Wednesday 14 September 2016

Take A Step Back – Seeing the Wood as well as the Trees By Chris Joynson

As writers we have to wear multiple hats, there’s the one for actual writing, then when that’s done there’s the editor hat before you send off your baby to be scrutinised by the professionals, and finally the salesman as you have to publise your work on social media and go round conventions (which for someone as socially awkward as me is a truly terrifying prospect).

This can be both really hard to do, and also really helpful as well. Yes, your book is your baby and it’s hard to look at it objectively, but sometimes you just need to step back and look at things from another angle. I know that when I write I have a tendency to get lost in the moment a little bit, the chapter I’m working on that point becomes everything, I obsess over what should be happening, how the characters would react to this and rewriting lines several thousand times. But at the same time I need a part of my brain  to try and to fit this into the grander scheme of things. I ask myself how does this work for the arc of the story and the characters? What bits of information I need to drop and how any changes will affect things later on? Sometimes it feels like my head’s going to explode if I don’t stop juggling so much.

There are times when I leave my writing for the day feeling dejected and that I might as well throw it out the window. Then I come back to it the next day with a fresh pair of eyes and it’s not that bad. I recently read through the novel I’m working in its entirety (instead of editing it one chapter at a time as I have been doing), and I honestly came away a lot happier and prouder of the work than when I’d been burying myself in the details.

That’s not to say that details aren’t important, they are and they deserve your time and effort to get right, but sometimes you just need to stop looking at the trees and appreciate the wood a bit, after all it’s the book as a whole that the readers are going to get, not individual chapters.

So if you’re struggling or getting down about your writing then take a step away and come back the next day, it might not be as bad as you think. Also, if you’re having problems, give the story to a friend to read, or do what I did and join a writer’s group to get advice and helpful opinions on what works and what doesn’t in your story.  When you take all that advice and the different perspectives of your book and put them together in a coherent manner, it’s going to get better, because it always can, and when you’re happy with it, then begins the long journey to get it published.

Sunday 28 August 2016

That’s What He Said – Turns out said isn’t a bad word after all: By Chris Joynson

That’s What He Said – Turns out said isn’t a bad word after all

By Chris Joynson

Turns out ‘said’ isn’t that bad a word to use in your writing. I’m not quite sure where I first heard the advice to never use the s word, though its one I can remember seeing multiple times when I was first putting pen to paper as a writer. I got it into my head that using said was a big No No, and I still don’t like it all that much. Said is a boring word, its like ‘nice’, it floats on the page like a vague blob that’s neither good nor bad. It’s just nice. It’s just said. There’s no expression behind it, which is kind of the point.

See there aren’t really any bad words, ok there are plenty of bad words out there, but when it comes to writing every word has a purpose and can work if you use it right. Yes ‘said’ is an expressionless word, but sometimes you need that. Sometimes you just need to identify a speaker without coming up with some random action to justify naming them. Sometimes it’s the old adage of less is more, and this is where I’m the guilty party.

See, my aversion to using said lead me to go overboard in finding any other word to use in its place. Every character was exclaiming, or enquiring, or roaring, and there are times you can use that, but to do it all the time kind of reaches a point of ridiculous that’s just funny, I have learned this.

It’s all about finding the right balance, there’s no golden rule for when to use what word, because there are millions of factors that will affect what word you should use. What’s the pace of the scene? What is the character saying this like? What is your own voice as a writer like? Every word has a point and a purpose and we all use them differently, how I write something will be different to how you write something. The only way you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to your writing is just go for it. Keep writing until you find your voice, read other people’s work to see what you like and read out your own stuff to other people to get their opinion, take all of that and you’ll figure out what works for you.

Writing is a continual learning curve. You’ll never be done finding new tips and tricks to make your work better, because it can always be better, but what works for someone else might not necessarily work for you, so just try it and see. Eventually you’ll find your own way, and now I sound like a bad 80s pop song, so I’m outta here!

Monday 8 August 2016

Write a Book in A Day Event - Submission Call: Post by Mathew Presley

Sheffield SFF Writers group needs your input!

