jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)
Yesterday, I mentioned that one of the changes I've made to MoulderingBook is to introduce a ticking clock to the story arc, and [ profile] windancer asked if I could say a bit more about it, so here I am.

So, definitions seem a good place to start. Or at least definitions as I understand them (not trying to teach anyone to suck eggs here!) In the context of a novel/film/story of any kind, a ticking clock is a writerly device that's essential to the success of the story. It's connected to, and enhances, the stakes of the story (what is at stake if the hero doesn't succeed), and provides an element of tension in the overall story arc (if the hero doesn't succeed by a certain point, X awful thing will happen). I say it's essential (and I realise there are exceptions to every rule) because without a ticking clock, a story might drift along pleasantly enough, but it lacks the element of compulsion that keeps a reader turning pages.

There are lots of kinds of ticking clock, and degrees of subtlety to which they can be employed. Some involve a literal clock — can the hero figure out how to divert the tidal wave in the 12 hours before it hits New York; Will the hero win the girl before she emigrates to Australia at the end of the month? Others are subtle and implied — will the heroine learn what caused her mother's breakdown before history repeats and she falls prey herself? Can the chocolatier win over the villagers with her confectionery before the straight-laced curate turns them all against her? Sometimes, the clock ticks away subtley over a very long time — will Pip grow up into a well-rounded young man before Miss Havisham's malign influence corrupts him?

Whether big and dramatic, or more subtle, the ticking clock serves the same purpose of setting a deadline for the main story arc, and ratcheting up the tension and urgency in the story. Often, something unexpected happens along the way to shorten the deadline further and pile on more pressure.

Now, that's all very well and good. I understand the device and recognise it in films and novels alike, but I've always been really bad at employing it to full advantage myself. I kind of forget about it. Or at least, I neglect to employ it effectively enough, which means my stories tend to just ... drift.

When I realised I was falling into the same trap with MoulderingBook, it was an important moment for me, because the story arc needs a very specific ticking clock in order to have maximum impact. The clock was already kind of present in the culmination of the story, but what I needed to do was pinpoint it and signpost it much more clearly throughout.

The specific trigger for my realisation was two-fold. Firstly, I've been re-reading Maggie Stiefvater's excellent "Shiver" trilogy, each book of which has a ticking clock that is different from the others, but which builds on those in its predecessor books. Secondly, I had a conversation with a friend about a compluter game she enjoys playing in which her character has to solve a mystery, but also — and this is what caught my interest — she has been wrongly accused of a crime to which that mystery relates, and the cops are on her trail. Can she solve the mystery and prove her innocence before the cops catch up with her? A nice ticking clock, which adds an urgency to the quest.

So, what I'm doing with MoulderingBook is seeding the ground of the first third of the story with initial 'ticks' of the clock. Then, having set my scene, I'm going to specify what my ticking clock is — X will happen if my heroine doesn't find a way to do Y before the villagers realise what's going on.

Tick tick.

So there you have it, [ profile] windancer, for what it's worth. I hope my ramblings have been interesting/useful/at least spelled correctly. And thanks for getting my brain working; it's been fun.
jennygordon: (Froud)
Oh no!

You know how important it is for us writerly types to find the perfect notebook? And you remember how I've talked about my lovely sparkly purple notebooks that are gradually filling with the tale of my MoulderingBook, and how I love them?

Well, last week I went to stock up on some more, and ... where were they?

I asked the very helpful lady in the shop, and she head-scratched for a moment, then remembered that they had gone into the sale. She rang another local branch to see if they had any left, but no luck.

I dashed home and searched online, and there they were! Hurrah!


Line discontinued.

"But, but, that's not fair!" I wailed. "They're my most favourite of favourite notebooks. I love their narrow-ruled lines and their ivory pages, and how there are so many pages in the book that they are stable enough for me to prop them on my knee to write without need of additional support. And the pages are stitched into the spine, so they don't pop out. And they're perfectly big enough, but not so big they're unwieldy. And they're just so pretty ..."

I pulled myself together and went browsing for an alternative, but it was no use; there simply wasn't a notebook to compare.

So ...

... I've written a letter to the Mr Boss-Man of the company, asking him, everso nicely, if he might reconsider withdrawing my lovely sparkly purple notebooks.


