Monday, September 19, 2016

Shaking hands with Lethbridge-Stewart

Hi, everyone! I thought this week was a good time to post an update I planned to entitle Update September 2016. That changed when my most exciting news arrived in my inbox this morning. I can't exactly call this Dark Fiction, but it's more that side of my writing than anything else, though the tone of the story is fast and light. My short story The Wishing Bazaar is now part of the third series of Lethbridge-Stewart 'The Brigadier' of Doctor Who fame. I've been keeping this secret for quite some unbearable time. With the press release it's official:


My next truly Dark Fiction title Blood Moon will appear in Night to Dawn magazine early next year. It is one of several from an on-going project of shorts under a theme, of which I've already published some stories. I have it in mind to place a few with magazines and then form a collection either through a publisher, should I be able to find one, or dip into self-publishing.

I've other news for writing that has nothing to do with Dark Fiction so I'll refrain from posting here, except to say, others are screaming for work from me, I know. I'm sorry. Life pitches us curves and no one can be more frustrated than I.

I have a schedule I'm diving into. Thanks to everyone who has asked for work and those who have shown incredible patience.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Plot vs Pants

First, an explanation.

A writer who is a ‘plotter’ plans out the course of the story, spends time thinking about the plot, theme, subtext, characterisation, and many other elements ‘before writing’.

A ‘pantser’ sits down at the keyboard with an idea or a model (these are two different things I won’t explain here except to say one is more fully-fledged than the other) and begins to write. ‘Pantsing’ is to ‘fly by the seat of’ (one’s pants), though I prefer to call it organic writing.

I’m (mostly) a pantser, which I’ve come to realise doesn’t mean I don’t plot but having read a reference to Stephen King recently, a proverbial lightbulb went off in my head illuminating the fact that, like King, I’m an intuitive plotter. I am NOT for the record stating at this point in time I do it as well as he does, but here’s hoping one day, preferably soon. Really, that’s the definition of (successful) pantsers -- they are intuitive plotters.

Yes, I am able to face the blank page and craft a story with nothing more than a vague idea in mind. I tend to write from beginning to end. I seldom jump around. The story comes to me as if I am reading, and in that respect it appears I’m lucky the way King is fortuitous. We are able to ‘pants’ it. The same cannot be said of every writer, though it doesn’t diminish the effort required, and a simple but painful truth remains: sometimes planning isn’t a bad idea even for pantsers. A story may not work for many reasons. Vital elements may be missing. Or be in the wrong order. Even a good book may benefit from being looked over to check all the important formations of story-telling are present and/or in the right place.

I imagine most writers start out as pantsers, unless they have some form of professional writing background. The majority of writers are readers who range from someone ‘wanting to have a go’ to those who have always dreamed of it being a vocation. Some (the lucky few) will discover they are intuitive, their writing tends to be organic, and they write something good enough to capture a publisher’s interest. Those who aren’t intuitive likely never publish anything, or nothing well-received.

Stories have patterns. Don’t worry if you didn’t realise this. If you’re a reader, you shouldn’t. I was ‘just’ a reader once, though there’s no such thing as ‘just a reader’ to those who love books, who buy them or produce them. A reader should enjoy a book without seeing its framework. The reader isn’t supposed to know the design is there.

Pantsers start writing and either give up or get nowhere (I throw my hands up and confess there are always the often-dreaded exceptions) because they don’t realise this, or they are intuitive and form the shape without realising. Once pantsers become published authors, they may or may not perceive the hidden construction of stories. Some will continue to be intuitive without thinking about it, while some (of which I am one) will begin to spot these layouts.

A note of warning: IMHO recognition of these designs ‘may’ spoil the simple enjoyment of reading somewhat (at least for me). As an author I now read a book more aware of the narrative. I’m able to spot the ‘inciting incident’ (for example). Don’t worry if as a reader you don’t know what that is, but writers should understand. For me, books were more enjoyable when these plot points were ‘invisible’ because as a reader my mind wasn’t tuned in to spot them.

Plotters know stories require an arrangement and they set out to make the task easier for themselves by laying the groundwork beforehand.

To a pantser plotting feels like studying for an exam. A plotter to a pantser can seem like one of those irritating kids in school who enjoyed the study process. Ironically, I was one of those who didn’t overly mind studying -- good thing because as a writer there are times when I need to do research.

The trouble is, depending on what level of intuitive grasp the writer has of the subject, the pantser can be the one looking wistfully back, wishing they had spent the hours pouring over the text books in order to obtain a better result, but I’m not advocating either option.

