Archive for the writing Category

Writing: Fear of the Second Novel

Posted in General, opinion, Personal Development, writing with tags on March 2, 2013 by Jim St Ruth

So I like to write. I’ve written one book, Darkness Fell and the Demon’s Sceptre. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve even managed to sell to a few people that I don’t know and had my first royalty cheque (£10.71 doesn’t sound like much, but believe me it’s a huge confidence booster)… but the tales of other authors abound. The fear of the second novel looms and, if I’m honest, for a long while I was trapped by it.

Many people say that the second novel is the hardest. Why wouldn’t it be? You’ve invested a huge amount of your time and emotional energy in completing your first big story… When you finish you feel tired. Big Nap Tired. Several days are spent napping and dreaming of the future. You’ve published your first work on Amazon, iTunes or used Smashwords to handle the whole caboodle. You’re trying to plan your marketing strategy and, if like me, you’ve only the internet to guide you. You’re feeling positive. You’re on a high… and at the back of your mind you’re yearning to get started on your next writing project; another novel that you either just want to get out there or dream that it could one day top the best-seller lists on every marketplace you could ever dream of… but wait. You’ve got some ideas. You’re full of energy. Where do you begin with your next project?

This is a tale of caution, dear reader. I’m sure that it’s one that anyone who has written over a hundred thousand words of anything can relate to. This is not a tale of fear…. it’s one that, I hope, can be of aid to others and, if not, what the hell is the point? I say that with a distinct LOL, but the point is serious.

A brief, I promise you, background. I suffer from mild schizophrenia. I hear voices. I hate crowds, though I love the people in them. I shop at quiet times and hope to high heaven that the gym is quiet when I go there in the mornings. I would never harm another person. My mental state is frightening to me but, to my psychiatrist, I’m very able, not matter how or why or when or where I try to reason the details of the mental state that I’m in. When I last saw him – they’re on a six month rotation, so always new but he put it more clear than most – he looked at my Amazon web page for Darkness Fell, read the reviews and said I’d achieved quite a lot for someone with ‘my condition’. He offered to host a free version in the hospital’s library, citing reasons of encouragement to people that were struggling with similar conditions. I honestly thought ‘F*** me’ and decided it was a good idea… but the reasons behind his comment really struck home. I’d written a novel. I’d succeeded in ignoring my voices and trying to reason away their terror to achieve something that I’d always wanted to achieve.

I came home and thought. A lot. I dreamt. I enthused. I sat and thought about my next work… and almost eight moths later I was still struggling with what to do, and more importantly how to do it.

If you’re a writer, you’re aware of the power of nuance. You know that you have an idea but there are seemingly infinite ways to describe and actually write those ideas down and turn them into gripping works that will enthral even, at the least, just a single reader. You want others to be captivated. To read. To buy. To rave. To… simply just enjoy.

This is where we return to my point… you’ve done that first book and, no matter what your state of mind, I think this is highly cromulent… for, riding on that high of self-publishing, you want to continue… and that’s where the cautionary aspect of my tale kicks in.

I had lots of ideas for my second book. I story-boarded. I mind mapped. I filled countless pages of A3 paper with ideas and tried to whittle them down into something useable. There was nothing wrong with that approach. I got a lot from it… what did it was that I was so eager to continue on my high that I jumped in and started writing.

That might work for you… It didn’t for me. I wrote my starting chapter all full of energy and convinced that what I was doing was right… then I rewrote it. And rewrote it…. and rewrote it again. As of January 2013 I’d been through six months worth of re-writes, headaches, too-long napping filled with stress and worry that I wasn’t good enough to do anything else. I was always meant to improve as a writer, yet now I was stuck. Nothing I did felt right. It wasn’t good enough for me… How would it ever turn into something that I could publish, be happy with and say ‘Yes! I did that!”

My views on achievement are simple: I’m now thirty-seven, but I’m still alive. That might be a tad negative for some, but I find it’s a very soothing measure of gain; my worries pale into insignificance compared to some, but if you’re still here then that’s a biggun. You should feel proud. Life has its ups and downs and if you make it to whatever age you’re at… you’re a winner. Plain and simple.

So I went back to the drawing board. I tried to focus on what I was achieving… and went back again,

then,as if my magic, my partner Paul said a few and, frequently I kick myself for not listening to him, wise words: your first chapter has to achieve three things. You have to grab the reader (duh!). You have to establish sympathy for your main character (OK, I thought, Professor Edward Grimly-Knight is X Y and Z) and you have to demonstrate your premise… the evolving, as you initially approach it, formulae of X does Y to do/overcome Z… and it hit home. Then, just as Paul was uttering the words ‘and always you should signpost the rest of the book’ the thought hit me… Bam! Like a Spice Weasel.

Your inciting incident is always important. It does all of the above and leads into everything that follows… yet I realised the crucial point. In Darkness Fell I’d actually started at what is now Chapter Four – the first point at which my imagination as a writer had first been gripped. I loved the scene where Darkness had examined the threat posed to her. I’d written it enthused with her character… and why the hell shouldn’t I approach my second book in the same way?

