The Beauty of “What happens next?”

Back in junior school, I remember having a student teacher for a few weeks. She would occasionally take lessons for our class, and one in particular sticks out.

She read part of the opening of The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis, one of the Narnia books. It starts with two children running away, and leads up to them standing at the top of a cliff. There’s a struggle on the cliff edge, and one of the children loses his balance and goes “hurtling to the depths.”

The exercise was to write what happens next in the story.

Of course, being ten-year-old kids, we came up with a wild variety of answers, and none of them were particularly close to the original story. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that we’d taken the story and continued it in our own way.

I’ve never forgotten that exercise, or the sense of excitement that it brought. That suited the way my mind works – I love to take a part-story and spin my own version of the rest of it. Ask me to think of an original story, and I stare blankly. Tell me an opening and ask me to continue it, and I’ll keep going all day on different versions.

I guess that’s why, although I’m complaining loudly that the TV series Lucifer has taken a two-week break, I’m also excited: that extra time gives my imagination time to try to figure out what will happen next.

We had a previous break of the same size, and in that break I took the spoilers and synopsis of the next episode and wrote my own version of it. I’m seriously considering doing the same thing again. On top of the creativity and the fun, it’s really fascinating to take a situation and try to carry it forward, and then see how the professional writers do it. I learned a lot from trying to do the same job they do, and from comparing how I would imagine it on screen to how I need to write it on story version.

One of the beauties of Lucifer is that it is very much character-driven, with the case story filling a character need, which means it suits the way I write. Compare Lucifer with something like Castle, where there is an on-going character arc, but the case is the main arc in each episode. In Lucifer, the case always ties into the current state of the characters.

So I’ll get through the next 20 or so days the best I can, and hope that my imagination and creativity will make the time pass faster. And I’ll continue to play the game of “what happens next?” in my writing.

And as long as I’m actively writing, it makes it so much easier to take on board everything I’m studying about the craft of writing, and to work on my skill.

 

 

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That time of year again…

It’s October. Nearly halfway through, in fact. And I know from experience that I write better in November if I’ve planned thoroughly beforehand.

So, am I doing Nano this year?

I’m currently without my laptop, as it’s been away for repair for over three weeks. The good news is that they’ve said that as it’s taken so long I’m entitled to a new one instead, so I’m waiting for a voucher to spend to get a new laptop. It would be incredibly difficult to complete nano without a laptop to sit with in the evenings and to take to meetups.

But once I get my new one, there’s that excuse removed.

So what are the pros and cons?

Pros:

Every time I do nano, the end product is a little cleaner than the previous year’s work. My writing improves under the consistent practice. I remember, again, how much I enjoy writing. I have a real sense of achievement. I enjoy joining in with other writers, comparing word count, creating worlds, completely losing myself in the process. I end up with a novel that’s ready for editing and polishing.

Cons:

I already have several novels at different stages of completion and they need focus in order to get finished. (But nano helps to build up a momentum and enthusiasm). I don’t have the time (but I have plenty of time for playing solitaire, or reading books). It’s hard work.

So is that it? Am I just work-shy? Or am I afraid to succeed?

I guess I’ll be spending the next week or so deciding on a project (there are one or two contenders, and I’m sure I can come up with something I want to spend a month on). And then I’ll be planning to spend my spare time in November putting that world into words.

After all, it’s only for a month, right?

 

Babies project takes a step forward

I’ve been playing around with a specific project for several years. I’ve done two very different complete drafts for nanowrimo, a few years apart, and I keep coming back to it. I have a whole document full of news links that are relevant to my novel, and every time my interest dwindles another news story comes up.

This project is along the lines of The Handmaid’s Tale – taking all sorts of stories and projecting the sort of world they are leading to. It started along the lines of thinking about Babies R Us, and imagining it as a kind of pet store but for babies – go along and choose your baby. Then it developed away from that. But it always suffered from lack of direction, and that was reflected in – and was caused by – the lack of a proper title.

So for years it was “that thing about the babies”, or just “babies”. But without that focus, the project floundered.

Then recently it came to me. I know what the title is, or at least one or two variations on what I want, and with that title comes the whole theme and purpose of the novel.

Ladies and gentlemen I present: A Perfect Childhood.

The novel seeks to explore the idea of state as parent, and how eliminating the variation in parenting quality, and providing a consistent, expert parent in the state, would theoretically solve the attainment gap and ensure that every single child would have the same opportunities in life.

