Thoughts so far

17, February,2011

  • Formal planning takes time.
  • I’m finding Ywriter very useful.
  • I wonder if all the planning will suck the spontaneity out of the writing when I finally start.
  • I have avoided numerous character dead ends and potential re-writes already.
  • Going for a walk is a better way to sort out plot points than banging out stream of consciousness crap on the keyboard.
  • Reading books that have almost, but not quite, got it right, is useful when I am plotting.
  • Research can hijack my mind and turn a good simple  story into a crappy tentacled plot.
  • Selective re-listening to a range of writing podcasts has helped me make decisions about structure and characters.

Not an amusing list and possibly only helpful to me, but there you go.

I will constuct a list of podcast episodes I used to help me plan out the story.  “Cameron’s online guide to not f**king up before you start.” 



Turds and Diamonds

26, March,2010

I’ve just been reading Mur Laffery’s blog post, Diamonds and dandelions.   She outlines two approaches to success: the take your time and get it absolutely perfect approach, and the pump out lots of stuff and some of it should stick approach.

I like the post but I think Mur misses the essential precursor phase – Elephant Turds and Rabbit Turds.

The Elephant Turd phase is where a writer takes 15 years to produce their magnum opus, and it’s just a huge turd.

If you have had multiple stories knocked back by everyone including free online magazines, you are in the Rabbit Turd phase.

Like all turds, both of these are not for consumption. They do however, if used correctly, make great fertilizer for future growth.  The trick is to know the difference before you stuff it in an envelope to a publisher.

In my endless search for literary enlightenment I came across this, which I thought I’d share.

“The wise ones fashioned speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve.” – Buddha

I think fashioning and sifting speech pretty much describes what we do as writers (unless you’re stream of consciousness, Beat poet, then you’re out of luck).

There is also a little known addendum, passed down from the gurus who live in the remote Nepalese mountains.
“The truly wise ones buy drinks for agents at conferences and trade heavily on family connections in the publishing business.”

And one thought to leave you with.
If you’re a practitioner of the speechless art of mime, I think it’s pretty clear – Budda thinks you’re a moron.

Will Write for Wine was a podcast for beginning writers which unfortunately closed up shop recently.  The archives are still available.

The first ten minutes of each hour long podcast is focused on wine – this consists mainly of reading tasting notes downloaded from the web.  If you’re seriously into wine there are better podcasts out there – check out the list at Winecast.

The show was delivered by two published romance writers, Lani Diane Rich and Samantha Graves, who obviously enjoyed doing it (perhaps a little to much).  The show also supported an active writers forum.

The quality of the content varies from show to show, but in between the (slightly excessive) light banter are some nuggets of very solid advice.

If you have the time for a light, longish podcast, and don’t mind listening to other peple enjoy themselves, then this the podcast for you.  While the actual writing advice is excellent, this is probably not the first poadcast to listen to if you are a beginning writer on the hunt for information.

A note of warning – do not listen to this podcast with ‘in ear’ ear pieces, Rich has a shrieking laugh, and she laughs often.

On the Millionwords scale I’d give it a 600,000

Writing Excuses is a relatively new podcast but a definite must for the begining writer.

“Fifteen minutes long ’cause you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

Which isn’t entirely true.

It’s run by three published authors Howard Taylor (Cartoonist),  Dan Wells (Horror) and Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy) .  Brandon is the guy who was selected to write the final book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, so he’s no bunny.

The show started in Jan 08 and is offered up weekly – no signs of fading as yet.

The format is fast paced and to the point.  Brandon poses a question and each writer answers in turn.  The focus is on the practical aspects of writing, no interviews, no self indulgence.

If you’re unpublished and want to be a better writer, you need to listen to this podcast.

On the Millionwords scale I’d give this 900,000.

Is mime evil?

26, September,2007

Marcel Marceau has a lot to answer for.  Perhaps I’m being overly influenced by 101 Reasons to Stop Writing, but I think it is incumbent on people who are extremely talented to make some effort to make their job look difficult to discourage would be imitators.

First, let me say I think Marcel Marceau was a genius.  As a teenager I saw him.  A skinny man on a dark stage, interacting with a world made out of thin air.  Pure magic.

But what he spawned was evil, not quite karaoke evil, although this could be debated.
Like all true evils, Marcel Marceau’s magic world of mime was seductive.  I admit I was not immune, when I got home I tried ‘Walking into the wind” (later pinched by Michael Jackson and called the Moonwalk), and my brother can still do a commendable lizard trapped in a bottle, but we had the good sense to leave it at that.

What do normal people do if they have a passion but don’t quite have commercial talent?  Well, most people do the respectable thing, and confine their efforts to local arts groups (and good on them for having a crack).  You can see Uncle Dave’s drawings at the annual Lilydale show, or watch your niece in the Mooroolbark Players version of ‘Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’.  Fantastic.

Most people are content to restrict their activities to consenting adults behind closed doors. 

But not Mimes. 

They have to take it to the streets.  They have to impose their mediocre talents on innocent shoppers.  Busking, and worse – street theatre.  (I hate street theatre, actually, I don’t hate it, I just feel embarrassed for the people doing it).

I don’t watch the various Idol programs, but they do have one redeeming feature, they clearly show the deluded, bedroom mirror singers where the bar is, and slap them down when they don’t reach it.

Perhaps the best way to honour Marcel Marceau’s passing is to form “Clockwork Orange’ style judging panels that roam shopping malls, taking out mediocre transgressors of the Silent Art.

What has this to with writing?  Well not much, except to say writing is easy but writing well is hard.  It requires effort, and practice, and research.  Just because J.K. is so successful she can now buy Wales, doesn’t mean you will be or can be.

Luckily, it’s hard for writers to delude themselves, as we have crit groups, friends, family, publishers, agents, editors, and occasionally complete strangers, all quite willing to tell us how crap we are (unless you do the literary equivalent of busking and self publish).

So farewell Marcel, you may have left a dodgy legacy, but at least they’re quiet.

Description is something I struggle with. I like dialog, perhaps a little smattering of description in between to set the scene, but that’s it.

Unfortunatley, I have created an unusual world for my novel and I need to give readers a sense of the place. That means more description, but how much?

I liked Stephen Donaldson‘s Thomas Covenant series, but I found myself regularly flicking through 3 or 4 pages of landscape description, or repetition of the Convenant’s inner turmoil. Honestly, forests are not that interesting, and Convenant needed a good kick in the goolies pants. I also liked Russell Kirkpatrick‘s Fire of Heaven trilogy, but in book 1 his background as a map maker peeped through a bit often. I’ve made my opinion of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell clear in earlier posts, so I won’t labour the point (how many trees died for those extra 600 pages).

So, just when I’m thinking that less is better, I read China Mieville’s, Perdido Station – absolutely choc full of detailed gothic description. Absolutely mesmerising.

As a writer, how do you know when you’ve got enough, and more importantly, how do know you’re over doing it?
What are the warning signs?
Do you have to wait for first reader feedback?

I like the approach of Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett who build gags into their worlds. The descriptions are entertaining while still creating a feel for the world. Maybe I’ll try something like that.