Blog

How To Adapt a Fairy Tale

Myths are great. We all know them, yet we’re constantly re-interpreting and re-imagining them in the fiction we create. Writers should steal from the best, so why not take inspiration from the stories that have survived for centuries?

Look in any bookshop (especially the YA section) and you’ll find plenty of fairy tale retellings, and with good reason. Readers enjoy seeing familiar stories reimagined, and writers can work with an existing story and no one will sue them! (Unless they make their boss into an ugly stepsister. So don’t do that.)

The Big Care Write-Up has just released its fourth anthology, Telling Tales, featuring 14 stories that reimagine myths, legends and fairy tales. All donations go to LOROS, and whatever you choose to donate will earn you a copy of the e-book (for as little as 7p per story, seriously go have a look). I’ve enjoyed seeing how other writers have interpreted their myths: King Midas is a gambler, Rumpelstiltskin is an internet troll, a princess is a beauty vlogger… Two of my stories are included in it, and whilst writing them I found that adapting an existing story can be difficult but enjoyable. They each tackled their source material differently.

Waiting For God Knows What is about an elderly lady named Ethel. She lives in a care home and her Alzheimer’s means she has a lot of memory problems. She wakes up one morning convinced that she’s lost something very important – but she doesn’t know what. Here’s a snippet:

As soon as she woke up, Ethel knew that something was missing.
She tried to tell the nice girls who came to help her get dressed, but they only made sympathetic noises when she couldn’t tell them what it was. Not knowing what is lost makes it very difficult to look for, she thought. Her memory wasn’t what it used to be. Some mornings she woke up thinking she was at home in her armchair by the fire, even though she’d been at Bonnington Care Home for some years now.
‘My glasses!’ she said as they helped her into the wheelchair. ‘Can’t see without the bloody things!’ Perhaps that was what she had forgotten.
The girl with brown hair – Nicky – found them in the bedside cabinet and passed them to her. The other girl with brown hair – Vicky? – wheeled her over to the shoes lined up by the door. ‘Which ones do you fancy?’
‘The blue ones.’ Her fluffy blue bunny slippers, the ones closest to the door. She didn’t care how many pairs of “sensible shoes” she owned, they were the comfiest.

Any ideas what the story is based on? A protagonist with slippers, two girls who look similar – sisters, maybe? It’s a Cinderella retelling, but I kept the elements subtle. The central story has little to do with the original – Ethel searching for what she’s forgotten – but if you look closely there are enough clues to tell you what it is. There are pumpkins growing in the garden, and the home’s oldest resident is celebrating her ninety-eighth birthday party which everyone is invited to. There may even be a prince in there somewhere… but I didn’t want anything too obvious. I used the elements to flavour the existing story rather than as a framework to build on.

My second story, Chicken Legs, is based on the Russian myth of Baba Yaga, a witch who lives in a house that walks on chicken legs. Specifically, it’s the myth of Vasilisa, who lives with her wicked stepfamily and asks the witch for a candle when their house goes dark. Adapting this was trickier, as I wanted to keep the original story but give it a real-life, modern reimagining. Lisa doesn’t get on with her stepsister, but when there’s a powercut she goes out in the middle of the night to help a lost cat. I had fun modernising all the elements, but the original story is pretty complicated: Baba Yaga refuses to give Vasilisa fire, giving her a load of fiddly tasks like separating poppy seeds from soil. I had to decide what to simplify and what to keep, and the tasks were replaced by… eating sandwiches in the kitchen. Chicken sandwiches. The witch’s three scary horses became cats. Because for some reason all of my BCWU stories seem to feature animals. Moths, chickens, cats, weresquids…

A bungalow crouched on an overgrown front lawn, framed by a peeling, bone-white fence. Everything about it screamed “go away”, but Lisa wasn’t going to abandon the animal. She knew how it felt to be alone in the storm.
So she marched up to the front door, rang the doorbell and waited.
Lightning flashed. Four elephants, five elephants… thunder rolled. The storm was five miles away and getting closer.
The door opened on a chain and a wrinkled face peered through. ‘I don’t want to buy anything,’ she barked in a thick Russian accent. ‘Who sent you? Where are you from?’
Lisa shrank back. ‘I found a cat, is it yours?’
She looked down at it, then slammed the door. Locks clinked on the other side, then it opened fully. A tall, broad elderly woman in a dressing gown stood on the other side, with scowling eyebrows and thinning silver hair. ‘That’s my Dawn, did you steal her?’
‘Of course not!’ she protested. ‘She was out in the storm all on her own, she’s petrified. You should have kept an eye on her.’ She bit her lip, her throat suddenly tight.
Her thick eyebrows raised, then she turned away. ‘Come in.’

