Monthly Archives: January 2011

Ghostly goings on

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Just a quicky! Might post something more later..

I’m considering entering a writing competion. More for the motivation of having to write to a deadline and theme than in any genuine belief I’ll win…but the topic is Ghost Stories.

I have a question. Does a ghost story have to have a ghost in it, or can it just be something spooky and strange? Not as in “real life” weirdness, but an alternative reality of a scary nature?

What do you think?

Edit:

I did some researching and found a few definitions:

“A ghost story may be any piece of fiction, or drama, or an account of an experience, that includes a ghost, or simply takes as a premise the possibility of ghosts or characters’ belief in them. Colloquially, the term can refer to any kind of scary story. In a narrower sense, the ghost story has been developed as a short story format, within genre fiction. It is a form of supernatural fiction, and is often a horror story.” – From Wikipedia

In “Some Remarks on Ghost Stories”[3] (1929), M. R. James identifies five key features of the English ghost story, as summarized by Prof. Frank Coffman for a course in popular imaginative literature:

  • The pretense of truth
  • “A pleasing terror
  • No gratuitous bloodshed or sex
  • No “explanation of the machinery”
  • Setting: “those of the writer’s (and reader’s) own day”
Not sure that helps though!

Information Overload?

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I was reading an article on Twitter in the February issue of Writing Magazine (awful website btw) earlier today. The article was espousing the value of Twitter as a marketing tool for writers. Every writer who’s anyone has a Twitter account and shares their skills with the world in 140 character soundbites… apparently. Actually, I could write a whole entry about Twitter, but I’ll hold that thought, as I have other plans for today.

I dutifully went and investigated finding a whole host of writing related tweeters posting furiously. I added around eleven to follow and read a few tweets noting they almost all contained links. Most directing me to what seem to be really useful and informative sites. Great, this is just what I need, more info, more advice, more inspiration!

Thirty minutes later I’m late for starting dinner and I’d not even begun reading any of the content properly. Wow, I thought, this is going to be hard work. Looking into something that I’d like to do as a part-time source of income is turning into a full-time job! I already have trouble finding time to write a daily blog entry…as you may have noted. I am also trying to get to the end of Apartment 16, whilst keeping up with the daily news and digging deeper into some of the more pertinent issues. Then there’s my editing course and this months issue of the aforementioned Writing Magazine and now I have eleven tweeters to follow, all linking to multiple web sites a day…

Read the rest of this entry

My biggest critic

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A big factor for me in not writing, whether it be blogging, writing a short story, novel, poem, whatever really, is the feeling/fear that I have nothing interesting to say, nothing new to add to the world. Surely everyone’s already written about this subject or that story has already been told, and there’s bound to be someone who’s not only doing it, but doing it better than me. So with that in mind, why bother?

You can see how I’m, emotionally, putting up barriers before I begin. Writing (well) is hard enough, without an inner dialogue telling you unless you have a following of at least 1 million your blog is a waste of space, or if you can’t write like Tolkien, you shouldn’t even start…

I envy the boundless confidence of some of the “writers” I know. I know at least two who are self publishing. They have moments of insecurity, they want you to like their work of course, but they believe in their ability, they believe they have something special. So they have done what I fail to.

This lack of confidence is not simply frustrating, it’s actually debilitating. It is not slowing me. It is holding me back.

It goes back years. I remember as an angst ridden teenager writing pages and pages of heartfelt poetry about unrequited love and the misery of life, and I would refuse to edit it, thinking “A true poet can write a perfect poem first time.” I have read enough now to know that that is complete rubbish. The writers I admire spend weeks, months even years writing, editting. Ideas stem and grow over time and are tweaked and re-written until the final, finished product is on our shelves to be admired. But still, I am overwhelmed by that old feeling when I consider starting to write.

A friend once pointed out to me that even if I am never a Tolkien-standard writer (highly likely) that doesn’t mean I can’t be published. That doesn’t mean I can’t write stories other people would want to read.

Yet, even as I write these words, I feel that this post brings little of value to my readers (assuming you have any, says the voice). An insight into my meanderings and my troubles of course, but what value for you? I feel I should link to useful articles or quote other, more experienced, experts. But I know that if I do that I will get bogged down in hours of research and the post will be delayed or, more likely, never published.

So instead of trying to give advice, I’ll ask for it. How do you quash the nay sayer in your brain? How do you find value in what you are working on, when the world is full of people with opinions and stories to tell? How do you believe that you have something to add?

Winter Walks

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Well, I’ve been particularly lax in my posting of late and I have very little excuse except lack of time, energy and inspiration. I took a long walk through my local woods today and snapped some pictures which I thought I would share with you.

First, my darling daughter….aka forest elf.

This next one is my attempt to photograph some movement, but I need to play more with the settings on the camera to capture it properly I think. Still, I quite like the photo anyway.

I love the light quality in this next photo, and the tangle of the winter branches. Something lonely about this photograph, counterpoised by the sunlight.

