jennygordon: (Froud - Green Man)
Remember a couple of weeks back, I said that once I'd fixed a couple of things in the first half of MoulderingBook, I wanted to crack on with writing the rest, adding, "As ever, all terms and conditions are subject to change at the sniff of a writerly whim."?

Yeah, that second part.

Having fixed those couple of things over two weeks ago, I found myself still twitchy and uncertain about the story, so I've been spent the time since doing a lot of thinking about why that might be. And I've come to two main conclusions.

Firstly, the balance between the two main strands of the story isn't right. The more I've worked with one, the more I've realised I want to focus on that aspect even more, which means paring the other one right back to redress the balance.

And that led to a long thought process about which aspects of the pared-back strand I need to retain in order for the overall story to work, and how to reshape them to good effect.

The second conclusion I reached was that I haven't gone far enough down the secondary-worldbuilding road. I've said before that MoulderingBook is set in an historical time-that-never-was, with a Gothic and Steampunkish flavour, but what I've realised is that I've been hedging this aspect as I want to avoid the book becoming overly fantastical. I still do. I like my fantasy settings to have their roots firmly anchored in history, or at least in historical possibility.

So I thought some more, and from out of nowhere, the worldbuilding elements I want to work with dropped neatly into place, and opened up lots of lovely doors to possibility. It's such fun.

It all means I've got a significant amount of reworking, reordering and set-dressing to do, but I'm feeling much better about the whole thing. Much more like I'm heading in the right direction. Hurrah!
jennygordon: (Clock)

There has recently been some discussion in the blogosphere about appropriate degrees of detail in describing characters and settings in books.  Last week, I gave up on a book by a well-known fantasy author because it was smothering me in layers of detail to the detriment of the story itself, so I thought I’d chip in with my thoughts on the subject.

 

It’s a brave writer who resists the temptation to explain every detail of the world and characters of our lovingly created novels.  This can be especially the case if the world of that novel is a secondary one, with aspects that will be unfamiliar to our readers (this issue is discussed here).  Yet, increasingly for me, description needs to serve a purpose beyond being purely description for description’s sake, whether that purpose is to create an atmosphere, or add to the story or characterisations in some way.  *Scrabbles for an example.*  Okay, like this:

 

She had curly, brown hair = description for description’s sake.

Her hair was usually a nest of curly, brown tangles because she never seemed to find the time to brush it = this adds something to characterisation, or,

The perpetual winds combing the mountain village meant plaits were the only way to manage her curly hair = this adds something to the world as well, or even,

He watched her mahogany-coloured hair whipping on the perpetual mountain wind, imagining running his fingers through it, easing out the tangles = this reveals something about the world, and about another character and how he feels about the girl with brown hair. 

 

That's not to say that description can't be lyrical and lovely, but ... )


jennygordon: (Tortoiseshell Butterfly (purple))

In reply to a question akossket asked last week about methods we use for visualising the world of our WIP, I mentioned that I’ve been a big scrap-booker since I was a kid.  When she commented that she hadn’t thought of that, it made me wonder if I’m the only person out there who still uses the old-fashioned way of collecting images.

 

It’s pretty likely that the pastime began as a cunning ploy on my mother’s part to keep me out of trouble as a kid, but I’ve continued to collect images and articles, torn from magazines and newspapers, even since.  Over the years, I’ve become much less of a scrap-booker and more of a collector of boxes and boxes full of cuttings.  Seriously.  Boxes and BOXES!  You should see the corner of my study!  However, with my Fledgling Novel, I’ve gone back to actually sticking images into a book as a source of reference.

 

I’ve always thought of myself as a very visually-inspired writer, and many of my short stories, in particular, have been inspired by a single image.  I often return to root through my scrapbooks and boxes of cuttings for a reference, or for inspiration.  An image in itself might conjure a character, setting, or even the basis for an entire novel (I have one old postcard which did exactly that).

 

It’s fascinating leafing back through those scrapbooks I put together as a teenager and coming across pictures that caught my eye back then, and which often still have the power to inspire me.  In some of them, I can track the novel or story they provoked, and if I’m feeling a bit ‘blank’, then all I need to do is flick through one and something’s bound to grab my waning imagination.

 

In the era of digital everything, I continue to collect images that grab my attention – all kinds of things.  Faces and places, art and articles.  After all, I never know when they might prove to be exactly the right thing to get the old cogs whirring.

