jennygordon: (Froud)
So, for various reasons (some of them out of my control, some of them not-so-much) I've been in a bit of a grump with Writer Jenny recently. The necessary hiatus from writing over the past year has roused all those Doubting Demons and the Pesky Piskies of Procrastination have me pinned in a corner.

So this weekend, with gritted teeth and grim determination, I'm going to stand up and faced the lot of them. I will write, dammit. And if I end up producing a steaming pile, then so be it!

It's been a year since you've written properly, for goodness sake, I tell myself. You're bound to be out of practice. Give yourself a break!

I spent some constructive time at work this morning (when I should have been doing other things — shhh!) re-reading posts and pieces by other writers who have inspired and encouraged me in the past, including this line by Laini Taylor:

"You write to discover the story."

And that led me on a train of thought which ended up at this old blog post of mine, and it's subsequent discussion among us. I read with particular interest something [ profile] bogwitch64 (who I miss seeing around these parts) said:

"My "outline," when I do one, is what a lot of people would consider the first draft. I end up with about 30K words of a story told in a stream of consciousness sort of thing. I imagine it's much like someone's NaNo. But I don't say that's draft one. It's the outline I work from--but my first draft is actually much cleaner for it."

I replied at the time that it was an approach I may try at some point, and I wonder if that time has come.

See, in the dozen-odd handwritten pages of AutumnBook I have managed to produce, I've increasingly found myself writing the scenes which shine the brightest, rather than writing sequentially, necessarily. Maybe [ profile] bogwitch64's approach would lend me a hand: chunks of freewriting, interspersed with notes and comments to myself. It'll be like writing with a friend nearby to chat with as I tentatively find my way and regain some of my writerly confidence.

And maybe some time spent freewriting would lend me a hand, since one of the problems I've been having with the story is that, while I have a shiny idea, and a rough outline, I can't hear the voice of my MC yet. It's going to be written in first person, so finding that voice is crucial. Perhaps some nice, unstructured freewriting ambling would help me discover her.

*SIgh*. More than anything else, I just need to sit down for some decent chunks of time and get the hell on with it!
jennygordon: (Froud - Wood Woman)
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I subscribe entirely and wholeheartedly to everything Mr Snyder says in 'Save the Cat'. However, as well as proving immensely useful in matters of loglines, his advice on planning out a project on notecards stuck to a board, which is gridded according to the four acts he proposes, also showed me a thing or two.

A mighty useful thing or two.

Initially, I only glanced through the chapter in question, and dismissed it, being congenitally adverse to tying down a story so specifically in advance. But then, I found myself reconsidering, in a 'what the hell?' kind of way. I duly dug out a pack of three-by-fives and set to work. Some time later, I set out the cards within the four proposed acts, and it was instantly clear to me where the gaps are in my story.

I already knew from re-reading the 2010 MS of FallingBook that I had a lengthy set-up (Act One, if you like), a goodly chunk of Act Two, and a decent Finale and Closing Image, but then ... oh, yes, but then ... Where was the rest? In my eagerness to reach that Finale, I had forgotten to build the other components necessary to telling a satisfying story.

So, while I was already aware of the gaping holes in the 2010 MS, Mr Snyder's exercise of laying out each scene in act order has given me a far clearer idea of precisely where those holes are.

I still won't be notecarding the whole thing in advance. I'm a Plotter with Pantser tendencies, as I certainly need to have an element of freedom remaining to me beyond the planning stage. If I nail everything down too precisely, my enthusiasm for actually writing the thing fizzles and fades.

Just goes to show how dangerous it can be to dismiss something out of hand without at least trying it for size.
jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)

This weekend, I picked up a copy of Blake Snyder's 'Save the Cat', which is a how-to guide on screen-writing, but whose techniques can equally well be applied to writing novels. I've often come across writerly folks recommending it, and now I can see why.

I spent an incredibly productive day on Sunday working through Snyder's Beat Sheet with this related tool, and plotting FallingBook accordingly. I can't begin to tell you how enlightening and helpful it was.

The first thing Snyder tackles in 'Save the Cat', since he recommends that it's the very first thing any writer does before getting to work on their script/novel is the Logline.

Definition: The Logline (or One-Liner) is a one or two sentence "grabber" that tells us everything you need to know about the book. (It equates to the Elevator Pitch, for those of you who know what that is).

There are four components to a Logline:

1. Is it ironic and emotionally involving, presenting a dramatic situation that is like an itch you have to scratch?

2. Does it create a compelling mental picture; is the whole book implied, including (often) the timeframe of the story?

3. Is the book's audience clear?

4. Does the book have a title that says what the story is and does so in a clever way?

So, that's the lesson; here's the fun part.

Snyder says it is vital that you have a successful logline from the outset. If the logline fails to hold interest, then likely the story itself will fail too. He recommends pitching your logline to anyone who will stand still long enough. This is where you guys come in. Here's the logline I've come up with for FallingBook. Please can you take a look at it, with reference to the above four points, and let me know what you think. Does it grab your interest and make you want to read the book, or do you glaze over somewhere between the third and fourth word?

"A broken artist must reconcile the ghosts of her past if she is to save her estranged daugher from making the same mistakes."

The title is "Still Yesterday."

Any and all contructive thoughts welcome. Ta everso.

