Book blog: You’re a Writer – So Start Acting Like One

Reading Time: 1 minute
Stand up and be a writer.
Stand up and be a writer. Gormley statues, Formby.

I’ve just finished reading this book by Jeff Goins. I love it. I love how the power of just saying and believing those words – I am a writer – makes amazing things happen. I love how hard work and self belief combined can do great things. And I love how your life is still OK  even if the hard work has not, yet, paid off.

Yet this is not all hand-holding and cheerleading. This book details specific strategies to ‘just write’ and for promoting your work. Goins’ aim is that you reach a point where you can write, and your work promotes itself. For many of us, that is the dream, and Goins is showing a way of achieving it.

This is a short book but a great one. Be a writer: get it.

You are a Writer – So Start Acting Like One – Jeff Goins

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My terrifying timeline

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Knole Park, 2016
Fighting through problems, and smashing deadlines.

Do I dare? Do I dare put dates and deadlines to what I’m trying to achieve, and have to acknowledge publicly when I miss or make those targets? Is my book, my weird Young Adult Arthurian Genderfluid Fantasy Coming Of Age novel really going to become accountable?

Yeah, why not? Chris Baty is big on accountability. Also deadlines. He invented Nanowrimo around those core principles in 2000 and that is now a venerable institution.

In Nanowrimo you write a complete 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I’ve participated eleven times, aced it seven times, (one story is now a Sherlock Holmes time travel Dracula fanfiction love story here) and it taught me how to write fast.  So given that writing fast is what my next goals require, this should be a cinch.

  • Middle section – approx 20000 words – by end of July
  • End section – approx 40000 words – by end August
  • First draft generally whipped into shape, to be a novel of perhaps 90 000 words- by end September.
  • Sit back and take a break. -I’m kidding.
  • October – Start the rewrites.  My aim is to have something on the Kindle shelves by the end of the year. This year.

Yes, these are quite distant deadlines, by Self Publishing School standards. SPS founder, Chandler Bolt, reckons you can outline, write and launch a Kindle book in 90 days. I’m sure you can. But I’ve learned a lot about myself these last few years, and I know that the next 90 days are pretty likely to hold a few brick walls from Real Life. Worrying about work deadlines doesn’t help climb over those walls. So there’s leeway here. Maybe too much leeway? What do you think? Am I being soft?

My real issue is that I have other writing projects ongoing as well. Some purely for-fun ones which I nevertheless want to complete (three of them, two nearing the end and one really not…) plus my ongoing involvement with The Write Practice; plus I want to continue to make short stories and submit them to possible markets, just for the practice of the craft.

So OK. I have these deadlines. Are they crazy – crazily lax, crazily tight, or what? I don’t know. Let’s find out.

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Book blog: Say ‘oo’ to induce terror

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Use the sound of words to create specific moods.
Use the sound of words to create specific moods.

Rayne Hall’s book details many useful techniques for writing fight scenes. The chapters are mostly divided by the type of weapon being used – Sword, Club, Firearms etc – and the book also identifies fights as either gritty or entertaining, and guides on psychology.  The part that captivated me, though, was on how to use specific word sounds to control a reader’s mood.

Hall has written a separate book devoted to what she terms ‘euphonics’ – subtly creating atmosphere in the reader’s mind through the use of  words with a particular sound.  For example, she suggests using words with ‘oo’ sounds to generate a feeling of impending doom in the reader.  This goes further than deliberate use of assonance: Hall suggests that sounds are linked to specific emotions.

There is research to back up this idea, as outlined in articles linking ‘i’ to happiness for example, or ‘oa’ to negative moods.  It seems to be connected to the expressions our faces must make while pronouncing certain words aloud – ‘cheese’ makes you grin, ‘moan’ makes your face long and sad.

Does it work when reading silently? Hall says yes.  I don’t know. It’s a fascinating idea though and I will be looking out for it in others’ fiction. I’ll let you know the results.

In the rest of the book, there are chapters on male and female fighting styles and dis/advantages, plus ideas for battles and sieges. Hall provides a useful template for any fight scene, to be adapted to suit, and guidance on how to fit your fight to your genre.

Hall gives many specific tips – such as to describe how the ground feels underfoot during the fight scene – to root the reader in the moment. Another tip is to use short sentences for action scenes, and longer ones for the aftermath. She is very particular: no paragraph more than four lines during an action scene, no sentence more than five words.

This all sounds rather proscriptive, but if like me you struggle to write action, then it is all worth a go.