Which is better? This is a simple question with an easy answer: use the one that works for you. Some writers plot, some pants, and some do a mixture of the two, and what’s required can differ from work to work, genre to genre, project to project. The choice often comes down to which the writer finds easier, more natural, or even which he or she can withstand. For some pantsers, plotting can seem torturous. For some plotters, pantsing must seem bewildering and disastrous.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Ten Memorable Titles

I was tagged some time ago on Facebook. The way the game works is to list ten that have stayed with you in some way. They don’t have to be the ‘right’ books, and you shouldn’t think about it too long — just ten that have touched you and stayed with you. Then you nominate ten more people to play the game.

My problem was sticking to ten, and sticking to the ‘stayed with you in some way’, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as favourite books and authors.

Here, I’m including the list but with a variation on the theme adding explanations. Slight cheat — the first is two by one author, and there are a couple of trilogies.

In no particular order:

The Happy Prince/Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Happy Prince — read as a child, and I cried my eyes out. Well, not literally and that would be gross, but yes, I sobbed. Hey, I was like nine or younger, and the first time I heard the story someone else read it to me. It would probably still make my lips tremble. It has everything: morality, romance, heart-wrenching pain. A Picture of Dorian Gray is just one of those stories that’s never forgotten. As is often the case, my first awareness of this tale was the old black and white film. I didn’t get to read the book until my teens, but it’s an undeniable classic.

Gormenghast (trilogy/first two books) by Mervyn Peake

Not only a story that has touched and stayed with me, it’s one of my favourites, if not ‘the’ favourite owing to the scope of imagination, the names given to the characters, but most of all the richness of the language used, something sadly lacking in most books today.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I adore this ‘other world’ below London in this urban fantasy. For Doctor Who fans, it may be of interest to know that Peter Capaldi played The Angel Islington in the 1996 television series, but it is the novelisation that stayed with me. Again, I love the names given to the characters, and the idea of an ordinary man dragged into an extraordinary world, one right under London as well.

Wraeththu (trilogy) by Storm Constantine

This is possibly the author’s most well-known and outstanding work. A futuristic fantasy of post-apocalyptic proportions told through the eyes of three characters (one per book). The story follows Wreaththu — hermaphrodite beings who are skillful with forms of magic — and their interaction with humans. At times romantic, but questioning perceptions of sexuality and mankind’s humanity/inhumanity to each other, there’s more going on here to those with an open mind.

Snowflake by Paul Gallico

A child’s book that I’ve never seen anywhere since. I last tried searching for it about five years ago, but it wasn’t available, and I think I only found one listing for it. (Update: there are a few copies around and it can be listened to on youtube.) I have no need of an actual replacement, although mine is so old and well-read it’s now lacking a cover and is just a very thin volume of aged yellowing pages. In short, Snowflake is born, goes on many adventures, falling in love with Raindrop and then at the dramatic conclusion returns to the sky. It had everything for a child — adventure, romance, and even self-sacrifice. I loved (and kept) so many of my childhood books, but this is my favourite.

Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

My first ‘adventure’ for an older reader, and I’ve chosen it because it’s linked to the one good clear memory I have of my mother. She read it to me long before I was able to read it myself. She must have read it, at my request, about three times before I was able to take over. I still have the little burgundy covered book that she gave me. Owing to her ill health, I don’t have many memories like that so her reading Tom Sawyer is priceless.

Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh

Only read once, but I loved this book and remember it well. Some might see it as an argument against religion, but I think more than that it illustrates what man is capable of doing to each other, using religion as an excuse. I especially like the story behind the book, that it was turned down by everyone, so Jill Paton Walsh self-published at a time when it was much harder to do than now. It went on to win a Booker prize — before they changed the rules to disallow self-published titles.

The Incredible Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

It was a close call between this and I Am Legend, but this just pips it for me. My first memory of the story was once again the old black and white movie. Who can forget the battle with the giant spider? Some love spiders, some hate; some have this strange love/hate affinity with them. I think their webs are beautiful and amazing. I think the spider is incredible. I just don’t want to come across one unexpectedly. In short, my early recollections were of that chill down one’s spine at the thought of battling a giant spider. I hadn’t read the book until recently, and likely had a preconceived notion of what to expect. The book, though in many ways accurate to the film, differs vastly in that it’s more emotional. I didn’t expect to experience so many emotions including such sadness interwoven with sympathy for the main character, in what many assume is a horror story.

Nocturnes by John Connolly

I like John Connolly’s work. I’m often perplexed with how he seems to break so many ‘rules’, particularly with his Charlie Parker novels — including both first and third person viewpoints, and even telling the story in an omnipresent way when relating something that happened in the past. Not all writers can even manage point of view changes successfully, but it seems to suit his style, his ‘voice’. I chose to include Nocturnes because I was surprised to come across a collection of short stories with gothic influences. They are both olde-worlde and new.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Best known for writing One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and the sequel The Starlight Barking. Yes, 101 had a sequel, and I have both books. I Capture the Castle has one of the best opening sentences. As John Steinbeck’s end to Of Mice and Men is startling, the most memorable thing about Dodie Smith’s first novel for adults has always been the line that begins, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”