Monday 28 February 2011

February Mini Poll results- Character or Plot?

Thank you all those readers who took a moment to give an opinion. Although this is the result of a small number of answers it is still interesting.

The question was: Should novels be...?

Character led                57%
Plot led                          0%
No preference               42%

All stories have people in them- well there are a few from an animal or ghoul type perspective of course, but usually there is a human being in the story somewhere.

If a writer has done their job properly then the reader will believe that those characters are real- okay you know they're made up, but how many times have you read a story and realised you know someone just like them?

I was fortunate enough to hear crime writer Stephen Booth give a talk last year at Nottingham Writers' Club. During the Q&A at the end of the talk I asked if he was a plot or character led writer?

(Many crime writers do seem to be plot led in my opinion, but I'm open to that view being challenged.)

He explained how his characters led the story, not the plot. His characters did seem to work things out as he wrote...

Of course there has to be a plot to any story, but it doesn't have to be set out from A to Z, letter by letter. If that's the way you write and it works for you, then that's great.

I've always been the type to know where I'm starting- or think I am, then where I see the story as ending and certain points in between the start and finish. Those points may move about a bit, but generally I end up where I expect to, even if I reach that end in a different way than I thought.
It does allow for some surprises along the way...

When I try to plot each stage my writing suffers- I think that is why I've had a number of issues with my Dorset novel. I deviated from my usual style. But I have learnt from it.

Though I do sometimes wonder if it isn't being a writer that makes plots visible. EDITED to add that I was thinking about books made into television dramas when I made this comment. Hope it now makes sense...

So, do you have any opinions on this subject that you'd like to share?

Saturday 26 February 2011

Writing is like a ride on the Big Wheel...

As it has been half term this past week, Nottingham City centre has again played host to a Big Wheel in the Old Market Square.

It is actually an interesting process to watch when it's being put up and again when it's taken down a couple of months later.

Looking at the big wheel going round today started me thinking, that writing and the process of writing a short story, a novel (or even an article) have a lot in common.

First the base for building upon...
Perhaps that equates to having what you need to start the process ( a notepad and pen or a computer and keyboard).

The big supporting poles come next ( the initial idea...the plot?)

Then the wheel begins to be constructed (the characters and the setting).

The viewing compartments get added next ( the dialogue and the narrative).

When the wheel is completed (the first draft) it is tested and anything that needs correcting is done (editing).

So the wheel is finally ready to run (you say goodbye to your manuscript).

In you climb and off you go until the wheel stops ( it's in the post or winging its way through the ether to that editor, agent or publisher and finally lands in their in-tray/inbox).

Then you start going again (it's being considered) and who knows whether the next time the wheel stops it may be the return envelope and you'll soon be getting off the wheel sooner than expected.
You may go round a few times and when you reach the ground for the final time you may have that acceptance you've been hoping for.

But even if it fails that time you can always try again...

And as we've been talking about the Big Wheel here is a picture...

big wheel,night,lights,metal,cabins,amusements
Big Wheel
photo by Richard Bevitt

Thursday 24 February 2011

Characters and the problems they bring...

I haven't been writing this week as it's half term, plus I've been recovering from the accident I was involved in last Thursday, so pain and discomfort have pushed my characters to the back of my mind.

Every writer has their own way of creating their characters. But today, mine decided that I'd had long enough ignoring them and demanded attention.

Now I have one, Jack, in his rented cottage needing to find a document that is important to a group of people, but he's not cooperating, or he just doesn't know what he's doing!

There's Marcus in the eighteenth century patiently waiting for a rewrite...

Another is a young woman in a lift- that's all I know about her at the moment...

Then I have another unnamed couple lurking in my head. I have a few possible scenarios for them, a location where the story takes place (a picture from an item in Radio Times a few months ago) and my heroine in a half mask looking mysterious (courtesy of a magazine tidy up).