Blimey riley! Talk about synchronicity! Not long after posting the above, I was catching up on my F-List when I came across this by agent Mary Kole, about ... loglines!

jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)

This weekend, I picked up a copy of Blake Snyder's 'Save the Cat', which is a how-to guide on screen-writing, but whose techniques can equally well be applied to writing novels. I've often come across writerly folks recommending it, and now I can see why.

I spent an incredibly productive day on Sunday working through Snyder's Beat Sheet with this related tool, and plotting FallingBook accordingly. I can't begin to tell you how enlightening and helpful it was.

The first thing Snyder tackles in 'Save the Cat', since he recommends that it's the very first thing any writer does before getting to work on their script/novel is the Logline.

Definition: The Logline (or One-Liner) is a one or two sentence "grabber" that tells us everything you need to know about the book. (It equates to the Elevator Pitch, for those of you who know what that is).

There are four components to a Logline:

1. Is it ironic and emotionally involving, presenting a dramatic situation that is like an itch you have to scratch?

2. Does it create a compelling mental picture; is the whole book implied, including (often) the timeframe of the story?

3. Is the book's audience clear?

4. Does the book have a title that says what the story is and does so in a clever way?

So, that's the lesson; here's the fun part.

Snyder says it is vital that you have a successful logline from the outset. If the logline fails to hold interest, then likely the story itself will fail too. He recommends pitching your logline to anyone who will stand still long enough. This is where you guys come in. Here's the logline I've come up with for FallingBook. Please can you take a look at it, with reference to the above four points, and let me know what you think?  Does it grab your interest and make you want to read the book, or do you glaze over somewhere between the third and fourth word?

"A broken artist must reconcile the ghosts of her past if she is to save her estranged daugher from making the same mistakes."

The title is "Still Yesterday."

Any and all contructive thoughts welcome. Ta everso.

Blimey riley! Talk about synchronicity! Not long after posting the above, I was catching up on my F-List when I came across this by agent Mary Kole, about ... loglines!

jennygordon: (Gargoyle)
Okay, so I have a question:

Why is it that adult fantasy novels tend to be so looooong?

I mean, I know there's generally some world-building to do, and — especially when it comes to Epic Fantasy — lots of characters to deal with and a big old story to wrestle into place. But seriously, do they really need to be so looong?

After all, take a look at YA Fantasy. When we're talking "otherworld fantasy" as opposed to urban/paranormal, there's often just as much worldbuilding to deal with, just as many characters and plot pieces to juggle as in adult fantasy. And yet, YA Fantasy, by its nature, usually manages to do this in under 130K words, and often far fewer.

Personally, I've learned heaps from studying how YA Fantasy can to be so slimline, and yet still tell a big, satisfying story, and I reckon writers in the adult Fantasy market could learn a thing or two as well.

So, what have I learned? Well ...

  • be concise in description. Just because the grass is purple and the cities are made of crystal, you don't need to expend ridiculous wordage to conjure it.

  • let you reader experience the world as your characters experience it. Only share minutiae of history, politics, geography, flora, etc, if the characters know them. Otherwise, simply let the characters inhabit the world.

  • question how many characters you really need to tell the story. Can you condense your cast of hundreds to a pertinent few?

  • equally, be concise in your plot. What's the story at the heart of this book? Ask yourself if you really need a wealth of subplots or a decade of questing, or battles to tell the tale at the heart.

  • and if you do need all of the subplots, then perhaps some of them belong in a book of their own; a different book where you can focus on them and explore them properly.

I know not all stories can be condensed, and I know it's sometimes glorious for writers and readers alike to wallow in a great, big book. I get it, I do. For instance, I can't imagine Jacqueline Carey's 'Kushiel's Dart' being reduced from its huge size. The story truly does require that much space, and Carey is never indulgent when it comes to description, backstory, or any of those other typically word-padding areas. On the other hand, NK Jemisin's 'The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms' manages to create and strange, complex world, and equally strange and complex characters in under 110K words, when it could easily be far bigger.

In some ways, much of the modern adult Fantasy genre has come to define itself by the great length of its novels, but I do find myself wondering how often vast length is really necessary, and how often it's simply self-indulgent on the part of an author.

As a writer of YA Fantasy, I like to see it as a delicious challenge to tell the huge, epic stories living in my head in a manner concise enough to suit my proposed audience. It forces me to be economical in my writing and in my story decisions. It draws in my storytelling eye to focus on the elements that really matter.

And no, I haven't yet created a world where the grass is purple and the cities are made of crystal. Interesting idea though. You wouldn't be able to play racket-ball against the wall out your house for fear of shattering it!
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
I’ve recently finished reading N.K Jemisin’s excellent debut trilogy that began with ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’, and am about to embark on her second series, the first one of which, ‘The Killing Moon’, has just been nominated for a Nebula Award. For anyone thoroughly bored with tired old fantasy tropes, I can’t recommend this genre-bending novelist highly enough. My brain is fair fizzing with thoughts provoked by the books, so I thought I’d share here a few of the things Jemisin has taught me (or at least reminded me about) here.

