Tag Archives: how to write

It’s a brand New Year…Again

My actual white board, now no longer actually white. "Omar Serif" and "They're taking the robots to Alderaan" are jokes I haven't gotten around to yet. Be relieved about that.

My actual white board, now no longer actually white. “Omar Serif” and “They’re taking the robots to Alderaan” are jokes I haven’t gotten around to yet. Be relieved about that.

It’s nearly the end of the first week of January, and this is the first post I’ve managed in 2015, which means I ought to be talking about Resolutions.

But, as you may know from last year, I don’t do so well with resolving to change. I need a list every day just to get through the things that keep the house running, so adding grand aspirations to that list has been somewhat problematic in the past.

However, last year, I decided to just write more stuff. This was a simple enough idea that I could keep it in mind, and even put it up on my white board above my desk. “Write more stuff” translates easily into whatever project I feel like doing, and as long as there is more stuff at the end of the year, then it’s working. That’s a measurable goal, that is.

And last year I produced more plays, a new ebook and a lot of sketches. I found that the break of fifteen minutes at work is just long enough to eat a sandwich and write a page and a half of sketch, resulting in a sketch every week. That’s a sketch each week written at work, plus the stuff I can write when I’m at home. Like every published writer is fond of saying, there IS time to write, you just have to choose to use it for writing.

Like last year, most of what I plan to complete and publish won’t reach the marketplace until the later half of the year, so I’m not going to list my projects here. I will post about them when they’re complete, and then put up reminders with links when they get published. I’m hoping the Appraisal Service continues to keep me busy, and that life at the Library remains as fulfilling and entertaining as it had proven so far.

What are the big projects for YOU this 2015? Are you going to write that novel or sequel? Are you going to try writing something that’s outside your comfort zone, like a romance, or a horror story, or a poem? Are you thinking of writing for the first time? Because I have a really good feeling about this year. I think it’s YOUR year. I mean, obviously that’s bad news for everyone else, but we’ll cope, honest. Don’t feel bad for us, you just go on and make the most of it.

We’ll be over here. In the corner. Maybe crying just a little bit.

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After NaNoWriMo

Not a winner

November did not seem to last very long. With my brilliant plan in place, I only had to find fifteen sessions to write my complete story. not fifteen days, just fifteen writing sessions. I was so confident in what I had prepared, that I didn’t even start on the first day.

The initial sessions were easy, reaching my quota of words and completing each chapter with time to spare for household chores. But a strange thing happened as time went by: I slowed down. It took longer to complete each chapter, and by the time I had reached the 30,000 word mark, I was struggling to stay focused.
Ordinarily, I would put it down to story fatigue, to being tired of figuring out this story as I went along , but I had already done all the heavy lifting in this story: I had an outline of the whole thing and a detailed outline for each chapter. All I had to do was expand that outline into the real thing.

Since I hadn’t been writing every day, I hit this wall around the 21st/22nd of November. I still had 20,000 words to write, and yet I was writing less for each chapter and getting it down slower and slower. I whined about it on social media, and appealed for help, but of course the only real answer was to sit down and get on with it.

By the last few days of November it became clear that I would finish the story by the deadline of the 30th, but I would not reach the NaNoWriMo word goal of 50,000 words. There simply wasn’t enough story to tell, and I wasn’t going to resort to padding just for an electronic certificate. The trial had been to see if the new method I was experimenting with would help me write more in each session and complete a project in a shorter time. The results are simple: Yes.

On average I wrote around 3,000 words in an hour and a half each session. I wrote a novella totaling over 47,000 words in less than a month, when the first e-book in this series (about the same size) took almost a year to complete.

It’s proved to me that planning a project out in advance is a time saver, and a more efficient way to work, which is great because I have ambitious plans for the coming year – 4 one act plays and 2 full length plays, along with at least 20 sketches. There’s also the fact that this book has ended on a cliffhanger that suggest a very exciting third- and final – Eddie and the Kingdom story.

Though I don’t get the certificate, the t-shirt or the commemorative mug, I’m content. I got the book I wanted, and the results I hoped for. I have a new way fo working, and that should be more rewarding than any certificate.

Eddie and the Kingdom” will be on sale at a reduced price until book 2 – “Murder in the Kingdom” goes on sale. After a new cover design and a lot of editing and beta reading. Volunteers for either task, sign up in the comments section.