All I can do now is cross everything and hope.
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
Ideas for stories are always wafting through my head. I jot them down in my beloved Moleskine in case they want to come out and play at a later date. Some of those ideas have been around for a long time, and show up on a semi-regular basis, sometimes with increasing insistence.

It's one such idea that's back to whisper at me at the moment.

It's not a plot bunny (i.e. something that's going to distract me from MoulderingBook). It's ... a surfacing. A seedling that's ready to germinate and reach for the light.

In other words, I think it may be the rousing of the project I'll be working on once I'm done with MoulderingBook.

I have a number of semi-ideas for possible projects on a backburner, but this one seems to want to jostle to the front of the queue.

I love the sense of all these ideas simmering away inside me, bubble-popping to the top of the cauldron from time to time, then sinking back into the stew for a while longer. Some end up stuck to the bottom of the pot and never evolve into anything more. Others may require a notebook of their own at some point ...
jennygordon: (Froud - Wood Woman)
Once upon a time, I wrote fiction for adults. I'd be more specific and tell you what kind of fiction it was, only ... I can't, because my stories were always tricky to pigeonhole. Which was all well and good, as I'm adverse to pigoneholing generally in life. Except, if I wanted to be taken seriously by agents and whatnot, I needed to be able to tell them where the stories sat in terms of genre.

The genre freedom within the Young Adult market is one of the things I love about it, and one of the reasons why I now write Young Adult fiction.

'Young Adult' is, of course, an age category, not a genre in the way that 'crime', 'chicklit', 'fantasy', or 'literary' are. In fact, the entire Children's book market is subdivided by age, not genre. Which means you'll find historical novels shelved alongside horror, sitting beside high school romance, beside high fantasy. And, more importantly as far as I'm concerned, you'll find single books which offer a glorious mash-up of all four. And no-one minds.

There's always been such freedom in Young Adult fiction (and Children's fiction more widely) to throw together whatever bundles of oddness you feel like writing. It's immensely liberating for both writer and reader.

The book I'm currently reading is a good example. On the face of it, 'Cuckoo Song', by Frances Hardinge is a changeling-child story set in the 1920s, yet it's also gothic and fantastical and literary. If it was written for adults, who knows where it would be shelved, or whether it would even be published at all, or rejected as 'uncategorisable'. However, since it sits in the Young Adult age range, it has no such concerns. It can be precisely what it wants to be and still find an audience.

It's just as well, since MoulderingBook is a Gothic, Poe-esque story set in a historical period that never really was, with sort-of Steampunk nuances, and an Addams Family undertones (thanks for that contribution to the list [ profile] readthisandweep!) Since it's for the Young Adult age range, its fluid identity doesn't matter. I'm free to simply keep writing and let it be what it wants.

I hope the Young Adult market doesn't ever feel the need to start pigeonholing by genre within itself. Long live genre freedom!
jennygordon: (Froud - Green Man)
My grumbling last time about the dratted Rampaging Doubts got me thinking about this bizarre condition that is 'being a writer'. It doesn't matter whether you're published or not, famous, mid-list or a nobody, anyone who writes with any degree of seriousness suffers from the same condition.

Sure there are the Writer Highs, when words flow like blackbird song, and ideas flood through us like moonlight. But to counter those precious times there are the endless solitary hours spent setting down one word after another, deleting, repeating, struggling with plot and character, while our friends and family are playing with the dog, or visiting the cinema. We sacrifice parts of our life in order to find those hours. We deny ourselves a social life in order to pace around, plagued by the Rampaging Doubts that what we're producing is little more than rubbish.

And yet, we return to our notebooks and our computers regardless, to set down another word, and another —

Is it a strange sort of courage, or simply sheer bloody-mindedness that keeps us going through draft after draft, parking our egos in order to open up to critique, binning vast tracts of what took us hours to shape in order to shape new, hopefully better words?

Because, much as I'm still feeling disillusioned about MoulderingBook at the moment, come the weekend, you can guarantee I'll be bundling those Doubts out the back door and ignoring them while they pull faces at me through the window. I'll be picking up my pen and settling down in my Nook, battling onward in the hope that my next Writer High is just around the corner.

Why? Why do this to myself? Why not do something more fun with my time instead?

