Tuesday, 16 November 2010

National Short Story Week

As this week is National Short Story week, I thought I'd ask you all to list your favourite short stories. Tom Vowler has listed what are considered to be the best short stories of all time. You can find the list here:


This week I'm busy reading the rest of The Yellow Room Short Story Competition entries. I hope to draw up the shortlist next week.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Displacement activities

Today has been one of those days when I've flitted around the house doing anything but writing. Well, I have done a little bit of writing, but it was like pulling teeth. I will go back and do more once I've written this blog. I promise. Yes, I will. Honestly.

These are just some of the things I do to avoid writing the novel:

1. Aimlessly surf the Internet, pretending it's for research.
2. Look for 'the perfect diet'.
3. Surf the Internet for recipes for 'the perfect diet'.
4. Read posts on The Beyond Chocolate Forum, because we all know diets don't work.
5. Eat cake and drink tea.
6. Watch Escape To The Country.
7. Wash floors downstairs.
8. Look at the guinea pigs.
9. Write in my diary.
10. Hoover the lounge and load dishwasher.
11. Eat lunch and watch a bit of Loose Women.
12. Read something vaguely writing-related.
13. Quick look at Facebook (repeat before and between stages 1-12).
14. Update blog.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A Bad First Draft

I once attended a workshop, which was run by the wonderful children's writer, Linda Kempton (http://tracearchive.ntu.ac.uk/em/directory/k.htm) where she told us to: 'Allow yourself a bad first draft.'
It was one of those Eureka moments for many of us and it's advice that has stayed with me.

How bad should a 'bad first draft' be? I struggle with the concept, I have to say. I guess it's the perfectionist in me. I have shaped and honed my prose in the first few chapters of my novel. I continue to go back to those chapters to fiddle and fine tune. But, just how useful is this when I haven't even finished the first draft of this blessed novel?

It's all getting a bit messy. Messy is good, I guess, because it's a 'bad first draft'. The further I go with this project, the messier it gets. I'm in danger of getting myself in a right royal muddle, as I can now see that some characters could be dispensed with altogether or that two characters could be moulded into one. I've killed two people off early on and now wonder if they should still be alive. Perhaps that would make things more interesting? Is this really a crime novel at all? Is it more of a mystery/thriller? Yes, probably. Can I write the police procedure stuff? No. Do I want to? No. Is my detective that important? Probably not, but I do love the character I've created. He is so flawed, it's untrue. Can I have an incompetent detective who doesn't really solve anything at all? I guess I could. Can the mystery be solved, but not the crime? At the moment, this novel raises more questions than it answers. Perhaps all will become clear at the end.

I'll just plough on regardless. After all, it's only a first draft and a bad one at that.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Thinking In Threes

This morning I've been re-reading Ansen Dibell's 'Patterns, Mirrors and Echoes' section in How To Write A Million. The emphasis on the pattern of three in traditional storytelling methods like fairy tales comes back to haunt any writer who has read 'how to' books and attended workshops.

I went back to my novel and started brainstorming my  plot. Something must have sunk in after many years of reading novels and stories, as I've sub-consciously incorporated 'the law of three' into my crime novel.

There are three victims and three important connections between those victims; three significant relationships; three tearaways; three siblings; three false alarms; three major events; three locations; three baby connections/lost children.

This led me to think about the themes in my novel, which are basically a) the lost child b) involvement/lack of involvement c) commitment/lack of commitment d) running away.

This then led to thinking about the imagery in my novel: fire and water (heat and rain/yellow and purple).

My head feels much clearer after all that.

Does anyone else notice that they subconsciously apply the 'law of three' when writing fiction?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Long and Winding Road

Skrivener. Is it the answer to my prayers?

Those of you who read yesterday's posts will know that I've been looking for a way of organising my novel into manageable chunks so that I can see where I'm at without trawling through pages and pages of manuscript.

