Sunday, 24 January 2010

A Writing 101 Production - Part 5 To Plunge or To Plan--That Is The Question

You know those nice long Twitter conversations you get into?  Oh wait.  You don't.  Because I still haven't blessed you with my Twitter wisdom in a 101 Production.  Yes, I know I promised.  Do stop whining about it.  It'll get to you.  Definitely.  When I get around to it. This year.  For sure.

But where was I?  Ah! Having a Tweetexchange with the lovely Keren David, whose excellent debut novel, When I Was Joe, was published by Frances Lincoln earlier this month.  We had covered several topics (including our shared love of Georgette Heyer) when we moved on to the subject of writing habits.  I was twitting about how important it was to CLEAR THE DECKS before starting, when she replied with this: "That's something I need to learn - I'm too apt to just plunge in....Never make notes. Am useless at planning or thinking ahead. Just see where it takes me."  And it started me thinking.

Are you a PLUNGER or a PLANNER?

I used to be a PLUNGER.  I'd jump straight into the millstream of story, gripped in the jaws of my plot and the Story Gods, and paddle frantically to wherever they took me.  Then, later, I'd need to know who did what to whom when and where and what their hair colour was and whether they had three eyes in chapter four or five and when-did-the-scales-appear and
ANYOFITANDIT'SGOINGTOTAKEDAYSTOFINDITALL.  Get the picture? I've never been one of those annoying people who can remember the 44-line poem they wrote 15 years ago and recite it verbatim.  My brain has always been forgetfully middle-aged.  Not senile, you understand.  Just a little...absent-minded.  It's all that creative stuff going on in my head, of course. So now I PLAN.  The story is knocking on the door of my brain, wanting to hurtle out and lick me all over.  But there are PREPARATIONS to be made first.  Here's how it goes:
  • First I clean/clear the desk and office of dirty teacups, cloudy glasses with suspicious grey things growing in the bottom, sticky rings of who-knows-what (but possibly Ribena or limejuice), crumbs, old dog bones, dead insects, dust, odd socks, uneaten-so-stale chocolate-covered snacks and pieces of cake (a VERY small item, this), 104 random books in a tottering pile, post-it notes with mysterious telephone numbers scribbled among forgotten must-remembers, redundant piles of proofs, my missing wedding-present earrings (thank god I found THOSE before the Wanton Toast Eater asked why I wasn't wearing them), plus other revolting or unnecessary ephemera. I'll also do filing, tax returns (if it's that time of year--new projects always seem to start in January) and general tidying.  Never underestimate the power of a little selective desk de-cluttering (or Office Feng Shui if you're posh). It clears the mind wonderfully. And it makes me feel less of a slattern.
  • Phew! So that's it? Let slip the dogs of story....  NO!  Wait.  The FOUR ALL IMPORTANT FILES come next. I make a folder on the computer with the book's working title into which will go (along with the working copy) the following files:
  • FILE 1: CHARACTERS:  Every character will be put here as they arrive in the book, along with their physical characteristics, who they are related to, and any quirks, likes, dislikes and useful information like how many legs they have.  I might also, later on, group them into categories.  Humans/Fairies/Gods/Monsters etc. Even if I don't use it in the book itself, I need to know who they are and what they are like.  And of course, I can refer back to it when that dodgy memory of mine lets me down as to whether they have green eyes or blue on page 43.
  • FILE 2: PLACES: Whether I'm writing about a real place or a fantasy otherworld, I need to know where things are.  How far is it from Wyrmesbury to Vesterton?  That's something I didn't know when I wrote Hootcat Hill, and I needed to.  And doing the mapping for Atticus and Melissa's journey through the real landscape of the Greek myths was far more of a nightmare than it needed to have been if I had written down stuff as I went.  So in here go towns, cities, streets, roads, landmarks and everything else remotely geographical. People who can draw might make paper maps.  I can't and don't, and I haven't learnt how to do it on the computer.  Yet.
  • FILE 3: TIMELINE:  Oh God!  The timeline and its importance cannot be overstated.  Where something happened is important, but WHEN is just as vital.  It took me days of angst and panic and sleepless nights to disentangle the complexities of the timeslip passages and exactly when the when on both sides of the door was in Hootcat Hill, BECAUSE I HADN'T KEPT NOTES.  Continuity is vital--and you can be sure that if you get it wrong some beady-eyed reader will take pleasure in telling you so.  You just hope the beady-eyed reader is your editor, or it can be embarrassing.
  • FILE 4: REFERENCE: In here goes every weblink, book and page reference I look at for a book, whether it's useful or not.  The point is, I might want it again.  And if it's not here I won't be able to find it.  There was one reference in Atticus the Storyteller about eggs and onions being left at crossroads as an offering to Hecate on a certain feastday.  Guess what?  I didn't write down where I found the reference, and it caused me no end of trouble and tearing of hair to find it again.  Lesson learnt.
Now, after doing all that, I can allow the story out, and do a bit of plunging.  I need to get the feel of my main character, find the voice of the book.  All that great and interesting stuff which I love doing, and which makes this job of writing worthwhile.  But after a few thousand words, when I've got an idea of where I'm going, I'll need to make two more essential files:
  • and that dratted all-important SYNOPSIS
Another time, another blogpost, I feel.  That's quite enough 101-ing for now.  Time for bed, said Zebedee!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Over at the Other Place Today