We talk about the 'need' to write that is an essential part of us; the unquiet creative mind that plagues us; the drive to express ourselves through our stories.

But honestly, when you think about what we put up with in order to answer that calling, I'm not sure it's a medal we deserve, or a padded cell!
jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)
Yesterday, I reached the 20K words stage of MoulderingBook. I also reached the end of the sparkly purple notebook I'm currently writing it in. I wallowed in the satisfaction of flicking through page after page of my words, re-reading some here and there, and I smiled and smiled and smiled.

I thought of the oft-cited Neil Gaiman quote, "Writing is flying in dreams. When you remember. When you can. When it works."

And then I remembered that it was only two months ago that I was tiptoeing fearfully back into my writing journey after an enforced year-long absence, and wondering if I still could.

I look at that sparkly purple notebook, full to the brim with my new story, and I know that I can.

I am complete once more.
jennygordon: (Rossetti - Veronica Veronese)
I envy writers who can sit down and write in any old place — in hotels and cafes, on buses and trains, in departure lounges. It's an ability I mostly lack. I did recently spend a couple of hours jotting in the cafe at my local park, but then the wailing of small children became too much and drove me and my creativity away.

I've been thinking about the spaces in which we write a lot recently because, for various reasons, I haven't been able to spend much time in my study since moving into my new(ish) home. Some of the reasons are purely practical ones, but there's also been the more psychological reason that the room simply didn't feel right. It felt more like an office than a study; it wasn't the sort of place in which I felt comfortable and inspired, and able to lose myself in stories.

This was a problem.

It niggled and nipped at me.

So I finally tackled it last weekend.

I swapped the deskside filing cabinet for a little bookcase, and covered the ugly desk with a lacy tablecloth bought from a charity shop (in fact, the same lacy table cloth I used part of to make my lightshade). I covered the filing cabinet with a pretty Indian textile, and added a wooden bowl, crystals and feathers. I dotted ornaments and crystals around the bookshelves, and threw down a couple of old rag rugs. I tied an old shawl over one of the curtains to break up its mono-colour and give it some character. Finally, I framed and hung a selection of inspirational pictures above the desk (which faces a wall, not a window).

And you know what? It didn't cost me a penny, and I now love the room so much I can barely keep out of it.

Our writing spaces are precious. It doesn't matter if we're lucky enough to have a whole room, a corner of one, or a cubby under the stairs. A shed or a kitchen table. The place where we do the majority of our writing has to be a special in some way. A single talisman placed on the shelf next to the compost in the shed might be enough to conjure the 'special'; a certain mug that sits at our side at the kitchen table, or even a particular pen that conjures the writing zone. We are invoking magic when we tap into our well of creativity, and we need to create our sacred space in which to do that.

So, a question: do you have a sacred writing space? If so, what is it that makes it special?
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
After a busy few days, I'm a bit flumped today, so this is just a fly-by post to rejoice in what I've achieved with MoulderingBook over the past two days.

Taking on board all the advice you guys so kindly shared with me last week (*group hug*), along with the 'key' [ profile] readthisandweep donated to the cause (*blows kisses*), I wrote and wrote and wrote reams of notes in my notebook. Wrote, in fact, until I was so excited by the new path I see before me for MoulderingBook that I had to spend some time at my computer translating those notes into some sort of shape.

So, I now have thirteen close-typed pages of what I'm thinking of as 'My Story Plan'.

This is nothing new in terms of 'process'; I often begin a project with a bundle of notes like this. What is new is what I'll be doing next.

What I won't be doing is dashing off on a wave of enthusiasm to begin writing the story in its new shape.

Instead, I shall be returning to my notes and brainstorming lots more. Filling in the gaps in the plot; fleshing out existing plot points; thinking about character, and all in all, DOING MORE at this stage before the actual writing begins.

(It's useful for me to set it out like that as it helps get it into my brain that I'M NOT STARTING TO WRITE THE STORY YET!) Er-hem.

Thanks for listening (and sorry about the shouting!)
jennygordon: (Rossetti - Veronica Veronese)
One of the things always at the forefront of my mind when I'm writing is creating the right "feel" for my story. The right mood or atmosphere: it's both of those things, but it's also something less tangible. Something to do with the way I want to make my reader feel when they're reading it. It's something in the voice, the pervasive weather, the word choice, the sustained metaphors. Something ...