I found the elements I like and kept them, and changed others to suit me better. This was more of a challenge than Cinderella as there was more to work with (and a 3000-word limit!) but I’m equally happy with both stories. Even if you’ve never heard of the original tales, they still stand up on their own. Please do donate via the JustGiving page (the link will be in the thank you email after you donate), or by texting Tell77 £3 to 70070 (or £1, £2, £4, £5 or £10). Message me or the BCWU page with a screenshot of your donation and we’ll send you the PDF so you can start readin’!

In summary, when adapting an existing story for your short story/novel/interpretive dance:

  • Choose a good story. Do you want a story that’s very detailed, with lots of elements for you to re-interpret? Or would you prefer something vague about a monster which leaves you more room for imagination? Pick a story you like.
  • Decide whether you need to simplify or elaborate. Do you want to investigate more into the evil stepmother’s motivations and flesh out some back story? You might want a sprawling novel about Hansel and Gretel’s troubled parents… or you might have a book-length epic poem and a tight 1500 word story to write. Make elements fit or chuck them out.
  • Give it a twist! I don’t like the evil stepmother trope in fairy tales, so I made Lisa’s family more loving. Have you heard of an elderly Cinderella? What about Rapunzel as a hair stylist? Don’t be confined by your source material, and feel free to change as much as you want.
  • Further ideas… What about mixing two legends together? Myths don’t have to become modern-day; they could be made into sci-fi, horror, historical… erotica… you can be as overt as Percy Jackson or go super subtle with your inspirations. A Drop in the Ocean, my story in Life’s Great Journey, is loosely based on the Little Mermaid.

Whatever you end up with, write a story that you enjoy and readers will enjoy it too. Don’t feel like you have to keep every detail! Looser interpretations may yield more unexpected results, but you can also play with stories readers find familiar. We all think we know how Red Riding Hood ends… until she turns into a werewolf and eats the woodcutter. Surprise your readers! Just don’t surprise your children if you’re reading a bedtime story. They don’t like it.

Bonus pic: there are cats in my story, I’m allowed.

Two Thousand and – What?!

Missed me?

It’s been a while since I’ve made a proper blog post, so apologies for that. The blog is likely to be quieter this year as I’m making a push to improve my writing habits and actually get things done. I graduate in May so the first half of this year is getting as much out of my time remaining at the University of Nottingham as I can. It’s been an amazing three years and I’ll be very sorry to leave. But of course I know exactly where I’m going after that…

Nope. Not the foggiest.

I’m interested in finding a full-time job in publishing if possible; after working on Vices and Virtues I’m no stranger to proofing, editing, formatting, etc. (so if there are any opportunities opening in Leicester, hit me up!). An MA is also a possibility. Otherwise, maybe a professional Skyrim player. Hey, aim high in life. So this post is going to be a disjointed, update-y thing as I’ve not been updating the site so much as of late…

Back in October (yes, October) last year I made this little vlog chronicling my trip to Birmingham to meet Sarah J. Maas on her Empire of Storms tour. Cue fangirling and my awkward camera skills. You see why I’d never be an actor or professional-level YouTuber.

Since the last Rewriter’s Block post, I’m sorry to say that Pyromancer is on hold for a while. I wasn’t really getting anywhere, obsessed with the idea that it was too cliché a plot. Also I was trying to cram elements of the old story into the new and churning out another characters-overthrowing-government story. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. It hurt to let go of it. I’d even done my dissertation presentation on it, about how I was going to plan it out and such. But I’ve now changed the project I’ll be submitting.

