months before again meeting with the Native Americans. And he shows a dislike for undue conflict, preferring a well thought out plan.

So, why doesn't Connor measure up to any of these? He is the most fully developed character in the game, with the circumstances of his birth explained fully, and his training lasting a very long time. He doesn't have an objectionable personality, apart from the occasional bad judgements and a slight arrogance and unwillingness to see people as anything but evil. But perhaps it is these last traits which make him unlikeable. It is, it seems, the Harry Potter effect. These are the traits which Mr Potter displays most prominently, and consequently turn him into a character which I can't really relate to. The stubborness of his disposition mean that character development is really out of the question (if AC characters develop), and makes him seem a bit flat. I know such people exist, but they make me cringe.

Maybe it's just me, but now that I look at it, Harry seems far too perfect. Just look at some people's character traits lists: brave, hard working, kind, caring, clever, independent, optimistic, humble, loyal, giving, self sacrificing, loving, smart, etc. Perhaps J.K. killed her character with kindness. He has faults, but they're faults which make me cringe, and in everything else he's bloody perfect.

I need to know if it's just me! And please, don't shoot me, I'm a huge fan of HP too. I don't mind Harry at all, I'm just indifferent to him. Sayonara!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Pantsing like a Planner

Right, well, I've been on both sides of the divide. Who hasn't been told that not to have a plan is to go without an ending, to invite chaos into your manuscript? In truth, I just wanted to get writing, and think about silly things like an overall story arc later. Here are my reasons for being a pantser and not a planner, plus the pros and cons for each.

- You know exactly where you're going, so you can foreshadow it.
- Your writing is neat and tidy, no unexpected turns
- You don't invite plot holes if you plan properly

- Your characters don't always do what you want them to
- If they don't, you need a new plan
- Lack of flexibility

- No need to plan
- Story grows organically
- Masses of plot twists make the story interesting
- No plot holes, because the story goes where it will

- Lots of little events rather than one overarching story
- Story might not end up as you originally envisioned
- Characters! What are you doing!?

Now, how does this affect me? Well, the seat-of-the-pants approach was something I'd never really thought about until I started with absolutely no planning on November 1. It was scary, but very soon I had main characters, villains, and a story of some sort. It felt good, but I soon realised that I had to drive this story in a particular direction.

This is where the planning element comes in. No matter how much of a pantser you are, everyone needs to plan. Even if it's only a vague plan in your head, telling you where your current plot is going to take you, it needs to be there. That way plot elements can be foreshadowed, without losing that element of surprise that is the most wonderful and frustrating thing about pantsing.

Unless, of course you're a cyborg who can plot the whole thing and make it work without dragging in the slightest. In that case, you don't need this post. If you're that person, I salute you and wonder if I can somehow steal your brain. Because pantsing can be exhausting at the best of times, and coming up with an ending can be like pulling teeth. Seriously.

So even the most serious pantser needs elements of planner, and even the most hardened planner needs to do some planning (or their characters might do it for them). I stand by the approach because I am a fence sitter, and it's what I do. Pantsing is a wonderful thing, but to relieve that stress you need some kind of plot. So sit back and wonder what it is you want to achieve with you story. It's well worth it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Lessons Learned This Month

As NaNoWriMo draws to a close, I'm reflecting on the things I have learned this November - my first NaNoWriMo - and why I have actually reached an impressive word count when I have previously not managed more than 20k.

First off, there's one of the mantra of NaNo - write first, ask questions later. This is a concept I didn't fully understand before I put pen to paper. Surely it's good to check things out as you write? As it turns out, first you need to write the damn words. Write as much as you can, make it as good as you can on a first draft, but don't get hung up on it. It's a first draft, and draft is the operative word here. It is not going to be perfect.