Generally my novel characters present themselves in a scene-almost a still. I may have a vague idea about one or more of them, but usually it's as if I'm looking at them through a fine net curtain.
From there I have to find out about them, for example their past and what they look like- okay that character may have dark hair from what I can see through the net, but is it black, brown or going grey with all the implications that can suggest?

Sometimes I realise that an idea I'd jotted down months- or in the case of Marcus- years ago, ties into a particular character's story.

For short stories I find it more of a problem. Something will trigger an idea and I may have one or two characters who I know belong with that idea- sometimes they are very clear, but others times they're vague and it tends to be those vague ones that don't go anywhere.
Yes, I need to know them more but I do sometimes wonder if they aren't in the wrong parts. Stories like that need more thinking time.

So next week I'll be back with Jack- one of my very clear characters- in the cottage trying to sort him out- then  I can get him to the next scene where I know what is going to happen...

So, do you have any characters who demand your attention?

Monday 21 February 2011

Vote for the Oddest Book Title of the Year...

The Diagram Prize shortlist was announced last week. This is an annual award for the oddest book title of the year. It is run through the Bookseller and you can read about this year's selection- and previous year's if you wish, here.

In the past it has brought us (in 2009) 'Advances in Potato Chemistry and Technology', 'Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich' and 'An Intellectual History of Cannibalism'. But it was eventually won by 'Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes' by Dr Daina Taimina (A K Peters).

They say that any publicity is good publicity, so authors (and publishers) in the 2010 shortlist are probably hopeful of a few extra sales by their inclusion- as they don't get a prize.

The 2010 longlist comprised 66 books- here is the shortlist of 6 for this year's judging.

  • What Color Is Your Dog?                                          Joel Silverman (Kennel Club)
  • The Generosity of the Dead                                        Graciela Nowenstein (Ashgate)
  • Myth of the Social Volcano                                        Martin King Whyte (Stanford University Press)
  • 8th International Friction Stir Welding Symposium Proceedings                       Various authors (TWI)
  • The Italian's One-night Love Child                              Cathy Williams (Mills & Boon)
  • Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way    Michael R Young (Radcliffe)
You can vote on the home page of The website. Voting began 18th February and the winner will be announced on Friday 25th March.

My vote went to the Genghis Khan Way- perhaps we all secretly think of dental practices in this way...:-)

Friday 18 February 2011


I'm feeling a lot better for resting for the day, but decided I couldn't miss my Friday/Saturday posting, so I went to find an illustration to inspire you.

I like the illustrated pictures by silentstella on Photobucket, simple but with depth- they inspire ideas for stories- well they do for me...

So I've selected one that I particularly liked and added what I thought the person in the picture was doing or thinking. So perhaps it will start you thinking and creating.

By silentstella from Photobucket

The figure could be male or female. You could set the story in another time- future or past. Nothing is impossible with imagination...

Thursday 17 February 2011

Health and the writer...

I'd intended this post to be about writing health- making sure you're well supported in the chair you use at the computer (no dangling feet and back supported please). Also keeping your eyes healthy when you spend a great deal of time at the computer screen (taking breaks and looking away from the screen for a few moments regularly).

But I was in an accident today- as a passenger, so I'm starting to feel stiff and I'm not sure how much typing will be comfortable by tomorrow.

So there may or may not be a weekend post, but I will be looking out for interesting things to write about next even if I'm not up to immediate typing.

Now where did I put those pain killers...

Saturday 12 February 2011

Back to the start...

Having lived with the new colour scheme- as much as I liked it- I preferred the old one, so I've reverted back to the original. That shade is just perfect for me...

But, I have changed the colour of the text for links so it will be clearer for everyone...

Now I'm back to normal- what am I saying, I'm a writer-what is normal? :-)

There are a few short competitions I'm thinking of entering, just depends if I can expand on my initial ideas- I have the end, but no start or middle.

If you want to try a few writing competitions yourself look no further than the blog of Patsy Collins or for many months ahead Sally Quilford's Writing Calendar.

