Archive for October, 2012

Is My Novel in Tune? *Writing Soundtrack*


It has been too long since I last posted. I went home for the weekend, enjoyed the countryside but this doesn’t matter.

Music is today’s issue. Long journeys are best for music – by car, by foot, train, aeroplane. They zone out those horrible little munchkins that sit and scream on their mother’s knee. Spoilt brats. They stop the incessant beat of some hoodlum’s tasteless music. Besides all that, they give you an excuse not to have to talk to the last individual.

However, music is helpful for writing, too. I usually find I need silence when I’m first getting into the world I’m writing. I need to wander through their lives and this takes concentration, not beeping alarms and drunken warbles.

These things are, of course, all very useful for inspiration…just not the practicalities of getting started!

A lot of famous writers have admitted writing to music, too. So, what’s the allure?

Does the genre of music change the subject or tone of what you’re writing? Does it change the speed in which you write? Do the beats of the music naturally occur in the prose/poetry you produce?

This exercise should give you some answers to these questions and help you plan a soundtrack to your novel writing hours, should you want/need one.

I’ll try it first and analyse what I get. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A computer or notepad & pen.
  2. A stop clock: Timer (It’s free)
  3. Some videos/music from your mp3 player of choice.

I suggest you play the same songs/similar ones to me when first trying this to see if you get similar results but you are welcome to experiment.

The videos that I use (just below) have been placed on repeat. You can do this with youtube by going to the video you want and deleting the “uk.” or “au.” etc out of the URL bar before “youtube.com/”. Then change “youtube.com” to “youtuberepeat.com” and keep the rest of the URL the same.
Press enter and the song should be on repeat.

This allows each piece of writing to be effected by only one song.

Now, write without stopping (as far as it is possible to) and didn’t judge what you’ve written. No editing beyond spell check! Deal? Deal.
You can either time your writing or just write till you come to a natural end. I’m the latter kind of writer so have set no time limit.

This is what it inspired me to write:

The door slammed, a splash of water ruining her suede heels. She wiped her eyes, smearing the running eye liner, and blinked into the night. Prickles erected the hairs on her shoulders as water dotted her skin. Ignoring it, she checked the alleyway.

A cat was under the rubbish bin, its eyes flashes of colour reacting to every headlight, but she didn’t notice. she only saw the bin bag pyramid, the wet rankness that went hand in hand with damp cardboard and newly watered walls outside a waterhole.

Smiling, she hiked her tights, pulling a new hole into the smooth material, and took out her phone as she headed for the main street. It was an old thing: white scratches nicked the paintwork and the often bashed screen dulled its back-light with tiny trenches in the glass.

The clap of her heels was soon hidden by the screech of old breaks in double decker buses, the distant horn of an angry driver and the always present whir of a police car on patrol.

“Drop the phone.”

The words were cut by the metal at her neck. It was ungiving, maybe a thumb’s width at most. But, he had a posh accent. He spoke proper. She thought she could reason with him.

“Sorry honey, do I-”

“Don’t turn around.”

She stilled her neck, bit her lip and dropped the phone from her hand. It crashed to the floor, the last straw in their abusive relationship, and split into parts.

This took me around 15 minutes. (Sorry, I forgot to time it). Obviously, there will be some problems with it as it’s a first draft and unedited. That’s normal. What I will try to work out is if there are any simularities to the music.

For one, I had it rain in the scene. This is intrinsic to the song. I also seemed to have played off the beginning of the video and the images of 90s clubs that the video showed. I went for a young woman around the age of Shirley Manson when she sang the song and the melancholy feel to the track played out in the dangerous swing at the end of this section of prose. It also shows itself through how unaware the girl is, caught up in her good night out.

The echoing feel of the music could also have played into the auditory sounds in the story; the clap of her heels, the splash of the water, the screeches and whirs of the street. It has brought more than just the sense of sight to the story.

It took about 5/6 playthroughs of the song to write this much but it didn’t bore me when I finished, I just found a natural break in the piece.

I’ll try this exercise again with what you will (hopefully) agree is a very different style of music. This time I’ll try my best to remember to time it!

I grabbed my shoes and ran out the door, bag over one shoulder. The bus was at the stop, the end of the road. One minute. I sprinted, the bash of the bag bruising my back. Damn thing. I gulped air and reached the bus door as the doors started to squeak  The driver kept the door open, glaring. He’d have to deal. I nodded at him anyway, delivering my best good girl smile. His lips didn’t even move. Bad day or not, he was a jackass.

