Random Update on My Life

So, I’ve got some things to say on books and movies… been struggling for inspiration blog wise, and I don’t want to just have space fillers and time wasting posts just to maintain some level of frequency. Benefit of not trying to make money off of a blog with advertising and sponsorship’s, I’m not beholden to the stats. It’s just my place to put down thoughts, ideas and share things I’ve learnt along the way, when I feel like it, it’s my space no one else’s.

So I’m back again, there’s at least four posts I want to write, not including this one. This one is a general update, there’s a lot of stuff going on in my life, which eclipsed both writing and blogging for a little bit.

To be honest, not writing was a mistake, I could have probably done with the release, write some random stuff just to get things off my chest, or explore what it is I’m feeling.

I’ll stop burying the lead, I’m faced with a massive life change as I’m being made redundant from a company I’ve worked at for 12 years. It’s not a bad thing, I posted round about this time last year about the need to make a change in my life regarding work, but it actually happened is something else.

I’ve got a plan, it’s a pretty good plan, it will allow me to keep earning, and given time, effort and dedication, I can prosper. Not only that, if managed well I will have more spare time, so I can really focus on my writing journey. It’s change though, it’s a massive change – and obviously that’s scary.

What’s interesting is, incredibly frequently in stories the characters have to go through serious changes in their lives as part of the story, and even when it’s something you want or are ready for, I don’t think I’ve ever fully understand just how emotional that can be. In fact, I think it’s something a lot of writers don’t necessarily appreciate.

So, this is where I find myself now. Exciting, but scary times. I just wanted to say something about it.

There’ll be a few more posts in the next few weeks, but for now I’m going to enjoy the Leeds West Indian Carnival parade, it passes by my street. I’ll add a photo of it. It’s a great event, one of the best things about living where I am now.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Prep : Perspective

I tend not to like stories that are told from a single view point. It’s not universal by any means, there are great stories out there that solely follow a protagonist, and I’ve probably enjoyed many of them, but generally I don’t like it.

I hunger to see things from other points of view, including the villains and antagonists. You get more character depth, plans and plots are grander and more intriguing when you can see what goes into them, and the stakes are a little higher because the story doesn’t have to be reliant on one person to tell it, which means characters can die, no one is safe.

This is entirely a personal thing, it’s an authors choice, and audience considerations, etc…

And it can go wrong too, in A Song Of Ice and Fire, clearly the multiple perspectives gets out of control when you have to read the same scene three or four times from different characters perspectives across a couple of books. Yeah that becomes difficult for the reader.

It also leads to things like “There’s not enough Aardvark-man in this Aardvark-man story”, because you spend too long away from your protagonist setting up an exciting their act. Though in fairness, that could just be a sign of weak or stupid villains or plans, because maybe if Aardvark-man stepped in act at two, he should be able to sniff out the plan and fix it before it escalates, so you just had to keep him away.

Anyway, so going through the major events of my NaNoWriMo novel for this November, I’ve marked on what perspective each one will be from.

Not only that I’ve decided any that my protagonist will be in, it will always be from their perspective, almost like they’re powerful enough to take control whether they’re around. Other perspectives in the story will come from the companions of the perspective, the Hero, (not the protagonist, but the one they must find to save the day and all that jazz), the antagonists, (big bad and henchmen), and because I want my story to have impact and stakes I’d like a few scenes from ancillary character’s perspectives – you know voice of the local people, common soldiers – people who pay the price for grand big important people’s ambitions.

Not worked out where or what the ancillary characters scenes will be, but I can’t help feeling they’ll be important to the aesthetic I want. I also don’t want them taking over the story, they should still drive the plot, or provide very specific context, rather than being there for the sake of it.

Well Shucks…

I broke my 38 day streak on Duolingo because I was writing, and forgot to do it. Oopsie. I can start again on the streak, that’s not an issue, what’s amazing is though, when you’re in that place and the words just flow, and for love nor money, you don’t want to stop them.

