Sunday, 20 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Blog Posts will return in the new year

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Writing Over Christmas

So Christmas is coming up and if your diary is anything like mine, you are going to struggle to fine time to write. Hence writing this post at 10.30pm! Not only will your diary become full, there will be all those lovely distractions on the TV. This is the time where you will need to examine your goals and expectations as well as your priorities.

First think about the word targets that you are setting that you are setting. It maybe be worth lowering these targets, so they are more manageable. Not only that, but you will find you get a buzz once you have hit that target and it will keep you writing rather than discouraging you that you didn’t meet the target and stopping you from writing.

Second, make sure that friends and family know that writing is important. They are less likely to interrupt you if they know how important it is to you.

Third, make time for your friends and family. It’s Christmas they will want to spend time with you. So as much as you may want to, you can’t really lock yourself away for the whole holiday.

Fourth, think about whether you really do need to watch that TV show or film right at that moment. It might be better to put it on the planner and save it for after you have written your words.

Finally, don’t feel bad if you miss a day writing when you’re busy as long as you don’t let a day off or two drag into weeks and months, then its fine to have a break.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Fantasy Faction Convention - Volunteers Needed

Cross posted from our facebook page -

Original Post by Marc Aplin of Fantasy Faction

Hey everyone,

Following three successful 'Grim Gathering' events, Fantasy-Faction will be holding their first convention in 2017 (2016 was very tempting, but we... know how much work it will be and want to get it right!).

We are currently looking for people who can help us put this convention together and make it one of the best the UK has every seen. We will be inviting some of the biggest names in genre fiction and hoping to attract fans from every walk of life - our aim is to be big enough to be worth authors attending, but small enough that each fan gets time to chat with their favourite authors and hang out with fans without feeling too claustrophobic. So kind of like the Grim Gathering, but on a bigger scale!

There will be a ton of jobs and they won't all be fun! To name just a few of them:
  • Researching and finding a venue.
  • Deciding upon the perfect date.
  • Arranging authors to attend.
  • Fulfilling requirements of authors/publishers.
  • Coming up with promotion ideas.
  • Ensuring we are covered legally (insurance, etc).
  • Issuing memberships.
  • Coming up with panel ideas.
  • Inventing entertaining and worthwhile workshops.
  • Organising, arranging and deciding upon required equipment.
  • Liaising with dealers to ensure plenty of stuff for guests to buy.
  • Coordinating Volunteers.
  • Designing our first awards ceremony.
  • Managing incomings and outgoings.
  • Designing / writing copy for an event website.

If you genuinely think that you have time in 2016 to help with this then please do let me know - it would be a pleasure to have you join us. It'll all be voluntary, but I do think that when it eventually comes together it will be well worth the time you invest. Thank you so much for reading.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Characters – What do you when surprise you half way through a story?

For the third time this week, a character in my young adult series has surprised me and changed how they need to be written. Which has left me to ask the question are we really the ones that are writing our characters or do they become real identities and just tell us what to put down on the page. Personally, I think it is the later. I think characters should live their own lives and not just do things because the plot needs them to, however it is very useful if they do marry up.

Now if this change in your character is something that character has built to and just affects the plot from now on, well that’s reality easy. I mean, you will have to write the rest of the book slightly different (or very differently – depending on the size of the surprise that your character has come up with), but that’s all unwritten words. Sometimes, actually more often than not, the changes that come up effect what you have written in the previous chapters. If you are in chapter two, that is not so bad, but for my latest character change, I’m around 70% into book four and yes it does affect the previous chapters.

So what do you do it that situation? So do you say forget, I’m too far into the story to change things now? As tempting as it may seem that is not a real possibility. Until the book is out there, you can always changes bits especially if it backs a story better. Luckily in my case, I have been holding onto the previous books so I can drop in clues to the later books in the earlier ones as well as release them reasonably close together. So now I’m left with two choices (a) to go back and rewrite scenes or (b) to continue as if I have as if I had made the changes and go back and make them once I have finished the book. For me the option is b, I really do think that finishing a book is what is important and you can always changes things in edits.

I guess that is the point to this post. Anything can be changed in edits, so if a character comes up with up with surprises then you should go with them especially if those characters improve your character and make your story better. And the other point of the post that a character still surprising you is a good thing as they are becoming real people and not just puppets to move into place because the plot wants that.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

One Million Words Target – 144688 Words So Far

So as a Writers, we decided to set ourselves the target of getting to a million words within a year (or as fast as we can get there.) We started recording our individual word count on the 1st November to coincide with the start of Nanowrimo.

So without any further ado, our total word count as a group for November was 144688 words.

That was made up of word counts from Chris of 21917, David of 3554, Jo of 2378, Kathryn of 39070, Matthew of 72529 and Steve P of 5240.

Obviously as this is month one of the challenge, there are no other totals to add to that word count. Therefore the cumulative total stands at 144688 words and we have just the 855312 more to write.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

A description of my writing process. by Matthew Presley

My writing’s terrible.

When I first write down an idea, I’m usually rushing through to get it down on paper before I forget things. My sentences run on, description becomes a torrent of florid adjectives, as superfluous and unnecessary as X-Factor contestants in February. Dialogue isn’t there; I have lines of exposition between speech marks, but characters aren’t talking to each other. They’re talking to the script, hitting a bunch of marks before the next set piece lumbers in. Because I write by hand before typing up, I’ll equate that 1 page will be 500 words, but this is rarely the case. Speech lines of two or three words are common. Hyperdense black holes of description can be so tightly written as to exert gravitic mass. I’ll write scenes out of order and guess what the characters will be talking about, or sometimes who’s in the scene, so the first draft is often an incomprehensible mess of one liners and exposition over the same point as well as sentences going on for too long while making similar points to however I started the sentence.

