Friday 29 April 2016

Writers Workshop #4 Short Stories

The trick - allegedly - to writing short stories is the ability to find your writer's voice.  This is the one that naturally comes forth when you allow yourself to romp through words without thought, i.e. free writing.

If you think about how different everyone looks physically then it stands to reason that we each have our own distinctive writing voice.  For example:

'When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return.'  The Lord of The Rings, Tolkien

'Watch. . .
This is space.  It's sometimes called the final frontier.
(Except that of course you can't have a final frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier to, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate . . . )
And against the wach of stars a nebula hangs, vast and black, one red giant gleaming like the madness of gods . . .'  Moving Pictures, Terry Pratchett

'Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.  A tall Shade lifted his head and sniffed the air.  He looked human except for his crimson hair and maroon eyes.
He blinked in surprise.  The message had been correct: they were here,  Or was it a trap?  He weighed the odds, then said icily, "Spread out; hide behind trees and bushes.  Stop whoever is coming . . . or die." ' Eragon, Christopher Paolini

My bookcase may or may not be skewered to a particular genre.  But the point is that each book sounds different.  And so to the elusive short stories - where do they come from?  Conventionally they can follow guidelines such as conversations on a bus, what if..., seeing someone in the street and telling their story, your own emotions about an event and indeed your past experiences.  But what if you allowed your writing voice to dictate your short stories.

Without thinking write down three story titles.

Who told you those?  Where did they come from?  A blend of your own imagination and external influences from books you've read or films you've watched perhaps - but what if there are a queue of characters in your head just waiting for you to let them tell you their story.

Now take one of the titles and allow it's main character to tell you their name.  Start writing My name is ... and then describe them.  Try not to write story, just write about the character.  Don't think, just write - as soon as you start thinking, stop!

Finally take your story title and your character and write a few sentences telling you what the story is about e.g.  The Bandstand is a story about Geoff Brider who, after his wife walked out and he lost his job, tries to save a derelict band stand in his local park.  Geoff finds himself swept along by batty park defender Margot and together their unlikely alliance develops into friendship.

Et voila.  Short story beginnings.  The big question, of course, is how long is a short story.  Who knows?  But let's address convention again - Flash Fiction you're looking at about a 1000 words - short stories are generally 500-3500 - novellas 18,000-35,000.   In the words of Ian Ayris short stories are the jogging you have to do before running a marathon that is writing a book.

The Ray Bradbury challenge - over the weekend free write as many titles as you can without thinking about it too much.  On Monday pick one and write the story.  Spend the rest of the week reviewing and refining. Repeat each week until you have a short story collection.  Send them out to magazines and competitions, create that ebook, gift them to friends and family.  Imagine the writing experience you will gain.

 ~challenge accepted~

Friday 8 April 2016

Projects Update - April 16

The Gaia Effect
You probably saw my post about positive rejections - here's a link just in case you missed it.  I have rung and spoken to the agent that asked for my manuscript so a tenuous relationship has begun but we are still very much in the wait and see holding pattern.

I have just researched likely publishing houses who will take direct submissions.  It's not many.  But there are still a few out there so with nothing to lose I shall sally forth and chance my arm - why not?

The Pen to Print - How Writing Changed My Life event, as part of Women's Empowerment Month, on 31st March 2016 was possibly the best experience I've had thus far as a budding collector of words.  Wonderfully organised by Lena Smith at Barking Learning Centre with, quite possibly, THE best selection of biscuits I have ever seen.  My fellow Book Challenge winners, Jessica McLean with The Vidents and Farzana Hakim with Sweethearts of Ilford Lane, and I sat before a small, yet perfectly formed audience answering Lena's insightful Q&A's and each of us read a small extract from our books.  It was also Writer's Workshop that evening and the ever wonderful Ian Ayris bought the troops through for the final part of the evening.  I will be uploading the Q&A session to my website soon.

I am entering The Gaia Effect into the 2016 Daily Mail competition so at the moment the first 5000 words are currently being revisited with a fine tooth comb and all characters involved are being interviewed at length.  I like my book but I have always felt that it's not quite there yet so I shall continue to tinker, probably until the end of time.

Pen to Print Competition 2016 - two entries
Thursday's Child
This is based on the life of my late paternal grandmother Daphne Davis.  My dad was extrememly generous in letting me use her story as the basis for a new book and I have entered the first chapter to the competition.
Pint of Milk & a Stabbing
This is based on my recent experience with my little boy - we unwittingly watched the getaway of a group of youths after they brutally stabbed someone in broad daylight on a Monday afternoon.  It seems you really can't make this stuff up.

I am incredibly inspired by both stories and will be writing them in full regardless of whether I place in the competition or not.

Other News
My poetry book, Little Book of Verse, is currently waiting for me to figure out all the tax information CreateSpace and KDP require you to be incredibly knowledgeable about.  I am completely clueless but I think I may have to become a business in some form or another.  I may have a guy who knows a guy.  To be continued.

