Monday, 29 June 2009

Synopses over brunch

It's been over a week since our writing group brunch, and I've neglected to mention the excellent discussion we had about synopses -- most particularly, mine. I've been tempted to post my synopsis here in past weeks, but decided against it. After all, it wouldn't be good to reveal the story and ending to all you potential readers! However, I did send it around to the group for their opinions on whether or not it was working.

Answer: no.

The main problem, they told me, was too much plot. Secretly I knew this, I think, but it's very hard to make judgments on your own work. I wrote a fabulous synopsis of someone else's novel; much better, they said, than my own. Yeah, well, I knew that too. It's easier to be ruthless about someone else's work and highlight the interesting stuff. When it comes to your own work, it's all essential!

So. There were other comments of course. More romance, for instance. This is something I had intentionally downplayed thinking it might sound corny, but it seems that was a bad decision. Fantasy readers want romance (me included), so I should make it clear there's a relatively strong romantic thread.

They also wanted more world building, more fantasy setting and grandeur, particularly at the start. This was unexpected. Thinking it was important to demonstrate I could tell a story, I had focused on plot and skirted over much of the fantasy world stuff. Stupid when you think about it, because the latter is far more of a strength in my writing than the former. However, to offset this, it's important not to use too many made-up words. There's a challenge!

So now I am working on a revised synopsis and will send it around again for more comment. Hopefully I can breathe a little more life into the next version.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

15 top books in 15 minutes (ish)

A new book list challenge: Fifteen books I've read that will always stick with me.

The rules are: First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose. DON'T TAKE TOO LONG TO THINK ABOUT IT.

OK, so here goes in no particular order:

  1. The Liveship Traders (trilogy) by Robin Hobb
  2. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  3. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  4. Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin
  5. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
  6. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (also Persuasion)
  7. My Sister's Keeper by Jodie Piccoult
  8. Mordant's Need (duology) by Stephen Donaldson
  9. Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer (plus many others)
  10. Olivia Joules & the overactive imagination by Helen Fielding
  11. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
  12. The Ruins of Ambrai by Melanie Rawn
  13. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  14. The undomestic goddess by Sophie Kinsella
  15. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I actually struggled to come up with this list of 15. Many of the above I have read multiple times, plus there's a lot of fantasy (and quite a lot of fantasy I left off in an attempt to keep it balanced). I'm sure there are other amazing books I have read, but I can't think of them right now. I tried to base this on books I entreat other people to read, or find myself lending to people.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

bright bonfire, new moon

Once again, we celebrated a winter solstice with a bright bonfire. The night drizzled but our spirits were not dampened. The moon is new tonight, displaying the glittering canopy of stars to wondrous effect. Nature's glory. Oh, but to lie on the scented grass of some distant plain and gaze up at the heavens! Trapped in bricks and mortar, artificially illuminated, I can but imagine such boundless glory.

Friday, 19 June 2009

WriMoFoFo - week 1

Not a good week in the WriMoFoFo grand scheme of things. I've been exceptionally tired (courtesy of a read-a-thon until 5am on the weekend) and just haven't been able to get back on track. I've tried to write, truly, but just haven't been able to successfully thrash through the sleepiness. Or, when I have pushed, very bad bad bad words have come out. Not my finest hour.

Onto next week.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

WriMoFoFo for real

The 'official' WriMoFoFo starts today. So glad I got some practice in over the past four weeks. Although I seemed only to WriMoFoTh -- the final week was a disaster and I haven't written anything since Monday. But it all starts again today, so the slate is wiped clean and I embark with renewed vigor and high hopes. Onwards and upwards! (And get ready for four weeks of short or non-existent posts.)

Friday, 12 June 2009

Beauty therapy

I consider myself to be a low maintenance individual. I don't wear makeup, don't own a hairdryer, and never buy designer label clothes. However, I have of late found myself paying an increasing degree of attention to certain aspects of my appearance.

It started with my hair a few years ago, when I finally decided that I was no longer blond and would have to commit to highlighting. Once my best feature, my hair had turned ordinary, and once I came to terms with the fact that my 'natural look' was in fact hideous, I embraced the prospect of regular salon visits. This strategy was of course helped by the fact that I could now afford it.

This progressed nicely for several years and continues to do so. But a recent spate of cosmetic parties and the close proximity of a day spa a few doors down from work have caused an escalation in my beauty regime. Daily facial cleansing, lip gloss and mineral foundation have been added to my repertoire (the latter two still in the early days of actual usage).

Moreover, a few months ago I commenced 4-weekly eyebrow waxes. Not only am I now saved the hideous task of plucking with tweezers, but I need no longer glance in the mirror and cringe at the shaggy state of my brows. There was a time not so long ago when I would scrutinise the eyebrows of every woman I came across to see if I could find anyone with brows as dreadful as mine - to make my own slackness appear justified.

Most recently -- today in fact -- I have embarked on the next phase of my beauty therapy. Eyelash tinting.

It was my eyebrow groomer who first suggested it. My lashes are fair and not very long, and since I never wear mascara (glug) I daresay my eyes were a bit of a non-event. It is something I have considered in the past and discarded, never really knowing how to go about it. But, finding myself on my back in a day spa, a few doors down from the office, I found myself agreeing to give it a go. After all, it only takes 15 mins.

So there I was today, giving it a go. It's an interesting experience. You have to lie there with your eyes closed -- complete with goop and gauze and stuff -- for 10 mins while the dye processes. But the brain is weird. One moment I'm lying there quite relaxed with my eyes closed, the next I'm struggling not to open them, just because I know I CAN'T. Instead of leaving me alone in my private darkness, Virginia massaged my hands to distract me (do you have trouble relaxing? Your fingers are like sticks.).