So once I’ve got the first full-length run-through of the story, I print out the lot, and edit. Once I’ve got a sense of what the story is and where it’s going, I know which bits to cut. Sometimes information needs moving round; plot important knowledge is needed at a certain point in the story, so I have to find a space to slip it in. One thing I’ve found recently is that I’ll repeat the same idea. For instance;

                Run Away! => Escape => Caught => Escape => Caught => End of Chapter

I do this when I’m writing a scene and I’m not sure when the chapter ends going to fit in. It can be simplified to;

                Run Away! => Escape => Caught => End of Chapter

No matter how interesting the second escape and capture are, they’re not needed for the story. I might even question if the character should run away in the first place if they’re going to be captured again in the same chapter.

Also once I’ve got a full run-through of the story, ideas may change. Characters won’t blindly follow the story just because it’s the simplest course of action. Occam’s Razor has no personality. It doesn’t get angry, frustrated, scared, or doubtful; it just does. Unless you’re writing about Terminators, your characters should have their own downfalls. As snappy as the one-liner I wrote a year or two ago was, if it doesn’t fit the character, it goes. Lines I stole wholesale from somewhere else? These don’t often fit what’s happening after rewrites. And then there’re characters who, in the grand scheme of the story, are utterly pointless. Plots that go nowhere, or little details I added thinking it’d lead into something else, often have to be cut or reworked to have a pay-off. Sometimes its intentional; a character will be working on something meaningless to the story, a gunsmithing contract for some guy called ‘Chekhov’. Other times, it’s more like Chekhov’s discarded armoury. Sometimes a character in story one is more important in story two; either they should be made important in story one, or cut out entirely.

At this point, I’m ready to read out my stuff at writers group. I have deemed it not as terrible. If I have time, I’ll do minor adjustments before the read-out. Sometimes stray run-on sentences crept through. Sometimes a suggestion was made in group at the last meeting and I decide to follow it. Often I’ve changed details in the previous chapter that need changing from that point on.

Then comes read out; I have to say, even though the writers group is very supportive and encouraging, until I’ve read something out, I don’t know if it works or not. I’ll never forget the first major time I read something out that fell flat; it was the first scene I’d written in that story, and the point to which the story had been working towards. I’d been so happy with it, and in my arrogance I thought ‘this can’t be improved!’

I read it. There was an awkward silence. I recognised that silence immediately; everyone was trying to think of an encouraging, constructive way to say ‘that was terrible’. It was a wake-up call, and that’s when I started editing and redrafting as heavily as I do.

I rewrote the whole scene; all the dialogue changed, for a start. I thought hard about each line the characters said; each line had to be important. I cut out an unnecessary description at the start, to make the scene flow a bit faster. The ending punchline remained the same, as did the basic topic of conversation, but there was more character to it. I reread the same scene at the group a few weeks later, and got a much better reception. Since then I’ve realised that yes, my writing’s terrible. That’s why I keep working on it until it’s not terrible, occasionally to the point of being okay.


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Distractions - The Shiny New Toy

So I have reached that point of nanowrimo in which I now know, unless some kind of writing miracle happens that I will not be achieving the goal of writing 50,000 words in the 30 days. I will most likely be coming in with a word count of 30,000 to 35,000 by the end of the month, which if it wasn’t nanowrimo this month would be a very good word count. In fact if you could hit that word count every month you would be looking at 360,000 for the year, which is not a bad yearly goal at all. But the fact is that nanowrimo, you end up focusing on the fact that you are not going to meet the goal and you face the problems that can arise whenever you are set to miss a deadline – if I’m not going to achieve this then maybe I can stop pushing myself and focus on other things and namely get distracted.

Now, distractions can hit at any time and missing a deadline is just one of the reasons that you can be distracted. Other reasons can be:

Middle of the story – You’ve hit the middle of the story. You have written this exciting beginning and you have a great end in mind but you are now stuck in the middle. There is a series of practicalities or dots that need joining before you hit the end and for one reason or another, you are ploughing through mud to get there. Again, you can’t see yourself getting there, so you are hitting the what is the point, I’m never going to finish this story, the oh look there’s that programme on the tv that I wanted to watch.

I’ve had a new fabulous idea – You’re a writer, you will always be getting ideas. And those ideas will always seem better than the story you are currently writing. There are two key reasons this – First, when the story stays in your head it is in its purest form, it is your baby and hidden away from any criticism, everything is possible at this stage and don’t underestimate the fact that this idea is shiny and new. The second reason, is what you start writing an idea and developing it, it becomes hard work; if writing was easy then everyone would do it. This means that you are comparing something that is hard, the piece you are currently working on to this new fabulous ideas with no issue – no wonder this is a distraction.

Research – This is the most noble of all distractions because you are still working on your story. That programme was essential to watch, you needed to search for that fact on the internet and that new link that you had just clicked on was essential. And before you know that quick research task for ten minutes has just lasted an hour and you have just clicked on a cat video.