For me, the "feel" of a book is almost a character in its own right. When done well, that "feel" can be the single aspect that lingers in my mind long after the details of plot and character have faded.

The strange Gothic grandeur of Edgar Allen Poe. The best of childhood dreams conjured by Erin Morgenstern in 'The Night Circus'. Young Adult author Brenna Yovanoff is wonderful at creating a "feel" in her stories, both short and novel-length.

The "feel"/atmosphere/mood of a story is something I work hard at invoking. Not always successfully, because of its subtle nature. I read authors who manage it and try to work out how they've achieved it.

It's about more than simply reams of descriptive prose and scene-setting. It's something more ellusive and powerful.

AutumnBook is very much a story that requires the right "feel" (sorry, I can't find a better word for it). I find myself wandering around trying to sense it, to smell it, hear it, taste it.

Fallen autumn leaves after days of rain.

Homemade lemonade left out too long in the sun.

I do my best to steer clear of cliche, to create other touchstones of mood and atmosphere. To create that subtle soundtrack which flavours everything else.

It can become all-consuming.
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
Like I said before, I'm not Nano-ing. And it's just as well, since a killer headache wiped me out for the better part of the last few days, rendering me able to do little more than brush up on my dribbling skills.

That said, I did manage to throw down another 1,500 words of AutumnBook on Saturday, before the pain (in so many, varied and interesting senses of the word) kicked in.

Rather than getting frustrated with my body for letting me down, I decided to shrug and go with the flow. Maybe it was that Zen frame of mind which showed me that, even though I wasn't actually writing, there are many other pursuits which contribute to the writing life:

  • Once the drugs had kicked in, I thunk thinky thoughts about the story, conjuring the next scene in my mind, and realised that the names I'd given the two characters to be introduced in that scene don't work, so came up with new ones which do.
  • I read Maggie Stiefvater novels, which, as well as being wonderful escapism from the headache, are always an object lesson in subtle character- and world-building.
  • I went for a brief walk and in the hopes that fresh air might scare the headache away. It didn't, but I collected some willow-withies, which I wove into circles ready for my next crafting project. It might not have been writing, but exercising creativity in whatever way still feeds the source.

It's so important for those of us who aren't always able to write when we want to (and surely that means all of us at one time or another) to remember that our creative brain is rarely switched off completely; like a CPU, there's always a part of it working away in the background, whether we realise it or not. We might not actually be writing, but the Writing Life is fed in so many ways.

I've written a bit about how Life has prevented me from writing much over the past year. However, I certainly haven't stopped creating, and that magical CPU in my brain has been busily working away. So much so that when I recently dug through the various notes made and images collected over the past months, I discovered I actually have the seeds of three novels. While they're not a directly related to one another, there are links between them, which excites me. I like series in which the books aren't direct sequels of one another, but which are connected in some way, perhaps with cross-over characters (usually a minor one in one becoming the main character in another).

Still, I do hope I'm able to get back to actually writing this coming weekend ...

jennygordon: (Froud - Green Woman)
"Writing is flying in dreams. When you remember. When you can. When it works. It's that easy."  — Neil Gaiman

It's true. It's so very true.

At the weekend, I turned off technology, locked my door, and settled down with notebook and pen.

And I wrote.

I have no idea if it's any good, and that really doesn't matter anyway.

I wrote.

Pages and pages.

For hours.

And now, once I've hung my washing out, I'm going to go and do some more.
jennygordon: (Froud - Green Man)
A couple of weeks back, I wrote about how I was wandering in the Word Forest, exploring. I'm now newly emerged, twigs and burrs caught up in my tangled hair, jeans all grubby, blackberry stains around my mouth. But in my fist, I'm clutching an outline for what I'm calling AutumnBook. The outline is pretty grubby too, but it's definitely an outline of sorts, which surprises me a little in a pleasant sort of way.