  • How to do diversity of all kinds in a way that’s original and enriching – too many fantasy novels continue to be set in versions of Medieval England/Europe, thereby ignoring gigantic tranches of ethnic, sexual and religious diversity, not to mention issues of ability and disability. Not Jemisin. Nor does she belabour the point that her characters come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, and have a varied palate of sexual preference. Oh, and one of her main viewpoint characters is blind! That’s just the way it is. No big deal. Except it is, because her novels are SO MUCH richer and more original for the variety. Connected to that is …

  • How to create a non-Eurocentric fantasy world – I’ve never been a fan of what has become the stereotypical fantasy world as a version of Medieval/Renaissance Europe (done with varying degrees of competence). While there are always exceptions, with George RR Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ opus, and Jacqueline Carey’s ‘Kushiel’ books at the top of the list, it’s other cultures and other time periods that have always interested and inspired me far more. Why continually rehash versions of the same old, when there are acres of alternative inspirations out there? Again, witness Jemisin.    

  • How to conceive a trilogy as a series of connected books, rather than as the on-going story across three books of the stereotypical fantasy trilogy ™ - This is something that has been much on my mind recently. And for many years, in fact. From the outset, over a decade ago, the novels in my ShadowNovel, DancingNovel series have wanted to be standalone books with their own internal plots, characters and stories, while at the same time fitting into an overarching plot across the series. Over the years, I’ve struggled to get to grips with how this might work, while at the same time knowing in my gut that it’s the right approach for this particular project. In her ‘100K’ series, Jemisin deftly demonstrates how such a technique can work to great effect.        

  • How to think like a god – each of the three books in the ‘100K’ series is told in the first person by a different character. The first is a woman, the second a blind woman (an intriguing and wonderfully conceived idea in itself), and the third … well … the third happens to be a god. So what? you might think, but hang on a second. Really think about that. He’s a GOD! You know, an ancient, eternal being! How the hell would a god think and perceive the world, and interact with humans and with his fellow gods? Through her wonderfully imagined Sieh (two syllables), Jemisin offers a master-class in achieving this.

  • How to give High/Epic Fantasy another chance – due to several of the above reasons, I’ve never been especially partial to what is more broadly known as ‘Epic' or 'High' Fantasy (*shudder* - I do HATE labels!) While I am a reader of fantasy, among a goodly number of other genres, I’ve always read around the edges of the ‘Epic’ heartland. However, in parcelling up my prejudices and giving Jemisin a try, I’ve discovered a wonderful new author. It’s made me wonder if there are other ‘Epic’ fantasy authors out there whose books might be similarly rewarding. (Recommendations welcome …)

  • How to gleefully embrace a big, weird imagination – this is the most personal lesson of all, and it’s actually been part of an on-going epiphany of mine (and there is such a thing, believe me!) See, over the past year, I’ve realised that I’ve increasingly tightened the reins on my own big, weird imagination as time have gone by. Looking back to the inception of the original ShadowNovel, something like twelve years ago, when I was at a lovely naïve stage of my writing journey, my god, the IDEAS! The IMAGERY! The WORLD! As I progressed along my writerly path, I’ve somehow bottled a lot of that imagination and stuck it on a shelf.  

I think part of the reason for the bottling was that I began thinking in terms of what might be attractive to agents/publishers, and I decided that the kind of weirdness I used to conjure wouldn’t be commercial enough.

Hah! I think we all know how UTTERLY STUPID that kind of thinking is, for SO MANY reasons!

So, the epiphany that began when I found myself thinking about that old version of ShadowNovel last year is that I miss my big weird imagination too much. Who cares if it’s commercial? Not me! I love it, and I want to give it free rein again. Just as Jemisin has in her novels, and look how wonderful they are!

You’d better take cover, because I’m officially letting it out of the bottle …….. wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!

jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)

Dear Mr Joss Whedon, 

I should begin by categorically stating that as far as I’m concerned, you’re a genius. I love, admire, and, okay, envy, the enormity of your vision, the depth of your worlds, and the intimacy of your characterisation. So it was a relief for me to discover that even the Great Whedon’s first drafts sometimes leave something to be desired. Specifically, I’ve recently watched the original Pilot episode of “Dollhouse”, which is an extra in the boxed set of the first series (the UK one anyway). I know that you know it didn’t really work, so you’ll be relieved to hear that I don’t intend to write a critique of the episode here. What I found most useful in the episode were the writerly lessons it reminded me of, so I thought I’d share them with you (I’m sure you’re thrilled).

Backstory – or “mythology” of the story (to use a Whedon term). The key thing when sharing the backstory with an audience is to drip-feed it throughout the book, sharing a little here, a bit more there and slowly building a picture, as opposed to downloading it into the first few chapters in vast, weighty chunks that detract from the action, story and pace.

Story – when it comes to the story itself, which is to say, the core plot, be mindful of overcomplicating matters up front. The plot and sub-plots can be as multitudinous as you like (within reason), but don’t frontload them. As with the Backstory, introduce the elements with care, in a way that won’t overwhelm the reader with information they’ll struggle to absorb and engage with all in one go. In fact, as far as story goes, it’s always useful to be mindful of whether you’re complicating it unnecessarily. Ask yourself if there’s a neater way of handing certain aspects, or whether you need them at all.