 

So, am I alone?  Is this a dying habit, or are there other writers out there who collect cuttings and pictures in the same way?

jennygordon: (Roe Deer fawn)

I’ve been struggling under the weight of a terrible realisation about my Fledgling Novel.  Yep, that’s right, for various reasons that I’m not at liberty to disclose, it’s a world without chocolate.  Or coffee.  Or tea.

 

Now, I don’t think I’ve shared my Chocolate Love in these pages, so perhaps now’s the time to come clean. 

 

I LOVE CHOCOLATE.

 

I eat chocolate in some form every day, and if I don’t, I wind up going to bed with a vague, dissatisfied feeling that is the absence of chocolate in my tummy.

 

I’m particularly fond of Cadbury’s Giant Buttons at the moment, having recently weaned myself off a long addiction to Maltesers, although I certainly wouldn’t say no to a bag of those either.  As a treat at the weekend, I indulge in a hot chocolate with strips of chocolate (either Cadbury’s Milk or Bournville) dunked in it.  What?  It goes all melty and delicious!  And for a REAL treat, I’m always happy to relieve a large box of Thornton’s chocolates of its contents.  Or a box of Guylian shells, come to that – I’m extremely fond of praline.

 

If I were to write a story of a week in my life, it would feature much chocolaty-ness.  I don’t have many other vices these days, so I don’t feel too bad about it.  In fact, nope, I don’t feel bad about it at all.  But it all begs the question of what on earth my characters are going to reach for when they need a pick-me-up or a treat.  Obviously, I can go away and research some old cookery books to see what the Tudors or Romans ate (in their world without chocolate, coffee, etc).  I’m sure I’ll come up with something.  But the point is, how absolutely horrible the world would be without chocolate.  Frankly, it’s not a place I’d want to live in.

 

How about you?  What kind of edible, or drinkable treats couldn’t you face life without?

jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)

Being as I am at the early-ish stages of Fledgling Novel, I’ve been spending a lot of time on world-building, and have been having many Deep Thoughts on the topic, which, I’m afraid, appear to be spawning a series of blog posts (sorry about that – I’ll make sure I clear up after myself!)

 

Okay, so there’s heaps upon steaming heaps of advice out there on how to go about creating the world of your novel, whether that world is a corner of this one, or an altogether different, more fantastical place.  You know how it goes:

 

  • Research
  • Collect images
  • Squeeze brain. 

I was wondering whether anybody’s tried meditation, or visualisation techniques.  It’s something I do quite a lot.  We all have those stretches of staring out the window daydreaming about our characters and setting, or those moments before we slide into sleep where we walk in the world of our novel.  I’ve been trying something a little more structured, and thought I’d share.

 

First, find a quiet time and space where you won’t be disturbed for a while – it only needs to be 15 minutes, if that’s all you can spare.  Next, put on some inspiring music; something that conjures the mood of your world, or a scene you want to think about.  It can be whatever you like, whatever brings the world of your book into focus.

 

Now get comfortable – sit down, lie down, whatever, wherever.  Just make sure you’re somewhere you can relax properly.  Drop your shoulders, let yourself sink into the floor, then close your eyes, take a few slow, deep breaths, and step sideways into the world of your book.  Allow the music to take you there.  Try not to force any particular element; simply allow your imagination to explore, see what the music inspires.  Look around yourself – you might be surprised at the details you notice that you haven’t thought of before.  Stay there in your world for as long as you like.  Again, don’t force it – allow what wants to emerge to do so.  

 

When you lose your focus and your mind starts to wander, or if you reach a point where you simply have to write down all the amazing things you’ve discovered, take a few deep breaths again, wiggle your fingers and toes, and gently let the pictures behind your eyes fade.

 

I find it’s also a useful technique for times when you’re too tired, or otherwise prevented from sitting at the PC.  Keep a pen and paper to hand so you can jot down whatever you need to bring back, and head off on a journey into the corners of your mind.

So how about you?  Do you use any slightly more unusual techniques when you're conjuring the world of your opus?  I'd love to hear.

jennygordon: (Hermit)

Lately, I have mostly been looking at images like this:



And listening to music like this:



And researching Iron Age hillforts. 

It all has to do with the imagining of the world of Fledgling Novel, and very absorbing it is too.

jennygordon: (Red Admiral)
In a recent interview, children's historical fiction author, Theresa Breslin, talks about how she needs to visit the setting of her WIP in order to get the feel for it.  "Really, truly," she says, "it's not just an indulgence to get away from a Scottish winter. You need to go there and see the flowers in Andalucia, smell the sea, feel the sun on your feet when you walk through the palace of Alhambra."  The added bonus for a writer, she explains, is that you often discover little gems of detail that hours of library research would never reveal.