I've realised that, although I'm always open to new methods, my approach at the beginning of a project tends to follow more or less the same course:

  • I catch sight of a bright, shiny idea. This is often a location, a character or two, and a vague premise. I'm often inspired by an actual image (visuals are important to me)

  • I jot some notes, polishing the idea until it makes a kind of sense

  • I collect a few inspirational images (Pinterest is my scrapbook of choice these days)

  • I start writing, usually throwing down around 5K words to find my way into the story, figure out a bit about the main character(s) and their voice, work out whether first or third person, past or present, works best (this is always open to negotiation further down the line)

  • Throughout, I continue jotting notes until my notebook becomes too unwieldy to be helpful. That's when I hit the PC to type up an outline.

The outline helps me see the shape of the thing and where the gaps are; it brings a bit of structure to my whirlwind of notes. I need some structure at this stage, otherwise I know I'll go rambling wildly off course. Writing the story tends to cease while I'm getting my thoughts into some kind of order.

Mind you, I don't really think of the thing I end up with as an outline. It's more of a map for when I plunge back into the forest; a tool to help me figure out where I go from here.

Right, where did I put my waterproofs and sandwiches? I'm going back in ...
jennygordon: (Froud - Green Woman)
So, it turns out I was pixie-led through my writers' forest. For days, I followed the trail with the story growing before me. But something was missing. In my heart, I felt it, and doubt nibbled away at me.

I paused to watch the wind in the trees, to listen to birdsong, and to voices carrying to me from elsewhere. And suddenly the world tipped on its side and twisted my nice, straight path around and about and upside-down until I was laughing at the fun of it.

Dangling, like the Tarot's Hanged Man, from a branch, I saw my story from a new angle.

Not this, but this, I realised.

Turn it around.

Twist it upside-down.

And, from my topsy-turvy postition, dangling from that tree, the path ahead was abruptly far more interesting.
jennygordon: (Froud - Wood Woman)
Sometimes, in this writing life, we stand at the edge of the forest and gather ourselves to enter with only instinct as our guide. An idea whispers on the breeze, a fleeting kaleidoscope of images flutters tantalisingly, almost ... almost ... within reach.

The whispers may be nothing more than leaf-murmur; the images only light dappling through branches, but we follow them all the same into the ever-darkening shadows as the forest closes around us. We seek the tracks in the earth, gather the clues caught in brambles and snagged on twigs. We press the story-sign between the pages of our notebooks, wind the story-thread on our pens, spooling it in.

The forest is a-riddle with false paths and deadfalls to block our way. There are rivers of churning confusion to be crossed, and pixie lights that would lead us astray if we let them.

At the moment, after four solid days exploring the forest, I am wandering along a trail that seems clearer than the rest I have followed. My pockets are full of intriguing found-treasure, and I can almost hear the words in the leaf-whisper voices.

"Patience," they are telling me. "Watch the sun-dapple on the forest floor, and watch your step. Between the two, you may find the path you are seeking."
jennygordon: (Froud - Wood Woman)
Hello, and welcome to my 50-Word Vignette Challenge!

Vignette - 1. a short descriptive essay or character sketch. 2. a short evocative episode in a play, film, etc.
(Concise Oxford Dictionary)

50 Words - ah, there's a story behind that.

See, I recently bought Kate Bush's album, '50 Words for Snow'. I was so enamoured of it the first time I listened to it that I had to email [ profile] readthisandweep straight away to share the love. Coincidentally, as she pointed out, the total word count of my email was a shade over 50 words. And that got my grey matter jiggling excitedly. For the next few days, it jiggled, then out popped the 50-Word Vignette idea.

It works like this: Once a week, using precisely 50 words, I will write a flavoursome vignette which aims to encapsulate a story. Furthermore, I'd like to write 50 of them — 50 50-Word Vignettes. My starting point each week will be a writing prompt chosen at random from a list pilfered from this website.

And then it occurred to me, why keep this to myself when I can share it with my friends here, and invite you to join in. Feel free to hop onboard whenever you fancy, and do as many of them with me as you feel like; it'll be fun to have other folks playing along. Or should that be 'vignetting' along?

I'll post my effort here each week, providing the prompt I used. All you have to do is write your own, using the same prompt, then post it in the comments.

How does that sound?

Btw, hyphenated words count are counted as a single word by WORD wordcount.

Here's my first one.

50-Word Vignette #1

Prompt: Forever

'I've been in love with you forever,' he said, his words a cinnamon-sweet caress on her face.

'Don't be stupid,' she replied, all glances and fluttering pulse, 'There's no such thing as forever.'

