How Ideas Die on the Tongue

Just a short post today, but one with a very important message!

As writers we spend a lot of time thinking. Thinking about characters. Thinking about setting. Thinking about plot. But a lot of this early thinking will usually be focused on ideas. We think of something interesting and then we go about our daily lives, still thinking about and expanding on this initial idea.

Then, it will usually go one of three ways:

  1. The idea turns out to be a dead end. We abandon it and move on to the next interesting idea.
  2. The idea turns out to be really good. We incorporate it into our project or create a whole new project around this idea. It becomes something exciting. Exciting enough to write about.
  3. We think the idea is so great, so utterly ingenious, that we have to share it with someone. Against our better judgement, we corner a loved one or a friend and we flood their ears with our primordial, unspoken idea.

Continue reading

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The Importance of Being Competitive

Do you like what I did with the title there?

Nah, I didn’t think it was that good either…

Today I want to talk about writing competitions and how important they are to a fledgling writer. It’s sometimes as easy as Googling “writing competitions”, but other times you’ll only hear about them by word of mouth.

I’ll start by giving you a list of current competitions that you can enter:

  • Fish Publishing – These guys run four competitions annually, including a Short Story and Flash Fiction competition. It’s judged by renowned poets and authors and the prize is pretty good.
  • Writers’ Forum – This site runs a monthly short story contest. It’s a reputable site and well worth a look.
  • Whidbey Writing Competition – A contest based in the USA, but open worldwide. You can write about anything and for any audience.
  • Cazart – You can enter short stories or flash fiction, you can swear and it’s £5 to enter. It’s open throughout 2012 each month, so get over and have a look!
  • Flash 500 – A humorous verse contest. The prizes are pretty decent, for the length of your piece (30 lines).
  • Cinnamon Press – These guys run a range of writing competitions, which change regularly. It’s a good idea to bookmark their competition page.
  • Fantasy Writing Contest – This is a yearly contest, run by Fantasy Faction, for fantasy writers. If your story wins, it gets entered into an anthology with a host of other well authors’ work. They start taking submissions from 1st January 2013.

You might be thinking, ‘Yeah, so what? I might win a small amount of money, but I might not win anything at all.’

Well that’s not the attitude to have. If you’re serious about your writing and you want it to lead somewhere one day, it’s a really good idea to enter some competitions. Here are the benefits that I see from taking part:

  1. You’re committed to finishing a piece of writing (especially if there’s an entry fee).
  2. You’re focused on an end goal and possibly a prize.
  3. You’re usually confined to a particular genre/theme.
  4. In some cases, you make connections with other writers and it’s great for networking.
  5. It maintains your “edge”.

That’s right – like the knives in your kitchen drawer, there’s always one that’s sharper than all the rest. If you want to be successful, you need to make sure that’s you. Writing contests are great for honing your skills, expanding your toolset and exercising your “writer’s brain”.

If there’s one thing you do today, why not commit to entering a competition and start planning out your story?

I’m also going to do a special series of posts during the approach to NaNoWriMo in November, to help you get prepared and learn all about this annual tournament.

If you’ve got any questions about entering competitions or need some advice on writing, drop us a comment below!

~ James

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The Novel That Didn’t Write Itself

Today I want to share a story with you all. I hope you all get something from it.

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Fantasy In Motion Presents…

A Fantasy In Motion Production…

From the guy who writes this blog…

Critics are calling it “Get out of my office before I call security”…

The Novel That Didn’t Write Itself

One day there was a novel. Well, there would have been one if it had been written. It existed, but only in spirit.

So, one day there was a novel’s spirit. This particular spirit wanted to be a fantasy novel. It was full of fantastic things like dragons, epic journeys and little furry, squeaky things that nobody really knows the name of. Since it had first been dreamed up, it had always wanted to be a novel and nothing else. Not a racing driver. Not an astronaut. Not a movie star. It was a novel’s spirit and being a novel was all it had going for it.

But there was a problem.

There was an evil writer called Zanniberous Zanzini VI (let’s just call him Zan). All his life he had been mocked because of his name and so he vowed that one day he would name a character after himself and nobody would ever laugh at him again. So, he started writing a novel. He’d planned it well, created a believable world and invented brilliant characters. It was going to be a success. He was going to be a success!