And then my eyes started stinging a tiny bit. Not enough to be painful, but . . . these are my EYES for heavens sake. Did she say there was peroxide in that dye? That can't be good. Peroxide in the eyes. Oh god, what have I done? Is this safe? I'm going to go BLIND!

Um . . . I say. My eyes are stinging a little bit.

Don't worry that happens. Soothing.

So is there any chance I could go blind?

No, no, no, impossible. Pause. Hmmm, maybe there's merit in not talking you through every step.

Nervous chuckle.

There's only 2 minutes to go.

OK. Breathless. Calm. Calm. Be calm.

Of course I'm not blind. And my lashes look brilliant, even if I say so myself! I've had them tinted blue-black and I think might be addicted to my new look already. I daresay I will never be considered 'well groomed', but I'm happy with these few small steps along the way. Who knows what will be next -- regular manicures?

Monday, 8 June 2009

Brainstorming on the beach

This morning I walked into Cowes along the beach. My aim was threefold: walk the dog (can get away with letting him off the lead which makes it much more pleasant walking for me), get a coffee (I am now addicted to a daily Cafe latte, and if I don't get one at least can become cranky), and brainstorm some plot ideas.

Now, I don't usually do much plotting when I walk. Normally I've either got headphones on, or I end up thinking about the last thing I read . . . but this morning I was determined and all alone on the beach. Which meant of course that I could mutter ideas to myself in order to work things out.

I have found in the past that singing helps me plot -- ie I sing nonsense tunes, with the lyrics comprising plot ideas. Not the sort of thing you want an audience for, believe me. However, I have come up with some of my more spectacular plot ideas this way. I maintain that with my conscious brain focusing on making it sound nice and tuneful (as you do), my subconscious brain is able to gain some footing.

Not that I was singing this morning, but I was verbalising. (Does this make me an extrovert after all?) There were some scenes I was rewriting that were no longer going to work, given some of the other things I had changed. Which was a bit of a shame, really, since I had intended to reuse one of the chapters almost in entirety. Not anymore. It all has to be rewritten. Oh well.

The funny thing is that in the space of a morning's walk I made/planned some fairly significant changes. Not significant to the overall story, but I ditched a whole character and substituted another in her place. It makes a heap more sense now. I also changed the order in which some things happen played off against certain revelations. So I think that'll be tighter too. (Bearing in mind I still am yet to write said scenes!)

It was a productive weekend in all, although I am dismally behind in the WriMoFoFo. I have written just over 9,300 words, which puts me at 62% of target with just under a week to go. However, the next 'official' WriMoFoFo begins next Saturday, so I'll lose the last few days of this one. Nevermind. Over 9,000 words in three weeks is about where I need to be, so I'll just keep plugging away!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Movie: Angels & Demons

The movie of Angels & Demons was an enjoyable adventure. It was fairly close to the book, although probably not as close as it could have been. Nevertheless, I thought it worked well.

I liked the book better than the Da Vinci Code, but I'm not sure about a movie comparison. I still like the plot better, but the Da Vinci Code movie has the distinction of including one of my favourite movie scenes ever. (The final scene, when Robert Langdon follows the rose line through Paris to arrive at the Louvre and kneels above the sarcophagus of Mary Magdalene.)

Upon reflection, I think the movie of Angels & Demons lacked the character development of the Da Vinci Code. So, although the latter movie had more plot holes, it had more complex characterisation. Perhaps this is why I felt a little underwhelmed by Angels & Demons, despite having enjoyed the book better.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Rewriting advice

One of the e-zines I subscribe to published this article today: Your Rewrite: 3 Angles of Attack. The Writers Store forum on the whole seems mainly targeted at screenplay writers, but many of the writing principles are the same. This particular article is more screenplay focused than many of them, but the first of the named 'angles of attack' is equally relevant for fiction.

The primary point made in the article is that rewriting is essential -- and rewriting well is a skill you need to hone. To quote Hemingway: “The first draft of everything is shit.”

The article lists multiple points to consider when rewriting as part of its first target area: STORY. Some of these I have been addressing, others I should probably go back and look at. It's a good list.

Have you read it out loud? Repeatedly?
Does the story communicate what you wanted it to?
Do you start the story late enough?
Have you eliminated most, if not all, backstory from the first act?
Do you have the right main character?
Does the main character change? A lot.
Can characters can be cut or combined?
Is the hero in the crusher all the time?
Do we care about the character and her problem?
Is the bad guy the one who forces the hero to change?
Have you written wonderful minor characters? Like the roommate in NOTTING HILL?
Is “place” a character in your story?
Is your story about one simple idea, and does each scene further that ONE idea?
How many scenes can be combined?
How can you add more conflict in every scene?
Can you squeeze something more about the character from nearly every scene?
Have you made us feel what every character is feeling, in every scene?
What can you do to make each scene better, more memorable, more interesting?
Does the action build in intensity as we go along?
Does the ending have enough emotion and power?
Are the stakes high and do they go higher?
Will people who care about act breaks be able to find them?
Is the script really good or do you just hope it is?
Do other people read it and say, “Wow!”?

Monday, 1 June 2009

Playing out to maximum effect

This is what happens when I finally get into a good writing groove. I get boring (as far as other people are concerned). Who wants to read about how many words I wrote in the last week? Who wants to hear me whinge about all the things which prevented me from reaching my targets?

I am rather enjoying myself though. Even if I'm not meeting my targets, I feel like I'm getting somewhere. I'm through the setup phase and into the middle section of the novel where things are actually playing out. New characters are being introduced that really start to shake things up. Lots of fun!

I think it's from about here that it starts getting easier as events get more exciting. Because I know pretty much what is happening, the rewrite is about working it all to maximum effect. I am damn well going to have this novel finished by the end of the year. Hallelujah.