I moved down the bus, fingering the wire to my ipod around my neck. Most chairs were full. I could smell the nappy of a sleeping child. The mother stared out the window, eyes blinking with the break of the white stripes on the road. At least one person couldn’t taste the stench, then. Lucky cow.

A guy at the back was alone, reading the newspaper. The rustle was stupidly loud as I sat down. I looked over, to see what was so interesting. It looked financial. Boring. I covered my ears in music and zoned into my newest big thing: The Thumps. They had music right. It thumped, it moved, it sang. My feet bobbed on the chewing gum floor and added new black streak marks to its pattern. I liked to think of them as my feet’s sheet music. I’d be able to write it all down some day, after the classes, after I’d learnt all the moves.

the bus stopped and I jumped down, imagining a pirouette as I landed, absorbing the force of the fall. The great pillars of the contemporary dance academy posed above me. I forced my feet to a slow, decorous walk and tried to keep my face serene, serious.

It was a losing battle.

The inside was just as impressive. Wooden panelling reached half up the wall and above that leafy wallpaper spread to the painting ceiling. It was old world, grand. A bony lady, wrinkled and sat sideways in her seat, watched me carefully. She saw that my outfit was wash-bobbled, that the shoes wrapped around my wrist were scuffed threadbare. Well, fuck her.

“Sara Wilbury. I’m here for the six o’clock session?”

The grey haired matron checked her lists and grimaced when she found my name, checking it off; she couldn’t send me away, after all. Ha!

“Second door on the left. Be good.”

I snorted. I am and that’s her problem. You have to be good to get in here and this is not going to be the last she sees of me.

“See you again tomorrow, lady.”

I said the last with just the right spice of sarcasm and slipped through the floor to ceiling brass-knobbed doors. My first day. Here it is!

This took me 14 minutes and 16 seconds to write or 5 playthroughs. Again, there are mistakes. There are places where paragraphs need to be split or description added etcetera but it has the bare bones of a beginning.

The song actually really helped me for this one. The fast paced beat to the track helped me get into the mind of an energetic teenager who’s as excited and passionate about their day as a four year old on their first day of school. The prose therefore reads fast, almost as stream of consciousness.

The class issues it speaks about are probably what helped me create the conflict with the public and the secretary too.

So, give it a go. Maybe music can create ideas where you didn’t have any. As I can tell you honestly, I had no story ideas in my head at all until I started writing to these tracks. Give it a go! It doesn’t take long, promise.

You might even find something you like and want to expand.

Even if you don’t, perhaps this exercise helped in other ways. It’s possible it has taught you what works and what doesn’t. For instance, on a slow writing day a fast paced song might help you punch out those words or a particular theme of music might help for a certain genre of writing. Experiment with it and find what fits.

***The pictures in this post are all picture I’ve found after doing the exercises to give you something to go with the story, for the more visually inspired. ***

As usual, I still have a twitter.

If you want to contact me in general though, feel free to comment or message me either here or there.

In case you’re interested, my next post will be about characterisation.

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“Mummy, where’s the sky gone?” (World Creation).

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Many of us more fantasy aligned types have thought about or actually tried to create a new world in a story to varying degrees of success.

So, I will explore: What makes a strong world?

  • Rules.

Yes, yes. World creation is all about imagination, fun. There are no rules! But, there are. Sorry. A world is only chaotic to a point.

There needs to be some degree of consistency. For example, in Laurell K Hamilton’s books werecreatures, vampires and many other types of creature of the night/day and known to the general public.

This is a pretty popular idea. What makes it good is that society changes. The rules change to accommodate this change in history:

Parents don’t want their children to be taught by werecreatures in case they are infected somehow by blood to blood contact. (The usual parent overprotection).

Necromancers are employed to reanimate the dead to sort arguments over their wills or verify how they died for insurance companies.

But this isn’t all. These supernaturals aren’t gods.
– They can be killed.
– Zombies can only be raised for a day before they rot.

There are LIMITATIONS to their powers. Every character you write about needs limitations, be it inside a new world or our own.

These limitations also go toward the next condition of a good world:

  • Realism.

How many times has there been a big bad vampire who hates mankind and suddenly falls in love, seemingly at the drop of a hat, with a rather stupid (and very young) human?

Think about it. It wouldn’t happen. The years a vampire would have on the young human would make them boring, if attractive. A vampire jaded for so many years would be more likely to eat/fuck them than start a relationship.

Even if you don’t talk about vampires, or have a bad guy…humans can’t live on lava without protective systems in place. Magic doesn’t come out of nowhere. It lives in the genes or radiation or alien experiments. Or, humans have always had it perhaps but it doesn’t come out of nowhere!

