On longing

When I was small, I learned the hard way that if you’re waiting for someone or something, the way to make yourself thoroughly miserable is to keep looking out for them, focused only on their return, instead of getting on with something else.

Thirteen years ago, I wrote a Bones fanfic, A Real Vacation, that aimed to provoke that same sort of emotion – in my story, Booth is shot and in hospital, and Brennan takes on babysitting duties for the weekend, living in Booth’s apartment, discovering all sorts of things about him as she moves around the place. I was aiming to really capture that feeling of learning about someone by their belongings, while all the time desperately missing them and building them up in your head.

So this weekend when thinking about the Lucifer Season 4 finale (any of my Twitter friends will understand how hard it was for me to type it that way and not as #LuciferSeason4!), I wondered if I could do a similar sort of story with Chloe and Lucifer.

So Picking up the Pieces was born (also available on AO3, but I’ve given the FF link as the Bones fic is only on the FF site).

There’s not much actual plot in there – I take an easy option to end it. I fully admit that. But the story wasn’t about that for me. It was about manipulating emotions, and seeing how far I could push the reader – and myself.

It didn’t help that I started writing it on the weekend when Tom Ellis, the actor who plays Lucifer, got married and so the whole cast went silent and dark on social media. All this pushing the emotions had definite bleed-through for me!

So if you’ve read either story, or both, I’d be interested in what you thought. Did I make you cry? Did I evoke the feels as I was trying to? To what extent did I fulfil my aim of exploring the character through his belongings and his friends?

 

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Getting down to proper work

I haven’t done a lot of writing lately, because I’ve been focusing on developing my drawing skills. I’ve been posting sketches every day (yes, they’re most Lucifer-related!) on my backup Twitter account, @emmyWint.

But now I’m getting back to writing, and putting into action some of the lessons I’m learning from regular drawing practice.

At first, my drawings were crude, rough, quick, unfinished. Out of proportion. Trying to capture a single image.

As I progressed, I started to take more care, to find my lines were falling more accurately. I spent more time on my drawings, refining my work, checking via photos or tracing paper, trying to improve what I’d done. Now I still do some quick sketches, but they’re better drawn. And more and more often I’ll spend more time on them, polishing them up a little more, applying shading more carefully, adding a background, even adding in colour.

And that brings me back to my writing. After taking a few weeks’ break from serious writing, I find that I’m ready to tackle it again. And this time I’m more willing to focus down on each individual scene, to take the time to check my structure, and how each scene fits in, to see how each scene can be strengthened.

Yes, there are ways to improve your skills by study: reading how-to books, watching videos, analysing other work. But the only real way is to keep doing it, and to put into practice what you’re learning, and then to look back, assess your progress and do a little bit more.

And so I’m breaking down Life Lessons into scenes and chapters, and tracking the progress of each one towards the different story arcs. Where can I strengthen this scene by adding more? Which scenes are weaker? Am I developing a logical progression to each arc?

I can’t do it all at once, just sit down and write a publishable novel in one pass. I’ve done the quick scribble sketch – that’s how I completed the first draft. But now I really need to focus in on details, and spend time on each individual scene. It takes concentration, but just as you can’t start a masterpiece of a painting without preliminary sketches, and just as you can’t run a marathon without carefully training and building up your stamina, you can’t write a novel without regular writing practice and discipline. And you need to be prepared to step up to the challenge when you’re ready.

Wish me luck!

Another new year

I do seem to make a habit of blogging at this time of year, even if I don’t do it much during the year! Although having said that, I can’t find evidence of having done my usual check-in last year. What a slacker! In fact, I’ve been slacking generally on the blogging side. Time to fix that, I think.

So what’s happened over the past year? It’s been a crazy ride. I’ve mentioned Lucifer (the TV show) a few times over the past few months. That’s been the catalyst for a lot of changes over the year. It started with finding the progamme in December 2017. My obsession with it led to a productive few months of fanfiction writing, and to involvement with a group of wonderful people on Twitter. We met as we tweeted to focus attention first on renewing the TV show for a 4th season, then following the news that the network showing it cancelled, we turned our attention to saving the show, finding another home for it.

