Tuesday, 30 August 2011

A Quick Note on the Advantages of Not Listening to Me

Sometimes I ramble. In fact I ramble so much that I've tried to do this entry a few times now and failed because of my amazing rambling power. So now I am focused. Hell yeah!

Yesterday I made the point that you should 'Keep writing or the universe will implode and then no one will like you!' or something like that. Well I think I might have worded it a little wrong. What I was really talking about was the importance of not putting what you're writing away for months and months at a time, if it's going well at the time.

If things aren't going well, to the extent that you feel you need to stop and have some time to think about your book, or consider starting it again, long breaks are great. Hell, it took me two years to refocus myself after my high school draft. It was a period of reinvention, and I put pen to paper (or hands to keys more accurately) very few times during that period. It was all going on in my head, and a much better book came out of that.

But this draft now is going really well. I had my problem I described in my last post, but that was relevant to a specific chapter, not the whole thing. So overall, it's going great. I feel like this is it, this is the draft that will eventually become the final book. It'll take a lot of revisions I'm sure, but I'm also sure I wont have to start again... again.

Short breaks are great though. When I say short I mean anything from a few minutes to a few days to a few weeks. Sometimes it's good to have a little time off, because then you come back refreshed. Recently, because I'm a nerd, I've been loading up Doctor Who videos to watch when I feel like a break. I'll write for 20 minutes, then watch a bit, then do some more. 

And I do also have a life!

"Come on Ian. Who are you trying to kid here?"

No mysterious voice! It's true! I have an amazing girlfriend and great friends, and have been known occasionally to consider leaving the house to see them! Crazy I know, but true. So don't listen to me from before, telling you to 'KEEP WRITING OR ELSE I'LL KICK YOU!' because that's silly. Keep writing if it's going well, but, as a friend told me yesterday, 'man cannot live on bread alone.' 

...And just to clarify, that friend was not Jesus. Just someone quoting Jesus. As you do...


Monday, 29 August 2011

"Help! I'm trapped in a chapter!"

So I'm currently writing Chapter Eight of my book. Now Chapter 7 and 8 both used to be the same chapter, until I realised it was going to end up at like almost 40 pages long, which I think is a little excessive considering the previous longest was just over 20. So I split it. But I think it's safe to say that in my head it still feels like one chapter. Hence, it feels like I've been stuck on the same chapter for AGES!

Naturally, I'm starting to get a little bored...

Now I know that sounds kind of worrying. 'You're getting bored of your own book Ian? Wow, it must totally suck then!'

But no! I love my book, and I don't think it's boring at all to read, but writing is very different. Sometimes writing is amazing, and I get all excited when it goes well and I write something awesome. But other times, it is basically a job. I want to get published, so I want to get this book finished; I can't just keep it as a hobby. I have to write even when I'd much rather slob in front of the telly or read a book or something EDIT: I do actually slob in front and the telly and read books and stuff, just balanced with writing as well. And with this chapter, it was getting more and more like work rather than fun. And then I got stuck...

So imagine you work in an office or something. And then imagine you have a meeting every day. And then imagine if every time you had that meeting, the exact same things were said, and when you tried to get things moving, no one would listen. That's sort of how I am, or was, writing this chapter. I got to a point where I'd lost my vision a bit, and I was just writing words down and seeing where it headed. And each time I tried to write something, it wouldn't work, and I would have to delete it, and I would be back to where I was before.

So I'm rambling here!

I'll give you some specifics. The chapter I'm writing is about a duel. Specifically, three duels taking place one after another, with the main character involved in the final one. Here is a little taste of the first duel:

Helwit lost a point within seconds. The man rushed forward with huge speed, huffing as he did so like an angry beast. Helwit panicked, clearly expecting a slower pace, and foolishly raised his sword into a simple right hand parry. The bodyguard struck left, and Helwit was forced back with a heavy blow to his arm. A second, disappointment yelp from Anthony brought the fighting to a pause, only moments after it had begun. His usual grin faltered.