Hero For Hire has been floating on my laptop for some time, waiting quietly for me to fully commit to it. Very different in style, it’s a parody of high fantasy. The plot isn’t concrete yet, but here’s the existing synopsis:

“Hero for hire. Artefacts recovered, monsters slaughtered, damsels rescued. Killing considered, inquire within for rates.” So you’ve just found out you’re the Chosen One, and some wizard wants to set you on a quest? Then Cass is your man. Fighting both evil and good is all part of the day job, but throw in some unwelcome family reunions, a zombie obsessed with knitting and some magical artefacts with silly long names, and things are about to get complicated.

Soon Cass and his teenage daughter Gwin are on an adventure of their own. There’s an evil sorcerer and an unpopular king in there somewhere, and no shortage of gruesome creatures out to ruin Cass’ day. But as the threat of impending war sweeps the land, soon he’ll have to decide: is he the hero that Gwin envisions him as? Or just another sellsword with his own agenda? (Hint: it’s probably a bit of both.)

I’m excited to finally devote all my time to this, and by the end of 2017 I hope to have at least a finished draft. In line with this, my New Year’s resolution is to write 365,000 words. So 1000 a day, with wiggle room. Hopefully it’ll speed things along a bit. I’m also going to read more, and in more genres. I just finished Life of Pi and seriously enjoyed it (when in doubt, pick up a book studied in uni).

The Big Care Write-Up are currently running a poll on the theme for their next anthology! You can vote over on their Twitter, or Facebook if you don’t have one. The choices are Myths and Legends, Rare and Weird Words, The Number 4 and The Cult of Celebrity. Have a look and have your say!

Writing Advent Calendar 2016!

It’s that time of year again!

For the past couple of Decembers, I’ve set myself a writing prompt challenge. Each day a new story writing idea, and twenty minutes to write something cool. It’s surprisingly good for mining out new material, and quite often the stuff I end up with goes towards uni coursework, short stories and the occasional poem that will never see the light of day. Just something personal to keep me amused, but it could be something fun for other writers or artists to try. Every day I’ll post a new prompt, and all will be available below. You can follow along on Twitter with #writingadventcalendar. Merry writing!

 

PROMPTS

  1. What superpower would you like to have most? Your character’s pet now has that superpower.
  2. Why is the public transport always exactly two minutes late?
  3. Describe a grotty public toilet using the most beautiful, purple prose you can.

Rewriter’s Block pt. 5: Fish, Chips and Character Conflict

blog2

Hoo boy. I’ve not updated this series in a while. July, in fact. And stuff has changed again since then.

 Pyromancer’s felt pretty dead for a little while, and I’ve had doubts about whether or not to use it for my dissertation. I’ve just felt utterly stuck with it and unsure how to make it better – with the constant worry that it’s not original enough.

In fact, the new stuff I was coming up with in the last post has kinda been scrapped too for now, though I may keep the golems idea. But one little scene has started to pave the way for where I want this novel to go.

It may have been when we were discussing character conflict in class, or maybe I just watched one too many episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (“You can’t even make a meatball!” *cue dramatic music*) but I got on the train one morning and forced myself to start writing. Here’s a snippet:

‘She’s a freak. A fucking freak!’
Carla folded her arms. ‘So it’s not the cod you have a problem with?’
Ray threw his towel across the room, the edges of his form blurring and becoming transparent. She watched a fly zizz around the buzzing light behind his left ear. ‘You’re dangerous. I don’t care what you all say, she’s dangerous.’
‘Ray, give it a rest.’ Dhanya looked up from the chip fryer, apron splashed with grease. ‘We’ve got a shit-ton of orders and I want to go home.’
It was too hot in here. Too hot in this tiny kitchen where not even the flies would touch the food. Her magic was stifled in here. ‘Personally I think you’re a jealous arsehole Ray, but I don’t hold it against you.’

Not perfect by a long stretch, but there’s character conflict. And I ended up writing three pages. Carla isn’t a happy little photography student anymore. Now she’s working in a fish and chip shop where she’s distrusted because of her magic but it’s the only job she can get. Her Skill is registered under “dangerous magic” and she has to wear a badge proclaiming thus. The magic system’s more flexible than the standard four elements (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children provided some unexpected inspiration).