Follow the PenMonkey – The Truth of Chuck Wendig

Actually, I’m already having second thoughts about that title. Still, here we go…

Screenshot of Chuck's blog. Reproduced without permission, and I fully expect to be eaten by wild dogs as a result. And not in a good way.

Screenshot of Chuck’s blog. Reproduced without permission, and I fully expect to be eaten by wild dogs as a result. And not in a good way.

Chuck Wendig is wise. He dispenses a good deal of wisdom on the subject of writing in his blog, but the latest post I read really summed up the grim truth of writing:

You have to DO IT!

I am lazy. I’ve tried about a dozen different musical instruments, searching for the one that I can play without effort. I had a go at lots of different sports to see if I had an aptitude for any of them without lots of practice. In my life, the two disciplines I have stuck with are juggling and writing, and they have remained because…well…

Juggling WAS actually that mystical thing that just clicked. I could do it straight away, or at least with enough ease that I was willing to put in the work to get even better. I’ve taught juggling for long enough to know that it is this way for some people. My earliest juggling partner, Dougie, could watch a trick being done a few times, then just give it a go and it would usually work out. He was a natural, better than me. My good friend Mike didn’t have the same flow, but he had way more determination and would work at a trick until it worked. Months, if necessary. If I’d had to put in that effort, I would have walked away.

Writing hasn’t been easy, but I wanted to be a writer, and with the birth of Eldest Weasel I was given the opportunity to try it. Early success in the sale of a story and an article gave me encouragement, and I had the support of Mrs Dim, something for which I can never be grateful enough.

So even though the actual writing wasn’t easy, the ideas have never stopped coming, and I have never lost the desire to be a writer. But by nature, I’m what writers call a “pantser”, following where the story leads and hoping it’ll get where it’s going in a reasonable word count. It can be an exhilarating journey, but you have to be prepared for the occasional trip down a blind alley, or running out of steam in the wilderness. In my virtual desk drawer I have more than one great idea that’s still awaiting the arrival of roadside assistance to de-coke the engine and refill the tank.

So Chuck is right – the deepest truth, the unavoidable fact is that YOU MUST WRITE. There’s no easy way, no method to skip the work and get the prize, you have to write. To coin another metaphor, you have to go down to the coalface and hack out your story. No argument from me.

But here’s something I’ve learned, (and maybe Chuck would agree): While you’re hacking away, sometimes it’s good to step back and look at THE WAY you’re working. Are you using the right end of your pickaxe? Are you swinging with a steady rhythm? Could you maybe use a power drill? And lots of other mining-type questions. I’ve been a pantser for years, and it’s worked pretty well, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way I can write. Maybe trying a new method will reduce the number of unfinished pieces, and make better use of my time at the coalface, as it were.

2000 cover

To this end I picked up “2000 – 10000” by Rachel Aaron, a book that promised to improve your daily word count. That wasn’t exactly my aim, since I’m mostly writing plays, but increased efficiency is a good goal. The book is short, and available for the Kindle, so I downloaded it and read it in one evening. It makes a lot of sense.

Rachel’s main point – the one that resonated most with me – is that working out the story is most of the heavy lifting. And pantsers like me do that work while we’re writing. We’re not just hacking out our coal, we’re trying to work out where the best seam is, indicate it to other miners, ensure everyone is wearing the correct safety equipment and make lunches for the miners WHILE STILL MINING! (This was a lousy metaphor. I should have used ships instead.) She said that by taking five minutes at the start of her writing time to outline what she was aiming to write, the bones of the scenes, she could write with more confidence and better direction. She had to edit less, because she knew the whole scene was worthwhile, and she knew how it was going to play out.

For someone whose stories have often gone off the rails as the characters grab the plot and run away with it, or slump in the corner and refuse to play, this was a revelation. Not just a vague outline that says “And then they work out their argument and get married” at the end, but an actual breakdown of the whole thing! Brilliant!

To test the theory, I have given February over to an old favourite project of mine. I wrote the general outline, then broke that down into acts and scenes. I’ve taken each of those scenes and written a more detailed outline. In a couple of days I’ll have detailed outlines for every scene and have a plan – a detailed plan – for the whole play. No one gets to go astray, because I know where they have to be next. If I get stuck on one scene, I can go on to the next and work on that, confident that it’s part of the plan. I have high hopes.

On the wall is the plot overview, beneath it are the two scene breakdowns, then the individual sheets are for each scene.

