Oh it’s a Greek Tragedy…

Oh it’s a Greek Tragedy…

One of the things I’ve been doing this summer is studying the art of story telling. I’m frequently loose in how I approach writing, not working to one style or method, (if I were being romantic about it, I’d describe myself as the Bruce Lee of writing, however in reality it’s purely because I just go with the flow). For instance, I often don’t have a defined antagonist, or I’ll have multiple in succession, (kind of like bosses in video games), or the antagonists will be an organisation of equal parts.

There’s actually nothing stylistically wrong with that par se, however it doesn’t really sit with fashion. Audiences expect a clear antagonist with subordinates, people they can root for or against. Doesn’t matter if it’s the monster of the week, or business men, it all ties back to one individual that sits atop an hierarchy, or goes it solo. Sometimes writers throw twists of a hidden relative, or a behind the scenes bogeyman to fuel a sequel, but they either usurp the antagonist’s power after the main conflict is resolved, or they were always the enemy and the hero never knew.

Meanwhile my protagonists tend to be singular heroes, even when they’re part of a group I paint them as above it, separate from it. I’m not happy I do it most of the time, it’s what my recent writing actually required, it was post-apocalyptic after all, and he was the only survivor in the region. However this peculiar failing on my part has probably been the cause of many stories not being finished as I write myself into a corner no single mere man, (or woman), can escape.

Of course there are ways round this, I could go back and alter the story to add in another character to come to the rescue, or indulge in a bit of deux ex machina, but that would feel contrived to me. That said, recently I’ve seen some excellent uses of this, such as in the film Gravity (I won’t spoil it with details if you’ve not seen it yet), or in Star Wars, (you know the bit in the first film where Obi Wan speaks to Luke at the critical moment, “Use the force Luke”. Both are well reasoned, and don’t feel at all contrived, (to me anyway).

Having one character to carry the whole of the story sounds simple, but if you write yourself in the corner, you’re stuck. Not to mention it’s unnatural, and if it happens in the workplace it’s a very dark day because one employee, with either good or bad intentions, holds a whole business to ransom.

I can admit my failings, it’s the only way to learn to do better. To do better I need to change how I write, so I’ve been studying the how other writers handle their protagonists and antagonists. One of the methods I like it’s a common one in Greek story telling which involves three principle characters:

  • Protagonist, chief actor – who enters into conflict because of the antagonist. They’re the one we follow, identify with, and support… Most of the time anyway.
  • Deuteragonist, the second actor, he’s the supporter or even a minor antagonist, his loyalties, drives, and actions alter independent of the protagonist or antagonist, but in accordance with his own arc/plot.
  • Tritagonist, the third actor, this is your antagonist, the provider of conflict to your protagonist and potentially deuteragonist.

This is quite a simple method, but it has flexibility which is good. You could have the Deutaragonist as multiple people for instance, as long as each part qualifies, if you were on a long voyage, you might have multiple guides along the way, if it’s a war story the second in command could die and be replaced by someone else fulfilling the same function – though each would bring uniqueness to the role.

While looking it at, I did wonder if it’s realistic? And I could easily find thousands of hypothetical examples of this dynamic. One of my favourites is a film called The Sting (1973, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford), though the con uses many people, and the target has how own people, ultimately the core of the story is protagonist, deuteragonist, and tritagonist, while necessary and intimately involved with events and well characterised and acted, the other characters are superfluous, nice detail, vehicles of convenience. It’s the same with TV homages to the sting as seen in Hustle, Leverage, and White Collar to name a few, so much so, in those homages, previously strong characters are relegated to minor roles.

I’m not trying to belittle other characters importance, certainly while there are good examples of stories with only three characters at all out there, you mostly can’t create a convincing world without other people. However, if you’re to create an arc or a plot for each and every character in your story, if each of them had to have more than a line of backstory, the story would become a diluted mess, and if you only had two fleshed out characters, (the protagonist and antagonist), the story would be just as diluted and weak.

There are many ways you could do your primary characters, maybe the story needs five, maybe it only needs two, all I’m saying is with the two I normally do I get stuck, and with more than three I don’t think I could keep it in course, so I think protagonist, deuteragonist, and tritagonist is a dynamic that I think will work for me.

So this is another challenge for my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel. All being well I’ll have a strong cast of characters, a protagonist that people can invest in, and no plot holes for me to get buried in. So in the plotting I’m doing I’m going to list ten characters, the three summarised above, some key characters to help drive the story on, with enough detail to make them interesting. Thereafter, other characters will be planned as a list of names, and what their role within the story is, and some description notes.

