Wednesday, 26 March 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 07: “Cutting to the chase”

Good news! I finished the first draft of CONDOLENCE, my entry for the zombie short story competition being run by SFX magazine.

Bad news! It was 388 words too long. I had some editing to do.

This was different to normal editing though. I wasn’t looking to build up character arcs and dialogue. I didn’t want to find where I could expand on description or subplot.

No, this was all hacking. Like Edward Scissorhands I needed to trim off all the excess until what I wanted to show revealed itself.

So the limit was 1500 and I wrote 1888.

The first thing I did was look for over descriptive sentences or sections. There were a lot. The first page had most of the flab. I guessed this was because I was setting out on the story, building the characters and the scene. The more I wrote the more action took over from description and I became more and more conscious of the word count each time I started a new page. I guess my brain was trimming before I knew I needed to. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.

To begin with the first line.

“Finally I could see the house. I grinned, fist pumped the air and turned to my friend Edgar.”

I kept the first five words. These are important. They let you know that the characters have arrived at their destination and that it’s probably been a long journey as we’ve opened with “Finally”. I also kept the end of the line where the narrator turns to Edgar as this helps to introduce the companion quickly.

But do you need to know that he grinned and fist bumped the air? Maybe if you had the luxury of no word limit then it would tell you a few things about his character straight away. It shows that despite the long journey, our main character isn’t down about his situation and still has a playful side.

Here though it’s too much for this short story and, as such, it had to go.

A few paragraphs later and the main character takes a moment to enjoy the peace and quiet of the suburbs, so much nicer than the inner city where he currently resides. This is then followed by him reminiscing over a memory from his childhood.

Gone and gone.

I also looked for the little over descriptions. For example when George, the main character, says “Edgar muttered something to me again” it’s at a point where there are only two characters so “to me” was cut.

As I moved through the story it was less about chunks and more about little snippets. “I quickly grabbed” became “I grabbed”. “I headed off to the kitchen” became “I headed to the kitchen”. My wife even joined in and suggested I change “passed out” to “fainted”. That was another word saved.

Each time I read through I felt like a racing driver; lap after lap, chipping away at the record time. I was reading, removing, reading more and removing more.

The story of CONDOLENCE is made up of three scenes. The first is where the characters return home. Next we have a flashback to before George and Edgar started their journey and what made them leave the city. Finally we return to the original scene and carry on to find out why they returned home.

As of the weekend just passed I had 134 words to lose to make the word count.

A couple of days ago one of my beta readers gave me her critique. She made some good points and I welcomed her direct honesty (if you’re reading this then you know who you are. Thank you for that honesty). As she finished her review she asked me if the story had to be 1500 words.

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I thought about it and realised the mistake I’d made.

You see the original version of CONDOLENCE that I’d planned had no flashback in the middle. I’d only put it in because I felt that the story was too short and needed filling out. But the filling was too big as it turned out. Perhaps it didn’t belong.

They said it couldn’t be more than 1500 but they didn’t say it couldn’t be less.

And sometimes less is more. So I went back to the drawing board and, on my lunch break today, I finished a new draft that I really like. Now I just have to find some time to type it up (made difficult that I move house tomorrow). Fingers crossed it’s less than 1500.

Wish me luck

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 06: “Check out the competition”

Last week I hit a dilemma. While I’m still determined to continue writing this blog and put together my collection of short stories for release, it seems fate has other ideas. It’s nothing drastic and it won’t stop me I promise. It’s just a very short detour.

While browsing the SFX magazine website I spotted two words that struck me with both excitement and fear in about equal measure.

WRITING

COMPETITION

It’s so frustrating because I’ve just gained momentum and promised myself to really focus on the short stories and then I turn around and Distraction stands before me, grinning in true Gene Simmons style.

So before you nag at me that I should be focusing on getting LOVE BITE ready for people to read I’m still working on that stuff too. I mean, honestly, a 1500 word short story shouldn’t be a problem, should it? I just couldn’t pass it up.

I put my Vampire story to one side and started working on a Zombie one instead.

The competition is to write a 1500 word zombie story. The magazine judges will whittle it down to five and, from those finalists, author Darren Shan will pick the winner. Now, I’ll admit that I’ve never read any of his work but, at the end of the day, he’s a ‘proper’ author and if he was to read my work, well that would be awesome. Of course I’d love to win too. If I did manage that then I would get seven of Darren’s books plus my story would be printed in SFX issue 250.

“I’d buy that for a dollar!”

So last week an idea popped into my head and I got straight to work. I’m trying to avoid the stuff that’s been repeated in movies and video games but without being too wacky or ‘left field’ so as not to be recognisable as a zombie story. I want to do something that’s not instantly obvious. Hopefully I’ve succeeded. If I don’t win then I will post the story on this blog once they announced the outcome. Of course, if I do win then you’ll have to buy the mag to find out what happens to George.

If you know your zombie movies then you might assume that the main character of George is named after George A Romero, the legendary zombie move director. Well you’d be right. I myself like little clever things dropped by authors in their work so of course I like putting them into my own work too.

