Resisting Temptation

pexels-photo-297755.jpegOkay, so you have an idea for a story and you kinda feel excited about getting started.

Well, don’t!

Start, I mean.

You can get excited. Getting excited is fine. (keep it clean, people!)

But don’t start writing, until you done yourself some planning.

There are some writers who just need an idea and away they go and it works for them and if that works for you, too, then fine, you don’t need this blog post, you can just mosey on through town, my friend.

But if you’re anything like me, then you’ll need a plan, before you start.

It doesn’t have to be a 200 page book bible (though knock yourself out, if you like doing that) but you might need a few notes before you get started.

Who is your main character? Do you even like them? Because, hell, you’re gonna be hanging out for about 300 pages, so you’d better like that dude.

Or dudette. Because, you know … equality.joan-of-arc-golden-sculpture-golden-statue-64022.jpeg

What do you even know about them? Apart from how they might act in that first scene? Because you may grasp that temptation in your hot little hands and start writing, because you can see what happens in that first nail-biting, grab ’em by the balls first chapter, but what about AFTER that? Huh?

Did ya think about that?

Course not! You were so excited to get going! And because you succumbed, I bet you’ve got a laptop filled with Chapter Ones? Am I right?

You have to know them. Inside out. Or at least know whether they prefer tea or coffee, or how they might vote in an election. What about their family? Were they screwed up in childhood? Did they have their heart broken? How does that make them feel now?

And if you know your hero, do you know your antagonist just as well? Or did ya think you could just write the bad guy as you go?

I mean, you could, but you’d probably end up with cartoon cutout of a bad guy.

pexels-photo-64699.jpegBad guys have story behind them. Bad guys, think they’re good guys, in their own heads. They’re the heroes of their story, as far as they’re concerned. And what about all your other characters? The sidekick? The walk-on players? The bit parts? You need to know what each of them WANTS. What each of them FEARS. Even if all they do is come into the scene to murder a chicken.

But that’s not enough.

What about your world? Your setting? When is it set? Present day? in the future? Twenty years ago? Because that shit will have an effect on your world. Technology, is a good example. Or politics.

And what are you writing about? What’s your question you want to answer? What theme are you exploring? What bites you in the ass every day, that you feel the need to explore with your words?

Because if you do a little planning, write a little synopsis, maybe do a chapter breakdown, then that stuff can help, my friend.

Believe me.

You don’t have to write down every detail of every happening. Just signpost things you want to happen. Then do a VE Schwab and be a Connect-the-dots writer. They sit halfway between pantsers and plotters.

Resist temptation.

Those with a map or a compass, generally do a heck of a lot better, then those without.

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Making The Ideas Come Alive

pexels-photo-261734.jpegAuthors, writers, wordsmiths, whatever you want to call us, we all get ideas that we think might make a great story. We also get a lot of crap ones, which we throw away mentally, shaking our heads, wondering what the hell were we even thinking?

Sometimes, those crappy ideas join up months later with NEW ideas and the crappy idea suddenly becomes a much better idea and I think most writers will agree that its the confluence (oo-er, get me) of ideas, that make a story, rather than one simple idea on its lonesome.

And we luuuuuuurve those moments. They’re great. They’re hot. They’re smoking hot balls of white flame, a supernova, an exploding star, brilliant.fireworks-rocket-new-year-s-day-new-year-s-eve-40663.jpeg

And we love them, because we can see in our mind’s eye, how that story would play out. We see it visually, like a film, or a television show. We imagine the actors that might take the role, we see the scenes in our head and we direct. We are producer and director and God. We see how it will open, grabbing a reader’s attention, we see how it will progress, the plot and character development, increasing tension and conflict – maybe the odd light moment of humour, because everything needs light and shade – and we see how it will build to a giant life or death moment at the end, before the hero (heroes) saves the day.

It’s a perfect story. We’ve spent time on it. We’ve thought about it all day long and played out that opening scene in our heads right before sleep for months. We’ve spent weeks writing down notes and snippets of dialogue and scenes we’d like to see, perhaps.

And then we ruin it by trying to write the actual story.

**sighs**

It’s inevitable. It’s part of the writer’s journey and if it hasn’t happened to you yet, then you’re not a proper writer (only kidding!)

