Merry Christmas, Nerds!

All he wants for Christmas is tea, Earl Grey, hot.

Have a fabulous festive season, all.

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Construction of a Novel: First Draft!

Well, that took long enough. I began this particular novel-writing journey around five years ago. Yup. It’s only taken me half a decade to wring out a complete draft. Argh. I did not envision such a drastic length of time, and I certainly didn’t plan for it to take this long, but various factors contributed to it taking vastly longer than I expected.

Short stories kept tempting me with their shiny new ideas and relatively instant gratification and the lure of having things on sub. I wrote lots of them. I sold many. This is an excellent thing. But the novel was languishing.

I had ridiculous, intertwining themes and shifting ideas and at times felt like I was trying to knit a Fair Isle blanket with all different weights of yarn and needle sizes. Which, if you’re not a knitter, is a probably meaningless analogy.  But yeah. There were so many things going on and they did not cooperate easily.

And I wrote the whole thing by the seat of my pants, which is not advisable. I never had an outline. I barely knew where I was heading half the time. My characters kept getting themselves into unforeseen situations and then staring at me going ‘Okay, now what?’ as if I had some kind of insight. Pfft. I wrangled a story out of this thing, and I think it’s a workable story, and there are parts of it I’m really proud of, but gah. The most important lesson I learned from this novel is to NEVER PANTS NOVELS, EVER, JUST DON’T DO IT.

So I have a draft, and completing it was a delirious thing. And now the work of refining and polishing and figuring out how to untangle the messy parts begins, and this time I’m really looking forward to it, because it has taken me so long to get to this point. It’s rough right now, but it can only get better from here.

YES.

Reprints Ahoy!

My story, ‘The Scented Man’, which first appeared at Stupefying Stories: SHOWCASE in 2014, is now out once more at Digital Fiction! It’s once again free to read online, and it’s great to be able to show it to a new audience. If you didn’t catch it the first time around, it’s a perfect ten-minute coffee break read. It’s a bittersweet post-apocalyptic spacefaring tale, and I hope its aroma lingers in the reader’s mind after it’s done.

In other reprint news, I recently sold  ‘Pawprints in the Aeolian Dust’ again. This story originally appeared in Sci Phi Journal in 2015, and it’s one of the most personal stories I’ve written. Set on Mars, it’s a story about grief and the unique power of a human/canine relationship. It’s currently set to appear in the December issue of Deep Magic, and is my second sale to them, following ‘Her Glimmering Facade’, which appeared in August 2016.

Watch this space for updates on its publication!

Pedantics #9

Stop saying ‘but yet’, people. Just stop it.

‘But’ and ‘yet’ are synonyms. In this context, they mean exactly the same thing. Using them together is utterly redundant. If you’re doing it to sound sincere or more knowledgeable about something, it has the opposite effect. Trust me.

“I want to go to the ball,” said Cinderella, “yet I have nothing to wear.”

“I can help you,” said the fairy godmother. “But you must be home by midnight.”

The first example does not need the word ‘but’. The second does not need the word ‘yet’. See? Easy.

Now stop pairing them together.

That is all.

Construction of a Novel: Sleight of Mind

When it comes to novel writing, I’m a pantser. Or at least, I have been in recent years. This brings its own share of challenges and thrills, but one of my favourite things about it is the element of surprise. When I don’t know (or only have a vague idea) what’s going to happen next in my story, I’m frequently surprised by it. And there are times when that surprise truly astonishes me.

There’s a secondary character in my current novel who makes a few brief appearances off-screen (the protagonist never even meets him), and then sort of disappears. He plays an important role, but I wasn’t sure what happens next with him, or even if it was important. I sort of left it open-ended, with no plans to reintroduce him, yet also aware that I should probably go back and tie up those ends properly during edits, as it’s all a bit ambiguous.

And then, yesterday, tens of thousands of words after his last minor appearance, he showed up again, completely out of the blue. I had to seriously question myself to figure out whether he belonged in this section of story, or even if it fit what I’d already written about him. I ran a search for his name and read all my previous references to him, and to my astonishment, his reappearance fit perfectly. I didn’t need to rewrite anything. I didn’t need to shoehorn references in that would later fit with his return… I didn’t need to foreshadow it. Because I already had. It turns out I’d been foreshadowing it almost from his first appearance, and I had no idea. Re-reading the last references I’d made to him, it was almost like I’d gone back in time to write them from this point, knowing where he would end up and just how important he would actually become to the story.

So. Weird. And kind of mindblowing. When my brain conjured him back into the story, it’s almost as if it went ‘ta-da!’ as it did so. Like my subconscious had been performing a long, elaborate magic trick on me, and it was finally revealed.

Amazing. And I still have no idea how it was done.

Panoply Reborn

This blog was well overdue a makeover. It’s a task I’d been putting off for ages, but I finally got my act together and gave it some much-needed freshening up. I’m really happy with the new look! It’s brighter, cleaner, tidier… but still retains some personality. The header image is a stock WordPress one, so I might change that at some point, but for now I kinda like it. I’m surrounded by plants at home, so this feels like an extension of my natural environment.

Onward and upward, little blog!

Music and Words

There seem to be two types of writers: those who need silence to write, and those who need music. I’m one of the latter type. That’s not to say I can’t write without music playing, but if I’m not feeling inspired when I sit down to get some words on the page, the number one way to up that inspiration and get my fingers flowing across the keys is to put on some suitable music.

It helps put me in the zone. It shuts out the distractions that try to pull me away from the story. And if I get the right music going, it can spur me on like nothing else. The right music is key. Radio is hopeless, with all its distracting chatter and randomness. Music with lyrics is rarely helpful, as the lyrics carry me off in a different direction from the one I’m trying to head. They impose themselves on my brain while it’s coming up with streams of prose, and generally interfere. So it’s almost always instrumental stuff for me.

I’ve found that the most useful instrumental pieces to write to are pieces of music that are in themselves telling a story or seeking to create a deliberate atmosphere. Contemporary composers like Ludovico Einaudi and Max Richter are excellent for this. The repetitive nature of their melodies can almost hypnotise me into a writing state while inducing the necessary emotion to carry the story.

But the music that achieves this best is soundtrack music. Film scores are designed to elicit emotion, to place the viewer in the story and impart a sense of urgency, or tragedy, or scope. There’s something about the work of a composer who has specifically written that work to accompany a story. That sense of story, of conflict and emotion and character, is imperative to writing, and having it conveyed through the medium of music really helps to uncover whatever story I’m trying to tell.

A good playlist is essential. There are some tremendous ones on sites like 8tracks – just type in ‘writing’ and you’ll get a massive selection of playlists put together for just this purpose, with all kinds of perfect scores and tracks you’ve never come across along with the familiar ones.

When I need to get in the zone, a cup of tea, a stash of salt liquorice, and an amazing playlist of audio inspiration is my ideal recipe for wordcount success.

I’ll leave you with one of my all-time favourites, from the sorely-missed master of emotion, James Horner: