What makes a story? Obviously, the plot has to be there, but if the characters that have to convey this aren’t compelling, then it is all for naught. What makes a good character? Am I the right person to be telling you? Well, if you don’t know what makes a “good” character, go away and read and think and read and think, because I’m not going to tell you that here. In fact, I’m not going to tell you how to do anything. I’m going to share an approach, which I find both obvious and useful. In that sense it is not particularly novel, so think of it more as a reminder, or an endorsement.
The problem with many ideas, not just for writing stories, is that they are in flux, they’re fluid, until they’re written down. There is something about writing down your thoughts that makes them solid and coherent. It is not enough to write bullet point lists, you need to construct proper sentences before the idea can be forced into being something coherent. If you are like me, still learning to write (who isn’t, really), then this approach also helps in that respect – because to be a better writer, you need to write. So we’re told.
Put one word in front of the other and keep on going until you get to the end.
Of course, some people walk better than others. And really, that is probably where the analogy finishes. Actually, I probably should have stopped before this whole thing got out of hand.
But I won’t.
Something I learnt as a scientist is knowing when to stop. At some point you need to admit to yourself that this is as far, or as good, as it is going to get. Maybe you won’t win the Nobel prize. Maybe you won’t write some literary masterpiece. This is the perfectionist’s dilemma. On the other end of the scale, there is the danger that you stop too soon. In science you can see this in a paper that lacks perspective and presents what is often referred to as an “epsilon” paper. Espilon being the greek letter usually used for an extremely small quantity in maths. Therefore, the paper is seen as a making a very small step forward. They stopped too soon in having the vision to do something really important; big. They also stopped too early in terms of writing and the lack of depth in the writer’s perspective gives them away.
I know you’re sick of hearing writers complain about not having the time to write. I would say that it is not so much that they are not writing, in most cases, but that they want to write more. My writing word count is all over the place from one week to the next. For sure I’d like to increase the overall amount that I write, but mostly I want to have more of a rhythm.
I’ve been thinking about doing nanowrimo this year but that is a 50k target in a month – more than 1k a day. I cannot guarantee that I can do that so it would be nothing but an exercise in frustration. Frustration is not what you want at the end of a writing exercise/competition. I don’t want to get to December and be more concerned with only having written 10-20k words, than just being happy that I wrote 10k words.
Is your writing scaring you? I’m not calling out all horror writers but people looking to push themselves, find the limits of their writing comfort zone, and push through it. It is hard to do this because we are such creatures of self-preservation, but it is typically here/there, in unchartered waters, that we find that something special. As a writer, hell, as a person, I am always looking to stand out, to be different, to look at the world in a different way. What is the point of everyone being the same? If you’re starting to worry that this is some rant from a newly-enraged teenager, then you’ll be happy to know that I’ve been enraged for nearly half a century.
The other primary … primal?… thing that holds us back, makes us hesitate, is that we are also creatures of vanity – who wants to be seen to fail? Well, for a start, as a writer, you can fail a lot in private first, so no one can see you. Eventually though, you’re going to have to step out, stand up, and declare yourself.
This is me, this is what I write, and this is how I write.
I was recently reading a book – a debut science fiction novel released a few years ago. The title and author shall remain nameless for the purposes here, as they are not of importance.
What I am curious about is how we perceive technology, or science in general, in a story. In particular, when does science and technology take over a story? And how much does it depend on the reader?
We can consider films as well as books if you like. Indeed, if we take a couple of recent and popular films, then we don’t have to worry about ruining the career of a new author. Two recent movies have generated a lot of discussion; Gravity and Interstellar. “Experts” came out and told everyone in great detail, how the films had got it wrong, i.e. the basic science was flawed. I love science fiction and have been enjoying the resurgence in popularity for film and tv as well as books.
Time is against me. Ok, it’s against all of us. I blame society … I’ve been trying to catch up on reading/living this year and have revisited or been reading some classic scifi. Which is good. But someone pulled me up on a list of books I posted on Ello the other day and asked, what about something more contemporary? My argument was that some of them were contemporary … when I read them … Anyway, the end result is that I now have a nice list of books to read and authors to discover.
That is not to say that I haven’t been reading contemporaries. So, while I’m distracted, here are a few things that really rocked my reading world in the last few weeks. Immersion, by Aliette de Bodard (on Clarkesworld) is possibly the best thing I have read in a long time. Also on Clarkesworld, A.C. Wise’s The Children of Main Street – actually, I’m not going to say anything. It’s a short. Read it in 10 minutes and be immensely satisfied. Somewhere in between Flash and Short story is Lacarant Plainer‘s “space opera flash fiction” serial Mission Impossible. Currently up to episode 10 and cruising along wonderfully. Okay, where was I? So that’s reading, what about writing?