One fateful day, however, he stopped writing. He played video games, he read books and he watched TV… but he didn’t write his novel. Every day, he went online and read about other authors. He read their blogs, their interviews and devoured every bit of advice they threw out there. Zan was ravenous. He was going to have all that one day. He just knew it. But every time he sat down to write, he thought of something else he could be doing instead. Maybe I can just complete that level on Halo first? There’s a ton of TV I need to catch up on… maybe I could do that for an hour first? Every time he thought about playing games or anything else, he lost interest in writing.

And so this cycle continued.

With every day that passed, the novel’s spirit grew weaker. No new ideas were flowing into it. It was dying. Every time Zan’s computer started up, the novel’s spirit looked to him for help. It tried to stand out, to make its desktop folder look inviting. But Zan always ignored it and loaded up a game instead.

Curse these games with their characters made out of pixels, their empty promises of engaging stories and their drug-like addictiveness! the spirit thought. What makes them so much more interesting than me?

From then on, the spirit would watch Zan from beneath a deep stack of folders. It would watch as the writer created new stories and dreamed up new ideas, only to consign them to an ever-growing folder called ABANDONED. The novel’s spirit would talk to the other hollow spirits and learn about their time spent with Zan.

‘I was going to be about a secret agent and a thrilling race against time!’ one said. ‘But then he just left me half-way through the first chapter and he never touched me again.’

‘He promised me the world!’ another cried. ‘He named me “The Ultimate Story”. He came up with all sorts of maps, histories and designs for me, but he… he didn’t even start writing.’

It was summer now. ABANDONED had grown over the past year and it had become a dangerous and confusing place. The spirits all peered out from their hiding places and watched as Zan loaded up a new file and gave it a name. The writer looked tired now, drained even. He started to type something and then stopped. He deleted the letters, stabbing at the backspace key with venom. He moved the mouse and hovered over the ABANDONED folder. His eyes were full of memories, hopes and desires. He looked at the folder and sadness showed on his face. Suddenly, he threw the mouse at the wall, kicked away his chair and stormed from the room.

Weeks, months and then years passed by with no sign of Zan. Eventually, some men in blue uniforms came and started removing things from the room. One of them leaned over and looked at the screen. The novel spirits looked back at him hopefully.

‘Hey look at this, Stevens!’ the man said, waving over his friend.

‘Jesus,’ Stevens muttered, staring at the computer screen. ‘This guy was the big time, wasn’t he?’

‘Yeah,’ the other said. ‘He was big time alright. A big time nut job.’

The men both laughed and walked away, carrying armfuls of Zan’s belongings between them. The spirits of ABANDONED all looked out at Zan’s desktop and gasped when they saw the wallpaper. It read: “Zanniberous Zanzini VI is a bestselling author from Manhattan, NY. He lives with his–” the words stopped there. Across the writing, the words “THE END” had been drawn hundreds of times in blood-red.

Zan was never published. He never even finished a story. The police found him dead in his bathtub, clutching a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing to his chest.

He never learned the most important lesson of all: novels don’t write themselves. So, if you sit there ignoring your novel’s spirit day after day, playing games to help you block out the nagging voice in your head, remember Zan’s fate and change your life today with one simple step. Write. Even if it’s terrible, embarrassing or full of spelling mistakes, just write. After all, nobody’s going to write your story for you, are they?

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And you thought it was going to be lighthearted the whole way through, didn’t you? Well, sometimes life is funny and then sometimes its not. That story was based on nobody real (thankfully!) but it was very loosely inspired by my own experiences over the last few years. I’ve only recently managed to get it together and actually devote myself to one story and know that I will finish it at some point. I’ve never gotten particularly frustrated or down over my lack of progress (I’m a pretty level-headed person) but I always wished that I would just finish at least one full-length novel.

I hope you enjoyed the story. Leave me your thoughts!

