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4 simple ideas October 22, 2011

Posted by mattfarmer in books and reading, writing.
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I was directed to this site by various means, the most obvious was someone sending me the link to click on… obviously.

A simple four-item formula for turning story into fiction

And so now I share it with you.

I am glad I have found it before I start Nanowrimo, so I can keep it in the back of my mind while I write. Each chapter, something will happen, the characters will move from one space to the next space, each chapter.

I am going to keep that in mind.

I also like the idea of reusing characters. I like making characters, and being encouraged to reuse them because readers remember them and have an affinity or attachment to them makes sense and is a good idea.

Just a quick stop here. I am building my world. There is just over a week to go and things are heating up.


Some fictional Darwinianism, and a promise I didnt actually make to you July 12, 2011

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To start with, I was sent this awesome link – On the origins of the novel species I read that and think about my characters, did they have a genesis from something? And, I don’t think they do. Sure, I put elements of people I know into my characters, we all do. The only way you can make a character feel alive is if you give it some life that you know. I may unconsciously be putting  shades of my primary and high school bullies into the bad guys in my story, and my child hood heroes into the good guys. I may put shades of girls and boys I know into the main characters, or those walk-on parts which are like a Rob Schneider cameo role.

I know I have strongly based characters off people I know. I have a friend in my sci-fi story, but she doesn’t know. And I am liberally sprinkling my Steam Punk verse with people I know. But I am telling them, which they are excited about…

But reading about authors say this character is based on such and such, something which hit so hard and so deep into their psyche? I wonder if I will write that one awesome book which shakes the hard cover foundations and has an amazing character with depth and character, flaws and tragedy, and can say – yes, this is based off the old Greek man who always called me ‘boss’ when I ordered a quarter chicken and chips, every SUnday lunch time when I was hung over.

Now, that may sound sarcastic and taking the piss, and sorry to those who think I am being disrespectful. I am amazed and have total respect and awes for those authors who can draw so much from their past, and fill in a character full to the brim with life. But I’d just like to say that I now have a character who can be selling road side roadkill burgers and stray-cat sausage on a stick. He now has an accent, a way he speaks to everyone, how he is welcoming and can remember you and your favorite order if you are a regular.

Did I just throw out a self-fulfilling prophecy? I don’t know…

I had a plan on Wednesday. I was going to come here, into my blog and announce –  I WILL FINISH MY NOVEL THIS WEEKEND! My football team had a bye and wasn’t playing. The only commitments I had were Friday night mulled wine and watching The Wire (showing my friends the AWESOME that is), and I had Roller Derby commitments on Saturday night. The rest of the weekend was free. So, being into the last chapter I was going to say HA! I will finish! See what happens when I make a promise to the world, to the Universe. When I know people are watching and making sure I keep my end of the bargain.

But, my week went south. Things happened, the kind of things which make you doubt yourself, what you do, who you are. One of those things, you know? So I thought- nope, I dont feel like promising the Universe I will finish something when I feel this bad. Even if I was on perfect shiny happy street, I knew making that commitment would put a bit of pressure on me. But when there are storm clouds on shiny street? No way would I have been able to hit that. And then I would compound by going- wah! I made promise and I couldn’t keep it!

So, instead I wrote anyway. I checked out how I could go, in this place my mind was at. Tried a bit of writing on Saturday. Had a nanna nap and then went out to Derby.

Wrote on Sunday. I got 8 maybe 10 pages done? Wrote a load of dialogue, got bored, killed some people, had a fire fight and then SOMETHING HAPPENED… no, not to me, in the book, and I am about to do a great reveal.

But, I wrote. Which is the important thing.

And tomorrow night I am going to write again.

And on Wednesday morning before work I am going to write again.

But not this weekend. Friday night is football, Saturday is a wedding and Sunday is a tarot catch up.

But I have tomorrow night.


Killing the hero September 22, 2010

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I was sent this article on why the the hero can not always survive.

I have not (yet) killed my hero in any of my books. I have a plan to do something like the noble death with one of my favourites, but that is at least three books away.

How can you kill a hero? The hero is what drives the story, isn’t it? We go on the Hero’s Journey, with the hero. If you kill the hero, then who do you go on the journey with?

I can understand the dramatic shift which could occur if you ended your hero’s existence. It would totally throw the reader into a spin, wondering where they would land, who they could hold on to, which character would lead them to shore. And the armchair anarchist in me would like the challenge of suddenly, mid story, dramatic fight scene and, oh, wait, the bad guy wins the fight? I think it would be a fantastic challenge, as a writer, to find your story, salvage the day, find someone to carry on the story for you.

