Saturday, 30 August 2014

Sit right down and I'll tell you a story.

This is a bit of a follow up to the post I wrote a few weeks ago - the one where I talked about how two of the most important rules I follow when I write are making it flow and keeping it colourful.

I've been thinking a bit more about my style of writing (partly because that's what I tend to think about when I've got nothing else to do, but also because there's so much information being put out about how we writers should be writing). I think that what I'm going to say here doesn't necessary go against what I said in that previous post - it's just adding an additional dimension to it.

When it comes down to it, I see myself as a storyteller. And the main function of storytellers is to (cue drumroll) tell stories.

I see myself as part of a proud tradition. I'm the guy sitting by the fire, keeping all the cave-people thrilled with tales of frightening sabre-tooth tigers. I'm the fellow in the barn, entertaining the farmers after a busy day in the field. In many ways, I'm a really important part of the glue that hold a community together.

When I think about my approach to storytelling, I place myself in the position of the person sitting in front of an audience, trying to keep them enthralled merely by the power of my words. As I reach out in my head for the right words to use, the question I'm always asking myself is, "How would I say it?"

That's kind of as simple as it is. I don't need to craft sparkling prose. I don't need to keep university academics busy analysing everything I say. I just want to find the best way to word my story, as if I was the one telling it. That's the tone and the voice that I'm always after.

Of course, it really isn't that simple. That's where the supporting rules, like keeping the flow and making it colourful, come in. That's where I really get to think about how I, as a storyteller, keep those listeners on the edge of their seats, ears peeled for every next word, and also how I make sure that each of them is immersed, as if they're actually living the story.

Storytelling is fun. Even though I'm not the guy sitting in front of a live audience, that's still the way I feel when I write. I try to wring every bit of energy and excitement I can out of a story, for my audience's benefit. Wherever they might be, I hope I can provide them with an unforgettable experience.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Please take me seriously, I'm funny

We funny people definitely have an image problem.

We're so whacky and zany and madcap. We celebrate the lighter side of life. Sure, there's a place for that, but in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't compare with the graver, more serious types of creative endeavour. After all, it's just a laugh, isn't it? It's not anything to take seriously.

I'm sorry, but I beg to differ. I'm quite fed up with being treated as a lightweight while other, more serious and supposedly deeper artists get taken so much more seriously.

I was reading in the paper last week about (another) profile of Nick Cave. He's such a great artist. He's so deep and intense. With apologies to any fans of Nick Cave (and I try not to be snobbish about this - people can like whoever they like) I find his brand of paint-by-numbers gothic to be quite irritating. To me there's nothing so deep about it. He just seems like a kind of cartoon character.

People seem to have these stereotypical ideas that dark is somehow deeper and more meaningful than light. And sometimes that's true. I won't dispute that there are some forms of humour that are as lightweight as a feather. But there are also forms of humour that can explore into all sorts of complicated aspects of the human experience. Forms of humour that can help to illuminate dark corners and allow you to see the world in all sorts of ways you didn't expect.

I'm not saying that my writing always achieves that, but I like to think that I'm on some sort of quest. I try to set myself the goal of uncovering some sort of truth about some aspect of the world, while at the same time trying to bring in the lightness of entertainment and humour. It's not that easy. I may hazard to say it's actually more difficult than just focusing on the darkness. But I'm sure many would find that contentious, so maybe I better not.

Certainly, at this time when one of the greatest "funny men" of recent times has left us in a way that revealed the shades of darkness behind the laughs, I think it's an important that people understand this.

As the title of this post sums up - I'm a funny person, please take me seriously.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Keeping all my chunks nice and bite sized

I like writing in chapters.

I've seen the arguments against them from writers like Terry Pratchett. How they say that we don't split our lives into chapters, so it really doesn't make sense to split our stories (which are meant to be reflections of our lives) into chapters.

That's all very well. Maybe he's right. Maybe not. It's not really something I think about, because there's one very good reason why I choose to construct my stories in clearly delineated chapters.