The Best Laid Plans of a Writer

Writer's Stop

Right, let’s get back on track with some posts about writing. After all, that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? 🙂

Now, today I want to talk about planning. First, let me start out with a little story:

One day, there was a writer who didn’t like to plan. He had loads of ideas swirling around in his head and he wanted to write everything! But each time he would think of a story to write, when he sat down and started typing out the first chapter, he realisedhe didn’t know what would happen next.

‘Oh, bugger!’ he cried. ‘Oh well, never mind. I’ll just write something else.’

And so he was stuck in an eternal loop of unfinished stories and unfulfilled dreams of being a published author.

Yeah, that’s right, that was me. Until a few months ago, that is…

‘What happened a few months ago?’ I hear you ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

I learned to plan.

It’s not a particularly easy thing for a writer to acknowledge, but I knew deep down that my writing was suffering from a lack of planning and I am by no means a naturally gifted and “special” writer who can just rush through a story without anything to show them the way. You know what those sorts of people are called? Pantsers. That’s what us writery types call them, anyway.

Here’s the official definition of the word. *cough* taken from urban dictionary *cough*:

Pantser

A NaNoWriMo term that means that you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ when you are writing your novel. You have nothing but the absolute basics planned out for your novel.
This outlook towards writing is often opposed by the ‘planner’, who knows exactly what is going to happen, when it will happen, and where it will happen. There is often enmity between the two types of writers.
Another pantser?! Seriously, GTFO.

Take note of the second paragraph. Planner. That is what you should aspire to, more or less.

I hate planning, I will admit that, but it does have HUGE benefits. Take a look at this example:

Chapter One

  • Swordfight / conflict
  • Rain
  • Slippery footing
  • Main char – discussion about amulet
  • Discovers amulet’s power / destiny
  • Attacked by assassins
  • Almost poisoned – fear
  • Escapes with amulet into city
  • Who do the assassins belong to? Who wants him dead?

That’s it. That is as much as I write about any one chapter. I tried out this method after browsing the web on the search for planning advice. Before, I had stuck to strict play-by-play summaries of each chapter and I’d always burned out and got bored. I like it when there’s still a lot of freedom to move in my writing. Think of each bullet point as an island and imagine there’s just blank space in between each one. That blank space is where you can really use your imagination and play around as much as you like. So long as you stick to the bullet points and hit each one of them at some point, you can’t go wrong. I guarantee it. Just make sure you have a few points that conjure up an image and set the scene, a few points that deal with the plot and character’s progression and then a couple that are just action/movement and finally one that asks a question for the chapter to end on and draw the reader deeper into your story.

As for the overall structure of the plot, I approach it like so. This is advice I adapted from Michael Moorcock’s brilliant How to Write a Book in Three Days, by the way:

Part 1 – Hit the hero with a heap of trouble. Give them a problem to overcome. Give them a reason to try to overcome it.

Part 2 – Increase the trouble that the hero is facing. Give him more crap to deal with. Keep giving him a personal reason to keep trying to overcome it.

Part 3 – Put your hero in so much trouble that the reader isn’t sure he’ll survive it. Break him, bash him about, make him beg for mercy.

Part 4 – Find a way for your hero to triumph. Tie up any loose ends. Provide a satisfying conclusion.

All you need do is fit your chapter plans in and around those four parts and you’re already halfway to the finish line.

My Top Ten Planning Tips

  1. Whenever you feel lost or don’t know what to write, just look at your chapter plan and make sure you’re sticking to each bullet point.
  2. Cover everything and don’t try to rush.
  3. If your characters insist on going in a different direction, stop and plan ahead a few more chapters to see if it works.
  4. Make sure that you have the ending already planned out.
  5. Plan out at least one chapter from the middle of your story. Make it an event/scene you really want to write.
  6. Make sure all your characters and their motivations/goals are clear in your mind before you plan.
  7. Think of a few objects and images that will form the visual theme of your story. Incorporate these elements into your plot.
  8. Don’t plan out every single chapter before you start writing (unless you enjoy planning). Most likely a lot will change as you delve into the first chapters of your story and you’ll only demoralise yourself. Plan ahead by two or three chapters at all times.
  9. Equally, make sure you have the entire journey/arc of your story clear in your mind. Just in very basic forms (e.g. amulet discovered, hero goes on journey to east, takes part in huge battle against demons, confronts antagonist in ruined temple).
  10. Enjoy your writing! The best advice I can give you is to write what you find interesting and fun. If you’re bored writing it, people will be bored reading it. That’s the secret to writing well.