Whatever the distraction, whatever it was, you are now not writing and your story is not progressing and you are hit with the hard part of writing and that is getting started again once you have been distracted. And the hard and fast rule of this is that there is no short cut to this. Like I said on an earlier task, you just need to get your bum in the chair and start writing and not listen to the excuses forming in your head and reset your goals. 30,000 words is a good monthly word count. And so without further ado, I’m going to get back to the work in progress and remember whatever is hard to write now can always be edited later.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Taking Inspiration by Matthew Presley

Water from one source is easily poisoned. Likewise, taking inspiration from only one source skews a written work. If you’re only drawing from one experience to write a scene, how do you distance your character from being an Author Avatar? You might love the Dresden Files or Discworld; how do you stop your story being rip-offs of them? Want to build a world, but the only fantasy world you’ve experienced was through Warcraft games? It’ll show quickly.
The easiest and best way to stop this is to take inspiration from multiple sources. Not just other written work in the same genre as you’re writing; that’s still water from the same source. Here’s some examples;

Music: More than any other media, music is the fastest inspiration. In four to five minutes (prog rock/Primal Scream are exceptions) the musician/s have to convey their emotions. While with a lot of music, the emotion is ‘that guy/girl is hot! I would like to kiss him/her’, music is a broad church. Listening to disparate music genres can influence your writing. When I’m writing, I think what songs best convey the emotions I want in the scene. What’s your character’s favourite song? If the producer making the film adaptation asked you, what songs would you suggest for the score? Don’t just listen to music you like either; power ballads or teen-pop have their place in the world too.
Sometimes the connections are easy; writing about a relationship breaking up? ‘Kayleigh’ by Marillion! Other times, multiple songs can go into a scene, especially if the mood of it shifts around. Writing a complicated break-up? Well ‘We used to be friends’ by Dandy Warhols is about a close relationship long past. ‘Leave right now’ by Will Young is about someone wanting out of a destructive relationship and vicious circle. The first verse of ‘Work it out’ by Jurassic 5 is about realising after the fact how poorly you treated someone. The score to the final scene of ‘Return of the King’ evokes a separation for the better, difficult as it is. Mixing all these together helps take the character’s experience away from your personal one, and makes the character less of an avatar.

Films/TV: My first drafts are often littered with Princess Bride lines. It’s going to get me in trouble some day. Other times, I want the pace of the scene up, so I start thinking about David Tennant’s Dr. Who and how he’d rattle through an explanatory staccato monologue as fast as he could before making the same point in conclusion; pick the pace up!
Films and TV offer a lot of visual and audial inspirations to put into your story, but don’t make the mistake of plagiarising scenes without any alteration. Some authors can get away with it, but it can break the dramatic tension if a story turns into parody or pastiche. Adding the idea of a scene, however, and changing it to fit your characters and story, will make it unrecognisable. One thing I do is listen to directors commentaries. Finding out the thought behind a scene can help understand it and write something similar, but not superficially the same. How would your protagonist react if thrown into the Rancor pit, or was chased by the T-1000? What the film does and how your story progresses are two different things.
Like music, watching films from different genres can influence a scene. While watching rom-coms is, for me, an excruciating way to deplete my finite lifespan, I can appreciate that, when writing romantic plots, there are certain notes you have to hit. I don’t much care for Disney films, but some of them have inventive or memorable baddies. And even though kung fu films don’t translate into novel form, watching how a clever choreographer can tell a story through the fighting can be inspiring to writing.

Books: Literature beyond the genre you want to write can help write a better story. Not just classical or high literature either, though I’m not disparaging it. Low-end trash novels can be inspiring, even if the inspiration is ‘God that was awful; I can do better than that’. The worst book I’ve ever read had, I’ll admit, some very vivid descriptions and scene setting. Mistakes others make, in plotting or scene resolution, keep you sharp to when you do the same. Maybe one plot thread turns out to go nowhere and you’re thinking ‘well that was pointless’. When reading through your own stuff, you know what to look out for. Or if a sentence, while grammatically correct, when you read it you have trouble deciphering the sentence and, or perhaps or, the intent. I do this a lot. Now that I’ve noticed and been irritated by it in other works, I don’t do it so often now that I’ve noticed it. Writers group is a harsh lesson in sentence structure as well; when you read something out loud, you notice mistakes. Another writer at our group does hilariously overwritten parody; if I’m writing something and start to hear it in his voice, I know it needs work.

Art: Visualising your world helps make it more real in your mind, and so more believable when you write it. There’s a lot of art out there; chances are, no matter how new or amazing your idea is, someone’s drawn something similar. For me, seeing an idea lets me flesh out the details rather than plucking them from thin air. Art includes photography; looking at actor’s headshots can be inspiring as well. Who would you cast in the film adaptation of your story? Who would you contract as conceptual designer? Artwork and story can feed each other; a friend drew one of my characters on a birthday card, and drew her with pierced ears. A minor detail, but when I thought about the characters back-story I wondered ‘would she have pierced ears?’ What does ear piercing represent historically? In a fantasy setting, could it have negative connotations? My friend had just added it as a detail, but I went on to write a short piece about that character getting her ears pierced. Whether that piece would fit into another story or not, the art gave me ideas I wouldn’t have come up with independently.

Games: Computer games are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and more cinematic in their presentation. While, like films and TV, these storylines can be inspiring, they’re very much set in stone; the character does this because the plot does that. Games offer other inspiration, though, when they present choices, more than what gun to fire or what swords to swing. Dwarf Fortress is nigh unplayable without a computer science degree, but when your game ends (that’s when, not if) you can have your failed settlement remain in the world as ruins; these ruins might by overrun with animals or monsters, or just be a stark reminder to the next doomed settlement. The graphics are non-existent, the gameplay is frustrating and the coding is bizarre and deliberately obtuse, in terms of building a world of collapsed empires, Dwarf Fortress can help fill in the blanks. Likewise, most MMO games exist in a state of quasi-choice; you can win the battle or lose, it doesn’t change the world. But what if it did? What if the dungeon was finally cleared out? What if the flag was captured for the last time, and the front line of the battle was shifted to a new arena? What if the world was allowed to change?