I'm off to jot down some thoughts...

Friday 11 February 2011

Men Do Write Romance-But Are They Any Good?

Now I am going to leave you to decide on that.

Today the BBC's freeview text service and this evening, Robert Dex, in The Independent online have revealed that Tom Gamble is on the shortlist for the Romantic Novelist Association Novel of the Year Award for his book titled 'Amizir'.

He is joined on the shortlist by Sarah Duncan, Nottinghamshire author Elizabeth Chadwick, Jojo Moyes, Kate Furnivell and Rebecca Dean.

It's unusual to see a man in the shortlist admittedly, but still welcome.

For many years male writers submitted short stories to women's weekly magazines with a female pseudonym, but now they appear under their own name and are as equally successful as their female counterparts.

There is a Mills and Boon author- of medical style romances- who has written under a female pseudonym for years, but is known to be a man. He has obviously been convincing.

No one queries a female writer creating a male character in love. We're writers, we have to produce believable characters with emotions and reactions that we-and the reader-can recognise and have sympathy with whether they are male or female, young or old.

The reader wants a good story, they aren't going to refuse to read it because it was written by a man, or are they?

Having read the blurb on Amazon (other suppliers are available-as they say on tv) it sounds like it might be a good read- you can read an excerpt using Amazon's look inside option.

So I wish all the contenders luck and look forward to the announcement of the winner in early March.

So, what's your view on the issue?

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Writing at Last...

Just popping in quickly to share the news that my block is gone and I'm writing again.

Admittedly it isn't a new story but one that has gone through a few rewrites to get it nearer publishable standard.

It started out as a ghost story for a new annual competition at the writers' club (three plus years ago) but by the time it was ready it had turned into a potential romance. Since then it has moved back a step to the beginning of what might become a romance, but still has a ghost lurking in it...

So I'm on what I hope will be the final rewrite and after some final tinkering it will be ready to send out.
I'm aiming to get it ready for dispatch by the start of next month, if not sooner...

But at least I'm writing...

Sunday 6 February 2011

A Colour Change...

This may be the result of my trip to the hairdresser last week to have some highlights done, or because the creative side of my brain is working again (hooray).

So I'm experimenting with the colour scheme of my blog.

If you find anything difficult to read because of backgrounds or text colour then do let me know- there's an e-mail address on the right or leave a comment in the box below. I'm aware that not everyone has perfect vision (I'm off for a new pair of glasses myself this week) and some colours are just too much...

So there may be other changes after I've lived with this scheme for a few days... :-)

Saturday 5 February 2011

The Value of Libraries...

Libraries are under threat.

Today there have been a large number of events and protests taking place in libraries all over the UK.
There will be mass borrowings as readers check-out the maximum number of books they are allowed, in others authors will be performing readings and for many more it will just be vocally protesting outside with banners.

Shutting libraries or reducing their hours is not new. It has been going on for a year or two.

A nearby village spent last year trying to save their small community library- it already had limited opening hours- and looked into the possibility of buying and running it themselves. The plan to close it had been discussed and agreed at least two years before but no one told the residents, so their campaign was hampered from the start.

Sadly their attempts were unsuccessful and it closed last summer to be replaced with access to a mobile library each fortnight during the daytime- not much use for children at school, or adults at work...

I doubt there are many writers today who haven't benefited from free access to library books. Many of us would have spent hours during our childhood raiding the shelves and devouring the words from all the books available to us.

I remember looking forward to my weekly trek into town- a half hour walk-to change my library books. When I had eventually exhausted the children's section (in the early 1970's) and I wanted to move onto the numerous shelves in the adult fiction section (I was about fourteen at the time) my mother had to come with me to the library to give permission to the librarian to let me borrow any of those books.
If they felt something was unacceptable for my age then they wouldn't let me have it- but that never happened.

Fortunately today we have cross-over fiction so both adults and teenagers can enjoy it. But budgets don't stretch to all the new books readers might want now.

