The Writing Program Interrogation…

As people know, I use an old, basic writing program, to keep track of things. One nice thing about it is that asks questions, and these are great to mull over for your story.

I’ve been collating them over time, and creating a list of them. I’m putting up the list, to hopefully help other people:

  • Is it ever too easy for your protagonist to get out of trouble?
  • Does anything in the story make the reader work too hard?
  • Does your story tell the reader too much?
  • Are all your story’s important questions answered? Are the answers delayed as long as possible?
  • Does the story leave any important loose ends?
  • If your story is a first-person narration, does the narrator’s voice seem real?
  • Are your protagonist?s or narrator’s motives clear enough? Leave some dots for the reader to connect, but not major ones.
  • Is all the dialogue in your story grammatically correct? If it is, perhaps you should change it to make it more realistic.
  • Does your opening line grab the reader’s attention?
  • Make sure your story begins with a gripping first page. If it doesn’t, change it.
  • Does your story have flashbacks?  If the flashbacks do not serve important plot purposes, then rewrite them or get rid of them.
  • Is the ending to your story genuinely likely or possible?
  • Is your narrator’s voice consistent?

I can see me work on some blog posts on these, and try to expand them with my thoughts on the matter. Still, it serves a useful reference point for people, so I’m happy to share it.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation That Hits The Limit

I’ve been neglectful (yet again) of this blog, and hope that one day, I’ll be able to get to squeeze in more time and opportunity to create more posts. I enjoy it, but with various other things happening, it gets forgotten about a bit too much for my liking. But that is for another blog post…

Back in June 2015, I ended up writing a blog post about preparation and planning. This is a sort of revisiting, because in the Cabin for the April 2016 Camp NaNoWriMo (one of the things keeping me busy, but in a good way,) was the comment “I tend to have issues planning ENOUGH if that makes sense. I never quite make my final word count because I run out of story.” This is an interesting problem, from my view. I’m not sure how to fully answer it, either. But I’m willing to give it my personal thoughts, because it might just produce something that can help someone.

The first thing I think of with this is the issue of word counts. After years of bumbling along, and making literary messes, I’ve come to the conclusion that how long a story is supposed to be determines quite a few things. I now regard short stories as episodes in a television programme, and novels to be like films. I think I have touched on this before, but I’ll go through it again, because it connects in with what I’m going to say a bit later on.

To summarise, I regard every hundred words in a short story to equate to a minute of screen time, and every thousand words in a novel to equate to a minute of cinema time. By looking at it in that way, I then have a basis to gauge the length of the story, and thus work out how long I want it to be. This visualising is important, because then I can sit down and think about how much needs to go in, to make it get to that limit. From there, I can decide on the location, and see what research I need to do to get it right, and what interesting details I can learn about the place that can help build the atmosphere of the story.

Take Odessa, Texas, as an example. This is a city of 1000,000 or so people, in the middle of the desert. It has a nearby city it is a huge rival to in terms of American Football, their teams doing quite well for themselves in the leagues. (The Permian Panthers was the idea for the television series Friday Night Lights.) The city also has a meteor crater (which was part of the group that crashed with the Arizona crater meteor,) a replica Globe Theatre, and a replica Stonehenge. It also has connections to the Bush family, if memory serves. Suddenly, from what I have just outlined, you can start to get ideas, because there are some really nice features that could really set things in the story in terms of tone.

I also consider the characters as well. How many will be needed to get to that limit? How do they all interact with each other, and how does that spark chain of events? If I need to, I’ll go and add a character or two whilst writing the story, to add more depth and potential to it. In a sense, the characters are like threads waiting to be woven into a tapestry: each strand adds to the colour and variety of the whole. Not only that, but pull away a thread, and the whole tapestry could unravel. Life is about the events that spark off from the encounters with people, places, knowledge and realisations, when you think about it. And this follows true for story weaving, too.

Of course, it can sometimes turn out that you have managed to get the end, but failed to get to your target. For me, that is no issue at all. It them means I’ll go back through, and try to see what I can do to add to it. Have I described all the characters fully? Have I described all of the locations? Is there any minor or trivial characters than should be expanded on, to help benefit the story? Finishing under the word target isn’t a crisis; you have finished the story, and thus can build on the structure some more.