I struggle to write action.  The only thing harder is sex scenes. I figured out how to write those by first focusing on the emotion of the scene, rather than anything physical – and then going back and counting the arms and legs, checking nobody was facing one way while still supposedly lying on their other side. Once the emotional side is working, it is only about choreography. On this principle, my fight scenes will centre on the emotional drama, and then I’ll check that my lead is not hurling rocks with the hand they still have a sword in.  Using what I’ve learned from hall, I will certainly create deliberate pacing with short sentences, and try some euphonics too.

A useful book overall and great for building confidence in writing fight scenes.

Writing Fight Scenes, Rayne Hall

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Accountability: write more words!

Reading Time: 1 minute
fuerte-2006-speed
Write, write like the wind! (Fuerteventura, Canary Islands: my usual speed-tourism in a hired Jeep.)

This week I need to make some writing progress: 10,000 words in a week. This is perfectly achievable given my prior history of writing 12,000 words in one day. But to be sure, I am setting myself no other targets.

-Except to write and workshop a short story for the Fiction Break contest.

Also to continue working on my novel outline as a background task (which means every time I get in the car. Road signs are merely decorative to me.) CS Lakin’s book is helping.

Also to continue my Dark Ages research. I have Neil Oliver and Michael Wood on hand for this.

Also to research Amazon fiction categories to see where my book might fit. Amazon categories are… fascinating. If you thought Japanese street fashion contained highly specialised niches, check out Amazon categories.

Plus you know, my job. But I have already cracked 2000 words, and I will have time to write this evening. I need to write my main character off an island, over the ocean, and onto a totally different island via some disasters.

Go!

Target: 10, 000 words added to my novel by Friday.

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Book blog: Strunk and White

Reading Time: 2 minutes
strunk
No breezy manner here. Concise communication is the goal.

This book is still the best of the style guides. First published in 1920, it lays out examples of correct and incorrect usage, and guides on the effects of sentence construction. It is a short book; no word is wasted.

In terms of grammar and punctuation, this is a great revisit to what we learned at school. The book also offers advice on style, which I certainly never gained from my school teachers. So the writer may choose to write in short or long sentences, active or passive voice.

strunk2
Avoid statements in negative form. Positive statements strengthen writing.

I love some of their specifics, especially on adverbs. “Do not write tangledly. … Nobody says tangledly.” Or one of my personal bugbears in web writing, even though I am guilty of it myself: “Do not affect a breezy manner.” The list of misused words and expressions highlights and corrects many errors seen today, especially online. Should you write ‘alternate’ or ‘alternative’? Strunk and White know.

I had to re-read some of the more advanced examples to see where the error lay, and how the correct version improved the sentence. “Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form.” “Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.”

Some of the constructions would apply mainly in formal writing today, such as academic essays, or serious newspaper articles. Readers are accustomed to a casual writing style, and strictly correct formal writing has class associations which can be a barrier to communication. Even the BBC uses ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ interchangeably these days, and the singular ‘their’ rather than the grammatically correct ‘he or she’ has become commonplace. Writing is a political act, and so these usages carry meaning about the writer’s  position in society, and even issues such as their position on binary gender labelling.

That said, a writer must know and understand correct usage before deciding whether to adopt it for a novel, blog or academic article. “Nadim wanted less peas” is no more correct today than it has ever been, but it is up to the writer to decide whether ‘fewer’ adds to understanding.

Well – I say it’s up to the writer, however an editor will still pick up these points.

I found this book a quick read full of valuable guidance, and it has a permanent place on my shelf. Amazon reviews suggest the print version is the one to go for, as the Kindle edition appears to have formatting issues.

I must add that it is really, really hard to write a review of Strunk and White without becoming self-conscious. I feel as if they are looking over my shoulder. And given their 94 years of experience, that’s no bad thing.

Strunk and White, Elements of Style, revised edition 2000

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Where I write

Reading Time: 2 minutes
I have a 4-mm thick Bluetooth keyboard which speeds up the writing. Otherwise it's Biro and notebook.
I have a 4-mm thick Bluetooth keyboard which speeds up the writing. Otherwise it’s Biro and notebook.

Many How To Write-type books go on about creating for yourself a special writing space. Often these guides go on to add that this could be the kitchen table, a desk, a spot in a local cafe, and so on – but it must be somewhere that you feel you can get out your muse and write.  To all of this I say Bollocks. Write anywhere. Anywhere you can operate a pen/keyboard/phone screen, you can write. If you’re anywhere for more than ten minutes, in fact, and poking at your phone screen for any reason but to write, then you are wasting valuable time.