As part of the Off the Shelf festival, Sheffield SFF Writers group is hosting the ‘Write a Book in a Day’ event. For this event, we’re building a shared world that can be a starting point for six sci-fi/fantasy genres. In each of the genres (split into ages), I’m looking for two different entries to flesh out the world;

STOCK: Details, locations and events that anyone is free to use or alter for their story. I’m not looking for too many of these, as the writers themselves will no doubt have their own stock of characters; however, having a common linking device (such as a prolific family or key battle) in two stories will help this be a shared-world collection of stories, and not just a set of stories that happen to share a world. Entries should be less than 100 words each, and be open enough that multiple people can have a different take on them (A common family name is more useful in a shared world than a single character, and there’s not going to be a fixed map, so keeping locations fluid will let other writers add their own details.).

‘INSPIRATION POINTS’: A more open, interpretive entry, Inspiration Points are little pieces of scenes that someone struggling to start their story can use. Beginnings, in media res paragraphs, or descriptions of a scene are all welcome, the more open the better. For instance, these entries (submitted by myself and Chris Joynson);

1)      “You can tell a lot about your enemy by their arrows.” said Imp, “Copper headed ones, that’s bandits, or Dreamer save you the elves. Iron headed ones, that’s town guards, and they only fire them if they can get them back; they have to pay for ammunition.” He snatched an arrow from the air as we ran, “Steel heads!” he said triumphantly, “with a smith’s mark and everything! Be proud, master; someone rich wants us dead for a change.”

2)      A ship floats dead in space. The crew’s belongings are left lying around, as if they’d stepped out a minute ago, but the food has rotted to dust, the power cells are completely drained, and the ship’s log is decades old. What happened?

Entries should be less than 100 words.

All submissions from the writer’s group are welcome; please submit entries to (Subject: SHARED WORLD SUBS)

GENRES: The six genres the shared world will cover are;

                Age of Dreams (High/Epic Fantasy)

                Age of Towers (Low Fantasy/Swords and Sorcery)

                Age of Hammers (Renaissance/Steam/Dieselpunk)

                Age of Spirits (Urban Fantasy)

                Age of Infinity (Space Opera)

                Drossworlds (Cyberpunk)


DROSSWORLDS (Cyberpunk) In the wake of the ever expanding human frontier are the Drossworlds; planets depleted of any resource that can aid in space travel, and very often in ecological collapse from the associated industries. Drossworlds are hopeless places; whatever resources are left are controlled by corporate governments, and the people who get left behind are undesirables; convicts, radicals, or sometimes the plain old unlucky. Just as the Age of Infinity doesn’t end, neither do the Drossworlds; individually they grow more uninhabitable, and the oldest worlds are now little more than scraped-clean rocks, but as long as humanity expands, it leaves entire planets behind in its wake.

1)      Old Shem: The oldest of the known Drossworlds, Old Shem is more a museum piece than a habitable planet. Historians and archaeologists patrol the streets, piecing together what remains of Old Shem’s significance. Old Shem is thought to be the original homeworld for humanity; it’s certainly old enough, and the architecture that withstands its bleak atmosphere is reminiscent of early Human Colonial era design. The only part of the planet still accessible without a hazmat suit is the moon; once a spaceport, but now renovated into an Archivist outpost, tasked with collating and organising Old Shem’s history.

2)      Centrum: Planetary Head Office of the Gladius Corporation, the galaxy’s best organisers. ‘We organise everything!’ is their slogan, which is equal parts promise and threat. Their planet is divided into subsections; each worker is given a code and sent to a particular city based on genetic factors and pre-approved alphabetised names. In order to attain proper balance and symmetry to their world, Gladius spent trillions on reshaping their world’s continents. Centrum is technically a Drossworld, as the Corporation lacks the permissions to relocate off-world. To its workers and advertising departments, however, Centrum is paradise.

3)      The Blacklist: In a world run by interplanetary corporations, the worst thing to be is in your boss’s bad books. The Blacklist are a sinister group who’ve taken ownership of their social exile, and work to disrupt the world monopoly whenever they can. The disillusioned, anarchic or those with nowhere else to turn, the Blacklist are touted as an organised criminal syndicate by media outlets; while they are involved in illegal activity, the majority are trying to survive against a government that hates and vilifies them.

