Tag Archives: Story

Escaping the rut, a rancorous work, and the world – with writing

It’s been a long time since I posted a personal update. I’ve had a tough year for various reasons, but thankfully my writing has continued unabated. And I am immensely proud to announce I will shortly have finished my second novel, having started it a little over nine months ago, during #NaNoWriMo.

What an invigorating annual challenge National Novel Writing Month is! I was stuck in something of a rut, creatively speaking, before I took part in 2016. I’d been working on Citadel, my after-life fantasy epic, for practically a decade, and it was increasingly clear it would never end.

The story had evolved so much since first embarking upon it – and more importantly I had learned so much in the process – that the themes I had hoped to tackle at the beginning had been masticated and regurgitated, popping out in the narrative in weird morsels that no longer represented my initial vision.

Etch-a-sketch-a-story

For better or worse, I’ve now shelved that project. It was an incredibly hard decision – 10 years of work, for heaven’s sake! – but I am certain it was the right choice. Maybe one day I will return to it, as there are certainly some scenes in that hot mess of which I am proud.

But setting it aside cleared the path for more focused work. Where Citadel had become my practice clay, upon which I tested new techniques of storytelling, it was nevertheless just that: practice. Now I’m using what I learned messing about with that hunk of mud, but on some new fancy material.

What have I learned, specifically? Well, it includes, but by no means is limited to:

  • Concept of agency (I hadn’t heard of this until long after I started writing)
  • Perspective focus
  • Importance of diversity
  • How to lace backstory into action and dialogue
  • How to skip journeys
  • How to build tension in action scenes
  • How to construct a character arc
  • Importance of arcs for all characters, not just the protagonist
  • How to ruthlessly murder your darlings
  • How to reach the end

My new novel, prospectively titled Peace & Quietus, has been my most ambitious project since starting to write – but not due to its potential length, or number of characters, or exhaustive worldbuilding. On the contrary, the story looks to be about two thirds the size of Citadel, has only a handful of characters, and is set in London, rather than a fantastical reimagining of Hell.

The reason it has been ambitious is because P&Q is a much more emotionally driven piece than I have previously attempted. It was borne of my own despair watching the western world kowtow to fascism, nationalism and isolationism, with the Brexit vote and the election of that racist neon beanbag in the US. It grew out of anxiety attacks on the London underground, out of visibly increasing homelessness in the world’s sixth largest economy, out of the frustrations of a much-derided generation left with the carcass of a free-market economy picked clean by their parents.

twitter-logo-finalTweet: “If you can identify what your story is about, and are able to express it in a single sentence, everything in the story will inform that central proposition”

The story tackles body shame, social media anxiety, racism, the political shift to the right, the hopelessness among so-called Millennials, and the ever-present attraction of just giving up and abandoning the rat race. It’s escapism, in a word.

Yes, it has a science fiction element – the story concerns an apocalypse of sorts – and that’s because I wanted to describe a character who, when the end of civilisation came, would find solace in its blessed relief from modern life.

That’s another thing I learned: the importance of comprehending what your story is about, and being able to express it in a single sentence. If you know that, everything in the story will inform that central proposition.

Helpful hiatus

So, I hope to finish the first draft by the end of the week, and then? Well, then I’m going to set it aside for a while; I’ve a couple of short story ideas I’ve been stewing away in the back of my mind that need fleshing out, plus it would be good to start thinking about my next #NaNoWriMo project. Either way, edits for P&Q can wait.

How I will broadcast any achievements is anyone’s guess, though. In a fit of reactionary paranoia, I deleted my Facebook account, severing the ties I had made with hundreds of people around the world. What was I thinking? I could have sold stuff at them!

Yeah, but no, delete your account. It’s great.
(But don’t forget to subscribe to Right Place, Right Tim first!)

Cheers!

(cover image by Linh Nguyen)

If you don’t see me in November, blame #NaNoWriMo

With November fast approaching, I felt the need to explain my impending month-long withdrawal from society. Friends will be dismayed when I decline their invitation to the pub. Colleagues will wonder where I go every lunch break with my laptop (incidentally, I go to the pub to write, but don’t tell my friends). And my wife will offer me coffee while she catches up on all the rom-com trash I’ve hitherto vetoed.

I will not have time for such dalliances. I will be too busy creating!

