Category: Blogs

Today’s tips

I don’t consider myself skilled enough yet to give the impression I actually know what I’m talking about with this writing lark. Ten years ago I had the enjoyable experience of having a new house built and working with an architect to design our dream home. Even before we moved in we saw things we’d have wanted to do differently. When I was talking to a neighbour about this I was told ‘aah, you have build three houses before you get it right.’ And so I think it might be this way with writing.

I’m halfway through my third novel and am beginning to get the feeling that I have a better idea that I’m in some kind of control, but that’s only because (a) I’ve written a lot of words over the past five years and (b) I’ve read quite a lot on the craft of writing. One of the best guides I’ve read is James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good NovelIn fact, I read his How to Write a Damn Good Mystery first because that’s what I was trying to do at the time, but he covers more of the fundamentals in the former and he’s such a good writer it was no heavy labour to read the two.

A few days ago I signed up to Jane Friedman’s newsletter which led me to her excellent video on audience development for writers. Check it out – I wish I had the staying power to follow it through.

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The joy (?) of being an author

I’ve had my head down for weeks, so apart from five hours a day wasting time on my newly discovered Twitter (@charliegarratt3), I’ve been redrafting the novel, working title: Let Venom Breed. Back at the end of June I was in the mire, still 20k words short of target and lost down narrative arc alley. I’ve added about 16k words since then and am close to finishing the first draft. Five months ago I’d only reached 40k words and only had my last few scenes to write. Consequently, my first full draft will actually incorporate a substantial redraft – if that makes sense.

I’m in a good place mentally with my writing and I’d say, without receiving sponsorship, or anything, I don’t think I’d have arrived at this point without Scrivener. I referred to it in an earlier post where I’d just started using a trial version of the program and was still unsure. I used the trial and was so happy with it I bought the full version. I also plugged in to a free online workshop from Learn Scrivener Fast which gave me a few more helpful tips (although they have chased me a bit to buy other products – but I guess they’re in business so it’s fair enough). It’s an incredibly versatile piece of software and I’ve found the payback to be well worth the time I had to put in to learn how to use it.

So, enough of the free advertising for them. Not really meant to be an ad, simply a bit of writerly advice to have a look at it. If it helps, why not?

Biggest problem with spending so much time writing is that there’s not much left for marketing of the previous novel, A Shadowed Livery. Anyone want that job?

The vagaries of tense

I tend to write in the first person and in the past tense. I’m in the process of redrafting my second novel and discovered I continually tripped over a particular passage, though couldn’t work out why. Then I made a couple of minor changes, just to see how it looked, and hey-presto, no more tripping. I then realised it had been the tense which was incorrect, not in a seriously ungrammatical way, simply in the context of the feeling I was trying to convey. There are plenty of sites, blogs and even good old books, which explain about tense so I’ll not add to that body of knowledge here – even if I could.

However, the lesson for me is that there are subtleties in deciding which tense to use which are perhaps beyond basic grammar. This was highlighted even more as I began to think about my use of the past tense in these two novels. They’re both crime mysteries featuring a detective inspector, James Given. James is clearly narrating events from some point in the future, but how far? It has occurred to me that each scene can’t be written from the standpoint of when the case is completed, otherwise, for example, James wouldn’t need to muse over the suspects or follow red herrings. He’d know who’d committed the dastardly deed but then he’d be left with no story to tell.

So I have to assume he’s looking back from no further forward than the end of the current scene, possibly even less. I write ‘assume’ because I don’t know, I simply put down the words as best they come to me but when I think about it, most crime novels written in the past tense must be the same.

Any thoughts and similar conundrums most welcome.

It’s not worth voting?

Britain is in the grip of a general election and many people are still trying to decide which way to vote. However, a large section of the potential electorate probably won’t vote at all, probably due to disaffection with the process – and the resulting representation they receive. A friend of mine re-posted a piece today calling upon women, in particular, to remember how hard their enfranchisement was won.

This took me to recall a piece of writing I’d been thinking about for a while. It was to be a fictional eye-witness account of the day when the Peterloo massacre took place. For those who don’t know about this, it took place in August 1819 when 80,000 people demonstrated on the streets of Manchester (England) asking for two things: the vote and the introduction of import controls to protect cotton workers’ jobs. The authorities unleashed cavalry on the peaceful protest and 18 people were killed with around 700 seriously injured.

My interest in this event came about many years ago when I attended school events at the Manchester Free Trade Hall which, at the time, I understood to stand on the site of the massacre. What I didn’t know then was the hall had been built to celebrate the defeat of the protesters and the maintenance of free trade.

So today I re-started my research, only to come upon an actual eye-witness account of the event at http://www.peterloomassacre.org/eyewitness.html. Having read it, I decided I couldn’t write it any better.

Anyone considering not voting in this, or any other election, should read it and think long an hard before giving up something so precious.

Social media – Good? Bad?

We’ve had an explosion of social media opportunities over recent years and as someone who pre-dates these digital connections I watch with a wary eye. I’m not a Luddite, I use the technology every day and I have done for over thirty years, so I don’t think it’s the fear of change which bothers me.

The ability to maintain connections with friends and friends of friends is, without doubt, useful. The fact that I can email or run a blog is fantastic but there are some downsides.

Sometimes, I have to admit, the common abandonment of spelling and grammatical structure causes me concern but I acknowledge that’s perhaps me being a little long in the tooth and still remembering being slapped by teachers when getting it wrong.

The biggest negative, for me, however, is the inability to express an opinion without facing the possibility of catastrophic negative responses. What people used to restrict to shouting at the TV or the newspaper is now fired off in response to a Facebook, or similar, post with, seemingly, as much venom as can be mustered.

Yesterday, a Facebook ‘friend’ posted an item with which I didn’t agree. I was about to respond then spotted the article had over 10,000 ‘likes’ and 4,768 comments so I didn’t bother. Why? Two reasons: firstly, because it seemed a waste of time adding my thoughts to this morass of opinion, anything I might have said had already been addressed 2000 times; secondly, because what had developed was a shit-storm of abuse. No rules of engagement, no manners, no structure, no mediation and, definitely, no conclusion. Something I didn’t want to get involved in.

Shame really. I understand we’ve always had the ‘Angry of Walthamstow’ banging off letters to the papers but this is just so immediate and so widespread. Differences of opinion are inevitable and are crucial in ensuring a balanced society but when this translates into people being afraid to pop their head above the parapet perhaps we all suffer in the end.