Debutnovelist gave me an idea when she told me about her methods with Word documents. Then I realised I hadn't got Word, as I use a Mac. I then did a search on 'tips for novel writers using Macs' or some-such in Google and came across Skrivener, a package for Macs, which helps you to manage and organise your novel all in one place. I suggest you have a go at the free trial to get a taster. (I think it's also available for PC users, but I'm not sure).

Well, I've spent a whole morning going through the step-by-step tutorial and, although I found it a challenge, I believe this could well be the way forward for me.

I still like the visual idea..... my novel in pictures, as that is very much how my brain works. The storyboards are very useful to me and help to work out both plot and character development. As Captain Black said yesterday, they are just as helpful as a source of inspiration.

I'm now experiencing tension in my shoulders, which is a sign I've spent far too long sitting at the computer in one session, so I'm off to do some reading before the dreaded school run!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Chapter One - Novel - Storyboard

You know I mentioned creating an overview of each chapter of my novel in pictures? It can be done. Here it is!

Novel HQ

Novel HQ aka The Kitchen Table. Yes, I have an office, but I can't spread my notes and paraphernalia out, because there simply isn't room on the desk. I also prefer writing new scenes in longhand.

Natalie Goldberg talks about 'exercising the writing muscle' and I'm sure that there is a much more creative connection between brain, hand and pen than there is between brain, fingers and computer keyboard. The screen acts as a barrier and automatically imposes the need for order, kicking into the internal editor before the piece is ready for those kinds of restrictions. Does that make sense?

I love the whole process of novel writing, but hate the unwieldiness of it. Compared to a short story, a novel is like holding a three-year-old toddler in your arms as opposed to a six-week-old baby. There is so much more to contain and hold in your head. I realise I need a physical way of visualising the whole. I'm trying to work out the best way of doing this for me. Some novelists use index cards, spread out all over the carpet (or the bed, in one case). Some use Post It notes on a huge board pinned to the wall. I feel as if I need pictures. Quite how that would work, I don't know!

Writing a first novel is a huge learning curve. I now realise that dividing my work into chapters, each chapter having a separate file on the computer, was probably a mistake. I'm now copying and pasting it all into one document. A chore, but a necessary one. You see how easily distracted I am from actually writing?

I may just log off and go and pick up that pen.....

Monday, 1 November 2010

Self Doubt

I've just returned from a very relaxing holiday in North Norfolk, but I appear to have lost the motivation and positive attitude towards my writing I had before I went away. Any ideas on how to get them back will be appreciated!

While I was away, I read the latest Persephone Bi-Annually (No 8 Autumn/Winter 2010). Persephone (www.persephonebooks.co.uk) reprints neglected classics by twentieth century writers (mainly women), and I love them. This edition of the Bi-Annually featured extracts from the journals and notebooks of Dorothy Whipple.

In 1933 she wrote of her novel, They Knew Mr Knight: 'I have only to start writing a novel to become flat and stale. A short story invigorates me, a novel depresses me during all the weary months I'm writing it.' And another entry in the same year: 'I began the second draft of my book. The first is very scrappy. I don't see my way with the book yet...I don't like having to concoct plots, I like doing people.'

Same here, I thought. I like inventing characters and writing about them. Plots are a boring necessity. Something has to happen. People are so much more interesting!

Writing about They Were Sisters in 1942, Dorothy says: 'I am terrified of the badness of this book. I am off my natural bent. Sadness, ugliness throughout is not my line. I wish I didn't start on themes without proper thoughts.... But I worked well and fast. It seems as if I have to ponder on a situation for several days, seeing no daylight, then suddenly it comes clear and I can write again.'

Yes, I can identify with this too, except that I 'ponder on a situation' for several weeks! When my head is clear and I can see where I'm going with my novel, then I write very fast. Trouble is, I can rarely see clearly where it's going. I guess as writers, we have to go up several blind allies before finding our way. Ever the perfectionist, I feel I have to get it right first time and berate myself when a scene doesn't work.

However, I keep telling myself that words written are never wasted in that we learn from every sentence we write.