Dhanya made it back in, hooray! She’s Carla’s friend at the shop, and Brett is now her best friend rather than someone who just shows up to provide comic relief. He’d rather Carla kept her Skill to herself instead of being determined to do some good with it.

Which plays in perfectly with a later scene: a young American woman places an order just before the shop closes, and she and Carla get talking. (Yup, Allie’s American now.) So when it turns out she’s a rebel working against a suspected Sentinel plot, Carla gets a chance to make a difference – and of course Brett has more than a few concerns for her. Miles is reinstated as the bad guy for now, and I’m planning on having Omar as a fellow rebel.

The story isn’t very clear for now. But I have something. I have character conflict, and an opening that’s far darker, more YA and less safe than the original chapter one. I already know that this is a story with something to say about discrimination, trust and facing fears. The characters have woken up and are clearing themselves of cobwebs.

It’s not much, but it’s a start. This novel is starting to find its feet again.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

f1

The skin of my teeth, would be the answer lately. The ideas have not been flowing, and I’ve been feeling pretty blocked.

I’ve been fairly busy over the summer, doing as much as I can before uni starts again. Competitions, blogs, anthologies, anything. But pretty much everything I’ve been working on has been for something. I’ve had so much fun, but on the way I forgot to do something quite important.

I’ve stopped writing for me.

It took a while before I noticed it, because I was so preoccupied with getting one more story done before the deadline. I love the challenge of creating to a brief, in fact without a theme I could feel stranded on what to write. But outside of competitions and the occasional half-hearted pick at The Novel, I wasn’t writing. I’d forgotten how to create something selfishly.

Writers always need to be creating something, working on something. Always be busy, being productive. And if you’re not careful, that obsession with productivity can overtake your writing until you can’t write without thinking of the reward. Maybe it’ll get published somewhere. Or it’ll add towards your word count tracker. Or you can post it online (ahem). The very first blog post I made on here touched on this subject and it’s something I’m often guilty of. Saying that I collect PlayStation trophies probably tells you everything you need to know about me (and then some).

So I’m learning to be selfish. I’m learning to write uselessly again. To make something purely for the hell of it.

Out came the notebook and some funky coloured pens. I wrote about a woman painting the walls with blood and a brief retelling of “Pandora’s Cage”. Then I had a go at what I’m now calling rainbow writing. Each line is a different colour, and you just write what shows up in your head, whether it’s colour-related or not. You end up with a very Instagram-worthy page of gibberish and it’s intensely satisfying when you only write in black.

Then out came the egg-timer. Three minutes to write a page, be imaginative! Write about anything you want –

I wrote about the egg timer.

But once I started, ideas kept coming. For the next three minutes, I ranted about something that annoyed me. Then a Facebook message inspired a line of dialogue (“Maybe he’s taking a Wally nap”). And even when I scrolled mindlessly through my newsfeed, I found a comment that inspired a story about clowns and a beautiful The Last of Us poster that got things flowing. Turns out I had plenty of ideas, but I’d been in the wrong mindset to receive them.

It’s still hard to shut off the little voice that demands to know the point of what’s being written and whether it’ll help my writing score.

To which the answer is no. It’s not for anyone but me. Whoever heard of a writing video game?

*

Update time!
14434933_669250756562230_2041090724907991782_oThings have been going pretty well lately! Firstly I have two stories  to be published in The Heroes Among Us, the third anthology to be released by the Big Care Write-Up. It’s due to be released on  29th October and will be raising money for LOROS. Keep an eye on their Facebook page and help spread the word. The ebook’s editor Dale Anthony Church is taking on a 4 stories in 4 weeks challenge on there too, so wish him the best of luck!

Black Pear Press held a short story competition, and my story Bare Bones was shortlisted! It’s about a girl who liberates a skeleton from a science lab (something I’ve secretly always wanted to do) and will be published in their anthology at a later date.