Today I'm blogging over at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, so if you want to read a confession of my youthful misdemeanor and what I did to a certain literary National Treasure, then hop on over there and have a look...go on--you know you want to!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

A Writing 101 Production - Part 4 What To Do In Event Of Spambush or Tweettack



What are these strange new words? Well, duh.  Don't be so lazy.  Go and look them up in a dictionary (as I always say to Lovely Son and Delightful Daughter). Oh.  Wait.  You can't.  I made them up.  At least I think I did.  Who knows in this fast moving lexicographical world of ours? Anyway, I'm claiming them for future posterity.  Dictionary nerds at Chambers and OUP, please note--you read them here first*

I'm writing this post at the behest of  @magelly from Twitter (aka Jack Ruttan), who said this: 'Unless it's too embarrassing, you should write a blog post about what happened and how you got out of it. (it would help others!) '  So here goes. Always helpful, that's me. And not embarrassed by much.

One bright and sunny morning (rainy and grey really, but that's just too depressing),  I woke to a flurry of worried Tweeple contacting me via my Twitterphone (Tweeple=tweeting people--get with the language, ok**?).  Had I REALLY sent them messages about weight loss and the miracle of acai berries at 3am?  WEIGHT LOSS?  ACAI BERRIES?? ME???? Anybody who knows me realises that with my comfortable proportions and strawberry shortcake eating habits I am NEVER going to send messages about weight loss.  Not to mention that acai berries are vile tasting and gucky. Nor that my passion for beauty sleep ensures that at 3am I am tucked up and dreaming of...well, never mind what I dream of. So that would be a NO. NEIN. NON. 

My excellent detection methods (ie a message from the Twitter powers-that-be) led me to believe that I had been tweettacked by unknown hackers, and had therefore subjected all my Twitter followers to an unexpected spambush.  This was my worst nightmare, akin to sending a penile enlargement gadget email to all in my address book (complete with graphic pictures).  Well, maybe not that bad--it could have been a lot worse than acai berries.  But embarrassing, anyway.  So what to do? Well the nice  and brilliantly helpful Twitter techies had already informed me by email that I must change my password at once as they had taken my old one away and substituted it with a secret nerdy one--and they also sent me a helpful link to enable me to fix things.  So I did that.  I thought my password was already secure (aka Very Strong), but apparently not: 

Rule 1: never assume that someone evil (in the manner of a Cthulhu demon) can't hack and tweettack even the securest password on a social networking site. Make sure your password is full of a combination of weird word, random numbers and symbols.  Don't use the same password for everything you do on the www.  That way you only have to change one if there's a disaster.

Of course, I had to change the password on Tweetdeck too**.   

Having fixed the password problem and got back into my account, I began the long process of apologising: 

Rule 2: Yes. I know it wasn't my fault.  But it's important to contact everyone who has contacted you to enquire what the hell is going on as well as putting up a general apology tweet to those who haven't asked.  It's polite.  And it makes you feel like less of a disempowered worm.  Take back the initiative and Just Say Sorry.  People will like you again.  Maybe. If you grovel enough.

Can you stop it happening again?  Probably not.  There are weird people out there who think this sort of messing you about is fun.  They probably live in darkened basements lit by irradiated fungus and eat stale wombat droppings for breakfast.  Stereotyping is too good for these people, in my opinion.  Personally, I should like to bite all their hacking fingers off, but I'm far too nice and polite to actually do that, as you know.  So I'll just do what I can--change my password often, and hope that I've already had my bit of bad luck.  But I know that hacking dangers are all part of the risk of being on sites like Twitter.  My computer has the highest and most up to date virus protection/firewall/ID protection/web shield/anti-spyware I can find.  I back stuff up regularly on a different hard-drive.  (And that's a whole other post in the making, so I'm stopping right there in case your brains explode with Too Much Information). 

Stay safe out there.  It's a dangerous place, the www.  But I wouldn't be without it for anything.

* Definitions for the dictionary geeks:
Spambush (vb): to send (via email, tweet or other techno means) a spam marketing or other message to many friends, contacts or Twitter followers (via a nefarious third party hijacking hacker) without knowing you have done so.
Tweettack(ed) (n.,vb): To suffer an attack on your Twitter account by said nefarious third party hijacking hacker, who then uses your account to spambush your followers.
**Yes. YES. YESSS! I know. I promised you a post on all that arcane Twitter stuff. I'll get to it. Just bear with me for now. You can complain to the person with the clipboard and the schedule later.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

One Lovely Blog Award

What a great New Year's gift from Lyla Campbell at Instant Human: Just Add Coffee who has just presented me with the
One Lovely Blog Award
It's Scribble City Central's first ever award, so I'm feeling pretty good about that.  And I am particularly fond of pink roses, as it so happens, which is an added bonus. 