Part of realism is also good description. A good world cannot be created without a good idea of what it looks like. However, one caveat: don’t go overboard! The amount of fantasy stories I’ve tried to read which start straight off the bat with new words I’ve never seen and names with too many apostrophes…it doesn’t bear thinking about.

My advice: start simple. Bring your audience into a new world slowly. Let them acclimatise. Show them one or two things at a time. Don’t use too many new words too quickly. Be kind to your reader or they’ll throw your book across the room. (Or click that big nasty red X in the top right hand corner of their screen).

Now for the next big condition.

  • Originality.

This doesn’t mean vampires, angels and fairies aren’t allowed. It means find a new angle. Talk about them in a new way. Find an aspect that hasn’t been explored. Turn stereotypes on their head.

Talk about evil angels, vampires in the circus, tamed by humans, fairies that live in parrot cages in the front room of every home. Come up with something new (but interesting)!

Novelty sells, if it’s good.

One big problem writers have with fantasy writing is…

  • Character.

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Writers get so wound up and lovingly intertwined with their new world that they forget about the people in it. Here’s what I view to be the most important thing with new worlds and fantasy: we have to relate.

It’s not as hard as it sounds. Yes, you have a new world, something never seen or heard of before. Maybe the people have two heads, eight legs or maybe they’re telepathic; it doesn’t matter. They still need elements of humanity, on the inside.

This can be many things: clumsiness, an ability to anally organise their whole life, a fear of the dark, vanity… There are so many examples!

This is important: without relateability, your readers won’t like your story. If the main character isn’t like them or their friends or their enemies, if the story in some way doesn’t help explain their world, they won’t read your story.

The last and probably most important condition I can think of is:

  • Freedom.

You have to be free as a writer to create a world. Umbrellas don’t exist, seas don’t exist, monogamous sex doesn’t exist. Don’t think about what others may think of your story or if they’ll judge you.

No matter what you write, hell even if you don’t write, people will judge you. That’s life. This is writing. Get over it.

Even big writers like Stephen King get hate mail on a weekly basis.

So what? He still sells. His books are still read. He has lots of money.

As a writer you have to be prepared to write badly (this is what edits and rewrites are for – or that very useful recycling bin). You have to be prepared to put the preposterous onto paper.
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Maybe sex gives a person the memories of their partner. Maybe sex swaps consciousnesses of people so sex must be had in sets of two? Maybe hair colour is changeable at will?

It’s for you to decide. It’s for you to come up with the consequences in your world.

And, for god’s sake, it doesn’t reflect on you (or shouldn’t). What your characters do and say should be about their personalities, not yours. That’s what a good reader would see. That’s what a good story does – it takes you on a journey through imagined lives and, perhaps, imagined worlds.

All the pictures featured here are by surrealist painters. Surrealism is your best friend.

Here are the links to the galleries of the two artists featured:
http://vladimirkush.com/
http://kukowski.pl/
Some artistic nudity is present.

Please feel free to explore their sites and enjoy their talent.

As usual, I can be found on twitter, too. Look here: Me
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I don’t have an editor…but I don’t need one.

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Have you ever wanted to say that? To be good enough at editing yourself that your work is almost press ready?

To be honest, very few of us are likely to get there but last night I stumbled upon a programme through an obscure list of comments in the back end of the internet.

This programme scans your work – yes, even whole novels – for repetition, clichés, repeated phrases, overused words, dialogue tags – even adverbs. As we’ve been told, adverbs are the bane of existence. For those that don’t know what they are, there’s a big list of  a few below.Image

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Then, if you double click on the offenders, it takes you to each places in the text they appear, just like ctrl+f. I believe you can save the data it finds. 

I think my favourite function is it watches overused words for you – even counts the amount of times they appear. It seems I use “down” “eyes” “nodded” and “smiled” far too often. I shall have to think of some new actions for agreement or for aversion of a subject. It’s kind of like the facebook app that analyses your posts and creates a picture of your most used words only more complex and on a larger scale. 

It’s free, too.

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Yes, Bart Simpson as well as, I’m sure, many big published authors have repeated some words many times in their novels. So what. You want to be better than them, right?

You want your book to be the best one yet, right?

I, for one, feel as if I’ve stumbled across the holy grail with this programme. I will no longer have to trawl through thousands of words and try to remember exactly what phrase I used earlier.

Of course, some phrases or clichés, words even, are stylistic choices that need to remain. Don’t let the machine control you – you are the one with a sentient brain!

With that little caveat out of the way – enjoy, and remember that it doesn’t edit for plot, character pitfalls or clunky phrasing. So you’re not completely get off the hook in terms of editing but it is, I believe, a big help.