Where is this all going? – Redefining success

Where is this all going? – Redefining success

I alluded in my last post what being a writer to me is.

“[...] Writers write. Being published, even read, that’s irrelevant. Writers write. That’s the only thing that defines a writer.”

In that sense I’m quite successful, I can and do write. That’s more of an epiphany than you might think, I called my blog Aspiring because I thought I was an aspiring writer, a nascent storyteller, yet still not on the mark, however that’s not the truth. I might be trying to learn to be better at writing, but that’s irrelevant. I write, therefore I’m a writer.

What I really am is an aspiring author. I’m trying to hone my craft to the level I feel comfortable sharing my works, with little or no qualification. That’s not as easy as it sounds, I’m highly self critical. To accept something I’ve written to be good enough to publish to the world, (whether that’s through this blog, through self publishing ebooks, or through submitting to publishers), is no small feat. I have done it, like with the sci fi serial I posted for a while, (and since taken down because I wasn’t happy with it), and the daily flash fiction challenge I did, (albeit with lots of qualifiers about quality and haste, all 140+ short stories are still there – so that’s something, right?).

I’ve decided I want to take this seriously though. I want to leave my mark in one fashion or another, and there’s one thing that I’m good enough that has the chance of being indelible, and that’s writing. What I do at work is transient, it’s replaced by the next big thing pretty much monthly, I don’t have any particular insights into my job that would like to a new methodology being named for me. It’s not modesty, because I do some amazing stuff. Now writing, I don’t know if I’d ever be good enough to be remembered beyond myself, but there’s a greater chance of it.

Millions of stories, books, every year get forgotten about. It’s actually kind of sad when you think about it. However thousands will be remembered by people, thousands will affect lives, and some of those will go on and be read and remembered by future generations.

When you read Jane Austen, HG Wells, Frank Herbery, Tolkien, DH Lawrence, even things like Beowulf, you’re contributing to the immortality of not just the characters, but the writers. And I find that tremendously exciting, to be connected with these fantastic talents across the bridge of years. So of course, I’d like to try my hand at that – not that I’m saying I can, but I am saying I can try. It requires refocusing myself, and really aspiring. All I’m saying is it’s possible, it’s exciting, and it’s worthwhile.

Even if I somehow miss, (and I won’t know that until the day I give up writing stories), I’ll still have all the fun of crafting my stories into words.

So there’s a few milestones I need to get past on the way, which I’m going to explore over several posts. Here’s a few key ones that I need to do for this year’s NaNoWriMo:

  • A good story idea (and all the elements that implies like interesting characters, a compelling arc, fascinating sub-plots, etc)
  • Clear writing, (no needlessly using overcomplicated or antiquated words – I’m not trying to win over critics, I’m trying to win over as many readers as I am capable of)
  • Focusing as much time, (or indeed more), on my second draft as the first draft
  • Pure dedication to the art of editing, and re-editing, (ad inifinitum), until the story is finely honed. Then I’ll consider having a third party take it further.
  • Promotion of my self and my novel, which is a bit of a tough one because I’ve no idea where to start, but I’ll cross that bridge once I know I’ve got a story I want to push that far.
  • The right vehicle from myself to my readers, (whether it’s publishing to my blog, to ebook stores, or whatever – whichever is right for the novel)

So if that’s my challenge, when am I going to do it? When else? NaNoWriMo. My goal of this NaNoWriMo is a complete first draft of a novel. I think I’ll aim for the 200k mark, assuming I’ll lose half in editing and re-editing, that should leave me with a reasonable sized novel.

To do that I’m going to have to be prepared, so this will be another planning year. That gives me 66 days to get ready. This week I’ll filter my ideas down to just a couple and then make my final decision, and dedicate myself to two months of detailed plans. Characters, scenes, plots all detailed ready to be pulled together into a story.

This year, (well next by time I’ve finished finishing) editing and such), will be the year I finally make an attempt at doing something with my writing, if I’ve got something that warrants it, that is, if not I’ll immediately start a new project. The first draft and first round of editing will be completed before moving onto another project – because anything less would be defeatist, than realistically evaluating what I’ve written.

It doesn’t do to preface a challenge with failure, but what’s the worst that can happen? If I don’t succeed, if I don’t have millions of people feverishly pouring over my words, I’ll still be a writer, and I’ll still be enjoying writing. This is merely another level hopefully.

My oh my, well it has been a long time…

My oh my, well it has been a long time…

My last post here was the 31st October, just getting ready for NaNoWriMo 2013. I’d had the ambitious aim of finishing in twenty four hours, but alas, I was a bit ill – quite a bit ill actually, and it waylaid me. Still, I managed a day ten win, so I’m still proud and happy.