It was a roller coaster ride for five weeks, with twitter parties, TV interviews from the cast, rumours, articles… I learned who to listen to and who to ignore, and I focused on listening out for authentic news rather than reacting to scaremongering, and in the end the announcement came: Netflix bought the show for season 4 (and hopefully for subsequent seasons). Celebrations followed, and when a convention was announced, featuring cast members from the show and held in Brighton, only a couple of hours away from me, I bought my ticket within a few hours of them going on sale (which I’m very glad about, because the gold tickets were limited in number and sold out within 24 hours).

So over the past few months we’ve followed BTS (behind the scenes photos and video clips) from the filming of season 4, and speculated wildly about the content of the new season, and in a few days I’ll be on a train to Brighton to meet cast and showrunners, and some of those twitter friends.

But the show has had a deeper effect. Having watched Lucifer playing the piano, I first dragged my keyboard out, and then a few months ago had the opportunity to take on a piano. So I’ve been practising regularly, and really enjoying getting back to music. I’ve got my guitar out again, but the piano seems to be the main focus.

I did several paintings of Lucifer characters, and while I haven’t had my paints out for a while, I’m still looking for the chance to get going again. In the meantime, I’m determined to draw more regularly.

I also took the decision around this time last year to try to be more adventurous, and travel a little more. So when a friend offered the chance to join her on a cruise, I said yes. It was a taster cruise, three nights on board, plus calls in to Rotterdam and Zeebruge. It was great fun, a fantastic experience, and has really whetted my appetite for more travel.

This does, however, lead me to realising that I need to focus on building up the business! So much of what I’d like to do involves having the money to spend on things. Business dropped a little over the summer as I had to turn my focus to family concerns – we had to clear and sell an elderly relative’s property – but now I am  determined to get back to working and building up the business to a level where I have enough money for what I want to do, without spending all my time at my desk and not being able to relax and do other things too.

The running side hasn’t been as positive – I’ve still been struggling with my knee, the operation seeming to have made little or no difference – but lately (again, inspired by Lucifer, and by the cast who are active in the gym) I’ve been focusing on general fitness levels, using the resistance machines at the local gym, swimming and still of course taking part in parkrun weekly. With the new village hall hosting regular exercise classes that are also covered by my gym membership, I’ve really noticed a difference in overall fitness. It feels strange and exciting to be able to do sit-ups, squats and (easy form of) press-ups!

I’m also a regular run director for our local junior parkrun, which has proved an interesting experience. While the responsibility can feel a little heavy at times, it’s also meant getting out regularly and making new friends, and that makes up for worrying about whether an event can go ahead or not on any given weekend!

So that’s where I am right now: looking forward to the convention in a couple of weeks, determined to continue to build fitness and strength and reach a better weight, and determined to focus on the business properly. I’m still writing, although again that needs more focus, and I want to build on my current music practice and art practice.  I also want to allow myself to have more contact with other people, since working from home can be rather limiting socially.

All in all, I’d say I’ve learned a lot about myself and life over the past year, had an amazing ride, and am looking forward to seeing what this year has in store (although the fact I hesitated so much about typing that last bit suggests I’m not completely confident…!)

 

Learning from fanfic writing

Okay, I admit it. I’ve been writing too much fanfiction lately, and neglecting my novels.

But it’s not all bad news, especially for my writing.

I started by writing a couple of scenes, just conversations between characters. Then I progressed to episode-type stories, posted in chapters as I wrote them. I’m currently working on my fourth one of these. And so as I’ve progressed, I’ve learned a lot about the way I write, because these have been like mini-novels. Writing four mini-novels in as many months gives you a good chance to examine the process.

Thankfully, Lucifer provides a great structure for story writing, which seems to suit me well. And the lessons, and the practice I’m getting, all help towards my novel writing, as well as reminding me just how much I enjoy writing, especially for an audience.

So my process seems to be this:

First find an idea, the inspiration for my story. With Lucifer, it’s a combination between having a case to solve and having a lesson for the characters to learn.

Plan out the story – write notes on the scenes I need. If there’s more than one story arc – and for Lucifer, there’s generally a character arc and a crime arc – then plan the two arcs side by side and figure out how they interweave.

Figure out who’s telling each scene, and make notes on what needs to happen in it. Sometimes the POV character is easy to pick. Sometimes it requires a little more thought.

Scene notes should end up indicating the major action – what information they find out about the case, for example – and the minor action – what’s on the characters’ minds when they argue, what the subtext is, what their motivation is.

Adjust all the scenes in order and content until I’m happy with them.