What do you reckon? Got any of your own planning tips or stories to share? Are you a pantser or a planner?

Author Interview: Morgan L. Busse

This Friday, we have a great interview with author Morgan L. Busse.

Morgan’s fantasy book is called Daughter of Light, and is the first in a series from Marcher Lord Press. As always, we really appreciate Morgan taking the time to take part in an interview for the blog and hope that all of you guys out there will find her thoughts both interesting and helpful.Morgan L. Busse

So, with no further ado, here’s the interview!

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Hi Morgan, thanks for joining us.

Hi James. First, thank you for taking some time to interview me. I appreciate that. Continue reading

Reblogged: A Few Essential Tips on Character

Just a few essential tips that I found in a really great article you can read here. We all need to remember a few of these from time to time.

Act Upon The World Rather Than Have The World Act Upon Him

Don’t let the character be a dingleberry stuck to the ass of a toad as he floats downriver on a bumpy log. We grow weary of characters who do nothing except react to whatever the world flings at their heads. That’s not to say that characters shouldn’t be forced to deal with unexpected challenges and left-field conflicts — but that doesn’t prevent a character from being proactive, either. Passivity fails to be interesting for long. This is why crime fiction has power: the very nature of a crime is about doing. You don’t passively rob a bank, kill your lover, or run a street gang. Simply put: characters do shit.

Boom Goes The Dynamite

Blake Snyder calls this the “Save The Cat” moment, but it needn’t be that shiny and happy. Point being: every character needs a kick-ass moment, a reason why we all think, “Fuck yeah, that’s why I’m behind this dude.” What moment will you give your character? Why will we pump our fists and hoot for him?

Nobody Sees Themselves As A Supporting Character

Thus, your supporting characters shouldn’t act like supporting characters. They have full lives in which they are totally invested and where they are the protagonists. They’re not puppets for fiction.

How You Succeed Is By Not Having Them Succeed

You as storyteller are a malevolent presence blocking the character’s bliss. You must be a total asshole. Imagine that the character is an ant over here, and over there is a nugget of food, a dollop of honey, and all the ant wants is to trot his little ant-y ass over to the food so that he may dine upon it. Think of the infinite ways you can stop him from getting to that food. Flick him into the grass. Block his path with twigs, rocks, a line of dishsoap, a squeeze of lighter fluid set aflame. Be the wolf to his little piggy and huff and puff and blow his house down. Pick him up, put him in the cup-holder in your car, and drive him 100 miles in the opposite direction while taunting him with insults. The audience will hate you. But they’ll keep on hungering for more. Will the ant get to the food? Won’t he? Will he find his friends again? Can he overcome? Primal, simple, declarative problem. You are the villain. The character is the hero. The audience thirsts for this most fundamental conflict of storyteller versus character.

Beware The Everyman, Fear The Chosen One

I’m boring. So are you. We don’t all make compelling protagonists despite what we feel in our own heads, and so the Everyman threatens to instead become the eye-wateringly-dull-motherfucker-man, flat as a coat of cheap paint. The Chosen One — arguably the opposite of the Everyman — has, appropriately, the opposite problem: he’s too interesting, a preening peacock of special preciousness. Beware either. Both can work, but know the danger. Find complexity. Seek remarkability.

A Tornado Beneath A Cool Breeze

A good character is both simple and complex: simplicity on the surface eradicates any barrier to entry, and complexity beneath rewards the reader and gives the character both depth and something to do. Complexity on the surface rings hollow and threatens to be confusing: ease the audience into the character the way you’d get into a clawfoot tub full of steaming hot water — one toe at a time, baby.

Get All Up In Them Guts

Know your character. Every square inch. Empathize, don’t sympathize. Understand the character but don’t stand with the character. Get in their skin. The closer you get, the better off you are when a story goes sideways. Any rewriting or additional work comes easy when you know which way the character’s gonna jump. Know them like you know yourself; when the character does something under your watch, you know it comes justified, with purpose, with meaning, with intimate knowledge that the thing she did is the thing she was always supposed to motherfucking do.