That's one of the reasons I'm well on my way to winning. Another is the concept of a daily goal. I'm one of those writers who takes a very long time to write anything. I think my benchmark is around 1,000 words per hour. So, I can't leave it until the last minute and write on November 29, because I'll either go mad or sleep deprived or both. Not a good scenario. NaNoWriMo helps by setting a daily goal of 1,667 words per day. It means you can't miss a day, but if you know something's gonna throw a spanner in the works, as it did on the 24th. Go on, check out my stats. Pretty good, huh? Mind, if there was something I couldn't foresee, I would have had to catch up, and that would have sucked. But that diagonal grey line sure helps put things into perspective.

The next most important thing I have learned is plot developments. It may sound self explanatory, but I really had no idea how to write them before NaNo. Since I have pantsed my novel this year, I have simply written whatever plot developments pop into my head, not what I have planned to happen. I have found that a plot is a complicated, crazy beast in which lots of little things lead to a glorious conclusion. As long as you keep in mind where you want your novel to go, those little plot developments will reach a point you are satisfied with. If they don't, just add another plot development.

This next one I already knew - the first part, at least. Writing is HARD, it really is. That's the bit I already knew, but there's a second part to this sentence I had yet to discover. Writing is hard, but all it takes is imagination and perseverance. I have discovered this month that I have those things in droves. One night I stayed up almost till midnight to get that little extra to reach par. I swear I have never written that fast in my life. I have been thinking all month how easy it would be to give up, and let the plot bunnies eat my novel. But that's not how it works. I must win, even if my novel turns into a raging uncontrollable beast.

One more thing: staying up late is a bad side effect of daily goals. I should by rights finish earlier, but the more pressure, the better I work. I'm a little undisciplined that way.

Less than 10k to go! I'll see you at the finish.

Friday, 23 November 2012


Okay, I'm taking a break from NaNo today, and that means blogging! Nothing better than to use your time to waste precious words on a blog. Jokes... I like blogging, almost as much as I like forums. I could never do twitter though. My thoughts are too big and complex to condense down.

Anyway, now for something more on topic. I've been struggling with the issue of writing romance for a while now, so what do I do but share it with the internet!? Honestly, I think I have a problem here. But I digress. I've made all of the mistakes in the book, plus a few more. So here goes. I've got a little list. (And they'd none of them be missed) Cookies for the reference!

1. Never ever intentionally create a love interest unless you really know what you're doing. I have done this before as a 'newbie' writer, who was just really obsessed with the idea of falling in love. Unless you know your character intimately and their thoughts inside out, chances are that the love will be weak and uninspiring. If you have ever written a love story, you will know what I mean.

2. Do not get your characters together unless they have both plausibly fallen in love. Take Harry Potter, for example. The Ginny/Harry thing, and also the Hermione/Ron thing were building up FOREVER. Because that's what it takes to fall deeply, truly, in love.Now think about Twilight. Why do we hate the love story so much? Because Edward is supposedly 'perfect' and Bella falls in love with him straight off the bat. DO NOT under any circumstances rush this process, unless you intend the love to be shallow and untrue (which I have done). The falling in love is sometimes the most beautiful part.

3. Break the barriers. Get your character to fall in love with the most unlikely/ugliest character in your story. You may just discover that they are perfect for one another.Why is Beauty and the Beast so wonderful? Because their love transcends the boundaries of his beastliness. You may not intend your ugly character to fall in love with your wonderful character, but don't worry. If it happens, embrace it. It's a wonderful plot development.

4. Infatuation =/= love. I think I sort of covered this with point #2, but let's be clear. Infatuation can be a wonderful plot point, but it is not a solid basis for a lasting relationship.

5. Last point. If unsure, drag it out. I know some readers would scream at me for this, but if you're not sure what point the relationship between your characters is at, leave it be. You'll probably know when they're finally ready to get together.

Adios, amigos! 6 days of WriMo-ing left to go.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

It's all been done before

Okay, so today's post is about something that I used to worry about an awful lot: originality. Because you want your novel to stand out, don't you? So I thought, what's a story idea that nobody else has used, that will give me a really original premise for my plot? The answer, as I later learned, is there isn't one. I'll explain.