That being said, I value education – so it’s still a little disappointing, was getting quite proud of that streak, my longest yet. That’s the game though, Duolingo isn’t the best way to learn, it does gamify the process, keeps you ticking along with the little burst of endorphins when you achieve your daily target, with it’s treasure boxes and such.

It’s actually something writers can and do employ, I don’t know if you’ve read Dan Brown’s books, but the cliff hangar every few pages or so, forces you to move on and move on and move on, and it rewards you with little endorphin highs… basically it hooks you, and you have to read just one more page constantly. People tend to read them fast because of that little hook.

I’m not a big fan of the Da Vinci Code for a number of reasons, including the bait and switch psychological tricks, the dumbing, and the pretentious nature… but when I read them I fell for them all the same, page after page I would go, think the Da Vinci coode took me a day and a half. I just didn’t think it was very satisfying when I got to the end, but others do, because they’ve never invested so much concentrated focus

I’m picking on Dan Brown here, but it’s a common trick, and sometimes it’s used in good books… but it feels so cheap. It’s the kind of thing supermarkets and junk food purveyors employ.

Still it sells, and sells well – if you’re wanting to write for a living, and not have another form of employment, then you do what you need to do. Ultimately the audience is the judge of anything and everything if that’s the route you want to go down. Just promise me if you work out the technique, you’ll use it with something good and worthwhile.

P.S. There’s nothing wrong if you enjoy Dan Brown’s books, in fact more power to you – I just don’t… As with all art, it’s ultimately a subjective thing, there are no absolutes, you’ve just got to love what you love.

Besides, at least Dan Brown doesn’t bug you to spend £5 to make up for one day not reading, unlike Duolingo – thanks but no thanks.

Rules Are Meant to be Broken

So… I started off with a challenge to myself, that when I was stuck on a project, stressed, or just looking to write for no rhyme or reason. It came with a simple set of seven rules to follow, though more like guidelines. So three entries in, I broke a significant portion of them. Here’s the guidelines, they’re fairly simple

  1. Write
  2. No editing
  3. No revisions
  4. Quality, verbosity, fidelity, consistency – none of these words apply
  5. Quick and short
  6. Share
  7. Move on

So, the third entry is here, it went badly. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I just fancied writing a battle scene, a few hundred words, but I lost control of the narrative.

Continue reading “Rules Are Meant to be Broken”

The Book Isn’t Always Mightier Than The Adaptation

Okay before I get lynched by fans Harry Potter/Twilight/LOTR/Hunger Games/Da Vinci Code/and just about any story with fans, moving from medium to medium requires change and its not a new phenomenon, nor is it new that people are upset by changes. I’m not here to argue that as films are better than their source material, or even good, my argument is that its only bad one for version to be incomplete without the other.

Ancient History

So, I’ve spent a long term over the years studying texts that were originally part of oral traditions, but over Millennia were converted from a spoken medium to a written medium. The transformation of the oldest stories is fascinating, and if our current culture existed then, a whole lot of people would have been stoned for some form of blasphemy in the conversion of stories as the historical game of Chinese whispers that is oral tradition.

Actually, as it happens, people have died for presenting unfaithful accounts of history and legends. So I guess modern sensibilities aren’t so modern, just less extreme and more easily reported and repeated.

The earliest known stories came from the Lascaux caves in Southern France, it is a series of images progressing through a time period, covering the rituals and the hunt of the people at the time, it’s a story. It’s worth noting that spoken language of some variety probably came about somewhere between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago,  so I’d like to think the story telling was around long before someone thought to record it on a wall.  Continue reading “The Book Isn’t Always Mightier Than The Adaptation”

Splendid isolation in Yorkshire: A creative writing course in the shadow of Sylvia Plath

Once money’s sorted out, I’d like to go on holiday here. It’s a retreat for, and a course in creative writing, which seems pretty interesting. This flagged up in my news alerts, and now I just want to go.