This should serve as a helpful start to people. I’ll probably end up coming back to this topic, and adding some more in another post, when I have come up with more to say.

Oh, and Happy Easter to all of my readers. May you all have a great and wonderful weekend.


Visualising My Characters, Part 2

Last month, I ended up talking about how I go about visualising my characters. There is some more I can say on the topic, I feel.

As already stated, I use pictures from the internet to help me come up with decent enough matches to what I have in mind. I use actors and actresses, because you then tend to have a much better range; they tend to be in a number of productions over a number of years, thus allowing you to be able to look at them younger  – or older – than they would be in the story you are writing.

That said, I don’t always do that. Sometimes, through a random search, you find someone, who has an outfit that intrigues, and you try to see if there is more images of that person. Sometimes, you can find a few more. Sometimes none. Then you might have a person who has placed a couple hundred images of themselves, over a number of social media sites.

This might seem like stalking, but the key thing to understand is that I am interested in useful likenesses, and fashion concepts. Simply put, you cannot invent everything, and someone else’s bright fashion idea can readily inspire you, and you then go and adapt it for your story.

In times past, you would be looking in newspapers, keeping clippings, taking pictures and storing them in protective sleeves… nowadays, you can find useful information and images on a computer, and store them on a computer as well. This helps a lot, because now, we have software to keep track of plot details and so forth, so organisation of character sketches is a much more simpler, efficient affair… if you know how to do it.

Another thing to consider is the age of the person in the image you are referring to. It might be too young, too old… but with a little understanding of photo manipulation and editing,you can develop a simple mock-up that, whilst not elegant, gets you the description you need. You can even tweak things, turning day into night as well. Once you understand that you can make things translucent, you can create colour “filters,” that alter how something looks to a degree. It can also help to balance out lighting between photo element, too.

No photo edit, in my opinion, is ever perfect, so you should not worry if you use such programs, and you have a mistake in the image. You are not trying to create a magazine cover, you are trying to create inspiration for your story.

Another thing I like to do is try to work out the basics of a character: How old are they? Have they finished school, and if so, what level/grade were they at departure? Did they go to university? Do they have a job? Do they have parents, and if so, what are they like? Do they have siblings? Who are their friends?

It isn’t important if these details don’t end up in the story. What is important is that you understand the character, and have confidence in your knowledge and understanding of them.

Hopefully this hasn’t been a pointless ramble. I get paranoid like that; I produce something that will be either unhelpful, uninteresting, or both. With luck, it is neither.

I also suspect I will end up going back to this topic again at some point, and add some more to the topic, when i end up thinking of more to say. So folks, you’ve been warned! (I say in jest.)

Explaining Write-Ins…

Now that the latest Camp NaNoWriMo is under way, I thought I would try to explain what a Word Sprint is. It might sound corny, it might sound like it is for advanced writers only… but really, it isn’t.

A word sprint is a period of twenty minutes, where you do nothing but write. That’s it! You just sit down, and when an agreed upon time starts, you then go and write away. You don’t stop to edit, you don’t stop to correct spelling or grammar mistakes – that comes later. Right now, you just go and write.

Then you give yourself a break of ten to twenty minutes, and then you do the whole process again.

Of course, this works best if you have at least one other person with you, but you can do it on your own. You can also do it anywhere: at home, travelling to work, in a café, at the library… All you need is a way to keep the time, and a way to write stuff down.

If you are doing a word sprint on the way to work, you might only have a mobile phone handy. Well, if it is just a smart phone, with no bluetooth keyboard attached, (and yes, that is perfectly possible to do with more up-to-date versions of Android phones…) then you will inevitably be writing less. But it doesn’t matter a bit. As long as you get writing, get words written down – and saved what you’ve done – that is all that matters.

Hopefully, I have helped to explain what a word sprint is, and have inspired you to have a few of your own. Try it… you might find you’ve written a novel without realising it!