Characters – depending on the sort of book you’re writing, you may have a large cast, which is fine, but meeting them shouldn’t feel to a reader like being shoved as a stranger into a party where everyone present wants to rush over and introduce themselves and share their life stories all at once. Imagine! There would be no way you could engage in any meaningful way with a single person.

All three of the above together = too much information in one go – the most committed fan will find their attention wandering. The key is to balance the drip-feed of introducing the story, characters and backstory, and to employ a variety of action, dialogue and exposition to get them across. Which brings me to ...

Dialogue – tricky one this, since dialogue is a great way to share information with a reader without employing the hellish exposition info-dump, and is a useful tool in controlling pacing and revealing character at the same time. However, too much dialogue can slow the pace right down; better to intersperse it with action and exposition, otherwise it can feel to the reader like walking into the middle of a conversation that they’re not allowed to be a party to.

Too much, too soon – really this is the cumulative effect of all of the above. It’s info-overload; the reader is being asked to work way too hard to engage with the book. Think wading through a swimming pool filled with jelly instead of slipping into a warm Jacuzzi! The experience should be the latter every time (even if the Jacuzzi isn’t terribly warm and has spiky things on the bottom), otherwise the reader simply won’t care enough to carry on!

So anyway, thanks Mr Whedon (doffs cap, bows, kisses feet and other forms of obeisance). That’s me and my thoughts, for what they’re worth. Even when your game’s off there’s so much to learn from you. Also, it’s so good to know you have off-days like the rest of us; it makes you seem, you know, a little more human. By the way, if it helps restore some sort of balance, I wrote a long piece extolling your genius here.

Kind Regards,


jennygordon: (Water Lily)

You know, the writerly brain is a wondrous thing. Because of the way my life is nowadays, I can no longer write in every spare moment of every single day like I used to. (As well as holding down a full-time job, I used to write as soon as I got home from work, before dinner and after dinner, right up until bedtime, as well as often for the entire weekend and holidays). These days, by necessity more than design, there are often stretches of several days, or even a week or more between sessions at the computer.

At first, I resented the loss of all that lovely writing time, afraid that it would take me many times longer to actually get any writing done. But you know what? I’ve come to realise that the enforced downtime between sessions hammering out words at the computer is really an immensely valuable thing.

And you know what, whether I’m actively thinking about it or not, I’m still writing. The WIP is still ticking over in my head, and my brain is busy working through plot knots, brainstorming and inventing new scenes and characters and stories.

I’d go so far as to say that, regardless of what happens in my life in years to come, I’m likely to retain downtime as part of my writing process.

The really magical part of it all is that, very often, when I do sit down for my next writing or planning session, I’ll find that my subconscious has already worked through the problem, or figured out the next scene, and it’ll be there waiting for me.

For instance, last week, I left off my WIP just before a chapter that I was feeling a little trepidatious about writing, because it included a song, and there was no way around it, I needed to invent at least a fragment of that song. Which meant – *gulp* - I had to write the thing. Now, I’m no poet, and I’m certainly no lyricist. But then the magic happened. I was sitting noodling one evening when the song started to filter into my awareness, three whole verses of the thing. So, I grabbed the nearest pen and paper and hoiked it into a net as quickly as I could. I’d say I have absolutely no idea where the song came from, but clearly it had been brewing somewhere in the murky depths of my mind. So, hey, thanks subconscious writerly brain!

This is a really good example of how effective the downtime between writing sessions can be. I always try to leave the writing at a sensible point at the end of a session, effectively giving myself plot points, the next scene, or a particular problem to chew over until I can write again. The subconscious writerly brain is a wonderful thing, and I’ve definitely learned to trust it. It’s too easy to get trapped in the ‘must write, must write, must write’ cycle, but I can honestly say that this balance I’ve found more recently really works. And I’m sure it’s a whole lot better for my health!

jennygordon: (Bluebells)

I’m well aware that everyone reading this will have differing views on the usefulness of “How To” writing books. We all know there’s a bogglingly large number of them out there, inevitably of variable quality. Not to mention the fact that what one person finds inspiring and constructive is the next person’s toilet paper! Since the explosion of the internet, and more specifically of the community that is Blogland, the sheer quantity of people posting thoughts and advice about writing has ballooned.

Over the years, I’ve got into the habit of printing out bits and pieces I come across. The ones that speak to me; the ones that touch a match to my pyre of inspiration; the ones that chime with my writing process, or which feel like they might be useful food for thought, or even simply damned useful technical tips.

The other evening, I spent a constructive hour re-ordering the file these various gleanings live in (it’s yellow!), revisiting old favourites and discovering ones I’d forgotten all about.

I now have a ring binder divided into three sections:

  • Writing: Practical – articles on the writing process from brainstorming to drafting to revising and everything in-between that chimes with my process, or helps me to develop it
  • Writing: Inspirational – pieces I’ve come across that speak to me in some meaningful way
  • Writing: Business – everything from crafting synopses and queries to writing an interesting bio. And establishing a blog/website presence

I keep my file close at hand, and often leaf through to check/re-read a piece. Maybe I’m feeling down about my writing, so I’ll read one of the inspirational pieces. Or maybe I’m just beginning to revise a WIP, then I’ll get myself in the mindset by reading an article on a process that’s worked for me in the past.