And I’m super excited that I’ve also been shortlisted for the HG Wells Short Story Competition! The Sky is Black and Endless was frantically edited whilst on holiday in Wales (remember that three-hour stint that triggered my cubital tunnel? Yup) and sent off on my phone using mobile data. It’s a literary-ish tale of a girl who lives in a house in space and will be included in their anthology (winner to be announced in November).

You may also have seen that I released a new YouTube video! How To Make a Novel, in the style of those chirpy arty-crafty videos that are all the Facebook rage these days. Except this is possibly less useful than a cat hammock. Might give the writerly folk a smile. (This is what happens when I get the house to myself. Throw things in a bowl – and ironically have your hand in a brace after carting Encarta dictionaries around the house.)

I’m back at uni next week so things are likely to get busier (plus I have driving, job hunting and personal commitments to keep up with!) but the blog will stay updated with stuff. And expect some novel-y posts fairly soon (could be Rewriter’s Block, or a new project. I’m undecided for my dissertation).

How To Format Your Short Story

Writers don’t have it easy. Creating something purely from your imagination is an achievement in itself, but if you’re brave enough to send it out into the world then you have to be prepared for a lot of rejection.

Of course, there’s a difference between an editor reading your work and deciding that it’s not for them (vampire erotica doesn’t fit everyone’s press branding) and throwing it in the bin without reading the whole way through. A lot of places have strict submission guidelines these days. It saves the team some time and ensures entries are readable. It also gives them grounds to reject your work.

It’s not just to be mean. Writing is competitive, and even the smallest of presses can get swamped with submissions. It allows them to whittle down an intimidating pile. And if a writer can’t follow a set of guidelines correctly, why should their writing be any good?

It’s a bit cruel perhaps, but guidelines should always be followed religiously. It doesn’t take long to do and it means it’s much more likely to be read and considered for publication. But it’s not immediately obvious at first exactly how to format your masterpiece, so here are a few pointers. I use Word 2016 but all versions are mostly the same. (If this just makes things more confusing then consult the Google gods. They know many things.

  • But first… Polish! Make sure your piece is 100% done to the highest standard, with no spelling or grammar mistakes. If you need to delete stuff later you can mess up the indenting if you’re not careful. Is it within the word limit? Is the theme clear enough? Does Sally turn into Susan halfway through?
  • Double speech marks. I find online presses aren’t too fussy, but the magazine market often prefers double. If you’ve used double instead of single, a quick find and replace is a quick fix. Ctrl + H on Word 2016, Ctrl + F for older versions. Find double, replace with single.
  • Single speech marks. If you’ve done it the other way round and need to change everything to double, it’s a little trickier. If you just type an apostrophe into the find and replace box, Word will quite happily “correct” all the contractions too (so don”t do this, it”s not right). However, when you use an apostrophe as a speech mark in dialogue, Word automatically converts it into a “smart quote” symbol which is subtly different from an apostrophe. If you highlight one of your single quote marks in your story, right-click and copy it, then paste that into the find and replace instead, Word will only replace dialogue single speech marks! Don’t ask me why it works. Feel free to send me cookies.
    f1
  • Times New Roman, size 12. Every writer’s favourite font. My preferred writing font used to be Bookman Old Style, these days it’s Calibri. But unless the guidelines specifically ask for Verdana or Garamond, assume they want Times New Roman. First, select everything (ctrl + A), then on the Home tab, find the Font section.
    f1
  • Double line spacing. May also be written simply as double-spaced. For years I thought this meant two spaces between each word, and even sent a few entries like this! (Oh  the  horror!) But it just means bigger gaps between each line. Select everything again. On the Home tab, look for the Paragraph section in the middle.
    f1
  • Indents or indentations. This is to make it look like what you’ll see in a finished book. Pick up any novel and you get the idea. Word defaults to 1.27cm and unless specified otherwise I usually stick to this. Highlight everything. Then find the Paragraph section on the Home tab again. At the bottom-right there’s a little box icon with an arrow. Click this to bring up a dialogue box. Under Special click First line. If Mirror indents has been checked, I usually uncheck it. Then click OK. I recommend temporarily deleting your title and author name from the top, or the centred text gets indented too and doesn’t look right.
    f1
  • This makes your piece easier to read. Now go up to your first line, click at the start of the first word and press backspace. The first line of the story is not indented. If you have any scene breaks (where you leave a line or a * because we’ve changed time or place) then the first line of the new scene must also not have an indent. Pick up your nearest fiction book and you’ll get the idea.
    f1
  • Wide margins. This one’s pretty quick. On the Layout tab, select Margins under Page Setup. The default margins are pretty generous, and the Wide is a little silly. I recommend going into Custom Margins and widening them slightly, or more specifically if they’ve given an exact value.
    f1
  • Page numbers. On the Insert tab, find Page Number in the Header & Footer section. I usually go for one of the boring ones, but scroll through if you want to fancy it up a bit. Page 1 of 9 might look cooler than page 1. But if your work spans 30 pages it might be best for the editor to discover that themselves. Gently.
    f1
  • Name and title at top of page. This is helpful if an editor prints your work and a rogue whirlwind tosses the pages out of order – at least they know which story page 3 belongs to! You can either double click in the blank space at the top of the page (if it’s not there you may need to double-click the crease between the pages. I often hide it when I’m in writing mode) or go back to the Insert tab and click Header. I like the three columns one, you can always delete the middle one and not use it. Then just type in what you need. Some places don’t want your name on the story to ensure fair judging, so keep this in mind. It can be fun to invent a pen name (I fancied myself as a George) – just keep it sensible. Since author name and title are also going to be included at the start of the document, I often tick the “different first page” box. It shows up when you double-click where the header is.
    f1
  • Finishing touches. Re-add your title if you haven’t already. Leave a couple of lines at the top. The title should be centred and underlined, a size or two larger than the body text. Author name just below it. Here, I used size 14 for the title but kept my name size 12. As long as it’s distinct from the story and not eye-wateringly big. Sizes vary by font, so just use whatever you think looks sensible. Make sure you’ve not changed the page colour or left any highlights in there (I’ve been known to change the background blue, though it’s done little to calm the rage of editing the terrible first draft I wrote originally).