Right, first, an exercise in thinking up ideas. So, what's the most original idea you can come up with, that you would actually want to write (Comments, guys)? I'll give you some of my scrapped ones. A civilisation of flying people, that the world at large doesn't know about. A story set in the future where an assassin refuses to kill a child. A nerdy teenager who is really a vampire and uses his powers for good during the night. Sounding alright? Well, let's think about this further.

None of these projects got off the ground, mostly because I was lazy. But anyway, how original are these ideas? When you think about it, my flying people idea was simply an isolated minority that the world at large doesn't know about. Not so original now, is it? An assassin refusing to do their duty is pretty unoriginal too. And my vampire one, which I never got past planning, features him accidentally biting a girl and subsequently teaching her how to save the world at night.

You got the idea? Let's say you choose a plotline like, an elephant and a giraffe run away from the zoo. That's pretty boring, isn't it? The zoo thing sounds a little too much like Madagascar to me. So, you flesh it out, and you end up with a blind purple elephant befriends a giraffe and they run away from the circus. That's better, right? But would you really wan't to write it?

Okay, so my point is this. Everything's been done before, but that doesn't mean you can't put your own spin on it. Don't think too much about the central idea, just let the words flow. What comes out will be uniquely you, because your novel will be the sum of your ideas and experiences. If what you're doing sounds a bit too much like what someone else did, don't worry about it. Unless you're copying them word for word, you'll end up with something different. And if you're still worried, add a plot development which moves it in a completely different direction. Remember, nothing's set in stone.

And if you do end up writing a vampire romance, at least make sure it's better than Twilight. After all, my blind purple elephant was a better plot than that drivel (apologies to Twi-hards, but you have to admit that her ideas weren't very complex... or maybe you don't).

Until next time, happy writing!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A Fairytale-Lover's Lament

Today's post is to do with Snow White and the Huntsman. I was immensely disappointed with this move for a number of reasons which I shall go in to in a second. And don't worry, it does have something to do with writing! And a warning, this article does contain spoilers.

What ruined this movie most of all was the much hated Kristen Stewart. Though I'm sure she tries her hardest, the Easter Island statues could do a better job. At least they don't think that breathing heavily constitutes emotion. It's the same expression throughout. Now I'm certain that her failure is not the director's fault. Though he also has a lot to answer for, considering he cast her. The other performances were good if not great, notably Charlize Theron and some of the Dwarves. Chris Hemsworth's best scene was the one where he kisses Snow White back to life, and the irony is not lost on me that it's his only scene which she's not in.

The music, I have to say, was wonderful, especially the Florence and the Machine song at the end (for the record, I'm not usually a Florence and the Machine kind of girl). The costumes were lovely, and the scenery and CGI was very believable.

But there's another area in which this movie falls down. It is the scripting, and there's a very good reason why. There are a couple of scenes/lines in this movie which don't advance the story at all. Two notable examples are the scene in which one of the dwarves dies and the fact that Snow White says she 'sees' what's in the Queen's head while she's 'dead' (which has absolutely nothing to do with how she kills her). I could have done with a few more scenes reinforcing the relationship between the Huntsman and Snow White. All due respect to Chris Hemsworth, the first I realized that they liked one another, he was kissing her. There was also an unrequited love plot line with William which went absolutely nowhere.

So, how does this relate to writing? It's simple. Don't put things in your novel which don't advance the plot line or the relationships (the best things are the ones that advance both). If there's a specific event that you want to include, make it relevant. Change the plot if you have to.You never know, it might make it more interesting. but whatever you do, don't make a good plot into a mediocre one by adding unnecessary scenes. They'll just clutter up the reader's head with useless information, unless they have something to do with the journey your characters take (more on  emotional journeys in a later post).

That's it, dear reader. Ciao!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Fanfiction's Unavoidable Mistress

If you've been reading any amount of fanfiction (or doing some writing yourself), she will definitely seem familiar to you. She is Mary Sue. For those of you unfamiliar with the term (or anyone else, for that matter), take a look at this article. It will tell you all you ever need to know.