I can see the son taking over from the father. Easy thing to do that. I have seen it many times before. Perhaps the best example I can think of is the Game of Thrones. This is one of the best examples I can think of where the hero on which you hang the story’s hat suddenly gets killed. (Here’s hoping I didn’t spoiler anything for anyone by saying that). When Eddard gets the chop, I was honestly stunned. I did not see it coming at all. For a while I was thinking – who do I follow now?

It threw me as a reader, and fascinated me as a writer. Who does that? Who just ends the life of a hero mid-story like that? Well, George R R Martin obviously, but I don’t know if I could do it. I wonder if we build too much of the story around the hero. Do we make our heroes carry far too much of the story on their shoulders? Can the story survive without the hero?

But then, what is the story without a hero? A friend answered this by saying- ‘Reality Television’. Who wants to write that?

Still beginning again and again August 10, 2010

Posted by mattfarmer in writing, Writing Group.
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Its crazy. I’ve written the novel. I have been through 4 drafts. I have 3 other novels which follow on from this in the series. It has been read and enjoyed and reviewed.

And yet, trying to start it again, I falter and fall down.

It is the strangest thing. Once I get into it, all is well. It is just the beginning.

In last weeks writing group two writers commented that they prefer to write characters of the opposite gender. One writer said he enjoyed writing female characters as he can enjoy writing as a woman because he knows everything there is to being a man.

I didn’t fully understand his comment. I don’t know if it is because I have not fully investigated pure gender issues of each of my characters, or I just characterise a person and have them do and be, without a need for gender. My three MC”s for my novel are two gentlemen and a lady (I flatter them by calling them such…) and I can’t say that I have enjoyed writing any of them less than some.

In a later book I developed a lesbian relationship for one of my characters. I have not received any feedback on how well I wrote that. So far those who have read it have not told me it felt false or was badly written. On the other hand, no one has said it was a waste of space and irrelevant for the book. I will hold off judgment until I have had more feedback.

Looking back at my work, I must say that most of my MCs are male. Some may say it is a conscious decision of mine to do this, but I don’t know. Unless you go way out on a limb, you only have 2 choice for the gender of your MC. So I choose the XY more often than XX, should I read more into this than I need? I know how to be a male, so am I just writing what I know rather than challenging myself to write as someone I don’t fully understand?

Or am I just thinking too much? Perhaps I am just distracting myself from the start of this novel.

Speaking of distracting my self, I now need ice cream

I have answered The Question! July 27, 2010

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amkuska commented on my last post about interrogating my characters to find The Answer to what was bugging me. Good idea, and I did some, but unfortunately the question was more- why would a big company attack its own assets, and kill their own employees?

I have discovered, with myself, that walking stimulates ideas. Think of the question, walk, think, postulate. So I did this. Long walk to a coffee shop the other morning. And huzzah! I have solved the big problem that was holding my re-write back.

I know this is where I am supposed to tell you all my EUREKA moment. But if I did that, when you read my book you would know the big thing happening behind the scenes, and it wont be as fun to reveal to you.


dots I am beginning to join June 8, 2010

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I am still going through the deconstruction of my novel. I have gone back and looked at The Hero’s Journey. I have drawn the circle which represents the start of the hero’s journey, the descent into the unknown, the turning point, and the return to the beginning after change “with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man

I numbered 7 key points in my story around the circle. For each number I have described where each of my 3 main characters are, and what happens to them. By the time I get back to point 1, I describe what i want to have changed with them, and in the way they interact with the other characters.

Now I can study my scene cards closer. I can whittle them down and group them into the 7 core scenes of my book. I can then apply what changes I want to occur to my 3 main characters.

I may dress each scene up with some fluff, some witty banter, a bit of back story or observation, some dialogue for character development, so long as each of the 7 scenes carry the plot along, carry the 3 characters along, to the conclusion.

I am feeling quite strong about this. I have some solid direction, very simple and strong goals to achieve in each scene. I know where I want to begin a scene, and end a scene, to which would lead into the next scene. I have made it simpler for me to understand. I like this.

This is not to say my book is going to be seven chapters long. There is a story there, there is action and set pieces, some scenes are longer than others.

But to have these 7 scenes, 7 objects, if you will, to play with, hold, manipulate and fit into the fabric of the overall work?

This feels very good to me.