I personally love to write in my car. That’s mostly because my car is where I am for big chunks of the week. I also like my garden – I write for fifteen minutes in the morning, if I am at home. But I can write anywhere. Same as I can read anywhere. Loud, quiet, busy, empty, whatever. I have very little time and so when I have a few minutes I write something down. Like now. I’m waiting for something to upload so I thought I’d quickly do this.  And now it’s basically done.

Here are some pictures of recent writing locations. Note the lack of a special desk, or special anything.

The view from my car session . It's by some waste ground opposite a new railway station, next to a Tesco superstore, and looking at an ongoing housing development. It was basically perfect.
The view from a recent car session. It’s some waste ground opposite a new railway station, next to a Tesco superstore, and looking at an ongoing housing development. It was basically perfect.

As you can see I don’t require much.

 

I like to be undisturbed, but with plenty to look at. City centre cafes are fine. Sitting up late at night on the sofa is fine. Sitting in the car in a car park is fine.

Another good writing spot.
Another good writing spot.

When I’m concentrating, distractions disappear anyway.

In 2013 I wrote just under half a million words and almost none of them happened at a desk. I’m not saying they were all golden words, but they were written.

Actually, the more impromptu the time and location, the more valuable the words feel. I’ve grabbed them out of nothing. I have brought them forth in the car park outside McDonald’s. It doesn’t matter.

Late night writing on the way home from a work meeting. I think this was in Yorkshire.
Late night writing on the way home from a work meeting. I think this was in Yorkshire.

 

All that matters is that I am making progress.

Special writing place: Not Required.

 

 

 

 

 

writing-sea1
Last and definitely favourite. Sadly this view is not available most of the time. 🙂

 

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Writing skills – battle scenes

Reading Time: 2 minutes
liberty-2014
I carry the torch for big, cinematic settings, so where can I put my climactic battle?

My current novel is an adventure story so I always imagined it would climax with an epic battle. Only problem – I’ve never written a battle scene. I have written action but always small-scale, and always based around an emotional moment. I’ve never tried to co ordinate armies –  and personally I glaze over during those clash-bang scenes in films and books. Yeah yeah, troop movements, just tell  me who wins and who dies, OK?

Here’s KM Weiland’s take on the thing, and I’m relieved I’m not the only one who finds big sweeping action dull unless there’s some character development to draw me in:

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/writing-epic-battle-scenes/

She uses an example from the screenwriting book Save the Cat, which is on my shelf…ahem, and never read. So there’s one task on my list for this week.

Maybe this week’s goal is to get inspired for the war which is about to break out.  Maybe that’s my breakthrough in my outline – all is about to end for my lead, and then phew, war breaks out, except not phew because everything is now much much worse. Yup, that could work.

OK, this week’s tasks:

1.Read some battle scenes I liked. Or might like. Narnia? I had to skim most of the GoT stuff as it was so violent. My book is not gory. Yup kids, welcome to my new genre: cosy war.

Diana Wynne Jones has some big fights in her Chrestomanci series, plus Howl’s Moving Castle. That’s more my level. The stakes are high but nobody gets eaten by hounds.

2. Practise writing some individual action for example scenes where:

  • AP singlehandedly fights off the bandits torturing a bird which is actually M
  • M faces off to MK above some kind of towering abyss (channeling my inner Star Wars/Indiana Jones here).
  • F and M escape the prison, fighting with the guards

Those small scenes might help me with the big scene.

3. Investigate settings. I’m always inspired by real places, or places glimpsed in fantastical movies. Glancing through fantasy art on Tumblr is good too. That would be some very pleasant homework!

4. Climax/battle setting. My big battle needs a great setting. A cinematic setting. In my fanfiction I always tried to have the big emotional scenes at big filmic settings – Statue of Liberty*, abandoned hospital island, etc – so I need one for this. It’s notionally set in Britain so there’s scope for more ‘research’ there. Think  Man dangling from the face of Big Ben, or Woman clinging to the mast on the Eiffel Tower, for the level of drama I want.

Ok. CJ Cherryh does great ‘big’ scenes, so does Michael Crichton and Lee Child, but those all focus on a single character or small group of characters, in a tight spot – often literally for Crichton, the master of claustrophobic tension. I think that is far more my forte. Big setting, but tight spot. Food for thought there.

Right, this week’s tasks are set. Go!

PS* (I haven’t yet written my Statue of Liberty scene. It’s for Elementary fanfiction and it involves stolen gold. I’m just quickly getting this novel out of the way first…)

 

 

 

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