To conclude; everything is inspiration. Look for other things to put in your story; you’ll be surprised at what can fit.


Sunday, 15 November 2015

NaNoWriMo: Quantity over Quality by Matthew Presley

A mine doesn’t immediately dig up jewellery. First is the excavation; thousands of tonnes of ore, gravel and dirt are churned out, with no attempt made beyond the broad stroke of following a promising vein. Then comes sorting; ore is separated from rubbish, uncut gems from pebbles, and the rest is mercilessly thrown on the slag heap. Then comes refinement; ore is smelted to remove any further impurities and to strengthen it into metal. Gems are cut, polished and carefully graded. Finally, the fine details are added; rare metals are fashioned into trinkets, gems are set into them, and the final product is ready for the market.

National Novel Writing Month is stage one; excavation. You’re aiming to push thousands of words worth of ink and keystrokes out in a month. Your daily quota? 1-2k words. Don’t think about refinement till you’ve finished your quota. All that matters is word count. Follow the broadest strokes; got an idea for a scene? Write it down quick. Stuck on writing a scene? Move on, write something else. Not sure how the short story ends? Follow the vein; it might lead you to a number of conclusions. Write them all down.

Last year I managed 39k words in what added up to a 90k first draft. I’m not in the process of refinement and editing; chucking out the garbage, picking out gems and making sure each scene had more useful ore than pointless gravel. Refinement and manufacture are the hard parts of writing for me. It’s taken me a year to almost finish the second redraft of that story, and that was after throwing out the very very first draft as it was utterly unsalvageable. There’s still short stories hanging from last year which I put on the back burner till I’ve finished redrafting the stories I’ve got, which might take me another year if I’m lucky. After having an editor go through my first story, I’m faced with a completely redraft and rewrite of the first half. And I know that, if I let that editor (who, incidentally, is my brother) read any of my other ‘finished’ stories, I’ll be faced with the same level of rewriting/redrafting as well as potential familial arguments. Once I’ve finished the redraft of story 2, I might go back to fix problems with short story 1.5 before revising story 1 again, which I’m already putting off, in the same way I put off standing up when my bad knee seizes up. That’s a better analogy than I was expecting; yes it’ll hurt, and hurt for a long time, but as some point I’ll have to do it if I want to move on.

You might have noticed this post is pretty rambling and all over the place. Well, it’s NaNoWriMo, isn’t it? It’s not about quality writing; at this point, it’s about word count. I’m writing this in the cafe of my gym, waiting for an appointment. I’ll probably get more written in other spare half-hours along the week. When I’m looking for motivation (at the gym as well as writing) I’ll listen to ‘Moral of the Story’ by Watsky. Not heard it? It pretty much sums up what you have to do to be a writer, or an athlete, or anything which requires determination. Please listen to it on YouTube. If you’re still unclear what the moral of the story is, then I’d suggest listening to it again.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Continuing with Nanowrimo when you fall behind

So as expected this week, I fell behind with nanowrimo. In fact earlier this week when I found myself 7545 word behind where I should be and posted the phrase on my facebook status that nanowrimo was kicking my ass. But thinking about it that phrase wasn’t completely true, what was slowly down my word count was work getting in the way, the fact that the days were busy and sucking my creative energy and the fact that at the weekend, I had a lot of work related jobs to do instead of working on the book which were completely unavoidable.
Now the easiest thing to do at this point would be to give up. But I had a writing run to keep going and no matter how slowly the word count was growing. Writing 112 words is not a lot, and its 1555 words below the nanowrimo daily target but trust me it is better than no words. The important thing was that no matter how busy I was the words were going down and I know that my evening are due to free up a bit more in the next week.

So I guess what this short post is saying, is that no matter how hard it gets, some words are better than none. And that’s it for now as I’m cutting things short tonight as I have a chapter to finish and another 1420 to write.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Locked Room Policy – You’re not coming out until you’ve written something by Chris Joynson

Ah, Nanowrimo, I’ve never actually taken part in it before but I do appreciate the principle. It’s about forcing yourself to sit down and write something (even if 50,000 words is a bit excessive in my opinion), and sometimes you do need to force yourself.

Writing will hardly ever be your top priority, however much you love it. There will always be something to get in the way, be it friends, family, a full-time job or whatever tantrum the universe has decided to throw at you this week. You’ll just have to stand there and watch as your beloved book slips further and further down that list of things you have to do this week until it disappears completely.

Even if you do find the time to write, you can suddenly find that you’re just not in the mood. You’ve had a busy day, you feel completely drained and you just want to crash in front of either the TV or the Internet. If you do try to write your brain seizes up, the words won’t come and those that do manage to leak out are utter fertiliser (bargain budget fertiliser at that). It can be easy to give up and just say you’ll do it tomorrow, a tomorrow that never comes.

But you’re a writer, you’re doing this because you love the craft, because you have a story to tell, because you just get a kick out of hanging around with your characters. No one ever said it was going to be easy, and if they did you are within your rights to hit them for lying to you.

Sometimes you just have to lock yourself in a room, tie your hands to a keyboard (or pen if you prefer old school) and just write something. It could be a 100 words or 50,000, it doesn’t matter. You have to write, and keep writing. When you can’t find the words, you fight through it until they do come. It doesn’t matter if they’re terrible, you can always go back and edit them later, that’s fine, though I guarantee you that if you keep going eventually the words will start to flow much easier and you’ll be back to usual operating standards.

If you let yourself forget about your writing don’t be surprised if that brilliant idea you had ends up as a dusty light bulb somewhere within the shelf space of your mind. Just set aside a small amount of time each day, an hour or so should do it, and write what you can. Get yourself into a routine and stick to it. It will be a struggle at times, but we’re writers because we want to be, and it’s often the things we struggle with that are the most rewarding afterwards. (Also this is now nearly 500 words for my word count today, ka-ching!)