Of course, being a novel, things don’t go quite according to plan…

So now I have a title and a focus, I really need to get on with a new draft. Although there’s still Abandoned to work on for writing group, and Life Lessons, my romance, is nagging at me. And Gods V Heroes will need another draft at some point soon…

If only I could get Dropbox working again on my laptop, I could get on with all of these. Otherwise I face the prospect of either carrying a memory stick around and running several different versions, or having to retire to the study rather than sit with my feet up in front of the TV while writing.

 

Annie’s Escapades

dsc_0385I have a new project! You can follow my progress on https://www.facebook.com/Anniehasfun/. Here I wanted to explain the thinking behind it.

I’ve already spoken about some of the voices inside my head, how there’s Annie, my inner child, Betty, the nagging parent, and Charlie, who’s basically psycho. Well, I’m fed up with hearing Betty’s voice, and Charlie worries me, so I thought it was about time I really listened to Annie. My intention is to use her as my focus for getting out, having fun and being creative. Christmas presents worked together to help out, and I’m looking forward to seeing just what Annie and I are going to get up to together.

For those who are interested, Annie is a Lottie doll. I fell in love with these when I first saw them. Her dog is Biscuit, and will join her on outside activities. Her cat is Pandora, and will keep her company on inside activities.

 

The agony of creation

It’s nanowrimo tomorrow. While I try to keep my writing up through the year, it can be a struggle at times. I’ve been working on my 2014 nano project, Gods V Heroes, and lately some work on my 2015 novel, Abandoned, has also crept in. But at this point of the year I start considering a new project, and that reminds me of the excitement of writing, as opposed to editing/rewriting.

As a result, my enthusiasm has reawakened, not just for the new project, but for all my older projects – yes, even the babies one that has yet to receive a title.

Please remind me of this – it’s so stupid that I let this excitement die away during the rest of the year. It’s really a case that if I open my mind to the ideas, they’ll flood me out, and if I don’t start picking up on them and getting going, then they’ll create a logjam and nothing will get done.

game-of-life-2My new project is entitled Game of Life, and I even have a proper cover design for it. The first part has existed in my head for a long time, and I’m excited to be able to put it into proper words. The second part is nowhere near as clear, but hopefully it will emerge from the shadows as the first part is pinned down.

 

It’s that time of year

The middle of October. A big time for writers. The time when thoughts turn to nanowrimo, and to planning for the current year’s project.

I’ve got an idea I’ve been saving up for this. I’ve just been putting some thought into the structure, and in starting to build up the scrivener project ready for writing.

The problem I find is that writing is like turning on a tap. As long as the tap is off, ideas can come and go and I don’t take much notice. But as soon as I start working on one idea, the rest start to flow as well, and I just start getting flooded out with too many ideas and not enough time to work on them.

I think I need to work on taming that flow, on getting to a steady stream I can work with. This has to entail regular writing sessions. Sometimes when running, I remind myself to relax and enjoy the run, and I feel my stride loosening and my speed increasing with the enjoyment. That’s what I need to achieve with my writing, as well. To reach that point where I relax into the page and enjoy telling the story.

So the plan is to work on the Game of Life, which explores a whole philosophy around gods and worlds and beliefs and destiny. But the romance is also rearing its head.

Meantime, Gods V Heroes and Abandoned are both somewhere in the editing process.

AARRGGHH!

 

It’s been a while

I’ve decided that I can spend my time and energy either talking about writing or actually writing, so for the past few weeks I’ve been concentrating on actually writing. Nanowrimo complete, I set Abandoned to rest. It was the first time I’ve written a complete draft of a story and been reasonably happy with it, but I haven’t yet gone back to it, so I might be in for a nasty shock when I do.

Since then, I tried starting another first draft, of a romance this time, but Gods V Heroes called to me too loudly, so I’ve returned to that. It seems to be a novel of 3rds – it’s in three parts, and the first part was done, the second part needed work and the third part was a mess. Now I’ve worked my way through to the third part, and the first third of that is okay, the second third needs work and the third part is a mess… So it feels like I get closer and closer to complete, but never actually getting there.

The third part is now thoroughly mapped out, so it’s just a question of putting in the time to get it written. Another draft will be needed, but the more I write, the cleaner my writing becomes, so it won’t always be this tough. In the meantime, the news stories I collect relating to my Babies novel suggests that by the time I finish that, it might well be fiction rather than speculative fiction. The romance is on hold for now, but has the bare structure ready, and another fantasy is brewing in the background.

