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Mar 15, 2011 - Writing    Comments Off

Focusing Your Writing Time

It’s somewhat ironic that the day after I post I’m going to make this blog more reader-orientated, I make a post that is writer-orientated. But I’ve been trying out a new (free) program the past few days, and found it to be fantastic for helping me write.

The software is called Focus Booster. I found out about it when Amanda Hocking mentioned it on her blog (who in turn found out about it from Zoe Winters).

What does it do? Basically it puts a little timer on your screen (you can move it to wherever you like), and a progress bar. You tell it how long you want to work for, and how long a break you will give yourself after you’ve worked. You then hit the go button, and it starts to count down while you (hopefully) work.

At the end of your work period, the timer then starts counting down your break time. Once your break time is over, you must hit the go button again to start the whole process over (presumably because most people will take a longer break than they really should :) )

And that’s it. The app doesn’t lock you out of the Internet (check out WinFreedom if you want an app that will do that). It doesn’t stop you from loading apps other than your writing app. It doesn’t even keep track of how many words you’ve written.

But the mere presence of a timer on the screen seems to have a focusing effect on getting work done. I’ve written more these last two days than I have the past two weeks. Not terribly difficult, since I hadn’t actually written much in the past two weeks. But that was why I wanted to give this program a try.

If you’re looking for a way to get more focused on your writing, give Focus Booster a try.

Jan 11, 2011 - Writing    5 Comments

Guest Post: Six Fantasy Cliches To Avoid

Todays post is a guest article by William Meikle. William is currently holding a blog tour across many author/writing blogs, and is running a contest to help gain interest. Anyone who comments on this blog post will be entered into a draw to win a Kindle loaded with all of William’s books. So get commenting! :)

Six Fantasy Cliches To Avoid

Fantasy fiction is doing good business at the moment, but there are certain situations that have been overplayed. So much so, that they have become genre clichés, and everybody knows what to expect next. If you’re a writer in the fantasy genre, here are 6 clichés you should try to avoid in your stories.

Receiving tutoring from the old wise man.

The ‘Merlin’ gambit, as used in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Dragonslayer and innumerable King Arthur clones. A stable boy or other similar seemingly low-born type is taken under the wing of the local eccentric. There’s usually a beard involved, and a pair of blue eyes piercing from beneath some spectacularly bushy eyebrows. He’ll say things like: ‘All of nature is one’, ‘Use the force’ and ‘You have a great destiny, my boy.’ Try not to give him a grey cloak and an elven sword. Maybe you could try having the youth tutoring the old man for a change? Or, more radical, how about having the teacher as an old woman?

Learning to fight.

The ‘Galahad’ gambit. The stable boy gets secret training in weaponry, allowing him to beat a seasoned warrior in his first fight. People say: ‘I’ve never seen the like before’ and ‘He is the best swordsman I have ever seen’. Now how realistic is that? A radical idea would be to have the stable boy being completely useless at weapons. How is he going to fulfil his destiny then?

The parting from everything you ever knew.

The ‘Dick Whittington’ gambit. The stable-hand, being under a geas to complete a great quest, must say goodbye to hearth and home. People say: ‘I must go and fulfil my destiny’ and ‘I will return when I have avenged my father’. This is usually done with a great deal of schmaltz and emotion. Sometimes it is done violently, the hero being parted from family by the villain of the piece, who he is destined to kill at the end of the story. Either way, it has been done so often that any tears you are expecting to provoke could well be due to laughter. Try to do something different. Why does the hero have to leave his family? What would happen if he took them with him?

Being abducted from earth to a different world.

The ‘John Carter’ gambit. People say: ‘How did I get here” and ‘You have been delivered to us in our hour of need’. This one was heavily overused in the early and mid-twentieth century by H Rider Haggard and A E Merritt among others. Usually it is no more than a ploy to get a character the writer is comfortable writing about into a fantasy situation where said character could never otherwise exist. Edgar Rice Burroughs liked it so much he even had it happen to Tarzan on occasion. And it still happens, the most obvious modern examples being Thomas Covenant and the various present day characters that Stephen King has recruited into his Dark Tower series. Maybe your hero could be someone from another dimension who gets transported to Earth? Or maybe he stays where he is, but everything changes around him?

The multi-race bar room.

The ‘Inn at Bree’ gambit. It happens a lot in science fiction a-la Star Wars, but it is just as common in the fantasy genre. After a thirsty day on the road, our heroic stable boy and his companions will visit an inn. Inside, there will be representatives of different races from the world created for the story. The innkeeper will always be fat and jolly, there will always be a silent stranger in a dark corner, and someone will sing a silly song giving the writer his chance to show off his invention of other-worldly lyrics. How about having a human trying to get a drink in a dwarf-only bar, or vice-versa? There should be plenty of opportunity to add tension there.

Discovering hidden family truths.

The ‘Ugly Duckling’ gambit. The stable boy gets to the final climactic battle, only to find that his adversary is his father/mother/brother/sister etc. People say: ‘It was kept from you to protect you’ and ‘You cannot kill me, I’m your father’. This has been so overused, it even turns up across genres: witness Luke Skywalker confronting Darth Vader for example. A variation is to have the hero find that he is suddenly a prince, or even king. This says more about the writer’s own desires than it does about the plot. Wishful-thinking fantasies do not usually make strong stories. But what would happen if the hero already knew his background, but his adversary didn’t?