Any way, if you don’t have much going on and feel like taking part yourself then follow this link and get writing. You’ve still got about six or seven weeks so what are you waiting for.

As for my wonderful beta readers who have been patiently waiting for me to put you to use and get something in your hands to start critiquing? Well, some of you should already have a copy of CONDOLENCE in your hands.

Be gentle.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 05: “5 Ways not to be a writer”

Over the years I’d read several books about how to be a writer. There are podcasts I listen to, websites to get lost in and classes to take. I’ve always used them when I was struggling, trying to find reasons why I was failing.

When I started this blog as a final attempt to put writing at the forefront of my life (after my wife and son of course) I promised myself that I would be honest, not just with those around me but with myself. I’d say most importantly with myself.

Upon deciding this I realised that there was nothing else in the universe stopping me except me. Sure, there were other things making it difficult but I knew that I needed to go around these obstacles, to smash through these walls. I could no longer point at excuses and shout “CAN’T!”

Although there are many excuses out there these are the five that have crippled me over the years.

* * * * *

1) ENTERTAINMENT

This one happens all the time, not just for writers but for everyone wanting to do almost anything. There is always a TV show to catch up on or a movie to watch. And when that fails and you’re anything like me, there are video games to suck your attention dry. Video games beg you to caress the ergonomically designed controller and become lost in a thousand alternate worlds.

During my first year of NaNoWriMo I was surprising myself by maintaining a steady rate of writing and keeping ahead of target. I would come in from work, have dinner and then retire to the spare bedroom to type, type, type away. My PS2 barely got switched on.

But then, in the middle of November, I bought an Xbox 360 and the shit hit the fan. I couldn’t stop playing the next generation of gaming and I wasn’t even online yet (Jan the next year blew my mind).  Needless to say, my word count dropped dramatically.

Thankfully, with four days to go, I somehow managed to snap out of it and wrote like I’d never written before. I pulled off two 3am write-a-thons in a row and finished the story.

I got lucky. I won that battle but I realise now that I lost the war. Gaming took over more and more and writing almost became a ghost; something I used to do. The heart rate dropped and dropped and nearly flat lined on several occasions.

Sometimes I think about how I wasted that time and it makes me sick. How much could I have written instead wasting time playing games? I’ll never know.



2) RESTARTS

Half a life a go I was in college writing screenplays in my spare time. Something happened back then that would carry on for years; endings began to elude me because I was always restarting. I’d come back to something after a week and think it was the worst thing I’d ever written. I’d come up with a better way of opening the story and start from scratch; new sheet of paper, title at the top and off we go.

As I’ve mentioned before and will definitely mention again, NaNoWriMo saved me by teaching me to ignore the muck you wrote yesterday and just get to the end. You can edit it all when you’ve finished.

Which leads me to . . .



3) EDITING

Similar to the above in that it can slow you down in getting to the ending if you edit as you write, it’s also a problem even after you finish. I have four first drafts saved on my computer (with hard copies clipped in ring binders somewhere). Each and every one of them needs editing and that’s something that scares the crap out of me. It’s so daunting to look at a hundred pages of A4 and even start thinking about chopping it up and rewriting it.

So I should just focus on short stories, right? Wrong. These have the opposite effect where I can’t stop editing them. I’m like George Lucas on ecstasy. I can’t stop changing things and adding scenes.

I realise now that I have to just sign off when others think its right to and say goodbye to my words, get busy working on the next thing.



4) SHARING

I know a lot of readers suffer from this. If there’s one thing that scares me more than editing a novel it’s sharing my work with real live people. What if they think it’s no better than toilet paper? What if they kill me and keep it as their own? Or what if, horror of horrors, they like it? Arrggghh.

Friend: “Can I read some of your writing?”

Me: “It’s not finished. It still needs work. I don’t think it’s very good. STOP SMOTHERING ME!”

Unfortunately if no one reads it then you’re writing for an audience of one. If you’re okay with that then its fine. Me? I want to walk into Waterstones one day and see my book on a shelf. People will need to read my work before it gets there so I guess I’m going to have to let go.

That’s not to say I’m going to give it out to just anyone. In the early stages a writer needs people he or she can trust to help fix the work. They need to find a nice mix of people who like several genres, some close to what they’ve written and others not so much. And they need to make it clear to the readers that, while telling an author that you like their work makes them smile inside, telling them why you like it or why you don’t helps to make the work better.

I’ve been alright so far. While my friends aren’t calling me the next King, Tolkien or Dickens I can at least count my blessings that no one has called me crap.

As a side note, I’d like to thank all of you who have read my work and given me feedback, especially those of you out there who keep asking me for more. I promise it’s on its way.



5) NOT WRITING

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it but a writer can’t afford to put it off, not even for a second. None of this “I’ll do twice as much tomorrow” or “I’ve only got ten minutes, it’s not worth starting now”. A writer must pick up a pen or switch on that computer and put words down to tell the story.