What I’m trying to avoid is going so slowly on GvH that everything else jams up behind, so that I lose enthusiasm and focus and can’t decide what to work on.

And now I’ve discovered a TV series called Forever, which is just calling out for fanfiction…

The attraction of fanfiction is that it’s instant gratification. The characters and settings already exist, there’s a ready-made audience for the stories, and they tend to be rattled out and published very quickly, often in instalments rather than a finished product. Very different from the laborious process of writing a novel.

So I hereby grant myself permission to explore Forever via fanfiction, but promise that I will also persevere with Gods V Heroes, at a pace that will allow myself to make real progress.

 

 

Dealing with violence, pony style

I’ve mentioned before that my eldest son is a Brony, a My Little Pony fan. As a result of this, I’ve been made to sit and watch all the episodes. Well, I say made, but actually I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them.

One thought that occurs to me as I think of the latest news: there have been a few episodes where our heroes – or their town – or the whole world – is threatened. Our heroes have to come to the rescue. And how do they win over? Generally, by defeating the villain with love and friendship – because, after all, friendship is magic.

No matter what they villains have done, they are met with love, understanding and the hand of friendship. They learn that there is another way. It’s not always smooth sailing, and there’s a lot to learn, but it’s a solid answer.

Instead of bombing those who offer us violence, can’t we just make the whole world sit down and watch My Little Pony episodes?

 

New rules

I’m working to new rules. Instead of plugging away at my novel and getting frustrated by other projects that beckon, and then avoiding my novel and getting frustrated at the slow progress, I’ve decided to focus on quantity rather than quality. That nano message is taking a long time to sink in, but I reckon that if I focus on refining ideas and building them up, instead of working linearly with narrow focus, then by the time I’ve drafted out a few complete ideas I’ll have a lot more idea what I’m doing, more stamina for longer projects and a good base on which to build.

So I’ve currently got Gods V Heroes on the go and nearly at a complete draft, there’s my new nano novel coming up, there’s the romance, there’s a couple more fantasies in the pipeline and there’s always babies which is still simmering nicely and waiting for my attention. Not to mention a couple of non-fiction projects that are on the go. With that selection, there should be something I feel like working on at any opportunity.

Let’s see how many complete novel drafts I can create by the end of the year, shall we?

 

Rhyming with Rupert

When I was in what would now be called year 3, the first year of junior school, I was around seven years old. Our teacher loved Rupert Bear, and one activity we would enjoy was to read the Rupert the Bear annuals together as a class. The teacher would read the rhyming couplets, all but the last word, and we would have to guess the last word.

“The wood is risky, Rupert knows,/And so another way he …”

“…goes.”

“Just look what I have,” Rupert cries,/And Mr Bear turns in…”

“…surprise.”

I always used to enjoy these, and it was surprisingly easy to guess the right word. Usually it seemed that looking at the pictures and listening to the rhyme made it obvious what the word must be.

Then as my understanding grew, I realised that while the second word in the rhyme was obvious, it was only because of the choice made for the first line; that it was the writer’s skill in choosing both words together. This was well after the time I used the word “Caravans” in my own poetry, then desperately rhymed it with “Lumberans” – the name of an act in the circus! (“They lumber and lumber round the ring, and they’re as funny as anything”).

The type of plot I like best in a story is one where the outcome is tied in neatly with the rest of it. There’s a fantasy book that I read years ago, where a group went on a journey and had various adventures, and the lessons they learned helped them in their final task – in fact, that’s similar to what I’m doing in my novel, or at least what I’m trying to work out.

Sometimes it can happen naturally. In one of my Bones fanfiction stories, “The boy at the building site” (written eight years ago!), the opening scene has Bones fighting with an unknown assailant, who turns out to be her work and romantic partner, Booth, but I realised as I finished the scene that this would be how she faces off the bad guy at the end, because it just felt right.

Now I’m faced with trying to do this deliberately. To design my storyline so carefully that the end becomes a fulfilment of the rest of it. So that the pieces of the puzzle all come together and the journey becomes obvious. I’m really beginning to understand that the more effort that goes into the writing, the easier the end result flows. That is something is easy to read it’s because the writer has really taken care and thought things out.

Kind of like the more training and preparation you do, the easier the marathon will be.