However, that isn't the real reason I'm writing this. No, this blog post it devoted to that much-asked question - Is Bella Swan really a Mary Sue or not? Now this may also seem like a much-answered question, but I'd like to break with the rest of the field and really put it to the test. A Litmus Test. This one, in fact.

Right, now let's go through the questions. First, is the character named after you? A quick google search tells me no. Though, quite interestingly, four of her five siblings are called Seth, Emily, Jacob and Paul. Sound familiar, anyone? This woman really isn't very inventive.

Okay, I'll tackle the next ones together. Unusual spelling, uncommon, unnecessary punctuation, and more than one first, middle or last name can all be crossed off. But, is it a name she really likes. One must assume so, since she did pick it for her main character. There are two more ticks in this section, for describing her personality (a bit of a stretch, I know, but Bella does mean beautiful) and for her having a nickname.

Now for appearance, and I'll be damned if I read them all out. If you must know every single question, do it yourself, reader. I picked four ticks in this section: one for exceptional beauty, a second for many characters being attracted to her, a third for an otherwise chaste/stoic character being attracted to her (hello, Edward) and a fourth for eyes that reflect hidden depths. The last one I got from reading the incomplete draft of Midnight Sun (forgive me, readers! Curiousity, as you know, killed the cat).

Five ticks in character, and I'll confess I'm learning something about all of the different elements of a Mary Sue. Bella Swan is of above average intelligence (she reads Wuthering Heights when she's bored), she has angst (about Edward), she has been abducted and also physically abused (another stretch, because she kind of gave herself to the kidnapper), and she ran away from home. Next.

Furthermore, she is kind of physically handicapped (the way Meyer describes her clumsiness, she would have to be). A physical 'flaw would be that her "lips are too full for her face". She remains in a relationship and has a child (though it's kind of half-vampire, which is weird). Lastly, she is selfishly manipulative. I mean, she got Jacob to mend a bike for her just so she could 'hear' Edward again.

I'm gonna say that Bella's 'superpower' is invulnerability, though it's really invulnerability to other vampires' powers. But it's a power, and that's what's important. Though it's really just a guess, I'm saying Bella has the same taste in books and music as her creator. Let me know if you disagree.

She's a vampire. Next.

Top of her class... maybe. The way S Meyer talks about it, you'd think there was a genius hiding under those brown waves and 'deep', rather, deeply expressionless eyes. So that gets a tick. Oh wait a moment, she top of the class in Biology! Definite tick. She has her own disposable income, as of Eclipse.

Okay, the Plot, and this is where it gets really Sue-ish. Everyone significant has heard of and likes her (because Bella's school friends apparently don't matter). She (almost) suffers punishment for a crime she didn't commit, that is for having made an immortal child. She falls in love with and has sex with a character Stepehnie Meyer would presumably find attractive. Edward nurses her back to health in the first book, and she 'dies' a romantic death in his arms in the last book (only to be resurrected).

Finally. I'll leave the last section blank, because I'm not Stephenie Meyer. I wonder if anyone would be able to trick her in to doing the test? That would certainly be interesting, as long as she was honest.

Results time. 48 points! (even without Meyer's answers)

Mary-Sue. Your character needs some work in order to be believable. But despair not; you should still be able to salvage her with a little effort. Don't give up.

Yeah, right. I think this should have answered the question once and for all. I don't think she's believable either. Until next time my dear readers, Adieu.

Hello, dear reader.

Welcome to my blog!

My name is Laura, and I hope to share my blogging, writing, and crafting adventures with you, my dear reader. First, however, let me tell you a story.

There was once a girl who thought much but said little. Her parents worried about her because she was so introverted and, in general, she found little that was worth saying. As she grew up and grew in turn more confident, she began asking herself the question: Would anyone want to hear what I have to say. But she kept quiet for many years before the urge came to express herself to a wide audience.

I'm entering university next year, so it's time I started to make an impact. And that starts here: with fiction. I know, it's not much of a goal, but if people gain enjoyment from what I write, I know I'll enjoy the experience immensely as well.

So, explore further, don't eat earwigs (brownie points to the person who gets the reference), and above all, keep writing.

Peace out.