The next time you read a fantasy story, count how many of the above are still in use. I think you’ll be surprised. It’s even worse in film and television, where all of them can occur in any one movie, and often do. Just look at Star Wars – it contained most of them, and still made huge amounts of money.

William Meikle is a Scottish writer with ten novels published in the genre press and over 200 short story credits in thirteen countries. He is the author of the ongoing Midnight Eye series among others, and his work appears in a number of professional anthologies. His ebook THE INVASION has been as high as #2 in the Kindle SF charts. He lives in a remote corner of Newfoundland with icebergs, whales and bald eagles for company. In the winters he gets warm vicariously through the lives of others in cyberspace, so please check him out at http://www.williammeikle.com

Dec 28, 2010 - Writing    2 Comments

“On Ice” Cover

Normally a cover for “On Ice” isn’t something I’d be thinking about at this stage – I’m still very early (~12k words) into the first draft, and it will be at least mid-2011 before it is ready to be released.

However I was lucky enough to win a free book cover in a Christmas draw held by Glendon & T.L. Haddix. Glendon is one of the people involved with Streetlight Graphics, and as I found out he is extremely talented when it comes to graphic design.

Glendon asked me a series of questions about the book and what I was looking for, and after a little bit of back-and-forth he was able to come up with a cover that I am extremely happy with.

Now I just need to finish the book so I can get it out there with the fancy new cover ;)

Dec 22, 2010 - Writing    Comments Off

How We Write

There has been an interesting thread over on the Kindle Boards that started with a simple question – how do you write your novels?

As you can imagine, there have been a huge number of varied replies. I’m pretty sure that if you asked 100 different authors how they write, you would get 110 different answers :) There has been talk about discovery writing and multiple redrafts, and using an outline. Constant writing, and writing when the mood takes you. Edit as you write, and powering through the first draft to edit later on.

It’s fascinating for me to read, as I’m still in the early stages of figuring out exactly how I write. Writing Gears of Wonderland was different to how I’m writing On Ice (although doing Gears for NaNoWriMo played a part of that), and I’m sure whatever I work on after On Ice will be different again as I settle into my own method.

One thing I suspect I might do for novel three is spend a little bit more time working out the structure of my story ahead of time. I’ve started reading Story Structure – Demystified by Larry Brooks, and it’s making me rethink what I want to do before I start writing.

I don’t agree with everything he says (he obviously likes creating a detailed outline before he starts writing – my brain does not work that way), but I do believe that spending time beforehand thinking through how to structure the different stages of the story will pay off in the long run. One of the concerns I have about Gears when I return to it is that I’ll find the story structure weak when reading it – the story will either feel too rushed, or there will be obvious weak sections.

Obviously things like this can be fixed in a second draft. But if I can avoid needing to work on those aspects with a bit of pre-planning, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing :)

Dec 10, 2010 - Writing    Comments Off

First Draft for Gears of Wonderland Complete

I’ve been a little hesitant to declare it, but now I’m going to. The first draft of my novel Gears of Wonderland has been completed.

I know there are some gaps in the story, which is why I delayed calling it done for a few days. I need to expand the descriptions in a lot of scenes, at least one more scene with the main character needs to be inserted in the middle to develop his relationship with his travelling companions, and I need to add a number of scenes for the second viewpoint character (the “villain”) to round out his story.

But the bulk of the story is there, and I’m happy with how it turned out. I was especially glad I managed to discover the end of the novel as I got to it  – I didn’t have a clue what it was going to be, and changed my mind constantly as I approached it! Hopefully it will work for people.

So, what’s next? Draft one is going to sit on my computer for some time while I start work on a second novel (current working title is On Ice). This one will be sci-fi, and set in a universe I hope to write a lot of stories for in the future.

Once I’ve finished the first draft of On Ice (or I think enough time has passed and I’m looking for a diversion ;) ) I’ll revisit Gears and began working on a second draft. Hopefully after the second draft it will be at a stage where I can get outside opinions on the story – the feedback from that will determine how many more drafts I need to go through :)

It occurs to me that I’ve never actually said what Gears of Wonderland is about. It’s a future Wonderland that has gone a semi-steampunk route in it’s development. Here’s a rough blurb that still needs a lot of work.

150 years ago, a young girl called Alice visited a place known as Wonderland. Her visits only lasted for a short time, but they had huge changes on the land. The Knave of Hearts seized the Heart throne, conquered all of Wonderland with his technological marvels, and now rules with an iron fist.

James Riggs finds himself in this new Wonderland, a land that is nothing like the books and movies he grew up with. Hunted by the King of Hearts as a dangerous criminal and viewed by the rebels of Wonderland as the key to finding the lost White Kingdom, James must discover the secrets of Wonderland with the help of the eccentric Kara Hatter and the driven Red Rook.

Does the tattoo James got when he was eighteen really have the significance everyone claims it does? Can James stay alive long enough to find out? And why is the Cheshire Cat taking such a keen interest in his activities in Wonderland?