Lumb Bank, Hebden Bridge

I’ve got days left to book on my annual leave, even with a couple of weeks booked off for my walk from Ilkley to Windermere in August. It sounds wonderful, and now I’m writing consistently I’d like to learn to write well, and be more focused. If not before August then definitely after the Science Festival in Newcastle in September. Around Christmas I’m intending on having a few days on the coast to get some more writing done. Busy year all told, but I really want to fit this writers retreat in. I’ll find room somewhere, if not this year, then next.

http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/uk/splendid-isolation-in-yorkshire-a-creative-writing-course-in-the-shadow-of-sylvia-plath-8473754.html

Symbiosis – or why I love writing so much

sym·bi·o·sis/?simb???sis/

  1. Interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.
  2. A mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that my characters are real, nor is the world, however realistic I might try and make it.

But, all the same, my characters mean something to me. No matter what goes on in life, I rely on them to distract me, and subvert the truths of my existence that day. For their part, my characters can’t live without me, they need my troubles, my joys, and my truths to exist themselves. They are no aware of it, truth be told, being figments of my imagination they are not aware of anything, yet there is a mutually beneficial relationship.

Therefore I can only conclude that I have a symbiotic relationship with my own imaginings. On some levels all writers do, we get involved. Doesn’t matter whether it’s writing for a book, or a film, or a game, it doesn’t matter if it’s just a story you tell your two and a half year old niece on the fly.

Well here’s the thing, that symbiosis doesn’t last forever, eventually move on. Maybe that character, or that world might be still in small way active at the back of your mind, it does however fade. A cruel ending you might say to such a relationship. Except it’s more a parting of the ways, certainly for some writers. The writer gets a new character, and a new world to become symbiotically attached to. The character or world gets, if the author shares their work, to form a new type of symbiotic relationship with a reader.

I love that, I really do. I think it makes each book special, every character amazing.

I’m not the best at conveying these worlds and these characters to paper, but when I do, and I share it, my one true hope about my writing is that the reader forms a different but important relationship with my characters.

I would love that one day, I write something that connects with enough people that my characters exist on in fan fiction. To know that my characters connected with an audience in that way would be truly special. Don’t get me wrong, writing for profit also handily goes with this particular want, but I’d honestly take much loved and cherished characters than simple cash.

So, yeah – it’s corny, a little cliched but I do genuinely feel a connection with my stories, that’s what I love. I’m hoping one day to have the craft to be able to actually put these fantastic stories into words that people understand and appreciate.

A writer should always be reading, and sometimes that means going beyond their normal stable of genres. So I’m branching out into what currently sells. It’s a new thing, I’ve only just started, but I’ve just read The Hunger Games trilogy, and I certainly can see why the first book became so popular. (my initial view having just finished the trilogy are three things: emotional blackmail, food, fast pacing – and I don’t mean any of that in a bad way, it’s a great trilogy  especially the first book).

I have no problems coming up with ideas, and now I’m getting a dab hand at the planning stuff. Now I need to learn how to connect with an audience. Next year’s NaNoWriMo will be to write a first draft that I won’t have any reservations about letting someone else read. I’m not too fussed that the kind of thing I write doesn’t get into top 100 books very often, I can write in most genre’s comfortably. Instead it is just how these top authors connect with their audience, and maintain that connection.

So what’s next? Well, given that I have a focus for what I want to get out of reading, I will sit down and properly lay out my thoughts from Hunger Games, a review, but one that is focused on that audience connection. Then I’ll do it for the other books I go for. I’ll do it at one a month, (I’m not a millionaire after all, and I need to fit it around the other things I read). I can see my Kindle being very busy next year.

NaNoWriMo 2012 – a long awaited update

Usually during November I post every few days about my NaNoWriMo progress, that is until I crash and burn and end up riding the fail train until the end of the month, (though I did win last year). This year has been different, oh yes, on both accounts.

