Sunday, 23 April 2017

Writing for Beginners (28)

So what have you done today…?

This may come as a surprise to some people, but I have to confess to a secret: I don’t write every single day. Well, I have a life to lead, too, and that life sometimes has a habit of getting in the way . Take last week, for instance, when I put my foot through the ceiling while insulating the loft. Or maybe that’s best forgotten…

But, while I might not be actually writing, you don’t know what I’m thinking about, do you? As my wife can testify, repeated calls from Earth to Planet Adrian often fail to penetrate the muggy wool of creative thought, no matter what I’m up to.

It’s said that every journey begins with the first step.

Unfortunately, many journeys - in a writing sense, at least - never take place. Why? Because some writers don't actually get round to doing what they’re dreaming of, which is writing.

‘If only I had time … ’ is one of the most repeated complaints one hears from would-be writers (and readers, sadly, which is scary on another scale), and nobody is doubting the relentless pull of work, family, relationships, DIY, chat-rooms, mobile phone and so on.

But who said you had to write a whole book in one sitting? Do you eat a whole year’s supply of food in one go? Do you paint the entire house in one day? Do you repair that hole in the ceiling- well, actually, that one I grant you was different.

I know setting goals can be boring, and I wouldn’t suggest anyone regiments their life to the extent that they constantly have their eyes on some kind of rigid daily writing routine. That can stifle creativity faster than a dose of migraine, and we all have enough routines to choke an elephant. But looking at a way of getting round that flurry of everyday activity which kills off any attempt at writing, it can be done realistically, if you have the willpower and desire.

A gentleman recently told me with absolute conviction: ‘I never have a minute to write – I only wish I did.’ He then went on to list all the things he had to do every day, which kept him on his feet and unable to pursue his love of writing. My suggestion was to use his time in the bathroom to greater effect.

I’m not sure he was too impressed by this. But if he really was as hectically busy as he claimed, surely he owed it to himself to snatch at least a few minutes with a notepad – no matter where? If a man’s home really is his castle, then his bathroom must be not only the smallest, but the most private keep in the house.

Conversely, a lady in a bookshop had a very different attitude. She told me that whenever she managed to write something, no matter how brief, she felt a huge sense of achievement, even pride. She was also very busy, but managed to find and use little pockets in her day to good effect, even if it meant writing just the first line of a new story or sketching out a fresh scene which had suddenly occurred to her.

She was, quite simply, doing it rather than merely thinking about it.

Ceilings notwithstanding, I do this myself, even when I’m working on other projects. I jot down ideas, take snatches of dialogue which sound appealing, and I constantly think about what I’m currently working on or would like to work on next. In fact, if I were to check my IDEAS folder, I’d find stuff which will probably take me years to get round to… or maybe just a couple of days, because in there might be something that will fit in with a project I’m currently writing.

I liken it to chipping away at a large chunk of wood; eventually, I’ll have something recognisable which I can work on more fully and with more energy and focus, because the desire to do it will push me to get on with it.

And that’s the key: if you want to do something enough, you will manage it somehow. If you have that inner burn to write, that itch that simply won’t go away, especially when you pick up a good book or a short story and think you could do just as well, you will find a way. It may be a sentence here or a short piece of dialogue there; it might even be thinking of a name for a character, or a description. But those small, even tiny achievements are not to be dismissed lightly. Because they will add up, and they will grow, as will your determination to make something of them, no matter how busy. And that’s a greater achievement.


·        Snatch those pockets in your life (travelling, queuing, waiting – and yes, in the bathroom) to write something.
·        Thought of a scene? Sketch it out in six words – you can flesh it out later.
·       Take pleasure from having started something – but don’t let it stop there.
·        Say ‘I’m writing’ - and mean it.
·        Go to sleep with a sense of achievement.
Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook
Do you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out here.  

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Writing for Beginners (27)

After the event.