The whole point of the shiny, wonderful story is that it’s amazing in our heads. It’s when we try to write it down that it somehow loses its shine as you struggle to capture the perfect opening, the most excellent first line, the most wondrous first page or chapter that will hook the reader and not let them put the book down until the doctor leans over them in hospital and says, ‘Sandra, you gotta eat!’

**Who’s Sandra?**

**looks about**

**shrugs**

The whole point is, it won’t shine. It might shine later, when you’ve written the whole thing and you’ve redrafted it a few times and gone back to polish that beginning because you know your characters better the 3098th time you’ve reread the pages. You can go back and polish it later. Most things require polishing a few times, before they truly gleam.

selfie-monkey-self-portrait-macaca-nigra-50582.jpegI’m just saying, don’t be downhearted.

Push through.

You can always come back to it. The first draft is for you, just telling the story. The other drafts, are for your reader and polishing and gleaming things until they squeak.

It’s all part of the process.

Here’s me, encouraging you with a smile.

 

5 Ways To Find A Great Book

pexels-photo-256546.jpegI’m always on the lookout for a great story (I mean, who isn’t?), so I thought I’d explore the five methods I use to make sure I don’t end up wasting time reading 50 pages of a book that I’m eventually gonna dump (sorry, but it happens)

Comfy? Then let’s go!

  1. If there’s an author you really, really like, then go to their website or Amazon or Barnes & Noble and look up their backlist. Websites are usually the best places to go, as they’ll generally list them all. You might find a title that you hadn’t been aware of and generally if you love that author, you’re gonna love most of their work.
  2. Join book groups on Facebook. There are some fabulous ones to belong to, where readers (or book bloggers) get together to recommend great titles and word-of-mouth, recommendations from fellow readers who like the same sort of stuff as you, is GOLD. (The Book Connectors, is one group on FB, that I belong to.)
  3. Goodreads is an excellent place to look for new books. You can search by genre, or they have forums on there, or lists where people recommend books that are like other books. It might mean picking up a book by an author you’ve never even heard of, but if you love it, then hopefully there’s a new backlist of books you’ll want to check out!
  4. http://www.whoelsewriteslike.com Self-explanatory, really. You go there, punch in a name of a favourite author and they’ll tell you who writes exactly like them. You can Browse genres and authors there and it’s a veritable mine of information.
  5. And I couldn’t end this without recommending your local library! Ask your librarian! These people know books inside out and if you’re stuck as to what to read next, ask for their help! Look at their displays – see what they’re featuring that week. They love to hook you up with a great book, so use your library!

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Anyone here?

**creeps into sight**

**smiles, awkwardly**

Hi. It’s been a long time. So apologies for that, but I’ve been having a bit of a discovery about myself, which sounds pervy and wrong, but I mean it in a writerly way.

In my other life (the responsible bill-paying one) I’m a writer of romance. I’m quite good at it. I like it. It’s opposite to horror, but still has that one thing at its core that it shares with horror, and that’s the intensity of emotion. I’ve even been nominated for awards. I’ve been a finalist,  twice. Which is amazing and brilliant and quite frankly, I still can’t quite believe that.

But I’ve been straggling a bit, feeling like I didn’t have any direction and so I’ve known for some time, I’ve needed something to focus me. I’ve needed to take my writing more seriously and so i decided to use my lovely Christmas money (thank you relatives who had no idea of what to get me, so just threw cash my way) and bought myself a place on one of the courses ran by the Curtis Brown Literary Agency.

Each week, we get given tasks and we have to produce a piece of creative writing to put up on the forums to be judged by the others int he course and in the literary agency and every week, without fail, I go dark and twisty. The other forumites have noticed that I wrote about a female serial killer in one piece; a sadistic Nazi officer in another and a chase scene where a woman is running through some dark woods at night, chased by a pack of savage, rabid dogs.

Cheery stuff, right?

And yet, when we were asked to submit our plot and pitch ideas for a novel we planned to write, I pitched a romance.