Then start writing – and the bulk of the work is already done, so it’s just having fun. I’ll generally write between one and three scenes for each chapter, aiming for something between 1k and 3k words.

Reread the first draft of the chapter the next day, make sure it’s doing what I want it to do. Edit and proofread as necessary.

Then post and relax.

Next day – the next scene or three. This generally leads to a chapter posted every three days, which is what I aim for. The planning beforehand means I don’t write myself into a corner, and can foreshadow events if needed, and means that the writing itself progresses smoothly.

All this can translate into my novels, as I’ve learned that I write better when I plan thoroughly beforehand. I’m not saying there are no surprises when writing, but generally I know where the story is going and what I need to achieve at each point.

But above all, what I’ve learned is that I write best when completely absorbed in my story and the characters. I find that harder with a full length novel peopled with my characters than with shorter fanfiction with characters and settings I know well. But it’s all about building up stamina and strength, and that’s what this rapid writing practice is doing for me.

Now I just need to learn to focus my attention on my novels, pull them apart if necessary to ensure the structure is sound, and then build them up, edit thoroughly and continue the polishing process until they’re actually ready to publish.

 

The Angel of San Bernadino broke me

I’ve been watching a lot of Lucifer lately. Until now. This post is my attempt to explain to myself why that is. Please note: it contains spoilers for the current episodes. We’re currently up to season 3 episode 21, and awaiting the last three episodes of the current season and an announcement over the series’ future. If you don’t want spoilers, then don’t read – but I’ll be explaining why spoilers are the only thing keeping me going at the moment.

Okay, you’ve been warned. If you don’t watch Lucifer, let me give you enough to understand what I’m talking about. The series, based on a comic by Neil Gaiman, focuses on Lucifer Morningstar, the devil himself, who has quit Hell to live in Los Angeles, the City of Angels. There, he runs a nightclub called Lux, and lives a life of sex, drugs and rock N roll, until a friend of his is murdered, and he meets Chloe Decker, a police detective. Chloe, unlike other women, isn’t susceptible to his charms, and this piques his curiosity. From that moment on, Chloe solves crimes while Lucifer tags along helping her while trying to figure her out. The relationship between the two of them is a big driver of the show, and the pair of them getting together properly is considered by most as endgame for the entire series.

The show is funny, with a serious undertone, and very entertaining. It’s very strongly character-driven, far more than any other show I’ve watched, and I’ve never been sucked into a show so strongly before – and believe me, when I go for a show, I always fall hard. I found it just before Christmas, which I always find a difficult time of year, and it’s been absorbing me ever since. I’ve rediscovered my creativity and zest for life through the show – and then we hit the current arc.

So we’ve had two seasons of this, and now we’re in the climax area of season 3. The focus of the story at the moment is a love triangle between Chloe, Lucifer and the new police lieutenant, Pierce. Except it’s not that much of a love triangle. Lucifer is convinced Chloe’s feelings for him are one of his father’s manipulations, and so is trying to keep away and not take advantage of Chloe. Pierce is manipulating Chloe into loving him in order to break a curse on him.

The show has been a bit stop-and-start over the past few months, and we recently had a two-week break around Easter, meaning episode 20 – The Angel of San Bernadino – involved a three week wait. This was one of the final five episodes, which we’ve been told are the best of the show so far, and one that Tom Ellis has said was his favourite to film to date. So the build-up to the episode itself was intense.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think TAOSB was a fantastic episode. It was strongly written and the acting was incredible. But I also hated it. Ten days later, it’s the first episode I haven’t rewatched. I’ve looked at some scenes again, sure, but not the whole thing. It also broke me. Up until then, I’d been fanatical about avoiding spoilers – as the episode is aired in Canada on Sunday night, and the US on Monday night, while we in the UK don’t get it until Tuesday morning, finding spoilers is all too easy. But from this point on, I’m not watching any more episodes without knowing beforehand what will happen.

So why did this episode have such an effect on me?

In the episode, we see Lucifer descending almost to the point of mental breakdown, while Chloe stands back and does nothing about his pain. She even hears him tell her the truth about Pierce, but she refuses to listen and take him or his pain seriously. That’s incredibly hard to watch, considering she’s the love of his life. And then to discover that his pain is being deliberately caused by the person who was once his truest supporter – that was even harder.