On the wall is the plot overview, beneath it are the two scene breakdowns, then the individual sheets are for each scene.

This is a good method, but the real secret of the book is “Look at the way you work”. You don’t have to adopt Rachel’s method, or use Robert McKee’s graphs, or Blake Snyder’s beat system, but you should try something new from time to time, see if the way you’re working is the best way for you. There’s no magic bullet that will make writing (whether books, poems, plays or condolence letters) easy, but you can make things easier on yourself.

And when you’ve got a good method, you’ll just have to DO IT!

A writer’s tools – what do you REALLY need?

Do you NEED a huge desk, piles of papers and a dodgy haircut?

Writing a book used to be a simple, but longwinded thing. You took some paper and a pen, and you wrote. When you got something wrong, you crossed it out and wrote it again. Then along came the typewriter and that made things neater, but mistakes still needed correction. And then correction fluid. Now we have computers, netbooks, tablets, smartphones….There’s almost no end to the number of gadgets that allow you to write, blog, compose, educate…on the move.

But what do you NEED? Obviously, if you’re blogging, you need something with access to the internet, so you can upload your wit and wisdom for the eager masses. And if you’re any kind of author, you should know that a blog is part of building your author platform (See Kristen? He CAN be taught!) So there’s an argument right there for the inclusion of a computer and router in your Writer’s toolbox.

Inspiration is a flighty thing, and it can strike at any time. A decent smartphone can let you record your brilliant idea as it occurs. Maybe you can even slot the bare bones onto Twitter for the benefit of your followers. (And isn’t it great to have followers? Like you’re some kind of prophet leading your people through the literary desert to the flowing waters of wordy goodness….) Ok, a smartphone. Which we’re definitely not getting for the games, oh no. Ooh, look, Bejewelled!

Smartphones are good for 140 characters of tweet, but writing my novel two thumbs at a time? No way. But a laptop is too bulky. Get yourself a neat little netbook, hook up to the Starbucks Wi-Fi and away you go! Proper keyboard, decent size screen, and you can even check Facebook. For your author-type publicity updates of course.

You know what’s coming, though, don’t you? All these things are lovely, and yes, to be a successful published author, you’ll need to use the internet and present your manuscript in a legible form. But to write, to communicate the notions in your ever-whirring brain, all you need is that good old pen and paper. Don’t believe the hype that says you need the latest software to write your novel, or that you can’t live without a 28inch screen for your PC. You could write a whole novel in pen on paper, and it could be just as good as a first draft in Times New Roman in Word. Yes, you’ll have to re-type the whole thing, but if you aren’t planning to do more than one draft, then you’re no writer, my friend.

Today’s secret is a simple one: To be a writer, you only have to write, and you can do that with a pen and a piece of paper.

Writing a play for Community Theatre

Today, as a marketing ploy and because I don’t want to write another blog piece that starts “I’ve been thinking…”, I’m handing out a free sample from my book (Title above). I’ve chosen the start of the chapter about the most common mistakes made by folks writing for the Community Theatre Stage. Hope you enjoy it.

Common Mistakes

After a few years of being published, I took on the job of Script Reader for my publisher, Lazy Bee Scripts. The company was being inundated with scripts, and they needed someone to help with the initial sorting of the new arrivals. This gave me a chance to review and report on hundreds of scripts from a huge variety of writers. Scripts are sent to Lazy Bee from all around the world, by people who have been writing for years, people just starting out, and people trying stage writing after success in some other form. Before long it became obvious that the same mistakes were being made over and over again.

The Biggest Mistake

Writing a screenplay for the stage. I’m never sure if this mistake is made because the authors have never visited the theatre, or because they wrote the idea as a screenplay first then attempted to convert it to the stage. Since the primary market I am reading for is concerned with the amateur stage, where resources and stage space tend to be limited, there is little point in saying “but I’ve seen some pretty spectacular things on the West End stage”. Yes, I know you can see ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ fly out over the audience in some theatres, but you’re not likely to see that done in your local village hall or school production. Time after time I read plays that open in a living room, described in perfect detail. Five minutes later the action moves to a second, equally detailed location for just a few lines of dialogue, and then another change. If the play is to be performed on a regular small stage, the only options are to have a subdivided stage with many sets permanently erected and the action moving between them, or to have a minimalist stage with movable furniture to signify the various locations. I used a combination of these devices in ‘A Time for Farewells’, with one half of the stage permanently set as a bedroom, and the other half different arrangements of three stage blocks that became a bar, a hospital room, a lounge.