A lot has happened in the past eight months, in November I started a new job. A very busy, stressful, demanding, and satisfying job. Lots of travel at the beginning of the year for work, (I’ve racked up something like twenty nights in hotels this year so far). In January I had to move from my home of over a decade, but I now have a two bedroom back to back all to my lonesome, and it’s nice, if a little too quiet at times. Both new and old friends have been coming and going, each bringing those indelible marks onto my life, the little changes, the memories, the lessons not to be forgotten.

This is just a synopsis though, you’ll have to wait twenty years for the biography, because all that life stuff isn’t what this blog is for. No, this is blog is for the writing. If I were to look at my life and say what label I would most like to be identified with, it would be ‘Writer’.

Of course writers write. Being published, even read, that’s irrelevant. Writers write. That’s the only thing that defines a writer. I write stories, that’s me. Despite everything going on, I’ve actually been doing that. Had a few false starts, that are now doomed to the dusty and neglected corner of my mind labeled “For future use”, but there’s one that’s fast forming a story that I’m quite proud of. It’s post apocalyptic zombie stuff, so hardly original, and somewhat dated with the zombie fetishism rapidly vanishing from fashion, but I’m enjoying writing it, and it has clever touches.

I’ve been reading a lot too, I’m practically devouring novels at the moment, but it’s helping me form my ideas for NaNoWriMo 2014. A nice big epic story to achieve my highest November word count yet, and of course another attempt at the one day 50k.

What else is happening? Well the post apocalyptic zombie novel should be finished this month. This July I’m banning myself from social media, (I don’t count blogging), no TV binges on Netflix, LoveFilm, et al, just four hours a week to watch films, healthy diet, exercise, chores being done, and the rest of my free time being taken up with writing and reading. I’m going to be highly productive this month, starting with finally updating here.

Will be pulling more interesting stuff together as well, rather than just recaps of my life, (because there’s enough replays around with this World Cup nonsense).

So watch this space.

Pre-NaNoWriMo 2013 Update

Pre-NaNoWriMo 2013 Update

So, NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us, just days to go.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to fit it in later in the month. There’s a lot going on in my life, in most aspects of my life in fact.

Problem is, I need to keep challenges tough. In fact they need to be borderline unbeatable. That pressure I’ve found is absolutely necessary for me to win. Once 50,000 words was too much, now 100,000 looks easy. 150,000 should be doable, and 200,000 falls into the possible if I try hard category. Now, I know, or at least suspect that the level of effort I can put in is curtailed as I mentioned. So, I’ve thought really hard about how to challenge myself. Tiered targets, one of which is definitely borderline achievable, then the others taper off allowing for the shifting sands of fate upon my writing time.
Challenge 1) the most daunting, and potentially silly. Partly because I’m doing it to see if can beat someone, partly because even I don’t think it’s possible. The challenge is a day one win. 50,000 before midnight on first.

To make it easier, I have however booked the day of work, I’ll be going to bed early, and rising just in time for the 1st of November to officially start in the UK. I’ll probably have a 9am nap. It’s all perfectly possible if you get a strong start, and I’m sure knowing where I need to take those first 50,000 words will help.

Challenge 2) nice and simple, with two weekend days, but work on all the others, another 50,000 words by the end of the following 7 days.

Challenge 3) a final 50,000 by the 30th November.

All challenges are exclusive, so challenge 2 is 50,000 regardless of how many I manage to achieve in challenge 1,and challenge 3 is always 50,000 regardless of what I achieve in previous two tasks.

These are just word count challenges, I’ll find and/or steal challenges along the way, to keep it interesting and fun.

So now I’m done bragging about the size of my target, I should probably discuss something practical. I want to cover off preparation separately, and then there’s technology (a favourite post of mine), and I’d like to discuss what I’m planning to write. No, a far more urgent, (well brief and unimportant), is what I’ll do with my blog during this time.

I won’t be posting everyday, because I need to write fiction, not blogs, and a post every day would basically amount to “Woohoo, x thousand words!” or, alternatively, “Boohoo! X hundred or less words, this sucks!” Neither of which are that much fun, daily. A post the day after the challenges are due sounds fine for word counts, and self aggrandising.

If I post at other times, I’d like to focus on challenges I’ve faced in trying to achieve those targets, lessons learned, funny story, excerpts from the #nanoyorks chat room, because the people there, (the rare troll aside), are so fabulous and great. (Yes, I’m sucking up, but I’m not around much this year so have to do something to keep them liking me).