First of all I’ve failed to get round to inane blog posts about my progress until now, (now into the final week). Secondly, for the second year running, I missed the connection to the fail train and gained my win early. In fact at ten days, I was on the success train four days earlier than last year. That’s right, choo choo, I’m a winner again!

Okay, a grown man putting “Choo choo” in that statement may not sound like a winner, but it felt good, and so did winning.

This of course isn’t about rubbing all your noses in my success, (not entirely anyway), it’s about how I succeeded, and what I’m currently up to, (and no its not running round city centre bollock naked going running up to people before going shouting “Choo choo” in their faces – that behaviour gets you sectioned, and NaNoWriMo does not qualify as mitigating circumstances).

So, my last NaNoWriMo post before this, that was actually published, (have a whole post on tools that I didn’t publish, which is good as I went a different way), was all about my final decision for project this year. I originally had decided on three possibilities, and had a whole scientifically inaccurate way for deciding which I would go with.

Then October hit, and the Road to NaNoWriMo was in full swing, and I decided I didn’t want to do it. All that planning won’t go to waste, but it’s not being used right now. Instead I had a grand plan for revolution, with a Tyrant in Downing Street. I’m sure you can see the appeal of this given the times we live, and are likely to be living in in the future.  It’s tough, it’s exciting, and it’s political. What more can a guy ask for in a novel?

So with the planning session for the West Yorkshire chapter of NaNoWriMo, I plotted out my novel, sorted out my main character and time a line leading up to the main events. Then November the 1st at 2:30am (I napped longer than I expected), I got to work on the ambitious story I had in mind.

Another reason for choosing this particular story was I did it as a history book, narrated by a single voice, but telling many of stories of the life and times of said tyrant.  It meant I didn’t necessarily have to care about continuity, writing in the right order and what not, it’s going to be easy to chop and change in editing. Whole sections can be lifted and moved, or indeed just removed without impacting everywhere. It was quite liberating, so much so with a big first day, and a huge Saturday I was well on my way. I was hoping for a Wednesday night finish, (50k in 7 days, epic), however NaNo crud hit early this year and it threw me off my game somewhat in the first Monday and Tuesday of the competition. It was a distraction I could ill afford for the 7 day 50k. So, I didn’t do it. That said, it didn’t stop me, I carried on when I was better, and won on day 10. 5k a day average? I can live with that.

So November 10th was a glorious day, since I won. Unfortunately for my 100k plans, the story lost its traction after that. I’ve stopped it at 52k, and moved onto a new novel, with the aim of doing a second novel in 10 days. So far I’m behind after losing two days to the curse of technology, (my laptop by loathsome ransom ware).  The second novel got me to 100k in eleven days, and I completed the 50k for that particular novel on fourteen days.

Below you can see a chart of my word counts, per day, up until today. I did my best, but I was no where near consistent. (click the image to see the chart in full size).

From Word Counts

Neither is finished, but both need a bit of extra planning to tie it all together and finish off. So I’m calling December finishing month. There’ll be three to do, as tomorrow I’m starting another story. This one will be short, about 25k, just to finish off the last week. I’m not worried if I don’t hit 25k, it’s just a bit of fun.

The plot is entirely driven by StoryCubes, (see below for the selection in question). No idea how it’ll work out, and I’ll probably need more StoryCubes at various points to pad out the plot.

From Story Preparation

I have a whole post in mind as to how much StoryCubes helped me, and how I used them, and the fun. So I won’t share my interpretations just yet. I think though I’m going to do a StoryCube story once a month, just for fun.

It’s early yet, but I’d hate to forget, so here are the obligatory thank you messages.

Thank you to:

  • NaNoWriMo for hosting and organisation the month.
  • The Yorkshire chapter of NaNoWriMo for being such a lovely encouraging forum
  • #NaNoYorks chat room for its many word counts, and encouragements, and putting up with my plot talks, and occasional boasting.