This is entirely possible, but the important thing is that YOU are the one who should decide that this is the way the play should be performed. There’s no point in writing an epic masterpiece that includes horse races, the sinking of the Titanic and an aerial dogfight and then saying “It’s up to the director to work out how to stage it.” If you’re looking for the best of all possible worlds, you’ll end up with a script that doesn’t depend on a trapdoor in the stage or some other technical device (like flying wires, back projection or giant inflatable gorillas) for a successful production. You can certainly suggest that these elements would make the production better, that they were part of your original vision, but allow for the fact that not every group will have these things at their disposal. When the prospective director reads your script, they should be able to see the play being performed on their stage in their mind’s eye. Which leads into point number two:

Incomplete or Unhelpful Instructions

I reviewed a play once that had a character coming onstage carrying a large box. Halfway through the scene, a second character pops out of the box (which is still being held by character number one) and delivers a speech. I couldn’t see how this would be possible unless one character was incredibly strong, or the bottom of the box was open and character two’s legs were screened by some handy scenery. As it turned out, some unenclosed production notes would have told me which characters were to be played by puppets – that information would have put a different spin on things.

If you’re planning on having a character disappear into a magic cabinet, it would be kind to indicate how you imagine this being done: “The back of the cabinet is screened by the mangle, and Aladdin climbs out the concealed flap in the false back…” You don’t need to include a diagram with numbered and labelled parts, but your director needs to have a clue what you’re thinking about. This is particularly important in British pantomime transformation scenes, like Cinders’ “Rags to Ball Gown” or “Pumpkin to Coach” moments. It’s all very well writing “There is a flash and a bang and the pumpkin is replaced by a shimmering coach…” but that’s leaving it all to the director. A little research will show you there are many ways of accomplishing this effect – bringing lights up behind a gauze, unfolding a special piece of scenery… Again, read a few scripts, see some shows, talk to some experienced dramatists. Then put your own spin on the process.

Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling

I know, I know, it seems really petty to complain about mistakes like this. Who cares about full stops and question marks? It’s the content that’s important, isn’t it? Language is a constantly evolving thing, textspeak is becoming a valid form of grammar, blah, blah, blah! Well yes, language does evolve, but at the moment there are still guidelines and rules about grammar, spelling and punctuation, and you can be pretty sure that nothing much has changed in the way English is written since you were at school. Delivering a script for your publisher, or even simply turning one out for your local theatre group, should still be treated with the care and attention to detail you would give a job application letter.

Grammar exists to make the written language easy to hear in your head. Commas give pauses in the sentence, full stops indicate when one idea stops and the next begins. These things are important for your words to be understood, and if people can’t comfortably read what you’ve written, they’re not going to enjoy the content. They’re not going to understand the content. They’re certainly not going to buy or perform your play. Also, if you’re not careful enough to spot errors that are highlighted for you on the spell checker of the word processor you wrote this on, how can any customer be sure you’ve been careful enough to produce a decent plot? Are there as many errors in your storyline as there are in your typing? Bear in mind that the editor or publisher is likely to be someone fond of the written word – they’ve made a business of it, after all. They are exactly the kind of person who gets annoyed by incorrect spelling, and they are also exposed to it on a daily basis. If your script contains no ghastly spelling or punctuation errors, that will be another factor in your favour.

The only exception to the rule about correct spelling and grammar is when you choose to get it wrong. Not everyone speaks the Queen’s English like an Early Fifties BBC Radio Announcer, so of course it doesn’t make sense to have Bruno the door bouncer throw a drunk into the street and yell after him :

“We’d be much obliged if you would refrain from revisiting this establishment in the foreseeable future and encourage your rehabilitation with regard to your alcohol dependency…”

Bruno would shout  “Sling yer ‘ook, drunk!”   or something worse, and you won’t need to add in the ‘h’ that he drops. But the apostrophe shows the letter has been dropped on purpose, not as a result of rapid typing, and that Bruno is not making monkey noises. In summary, your characters are allowed to speak ungrammatically, or in dialect, but for your readers to correctly interpret this type of speech, it needs to be clearly punctuated.

  
 

A Time For Farewells, as performed at RAF Halton

To get YOUR copy of the ebook rush over to the TLC website  Best of luck with your writing.