If you’re not here to make the world a better place and leave something lasting, why not?
This was the thought that hit me recently whilst on holidays. I was sitting in a boat on a canal in England with an old – in both senses – friend. We met as students at uni, I was late twenties and he was nearly 60. We would regularly meet for coffee and it was on one of those occasions that he decided to be serious and ask me THAT question – What do you want to do? I don’t recall whether I paused enigmatically, puffed on a cigarette, or finished off another espresso before responding – I was quite good at all three… I was young… relatively. I had forgotten my response but after all these years he still remembered. The response was simple: “I want to make a difference. I want to leave something behind.”
Simple, yet completely ambiguous. Probably quite pretentious as well. Looking back, I love the response. It screams attitude. The problem in real life is pulling that off. How does one go out and make a difference. There were no courses on making a difference at the uni – I checked. Actually, I didn’t, I just threw that in there for effect. Not sure it worked though. So this is where I put my old person hat on – it’s not mine, I borrowed it off my friend at the start of this post. Pay attention! That was directed at me, not you.
In shocking news just to hand, it appears that creativity has been killed in a senseless attack by another deadline. This is the latest casualty in a long line of deadline related incidences. Claims that it was premeditated are yet to be confirmed but if this is the case this is looking increasingly like this could be the work of a serial killer. Sources close to the creativity have indicated that there may have been previous attempts, again indicating that this is not just a random event.
Does this sound like your day? This year I set myself some challenges to ensure that my promise to myself to write, actually bears some fruit. In particular my 12 for 21 challenge. The downside is that I have often found myself running around like crazy at the last minute, or just after, trying to write something. This could be bad – I could waste your time, in which case I’m sorry. Alternatively, it could be good. Do a quick search for constraint breeds creativity and you get a huge list of responses where people scream out about how this is a good thing, a great thing, even a necessity. Jack white from The White Stripes makes a good point of it here.
The thing about constraining yourself is that it sometimes won’t allow you to express yourself the way you want, or as well as you want. But it often times forces you to express something you weren’t expecting, and that can be scary, but that’s when things can be really interesting. If you want to push boundaries and do something that is special, unique, you need to accept that you are the only one that can do it and you’re probably going to have to bleed to make it happen.
I had something to say. Oh, yes. Write like you own it.
I have been reading, mostly flash and short fiction, recently in an attempt to catch up on what is going on and get back to reading (fiction). I could now say something like – I don’t want to be critical but … but I am going to be critical and not because I have any authority but because I think that it needs saying. Some of you people aren’t taking your writing seriously enough. I know that’s going to come back to haunt me. It is not a question of style or grammatical errors, I am sure that if you have been curious enough to read this far then your abilities are far greater than mine. Indeed, most of it is impeccably written from a grammatical point of view, and even the structure is good – and more. Having said that, what I want to talk about is attitude.
Attitude, for me at least, is the single most important trait in absolutely anything you do. It is what defines you far beyond what you wear, the colour of your hair or your political views. Of course we could have the attitude of – who gives a shit – and while that tells me a lot, it also means I keep walking by. Similarly, as a writer, we could find ourselves saying – oh, that will be fine/nice/alright. Stop. The minute someone says something is “nice”, alarm bells should start going off. If you don’t think that your writing is as good as Vonnegut, Marquez, insert-your-most-revered-author, then why not? Seriously! You need to ask yourself what makes them so good while my writing remains “nice”? And you should answer – Nothing! Because there is no reason.
Recently, I realised that I was about a third of the way into the first draft of my first serious attempt at a novel. As one could imagine I wasn’t happy with it. There is some great stuff there, but stylistically I have a lot of work to do. I had thought this through, planned out everything and had very clear ideas about my characters and various key points in the plot, but … I realised that I was probably trying to run before I could walk.
Then out of the blue I see a tweet from Ksenia Anske on the danger of outlining. Indeed, why should I plan how I’m going to write a book, I never plan anything. And so it was that this fell just before I forced myself to take a break from my other full time job. How better to celebrate than to just dive in and say I’m going to write for two days. What a fantastic experience. I had no idea what was going to happen. I started –
First, the stars fell from the sky, now, it would appear it’s our turn.