I am a subliminal zombie June 1, 2010

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In writing group last week I asked the group to put up some prompts for shot stories. I often set writing tasks and prompts. I use many different methods to get ideas and prompts together. I few great websites to help me include: The Fake Name Generator and the 7th Sanctum page of generators. I also trawl the forum boards of RPG.net for such awesome topics such as corpse scenes and 101 artifacts for an urban fantasy.

I have other such oblique web sites and resource, and love the ideas and varieties of each. The annual DARES thread in the varoius Nanowrimo forums are terrific.

But I wanted the group to set me something. So one member began a word association exercise. She gave us a word, and we had to think of a word to match. The three words she gave were – bark; black; and sky. My responses were – bite, betty, open.

This is why I think I may be a subliminal zombie.

The challenge was a 500 word piece using those three words as a prompt. Despite the allusions to zombies, I wrote a piece about Betty, leaving a small outback town, in the back of a ute, under the wide open sky, eating an apple.

No, I don’t think its brilliant. I don’t think I achieved the subtlety I wanted. But it was nice to get away from science fiction for a brief moment, and create a new character with prompts someone else gave me.

It was refreshing. For me.

There is still the potential for a zombie story, about a zombie with a moral crisis about eating the brains of Betty, who used to be their friend.

Too literal?

Reconstruction May 24, 2010

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Following on from my previous entry – Deconstruction, what am I doing with all the feedback?

With regards to the structure of the book and how a lot of the first story arc is not irrelevant, I have purchased some small speech cards. I have written each scene onto the cards. Nothing too descriptive, just something to jog my memory. I know the ins and outs of the story, do I decided I don’t need big descriptions of the scenes and what i want them to achieve. Not yet.

I am going to lay them out on the floor so I can physically see my book. I Would love to have a white board or a pin board to do this, but lack of space prevents this. So I am commandeering the floor! Jason suggested a good starting place for the story, so I will look at that, see if I agree or not, and remove the rest of the story cards which don’t fit.

I am going to keep them, however, as they are important to the back story. If I find an oppurtunity to slip in some back story, I will have the needed scene card to use.

Once I have cut down the number of scenes I will then look at the scenes. I will look at where the reader comes in, and where they exit. What does the reader get from this scene? How does it advance the story? What happened to the character in this scene? I am also going to research a bit more. I know there is more work to be done at this stage, I just have never done this type of exercise before, so it will be a good learning exercise for me.

In regards to character? Jason suggested looking at The Hero’s Journey, a theory I am aware of.  I have read The Hero with a Thousand Faces a couple of times. I find it fascinating and inspiring. For some reason I didn’t really apply such basic knowledge and ideas to my work. Or, perhaps I thought I was, but it wasn’t until someone pointed out the lack of character development that I realised I hadn’t. Hard to tell.

So, I have now used the Hero’s Journey diagram to plot out the big events in my story and have numbered them. For each number I am putting in notes about the characters involved, my 3 MCs – Jarred, Martin and Cindy. Such a simple idea and it has provided fertile ground for my imagination to work with the characters again.

I imagined things Jarred would need to do to grow as a leader, to take the decision-making process away from Martin and put it on Jarred. I worked on events which would break Cindy out of her frightened shell to re-take her power.

And for Martin, the suggestion that he would be great as an antagonist made me work on his story some more, give it more sinister ideas and allusions. His involvement in the whole campaign has become deeper and more involved. Which I like quite a bit.

The final major piece of feedback to work out is the motivation. Why does this story happen at all? Why does the Company attack its own? And this is the biggest problem I am facing. I have a few suggestions, a few ideas, but nothing which is making my jaw drop in astonishment.

I am torn between a few ideas. Political, corporate take over, secrets, revenge. This is something which I will put in the slow cooker to simmer for a while.

Again, thanks to Jason for the work he did for me. Totally awesome.

4 styles in one day March 21, 2010

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This song- ‘Four Seasons In One Day‘ by Crowded House came on while I was writing, and I had a realisation that I was working on my fourth piece of writing for the day, in a completely different style from the other three.

1. I woke up and composed a letter for a job application. 7 key criteria, so I needed to find my best 7 aspects to answer each point succinctly, clearly and in a way that made the reader think I am fantastic. Short sharp and shiny.

2 .I then read through chapter 1 of my new novel, and began writing chapter 2. Extended prose? That sounds like it isn’t paced correctly. It is more like I know I have space to make this last novel go out with a bang, so I am not being succinct, I am being thorough.