Sometimes time seems to evade us and we let writing drop way, way down the list of things to get done before bedtime. Well that’s crap. You want to write? Then write.

I want to write.

No one can tell you you’re not a writer but, if you don’t write then how can you call yourself one.

* * * * *

I have faced these five demons and now laugh in their collective faces. I turn away from distractions, I get to the end first and I let go when it is done, not when I’m done. I use people to help me and, most importantly, I write.

They say there’s a book in everyone. If that sentence speaks just a faint whisper to you then I urge you to have a go. Try to find out what’s stopping you and kindly ask it to move aside. If it won’t move then pick up a cold, wet fish and slap it across the face.

Maybe one day we can share a book shelf together.

See you in seven.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

(vol 1) CHAPTER 04: “Take a bite”

So, I’ve been writing.

Due to having a one year old son to look after and my current, cramped living conditions, I’m currently struggling to find quality writing time. One of the most important things to a writer is that space where you sit down and block out the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s being sat at your desk in the spare room typing away into the late hours of the night or relaxing in a hammock on a summer’s afternoon putting pen to paper. What matters is how you feel in this space and how much the world leaves you alone.

So when a writer can’t find his or her writing space it can be frustrating. At the moment I’m using my lunch breaks; one hour a day from Monday to Friday. Once I’ve moved in to my new house I’ll hopefully have that space I crave and more time in the evenings. That’s the plan.

Update: yesterday I finished the first draft of LOVE BITE. I’m quite pleased with how it’s turned out but it does still need some work before I release it into the wild. I’m currently typing it up on the lap top (obviously not right now; I’m typing this blog up) so that people don’t have to decipher my mad alien handwriting. With a readable product I’m planning on handing the story over to beta readers. While I wait for their feedback I’m going to work on the final draft of the story which will open the collection. More on that in a later blog post.

Back to LOVE BITE. I wrote this about seven or eight years ago for an online writing group. They’d set up writing challenges with word limits and prompts. We’d have a week to write a sci-fi, fantasy and/or horror story based on these criteria. That week the prompt love (I think it had just been Valentine’s Day). I went with the vampire angle but the 1000 word limit cramped my story. The characters didn’t really do much and, because it was rushed, it didn’t make much sense.

I knew when I was choosing stories for this collection that LOVE BITE was going in. I had always wanted to do more with it. After a week of rewriting the new version the story is about nine times bigger. There are flashbacks, different locations and stronger characters. Personally I think it’s improved and much closer to the story I originally wanted to write way back then.

There’s still work to do. While reading through it as I typed it up I was already making changes. Along with edits made during future drafts it will all have to be ironed out and smoothed over but it’s looking good.

Below is a little chunk from the beginning of the story. Sorry it isn’t too long; it’s still early days and it is a short story after all. Hopefully once the feedback is in and the first major changes have been made I can put a larger piece up.

Enjoy.



LOVE BITE

Her laughter cut through me.
I couldn’t look at her yet. I continued to watch out of the high window across from me. There wasn’t much to see; the basement window was at street level. It was late at night and, of the neighbours’ houses that I could see, only one had glowing windows to show someone else on my street was up as late as me.
Hope they were having as much fun.
The basement was the best place to deal with the situation I had recently found myself in. One of the world’s dirty little secrets.
“What’s up, lover boy?” she said with distain. “I thought you always wanted to be with me. I thought we would be together forever. Your heart, my heart . . .”
That was enough. I couldn’t allow my wedding vows to be butchered by her. I turned from my view, striding across the basement until I was right in front of her. Then I hit her across the face. The force behind the strike nearly toppled her and the dining room chair she was currently tied to.
As I got my breath back the sting started to spread from my fingers to my hands. She just looked up at me and smiled, the wound on her cheek made by my wedding ring already healing.
“Domestic abuse?” she said. “You’re different, you know?” She chuckled.
“Shut up!” I was seething. I returned to the other side of the basement in case I hit her again. I was so angry but also afraid that I might start hitting her and never stop. I looked back out at the quiet world at the end of the drive.
Oblivious.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I like it rough.”
“Shut the hell up, Lorna,” I muttered. I played with the wooden stake in my hand, making sure she could see it.
“Oh come on honey,” said Lorna. “If you had the balls to stick that thing in me I’d be ash by now.”
She talked like a spoilt little teenager who hadn’t got her way and was determined to spend the rest of the night being as annoying as possible. It was working.
“If you keep pushing my buttons then I promise this thing will go straight through your rotten, twisted heart before you can scream.”
“I’ll push your buttons sweetie.” That smile again. “Just undo a couple of my buttons and I’ll get you all worked up. Then you can plunge your other stake into me all night long. I know you want to. I’ll let you do all those kinky things you were always asking to try.” She licked her lips. “Come on, untie me. You’re not ready to say goodbye to your wife yet.”
No, I thought to myself. No I wasn’t.



Please let me know what you thought in the comments. While nice comments are welcome criticism will help fix any problems. Again, I apologise for its lack of length.

Anyway, I’m off. I have a short story to write up.

See you in seven.