Here it is: http://www.smart-edit.com/

*** I should also mention that the programme only works with RTF (rich text files) and .txt (notepad) files. I copied and pasted my novels into notepad and saved it before opening it in smart edit. I believe MS word also has a function to “save as” files as RTF.

Say thank you by following me on twitter, if you wish 🙂 https://twitter.com/Holly_emma_Ice

Or, even better, comment away beneath me with your disbelief/hatred for the programme.

For a bit of fun I’ve found another programme for you to look at too. It analyses sections of your writing and tells you which author you are most like. I’ve found the result changes between my blog writing and fiction so don’t take it as gospel!
http://iwl.me/

The Pen’s Catalyst

Today I’ve entered the National Poetry Competition which is one large chunk of poem off of my mind. I’m now turning to short stories to fill my time and (hopefully) my repertoire.
But it’s hard. Stories have to have stronger characters, longer (or bigger) ideas.

It has taken me a while to get started so I thought I’d share some ideas for inspiration as we all have good and bad days at writing. The thing that often eludes us is a good idea. At least, that’s what I find. So where do these ideas come from?

This is my writing desk on a good day: sunny and equipped with both a pen and a notepad. It’s also clear and free of plates or rubbish, for once. The thing is, a good writing space is not a creation machine for creative ideas. It is an area free of distractions (especially the internet!) which provides a fertile ground for ideas to grow.
However, the ideas are often found in other ways…

I’ve been told to read, read and read some more if I stuck. Galleries, museums and exhibitions are always a good idea too. Or travel! I’ve often found a really atmospheric picture will spark something in my mind.

I have a huge collection of landscapes are portraits on my computer in various folders which, in some way, have sparked the imagination or caught my attention. This one, for example, did both. The photo shows almost every hue of blue. I expect some don’t even have names in English. Not only that, but the picture asks questions: what are people like that have to survive such a cold, hard environment? Do they live in tribes, families or larger communities? What is the world like without the blemish of larger civilisations?

These questions and curiosities are useful; if they captivate you, chances are, they will captivate a reader of something you’ve written about it, too.

Therefore a great place to start for story ideas is always what interests you. What are you passionate about that you haven’t written about? Think about writing a story about it. Think about some original characters, a storyline. Use your hobbies, your profession – professions of your friends even! Even a country your ancestors came from could be interesting, if you are passionate about it.

Sometimes a situation can work, too. Two people inside an elevator or lovers discovered in a field by their religious parents. It might be possible to pool locations, professions and actions in a bag and draw out one of each – see what comes up!

If all else fails – write about the people outside your window. What do they look like? How do they walk? How can you describe their exact gait to get it perfect in the reader’s mind? Write from the point of view of this character – what are they interested in, what do they like, dislike? Are they educated or dumb? Able-bodied or handicapped?

This exercise could help you find a character you’re happy with. Someone you’d want to follow for a short story or even a novel.

If these people aren’t interesting, why not search for emotive portraits on the internet or deviantart? Find something that interests you or sparks and idea and get writing!

These two, for example, are pictures of very different people that have caught my attention and made me think about their story, their lives.

One last suggestion; I’ve once been so stuck I’ve resorted to primary school tactics and picked story starters from the internet like:

“A fire started in the middle of the room….”

“My hair fell to the floor in a heap.”

“…and that’s when the window exploded.”

Any random idea for a story starter, like these, write it down – you never know when it could come in handy!

Do you have any other examples of what starts stories off for you? Let me know!
And, as usual, if you want to hear more from me, here’s my twitter page: https://twitter.com/Holly_emma_Ice

“Madness”: What/Who is it and is it REAL?

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So you’re asking – why is this on a writing blog? It’s inspiration – many ideas in psychology or philosophy have helped me start a story, come up with something out of the ether, so to speak.

Madness has been a big topic this fortnight, too, with even influential individuals such as Stephen Fry tweeting in order to try and reduce the “stigma” of madness with the tagline #proudtobemad. However, there is a serious side to this debate, too – madness isn’t really defined.

Some could say, it isn’t real.

Rosenhan (1973) creates an experiment to test the definitions of madness within american psychiatric hospitals for the clinically mad. He asked 8 completely healthy, mentally “normal” participants to enter different hospitals and say they heard the word “hollow” “thud” or “empty”.

On the basis of this, all the pseudo-patients were admitted with a variety of disorders. So, even the same symptoms can result in different diagnoses.

All participants were told to act completely normal after admittance and it was expected that they would all be released shortly on realisation of their sanity.