Right I should get back to planning, have a lovely climate controlled hotel room, no distractions for a few hours, and lovely tea. What more can a writer want for?

To anyone, and everyone taking part in this year’s NaNoWriMo, I wish you all the best, and good luck.

The Road to NaNoWriMo 2013

The Road to NaNoWriMo 2013

It’s that time again, when many writers put their heads above the parapet of their day to day fertile scribblings, (or piles of blank paper, depending on how their proverbial muse has been treating them), because right around the corner is NaNoWriMo.

Sixty-six days until the madness begins again.

In case you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo before, it’s the National Novel Writing Month, (albeit it is now very much an international festival of writing). The goal through the thirty days of November is to write a fifty thousand word novel. How, and what are upto you.

I’ve done it several times, and I’m on a chain of wins, which I hope to maintain. Every year I set myself a bigger and bigger challenge. This year I’m doing the same one hundred and fifty thousand words – but the first fifty I’m going to aim to finish in three days. To put that in context, last year it was day ten when I hit 50k,the year before day 13. The harder a challenge I set myself the better I do – regardless of whether I ultimately complete the challenge, I will do more than enough to be proud of.

I’m not sure what I’ll write just yet, I have some great ideas I’ve previously mentioned, but I’ve either been working on them too much, or the idea turned out not to be as writable as I first imagined.

I may not have an idea for a story specifically, but I have some thoughts on style – basically I want to try my hand at a multi generational story, following three generations of the same family. If I go with science fiction then it will be based on a colony somewhere, and be quite western inspired, but I could go fantasy and set it in a world where a cataclysm is happening, has happened, or is fated to happen. I like both ideas to be honest – but I’ve not fleshed either of them out.

Cue mind mapping, and copious research. I may go with neither and do something else entirely, but that’s where I am right now. That’s the joy of the road to NaNoWriMo, getting ready for it… And potentially trashing all the plans and doing something else entirely come November the first when it begins.

Writing Playlist Summer 2013

Writing Playlist Summer 2013

Well this is awkward, I wanted to post about my new writing playlist. In the past, I used Spotify and it wasn’t too bad export the list to make it postable, (words not the music itself – though sharing that on Spotify was easy too if someone had Spotify). Now I’ve switched to Amazon Cloud Player – all my tracks stored within easy reach of my phone and my laptop without the chaos of thousands of MP3′s loitering, in many cases with duplicates of duplicates.

However, Amazon don’t make it particularly easy to export the text of a playlist – so to show you mine it has to be a cut and paste job via Excel – took two copies and pastes to get the whole thing out. This is how dedicated I am to sharing.

This is actually my longest list thus far, and it’s just under half what it started off as. However I’m happy with it.

Music is, and always has been important to my writing process, for three reasons:

  1. It gaves me pacing and rhythm
  2. It focuses the mind, and it can distract the mind from over focusing
  3. It’s inspirational

For me to add it to a writing playlist it usually has to conform to three out of these four criteria:

  1. It requires no effort to ignore
  2. It doesn’t jar with the worlds I’m trying to create
  3. It fits with world’s I’m trying to create
  4. It eggs me on, exercise music for the brain

Of course there are always exceptions, and it’s entirely subjective, which it’s my list, and probably in it’s entirety only works for me. However, I share to compare and discuss, so feel free to comment with any suggestions.

My playist for Writing, Summer 2013

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Daily Flash Fiction: The Early Conclusion

Daily Flash Fiction: The Early Conclusion

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

Genesis 1:31

And the writer saw everything he had written, and behold, he saw 14 grammatical errors, 27 spelling mistakes, 5 plot inconsistencies, and 3 unbelievable truths

Jonathan L. Lawrence, May 2013

 

Hands up if anyone noticed I’d not posted in a month? Well I noticed, and it was very annoying, because it means I’m really really quite far behind on my daily flash fic posting. So far behind that it’s gotten to a month and a half, (well 44 days to be precise). I’m never going to catch that up, because I don’t think I can commit to daily stories at the moment. It’s never been my style, I’m not a short story writer. Well despite 135 short stories to the contrary.

That said, I am really proud of some of them, yes they all need a lot of work – the challenge was not to edit and just keep posting, but there are some real gems in there.