In my enthusiasm to repeat my meagre success I had launched into what I love: writing… but I had missed that vital energy. That one scene that somehow highlighted everything that I wanted to achieve… and it’s so I present to you the similarly meagre words that might help focus your mind and help prevent you from falling into the Second Novel Trap.

  • What is your your premise?
  • How do you grab you’re reader’s attention?
  • How do you instil, in you’re reader’s mind, sympathy for your main character/s?
  • How do you sign post the other events in your story?

The answer, for me, was to produce a very long treatment. A treatment should normally be concise and be only three or four pages long… That isn’t what I’m doing. What matters is that you consider what is right for you. You might start at page one. You might start at page eighty-six. You might just stick some much-valued posts in the sand and say that those key points are what your story will hinge around.

What matters is that you take a step back and consider what really energises you… for therein lies the secret. You’ll not only not be held back by pre-conceived ideas or the details of your own expectation… you’ll remain free. Freedom is the ultimate weapon of the writer. By all means, and ultimately it’s a must, you should bare in mind your target audience… but damn it, write and plan and theorise what ever gets you going. Don’t be held back by the pressure of trying to repeat what you’ve done. Every work you do, no matter how small, is worth every one of the thousands of words you produce.

Just take a step back. Consider the points above. Think about the mood of your work and revel in it… for when your imagination gets going, no matter how that might be… you’ve got it.

Just don’t be limited by what you perceive or remember as what has come before. You’re fluid and your work is. Believe in yourself and don’t give up…

Your imagination is worth it.

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Darkness Fell and the Demon’s Sceptre: ebook released!

Posted in Design, Fantasy, General, Pictures, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2012 by Jim St Ruth

My book “Darkness Fell and the Demon’s Sceptre”  has been released! It’s currently listed on Amazon and Smashwords for various formats, with other marketplaces coming soon… Please check out my Darkness Fell blog for news and links!

Writing A Plot Synopsis – And Learning To Like It

Posted in Stories, writing on June 29, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

Here’s a great way to write a synopsis for your novel without it becoming a nightmare. You can face this piece of work and it can be fun to do. Your synopsis is not just a summary of your plot, it’s also designed to make an editor read your sample chapters and want to see the rest of it. You’re selling your book with your synopsis, just remember that it’s not what’s going on the back of your book’s cover. This will help you produce a synopsis that sticks to the point, without draining the life out of your story.

Thanks to Paul for all his help with this – this is really his idea.

  1. Complete the following sentance for your novel.
    • [Protagonists] stop [antagonists] from [doing bad stuff] by [doing clever stuff].
    • You might not use this in your synopsis, but it will keep you focused on the type of story you’ve written.
  2. “I loved the bit in this book where ______”
    • Make a list of the events in the plot that people talking at the water cooler will talk about once they’ve read your book.
  3. “I loved this book because I like books where_______”
    1. With ______ in them.
    2. Set in _______.
    3. Which talk about ______.
    4. That make me feel _____.
    5. This is about the themes, issues, feelings, settings, etc – anything great that would interest someone – particularly an editor.
  4. Combine #2 and #3 in sentances in narrative order. This gives you a view of your story and, with some tightening up, you now have your synopsis!

I liked this idea because my first pass at a synopsis was six pages. Way too much. This method kept me focused and caught up in the task, fired up about my story and, importantly, it was really good fun to do. Writing should be something you want to do and without the above method I’d be tearing my hair out.

(Yes I realise my head’s shaved. I didn’t mean it literally.)

The Weakening Plan, or, How to Make Sure You’re Being Nasty to Your Characters

Posted in writing on May 24, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

When I started writing, I had some great ideas and some great characters. Characters I likedm whether they were good or bad. The trouble was that I just didn’t want to do anything bad to them. No trouble, no nasty accidents. I had my characters run at the first sign of trouble. Given that drama is when bad things happen to people we like, you can see my problem.

One of Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing a short story (from his book ‘Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction’), is:

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

That’s a great idea put really well. Characters need adversity to stand up against, monsters to fight, difficult choices and dilemmas to face. People have different ideas on how to plan this in their work, but here’s one idea that really helped me out. I use it mainly for sci-fi or adventure stories and I’ve found it’s a great way for me to get into planning and critically examining what I put my characters through.

The weakening plan.

When I was first introduced to the concept, it was presented to me in a way that I could really get to grips with and use from the outset – videogame stats. In a game like Final Fantasy, each character has a set of attributes that can be changed through battles, challenges, new weapons, accessories and story pieces. I’d written a novel and editing it was made a whole lot easier with this tool.

The idea was to look at each chapter and, for each of my two main characters, set out their health points, skill points, weapon points and ally points, starting at 100 points (because my characters were basically in a good state at the start). Every time something happened, someone got injured, lost a gun, couldn’t use magic, or when an ally got killed, the associated points drop.