Author Interview: Kimberli Renee’ Campbell

Today, I’m pleased to bring you our second author interview! The interest in this has been great and it’s a real joy to be able to share these interviews with all of you out there. Please make sure to check back next Friday for another fantastic interview!

We speak to Kimberli Renee’ Campbell in today’s interview. Her debut novel is called The Sword of Light: Shayia’s Adventures and follows the story of a boy and his extraordinary sword as they battle against a dark force.

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Enjoy! Continue reading

Character Depth

I was browsing through the FantasyWriters section on Reddit earlier and I came across a comment that really made sense to me. I can’t remember who posted it or which topic it was posted on but here it is:

 

In my experience the key to interesting characters is making them have a least three layers of depth.

The first layer starts with what everyone sees, the way your character is expected to act. The image they try to show everyone.

The second layer is a more personal side. This is where they show there’s more under the surface. This is the image they either don’t show often or are afraid to show.

The third layer is what they will become. This is the end product of their story, the person they are when all is said and done. This is the hardest layer because chances are even you won’t know where they end up.

 

I think this is really good advice for character development. While I’m on the blog, I also have some really exciting news for you. Next Friday, I’m going to be featuring another author interview! I’m hoping to make this a regular feature on the blog and get a really nice collection together. If you know of any writers out there who would be interested, please get in touch.

~ James

Writing by Quotes – Lord of the Rings

LOTR

So, here’s what I hope will be an interesting post (hopefully the first in a series) and something a little different. I’m going to post quotes from the Lord of the Rings and then talk a little about various aspects of writing that the quotes relate to in my mind.

A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to. ~ Gandalf

Now, Gandalf certainly speaks some sense here when it comes to writing. When I write, I think of the characters as all going about their own complicated lives as I am writing a scene for a different character. For instance, when you go into a butcher’s to buy some sausages, you are not a trigger which causes him to suddenly spring into life. Writing fiction is not like watching a play. Characters are not just there to drive the story onwards, they are living, breathing things that act independently of the story and the main character(s). So, getting back to the quote, when you are fitting together a scene, the characters arrive precisely when you mean them to. They are never late or early, at least in terms of your planning, they arrive at the moment that causes the story to progress.

From the ashes, a fire shall be woken. A light from the shadow shall spring. Renewed shall be blade that was broken. The crownless again shall be king. ~ Arwen

This is one of my favourite quotes. It perfectly describes the steps that form a good story. First we start with ashes and shadows. From this, a hero/anti-hero comes forward (fire) and brings a promise of hope and change (light). Next, he/she sets out on their mission and usually has to gather allies/power/experience to help them face the final challenge. This is like forging a broken or incomplete blade. Finally, the world is put to rights and everything is back in a (hopefully) good place.

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve. ~ Bilbo

This is what readers might find themselves thinking if you, as a writer, fail to handle your characters well. Especially if you’re thinking of becoming the next George R. R. Martin. A badly introduced character is the same as failing to introduce someone at a party. They will mill about aimlessly, perhaps insinuating themselves into a group at some point, but they are ultimately destined to be ignored. It’s exactly the same if you create an unlikable character with no redeeming features. ‘Excuse me everyone, this is Bob and he’s a serial killer who hates parties. Enjoy!’ Make sure the reader can sympathize with some aspect of every character’s personality, or you’re setting yourself up for failure.

He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: it’s springs were at every doorstep and every path was it’s tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.” ~ Frodo

Our final quote can also apply to the way that a plot develops. I’ll twist the quote around for our purposes:

There is only one Story; it is like a great river; it’s springs are every character and every plot thread is it’s tributary. It’s a dangerous business, writing a novel. You start writing, and if you don’t have a plan, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.

What’s the message? Don’t get too caught up with a really cool idea/world before you’ve planned a basic story to go with it. It’s basic hobbit commonsense and far more hobbits survive Sauron’s onslaught than elves or men.

Next time I do this, I’ll choose a different sort of book/movie to quote from and we’ll see how that turns out. Thanks for reading.

~ James