 

And here’s one I made earlier!
f1

You should end up with something like this, which looks a lot more professional than what we started out with. It’s worth repeating that this is only a guide, and the press’ actual guidelines should be followed first. But if they haven’t provided any, this is how I’d format it. There may be more to do: if they’re not happy with the .docx format then make sure you save as a Word 97-2003 document. Check your submissions email is correct, and that you’ve included a subject line if specified (otherwise Submission: Anthology Name) is probably fine. Include a bio if they want one. Unless they want a covering letter including your experience, I usually write something along the lines of “Hi, here’s my submission to X. Thanks, Name”. Quick and to the point. Make sure it’s sent on time… you get the point. And don’t chase up your story two days after the deadline.

Hopefully some of this was helpful! Every place varies in what they want so be sure to check there first. And when in doubt, Google is your friend for formatting things. After me, of course. Though I’m probably not as cool.

Ask me about Word shortcuts and watch me start hopping with excitement. That’s how cool I am.

An Update

It’s been a little while since my last “update” post, and actually quite a lot has gone on since then. Last weekend I went up to Sheffield Film and Comic Con with my boyfriend Dale (in costume as Clara and the Eleventh Doctor!) and had an awesome time.

My hands are a lot better than they were at the time of the last blog post. I’m typing this one, and yesterday I typed a good 1000 words with no problems. I’d been writing stuff in longhand and “typing up” via dictation – which makes a mangled mess of your lovingly-crafted prose, but at least I was getting words down. Apart from the occasional ache which means I need to take a break, I’m back to full productivity. Best of all, my thumbs are now recovered enough for some (careful) Tomb Raiding, Skyrim traversing and zombie hunting.

Storybook AnthologyI had a couple of acceptances! One “maybe” and a definite “yes”. The latter is for the Grey Wolfe Storybook Anthology. The Enchantress and the Stripy Umbrella was written last year, and I loved working on it so much that it “grew out of” the submission guidelines of where I’d originally intended to send it. Here’s the synopsis:

Once upon a time, the Enchantress ruled over the icy world of Glacia – until she was banished for her tyranny to the land of England-on-the-brink-of-winter. She must complete three tasks to prove she can earn another’s trust in order to return home, but when she befriends a lonely schoolgirl she begins to question which is more important: Daisy’s life, or the icy home where she rules supreme?