Hackers & Jackers collaboration with the hubster is awaiting the husband approved draft.  I shall be editing and wotnot when he is ready.  There will be a bulk purchase of red pens.  And chocolate.

Finally I am trying to read about writing and I am still working through the OU course about writing and reading lots of books to gauge other writer styles.  I have lately been chuckling over alternative plot devices and talking at length at the clever ways other authors have managed to do X, Y and Z. I'm liking this learning curve.  The short stories are looking at me mournfully from the folder on the side. Hey - it's on the side and not under the bed, that's progress.

Oh - I'm also looking at how we can increase the number of hours in a day.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Lit Agency Gives Positive No

What do you do after you've written your first book?

The advice I was given was to try and get a literary agent so for the past four months that is what I've been attempting.  I wrangled with my query letter.  I researched the Writers & Artists Yearbook for the right kind of agent for my genre.  I looked each one up on Google and where possible found the exact submission requirements and specific named person.  I then sent 44 emails.

So far this year I have received 17 no thank yous.  I have 26 timed out responses - I haven't heard anything in three months so now I won't hear anything at all.  I got one request for the full manuscript.  That was a magical moment.  But I hadn't heard from them since sending the manuscript at the end of January.  Eventually I worked up the courage to call - the agent knew who I was but hadn't read my book yet.  I nervously asked for a timescale.  End of the month.  So at least I can relax and forget about it until then.  Ha!

How do you handle negative positives?

I do not know whether the responses I received were run-of-the-mill copy and pastes.  I felt strangely positive after receiving them so whoever originally wrote them - good job.  I thought I'd share them with you - feel free to comment.

"I urge you to continue your search for representation."

"I thought there was much to be admired but sadly I didn't quite feel the connection to your work."

"The Gaia Effect isn't for us.  Please see this as a sign of how few new clients we take on rather than a reflection on your writing."

"Not quite right for my list."

"While we enjoyed reading your submission, which stood out from the many we receive, we couldn't find a place for it on X's list and therefore we are afraid we are not able to offer you representation for this project.  It's a great premise but I'm afraid that we didn't feel strongly enough about the writing to want to take the project further at this time."

"We have read this with great interest.  We are sorry to say that after careful consideration we are not able to offer you representation for your work."

Where do I go now?  I've got some options.  I can go back to the drawing board with Gaia - I've been reading alot lately about character development and writing the best prose you can.  Admittedly The Gaia Effect was written extremely quickly in order to meet competition deadlines so in reality it's probably only in second draft status.  I'm finally ready to go through it again.

I can then send submissions to those publishers who will take them direct from the author, after all, I have nothing to lose.   Finally, there was a self publishing deal available to the winners of the competition I entered.  Either way I need to revisit City 42 and my cast of characters to make sure they are the very best version they can be.

Friday 1 April 2016

Writers Workshop #3 - Plots

And so it thickens.  Sorry, couldn't resist.  

There are two trains of thought when it comes to plotting.  One is to wing it, trust in your characters and off you go.  Journey of a lifetime.  Obviously you need some kind of framework - you don't want to end up in Bognor Regis if you were aiming for Las Vegas - but the key is to not cling to an ending. How do you know where you're going to end up if you have no idea how to get there in the first place.  It's a very organic process.

The second is to plan in minute detail what will happen.  For once you are actually allowed to write a step by step synopsis with chapter breakdowns.  Just never show it to anyone.  And sure, this way certainly focuses the mind but don't let it block character creativity.  Otherwise what's the point?

You must must must give yourself permission to write rubbish and make it to that finish line.  First drafts are pretty much about emptying your head of every single thought you ever had about your novel.  And let's be honest - 90% of those were random tangents you had because of too much/too little coffee.

So how can knowing our plot help us as writers?  Well, apart from the obvious - it means we can finish the book - it becomes the answer to the hardest question we'll ever get asked.  What's your book about then?  I'm getting better at answering that question.  My first attempts went into way too much detail and because I know my book inside and out, backwards and front I whizzed about, dipping into the good bits and trying to impart every single awesome thing that happens.  I'm pretty sure that the person who asked the question still has no idea and fervently wishes they had never asked in the first place.

Imagine the scenario.  You landed the publishing deal.  You are at your very first book signing ever. Members of the public have no idea who you are but hey, you're sat a desk with a pile of books round you.  They pick up one of your babies.  And ask the question.  You've now got about 20 seconds to wow them before they lose interest and walk away.

I know.  I'm with you.  Sweaty palms, lots of umms and that deflated feeling of stammering to someone's back as they walk away.

Here's the solution.  In one line tell me who your main character is.  Then tell me what they want. Now tell me why they can't have it.  BOOM!  That's your plot in a nutshell and it's sounds fantastic. If you can't answer those questions then you and your characters need to spend some serious time together.  One of my new projects, called Thursday's Child, is about a lady called Daphne Davis who was looking for love and instead found heartbreak and pain.  

The last word goes to Ian Ayris who said last night 'Write with courage, write what it's really about.'

Be brave my fellow writers.