3. Completed some copy-writing for a website I am creating with a graphic designer friend. Put myself into the shoes of the client and say what I want to say, sell what I want to sell. Restrict the text to just one page so you do not need to scroll down the page for all the words and become bored. Fitting the right words into a confined space.

4. Editing a friend’s blog post for his motivational website. How to speak to someone who may be feeling down about themselves, without seeming superior and better than them. He has had similar experiences, and can relate. So to make the writing sound like – i understand. Evoke feeling and empathy between author and reading.

I could put 5. down here as writing my blog, but I think this becomes an appendix to the day. My Author friend would appreciate that. She who has been inspired to get back into her novel by using the characters in our writing assignments.

I have been told by successful authors that, to be successful you need to master more than just the novel. While they are extremely happy because they are able to be a writer, they are paid novelist, they tell me that it isn’t the novel that makes them the money. It is all the peripheral work that allows them to write the novel. Running writing workshops, being guest speakers, writing articles, copy writing, editing and such like.

There is a saying, of which I am particularly conscious of right now – working to live. You work the nine-to-five so you have the means to indulge the creative side of yourself. I do have reservations at the use of the word ‘indulge’, when I, personally, do not find my writing to be an indulgence. It is an essential part of who I am, which I must fit around REAL LIFE. It is what I want to do, where I see myself journeying towards. However, be what it may, work is work, and my writing is not yet paying for itself, so it reluctantly sits in the corner.

Although I must say that someone in the business did read some of my novel, and told me she “finds it easy to read and engaging“. This may bring my writing out of the corner and to the table, yes?

I think it is important, as a writer, that you are able to write in more than one style. By that I do not mean first person and third person, realist fiction and fantasy. More along the lines of writing fiction and non-fiction. You can write a poem and a novel, and a magazine article or a letter of complaint to your local movie house.

In much the same way that different sources of reading or film can inspire your creative writing, I believe different styles of writing can excercise your writing brain and improve your creative writing.

I had a minor character in a story, he was a personal assistant to a Big Boss in an organisation. He was very officious, spoke with authority, and behaved like he knew everything. His speaking style was like someone who wrote letters using far too many big words. So I searched the internet for officious looking letters and letters of complaints. I used the language of formal letters and such, to be the language of this character. And it worked. He annoyed my characters, who didn’t truly understand his language, admittedly much like the author. But also, some people who read the piece also found the character annoying. They also knew someone exactly like this character.

I doubt that I will use all the different styles of writing I have used today, in a creative piece. I will have a job interview in my novel, so I may use some of my job application language there, maybe. But, it is good to be able to shift into different styles when I need. It gives me confidence to know that when I come to that time where I need to step off the precipice and become a paid writer, I am able to write in different styles, depending on the job which is paying me.

Something old, something new… March 1, 2010

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I kept to my writing on Sunday commitment. I wrote my writing group assignment.

I took my MC from the novel series I am writing- Jarred, and his girlfriend, Jasmine, to the auction, as mentioned in my previous entry. Jarred is an ex-history professor from Vega University, so I thought it would be a great place for him to be, as a character, at an auction for something historical.

I used the two characters with swords – the business woman, and the street samurai with the long coat, as my assigned characters. The character with the brief case handcuffed to him made a brief entrance, but it was all about the sword fighting.

What I enjoyed about this exercise is again, using characters I am already familiar with. I have written four novels with these characters, and am in the process of writing the fifth and final novel. I have traveled with my characters through pirate attacks and civil wars, killed their families and even had some limbs blown off in battle. And now, with the final book, I know where they are going and how they are going to get there. Their journey is mapped out in my imagination and will soon be written down in words.

So I am enjoying the ability to take these characters I have come to enjoy, come to know and love, and put them somewhere that is not in the the realms of my novels. I can play with them in my imagination’s sandbox outside the covers of my novels. Far from restrictive, I am discovering more about the characters than I would have had a chance to do inside the novels. I can explore them more.

For example, in the short story I just wrote, Jasmine, who is a renowned pirate, her devious and cheeky side comes out. She is a student of history, in particular military history, and asses her enemies and changes her plans accordingly. In this case, after seeing the tall dark stranger wield his sword with such expertise, she decides holding a gun to his head would not be the best way to rob him. Instead, she feels it better, more strategic, to ambush his ship in transit. Enjoyably wicked.

I know when I finish book 5, and write “The End”, there will be some sadness. You invest such time and energy in creating characters and conflict, that ending a series, which is the right thing to do, can be a little sad. But getting to have the same characters pop up in further fiction? I like that.