So as you can see, quite descriptive of the specifics of the fight. This is only a small section, this duel goes on for a few pages. Not all of it is quite as 'in the moment' as this bit, but you get the idea. So here is an extract of the second duel:

Rendill rushed forward, striking at his enemy with the perfect balance between aggression and precision. The sound of wood on wood filled the air, each blow parried in rapid succession like a rushed drum beat. The bodyguard flustered and practically ran backwards, almost crashing into Tarill who had to leap to one side to avoid receiving his own blow from Rendill's dancing sword. Eventually the bodyguard fought to bring a distance between them, and in the few seconds before combat resumed, he took a heavy breath and smiled with animal excitement. Rendill charged forward again, the air lifting his deadlocks behind him like a mane. He made several strikes for his chest, before arcing his sword down for a blow to the knee. The parry came just in time, forcing Rendill's blade almost into the sand. This was when Helwit would have retreated. Heck, this was when Dearon would have retreated. But Rendill was different. Instead, he raised his sword up in a powerful arc, taking the bodyguards sword with it, and locked their hilts and blades together. The man's eyes widened, and a moment later Rendill tugged savagely to the side. 

Yes my characters have strange names! But once again you can see I've gone down the route of describing the specifics of the fight. This duel is a lot shorter than the previous one, and there is a short rest between, so the style doesn't (hopefully) get tiring for the reader. But here's where I ran into a problem.

I tried writing the final duel in the same style, but it just didn't work. It felt tiring to read, a real slog that left me feeling cold to what was actually going on. Actiony style writing is good in small doses, but too much and it looses its meaning. 

But I kept trying. And then I tried the opposite. I tried taking away all action, and having the duel described purely as what's going on inside Dearon's head. (Dearon = main character!). But that was boring! 

I then considered just having the duel end within the first few seconds. Crazy I know, but so crazy it just might work? Well... no. It didn't work. I was quite clearly a cop out. 

Then I considered not even writing the fight, and just showing the repercussions after. But nope! I had to admit it. I was stuck.

Now I almost stopped at this point. I almost said 'you know what, maybe I should have a bit of time off my book.' I have a bad history with writers block. It's avoided me for the most part during this draft, but previously it's been a real bitch! I couldn't write for 2 whole years at one point whilst I rethought the book in my head. I tried, a few times, but I just couldn't do it. Mainly that was because a lot of things weren't that well thought through back then. I'm much more confident this time around, so I never considered starting again, but I had defiantly hit the wall.

I think a lot of it is that I've been writing the beginning of my book for a while now. And every other draft I've done save one, I've never got past the beginning. So now that things are working out, I'm just desperate to get to the juicy middle! The problem is my story is much more the slow build up type, especially in this draft, so the last thing I want to do is rush that. I'm taking my time with it, but getting stuck now is annoying. It was becoming hard, and I like things to be easy!

But I kept writing. 

Now there is a lesson I'm glad I've learnt. A few years ago I would have stopped here. I would have put the book away, and the next time I picked it up I would feel so distant from it I would have to start a whole new draft. That's the lazy option. EDIT: When I say 'put the book away,' I mean that I would end up putting it away for months. A few days or sometimes a week off is normal for me.

I don't want this blog to be me trying to teach people lessons about writing, because I'm still learning myself, but one thing I think any writer should remember is that you can't write a book without putting down some words. Trial and error is ok, and will pay off eventually. If there are lots of big problems with the draft you're writing, maybe you should consider taking some time out to think it over, and possible even start again. But if you are just stuck on one bit, think about how excited you are to write the bit after that, and then use that rush to keep writing.

It's still not finished, but I'm much happier with this chapter now. I ended up doing a mix between actiony and in the characters head in the end. I also ended up adding a little hint of something related to the bigger plot in there, and that defiantly spiced things up a bit. Here is a little extract:

They disengaged, watching one another as they moved around the pit. Cerillius stared with an inhuman, bubbling hatred, upsetting Dearon's focus as he moved to re-engage. He struck fast, over Cerillius's guard, but the man jolted to the side, swiping back at Dearon. Their blades met, trembling against each other's power, before Dearon retreated backwards. A victim of his own size, Cerillius lost balance, moving forward with an abandoned guard and into range of Dearon's blade. He swiped forward.