I’m so happy to say that it has been accepted for publication by Grey Wolfe Publishing. It’s one of my favourite stories I’ve written. All proceeds from the book will go to the American Society of Deaf Children, and it’s due to be published in late September.In a Flash

On 28th August, my flash fiction Ghosts will be published in Horrified Press’ In a Flash… anthology. It was shortlisted for a competition a little while ago so I’m happy to see it in print!

Still another month before I’m back at uni so I’ve been trying to stay busy. I started a new draft of Pyromancer, although I feel that my enthusiasm for the project is dying a little. Might be the case that it’s put on hold for a while, unless I don’t find anything else that interests me enough to do my dissertation on. Keep an eye out for the next Rewriter’s Block post.

Heroes Among UsThe Big Care Write-Up have just opened the submission call for their third anthology, The Heroes Among Us. Stories themed with “acts of heroism”, 1500-5000 words should be submitted to submissions.bigcarewriteup@gmail.com. Proceeds from the e-book will go to LOROS, a Leicester charity who provide care for terminally-ill adult patients, their family and carers. It’s a great project to be involved in so do have a look on their website for the full guidelines.

Between Projects Syndrome

Writer’s block comes in many forms. Sometimes you have no ideas, or you have the ideas but not the plot specifics, or you have that but not the words. But there’s a particular type that I seem more prone to.

I like to call it Between Projects Syndrome. Looks more official in capital letters, doesn’t it?

Most writers have several projects on the go at any one time. Say, a blog, maybe a short story or two – and a manuscript that gets the dust blown off it every once in a while. It’s how we keep things interesting, and often if you get stuck on one piece you can work on another to recharge your energies. But what happens when you’re not feeling inspired by… any of them?

There are plenty of things I could be working on right now. Wobbly first draft of Pyromancer (1 ½ chapters in and riddled with writerly self-doubt), a dragon-themed novella (currently in bits), some essay stuff I need to do for uni (oh god not more essays please) and some short stories that just aren’t quite sparking. Some suffer from a lack of ideas – or a lack of concreteness – and others are intimidating by their size.

It’s worse when there are many projects on the go. It’s hard to focus on one at a time when you’re busy worrying about all the others you haven’t got round to yet. It’s an annoying state to being, and for me Between Projects usually lasts a few days to a week. I’m just not sure what to work on at the moment or how to re-motivate.

So I’m writing about not writing whilst I’m waiting for the muse to return.

But of course it’s been said that when you can’t write you can work: planning, looking up new competitions, making character profiles, drawing all your characters as Disney princesses etc. etc. And writing when you don’t feel like it is a good skill to have.

I was supposed to post a proper update blog today. Sorry that you guys have 400 words of mind-barf instead.

Hmm, now that’s probably a more interesting title.

Voice Dictation – Worth Bothering With?

20160719_122506

Things have been pretty great this week. I went to Wales, got a tan (can you believe it?!), visited the Doctor Who Experience and unleashed my inner raving fangirl for the day. I also managed to give myself a writing injury.

Probably had something to do with the three-hour typing sprint I did on the Monday night.

I’d planned on entering the HG Wells competition for a while, but in typical style neglected to do very much until I was practically sitting on the deadline. So I brought my laptop along and bashed it out from some rough handwritten drafts, without leaving the kitchen table. Next day, I started to notice aches and pains in both my little fingers, running down my arms to my elbows. They seemed to worsen when typing on my phone and typing was painful. Even worse, a week went by and it didn’t seem much better.

Turns out I could have early cubital tunnel syndrome. So I’m kinda bummed about that.

It’s an expected hazard with what I do. Plus it’s a wake-up call; I lean forward when I type, my typing posture is lousy, I play video games more than is probably good for me and I sleep like a hamster. It’s taught me a lesson in writing sensibly.