There’s an old gag about a driver who stops to ask an old man for directions. After a few moments of careful thought, the old man says: ‘Well, first off, I wouldn’t start from here … ’
Joking apart, the same thought can be applied to writing: effectively, are we starting from the appropriate point in our story, or approaching from the right angle? There's always another way of looking at a scene, and the one you first think of might not be the best. This applies whether we’re at the start of the story or beginning a fresh chapter or scene, say, in a novel.
As an example, I once had in mind a particular opening scene. It hinged on a murder, where the victim had heavy chains tied to his feet and was lowered into an indoor swimming pool to die. It was a fairly dark scene and I’m still not sure where it sprang from, only that, once in the story-grinder, it had to come out.
To gain a feel for the atmosphere, I visited our local swimming pool when it was quiet, to get a sense of a deserted poolside (the murder was committed at night). I also wanted to capture the floor texture, smells, damp air, sounds, echoes and so forth. Okay, I stopped short of actually hurling myself into the pool with a hundredweight of ships’ bling round my ankles, but there are limits to the lengths of my research.
It was while writing up my notes that I had a thought: what if, instead of beginning with the scene of the murder, which was by its nature fairly brutal, I went for another angle? After all, describing violence might be attention-grabbing, but where did it leave me afterwards? And did it help the story?
The result was, I scrapped my original scene and opened with a scene later that day. This time, with the central character – an amateur sleuth – looking down at the dead man standing on the bottom of the pool, his body moving gently in the water. Nearby floated a curled strip of soggy cardboard.
Effectively, this after-the-event opening allowed me to skip the violence (which didn’t really advance the story) and stopped me revealing too much detail about the – pardon the pun – execution. That was, after all, what I wanted my sleuth to find out, since that’s what sleuths are for.
It still gave me ample room for atmosphere, tension and the horror of finding someone killed in this way. And rather than describing how the deed was done, I left it to my sleuth to notice how the dead man was clutching the lane marker rope, which he’d tried to use to pull himself out and was keeping his body upright. He also worked out later the horrible significance of the strip of soggy cardboard. (I'll tell you this much: the killers had prolonged the victim’s agony by handing him a cardboard tube from a kitchen foil roll to breathe through).
Switching the order of approach like this is quite useful. Instead of going through events as they actually happen, which can sometimes be too revealing, you can bring them on almost in flashback, interspersing them with your central character’s thoughts, suspicions or fears. This is particularly useful for crime stories, where you want the reader to follow up the clues as well, thereby increasing the tension. But it can work just as well in other genres, where a character might be reviewing, say, family events loaded with emotion and meaning, rather like a slide-show, and drawing conclusions from it which may have a life-shattering effect on others.
The post-event opening can work in other powerful ways. Describing a car accident can be difficult to pull off without making it sound cartoonish and over-indulgent. However, opening the scene after the accident, describing the driver coming to, the tick-tick of a spinning wheel, the silence, the smell of fuel and the horrifying drip of liquid – can be much more shocking. This is because the reader’s mind is automatically filling in the gaps, creating a vivid picture of their own making - which is, after all, what we want them to do.
Changing the point at which we describe a scene can also work if we change the viewpoint – in other words, who sees what. Having a character walk unexpectedly into a meeting, for example, can be full of tension seen from that character’s viewpoint - particularly in, say, the reading of a will. Imagine viewing it from inside the room, describing perhaps a self-satisfied and expectant bunch of graspers, all of whom think they’ve got it settled. Then in comes the unwelcome interloper. This could bring out a whole raft of additional tensions and reactions, so that rather than seeing the reaction through one pair of eyes, we’re seeing it through many.
A simple test is to take the last scene you worked on and start from a different angle. It will undoubtedly make you write the scene in a different way, but it might also give you thoughts about future projects.
·        Describing events as they unfold can sometimes ‘reveal’ more than you want.
·        Coming in on a scene after an event can improve tension and give direction for future narrative.
·        Change the viewpoint, change the drama.
·        The silence after a crash can be more dramatic than the crash itself.
·        Allow the reader to fill in some of the gaps.


Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook
Do you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out here.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

A really nice review

I don't often put reviews of my own books up here because it's supposed to be a general chat about writing and other people's books which I've reviewed.

So I hope I can be forgiven for placing this one, because it's (a) rather special and (b) has made me smile a lot.

'THE LOCKER' - the 1st in the Gonzales & Vaslik mystery thriller series (Midnight Ink).
Available in p/b and ebook.

Also look out for book 2 - 'THE BID' - available now in p/b and ebook.