In particular, I’d like to thank (in no specific order):

  • Sparkie, for whom I was desperately trying to race, but out paces me for writing with worrying ease – even hundreds of miles away in her new home.
  • Kerantli, for secretly being the organised and responsible one, and prodding me when I needed to stuff.
  • Rokk, for talks about Bond and plots.
  • BoredRobots, for being the foil to my personal story

A further mention goes to:

  • My colleagues at work that have put up with me talking about things they have not a single care about.
  • My mum for encouraging me, and my dad for taking an interest in the plot.

So yeah, plenty of thanks, and I’ve missed a lot of people out. Some people don’t even realise they’re helping, but they have. I could never have made it through NaNoWriMo these past couple of years without the care and support of all the other WriMo’ers I’ve encountered.

I’m stood here on this podium in tears now… but no one’s handed me an award yet. Ah well.

Space photos from teen’s £30 eBay camera are out of this world | from The Sun

This is fantastic – when can I try?

Ooh come to think about it, I’ve got a raspberry pi that could be interesting near space. Not sure there’d be much 3g coverage for control, but a radio might work.

Might be out of my league, but I’ll add putting a satellite into space to my bucket list. How fantastic would it be?

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/4528949/Space-photos-from-teens-30-eBay-camera-are-out-of-this-world.html

A Picture Says a Thousand Words

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Photography and the Art of Writing

So, I have some money coming to me this September. It’s from my Grandparents, the last of which very sadly passed away last November. Now I’m choosing to think of this money as my final birthday present, it is after all my thirtieth birthday in September. So, having put some thought into what I wanted, and they would have liked to give me, I decided on a camera. A reasonably powerful camera.

My Granddad loved taking photos, and they had lots of them. My Granddad even had a really expensive camera once, which was a shock to my dad and Nana when he brought that home. He may not understand the modern bells and whistles, but I think he would like modern cameras.

Anyway, so the camera is quite a personal thing. However, it’s also about writing. I’ve been using camera’s to help me write for some time. It all started off a few years back when I took a photo of Primrose Valley, (the one in Leeds, not on the East Coast), and wrote a story around it.

Since then, I’ve used photographs, and photography as a tool in a number of ways, some small, some large. It’s a handy tool to keep around.

Now, first of all, if anyone feels like following my usually terrible advice, you should know, it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are at taking pictures for this. I’m really bad – especially when I use my camera phone, (see the picture with this post).

There are all sorts of things to consider when taking a photograph, and you only have scant minutes, if that, to be ready to take it. I do my best with things like lighting, focus, composition and such – and if I get a new camera I’ll be really trying to get to grips with all that stuff. As a writer though, you don’t really need to worry about it.

As a writer what you need from photographs might be:

  • A catalogue (for description) of:
    • Things
    • People
    • Places
  • Ideas (inspiration)
  • Basis for story boards (planning)

Description

If you’re anything like me, (and there are some people out there that might be), you might struggle to do descriptions. I’m too busy writing to think about how something looks, it’s a distraction when in the flow of writing really. I mean, getting descriptions right is a very delicate work, and if you forget if a pattern had a green stripe over a blue, and instead go green over red, that’s a basic mistake that’s easy to miss in editing.

My solution is, as I write, I have in mind pictures, either from my anarchic photos folder, or from pictures, and clips online, stick them in a OneNote (or whatever your visual notebook of choice is, online or off), with a  note to who it relates to, and when. Then you can come back to it, in a quiet moment and give some definition to your very basic description.

This is great, because you can then sync up all your descriptions, (without repeating the same words), in such a way as you don’t contradict yourself.

This is probably the most useful reason for photography, and to be honest it really doesn’t matter if you take the photos yourself. I think it’s good to though, you choose the cars you want in your portfolio, the buildings, the rooms, the clothes, and the people. Google Images works just as well though.

Ideas

So, I’m not infallible, I have really fantastic ideas. I mean blow your mind fantastic ideas, but a lot of them never become something I can actually use. They’re too disconnected from reality, or their too real they’re mundane. Maybe I have a great concept, but nothing that really makes it concrete.