Since I am trying to rest my arms a bit, I looked into using some dictation software. Better write something super slowly than not at all. There are quite a few floating around: ListNote was pretty decent for my phone but the punctuation commands didn’t work, and there wasn’t one for quotation marks for some reason. I found Google Voice in my settings and that has been by far the best at text-to-speech. But I can only use it for messaging since there are no commands for punctuation whatsoever!

I’ve tried out several free dictators online but most take ages and transcribe badly. Infuriatingly, one even had commands for inserting smileys but no quotation marks! After some experimenting I have found that my laptop’s ease of access is the easiest to use, if not quite as good as Google Voice. The commands are good and I found I could teach it new words (very valuable for a fantasy writer using names such as Tain, Jenelyn and Cass).

The advantage? I can type without using my hands. It’s a valuable tool for any writer to have, for when you fancy some freewriting or you’re trying to multitask. But I’m not sure I could write a novel with it. It’s pretty slow and if you want to rattle out a draft be prepared for plenty of mistakes. It can get frustrating, and I’ll admit I feel a tad self-conscious about shouting “the, delete that, the the THE FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE” (and other more colourful expressions that the dictator is reluctant to pick up).

I will say it’s worth experimenting with. And I will also say, I wrote this whole blog post without lifting a finger. It’s annoying at times, but I remember Brandon Sanderson saying in one of his lectures that the average writer manages five hundred words an hour. I managed about 533 just now. It’s not as fun as hitting keys at 2 AM but it gets the job done to an extent – and it’s great for writing like this, when you don’t need a tonne of punctuation. As with writing first drafts, you can always expect mistakes to creep in.

Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. I’m taking a break: my voice is tired.

Rewriter’s Block pt 4: Things Can Only Get Betterrrrr

blog2So things are going a little better.

I’ve been keeping a log of whenever I do research or writing, initially to help with my dissertation essay when I need to write it. But it’s also surprisingly motivational – I want to write something in it every day. When this thing’s finished I might post it up here for you guys to browse through (count the dark nights of the soul) but here’s a summary of the last week or so:

I’m trying to write 500 words a day on the project. Doesn’t matter what it is and it probably won’t be used in the final thing. But this method has really helped me: in one, Carla befriends a fire dancer at a magical Whitby Market. “Horace” didn’t last the cut but I got some setting ideas. In another, Brett is a sandmage, and loses an important key on the beach at night. This gave way to my renaming my five elements: flare (fire), breeze (air), dust (earth), blizzard (water) and crackle (electricity) which hint at weaker forms as they are now in the story. The last one used a character I had considered cutting, but a couple of spontaneous lines hinted at a darker past and an erratic personality that he hadn’t possessed before. He’s now likely to be reborn as basically a different character with the same name.

I had a small breakthrough with my magic system: you can charge an object with magic for later use, at the expense of tiring yourself to be more powerful later, or you can use the small store contained within the body – which is very dangerous. This has solved several problems: a) magic can’t be overly powerful so a peaceful society is plausible and there’s no overpowered characters, b) magic isn’t created from nothing and there’s a sense of balanced forces, and c) magic now has serious consequences for overuse. At the moment the actual effects of magic aren’t fleshed out but I can see the system working. And contrary to what I’ve read on some forum threads about elemental magic being overdone, I like it and want to keep it. So there. (Plus I feel that the alternate society is the interesting point, rather than the magical system itself.)

Plot is still pretty non-existent at the moment.

I’ve got my characters, now I need to figure out what they want. Aside from Miles (who is a grumpy, hardened Sentinel: sort of a magical peacekeeper) the others are average. All in their early twenties, all mooching about in my brain at the moment. What would drag them into an adventure, why them specifically? This is the next area to work on, now I have a small base to the world and magical system. There are no villains as such, though Miles is a possibility. Thus far I haven’t created any new characters for this “rebooted” novel but it might be time to start. Not really sure how to develop from here, but hopefully by writing something every day new ideas will spark. I’m hoping to have a plotstorming session or two with my uni friends, who may be able to nudge me in the right direction.

First dark night of the soul is over. But it probably won’t be the last.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