It forced me to think of how each action, revelation, fight and ally were truly important to my main characters and the story by deciding how many points they were worth, and it forced some tough choices too. Each category is only out of one hundred and it can’t go below zero.

Sometimes the points go up (with a healing potion, for example) but mostly they go down.

By the nadir (an extreme state of adversity, the lowest point of anything – which should come right before the climax) the points should be low. Not necessarily in all the categories and, if you ever use this system yourself, you might want to make your own up. It’s a good way to see on paper or screen how the danger or crisis becomes such a big thing for your characters. It’s also a good way to look at your highpoints and low points, and to come across plot holes.

Broadly, I treated weapons as anything that the characters physically use to beat adversity: so, a gun, a vial filled with a deadly virus, or a book filled with spells. Skills I treated as actions: so, the spells themselves, top spying skills, talking, or an ability to fly.

Here’s a jpeg of an analysis I did for the film The Mummy and it shows how much of danger the Rick and Evie are in is highlight by the loss of their allies, and how very little relies on their weapons, health or ability to fight. The image also shows an addition to this method, simply tracking how I felt about the character’s prospects. It’s a simplified approach, but one that shows the ups and downs of the drama, and I think it identifies the trouble spots, a moment of hope and the magnitude of these events pretty well.

… As for plot holes, here are a couple. Rick completely loses his bag of weapons before suddenly having it in his possession. Evie loses her books and research material when the boat is attacked by the Medjay, but later at the hotel in Fort Brydon, Evie and Rick are packing and unpacking several books and a type writer that belong to her. I hadn’t noticed these before, and they didn’t spoil the film for me at all… but sometimes readers and viewers can spot things more easily than the writer. Although I didn’t change my points for these plot holes (because it’s difficult to account for them), I would never have noticed them otherwise. It was really useful to me when I thought my book was water tight.

I hope you find the tool useful, or that it gives you some ideas to develop your own.

Weaking Plan - Analysis of 'The Mummy'

Weaking Plan - Analysis of 'The Mummy'

Closure

Posted in Stories, writing on May 16, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

The future, moments before the Earth is sealed inside an all-encompassing planetary shield.

Elliot brings his dying sister, Kayla, to meet his childhood friend, Shaw. Shaw is the son of one of the reclusive ruling Elite, and hides a secret that has been kept from the Surfaces of the Metropolis… but why is Elliot manipulating his old friend into revealing that secret, when he already knows the truth?

closureImage

Closure - Download the PDF below

Closure-JimStRuth2010

Characterisation – The Dinkley

Posted in writing on May 9, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

I recently had a conversation with my partner about Scooby Doo, and it snowballed into a discussion about what characters help make good drama, either on paper or on screen. The discussion started because we’re both fans of Scooby Doo, but there have been several series where it’s either been just Shaggy and Scooby or <shudders> Scrappy Doo too. These series have never gone on for too long and, despite repeatedly trying to get a good formula for a Shaggy and Scooby-only show, the studios have always reverted to series based on the whole Scooby gang.

Why? … and is this reason true of drama in general?

This is where the concept of the Dinkley comes in. Velma Dinkly, chirpy and geeky, friendly and loyal, we suggested, was actually at the heart of Scooby’s success. The other characters are great, and Scooby and Shaggy are firm favourites and important parts of the show, but it’s actually Velma that makes the show work.

She’s preemintently competent and is always better at something important than any other character in the show. She’s courageous and personally very loyal. Velma’s understated though. She won’t make a point of being the smartest and, though she can be attractive, she never gets what she wants by playing on her brains or looks. It’s her brains and heart that are important though.

Looking at drama in a wider sense, it’s easy to see who the Dinkley is in other series. Scully from the X Files, Sam Carter from Star Gate, Willow from Buffy – it’s easy to find a Dinkley. The character is usually female, but not always. How the other characters relate to the Dinkley often helps to drive the drama, providing a focal point for revelations and discoveries, providing that crucial piece of evidence or information that only they can get. They’ll always do what’s right, we’re screwed when they can’t do their job (and so the drama ramps up)  … and when the Dinkley is injured the other characters rally round, and someone will have hell to pay.

So, remember the Dinkley. Quite often our stories would be nothing without them.

A new blog … and some strange readings

Posted in General, Stories, writing on May 3, 2010 by Jim St Ruth

Hey, and welcome to my blog.

I’m a writer based in Manchester, UK. I’ve been writing for several years, and this blog is a new home for some of my work, images and maybe more. So, to kick things off, here’s a short story, ‘Strange Readings’ … and a title image to go with it!

It’s in PDF format, so you’ll need something like Adobe Acrobat to read it. I hope you enjoy it – tell me what you think and leave a comment! Thanks for reading!

strangeReadingsGraphic

Strange Readings Title Image ... PDF below

StrangeReadings-JimStRuth2010