I need ideas to to tie it to, pictures are great for that. They give a bare bones idea some fleshy substance. Where I have a scene or a plot but no characters, I can have a visual representation of one. Maybe I’ve got a character, but no world for them, well I can pick some scenery shots, or a building, or maybe just a car, whichever, the character now has a universe, no matter how small. It’s something for the idea to interact with, which means it’s less likely to fade.

In my most recent NaNoWriMo Project, the Arsène Frassin space adventure, somehow I ended up with just two female characters in the whole thing. Not intentionally, I’d like to thinking I’m not a male chauvinistic pig, it’s just where the story went. However in editing, I’m going to insert a few female characters, and it’s helped to utilise images, (that I got from Google Images, wandering around taking random up close shots of women, won’t help you with your career as a writer, unless you want to write from behind bars),  to try and find suitable characters to a heavily male dominated universe.

Story boarding

Now, this one is new to me, but I definately see the potential. I’m on my big planning kick for the past couple of years, one of the things I want to try for NaNoWriMo 2012 is to not just have an outline, but a story board. Here I’ll already have key images set up, and laid out in reasonable order that progress with the story. Instead of hastily searching round for a descriptive picture I need to use later, I’ll have it to hand so maybe I can be more descriptive in my first draft.

Now, for stroy boarding, I can’t draw for toffee. Just a few very simple sketches, and maybe a technical drawing or two, but I can use photographs. Handily, for this year’s NaNoWriMo project, two of my three choices are set in the present day, which means I can take photos of places, people, fashions, and things that will be relevant to my novel. For the space option, I’ll have to get more creative, a combination of a visits to the Royal Armouries in Leeds, airports, and suh can fill the gap in the futuristic sides of the novel.

I’ll need shots of as many people as possible to drill down to my core characters, and same with palces and things. Always take too much, you can filter out what’s there to the essentials you need. Which is true of many things in life, to be fair.

So, once I’ve got all my pictures ready, using the outline, I can use OneNote, or Word, or Publisher, or my whiteboard to layout a story board and put the pictures on it. Choosing a picture to represent the core aim, location, character, or event for each chapter, or scene. If you want to get complex, (and let’s face it, I’m a complicated guy, so I do), you can do varying levels of story boarding. Starting at the overall plot, then each layer goes into more and more detail.

Before you think I’ve gone nuts, I should point out I’m a Business Analyst, and this is often how I go about designing process maps. So it makes sense to me, if you want to do a story board, find the way that makes most sense to you. Which is true of any advice you find online, or in books, or the random drunkard who once wrote a story long before he became a alcholhic, and insists on telling you how the best way to do it is.

Lastly

I mentioned, you don’t have to be particularly good, and that’s true. You don’t need a fancy schmancy camera for this, the camera on the phone will do just as well, (and whether you’re on iPhone, Android, or Windows Mobile there’ll be great apps for cataloging your photographs). That’s how a lot of mine get taken, from my phone, though I do prefer a proper camera when I can, sometimes the perfect thing that needs capturing is at the time you’re least likely to be carrying a camera. Make do, having the photo is better than not having a photo because you couldn’t have taken it perfectly.

I should add a note of caution, make sure you don’t appear like a peeping tom, it’s no good sticking your lens into people’s homes without permission for instance, and it’s no excuse for stalking.

And one final bit of advice, get a couple of high resolution crowd shots, within those crowds should be a mix of gender, ages, race and other cuts of society. When you’re stuck for inspiration for a character, get out the picture and point at one at random, then see if you can work them up into a character, complete with physical appearance and description. It’s a bit like people watching, only more convenient when you’re at home on your computer writing.

Happy snapping, and happy typing to you all.

P.S. I included that particular photo for a reason, aside from getting the law of thirds very roughly right, getting lead-in lines, it was done on my camera, and came out blurry, which is unimportant, it’s a great item for the story board for one of my ideas. Plus it didn’t contain any people, so I couldn’t offend anyone.