Archive for November, 2012

‘My stories replay the soundtrack of my life’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Brendan Gisby

My guest this week had never realised his fiction was so closely tied to music, nor how much that meant it reflected the landmarks of his own life. Through significant songs he has peeled back the years to channel aspects of his family and upbringing, to flesh out the characters in his short stories and novels. He is McStorytellers founder Brendan Gisby and he’s on the Red Blog sharing his Undercover Soundtrack

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If you hate writing a character… don’t write them

Writers are often asked which of their characters they hated writing.

The expected answer is usually the murderer, the villain, the cheating wife, the despicable and repugnant millionaire …

Brace yourselves, non-writers. We enjoy creating those people.

But if I dislike a character, if they are a chore… I change the character.

It’s nothing to do with whether they spoil things for my other characters. I’m just as excited to write my bad people as angels. But if sharing headspace with a character is not appealing, it means I’m not interested enough to write them well. And the reader will feel the same heartsink sensation whenever their eye alights on that darned name.

Here’s what to do.

Cut them

If they don’t excite you and the rest of the story does, perhaps it’s a sign they don’t have any effect on the world of the novel. Are they needed at all?

Are they only in the book to give a central character a plausible background, for instance a mother? Have you written her in too much detail, perhaps tried to give her scenes by herself and come up with only trivialities? If a character is in the cast to flesh out another character’s life, it’s perfectly okay to write only the scenes where they are together. Or narrate them from the perspective of the more important character.

But they will become important

Perhaps they’re in the book because they do something important later on. Try cutting the earlier appearances. Not all the cast has to be on stage from the word go. Could your dull character begin as a walk-on and gradually become a significant speaking part? Characters are allowed to blossom late – that can be very rewarding to read. But until they become useful, don’t make them tread water or amble aimlessly. (Or if they must, make them do it outside your book.)

Splice them with someone else

You might find you have several characters who perform roughly the same story function – and this may be what’s bugging you. Could you ditch most tedious one and give their role to someone else? Combining two characters might also give you a fresh perspective on other parts of the story.

Give them even more to do

Yes, you’re already grudging the time you spend with these blots, but I’ve often found my attitude changes completely if I beef up their role. Challenge them, make them a more crucial link in a chain, tighten their attachment to one of the other characters and watch them transform from soggy to sparkling.

Don’t soldier on

If you loathe writing certain people, it’s a sure sign that you need to take action. Don’t soldier on, dragging them through scene after scene, thinking it’s part of your writing duty to sometimes find things hard. Find what makes you want to write them.

Thanks for the pic rotokirby  

Have you had a character you hated writing? What did you do about it? Share in the comments!

You can find tips for writing and revision in my book, Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. Available on Kindle and in print. You also might like my multimedia course with Joanna Penn – more than 4 hours of audio and slides with an 86-page transcription – find it here.

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‘Beautiful, swaying voices took me to vast forests’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Susan Price

My guest this week was so young when Faber bought her first fantasy novel that her father had to sign the contract. She’s more than built on that early promise by scooping the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian prize and is so prolific that in her credits she only lists her best-known works. Her imagination has ranged everywhere, from a fantasy czarist Russia to the far future – and thrilling, evocative music has been intrinsic to all of them. She is children’s author Susan Price, and she’s on the Red Blog with a truly rich Undercover Soundtrack.

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Writers create the publishing brands of the future – post at Authors Electric

I’m at Authors Electric today, discussing how indie writers are getting their work to readers by curating collections based on a solid respect for craft and originality. While publishers play safe with marketing pigeonholes, some of these indie groups will be the brands of the future. Come and see…

(Thanks for the penguins pic mnapoleon)

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Savoury chocolate, bad reviews, finding an agent and writer’s block – interview at Lorna Suzuki’s blog

If you come to my house for dinner, I will cook the most bizarre recipe I can find and it will be a dish I’ve never tried before – so an adventure for us all. That’s probably how I approach my fiction too, although I didn’t realise until Lorna Suzuki asked me a bunch of questions at her blog All Kinds of Writing. (Lorna’s pretty cool, BTW – she’s a fifth-dan instructor of  Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu which she draws on for her kick-ass fantasy series Imago.)