The end result was to leave me completely emotionally drained, and feeling furious with Chloe for the way she treated Lucifer. I don’t know what I was expecting from the episode, but I certainly wasn’t expecting that much darkness, and to hit it out of the blue, after anticipating the episode so eagerly for all that time, was too much.

The closest episode to compare it with is Monster, episode 2:6. In that episode, Lucifer is consumed with guilt, because he’s just been forced to kill his brother. He hurtles from wild partying to attempting death by sniper, because he finds the pain too hard to deal with. But in that episode, the pain he’s suffering is understandable, and his friends – Linda, his therapist, and Chloe – are trying to support and help him, and trying to encourage him to talk it out. In the end, that’s exactly what he does do, as he comes to a quiet understanding of what he’s been through.  In TAOSB, the pain is inflicted by someone who should be his friend, and made worse by the woman he loves, who pushes him away and ignores his desperation. And there’s no final relief, just the promise of more pain to come in the next episode, both for Lucifer and for Chloe.

And in the next episode (for which I devoured all the spoilers I could find and still took several hours to pluck up the courage to watch), there is indeed more pain, even though at this point Lucifer himself is mishandling things and making things worse rather than having someone else torture him. And with three episodes left, no promise at this stage that there will be another series, and the threat of one of the main team not surviving this season, I find myself unable to deal with the prospect of watching without being forewarned.

Maybe one day when this storyline has played out completely, I’ll return to these episodes and watch them in context, and enjoy them properly. But at the moment, it’s just too hard to take. Maybe I’m just a wimp. I’m overreacting, I know. But when you’ve invested so much emotional energy in a set of characters, it’s hard to watch as their lives fall apart, and not know how everything will turn out.

Something to bear in mind for writing, perhaps. I struggled to read the Poldark books, because they were such an emotional roller coaster, and I found that TV series hard to watch as well. But of course the beauty of writing is that there’s always fan fiction, where if you don’t like the way a story goes then you can write your own version.

Which reminds me, I’m halfway through writing my own version of the end of season 3, where I fix what I hate about the current situation and take the cop-out of a quick fix.

These episodes have powerful writing and acting, and make a great story, don’t get me wrong. It’s just rather painful to receive a chunk of it every week and not know what’s coming up until the following week. And the team death, cliffhanger finish and unconfirmed season 4 make it that much worse. I look forward to being able to look back on this time with amusement as I rewatch the episodes, knowing the end of the story, and remember that time I ended up so frantic over a TV show.

But that won’t be for a few weeks yet, sadly. So I’m reduced to using my writing as therapy, figuring out why this program and this episode in particular have such a profound effect on me, and waiting out the end of the season, when I’ll know the full storyline from season 3 and also whether the story will be continued for season 4.

 

I’m no longer sure I want to publish

I find that lately I’ve really been questioning my intentions with regard to my writing. Don’t get me wrong – I love spinning a good story, and I love sharing my work. But what am I prepared to go through for that?

There are two options: find a publisher to invest and publish traditionally, or publish your writing yourself. I know someone who’s currently going through the first option, and while I admire the energy and effort being put in to promote the book, it also terrifies me. I’m not sure I believe in myself enough and am confident enough to do that much promotion, and I suspect any publisher would expect it.

So that leaves self-publishing. And it worries me how many people will stick their work out there without any quality control, and how readers don’t seem to care in many cases. The end result is that there’s so much out there, and so much of that low quality, that it makes it very difficult to stand out. So again you’re back to spending all your time involved in self-promotion.

Where does that leave me? Not wanting to publish traditionally. Not wanting to self-publish. I’ve been publishing some fanfiction lately, which is back to my fun writing roots, and at the moment that’s where I feel most comfortable.

But fanfiction leads nowhere (unless, of course, you can come up with something like Fifty Shades of Grey, or other notorious books/series that started life as fanfiction). It is, however, a great way to practise.

The bottom line is that in order to improve my writing, I need to be moving forward, and that means actively writing and studying the writing process. I don’t have to write with an eye for publication, but feedback is useful.

Or I can focus on the editing side of the business and gain more experience that way. It’s easier to spot problems in someone else’s writing than in my own, and I know that the work I do feeds back into my own writing skills. I would also be helping to raise the standard of published work, and to develop the skills of other writers.