My Personal Writing Manual, cobbled together from pieces written by other writers agents and editors, has become a wonderful tool for me. And the best thing is, it’s ever-growing, ever adaptable, as I move forward in my writing life.

So, I guess, thank you to all the authors, agents and editors out there who take the time to share their thoughts, experience and wisdom. My personal Writing Manual you’ve contributed to is the one I turn to more often than I do any other “How To” book on my shelf.

jennygordon: (Red Admiral)

In the past year or so, I’ve discovered the veryvery useful tool that is I imagine most of you know that it’s a self-publishing and book printing venue. I’ve been using it to print up a single copy of each of my novels (you can set the file to “private”, so only you can view it). There are so many reasons why printing up a copy of your manuscripts like this is a good idea:

  • You can print up a copy of the current draft of your WIP, ready for working on revisions. Using Lulu is so much cheaper than the cost of electricity, paper and printing ink involved if I printed up my own MS.

  • This has the added bonus of providing you with a copy of your novel in book format instead of being just a big pile of paper. There’s something about seeing my story in book form that a) helps me to spot pacing issues, b) helps me to spot too-large chunks of exposition, c) helps me to spot things that I otherwise wouldn’t because I’m so used to seeing the words set out in MS format on the screen, and d) okay, it’s kind of a thrill too!

  • My first venture into Lulu-land (not La-La-Land. I’m pretty much a permanent resident there anyway!) was to print up a copy of the two books that I was querying with agents at the time, to give me a ‘live’ copy of each, ready to hand. And that’s the next reason why Lulu is so handy, as it means I can have readily accessible copies of my work on the shelf, and don’t have to boot up my PC every time I want to check something.
  • Then, a couple of weeks back, I printed up copies of all my other novels. Now, most of these are very much shelved, and won’t be worked on again, but that’s not to say I won’t poach ideas from them. Once again, it’s so handy having them readily available on the shelf in book format, not to mention quite satisfying to see all of them lined up (I reallyreally did write all of those words!) Um ... I haven’t been brave enough to re-read any of the old ones yet, but I do plan to.

Okay, so I’m aware that I’m sounding like an advert for Lulu, and that wasn’t my intention, and anyway I’m sure they’re successful enough as it is, thank you very much, without my efforts. Not to mention that I’m sure they’re not the only place where you can get your books printed up cheaply. But honestly, it’s soso helpful, and soso cheap to run off a copy of your work like this. It’s a bit of a faff getting the template set up, and involves a bit of a time commitment, and there’s a few glitches that I haven’t figured out, but hey, it’s for my eyes only, so never mind.

Seriously, Lulu rocks!

jennygordon: (Clock)

You know what I see most of in the writers’ blogs that I read? Posts about word-count, that’s what. And recently, I’ve found myself wondering if people aren’t getting a little too hung-up on counting their words and using them as a means of tracking their novel’s progress, or as a marker of achievement.  

Now, before you go shouting and throwing things at me, let me ‘splain. 

I know that word-count can be useful for all sorts of reasons, like: 

  1. It makes us feel productive, or not, as the case may be.
  2. It can be useful as a goal.
  3. It reassures us that we are X percent of our way through writing our WIP. 


While I’m just like everyone else in using word-count to reassure me that I’m a productive, worthwhile person, and that I’m Making Progress on my WIP, the further along this writerly road I travel, the more I’m using the counting of the words for different purposes. 


Well, for starters, going back to the points on the above list: 

  1. We might have written so many thousand words at any given point, but equally, they might be so many thousand words of utter crap written just for the sake of seeing the wc meter jump, and what’s the point in that? The words we write need to be useful. They might not be the final perfect version – hell, when are they ever? – but they need to be moving the story along in a way that is useful to us, whether it’s crafting the perfect one liner, or free-writing to find out more about a character.

Also, a whole day spent perfecting one line is just as productive as a day spend writing 10,000 words; it’s all a matter of what you need at any given time, and how your writing process works. 

  1. You might have achieved your day’s/week’s goal, but, well ... see a) above.

Also, how about setting a different goal? Something like – “polish the scene I wrote yesterday until I’m happy with it,” or, “work up a scene to show the relationship between characters,” or “complete the chapter I began last time.” And yes, you might still end up with a craptastic chapter or scene, but it seems a more sensible goal to me than simply chasing word-count as you’ve shaped your writing session to a purpose. 

  1. See a) and b) above.

Also, how about thinking of your WIP in terms of scenes instead of number of words, so you know that by the time you reach this big kissy scene, or that big battle, you should be about half way through, for example? 

Now, before you say anything, yes, I do still do a word-count check from time to time, but these days, it’s mainly for these reasons: 

  • To ensure that my chapter lengths aren’t varying too widely from one another. 
  • For keeping an eye on the pacing of my novel arc. Which is to say, I know that by around the 20-25% mark, broadly speaking, I need to have a Significant Event that changes things in a big way for the MC(s); that around the 75% mark, I’ll need a big switch-on-a-switch which makes everything look very bleak for the MC(s). If I have a good idea of the total word-count I’m aiming for, then I can check that I’m on track in terms of the plot arc.
  • To rein myself in from being too wordy. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from reading Young Adult fiction is economy with words. As a writer with a tendency toward pretty, flowery prose, I’m constantly checking myself and ensuring I’m not wasting word-count on fluff and purple prose. 