Now all I have to do is to find 10 out of the myriad blogs I follow to send it on to.  It'll take a bit of working out, I can tell you.  But here goes:

I'm awarding it to the following (in no particular order, as they say on X-Factor), because either: they make me laugh; they inform me; they make me want to pass stuff on; they perform sterling public services to books or I just love them with infinite love and strawberry shortbread (there is no higher praise than that in my world).  You choose which you are, O excellent blogging people, and pass the award  on, please, to as many as you feel deserve it!  (10 is usual...but not mandatory.)

  1. Anne Rooney at Stroppy Author's Guide to Publishing
  2. Mary Hoffman at Book Maven
  3. Robin McKinley at Robin McKinley's Blog
  4. Gary Smailes at Bubble Cow
  5. Emma Darwin at This Itch of Writing
  6. Candy Gourlay at Notes from the Slushpile
  7. Amanda Craig at Amanda Craig
  8. Bookwitch at Bookwitch
  9. Saviour Pirotta at Sword and Sandal Kids
  10. Alan Gibbons at Campaign for the Book
  11. Fiona Dunbar at Fiona Dunbar (Yes, I know that's 11, but I never did like rules!)

PS: I would have given one to the Crabbit Old Bat at Help! I Need a Publisher too, but she's already got one. 

Saturday, 2 January 2010

A Writing 101 Production - Part 3 Writing Resolutions

Resolutions are what you're supposed to 'make' at this time of year. New Year=New Start and all that.  Losing weight, being a nicer person, taking out the stress, going green. Laudable and excellent things, I'm sure, but it all makes me all a bit grumpy, really. Extremely grumpy and wanting to bite all those new starters in the bum, if you must know. But for you, dear blogreader and seeker-after-writing-wisdom, I will go to any lengths (some lengths? a few lengths? a length?).   Well, a bit of an effort, anyway. 

So...RESOLUTION (REZӘ-L-ŌŌ'SHӘN) from a writer's perspective....
And the interesting news, brought straight from a Chambers dictionary near you, is that nowhere can I find any actual definition reference to new starts.
There are:
 Act of resolving
 TV picture definition (Yep.  I resolve to fix that sometime.  Not.)
 State of being resolved
and loads of chemically-related bits which are all very well in their way, I'm sure, but not deeply germane to the subject in hand. (Which is writing, in case you'd forgotten that already, what with the New Year hangover and all.) And then there are these.
 Fixed determination
 Removal of or freedom from doubt

Now we're getting somewhere.  As a writer, I need a lot of fixed determination.  Writing a book is, to be frank, BLOODY EXHAUSTING.  No one believes this.  I mean, how tiring can it be MAKING THINGS UP for a living?  Well, let me tell you, at the end of a normal writing day which I've spent wrestling with a recalcitrant dragon (werewolf, owl or insert real or mythical creature of choice here), wrangling my stroppy teenage characters (like herding cats), killing people (entirely for the sake of my plot, you understand--I take no pleasure in it), or any of the thousand other jobs I ask my imagination to tackle I AM KNACKERED and my brain is mushed to baked beans. So yes, I'll take as much fixed determination as I can get to get the job done.  Apart from anything else I need it to combat the Horrible Procrastination Disease, which is the curse of all those writers who work on their own in a small, cold room and are tempted away from the task in hand by the siren calls of Facebook or Twitter, or the lures of a nice hot cup of Earl Grey tea and a strawberry shortcake biscuit. (Me?  Who said anything about me?)

As for removal of or freedom from doubt well, I could do with a bit of that, too.  Look into the secret places of any writer's brain, and you will see the Doubt Monster crouching, lying in wait, saying things like 'you know you're no good', 'they'll never give you a contract for that old rubbish', 'hey, let's have a look at the Amazon reviews--you need to know what awful things people are saying about your books', and similar gems of comfort and joy. Bad sales figures, a throwaway remark from agent or editor, a less than complimentary newspaper review (or no review at all)--all these things lead to doubts about talent and competence in even the most lauded prizewinning writer's mind. Freedom from doubt, even for a day, would be a blessing to any writer.  So I'll hope for it for all my writing friends, but I'm not holding my breath for it to happen to me any time soon.  (Hey, I'm a realist as well as a dreamer.)

This year, at the start of this new decade, I guess my resolution (and all the naggers in my house are going on and on at me to tell them what mine is), is simply this.  TO HAVE RESOLUTION (as defined above) IN MY WRITING  I'll let you know how it goes.  And how long it lasts....  Now where's my Twitter page and that cup of tea?
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