Finally a little close up of some ivy. I really like how it wraps around the branch. I’m a big ivy fan at the best of times!

Characterisation – Aspirations

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I’m not well, and it’s late and I’m doped up on “don’t operate machinery whilst using these” drugs. Does a laptop count as machinery? Probably not for the purposes of blogging, although there are plenty of times when people should be kept away from keyboards whilst ‘under the influence’ of something or other…anyway, I digress (I did warn you!).

I’ve spent the afternoon catching up on Season 3 of Skins and have been reminded just how well written this series is. The storylines are exotic and extreme, fun and highly unlikely.  But what I really enjoy about this show are the characters who, though painted a little brightly, are at the heart genuinely believable. You laugh and cry along with them and bite your nails as they get themselves into, and then out of, the most awful teenage scrapes. You care about what happens to them, and that is what is important, because this show runs on its characters.

To illustrate this, it’s taken me years to get round to watching Series 3, simply because the entire cast from series 1 & 2 was swapped out with the exception of the bit-part character Effy, who has taken over the central role from her brother. I couldn’t imagine how it could be as good with a whole new team, it was the actors surely, that made it? But no. Having watched four episodes of Series 3 it’s clearly the writing, backed up by good acting of course!

So, I’m not going into to now, because it’s too late, and I’m too ill and really really should have passed out by now…but I’m making a mental, and blogging, note to explore characterisation in more depth.

Because I want to write characters like the writers of Skins do. 😉

Pace

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Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill is really fast paced”. That was a tick in the box for me. I like books that flow well and it’s most definitely true in this case. Within just a few pages you’re already experiencing spooky goings on and beginning to bond with the characters.

Today I was musing over what makes a story fast paced so I thought I might try to break it down into “pace” components using this novel as a case study.

1) Timeframe – The story follows two characters and switches almost every chapter. Following two threads makes it feel like more is happening in any given time period when in reality, the story is unfolding quite slowly over the course of multiple days.

2) Sentence Length – A (very) rough average sentence length in this book is around 12.44 words. In the few pages I checked, the longest sentence was 39 words, the shortest 1. Twelve-word sentences are considered short in the fiction world (or so my research tells me). However, Asimov, for example, kept his fiction sentences short, an average of 10.6 words per sentence based on 12 of his books.

Asimov’s choice to use short sentences helps him in both explaining his idea as well as making the reading easy and enjoyable.   Long sentences by comparison leave the risk of losing the reader, especially if the concept or idea is foreign as in his science fiction works.”(quoted from the Asimov Vault)

My feel is that a good balance between long and short sentences is what keeps the pace high. Keeping up a visual and verbal pace that draws the reader in.

3) Paragraphs and chapters – Apartment 16 uses short succinct paragraphs and begins a new chapter at the end of almost every notable event. This combined with the change in character at the same time forces the reader to keep up!

4) Simplicity – Keeping the story simple and clear keeps the pace fast for the reader, they’re not encouraged to pause and consider the latest paragraph they read, instead they’re urged ever onwards, keeping up with the story. This doesn’t mean the images and impressions of a story won’t stay with the reader after the lights are out of course!

5) Scene changes – The story, so far, is set in just a few static locations.  The fictional ‘world’ is relatively small, descriptions are kept to a minimum, outlining the basics and allowing the reader to fill in the gaps.

6) Action – The characters spend more time acting than thinking. Long internal monologues slow the pace of a story down. Although Nevill’s characters think, they spend much more time doing. Even when they’re thinking it’s normally as they are doing something or something is being done to them, which keeps the pace high.

Writing this has been quite interesting as I’ve gone from wondering what creates pace to having something I would use as a checklist in my own writing.

Reading

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I am reading a horror story called Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill at the moment. It was recommended to me by a friend and, as I had just finished my latest book, I decided to give it a whirl. I am trying to branch out a little with regards to my reading list.

Writers, I’m told, read.

Sadly I read very, very, slowly. So I try to choose my books with care and I almost always get drawn to fantasy, sci-fi and horror, despite brief forays into more real-life fiction I inevitably come ‘home’ to the fantastical.

I think perhaps it has to do with why I read. For me, reading is an escape. It’s a pleasure and a relief from the mundanity of life. With that in mind, why would I want to read about someone else’s real existence, when I can read about magical creatures, or far-flung futuristic worlds or frightening visions terrorising innocent victims?

The speed at which I read is a blessing and a curse. I think I could probably speed up the process with a little effort, but I feel the way I read helps to suck me in more deeply than other readers experience. Reading is a very immersive experience for me. Some books may take months for me to complete so I live with the characters for such a long time that I think they leave deeper impressions on me. For example, if I put a book down in the middle of an active scene I actually worry for the characters, left, suspended, waiting to find out what happens next when I pick the book up again.

I wonder if this experience is the result of my reading speed or simply about how I connect with reading. I’m intrigued to know how others experience reading, and what draws some people to fantasy, horror, sci-fi or to true life fiction, crime thrillers, murder mysteries, life stories. Why do people choose the fiction they choose?