Let me explain it this way. I'm a busy person. I don't get a lot of time to write. Any writing that I do manage to complete is in whatever time I manage to scrounge here and there.

In order to make the most of this time, it's really important that I can give myself some incentive, especially if I'm working on something major (and really, anything over around 15,000 words is major for me). Seeing that mountain in front of me can be pretty frightening. But breaking that mountain down into a series of individual climbs makes it all so much more manageable.

That's why chapters are so useful. They give me a sense of achievement, a sense that I'm actually achieving milestones and getting things done. If I didn't give myself these frequent, short-term goals, I'm not sure I would ever have the focus to get a novel written.

Of course, once I find myself working with chapters, I try to have a bit of fun with them. One of the creative triggers that helped me with my fantasy novel Magnus Opum (which has just been re-released by Booktrope Publishing - sorry, I just had to get a plug in there) was deciding that the title of each chapter would be based on some sort of nonsensical made-up word. Might not sound like much, but it helped to put my mind into the right place creatively to move the story forward.

Similarly, in my Neville Lansdowne stories (Doodling, Scribbling, Scrawling) each chapter title is some sort of little saying or quote (e.g. "A toast to you", "Taking aim") which captures something about what the chapter is about.

And, of course, chapters help to give shape to the story, and provide points where you can build up the tension to keep readers wanting to read on.

So, until the next chapter in my own adventures, hope you have a great week. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

A brand new look for my old friend Magnus

Just over two years ago, I published my first novel, Magnus Opum, in ebook form. It was a moment that filled me with great pride at the time. To think that I could actually finish a novel-length work and make it available to the world seemed like a major achievement.

Over the last two years, Magnus Opum has slowly racked up a fair amount of reviews and feedback. Some of it is not so great. But most of it has been amazingly positive. It seems that readers really enjoyed my funny little story about the adventures of a seemingly insignificant chap called Magnus.

But Magnus's journey into publication was only just beginning. Just under a year ago, the wonderful people at Booktrope Publishing took a look at Magnus Opum and decided that they quite liked it too - and the result was an offer for publication.

Now, the day has arrived for Magnus Opum to be officially relaunched in its new Booktrope colours. My friend Lliam Amor has designed a spiffy new cover for the occasion. And, most exciting of all, the book is now available in paperback form as well as ebook. So lots of reasons to celebrate.

You can find your new and improved version of Magnus Opum at:

Kindle Store
Amazon Books
Barnes & Noble
Nook Store
iBooks 


So if you haven't yet experienced Magnus and his incredible adventures, now is the perfect time to start.

And let me finish by offering a big thanks to the Booktrope people for presenting me with this exciting opportunity. 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Making it flow and keeping it colourful

There are lots of rules for writing.

I know that because I keep seeing them all over the place. 10 rules for this and 10 rules for that. Lists put up by famous writers, and lists put up by people I've never heard of.

I know rules are good. I know they help to give you guidance and structure, especially while you're doing something that could otherwise be totally free-form and random, like writing. But does it really have to be so complicated? Do we really have to pay attention to so many rules?

I'm sorry, but I just can't make the effort to follow so many rules. I try to keep things as simple as I can when I'm creating my stories (and when I'm doing pretty much anything else for that matter). That's why, I've whittled my list of key writing rules down to two. Of course, I pay attention to basic grammar (as much as I know of it) but beyond that, I have two key rules that I follow:
  1. It's got to flow
  2. It's got to be colourful.
That's it. That's as simple as it is. Writing that flows and writing that's colourful. I'll try to explain it in a little more detail.

Writing that flows is easy to explain. It's like thinking of the story as a river, and the reader as a boat just setting off. From the very first word, it's got to pick that boat up and set it on its way as smoothly as possible. No bumps or obstacles, nothing that gets in the way of a smooth journey from beginning to end. Every sentence links to the one before it. Every character is consistent and clear. Every idea is logically developed. Once you start reading, from that very first word, the only thing you can do is keep on reading.