Speaking for myself, I know I feel a whole lot better about a writing session that has produced a scene I’m happy with than I am about one spent producing a gazillion words so that my wc rockets, but that I know (if I’m honest) are going to be horrible when I look at them again.  

Besides, I may have written 37,000 words (or whatever) to date, but when I come to revise this draft of my WIP, those 37,000 words will be hacked and slashed, sometimes worked up, and sometimes deleted wholesale.  

What I’m trying to say is that I think it’s a mistake to get too hung up on counting words for counting words’ sake. There are more constructive writing targets to set yourself, and more useful ways of looking at the words you’ve set down. 

You can shout at me and throw things now, if you like ..... 

jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)

I seem to have a bit of a theme going on at the moment. A few days ago, I spent a while sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the Video/DVD cabinet hauling everything out and putting it back in a different order (to make more space), and I’m also in the middle of doing something similar with my WIP.

See, I’ve recently spent some time reading through the words I’ve splattered across the page to date, and realised that, after a certain point, the flow of the story goes a little awry. In fact, five chapters’ worth of awry.

Rats, frankly!

Well, not really.

Those five chapters are full of good things, they’re just not in the right order at the moment, so I’ve hauled them out of the draft, spread them around me on the floor and taken a good hard look at them all. Well, I haven’t exactly scattered them all over the carpet, but I have spent some quality time with my notebook and my brain, squeezing the latter until it made sense of where I wandered from the path and what I need to do to get myself back onto it again.

It’s all good fun, especially since I’ve discovered a few more pieces of the story in the process of swapping those chapters around. And it’s all in a good cause, after all, if I don’t get this first quarter of the book right, I just know I’m going to get stuck later on. I need good solid foundations if I’m going to keep building the rest of the story on them, and right at the moment, some of the bricks are a little crumbly.

For anybody who's interested, what I’ve actually done is break the chapters down into scenes, and then taken a step back from them to consider the overall arc of the MC’s progress in terms of where her head’s at when the story starts, and where it should be at now. Things have happened, and she’s starting to question certain matters. The original order of those recalcitrant five chapters didn’t reflect these changes tightly and clearly enough, so I’m currently brainstorming ways in which to make the scenes work harder. I’m also realising that some of the scenes probably don’t belong at this stage of the book, and need to be moved a little later.

Deconstruction: Reconstruction.

It’s scrambling my head a little at the moment, and I have numerous lists of scenes in various different orders as I play around and try to figure out which is going to work best. All in a good cause though, as I know the story is going to flow better once I’ve tied it down and made it behave.

jennygordon: (Blue Butterfly)

It seems there are lots of people out there in Blogland making resolutions for 2012. Me? Well, I’m not big on making New Year’s resolutions. For a start, 1 January is only the New Year according to some people’s belief system. And for seconds, why should you only get to make resolutions at one particular time of year? However, reading other people’s inspiring posts about their resolutions has got me thinking about goal-setting, and how it applies equally to our characters as to us.

One of the many things I’m learning along this Writerly Road is that I need to have a fairly clear idea of my characters’ goals from the outset. My process is very much an evolving affair that’s inclined to reinvent itself with each book I write, but I have definitely found that as part of my initial planning stage, I need to know what my characters want and need. More than that, it’s a good idea for me to work out both:

  • What my characters think they want and need, and
  • What they actually want and need

Because the two things aren’t necessarily going to be the same.

If I don’t have a fairly good idea of where my characters are headed, then I’m bound to get into trouble along the way. Tempting as it is to rush straight in and write acres of lovely words, bowling along in my new story world, all swept up in the loveliness, I just know that I’ll eventually hit the blancmange stage. You know the blancmange stage? Where the writing starts to go slower and slower, just like running through blancmange, until it gets completely stuck? Yeah, that one. And after that, the baby novel is doomed to pushing up flowers in the Graveyard of Book Death.

So anyway, one of the things I’ve learned I need to do in order to avoid the confidence-squashing horribleness of Book Death is to work out my characters’ goals. Now, they can be flexible goals, and I’m completely open for those goals to alter, and even change altogether as the writing progresses and I get to know my story better, but knowing their goals really helps me to get myself pointed in the right direction from the start.

What about you? How clear an idea of where your characters are headed do you need before you get started?

jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)
What do you do when your WIP loses its sparkle, those characters and ideas that were so veryvery exciting when you first thunk them up start lolling around on a metaphorical sofa, complaining that they can’t be bothered any more? Having been in a grey, dog-end-of-autumn kind of Writerly Slump myself recently, I’ve been hunting around for treats to dangle in front of my brain to inspire it again. And, more specifically, to re-infuse the WIP with its sparkle, because my naughty magpie brain is too inclined to go off looking for new shiny things instead. These are some of the tricks I’ve been using:
Shiny Things List
Write a list of all the things that shone for you when you first came up with the idea for the book you’re working on. The things that made you fizz with excitement right down to your fingertips, making them itch to get started; the things that made you grin to yourself when you thought about them, even if you were standing in line for the bus and it made everyone else look at you strangely and move a few steps away. With any luck, they’ll still have enough shine to re-enthuse you.
Explore the Attic
If you’re anything like me, the germ of the idea for any book is likely to have come along waaaaay before you actually started writing it. It may even have been a tiny, baby idea that popped into your head years and years ago and got captured in an old notebook. I often find that reading through those really early notes can help to rekindle the thrill of discovery I was feeling when I first wrote them down. You might even discover little gems of plot and character you’d forgotten about. And you might eveneven find that one of those little gems is exactly what you need to get you going again.
Blue Sky Flying
Otherwise known as brainstorming. Grab your notebook and forbid yourself to stare at the blank page. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you’re writing something related to your book. Have a big moan about how you’re feeling about it; jot a list of things that aren’t working. Anything. Just get thinking about it. Avoiding it never achieved anything. Now take a look at those things that are getting you down about the book and start asking questions. Why isn’t it working (specifically)? What might happen next, or differently? Don’t consult your plot notes; don’t restrict yourself in any way. Anything is possible, everything is allowed. Just step off that cliff edge and let yourself fly. See where the wind takes you. You never know, you might spot something along the way that sets you back on track.
It’s easy to give in when The Gloom comes a-creeping, and you could, it’s true. I’ve certainly had many books die on me at this stage. But just think, at some point, you were so excited about this idea you were making an idiot of yourself in public because of it. Surely that’s something worth trying to recapture before you let it fade and die.

How about you - what tricks (or treats) do you use to rouse your despondent enthusiasm?
jennygordon: (Peacock Butterfly)

I’ve been organising my internet bookmarked pages recently, and have come across such a wealth of wonderful information and advice that I’ve been storing up in my virtual reference folders that I thought I’d share a small selection.  Apologies if you’ve seen any of these already.

  • Once you’ve got beyond the opening pages, it might be useful to consider L.J.Sellers’ snappy and useful advice in 10 Steps to a Better Story.
  •  And if you think you’ve got all of that down, but your book still isn’t shining as brightly as you’d like, and you just can’t figure out why, maybe it’s because Cobwebs Got Your Story. 
  • It’s hard, hard work, this writing game, and sometimes we need to remind ourselves why we do it.  And why is that?  As agent Kristen Nelson says: Because You Love It.
  • And finally, Nathan Bransford’s at it again in his Nine Circles of Writer Hell.  I’m somewhere between Circles One and Two at the moment, how about you?   
jennygordon: (Blue Butterfly)

Back in January, I had something of a crisis of confidence about the Fledgling Novel I’d been hatching since last autumn, compounded by the fact that another idea was beginning to nudge at me with increasing insistence.  Many of you were kind enough to share words of wisdom and support, which I appreciated very much (thank you).  Among the advice I received was this from the lovely [ profile] bogwitch64:


“You know, banging your head against an uncooperative manuscript in the name of sticktoitiveness isn't always necessary. Like you, for instance, right now, and your "other" idea nudging you. If the first isn't cooperating, put it in time out and outline the one that IS cooperating. Positive reinforcement. It works with kids; it works with muses. ;)

“It might be all you need to free up your mind. It's mired in a sort of failure right now--give it a success. When you're finished with your "new" outline, see what your MC has to say for herself. See how the plot feels. In the very worst case scenario, it will still be stubborn about revealing itself. In that event, you're no worse off than you were, and on top of that, you have another outline to work from until it sees reason.”


I listened, and I did exactly that, putting the reluctant Fledgeling aside to simmer, while I turned my attention to the Sparkly New Idea.  I spent a good few weeks playing in the world of Sparkly, had some fun, and we agreed that it probably had at least a novel, and perhaps an on-going series in it. 


But not just yet.


The other day, I posted about having lost and rediscovered my voice, and in tandem with that revelation, renewed enthusiasm for the Fledgling has come skipping back.  It’s been away and had a good think about itself and has returned all bouncy and over-excited.  That kind of enthusiasm is contagious, and I’m back to splashing around in the muddy puddle that is the Fledgling, happy to get dirty while we figure out together what happens next.


It's reminded me about this, posted some ages back by Maggie Stiefvater, about Plot Bunnies that bounce up to distract you, and how she cages them (jot a paragraph about the idea, or even write a short story or an outline if it’s especially persistent, then put it away in a separate folder until you’ve finished your current project).  Which is, in effect, what I’ve ended up doing, and this time (*holds breath, crosses fingers, makes superstitious sign in the air, etc*), it seems to have done the trick.


So anyway, I wanted to thank you all for your support and to send an ESPECIALLY SPARKLY THANK YOU to [ profile] bogwitch64 for her top words of wisdom.  They made me feel better at the time, and have bolstered me through my doubts with the reassurance that sometimes it’s okay to put a project in time out.  Indeed, sometimes it’s exactly what it needs.  (I have it on good authority that it works with children too!)

jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)

I’ve been doing a bit of writing homework recently, reading Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel in conjunction with brewing my new book (whichever of the two ideas it winds up being), and I can honestly say it’s the best writing guide I’ve read. Or at least the best for the stage I’m currently at with my writing. (I find that writers’ guides are like that – certain ones are right for certain stages of your writing life.  I also read Jerry Cleaver’s Immediate Fiction earlier this year, which chimed for me as well. His simple formula of Want + Obstacle + Action = Story has served as a useful reminder for me ever since).