Saturday, 31 October 2015

It All Starts Tomorrow – Pros and Cons of Doing Nanowrimo


Well it’s the 31st October and Nanowrimo starts tomorrow as well as our million word challenge. For those who missed the million word challenge post – basically members of the Sheffield Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Group are going to see how long it takes them to write one million words. But for those of you, that are ummming and awwwing over whether to do nanowrimo, here are some of the pros and cons.

Let’s start with the cons and finish on a positive.

Con –

1.    November is a bad month. I don’t know who came up with November as the month to complete nanowrimo in but it is a bad month. Let’s start with its got 30 days instead of 31, but you also have Bonfire Night for the British and Thanksgiving for the Americans. As well as the start of the building up to Christmas.

2.    If you fall behind, it’s hard to catch up. 1667 words a day is a lot, especially if you have other commitments for example a full time job. And not hitting that word count means you can fall behind quiet quickly.

3.    Quantity over quality. Nanowrimo is about getting the words out, not about producing good quality. This means that what you are left with at the end of November is not great and will need some serious editing. (But you should do that after finishing every novel.)

4.    50,000 words is not a full novel. You are going to need to add to it and make that story grow to maybe even twice its length or more after nanowrimo finishes.

5.    Goodbye life, family, friends – you have a word count to hit. In order to write a good, coherent novel in 30 days, you’re going to spend an awful lot of time writing. And it is not just the writing, but thinking and planning. You’re going to live and breathe this book for 30 days, and that means that you’ll have to disappear to anything that is not essesntial such as your job and feeding your children.

6.    It’s stressful. Writing a novel takes work, hard work. Characters, conflicts, romances, arguments, fight scenes. It’s hard. It is difficult enough to write a novel, but add an extremely tight deadline, well it adds extra pressure.

7.    Cleaning your house will have never had been more appealing. You are going to get to some point that you are desperate not to be writing. And if you can keeping the writing going, well everything else will take a back step and your house will take a back step.

8.    Good writers read – well you wont be reading in nanowrimo, or editing, or much else for that fact. So you are likely to lose creative influences on writing.

9.    You will feel guilty feel guilty about anything else you write, be it an email, blog post or facebook post. If its not adding to the word count, it’s not helping.

10. You will be beome in danger of caffeine overload.


And now the pros –

1.    You get 50,000 words written and that’s a hell of a stab towards a first draft. And for some people that will include a beginning, middle, end an a whole list characters to work with.

2.    Once nanowrimo is over you have something to work with. It is easier to work with words that are already written and come December, you will have that work with.

3.    You will find out what is really important in your life. You will have to give up things to write and may just find out that you live without watching Pointless after work.

4.    Writing everyday creates discipline To hit that word count, you are going to have to write every singles day and get rid of all those things that may lead to procrastination, you have a word count to hit after all.

5.    You have a clear goal. “I will write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, starting on November 1st.  I will achieve this by writing 1,667 words a day.”  This is so much better than “I will finish my novel someday.”

6.    It gets rid of the fear of writing a novel. Having a set goal shows that you that it really can be done.

7.    It’s friendly. For most of the time, writing is a lonely experience, which is why joining a writing group is such a good idea. But Nanowrimo gives your forums, communities, people to root for you and bounce off ideas.

8.    It keeps you accountable (and motivated). Nanowrimo is public. People know your word count, they will ask how you are doing and you will not to fail for them and for yourself.

9.    It gives you a kick up the backside.

10.  There’s no sign up fees or anything else so actually you really have nothing to lose by giving it a go.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Doing Nano My Own Way

So Nanowrimo starts on Sunday, which for me is a good day to start as it’s a weekend. Sundays tend to give me more time to write but also my brain has generally not felt drained by other activities, making in normally my most productive writing day. And Wednesday, being my least productive day. Probably because it is the middle of the working week and my brain suffering from a certain level of mush. But I digress from the point of this post originally. So back to the my original point that nanowrimo starts on Sunday. And this week you are bound to find lots of posts explaining the pros, cons and realities of taking part in nanowrimo. Which I will talk more about at the weekend, but for today I’m focusing on the rules.

The aim of nanowrimo is start a new novel and write 50,000 words on that novel in the month. And that’s a great, if you have a new idea to start with or are not working on a current work in progress. But there is no hard and fast rules to taking part. So tonight, I am talking about my commitment to taking part this year. I am doing nanowrimo in my own way. My aim and I will monitor and publish my progress that I will write 50,000, just not on a new project on my current work in progress in order to finish it. I will let you know how I get on.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Writing about the future – how ‘hard’ does it have to be? by David Sarsfield

At the point of writing this blog, numerous media outlets are fondly reflecting on the intrepid Marty McFly and Dr. “Doc” Emmett Brown as they travelled twenty-six years into the future to, well, today - 21 October 2015. Looking through the various news stories, tweets and wall posts, I was struck by how preoccupied we seemed to be by how much the makers of Back to the Future II got ‘right’.

That’s understandable. Near-future projections – whether for comical effect or not - come with a tacit expectation from the audience that at least some of the things fictionalised will end up as part of reality when that near-future arrives. Some things the makers of the film got right i.e. visual communication; some wrong i.e. flying cars, hoverboards, pizzas that cook in seconds (my personal favourite!). In any case, all of this never stopped the film from becoming a commercial hit.

With this in mind, does getting the future ‘right’ really matter? When it comes to writing fiction, I think this depends on two things: one, how far into the future you are writing about and, two, the type of technology and/or society that will shape your future world.