However, this didn’t happen. Instead, all pseudo-patients were watched through the stigma of their condition. Normal behaviours such as writing in a diary or queuing for food were noted down as obsessive writing disorder and other such “abnormal behaviours”.

Most patients weren’t released until months after they were admitted and, even then, they had to admit that they were mad before they were released – a mad person cannot be in denial, of course. On release, the participants were not given the all clear for madness either. Instead, they were labelled as “in remission”.

This, of course, shows how sticky the stigma of madness really is.

A later experiment by Rosenhan was also carried out where a hospital approached him suggesting they would be able to tell which patient was mad and which wasn’t. He agreed to send more pseudo-patients but he played a trick: he didn’t send anyone to the hospital.

The hospital over the weeks identified 41 of 193 patients they talked to as being potential pseudo-patients.

So with madness, there can be many false positives and false negatives and it is incredibly difficult to tell who is what and who isn’t. This is largely because much of the disorder manifests within a patient’s mind and the symptoms are likely to differ between patients with the same disorder.

I should point out that the documents used for diagnosis of madness and disorders have changed many times since this date but the point still stands: madness is a slippery subject.

In some cultures, it is mad to be homosexual. In Britain, many years ago, women were seen to “need” the doctor to induce orgasm in order to reduce “hysteria” (what these days is merely accepted as an emotional outlook on life).

So madness changes over time. It changes based on culture, age (children talk to imaginary friends – adults shouldn’t) and gender, even sexuality.

Madness is in fact defined as culturally abnormal behaviour.

Some people may like to boil a kettle 10 times before they pour their cuppa. Is this OCD or is it merely eccentric? At what point can we as a society feel justified in calling an individual mad? At what point is it acceptable to intrude on their lives and uproot them from their daily activities?

Is it not possible that although the “sane” are the “norm”, we are in fact not how humanity was supposed to be? Perhaps it is better from a survival instinct perspective to boil the kettle 10 times or count the cracks in the pavement.

Perhaps, the “insane” are enlightened and we are dysfunctional for not seeing their vision.

After all, many of the great men and women of the world were first called mad because they thought outside the box, ahead of their time. Or because they challenged deep rooted cultural ideas which, later, were not thought to be mad at all. (Think of the earth’s “flatness” here or the idea that the earth in fact circled the sun and not the other way around).

It’s useful then, if ever writing a story about the mad or the eccentric, or even thinking on how madness’ stigma effects society, to wonder whether madness is real or simply different.

Any questions, comments, debates etcetera, please feel free to write below.

Disclaimer(!): Of course, if an individual is ever worried about a behaviour they can’t control or an issue they are having trouble with, they must talk to a medical adviser and not use the information here as substitute. Some individuals can be a danger to themselves or others if not treated.

This is my twitter for those interested: https://twitter.com/Holly_emma_Ice

The first picture was taken from here: http://brainbreaking.wordpress.com/tag/rosenhan/
This blog is a more in depth summary of the Rosenhan experiment. Feel free to visit it if you wish.

The second was found on a top ten of sex facts. If you wish, read about them below.
http://www.oddee.com/item_98314.aspx

Who are you, anyway? What do you do? What do you like?

Hello!

My name is Holly as any good name badge would tell you.

Image<—–That picture there is me.

I am: a writer.
So I write, yes, but I’m also an author. I’ve had two poems published so far and a short story. I want to build on these successes over time.

I do: many things.

Cop out, I know. I tend to read a lot, I scour the internet for pictures I like, I sometimes have a little bit of a draw but mainly I write, a lot. I also have a love for languages.

I like: similar things to what I do.
I read a lot on psychology and philosophical topics – I love to assess how these theories change (or ferment) my world views.

I also read about serial killers and other authors (more interesting things to some) because I like to learn how everyone’s mind ticks. The logic goes, this will help me write.

Art used to be one of my major passions. I drew more than I wrote but this seems to  have reversed. Writing is now my main passion and drawing the sidelined hobby.

Languages are one of my background loves. I’d like to think I’m somewhat of a linguist – I did an A level in japanese. This is due to going to a “good school” rather than any remarkable extra talent but it was fun.

Languages are the grammar, the logic, of how words work. The roots of language are almost the building blocks of imagination and common thought.

Or so I’d like to think.

Currently, I’m attempting to learn Latvian (very slowly and between writing and working).

I also like cats.

Hopefully this has given you an insight to my character.
Hopefully you don’t find me entirely uninteresting.

Holly

P.S. Here’s my little twitter page, in case you’re not bored of me yet: https://twitter.com/Holly_emma_Ice

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