4)      The investigation so far, had more questions than answers. What was a Void-Skipper ship doing so far into Drossworld territory? How has it traversed five systems, over six-thousand light years of Council space, undetected and unchallenged? If the crew had all abandoned as the retrieved log said, where had they gone? They’d crashed into a Former-M planet, barely missing a hydrochloric sea; nothing could survive on that planet’s surface, yet the satellite station didn’t monitor any unusual take-offs. And, perhaps the biggest question of all; why was a V.S. Ship carrying fifty frozen clones of a prominent Council senator?

Age of Infinity

AGE OF INFINITY (Space Opera) With alien technology (traded for, stolen and commandeered) and ways around the impossibilities of human science, humanity reaches out to distant worlds; as diplomats, pioneers, conquerors and colonists. Any city large enough to fund such a commission is elevated to an off-world site; many become stations, others battleships, while a chosen few become flagships for the new alliance. This Age never officially ends; humanity expands ever outwards, colonising new worlds, making war and peace with ever more exotic and alien societies.

1)      Council of Worlds: The omnipresent, all-encompassing political group that governs space travel and interplanetary relations. While the council is officially made up of representatives across all planets within its territory, humans and Ascendants are far more present than other races due to colonial expansion. Although largely superfluous on a global scale, the Council are the law when it comes to interstellar travel. Access to their technology is only allowed to Council members, and anyone else is obviously a pirate and deserves punishment…

2)      Voidskippers: The loose affiliation of pirates, mercenaries and outlaws the Council are so fearful of. Having no permanent base, Voidskippers have stolen Council technology, and are running a losing battle to retain their independence from Council rule. Often appearing near worlds ‘contacted’ by Council forces, the Voidskippers offer aid to the besieged planet, often granting refuge in payment for resources. Because of the slow-moving nature of the Council, Voidskippers can evacuate entire planets before major forces can be deployed. This isn’t a winning strategy, as V.S. ships malfunction constantly, but it’s the best strategy the Skippers can think of…

3)      Interstellar Travel: A few travel methods are available through Council channels, or on the black market. Alcubierre Engines create a bubble in space-time to travel faster than light; this unfortunately creates a relativistic wave-front that can destroy small planets when the bubble collapses. Alcubierre drives are only fitted to larger ships with responsible crews to limit this danger. Ouselous and C-Drives are safer but rely on rare elements for fuel, so travel smaller distances. Smaller ships, like landing craft or attack ships, travel by anti-gravity generators; these can’t travel faster than light, and so are severely limited.

4)      OCS Shemeld: An Official Council Ship, named after the ancient city that first manufactured it. The Shemeld is a Flagship (5km long, 3 C-Drive Engines, crew of 500) and one of the oldest designations, has been captained by numerous people, fought in several battles and explored vast expanses of untamed space. As a Council ship, its home to every race, though humans make up the largest part of the serving crew; the Shemeld has become a symbol of human endeavour, perseverance and discovery.

5)      VSS Nomad: A Void-Skipper Ship, and their only ship large enough to warrant a unique designation. A commandeered Council Carrier Ship (40-50km long, Alcubierre Drive, crew of 40-50k plus full military contingent), Nomad is a safe refuge for anyone fleeing the Council; though its vast size prevents it from launching an offensive attack (In general, Carrier ships only travel between systems, park up in stellar orbit, then smaller ships do the hard work), in defence it’s nigh-impregnable. How exactly the Voidskippers obtained it is a source of speculation on both sides.

6)      Ascendants: Not so much a species as a state of existence, Ascendants are aliens who’ve grown beyond genetics and evolution. Far from benevolent space-prophets, Ascendants think and act on a galactic scale; just as civilised society is incomprehensible to the common monkey, the will of Ascendants seems madness to lesser beings. Humans began to ascend in the Age of Infinity; whether this is a good thing for either race remains to be seen.

7)      Anhelitus: A gas giant in the Teumassian system, and one of the top 500 beauty spots in the

 universe. Its cities are lightweight plastic structures, held in negative gravity above the planet’s powerful air currents. The planet’s infrastructure was originally a gas-harvesting facility, extracting rare gases needed for the Oeselous Star Drive system. As the gases became depleted, efforts were made to stabilise Anhelitus and it became declared a Natural Preserve by the Council of Worlds. The rich and famous now flock here to witness the twin sunsets; this pilgrimage has increased demand for the Oeselous Star Drive system.

8)      A ship floats dead in space. The crew’s belongings are left lying around, as if they’d stepped out a minute ago, but the food has rotted to dust, the power cells are completely drained, and the ship’s log is decades old. What happened?