In the earlier days of SF, predicting the future wasn’t just a concern, it was a serious undertaking. Orwell’s (near-future) 1984 and Huxley’s (far-future) Brave New World are two classic examples. (In fact, such was Huxley’s seriousness that he wrote Brave New World Revisited over thirty years later to make checks against how far his world was being realised.) Where Orwell writes thirty-six years into the future, Huxley leaps to over seven hundred. Chronologically, they’re poles apart, but the ironic thing here is, as with Back to the Future II, there are slivers of accuracy that we see today. With Orwell, we have CCTV, an apparent ‘Nanny State’; ‘Big Brother is watching you’ is a commonplace phrase to describe infringements on individual privacy. With Huxley, we have hyper-consumerism, test tube babies and a globalised/over-organised economy. But aren’t these the key messages both authors tried to convey to the reader? There was other detail in both novels that were way off the mark, but these works were so successful because they contain aspects of life that were/are so chillingly ‘familiar’. We can forgive all the other ‘incorrect’ stuff. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation brings a wonderful milieu to life thousands of years into the future with technologies and societies much unlike our own. Does it really matter that Asimov alludes to the continued use of microfilm on Trantor? Not on your nelly!

These days, SF writers are far less shackled by prediction. When it comes to the future, we’re speculative, creative and imaginative to the point that almost boarders (but never breeches) the fantastical. We explore the plausible. We measure the possible based on what we see going on today. We’re not prophets! So what if flying cars, hoverboards and instant pizzas never actually happen. That’s just detail. In the words of Mark Twain, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

List of Writing Podcasts

I’m a big fan of listing to podcasts, so I thought I would post a quick list of the ones that I find useful to listen to. The descriptions in this post has been taken straight from itunes,

1.       Brain Burps About Books

Author Katie Davis hosts Brain Burps About Books as a "fly on the wall" show. It's all about the craft and business of publishing, now including all genres––not just children's books. Interviews with experts cover publishing, creating, promoting, and writing them.

2.       The Creative Penn

Information and inspiration on writing, self-publishing, print-on-demand, internet sales and marketing…for your book. All the latest in publishing 2.0 and using the internet to make more sales and promote your book.

3.       Dead Robots’ Society

The Dead Robots' Society, a gathering of aspiring writers podcasting to other aspiring writers, hoping to help each other along the way to the promised land of publication.

4.       Ditch Diggers

The new podcast from podcast award winners Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace, we look at the business of writing, all the dirty details and nasty secrets no one else will talk about. Bad agents, deals that fell through, and worse. But still, every day we get up and go to work, because this is our job.

5.       Helping Writers Become Authors

Helping Writers Become Authors provides writers help in summoning inspiration, crafting solid characters, outlining and structuring novels, and polishing prose. Learn how to write a book and edit it into a story agents will buy and readers will love.

6.       I Should Be Writing

Writing interviews and how-tos from a SF writer who's still learning.

7.       The Narrative Breakdown

The craft of creative writing, screenwriting, playwriting, children's books, and literary fiction as discussed by Cheryl Klein and James Monohan. We share tips and techniques of interest to any writer, student, or fan of quality prose fiction, screenplays, plays, English literature, etc. Each episode, we analyze popular novels, movies, Broadway shows, television shows, short stories, and more. Featuring various expert guests as well as material from Cheryl Klein's book 'Second Sight' and James' app 'The Storyometer.'

8.       The Newbie Writers Podcast

In this show we find out what to do with that idea you've always had on writing a book. We interview authors who have been there done that and where to begin, some tips and tricks in planning, plus a general chit chat.

9.       Odyssey Writing Workshop

Odyssey is an intensive six-week workshop for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror held each summer on the campus of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Top authors, editors, and agents serve as guest lecturers. These podcasts are excerpts from guest lectures.

10.   Rocking Self-Publishing

Each week we interview authors who have made it in the self-publishing world. Through these interviews we aim to provide actionable advice and inspiration for those who want to self publish. It should also be fun for readers looking to get an insight into the world of their favorite writers!

11.   Round Table Podcast

Each week, Roundtable hosts Dave Robison and Brion Humphrey - joined by authors, publishers and other literati - invite writers to present ideas for stories they’re developing. What follows is a no-holds-barred discussion of the story’s plot, character, pacing, and theme, in an attempt to transform rough concepts and unformed ideas into literary gold.

12.   The Self Publishing Podcast

Want to publish and sell more books? Want to get your writing into the world without contending with agents, publishers, or the other gatekeepers in traditional publishing? There's never been a better time to make money as a writer -- to take your books directly to readers and be in charge of your own business rather than jumping through hoops to please the Powers that Be. Full time authors Johnny B. Truant, David Wright, and Sean Platt (owners of the 2M+ words-per-year indie publishing company Sterling & Stone) explore everything related to getting your writing published ... and making money doing it ... in today's new DIY digital publishing frontier. This isn't artsy talk -- it's "authorpreneurial" business strategy that turns self-publishing from sideline into a rewarding career.

13.   Writing Excuses

Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Daniel Wells discuss writing techniques in a fast-paced, 15-minute format.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

Writing an argument between characters by Matthew Presley

Developing characters will often lead to conflicts; if everyone agrees, then where’s the story? And just because characters are on the same side doesn’t mean they’re always going to agree. That’s when arguments come up; not between characters so opposed they can’t agree on anything, but characters who are very much alike, but frustrated that there’s still some conflict. The perfect example is the lover’s quarrel; just because a couple argue doesn’t mean they don’t love each other. If anything, the couples that don’t argue, the ones who stay quiet when they’re upset, have the real problems.