This is one of the more actiony bits of the duel, but you can see a few sentences that ground it with what's going through the main characters head. A good balance, I hope! Here's another extract:

In spite of his clear aggression and rage, of every tensed muscle and gritted tooth, Cerillius waited. His breathing was heavy, lifting his chest higher with each breath, as if every intake of air was channelled into his fury. Dearon was desperate to win, and yet at that moment even he had no desire to approach him. For a long time both men stood there, fixed to the spot, Cerillius's eyes on his as he watched the bodyguard's feet for movement. The afternoon sun bathed violent light over the pit. His nerves tingled with dry sweat. There was no wind to cool him, only the casual flow of air from his lips, exhausting his lungs. 

Just making things a bit more personal to Dearon really worked I think. It still needs some going over (there are a few oddly worded things I can see already in the extracts I posted) but you get the idea. I'm glad I kept writing!

So that's my rant for today! Hopefully I can get this chapter finished before the sun goes down.

Peace out! (I can't pull that off in real life, so I'm saying it here)


P.S. If you see any problems with the extracts I've put, please let me know, I like feedback! Also, contact me if you want to read what I've written of my draft so far.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Horrors of Blurb Writing

I was planning on doing a little description of the book I'm writing at the moment as my first post-introduction post here, and what a post it was going to be! Seriously, you would have been blown away. But unfortunately I am a failure at describing my book to anyone. It's a series, so there are major things it's about that I don't want to say because it would spoil to later books. There are loooooads of different plot threads, and not one which I would be able to single out as a main one. Is it character driven fantasy? Is it plot driven fantasy? Is it even proper fantasy? And even the first book is looking like it's going to be pretty huge (probably over 600 pages), so I have no idea where to begin describing it.

But I've had a go before. I've send what I've done of this draft of my book to a few people over the past few months, and decided to try and put a little blurb type thing in with my email so that people didn't go thinking the character in the prologue was the main character then wondering why he didn't turn up again in the later chapters. It went a little something like this:

As great nation's fall around her, the city of Dolindium is beset by misfortune. Galavian, the son of the King, has been missing for over a month, a cryptic message is sent from the south, and a rebellion begins. Plagued by his own emotional problems, Dearon, the Lord of Dolindium and second only to the King himself, must fight to defend his city and uncover the truth. And all the while, the figures watch, as their unknown plan begins.

Now I don't think is this necessarily a bad blurb. It gets the job done, teases at the story without telling too much, and shows who the main character is (although I hate that 'emotional problems' bit I put in there. What's that about Ian, eh, EH???). But is it really a good blurb?

I know it's far too soon to be thinking about things like this, but I'm a little odd like that. When I'm writing my book, I have to make the page layout look like it's a book. I have to have the page numbers on there, it has to be in A5, I have to adjust the margins a bit, I have to use drop caps at the start of a chapter, I have to have a chapter heading, and so on... So wanting to have a blurb is basically the next step. And is it really that overkill? I mean, it's not like I've designed the cover or anything!...


So yeah, we've established I'm insane. But the point is, my book is good (in my opinion, but my opinion is right) and needs a good blurb. Sometimes the best blurbs are extracts from the books. Take 'Name of the Wind,' perhaps my favourite book. This is it's blurb:

My name is Kvothe. 
 I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.  
You may have heard of me.

Now that is a good blurb! It's so ballsy, so 'hell yeah this is a good book' that it makes you want to rip the book open to read the first page. And that is a quote from the book. I think the first line might go on a bit longer in the book, not sure, but it's basically the same. It also kind of adds to the reading experience, because once you've read that amazing blurb about this apparently awesome person, you then get introduced to the lowly barkeep Kote (who is Kvothe!!! That's not a spoiler by the way, it's made obvious right from the off) who is nothing like that description. In my opinion, this is the near perfect blurb. If he had written the blurb for 'Name of the Wind' in the style of my earlier one, it would have come out as something stale and wouldn't grab attention, the sort of blurb that would make you go 'meh' and put the book back down on the shelf at Waterstones or wherever. 

So this got me thinking. Could I use an extract from my book for my blurb. I know that I have nothing quite as clearly stated as the Name of the Wind extract, so I would probably need to add a more normal blurb beneath the extract, but I've seen this done before. So I got thinking...

There is really only one bit in what I have written so far (I've written about 130 pages at this point. Book will probably be 600 or more) that I could use. It's in the prologue, and it's maybe too long for a blurb, but lets see. Here we go.