And since I’m very fond of stats, I’ve had a look at some for this challenge:

105,168 words written (in story only)

796 average story length

Here’s some graphs, because I love a good graph. The first shows my words per day, and a moving average word count. It shows I was gradually getting shorter in length, which was a goal of the challenge, so that’s something positive to take away:

From Word Usage

The second is just for my interest really, I like seeing an accumulative word count. Of course with a limit of 1,000 words maximum, and for most of the challenge a minimum of 500 it was pretty much guaranteed to run a relatively straight line, but it’s nice to see all the same:

From Word Usage

Aside from getting bogged down in distractions, apathy, and writer’s block, I’ve enjoyed the challenge for the most part. And it’s succeeded in several ways, such as having the chance to try new things, practice things I’ve never been particularly good at, writing with a little more abandon. It’s also given me ample opportunity to see where my skills are weakest in the fundamentals, (spelling and grammar that I simply don’t get).

It’s also more words than I’ve written outside of NaNoWriMo since I started doing NaNoWriMo, and probably from before then too.

I’m not done though, although I won’t be trying to keep up with 365 short stories in a year, I am going to post the occasional short story – to keep my eye in for next year, to give me a break from other projects, and to simply test out an idea I’ve got bouncing round in my head.

In the meantime I’ve got two pretty big story ideas, neither of which will be saved for NaNo, I want to write them now. I’m in a planning phase at the moment with brain storms and notes scattered all around. I’ve decided which one I’m going to write first, though I’ve written a few lines, (the proverbial foothold in enemy territory of the plain white page), I’m mostly writing out the back story. It’s a fantasy piece and it requires a good backing mythos to really work.

I’ll get you next time, Gadget. Next time!

Daily Flash Fiction Challenge 135: The Voice on the End of the World

Daily Flash Fiction Challenge 135: The Voice on the End of the World

This is the 135th in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.

The Voice on the End of the World, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 14th April 2013

Word count: 632

The story:

“All you have to do is crawl inside and pull the wire,” the voice over the wireless headset said.

“I’m not going to survive am I?” Carol asked.

“Its already too late. I’m sorry, we didn’t know it would be uncovered,” the voice said soberly.

“I liked you better when you were flirty,” Carol said, “This will save everyone else though?”

“We think so, it will at least stop it spreading,” the man on the other end of the call said, “If there were any other way… If there was any way at all to save you, I would make sure it was done, even if I had to hop in a helicopter and do it myself.”

“Thank you,” Carol said.

“When you go in,” the man said, and Carol appreciated bringing the conversation back to business, “The cables going to be far in, it’s bright red. Pull with everything you’ve got until it comes loose. That will stop the reaction and the radiation will begin to subside.”

“What’s it going to be like in there?” Carol asked.

“It’ll be hell, it’s going to be hot, your hands and feet will burn every time they make contact with a surface. You’ll feel your hair melting, and your vision will be impaired.”

“Wish you’d stopped at hell,” Carol said.

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Daily Flash Fiction Challenge 134: Interplanetary Politic

Daily Flash Fiction Challenge 134: Interplanetary Politic

This is the 134th in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.

Interplanetary Politic, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 13th April 2013

Word count: 460

The story:

“What makes you want to be president?” the journalist asked, then tipped her microphone forward.

The senator took a calming breath, “I want to make a difference. This world we live, well the universe really, faces unique and immense challenges, and as head of the World Government, I believe I can help us through it.”

“There’s some controversy over the office of World President, many member nations have expressed a wish to leave, or even disband the World Government. President Hutton founded, and headed the government for four terms, without him, will it stand?” the the journalist asked.

“I wouldn’t say it was under significant risk,” the senator said, “People are worried, the future is uncertain, it’s understandable. However, humanity has the greatest opportunity to shape it’s own destiny since since someone shared the secret of fire with their neighbours. The first rounds of the presidential elections will be in a few months, everyone will vote at least to see where it will go, before anyone chooses to leave.”

“Thank you Senator Wetherby,” the journalist said turning back to face the hovering camera. The senator walked on, where his press consultant and Chief of Staff awaited him.

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Daily Flash Fiction Challenge 133: The Pitch

Daily Flash Fiction Challenge 133: The Pitch

This is the 133rd in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.

The Pitch, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 12th April 2013

Word count: 820

The story:

“This it?” the General asked looking at the stand.

“That’s what all the fuss is about,” the executive said.

“Its not very intimidating,” the General noted.

“This weapon isn’t a threat, if you pull the trigger while it’s pointed at someone, they will die. Armour, cover, none of that matters. It has a one hundred percent kill rate, and it’s spot on accurate. No loud bangs, not even the puff from a silencer. It does one thing kill,” the executive said.

“Can we wrap it in something more terrifying?” the general asked.

“A wolf dressed as a wolf?” the salesman asked.

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