In our most recent task, we were told to take our main character and put them in one of three situations

  1. They come across a dead body
  2. They get stood up
  3. They get confined in a small space.

Guess which one I went for? The dead body. Right. At a push, I would’ve gone for the confined space and written  short tale about a woman buried alive, or something like that, because thats where my brain naturally goes! So why aren’t I writing more stuff like that?

My reasons, I think are thus: (ooh, I said, thus)

  1. I have a readership under romance
  2. This readership would follow me easily into romance stand alone titles
  3. I earn money this way
  4. I know I can do romance (I’m a finalist remember?)

If I change genre properly, I’ve got to start from scratch. I’ve had short horror published in a variety of places (The Horror Zine; Welcome to Wherever; Sanitarium Magazine; Gypsy Shadow Publishing) but none of it has been a PAYING MARKET.

And I have four kids and a husband to keep. And various pets that are rather fond of that regular dish of food I provide and the soft, comfy, warm beds.

I’m frightened. But I figure it’s healthy to be frightened. If you’re not frightened, you’re comfortable and comfortable writers can sometimes be complacent. (Not all, before I get letters. Letters? Sheesh, emails)

So, what am I trying to say?

My heart is in a dark place. Normally. Give me a choice of reading a romance or a book about nasty serial killers, I’m gonna take the tome on Hannibal Lecter. Ask me if I want to watch Sense & Sensibility or Alien Vs Predator, I’m gonna watch the xenomorphs with acid for blood. That kind of shit makes me happy.

So I need to start writing that kind of stuff again. (Not shit. No-one wants to write shit. I just said that shit makes me happy, because it sounds cool)

So bear with me. I’m gonna have to write my scary stuff alongside my romantic heroes and heroines (cos I’m still contracted. Hurrah!) and I think I maybe need to do short stories and novellas before I launch into a giant piece, like a novel.

Or maybe not.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think I should do.

Living with vicious killers

If Gerald Durrell hadn’t have got there first, I’d have called this blog, My Family and Other Animals, because we’ve got a lot of pets. I put this down to the fact that I’m an ardent animal lover and can’t resist anything with a cute furry face, but I also lay some of the blame at my teenage daughter’s door.

IMG_1088
Cookie (lazy boy)

She wants to be a vet, therefore, her interest in animals is broad and -let’s be honest here- fanatical. Cute furry face lover that I am, I have my limits and I have set that limit at its current bar – we have two dogs and five cats. We also had two rabbits, three guinea pigs and three rats, but those poor little cuties went over the Rainbow Bridge some time ago. I have put my foot down in regards to filling up those small animal cages again and have tried my hardest to give them away (the cages) but no-one wants them. So they sit in the sheds, waiting. Use me, they whisper. Give me life.

Fortunately, or perhaps I should say, unfortunately, I have five cats and cats, as you may

IMG_1094
Badger (lazy boy)

know, are hunters. Even if you, as the pet owner, do the very good job of filling their little bellies all day with the finest Duck in gravy, or salmon and tuna mix in jelly, those little buggers are still hunters.

And they want to kill.

You’ve no doubt seen a trance a cat will go into if they spot a bird from a window. Their eyes zero in on the prey and they start chattering to themselves ack-ackack-ack!

They’re thinking of how that little bird will feel between their jaws. Of what it might sound like to crunch through those bones, they want blood, they want to feel those tiny hearts flutter in their mouths as they extinguish the life from their poor innocent prey.

Cats live for that crazy shit.

IMG_1091
Misty (psychopath)

We’ve got five cats. Three boys, two girls. Those boys are as lazy as f*ck and would much rather lie around in a sun spot purring and having their bellies rubbed, thank you very much, but the girls? The girls are nasty, mean, psychopathic, vicious killers. We’ve had a variety of prey brought into the house over the years – a seagull (I kid you not!), sparrows, blackbirds, frogs, mice, rats, butterflies (I know!), bats, lizards and dragonflies, etc.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And today, I had to rescue yet another sparrow from the jaws of my meanest tortoiseshell.

Sometimes, we can save them. Once, we saved a blackbird and because it was such a baby bird, it ended up imprinting on me and after we’d set it free, it would return to the garden to sit on my lap and beg for worms. Last week, we cared for a pipistrelle bat, feeding it winged things to get it back onto its feet and were able to set it free after a couple of nights recuperation with ourselves.

