Saturday, 16 June 2012

Ready Player One

I'm a terrible blogger, I know.  I apologise for my absence, but I'm going to promise to try harder.  I type two-handed, so I couldn't even cross my fingers while I said that, so it must be true.

Anyway, I was moved to comment on Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, which I've just finished reading a few moments ago.  If ever a book for geeks was made for the big screen and a computer game conversion, Cline's is it.  His fantastic (two?-)world building was really exciting for me, and I really would love to jump into at least the OASIS online vision that he has.  His vision for our world is less positive...

I'd really recommend this book to anyone; Cline is a wonderful story-teller.  In places there's quite a bit of deus ex machina, with characters plucking helpful tools from out of nowhere to help out, but given the pacing of the story and the interest generated in the reader, this is largely forgivable. If you're a bit of a geek like me, or have an interest in old games and '80s culture, then you really ought to pick up a copy.  You're unlikely to be disappointed.

Elsewhere, I've been busy.  It's been a busy time at work, though good too, and I was in hospital this week for an operation - I had to have a lipoma removed from my occiput.  Apparently, that's what doctor types call the back of the noggin.  A lipoma is just a fatty lump - mine was enormous, easily the size of the first knuckle of my thumb.  Two days later and it's still aching - I was under the knife for an hour and a half!  Anyway, having got that weight off, I feel good and ready to get back in to thinking about writing.  I really ought to do some before November rolls round again...

Monday, 19 March 2012

Lucky 7

So, I picked up on this from Amanda Olivieri...

Here are the rules:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS.
2. Go to line 7.
3. Copy down the next 7 lines/sentences, and post them as they're written. No cheating.
4. Tag 7 other writers.

I'm going to skip the last part, as I'm not convinced I know seven other writers, and if I do, they probably have done it already.

So anyway, from the WIP. Erin, our intrepid heroine, is talking to her Dad after a break in at the family home...

"When Joshua stormed in here earlier - he was right. I do, I did, have all the team's findings hidden here. Tom knew he would shut us down, and confiscate all our work. If he had, then Clyde would have died for nothing. The bags were hidden in the cupboard."
"That's all that's missing?" Erin nodded. "And nothing else in the house has been touched. Whoever it was knew what they were looking for."

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The end of November came...

I managed a pretty respectable 30,069 words, I believe, during the month of November. I didn't make the 50,000 target, and for that I feel a shade of disappointment, though it is only a shade - I said at the outset that I would be happy with 10,000. I managed triple that! Plus, it's 30k words that I didn't have back in October. I'm proud of what I achieved, and that the writing in my first draft thus far doesn't entirely stink.

I think it's important also that I reflect on what I learned during the process:

Be realistic
For the first couple of weeks, I wrote like a man obsessed and managed to keep slightly ahead of my targets. Things then arose in my personal life that bumped writing way down the list of priorities, and I initially felt a bit of resentment for a couple of days. I got over it, and accepted that I wouldn't hit the 50k; that it was unrealistic and unfair for me to still try and aim so high. I lowered my target to 33.3k (two-thirds), and then to 30k. I write because I have a need, a craving, to express creatively. I shouldn't try and force that against all odds - it's enough that I am writing.

Planner, not pantser
The double-whammy. I had spent months planning the first six chapters of my WIP, and had outlined each scene of every chapter in detail. I whizzed through writing those. I could easily write 3,500 words in the few hours I had spare each day. However, I only had a rough outline for what sort of events needed to happen in the second quarter of the book (and even rougher for the third, and very little for the ending). I tried to plunge on with writing chapters 7 through 11 regardless and got nowhere fast. I was down to maybe 350 a day, and it was like writing through treacle.

Outlining looks to be essential to me. It still leaves me, in fact it gives me, the freedom to pants it. I need to have that framework - only then do the characters take control and lead me along the way forward.

Violence is not for me
I have one scene at the end of the first quarter where one character dies in quite a brutal fashion. I found that really weird to write - easy, in that the words flowed, but it felt utterly horrible. I was quite discomforted by it; in the end, once it was done, I had to just walk away. That style of writing is not for me!

I found a lot of support online - the NaNo community is great, and I stumbled upon quite a few people, particularly on Twitter, that I will be keeping in touch with in future. I am drawn to positive people, and there are so many out there, blogging and tweeting... It's great. Day-to-day life is full of negative nellies, and if I am to embark on a writing adventure then I want to have some constructive shipmates sailing with me.

Monday, 21 November 2011

A post-apocalyptic future?

My work in progress is set in a kind of post apocalyptic future where human society has been decimated by a multi-pronged set of disasters. I picture this as really setting things back quite a way to a mixture of a kind of medieval way of life, or perhaps a more nomadic existence.

There are lots of unanswered questions for me though. Let's say we go 80 years after this collapse. What are people wearing? What has survived (in terms of buildings and particularly materials)? What do people remember of the distant past?

I have so many questions like these. I need to find the answers!

