Monday, 27 October 2014

A Hymn to Tim: Part 2

Some time ago I blogged about stereotypes (see A Hymn To Tim, back in March 2013). I hate stereotypes; and names (Tim perceived as being a particularly wimpy moniker) are just one example of how lazy we can be in that respect. You don’t have to look far to see other ways we fall into the trap; there are plenty of others.

Of course, if you write in a particular genre then you have to accept that readers have certain expectations of that genre. That’s fair enough. But I do think it’s possible — and desirable — to bend those expectations just a little.

In concluding my previous post, I issued a challenge to my readers. “Next time you’re scratching around for a name for your muscle-bound hunk of heartbreaker, think of me – and call him Tim.” And of course it would be wrong of me not to have taken up the challenge and so I had to call my next hero Tim. I admit that I fully expected to have to change his name, either because an editor couldn’t face the idea or because I myself lost my nerve at the last minute. But it didn’t happen.

So what kind of hero is called Tim? He’s a man not afraid to get to grips with the great outdoors. A man who doesn’t like to be told what to do but one who isn’t afraid to show his sensitive side to add to his sense of humour. He has an outdoorsman’s stubble and a tattoo of crossed geological hammers on the inside of his wrist.

Our heroine Megan, however, is not taken with him. “Academically brilliant, emotionally flawed, charming, handsome, unbearably arrogant… Tim bloody Stone, appearing out of nowhere,” she fumes, her nose particularly out of joint because he has with him a rival — a woman, gorgeous, sexy and clever.

Real men love rocks...
The sharp-eyed among you will have spotted that Tim is a scientist and not just any old scientist but a rockhound — and even some geologists make jokes about how dull and geeky geologists can be. But Tim is, when necessary, as hard or even harder than the rocks which he studies so obsessively.

Why am I telling you this? Because science doesn’t have to be dull any more than Tim has to be a wimp. Because his hard-headed scientific approach and his need to know all the answers are at odds with the emotional sensitivity he needs to understand our poor heroine and so end up leading both of them into trouble.

It’s romantic suspense and it made it past the editor’s red pen. Tim kept his name and so you’ll have the chance to find out all about him, all about Megan and (just for a change) even a little bit about the geology of northern Majorca. It’s called No Time Like Now and it’s available from Tirgearr Publishing from 28 October.

Go on - give it a try. And let me know what you think…

Sunday, 19 October 2014

It’s that time of year again by Mary Smith

That’s right, NaNoWriMo is fast approaching. For anyone who does not know what NaNoWriMo is, it is National Novel Writing Month in which writers all over the world embark on a mad marathon of writing from the 1st to the 30th November with the aim of reaching a target of 50,000 words. That’s 1,677 words a day.

The event was started by a guy called Chris Baty back in 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area. A total of 29 people took part. The following year an official website was created and 140 participants joined, 29 of whom completed the challenge. Chris expected a similar number the following year but 5,000 signed up – causing a bit of a headache for the organisers and the technology.

In 2002, following a lot of media attention, 14,000 people signed up for NaNoWriMo and it has continued to grow. Last year 310,095 writers took part. It is a huge, global community of writers with forums which provide a place for support, advice and information. There are regional Municipal Liaisons (ML) who help on a voluntary basis with organising local events, ‘meet-ups’ and to offer advice. A buddy system is in place so you can have someone to keep you going when you start to flag.

The rules are simple. You sit down and you start writing at 12 am on November 1st (when you sign up online you can adjust the clock to match your own time zone). The work must be new but it can be on any theme, it can be the complete story or the beginning of a longer work. You can post the number of words achieved each day and at the end of the month you put the entire work onto the site to be verified – if it’s 50,000 words or more, you have ‘won’.  The prize is a sticker to put on your website or blog – so although it would be very easy to cheat it’s simply not worth it.  Oh, and CreateSpace offer to produce a draft copy of your finished manuscript.

The aim is to get people to start writing, get the words down and worry about editing later. It is ‘quantity over quality’. The site’s slogan is ‘No Plot? No Problem.’

I tried and failed to reach the 50,000 word target a couple of times. One year, I was so depressed about my failure I swore I’d never do it again. I totally forgot it was supposed to be fun (!?). Last year, I signed up at the last minute and I ‘won’ though I chose not to have CreateSpace turn by 50,000 words of drivel into a ‘book’. I can still remember how very pleased with myself I felt when it was confirmed I had achieved the target.

Since then, I have been turning the muddle of words into a blog called My Dad Is A Goldfish, which is all about caring for my demented dad.

Will I take part in NaNoWriMo this year? I’m thinking about it and if having no plot is really no problem then I might just have a go again.

Will anyone else be signing up for a month of writing mayhem?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Getting round the block, by Jenny Harper

Sharing a joke with Eileen Ramsay.
It's been a great week. Not only did I have a terrific launch at Waterstones of my new book, Maximum Exposure, but I have also discovered that my writing, which had been well and truly stuck, is flowing again.

I wasn't sure that the two events were linked, but on reflection, I realised that feeling good about what you're doing – and knowing that readers are enjoying your book – are a great stimulus.

All year I have been struggling with my work-in-progress. The block stemmed in part from taking time out to publish two novels independently, a process that proved a major distractor (interesting though it was).  Another part of it was that I felt I was writing into a vacuum. I was getting reviews, most of them favourable, but I didn't feel as if I was getting validation. On top of that, my writing felt clogged up. I over complicated the plot lines for my new book.

We need to keep readers turning the page, but I'd allowed plot to outweigh character, so much so that I stopped being able to hear my characters talking to me. When I finally realised this, I printed out what I'd written so far and rewrote the first chapter to get the two main characters together more quickly. That felt as though it was starting to move the book in the right direction. Then I turned my attention to the hero and heroine and sorted out their drivers and motivations. I ruthlessly stripped away superfluous characters and plot lines and lost about 8000 words – and, finally, I began to see where the novel should be going. More importantly, I took time to get better acquainted with my characters. Instead of trying to fire ahead with the plot, I slowed down and got inside their heads more. There's a tricky balance to be found here, but I have come to realise that slowing my writing down to let the characters speak more for themselves doesn't necessarily mean slowing the book down too, because if the reader is truly engaged with the character, he or she wants to know what's going to happen to them.

I've cleared my head, got rid of the excess fat and focused on the muscle of the book – and I am rediscovering why I like to write. I'm getting that sense of fulfilment and excitement that only really comes when everything is working well.

Stepping back from the book, being objective and focusing on what's core have all helped. But most of all, I think I'm beginning to enjoy writing because I know that readers are now beginning to enjoy my books.

How do others get around the dreaded writers' block?