In a story, an argument’s a good way to show character. Is your character unflappable? Do they have a temper? Are they holding back? Is a secret going to come out, or are they smart enough to hold their tongue?

Some things to remember when writing an argument;

Be angry: If an argument has no emotion to it, there’s no character. That doesn’t mean everyone should be shouting all the time though! Think of an argument as an arc; there’s a beginning, a triggering event, escalation, then a resolution. If the character’s are quick to anger, the escalation’s going to be quick and the resolution may end with one of them storming out. Remember the argument doesn’t always start with the characters arguing; the triggering event might be later on, especially if a tension’s been building up for some time.

Write quick, not smart: Unless you’re Oscar Wilde, an argument shouldn’t be a series of witty rejoinders. Even the smartest among us can’t have the best lines ready to counter an argument all the time. When we’re arguing, we don’t know what’s going to be said next, and we don’t have the reaction time to come up with the perfect response; it’s a case of ‘right now’ over ‘right’. When writing, however, the temptation is to make every line perfect; that’s what drafting is for, after all. With an argument, however, the characters level of erudition should drop about three pegs, especially if they’re temperamental and especially if someone’s pushing their buttons.

I found that writing an argument quickly, without worrying about actions or speech marks, gives you a good starting point. I tried not to edit it as much as possible; no doubt some people will dissect it and find it makes no sense, but it’s an argument, not a court case.

Now’s not the time to exposit!: Let’s take a regular, everyday fantasy fiction scene where an argument arises over a son’s decision to join a league of assassins. I think everyone can recognise this as a fairly stock scene.


Father: How can you join the Imperial Assassin’s Guild, the Black Crows? Don’t you remember how they killed your mother?

Son: I remember, father, for I was there ten years ago when mother died at their hands! And my decision isn’t to do with that unfortunate night, but because my wife is ill and only the Empire had the medicine!

Father: Of course! You’ve been married two years; I remember when I gave you your mother’s ebony-handled dagger as a wedding present!

Son: As do I!


If we’re going into an argument and don’t know all this already, then now isn’t the time for an argument. Arguments that introduce new information should be shocking not just to the reader, but to the characters as well. If we know what’s happened before the argument, we have more idea what’s at stake and it allows the characters to act in character.


Father: You-you’ve joined the Crows?

Son: Father...

Father: After all they’ve done?

Son: Lydia’s sick, father. Don’t make this sound like an easy choice.

Father: I won’t let you shame me like this!

Son: I’m doing this for my wife, damn it!


What isn’t the argument about?: Conflicts don’t happen in a vacuum (Except space operas). If someone knows another person well enough to argue with them, there’ll be other things that have happened or that they know which come out in the argument. Bringing up the past might be vindictive, unnecessary, making the situation worse... All things an argument can do. If you set up a lot of things that could come up in the argument, it gives you a good reason for escalating beyond the initial triggering event.

So back to our stock scene; the expository version gave us a lot of things to work with. The triggering event was the son joining an assassin’s guild. That’s what starts the argument, but other things come up. The mother’s death, his wife’s illness, the father’s shame at his son’s decision. These aren’t really what the arguments about, but contribute to keeping the argument going.

Adjusting Resolution: Not every argument should be resolved quickly. People need time to cool down, especially if an arguments get personal or the stakes are high. There’s also a level of tension if a character leaves an argument half-finished; what if they don’t get chance to make amends? They could be heading out to battle; what if one of the arguers dies?

Beware the Bickering: Two people are thrown together by circumstance, and must stay in each other’s company because of reasons! But one considers his counterpart brash and arrogant, while the other sees his travelling companion as weak and snobby! What could possibly ensue but hilarity?

Annoyance. Annoyance will ensue if they can’t resolve their differences. Annoyance will make every line they say a chore. Especially if the argument is the first time we meet a character. Let’s try a quick example;

A fighter, a thief and a wizard walk into a bar. They want to find a healer. When one turns up, the healer chastises the thief for his criminal nature. He curses the wizard for using godless magic, and makes no attempt to hide his contempt for the ‘dumb brute’ fighter.

The three all agree to find find a nicer healer.

We’re not given a reason to like the healer. The healer’s a complete jerk! Can you imagine wanting him to stick around? Let’s try again;

A thief and a wizard rush into town; the fighter’s grievously injured, and they need to find a healer. When one turns up, he uses his magic to patch up the fighter, but won’t accept money off the thief, considering it a crime to accept stolen money. When the fighters recovered, he recognises the use in having a healer join the group. The healer has some misgivings about joining, but isn’t in a position to turn down work, especially as the fighter still owes him for the first patch-up. Along the journey, the healer and wizard have good-natured arguments over the good and bad aspects of each other’s magic, and despite his initial distrust of the thief, the healer recognises when his skills are useful in picking locks or hiding from enemies.

There; the argument isn’t gone entirely, but it’s spread out over a length of time to make us appreciate the healer’s characters. He still argues a little with the thief, dislikes the wizard’s magic and might consider the fighter a dumb brute, but he’s not slamming his beliefs against our established characters. What’s more, he gave aid to the injured fighter before arguing with the thief. That’s enough reason to, if not like the guy, then at least not hate him.

But maybe your characters are more stubborn? Let’s try again.