Well over ten years ago the Central library in Nottingham gathered together any old stock they could sell. Yearbooks that were out of date. Books that hadn't been borrowed for years; books that had been written in or underlined, or were a little too tatty to stay on the shelves.

It was wonderful. I bought some books that have been useful for reference, or the subject just interested me and they are dotted among my book shelves.

books shelves,library,novels,reference A few of my books

The money that was made was put into the budget for buying new books so everyone gained.

Sadly with local authorities making cuts because they have to rely on less money, libraries have suffered.

Do councils see libraries as soft targets? Just because the number of books borrowed is down that doesn't mean that people don't use them.

You are still using the services even if you don't check-out a book. Plus many of the libraries have limited book buying budgets so they will never please every reader and potential borrower.

I hope local authorities listen to the people and find a compromise...

Thursday 3 February 2011

E- Books Pricing Investigation...

Last year I was blogging about the introduction of the 'Agency Model' for e-book pricing that many of the larger publishers had introduced, or were intending to introduce. For anyone new to buying e-books or the agency model you can read it here.

The OFT (Office of Fair Trading) in the UK has opened an investigation into the arrangements between publishers and suppliers for the sale of e-books. This is the result of a 'significent number of complaints', though there is no detail on whether the complaints were individuals or organisations, or both, nor how many.

"The Competition Act 1998 prohibits agreements, practices and conduct that may have a damaging effect on competition in the UK." (OFT statement) There is more but you get the idea...

Just because these agreements are being looked at, it doesn't mean that the publishers and suppliers are guilty of 'any breach of the law'.

(In fact when publishers announced their intentions last autumn many of the larger suppliers made books unavailable until agreements were reached.)

At the end of the investigation a ruling will be made, so what happens then will depend entirely upon the results.
So meanwhile publishers can continue to tell suppliers how much they can sell that publisher's e-book formats for...

As an e-book buyer I'm looking forward to reading the conclusions.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

It's February...

Well I know that's obvious if you look at today's date, but no sooner is the New Year over than the month is gone.

So what have I achieved in the last 31 days?

More than I expected actually.

I had intended to enter a 250 word competition with a closing date of yesterday, but have to admit I failed. The idea just didn't go anywhere and no matter how many avenues I considered it just wasn't right.

Despite that failure I did enter the Words with Jam competition for the last couple of lines of a story. I was not alone in this, there were 800 entries (it was free to enter). I didn't expect to get anywhere but considered it was good practice. I rewrote the ending of a piece of flash fiction and it did actually assist me in deciding how I could improve the rest of the story- it needs to be longer...

Last month I had a lot of commitments so very little quiet time which I think contributed to my spell of writers block. Glad to say the remedial action is working.

Nor have I read as much as I wanted. I'm working my way through the most recent Woman's Weekly Fiction Special and have the Fireside Reading special from People's Friend to follow.

I've started 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel', but have been in a short story mood, so swapped to 'Loves Me, Loves Me Not' a great mix of stories that can be dipped into when you only have ten minutes to spare.
I bought this last year and have got about half way through and have thoroughly enjoyed the variety.

Last night I bought and downloaded another short story anthology 'Diamonds and Pearls', which has among it's contributors well known writers such as Della Galton and Sue Moorcroft. The great thing about this book is not only does the reader get a wonderful bunch of stories to enjoy, but also a donation from the sale of each book goes to a cancer charity.

I'm certainly learning from these stories how to improve my characterisation.

So now I have a few weeks without interruptions- hopefully-I'm going to get on with some writing. Have a look at competitions I could enter over the next few months and get my brain moving again. And carry on reading.

In the meantime I want your opinions on whether you prefer your novels to be character or plot driven? Perhaps you don't have a preference.
You will find the voting box on the right hand side of your screen under the list of my Followers (thank you all).

If you'd like to share how you fared with your writing and/or reading in January then please add your thoughts to the comments box. I enjoy reading them.