The other key aspect is colour. It's sort of like trying to paint a picture with words. Lots of words. Big words and little words. As great a variety of words as I can find. The idea is to make sure the reader "sees" the action as it happens, as if they're a part of it. I think the biggest compliment I get from readers is when they tell me that this works for them.

Sometimes, it's a bit of a compromise. Sometimes, you have to break the flow to ensure there's enough colour. Sometimes, you have to pull back on the colour to keep the flow. But all in all, the two elements work well in tandem. Putting them together is a big part of what makes writing so rewarding.

Anyway, those are my rules. I find that as long as I can stick to them, I'm pretty happy with what I produce. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Following my instincts

Writing is difficult, right?

I suppose I better say yes. After all, given that last week I wrote about how writing makes my brain hurt. Seems like I'd be a bit of a hypocrite if I then came out and said the complete opposite. People would start to think I made up these posts on the spot, just to fill in space on my blog.

Well, putting aside the potential truth of the last sentence, I do want to take a slightly different angle today. Writing still is difficult. It still makes my brain hurt. But, despite that, there are often times when it feels like an incredibly natural process. Words just flow out from my mind and onto the page.

At times like that, I begin to wonder if writing is more of an instinctive process. Sometimes, it works best when I don't think too much about it. And to be honest, I'm not particularly schooled as a writer. I haven't read a heap of books on writing, and while I have attended some classes, these have mainly focussed on workshopping material rather than the actual craft of writing.

Are people born with the skill to write? Is it something that just comes naturally? Whenever I think this might be true, I remember how much I've actually read. In some ways, reading a lot of books is the perfect learning tool for learning how to write. Every book (or at last every good book) has been a lesson in how to construct character, how to set scenes, how to deliver dialogue, and all those other aspects of storytelling. Over the years it's sunk in, helping me to become the writer I am today.

So if writing truly is instinctual, it's definitely a learnt instinct. It's from unconsciously absorbing the techniques for writing that you're able to then use them in a manner that feels instinctive.

And whenever I feel like it might be that easy, I get something back from an editor and see how much red there is on the page. That's when I remember that no matter how much I've gained from my reading, there's always a lot still to learn. 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Writing makes my brain hurt

People think we writers have it easy. What a great job. You get to sit in front of a computer and make stuff up. Or maybe you recline on a couch with a piece of paper and make stuff up. Or perhaps, you sit in a cafe, nursing a cup of coffee and making stuff up.

Believe me, it couldn't be further from the truth.

Writing is hard work. And when I say hard work, I mean physically hard work. Ok, so maybe you're not likely to suffer a broken limb or a bad back (unless your writing chair isn't suitably ergonomic), but it's still hard work. How do I know this? Because when I have finished writing for the day, there is one part of my body that always hurts. My brain.

Writing really does make my brain hurt. It makes me feel like my brain has been squeezed and stretched and poked and prodded in every possible way imaginable. And why wouldn't it, because while I am writing, that is pretty much exactly what is happening to my brain.

Sometimes, at the start of the day, I sit at my computer, waiting. I feel a bit like a swimmer at a pool, preparing to take that first dive in. I know that once I start, I'm going to be putting my brain under serious stress. I feel like I need to draw a deep breath before taking the plunge.

As soon as I'm in there, I can feel the stress building up. Sometimes, it feels as if I'm wrestling with the words, trying to force them into place. Other times, it's as if I'm trying to rip something out of the very air in front of me, or dig it out from the depths of my mind.

Either way, it's not easy. The more I do it, the more I feel like my brain is being tied in knots. The more it starts to throb, making me feel like my eyes will pop out and my head will explode.

By the time I'm finished, I know I've put myself through a workout. I know I'm exhausted, and my head will need a good, long rest.

I hope I've convinced all you people out there who think that writing is like a walk in the park. Writing is difficult, stressful, brain-exhausting work.

So if it's such a slog, why do I do it? Because, despite all the mental strain, it's still lots and lots of fun.