Have I decided to abandon the world of the writer and focus on the world of the editor? Maybe. At least, I’d say my priority is that way for now. On focusing on writing/editing skills rather than trying to complete work for publication. Maybe I’ll return to the idea of publishing further down the line, when my writing has matured further.

But for now, my writing will be considered practice. Just as a piano player needs to practise their scales regularly, and footballers will drill in particular skills, maybe I’m not quite ready to produce performance displays just yet.

 

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.

 

 

Unfaithful?

I have to confess that over the past month I’ve done minimal work on my novels. I’m currently working through two novels, in two different writing groups, submitting a chapter a month. Both novels are already in first/second draft stage, so it’s fairly straightforward to pluck the next chapter and send it in for feedback, but what I haven’t been doing is working further on them.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing.

Over the last month or so, I’ve got sucked into fanfic writing. I did a lot years ago, and dabbled again a few years ago, and having got hooked on the TV series Lucifer over Christmas, I ended up writing my own stories based around those characters. So far I’ve written over 26k words on the topic, with three shorts, one full-length episode-type story and another that I’m currently just over halfway through writing.

So is it wasted time? I had this discussion with a friend recently. What’s the point in writing? Is fanfiction wasting time that could be spent doing real writing? If you’re prepared to write stuff and publish it for people to read for free, what’s the point in trying to write for publication?

They’re valid questions, and I considered my answer carefully. In the end, I’d rather be writing than not writing, but I’m not yet disciplined enough to force myself to write if I’m not in the right mindspace. Fanfiction is immediate: it’s usually published one chapter at a time, as written. You have to deal with problems as you go along, without the leisure of a considered re-read and edit. It’s using existing, well-loved and well-known characters and settings, so you don’t need to do all the scene setting. And feedback can come in almost immediately after publication, giving an instant boost, and that makes it very addictive.

And yet it’s like eating chocolate. A little makes you feel good, but too much leaves you unsatisfied and yearning for a proper meal.

So I will be returning to my novels, and working on them, but it will be with renewed enthusiasm for writing, a greater appreciation for the art of crafting a good story, and with a lot more experience in writing both dialogue and action. One of the stories I wrote was based on an upcoming episode, so I was able to use the episode trailer and one or two hints/spoilers to craft my own version of that episode, and then see what the writers came up with, see how they tackled issues that I’d already tried to handle, and admire their skill.

I’ve learned so much from this wander into fanfiction, and not just from writing; there’s a lot of stuff out there, of varying quality, and it’s interesting to read a story that’s good but not quite there, and try to work out the problems with it. Why does it fail the publish-standard test? Why am I reading it anyway? How could it be improved?

So I do feel a little unfaithful as I abandon my original creations for fanfiction, but as I hone my skills and return with new enthusiasm, understanding better what drives me to write and what engages me in characters, I’m sure my novels will benefit from the diversion.

 

Plot or pants?

As I develop my writing, I’ve become more and more convinced of the benefit of planning a story out. A first draft without structure ends up as just that – a rambling mess. Maybe some people can write that way. Maybe as I develop further, I’ll be doing that part internally rather than externally. But right now I need to have the whole storyline laid out.

Then as I write, I add flesh to the skeleton, and that flesh might change the structure a little. That’s fine – it’s easy to adjust a plan. It’s not so easy to adjust a completely written draft.

I’ve currently become distracted from my novels into fanfiction, writing a complete episode of a TV series while waiting for the episode itself to appear after the winter olympics hiatus. For this, I developed the structure in Scrivener, with chapters and scenes. I wrote a short paragraph for what has to happen in each scene. In some cases, I discovered that other scenes were needed. In other cases, I had to go back and add to previous scenes.

Once it was all planned out, it was straightforward to build up the story. So the end result was that the start of the writing was slower than pantsing it, but once I started the writing part it went smoothly, with no nasty surprises as I write myself into a corner.

I’ve also developed an increased appreciation for show writers through this exercise. It’s incredibly difficult to write an episode with a complete story, including the character development of the regulars, a believable plot line and good balance between all, and above all keep it short and sweet.

 

Determination

Okay, it’s time I got myself into gear. Whatever I want, I’m going to have to go out and get it. No one is going to hand it to me. So by a month’s time I’m going to fit into my running clothes a little better, I’m going to be at least walking parkrun, I’m going to have completed a draft of a new novel, I’m going to be in a proper working routine, with housework fitted in, and I’m going to be using my time more effectively.

How does that sound for a promise?