If you don’t mind setting aside the pretentiousness of that statement, I shall explain: November is National Novel Writing Month, or #NaNoWriMo for short.

This means I will be joining thousands of other bleary-eyed writers around the world in attempting to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. Yes, you exceptional number crunchers, that does indeed equate to 1,667 per day. Also known colloquially as “a right proper slog”.

Back for seconds

I attempted (and completed – barely) the challenge for the first time last year, despite only discovering it on October 30th. That gave me two days to decide on an idea and plan some semblance of story from it.

The result was The Divine Alliance, an epic reimagining of The Iliad if Diomedes had recognised his ability to hurt the Gods. Thirty-odd chapters of Ancient Greek and Trojan kings rallying together to defeat their greater foe: the lords of Olympus.

If I’m honest, it has some problems, but there’s a body of work now, where once there was only the neurons in my brain keeping the idea in existence. It needs some rejigging, a little more agency for secondary characters, and an ending (I got to 50,000 words, I didn’t say I finished it), but I was pleased with it. There’s some great scenes, some neat concepts, and events that transpire as they do in the wider Greek tragedies, stoking themes of predestination and self-determination. I like it. And one day, I’ll go back to it and fix it up.

But not in November – no sir! In November I have something very different in mind.

End of the world as we know it

This year’s attempt will be a post-cataclysmic tale of survival. A woman finds herself trapped on the upper floors of a Piccadilly Circus building by a toxic mist that has come to rest over the streets of London. When escape becomes an impossible feat, she must turn to her copy of An Island To Oneself, a survivalist’s story of life on a desert island – only she’s on the rooftops, so scavenging for coconuts is out of the question.

The thrust of the story is the protagonist’s happy adoption of this new life, devoid of all the exhausting emotional trauma modern civilisation inflicts upon us. She builds a network of bridges between the rooftops, grows plants in a self-made greenhouse, collects rain water in office recycling bins, and sleeps in the empty luxury flats, devoid of utilities.

Now, my usual writing process is to just blurt out an idea and see where it takes me, something the writing community calls a “pantser” – ie, one who writes by the seat of their pants. So, spending more than a week on planning is an interesting experiment for me. We shall see if it reaps rewards.

In the meantime, please don’t take offence if I’m a little unresponsive for the next four weeks.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Good luck to everyone else participating! May your creative juices flow like the saliva of a dog in a butcher’s shop.


Featured photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk on Unsplash

Disintegration – Richard Thomas [Book Review]

I came across Richard Thomas through his column on Lit Reactor. The strength of his writing advice and his authoritative tone persuaded me to have a nose at his published works. Fortunately, Thomas ends his articles with a link to one of his many stories – yup, that’s called marketing, folks. And sometimes it works.disintegration_rt

But I have to admit, when I started reading Disintegration, I thought it was a parody. It read like Raymond Chandler had woken up in the 80s, boshed an ounce of coke and angrily smashed out this thriller while punching himself in the face. It was so stylised, it felt like a fan fiction story pumped full of steroids.

The basic premise involves an alcoholic depressive who comes under the employ of a mysterious Russian gangster, Vlad, who instructs our narrator to murder his enemies. Of course, our man wasn’t always a tattooed thug (he gets a new tat every time he kills, natch). No, he used to be a cop, with a family, but grief pickled in booze left him soulless and alone, except for his pet cat.

Continue reading Disintegration – Richard Thomas [Book Review]

How The Walking Dead finally lost me

This analysis contains spoilers!

When a friend first introduced me to The Walking Dead, I was hooked from the first episode – nay, the first five minutes. Its abrupt 28 Days Later-style beginning leant mystery to the zombie apocalypse ordeal, as gun-slinging cop Rick sought to fill in the gaps of how the world turned to shit, and find his family.

There’s a tremendous amount of agency and conflict in the early seasons, fuelled by human drama and complicated relationships. The awkward love triangle between Rick, his grieving wife Lori and his best friend and romantic usurper, Shane – the head-scratching hick – carried the show for the first two years.

That glorious first season gave our intrepid survivors something to do, besides staying alive; namely, seek out possibilities of a cure, or find a military base to hole up in. But when those elements were dropped with the destruction of the research bunker, events began to lose their pace and urgency.

Continue reading How The Walking Dead finally lost me