And right now, we have a sparrow (named Captain Jack) in our temporary wildlife hospital. I hope he survives the shock of being in the jaws of death. I hope we can set him free again in a few hours. Right now, he’s not doing very much at all.

Except breathing, which is kinda crucial.

 

Story Ideas (and where to find them)

So, you wanna write a story? That’s great. But where do I get my ideas, I hear you ask?

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Giant Irish deer skeletons

Don’t you KNOW? Everybody knows. They sell them. In a shop. Just down the street from you in that boarded up store, situated between the adult porn shop and the dog grooming parlour. You have to know the password and the secret handshake, but after that you can go right on in and pick one up off the shelves.

You know I’m kidding, right?

The stories are in your head. Waiting to come out. All you really have to do, is make a deal with the devil for your eternal soul and promise to give him your first born child and those story-babies pop right on out. No problem.

Seriously. The stories are already there. In your head. Your job, is to tease those stubborn little jerks out of the shadows. Because they don’t always want to show themselves. They lurk in the darkness, little balled-up scraps of ideas and images and snippets of conversation, all furry and dirty and messed-up in the head. They don’t know what they want, but they do know they don’t want to emerge into the light looking like they’ve been in hibernation for a decade or two. All bed-head and puffy eyes and awkward disjointed run-on sentences. Those stories want to run free. Fully-formed and beautiful, with similes and themes and metaphors that will make your heart weep with their beauty. They’d like to leap onto the page in their gleaming fully-formed beauty and say, BEHOLD, FOR I AM STORY!

People who want to write and people who DO write are different creatures. The stories are everywhere and this is why.

People who want to write, but DON’T, get up in the morning, slouch from their beds, clean their teeth, use the loo and head on downstairs with the sole aim of consuming their morning coffee, so that they don’t murder anyone before 9am.

People who DO write, get up in the morning with that weird sense of having had a dream and it was kind of freaky and weird, but that didn’t matter because there was this one image of them standing on the parapet of a castle, cape flowing behind them like a mighty warrior, whilst a swarm of ravens approached from faraway and black clouds covered the sun and then …

A writer’s brain stores that shit away. The feeling of being on a parapet. The wind blowing through their hair, the weight and feel of the longsword in their hand, how the ground looked from so far above, the damp smell of the granite that the castle is hewn from, filling their nostrils after last night’s rain …

The people that DON’T write go to work and as they’re driving on their boring commute, they hear  a snippet on the radio about some guy who nearly died after being attacked by a Great White Shark off the coast of Cornwall.

The people that DO write hear the same story and they immediately imagine how that must have been. The sense of panic, of not being able to see below the surface of the water, that feeling of knowing they’re being hunted. Vulnerability. Losing a little pee into their underpants. Cold sweat. Fear. The sudden flash of a mouthful of teeth as it emerges from the water RIGHT AT YOU, the entire plot of Jaws rushing through their head in that split second of we’re gonna need a bigger boat and seeing Roy Schneider’s eyes open wider when he realises just what’s in the water. Writers IMAGINE what those teeth must feel like as they crunch through a thigh, through bone and tissue, the splash of blood into the water, the sound of their own screams, the rawness of their own throats and then they imagine who else is around? Is anyone hearing their screams? Are they dying alone? Is there a Roy Schneider hero there, aiming his gun at the oxygen canister trapped in the Great White’s mouth?

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Half of a body (Bog body)

Writer brains work differently to most people.

What if? is the greatest question ever, to a writer.

We take the everyday and the normal and we ask, what if we lived in  a castle about to be attacked by a swarm of birds? What if we were driving to work and we never made it there? What if someone I knew was bitten in half by a shark?

We constantly ask ourselves questions and then try to solve them. Because the solving them, creates the story. As we solve those what ifs, we discover characters and motivations and backstories and subplots. We work away with our ‘what if’ chisel and discover themes and settings and dialogue so sharp it would break off the teeth in that Great White’s Mouth and leave it a gummy little fish that would only be able to leave you with a nasty hickey.

Your stories are within you. You’ve just got to be aware of them.

You’ve just got to ask ‘what if’.