But back to the Donald Maass, I’d say it’s not necessarily a book for beginning writers, rather for those some way along the road and wanting to give their writing that extra lift that will bring them to an agent’s attention, or boost a flagging mid-list career. What I’ve found so useful is his frank advice on all stages of story creation and how to hoist it out of the miasma of the ordinary into the extraordinary. It’s been a perfect accompaniment to this planning stage of my new book, and I’ve been working through the advice as a kind of checklist to get me to explore my ideas further, poking and prodding at them to see whether they have not only value, but enough value.

He has great tips on how to create the kind of depth that makes characters grab the reader and refuse to let go, even after the last page has been turned; advice on layering plots, and seeding them with advance-guards of the major conflicts, and on how to turn the simplest of plot ideas into an engaging story.

I don’t know if there are career authors out there who reach a certain stage and decide that they’ve got it all down pat; they know how to write a book, and there’s no advice that will be of any use to them. More fool them, if there are, frankly! Maass is very clear that the advice he’s offering is for everyone, at all stages of their career, and he’s an established and respected agent, so he really does have some idea of what he’s talking about.

It comes back to that ‘C’-word. You know the one – Challenge. As writers, we can't sit back on our laurels and complain that the publishing world simply doesn’t appreciate our genius, or the marketing department are tight-fisted and if only they’d put more into promoting us, our career would lift off. The real challenge is to go back to our writing and ask of it the questions Maas poses. Seriously ask. And then work on it some more until we really lift it into the realms that agents and publishers ignore at their peril.

Honestly, if you’d like to give your writing a kick in the pants, I’d heartily recommend checking out Donald Maass’ advice.

jennygordon: (Blue Butterfly)
Sometimes characters walk onto the stage fully formed and ready for action, as though they’ve already been living their lives elsewhere, somewhere in the back of your mind, waiting for it to be time to emerge from behind the curtain.

Sometimes they wander into view all ghostly – present, yet undeveloped and hazy.  You know something of who they are, and parts of what you want them to do, but they’re looking at you doubtfully, as though they’re not sure they have it in them yet.

At other times, it’s the story that arrives first, and you need to set up auditions to find the right characters to populate it. 

However they decide to show up, and I have variations on all these themes at this early stage of my Fledgling WIP, there are numerous ways in which you can get to grips with the characters who are hopefully going to be whispering in your ear as you write your story.  “How To ...” books and the Interwebs at large are full of advice about how to discover and clothe your casts.  Collecting some of the more interesting memes that do the rounds and getting your characters to fill them out is a new option for me - it's not something I've tried, but it's an interesting idea.  There's some good no-nonsense advice in this article by Holly Lisle.  And if you're stuck for that all important name, then you could try this site for Victorian era names, or this one and this one for names from a whole swathe of historical eras (thanks to [ profile] marycatellifor the latter).

Whether they're lingering coyly in the dressing room, still searching for their knickers, or whether they're chattering away so rapidly you can't type fast enough to get it all down, I hope you're having fun with your cast of players.  If you have any tips on how you've got to know your current characters, I'd love to hear.

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 ...


Sep. 19th, 2010 01:00 pm
jennygordon: (Clematis)
I started today watching TV coverage of The Great North Run (a half marathon that takes place on England's Tyneside and is now celebrating its 30th year).  I have huge admiration and respect for the people - all kinds of people, for all kinds of reasons - who get out there and take part in events like that.  Respect and admiration for their energy and devotion; for their passion.  Maybe it was because it was early in the morning, or maybe I'm just a wuss, but I found myself getting all emotional about it.  I believe it really doesn't matter what your passion is, so long as you are passionate about something in life - what's the point if there isn't something that gets your heart beating faster and has you losing sleep at night?

My own passion is rather more sedentary than getting out there on a rainy September Sunday to run 13 and a bit miles, but I thought I'd use this opportunity to share some of the interesting/inspiring/amusing posts about the writing life out there on the Interwebs that I've come across recently.

  • Holly Lisle, a prolific and generous author who shares the wisdom of her experience as a writer online in a series of 'How To ...' articles, has some interesting advice about character creation
  • Elsewhere, Nathan Bransford (US agent extraordinaire who is equally generous in sharing his experience and advice) has some great tips for writing dialogue.  Some of Holly's advice puts me in mind of Jerry Cleaver's formula for writing fiction (Want + Obstacle + Action), which applies equally to character creation and the creation of a plot. 
  • Once you've got all of that down and have your opus out there in the world seeking representation and publication, there's the inevitable Big R to deal with, and Shimmerzine features a wonderful post on how NOT to deal with rejection
  • Meanwhile, Victoria Strauss posts a heartening piece on Writer Beware explaining that getting published is not a crap shoot, and that even those of us in my (unpublished) postition stand a chance of achieving our dream provided we have a quality, marketable product on offer. 
  • Psychologist Carolyn Kaufman looks at what personal qualities it takes to succeed as a writer
  • And on the flipside, blogging US agent Mary Kole writes about how it feels on her side of the publishing fence to lose out on a signing a hot authorial commodity.
If that hasn't inspired you to spend a few hours online reading articles, I want to know why!  Then again, perhaps you're one of those people out there running in the drizzle.  No?  What are you up to on a Sunday then?


jennygordon: (Default)

January 2016



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