“Please not again,” Favoir pleaded. “I’ve suffered enou-"
A focused silence cast aside his words. It amplified every sound, every movement of the air and itch of naked skin to a volume too loud to exist, and yet impossibly distant. Then, like a hammer blow, he felt a sudden separation from all things, as every sense of hope was denied to him; the idea lost definition, as if it could never have existed. All that remained was the quite thump of the icy stone that constricted and expanded beneath his ribs.
There was a quiet pat of feet on the floor, slowly coming closer. He tried to blink, to restore some focus. His breathing was heavy and disjointed. What little moisture was left in him glazed over his eyes.
The footsteps stopped.

So I think that's a good bit of writing. It's a bit more lyrical than most of my stuff, but it kinda needed to be at that point. But it doesn't work that well as a blurb I don't think. One reason is that it introduced some dude called Favoir. If I don't have an extra blurb bit at the bottom of the page explaining the book a bit more, then people will think Favoir is the main character possible, and if I do have that explaining bit, people might be a little confused about the lack of explanation of who Favoir is. Also, it's a bit long, the paragraph structure looks odd on a blurb, and it lacks the set up it has in the actual prologue. 

There is a different angle I could take. I could make the blurb more personal about my main character Dearon, to appease those interested in character development and stuff the most, but that might alienate those more bothered about plot. But if I add a little extra bit at the bottom like my first blurb I might just about manage to make something good. So lets find a Dearon based extract. Ah ha!

“Thing's change,” he muttered to himself quietly. And he knew he was speaking of more than his relationship with Eradeen. With every year of his life he looked back, he saw a different man, sometimes strong, other times desperately weak. Almost a year to the day his heart had been left to die by the woman he loved, and yet only two years before he had chosen her, sweet but serious Demm, to be the one he would love for the rest of his life.
A pale tear drop fell to the bottom of the page, seeping through the paper like a sea against sand. Dearon rested his head in his hands, breathing heavily as his eyes glazed over. A second tear fell, then a third, and before he could control himself he had ripped the unfinished letter in two. The torn halves rested gently on the table, unmoving in the shallow breeze.

So once again this is ok, but not really right. It's a bit in the deep end for a blurb, and seems a bit odd without any context as to who the women he is talking about are. Plus it makes my main character look like a blubbering sod, which he is not, he was just having a bad day that's all. And can you imagine how silly that first blurb would look next to this one.

As I've been writing this, I've realised anyone reading is probably expecting me to show at the end of this post the perfect blurb to my book. Well, sorry! I still haven't got it. If I'm going down the extract route, maybe the perfect paragraph will show up later on in the book. I'm not going to try and fit it in there purposefully, that wouldn't be right, and maybe I'll go with the standard type blurb, just with a little more 'oomph!' than my previous attempt. Who knows?!

It seems a little silly to say this given that I have 0 people reading my blog at the moment, but what's your opinion on what makes a good blurb? Which of the ones I put down do you think is best, or do you think they are all steaming turds that disgrace the name of writing? Let me know in the comments.


Friday, 26 August 2011

Who is The Student Author?

Hello there!

My name is Ian Fisher, and I'm a writer...

Well, I like to think that I am. Technically I've been writing the same book, or at least a dozen or so different versions of it for the past 7 years (I'm 19 now, so you do the math!). It's a fantasy five book series that I am very intent on getting published in the future. And before you come rushing in and go 'Stop Ian! No publisher will take on a 5 book series from a first time author!' you should know I also have a few other, slightly less gigantic ideas in my head for what I will get published first.

But that's not what this blog is about!

...Well, it is...

...Well, it isn't...

...Well, it sort of is and isn't.

Hopefully this blog is going to be more about the general trials and tribulations of trying to write a fiction book(s) at this sort of age. A blog to help those looking for advice, a blog to give those of you with amazing ideas but without the confidence to start writing a good slap to get you going, and (perhaps exclusively depending on how things turn out) a place for me to rant. Because everybody needs a good rant every now and then.

So keep checking up for (hopefully) frequent updates on my own writing struggles, as well as a few tips for those writing or thinking of starting writing a novel.

Cherrio! (I don't think I've ever actually said that in real life... Now I know my goal for tomorrow!)