A thief and a wizard rush into town; the fighter’s grievously injured, and they need to find a healer. When one turns up, he uses his magic to patch up the fighter, but won’t accept money off the thief, considering it a crime to accept stolen money. The thief takes umbrage at this; how is his money worse than anyone elses? The healer knows about the thief’s criminal nature; he’s been branded by the guard, so he might’ve been caught stealing at some point. The thief argues that it was years ago and the fighter’s been helping him reform; the healer begins to question how the fighter got injured in the first place. The fight is stopped, however, by the fighter; he recovers his sense enough to thank his healer, explains his injury, and tells the others to leave it till the morning when he can sort out payments. The next morning, the thief and healer are cold to each other, but the fighter recognises the benefits of them working together. The healer is doubtful, saying he won’t help in any crimes. With the fighter’s assurances of honest payment, the party’s journey continues.

The argument has a bit of tension to it, but the healer’s not so annoying the party won’t want him around (as well as the audience). Also remember the following point...

‘Screw this, I’ll do it alone!’: A common goal isn’t enough to stop people splitting apart if their differences are too great. Yeah, the evil baron needs defeating, but would you rather work with people who hate you, or that you get on with? Besides, if everyone else is a tool, they’re not going to be much use against the evil baron, are they? Especially if they’re criminals, godless magicians and dumb brutes!

Some fiction uses the situation to keep characters together. Red Dwarf has a central animosity between Lister and Rimmer that runs through the entire TV show and book series, but also isolates the characters from the world they knew. Farscape features a lot of bickering between the main crew of the Moya, however they can’t split up; they’re all wanted criminals, and at least together they have a mutual defence. If they split up, the Peacekeepers would presumably imprison them again. In your story, if the arguments continue without either side backing down, there must be a good reason why people don’t part ways. ‘Because the plot says so’ isn’t a good reason.

Above all, have fun. While as a person I’m shy and quiet, I find writing an argument fun; it gives me a chance to write heightened emotions in a way other scenes can’t. But that’s just my opinion; feel free to debate if you disagree.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The North Will Rise Again

"Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”

With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North.
Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries.
As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle.
The North will rise again.

Due next Friday - 23rd October, Steven Poore's book, The Heir to the North will be released (it is already available for pre-order). Steve is a member of this writing group and as well as being so happy for him to have his book published, which is very well deserved; we also all know how good this book is. We have been privileged to hear the early drafts and Cassia is a true heroine, an interesting and complex character and her story is well worth the read.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

What is Nano?

So I opened up my emails and found an nanowrimo email sitting in my inbox, so I thought I would devote the next three weekend posts to taking about nanowrimo, And the first post will be on what is nano? You will probably have heard the word thrown around if you visit the online writing websites but maybe unsure of what it actually what it means.

In simple terms –

Na – national

No – novel

Wri – writing

Mo – month

It basically means to write a novel in a month, which breaks down to 50,000 words in 30 days (as November is the chosen nano month). 50,000 word was chosen as that is the size of a small novel even if most novels tend to come in around twice that length. Nanowrimo participants are free to start at one minute past midnight on the 1st November and have to stop at one minute to midnight on the 30th November. That works out at hitting 1667 words a day for the first 29 days and 1657 words on day number 30.

Taking Part

To take part in nano, the only thing that you need to do is sign up to their website: which will help track your progress and give you tips and hints to help keep motivated and help you keep that word count growing – because yes, nano is about the word count. The other catch to Nanowrimo is that the story you write has to be a completely new one. This means that other than notes and pre-book plans, plots etc that no words have been written on the novel and you really are starting fresh on the 1st November.


There are no official prizes for ‘winning’ nanowrimo, although those that complete the task of 50,000 words can submit them to the website for verification after the 25th November and receive a certificate. The real prize to nanowrimo is the sense of achievement, the knowledge that you can keep writing and meet a target, and the first draft or the first 50,000 words towards a first draft of your novel. The reason I say first draft is, no book should ever be published either traditionally or independently without going through draft, not least for the factor that bound to be mistakes when you are churning the words out that fast.


Nanowrimo was started by freelance writer Chris Baty back in July 1999 with 21 participants taking part, all located in the San Francisco Bay area (California, USA). In 2000, nanowrimo was moved from July to November. This was said to have been done "to more fully take advantage of the miserable weather."
In 2000, the nanowrimo website was also launched for the first time. This website was designed by a friend of Chris Baty. 140 participants signed up in November 2000, including several from other countries (than the USA). In addition to the website, Baty started a Yahoo! Group allowing participant to socialise. After a number of questions, nanowrimo’s ground rules were created. Namely (a) the novel must be new (b) the novel cannot be co-authored, and (c) the novel must be submitted in time to be verified. Of the 140 participants, 29 completed the challenge.
In 2001 that number of 140 participants grew to 5,000 and in the end 700 completed their nanowrimo novel. Nanowrimo has continued to grow strongly every year, and by 2013 over 400,000 people participated (in 2010 it was calculated that 2,872,682,109 words were written.)


One of the main reasons (other than the challenge and getting a first draft ready) that people sign up for nano is because of the community support.  The website has official forums which offer advice, information, criticism, support, and an opportunity for "collective procrastination." The forums are available from the beginning of October, when signups for the year begin, until late September, when they are archived and the database is wiped in preparation for the next year.
Most areas/regions/cities will also have in person events. They are actively encouraged to coordinate at least two kinds of meet-ups; a kickoff party, and a "Thank God It's Over" party. Other events are also scheduled, including weekend meet-ups or overnight write-ins.

Published Nanowrimo Stories

So since 2006, there has been roughly 100 NaNoWriMo novels have been published (after going through later edits). These books have been published traditionally, through small presses and independent/self-published.

Some notable titles that started life as nanowrimo novels are:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, published by Doubleday
Persistence of Memory by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, published by Delacorte Press
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, published by St. Martin's Press
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, published by Dutton Juvenile
The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough, published by Del Rey Books
The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi, published by HarperTeen