It is a mantra that Jacqueline Carey has long upheld, and much of her on-going Terre D'Ange series has been inspired by her travels.  Terre D'Ange itself was inspired by a holiday to the south of France where the lavender fields conjured a land populated by people who are descended from angels.  And it's clear when you're reading her books that much of the detail - often really small things - is based in observations made in those settings.  Those details add a depth of flavour, and a richness to her world-building, like herbs and spices to a dish, that build on the facts gleaned from books and the touches filled in by imagination.

Until a few years ago, I had always holidayed in the UK, but have now been lucky enough to travel to some incredible parts of Europe - including Andalucia and the Alhambra that Breslin mentions - and it's opened my eyes to whole new realms of inspiration.  I have never seen golden sand like that in Cordoba where a Catholic church burrows in the heart of the Mesquita (the mosque that survives from Moorish -era Spain).  I have never tasted tomatos like those you can buy in Rome, or seen the quality of September sunlight across the Forum.  Or heard a sound quite like medieval cathedral bells in the rain ringing out across Granada - ringing out across the centuries.  And, much as I have dreamed up some pretty fantastical places, I've never imagined anything as magical as Venice swathed in the freezing fog of January, where palazzos spun from sugar and gold emerge from out of the mist on the Grand Canal.

Yet it's more than that - more than just visiting these incredible places.  There's something about experiencing the babble of a foreign tongue all around you that creates a particular atmosphere that imagination alone couldn't create.  Something unexpected in seeing something as mundane as sparrows in all of those exotic locations.  There's a quote from Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian that expresses it perfectly:

"Looking back at that moment, I understood that I had lived in books so long ... that I had become compressed by them internally.  Suddenly, in this echoing house of Byzantium, my spirit leaped out of its confines.  I knew in that instant that, whatever happened, I could never go back to my old contraints.  I wanted to follow life upward, to expand with it outward, the way this enormous interior swelled upward and outward.  My heart swelled with it, as it never had during all my wanderings (among books) ..."

While I haven't exactly developed itchy feet, and there are still so many parts of the UK that I have yet to explore, I really would urge you to grab any opportunity to travel that comes your way.  Step outside of your comfort-zone and experience the atmosphere of another land.  Some of those places I've visited have very directly inspired and informed my writing since, but I'm sure they've had a far more subtle influence too, seasoning my imagined settings in a way they could never have been seasoned before.  

So what about you?  Are there places you've visited that have enrichened your writing?  And what about places you'd love to go (however grand or humble).  Me, I'd love to explore some of those echoing houses of Byzantium that Kostova mentions.  One day ...

jennygordon: (Clematis)

Not wanting to teach grandma to suck eggs here or anything*, but have you considered using your home town/city/village as a setting for a novel?  I don’t mean the actual, real place necessarily, but perhaps a version, or aspects of it that depart as far from the original as you need them to, depending on the kind of world you want to create for your opus.

Try investigating some books on local history.  Libraries are usually a good (and obviously free) source for this sort of thing – even my tiny neighbourhood library has a good selection of books on the locale.  Often, you don’t even need to read them; just a flick through the photographs and illustrations is enough to get your imagination whirring.  Then, depending on the kind of book you’re writing:

  • Pick and choose gems of little-known history from the area - the larger, grander events and personalities are usually more widely known, but the more obscure ones can offer a great starting point for characters and plot, or simply for jump-starting your imagination.
  • Re-imagine the grand house that was knocked down in the 1950s to make way for town planning developments; the street that was levelled by bombing during the way; the parts of the town that haven't existed since the Middle Ages.  Cherry-pick the locations that appeal to you and invent them anew in your imaginary setting.
  • Take a look at old maps; place-names have an inspirational magic all their own.  Why were streets called what they were?  What industry once took place in a certain district, now leaving no trace of itself but the clue in the name?
  • Try freezing time in your actual location at a certain historical era and wonder what if ... the local despotic landowner still held power instead of the town council; the surrounding low-lying land was never drained, so the city remains on an island, or conversely all nearby cities expanded and swallowed up the green spaces, leaving concrete from horizon to horizon, or any other alternative reality you like.  And I'm not necessarily talking here about exercising the really big What Ifs - small things can have enormous knock-on effects as well.
And once your creative cells have started jumping, go out for a walk in some of the places you've discovered.  Take a look at them with fresh eyes, begin to populate them with your characters, and watch them coming to life.  And hey, even if you only use these ideas as a starting point, you'll have discovered something new about your hometown.

* where the hell did that saying come from anyway?!

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jennygordon

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