Age of Spirits

AGE OF SPIRITS (Alt-world urban fantasy) With the end of imperialism and science becoming increasingly mired in mathematical impossibility, the people of the Union of Nations begin to lose confidence in cold science, instead turning to spiritual pursuits in the quest for self-fulfilment. Old practices see a revival, and some individuals find connections back to the spirits from the Age of Dreams. While some of these connections are probably beneficial, far more aren’t; some old spirits were best forgotten, and others are angry at being ignored for so long. The Age officially ends when alien contact is made; given a new frontier to work towards and a grander scheme, humanity unites in the face of distant planets.

1)      Shemeld City: A post-industrial city, Shemeld City isn’t as important to the world as it once was, but it does boast a unique quality; it’s connection to the spiritual world. As the Age of Spirits began, Shemeld’s history and location was closer to the spirit world than other, more developed cities. Although still financially and geo-politically small, Shemeld greets disparate cultures as equals, and as the Age of Spirits grows from a fringe movement, Shemeld becomes the focal point for new spiritualism.

2)      Old Spirit Movement: The beginning seed of the Age, the Old Spirit Movement were the first collection of misfits, occultists and cryptologists to contact the spirits from a forgotten time. Although the Movement destroyed itself with infighting, each group sees it as their origin myth, even if their particular form of magic came about much later. The original Movement had five members, bought together by a shared disillusion with the world. Details were mythologised, conflated and exaggerated with each retelling, but the members came to symbolise a piece of the movement; The Escapist, Rebel, Hedonist, Scholar, and Attainer.

3)      Enlightened: Originally the Attainers of the Movement, the Enlightened who seek spiritual fulfilment. By far the lightest, nicest, least-likely-to-kill-you branch of the Movement, the Enlightened are equally the most disparate; there’s no one path to Enlightenment, after all, and Enlightened learn as many options as possible. Paths might converge, split, or loop back, but should never lead to a dead end. The magic of the Enlightened comes from those who achieve it; depending on who you ask, these spirits are Angelic, Demonic, beings of pure faith, or mystic charlatans. Enlightened would prefer it if you didn’t use such terms, however.

4)      Vampires: Originally the Hedonists of the Movement, Vampires have given themselves over to obtaining earthly pleasures at any cost, even above life. The spirits involved in becoming a vampire are always dangerous, and respond only to blood. Once invoked and bound to their host’s body, the vampire gains immortality at a heavy price. Sunlight burns, and it must drink blood to retain its youth. Despite the obvious danger involved, vampires work hard to maintain a romantic charm about what they are; if the harsh reality became known, it’d quickly lead to their extermination.

5)      Tyrants: Originally the Rebels of the Movement, Tyrants desire only power; once it had been power to cause change, but the change has happened. Without a common banner, Tyrants selfishly accumulate power in any form; magic, wealth and prestige are all equal. Some joke that Tyrants make up the world governments; in fact, there’s equal numbers of other rulers keeping the Tyrants out. No-one’s clear which spirits the Rebels first invoked; spirits of anger, pride and nobility have all been posited. One thing is clear; each Tyrant now acts independently, because otherwise a new Age of Tyranny would begin.

6)      Wizards: Originally the Scholars of the Movement, wizards pursue knowledge in all its forms; unlike the other Movement members, wizards haven’t allied with any particular group of spirits, instead studying and bartering with spirits as a collective. Although ‘wizard’ suggests some magical talent, many wizards don’t have any power, studying magic for its own sake. Those that do have bartered it from spirits; the bloodlines of humanity have been without magic for a long age, and now none are born with innate power. There are several subsections of wizard; Elementalists, Conjurers, Illusionists, and Necromancers are a few such groups.

7)      Shifters: Originally the Escapists of the Movement, Shifters wanted nothing more than to leave the real world behind. Changing form to an animal was the most popular and easiest method of escapism; to run free with a wolf pack, or soar over the lands as an eagle, was all the Shifters desired. As time went on, Shifters’ magic became entrenched in a single type of spirit; families of werewolves, werebears and werehawks are so closely tied to their totemic animal, they forgot they could take different shapes.

8)      Ten minutes after meeting their leader, I met his pet cat. Within thirty seconds, it was obvious who was the brains in that organisation.