Once we’ve dispensed with the chocolate porcini risotto, we settle down to more useful matters – how to handle bad reviews, what to do if you’re struggling to find an agent, tips for self-publishers, how to handle writer’s block… Come on over (and bring a good supply of Lindt 99%)

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What if… 3 ways gamebooks teach us how to tell terrific stories

This week I’ve been proof-reading one of Dave’s gamebook series, which is due to be rereleased next year.

Gamebooks, for the unnerdly, are interactive adventures (sometimes called Choose Your Own). The story is printed in scene sections, out of order, which end with a choice – trust the blind beggar or not, decide whether to look for your enemy in the town or the desert. Although I’m not a gamebook fan (apologies to those who are), I’m finding the process rather interesting.

Choices and consequences

First of all, what happens in each thread depends on the character’s personality and previous moral choices. So if they’re captaining a pirate ship, in one version they’re jolly tars and in the other it’s mutiny.

Choices are crucial to good stories. Stuff happens – not because a god dumped events into the plot, but because characters did things, usually under pressure. In a gamebook these choices create a unique path through the adventure. But whatever kind of story you’re writing, the chain reaction of choice and consequence is an essential.

Experimenting with scenes

To proof Dave’s books, I’m not reading one thread at a time, but front cover to back – which is jumbling the story into random episodes. It also means I encounter each scene in many versions.

This was like an x-ray of my plotting and revision process. I make copies of each scene and write umpteen iterations looking for tighter tension, more resonant changes, more interesting (but honest) ways to keep the reader on their toes. In fact my outtakes are rather like my novel in gamebook form, with all its possibilities – what if she says this, what if the characters had met before in different circumstances, what if y had happened before x?

(In fact Dave said this experimenting was part of the fun – he could play each scene several ways instead of having to settle for a single one as he would in a novel. The pic shows his flowcharts. BTW, the print books are Lulu editions for proofing only. Yes, we know the covers are horrible.)

Exploring possibilities is something that writers are often scared by. Often they want to keep a scene the way they first imagined it. But the more we squeeze a scene to see what it can do, the stronger a novel will be.

Endings

Because the gamebook contains many journeys, there are also many ends – deaths that are daft or valiant, failures to complete the quest, heroic rescues, solutions where honour wasn’t fully satisfied. Usually only one ending hits the mark. (In gamebooks that’s traditionally the last paragraph, by the way.)

Finding the right ending in a novel usually takes a lot of false starts. But you don’t get there unless you try all the permutations of success or failure and the shades between.

Get the experimenting mindset

To get in the experimenting mood, grab a gamebook and read it in a way it’s not intended to be – from page 1 to the end. You’ll see the many ways an encounter can go, the options for a scene of dialogue, the possibilities for your ending. Once you’re loosened up, go back to your WIP and play.

(Here’s the titles that are currently available in the series I’m proofing for Dave, but gamebook fans can probably point you to other goodies.)

Thanks for the signpost pic Shahram Sharif

Do you feel able to experiment with your stories? If so, what helps you? Share in the comments!  

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‘Each song helped me see the main character a little more clearly’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Melissa Foster

My guest this week has always written in the grip of a wide-ranging playlist, but for one particular novel she found herself listening to three pieces intensively, maybe obsessively. In those songs she found her characters’ strengths and their more playful, softer sides, the great challenges they faced and the reserves they drew on to see them through. She is award-winning bestselling author, indie champion and women’s advocate Melissa Foster – and she’s on the Red Blog talking about Chasing Amanda and its Undercover Soundtrack.

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Quiet for a while… back soon – and tips to help you hit a writing deadline

If you’ve read this week’s Undercover Soundtrack you might have seen the note that said the next post would be up in two weeks’ time. I’m taking a short break so it’ll be quiet here too.

In the meantime, I’d planned to make a post appear magically from the archives to jolly along NaNoWriMos (and anyone who needs tips to meet a writing deadline). It began ‘Are you finding NaNo easier than you thought, or harder?’ and was supposed to wait until this weekend, but WP gremlins (or butterfingered me) shot it out prematurely. Immediately I got a bemused comment from a subscriber, convinced he’d got his time machine working. Anyway, here’s the post, if you haven’t already seen it – a NaNo routine to help you finish.

In the meantime I’ve scheduled a rerun of Undercover Soundtrack highlights which you can catch if  you follow @ByRozMorris on Twitter, and I’ve prepared a stack of useful writing links to share on @DirtyWhiteCandy. You can also see them streamed here in the ever-growing sidebar (which, yes, now has a Pinterest badge).

 

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