Ideas, Six Sentences and NaNoWriMo

I'm hoping that I can avoid just using this blog as some sort of horrible progress report (not great, for what it's worth - barely 28,000 words, but I'll come to that). I'm new to the whole Twitter thing, but I've seen a couple of things that have really caught my eye on there, things that I like the idea of doing on here.

The first was Flash Fiction Fridays. I thought I may put up short stories on here on an irregular basis. Maybe some will be new, may be some will be scenes from my work in progress that stand well on their own and that I like (or think merit feedback!). So... I may well have a go at that, soon.

The other was Six Sentence Sunday. This one is pretty self-explanatory, and it just so happens that I've picked out six sentences from my (unedited) work in progress that stand nicely on their own. Our protagonist, Erin, is returning home from her adventures in the wild, and this is the reader's first view of her home town.

The town blended almost perfectly in to its surroundings. Nature had largely reclaimed the valley that had once been a huge sheep farm, nestled amongst the mountains. Trees had sprouted everywhere, with reclaimed clearances spotted here and there for arable and livestock farming. A small, shallow river made its way lazily from its source up in the mountains down through the town, and out through the one narrow mountain pass to the south, the runnelled wagon track running along side it. A small cluster of stone buildings, once the centre of the old farm, now marked the Town Hall and the centre of Redemption. Spread through the woods were newer timber-framed and log houses, all built out of wood and whatever other materials could be harvested or reclaimed from the nearby desolation.

Thought? Yes, I know it's Monday. We'll get over that one together. And I'm desperately bad at names. Desperately. I've taken to using an online list of all the placenames in Britain now to find names that don't sound as terrible as what I've been coming up with when left unsupervised in charge of my own imagination.

As for NaNoWriMo... as eluded to above, it's not going too well! I managed to power through the first six well-outlined chapters, but as soon as I reached the unplanned chapter seven, I ground to a stuttering halt. It's like writing through treacle, if that makes any sense. I've written maybe 1500 words in the last five days, which is less than I should be doing in a single day. I should be hitting 35,000 words today, so I'm just under 7,000 behind. I can do 3,500 comfortably on a good day with a fair wind and a full outline, so it's not impossible for me to turn it around. Three or four good days in a row and I will be back on track...

The question is, as I've posted elsewhere on Laura Lam's blog, I'm not willing to write garbage just to hit some magic number. My writing has a hell of a lot of room for improvement, but I'm really happy with the story I'm forming. Do I write 22,000 rushed words, just for my ego, or do I sit back and start revising what I've done, and start really learning my craft now instead? The latter seems far more logical, to be honest.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Pantsing vs Planning

I have probably already mentioned that this is not my first recent attempt at novel writing. I've always been one to dive in and give things my fullest attention, and so it was only natural that I would be, in writing terms, a pantser.

On those previous sojourns in to writing, I would come up with a good opening and start hammering at the keyboard. Words would fly past, and I would get 700 words down with barely a thought. Then I would block up completely - and that would be that. I tried writing some short fiction to get round that problem, but the stories weren't the one I am supposed to tell (yet, at least).

It turns out that, in writing, I am a planner. I need a good outline if I am to get a good day's writing done - and it gives me the overall direction I need in order to keep going. You can find a lot of good outlining advice with a simple google search - the sites I looked at came up on the first page of results. When I'm at a PC I'll try to add some links for attribution.

What I did was break my story up in to four 'acts'. The idea is that each of the first three acts ends with some disaster, with each worse than the last. I then roughly fitted the rise and fall of my characters around that framework.

It was then a case of figuring out how those features fitted around the story I want to tell. That quickly gave me six chapters for the first act, and a good overview for the second and third acts. I only have a general idea of my ending.

Knowing broadly how the first six chapters go let me get, and keep on, cracking. The characters then decided to change (and improve) the structure. Where I hadn't known whether a particular event would occur at the end of act 1 or the start of act 2... Well, I got told!

I also found that some characters decided they wanted to be more central than I had planned. They weren't happy being bit part players. This has grown the complexity of my novel, and added in subplots aplenty, which is something is struggled to fit in to the outline.

In the end, outlining has given me the freedom to be pants it. By having that framework, the story has held my hand through the writing process. I'm on target to 'win' NaNoWriMo on time, and the full first draft should end up at around 80-100,000 words.

Then I just have to revise, rewrite and revise again... I'm learning my craft as I go.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Day 7 Blues

I'm still going on my NaNoWriMo project, and have hit 12,500 words. Yesterday was tough. I've had to write past general lethargy, and the feeling that none of my characters are doing much interest, that maybe its all a big mechanical... Lots of exploring and waiting and tension. Clearly the revision month, NaNoRevMo, will be just as tough as this month!

I was lucky enough to be getting some stitches out today. I say lucky - it meant two extra commutes and a lengthy stay in a waiting room, which gave me a chance to get about 2500 words down. Mainly of my characters waiting and exploring. Hey, I'm world and tension building...

Someone I'm following on Twitter just posted her NaNoWriMo opening on her blog, here:
Go read it - it's great, I think!