9)      When a young boy first told his mentor ‘I wish to be a wizard’, the mentor gave him a task; translate a leather-bound manuscript, old beyond counting. After thirty days, the boy returned; ‘I haven’t learnt magic!’ he said, ‘The tome told me nothing!’. The mentor smiled, and said ‘I know. Do you mind that you pursued power only to find none at the end?’ ‘Yes!’ said the boy, ‘You deliberately wasted my time!’. The mentor frowned, ‘Then you do not wish to be a wizard.’ said he, ‘Seek out the Tyrants. Their philosophy is closer to yours.’

10)   When a young man told his patron ‘I wish to be a vampire’, he was given a ritual; to dance within a stone circle, adorn his body with symbols of excess, and to anoint himself with saffron oils before a crowd of spectators. After thirty days, the man asked ‘Will you make me a vampire?’ The patron asked ‘Did you enjoy the ritual?’; the man replied ‘Very much so!’. The patron asked ‘Did others wish to join you?’; the man replied ‘Yes; I gathered quite a crowd!’. ‘Then you have the desire and the skill to join us.’

Age of Hammers

AGE OF HAMMERS (Renaissance-Steampunk) The continent is now unified under Imperial rule, and begins an age of discovery and invention. Old magic is replaced by new science, and these innovations lead to ever expanding empires. The Age officially ends when the empires finally descend into open war; with resources like coal and oil rapidly depleting, new methods of science and political movements turn Shemeld into a world closer to modern-day Earth.

1)      Shemeld City: Now part of the Great Empire, Shemeld’s unique position in the continent means it’s an industrial centre, with the boring matters of leadership and governance delegated to the fetid boroughs of Greater Calshan County. When the Dwarven mines were sacked, Shemeld was in the perfect position to overtake their industries; coal and iron ore are continually belched from the mountains, down to the village-sized furnaces and cogworks. Former Elf forests are now part of the Shemeld Civic Arboretum, which aims to be green and lush, but for most of the year is sulphurous.

2)      The Goldharker Family: ‘Where there’s muck, there’s brass, and Goldharkers trade both’. This merchant family is so sprawling and omnipresent that any port or border-town without a Goldharker is considered the lesser for it. Many would have you believe the entire family were cut-throats, swindlers, conmen, smugglers and slavers; indeed, the Goldharkers only cultivate this rumour, because only poor people would believe such rubbish. That said, wherever here’s a coin to be made, there’ll be a Goldharker involved somewhere.

3)      The Far South Confederacy: As the invention of airships made traversing the oceans to the south of the Great Empire easier, contact with southern lands quickly turned into warfare between the Empire and Confederacy they found. It’s not clear whose fault it is; the Confederacy were probably uncivilised, while the Empire might’ve been arrogant. What’s important is the Confederacy use unsporting tactics, and it’s the Empire’s air superiority over the south ocean that confounds any attempt upon Imperial soil. Unlike the Empire, the Confederacy isn’t one unified culture; countries such as Samarkhand, Alashorn and Cathar are member states.

4)      IAF Victory: The Imperial Air Fleet’s finest vessel, the Victory was the first airship commissioned as a warship, rather than the explorer and merchant class vessels now used by civilians. Capable of flying majestically over the heads of startled Confederacy forces during a bombing run, or evading their haphazard, disorganised artillery barrages, the Victory is a symbol of Imperial arrogance on both sides of the water. Captained by the equal parts arrogant and overconfident Lord Commissar Perseverance ‘Percy’ Shipwright, the sight of the Victory coming to port can lift the spirits of the dowdiest Imperial.

5)      The Imperial Family: The ruling Calshani family became figureheads at the beginning of the Age, leaving governance to a fledgling parliament. Inside, their wealth was focused on military and colonial expansion. Imperial armies are the best equipped, Imperial ships the fastest and strongest, and Imperial flags are the most readily waved and saluted by cheering Imperial crowds. The Imperial family individually are universally revered, from the ‘Southern Queen’ Titania I, in whose honour the first Oceanic Expeditions were launched, or the ‘Prince of All Vitality’ Gustaf IV, whose medical discoveries eradicated screaming cough and the deadly Alley-Cat Sweats.

6)      He opened up the letter; “we have been discovered; run.”