He smiled as his fingers wove hers. 'I know, but I'd like to invent one with you.'
jennygordon: (Froud)

Came across this and couldn't resist sharing.

Not that any of us will be able to relate or anything (er-hem!)

I particularly like the sixth bullet point.

(Via Gail Carriger on LJ)

jennygordon: (Tortoiseshell Butterfly (purple))
I had a brief look at FallingBook the other day, and apparently I now have a Prologue. It was something of a surprise that the first few hundred words of what was Chapter One now want to be a Prologue, since I feel rather ambivalent about the things. They're all well and good in their place, and sometimes there's definitely a place, but they can also be a rather unnecessary conceit, the content of which is soon forgotten once you're into the book-proper. Which, of course, defeats the point of having one in the first place.

So yes, I'm a bit surprised to find that I may have one.

I'm not entirely convinced at the moment; it may end up simply being a short Chapter One instead.
jennygordon: (Magpie)
Yesterday, an opening line dropped into my head apropros of absolutely nothing, and utterly unrelated to FallingBook, or indeed anything else.

Since health and energy levels are currently failing me, I may take up pen and notebook and play around with that line; see what emerges. You never know, it might be, well, something ...
jennygordon: (Froud)
I've read a couple of books recently which deal with a series of events that took place in the past, and a series which take place in the present. The point being that the former impacts on the latter in some way. In telling the stories, this particular author opted to alternate chapters between the two time periods. So far, so good. It works. The chapters are fairly long, so the reader has the chance to immerse themselves in what's taking place in each before the switch to the other. There's also a narrative ploy involved in that you want to keep reading in order to return to the events of the other time zone, which are usually left on a cliff-hanger of some kind at the end of each chapter. There's the comfort in knowing that you will get your chance in the next-but-one chapter.

It's a pretty basic structure. It works perfectly well, and the books are a good read, however ...

You could sense there was going to be a 'however', right?

However, I've found myself pondering the different ways the author might have approached the telling. I'm mainly thinking, I guess, of books like 'Rebecca', in which events that took place in the past are crucially intertwined with those taking place in the present. The ghost of the first Mrs de Winter haunts every page. And it's that 'ghost' aspect which intrigues me from a writerly pov. It's a classic Gothic narrative ploy. We see the events of the past through the stain they have left on the characters in the present. There is very little narrative 'telling' of what actually took place; instead, we have the various characters memory of the first Mrs de-W, very much coloured by their feelings for her.

Other other books include 'snapshots' of the events that took in the past, rather than devoting whole chapters to them, perhaps in the form of memories, diary entries, or ghostly visions.

While there's certainly a place for the first approach to a dual (or multi) time-period telling of switching between the periods and showing the reader the events as they took place, I continue to be intrigued by the narrative tricks and manipulations of the 'Rebecca' approach. After all, the purpose of this sort of story is often to explore how the events in the past impact on those in the present. And, more to the point, how they impact on the characters. Of course, if the characters in the present don't have any sort of connection to those in the past (or if they're not aware that they do, and past of the discovery is precisely that connection), then it's trickier to use the 'Rebecca' approach.

Since FallingBook is very much this sort of story — the devastating events of twenty-five years ago have badly damaged the characters involved, along with characters who weren't even born then — the pondering of different approaches to the telling is a regular pastime for me. I'm constantly asking myself, "what's the best, most impactful, most effective, most engaging way in which I can tell this story?" I want to do my very best by a story that has been with me for the past 15 years.

So, I was wondering, can anyone recommend a book(s) in which they've found the handling of this sort of story tackled particularly effectively? Do you have a preference for the way such stories are best approached? All and any thoughts welcome.
jennygordon: (Froud - Green Woman)
Life Crap has finally eased and is allowing me a window of writing time this weekend. It's sheer bliss. I managed a good few hours yesterday, and am back at my computer today to squeeze in a few more. While I miss writing all the time when I'm not able to do any, it's only when I am finally able to sit down and write that I realise how truly bereft I've been without it.

I know this window won't last; there's more Life Crap on the horizon, I'm sure, but I'm relishing this gift of writing time I've been given and embracing it so tight it might *pop!*

Enough of this writing about writing. FallingBook is calling ...


jennygordon: (Default)

January 2016



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