Saturday, May 30, 2009

Back Again

It's good to be back online again, but I have filled out my time usefully by reading lots more. I've also discovered that I have no time for badly written books anymore.

In the past two weeks I have read two new books, both Science-Fiction, one by a newish author and one by an established author.

The new author was Stephen Hunt and his book was 'Kingdom Beyond the Waves'. I was initially cold towards it, but it grew on me. There are still parts of the book where I think he tries too hard to be original by giving obvious things different names (a key is not a key for example), but the story was original, well written and the characters well rounded and believable.

The established author was Iain M Banks and the book was 'Against A Dark Background'. I don't often put books down without reading them fully, but there was nothing here that, to me at least, was new or interesting. Even when I jumped from page 80ish to the final chapter I wasn't that interested in how the story ended, or even what happened to the main characters.

Thinking back over the past few books I've read, it seems that the more established authors become, the weaker the books become. It's not always the case, and many authors recover to write great books in the latter parts of their careers, but the third to fifth books seem to be hit and miss.

Why would that be? Publishers wanting to get 'anything' out by the author? The author not having the right editor? The author themselves taking things for granted?

Some authors know when to change tack. Alastair Reynolds' first books are set in a galaxy overshadowed by the Inhibitors, but after five books on that subject and with the same characters, he changed tack. His 'world' remains the same, but with 'Century Rain' he went off at a tangent and it worked brilliantly. It's still a story I recall with clarity and smile when I think of the characters and the events.

In the music business there is a phrase: 'The difficult second album'. Do writers have 'the difficult third book'?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Moving On

I'm moving house tomorrow.

As is the way with these things in the UK, it will be about a week before I have internet access again (though I may get lucky), and I'm going to miss it.

What would you miss if you had to do without it for a week...aside from books?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Words

How many new words have you found yourself using since you became a writer?

There are over 250,000 words in the English language (at the moment), and most people can recognise between 35,000 and 75,000 words, depending on their level of education.

How many of those are used regularly? That depends on who you listen to, but estimates range from 1,000 to 10,000, occasionally more.

Over the last few years, as I have become a more skilled writer, I have found myself using words that I haven't written for a long time. Yesterday, I used the word tortuous and I can't remember the last time I wrote, or said, that word anywhere. Yet, it is a word that I already know and know the meaning of.

Some writers get hung up over how 'few' words they use, or think they use, or how 'few' words they know. Don't.

The best advice on this subject comes from Stephen King, in his book 'On Writing': you already have the vocabulary you need, just use it.

I would add, that you already have a large vocabulary, it's just that you haven't used much of it over the years. The more you write, the more often you need to find synonyms, antonyms etc, the more words you mind will drag up from your brain.

I do use a thesaurus, but most of the time I find that I recognise the words and their meanings. I just haven't used them in a long time.

Don't worry about learning new words, try to remember the ones you already know.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Simplicity

When designing websites I keep everything simple. This makes them easier to update and maintain. The same approach helps me when writing.

Long, tortuous words may look impressive in literary fiction, but what good do they really do when trying to tell a story? Likewise with a story: how many subplots do you really need?

This simplicity of style is the basis of the short story and some of the greatest writers of the last two hundred years started out with this form: one story, one person, no subplots.

I also find that when I'm having trouble with a novel, it's because I've made it too complex. If I as the writer can't keep up with what's going on, how will the reader?

Simplify the story, simplify the writing, enjoy life.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Quiet

After the weekend's exertions, I've decided to give myself a day off.

Being self-employed has its advantages, hence the day off. That I have come down with a cold is another reason to give myself a break.

How often do we take a break from writing?

We know that we need a break from work and we take holidays (vacations) and long weekends to accomplish this, but we also need to take a break from writing now and then.

If we spend every spare moment writing, we can lose a sense of perspective and by placing ourselves 'in the zone' too often can leave ourselves too close to our writing to be objective.

So take a break, a day off and give your creativity time to recover. You deserve it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Done

Three performances, three successes, lots of dropped words and lots of fun.

Although nervous last night, I was able to give the best performance yet and was nearly word perfect. This morning we cleared the stage and the hall ready for the next group.

It's been a hectic four weeks for me. Joining the drama group, learning lines and actions, giving three performances alongside people I barely know and stripping in front of those same people in the dressing room.

It's good to be back on stage.

Although it's an amateur group, the approach is very professional. Auditions for parts, a strong support group of scene builders, lighting and make-up, alongside directors who are not afraid to cut things that aren't working. What is more, everyone is enthusiastic about it.

It's the same approach I would expect from an agent or publisher. If they haven't got the support network, or aren't enthused by my book, I don't want them representing or publishing it. So when I get a rejection, it goes on the pile, or gets filed away in a folder on the computer. If they're not enthused, I want them far away from it.

An unenthusiastic director or cast can ruin a play. An unenthusiastic agent or editor will do the same.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Phew!

My first stage appearance for 15 years and it's a four-minute monologue. Just me, my script and an audience barely alive.

I'd like to say that it was a word-perfect performance full of pathos and humour, given with the panache of Patrick Stewart. That's what I'd like to say. A combination of nerves and excitement meant that I hurried the first part, but calmed down for the last part. Still I got a huge laugh for the awful joke.

Yes I missed a few words, yes I got myself in a tizzy and yes, things weren't perfect. But the play was a success and I'm looking forward to doing it again tonight.

When I got home my eldest nearly wet himself when he saw the make-up, my youngest thought I looked weird and my middle son wanted it removed quickly as it scared him (he thought I looked like a doll in a horror movie). It didn't help the general merriment they felt when I explained that I needed the make-up to prevent glare from my bald head.

As a side issue, I'd appreciate any tips for removing black eye-liner.

Writing a story is bit like a performance. You know what you've got to do, you know the story and your lines, but when it comes to the execution, you forget things, get nervous and put other lines in the wrong order.

Like a stage play, you have time to correct them all. So don't panic, enjoy the ride and remember that you're still doing something that a lot of people either can't, or are too afraid to do.

There are also people working for you. The Drama Group have several people who build the sets, sort out the sound and lights, as well as a pianist providing music. We also have a stage manager to make sure we don't go on too early and keeps the stage safe. Because they are supporting us, the cast can concentrate on the play.

As writers, we have friends and (eventually) agents and editors to help us. We can get on with the writing along with our fellow cast members, supporting each other and enjoying each other's success.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

18 Things That Help A Writer

Whilst cleaning out a box of 'collected sheets of paper that may be useful one day', I came across one that actually was: 18 things to remember when writing.

1. Always avoid alliteration.
2. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
3. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations etc.
4. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
5. Remember to never split an infinitive.
6. Contractions aren't necessary
7. Foreign words and phrases are apropos.
8. One should never generalise.
9. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
10. Don't use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
11. Be, more or less, specific.
12. Understatement is always best.
13. One word sentences? Eliminate.
14. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
15. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
16. Who needs rhetorical questions?
17. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
18. Don't never use a double negation.

Feel free to add some more.

p.s. Tonight's the first performance of the play. Thankyou for all your good wishes. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow: the joy, the pain, the forgotten lines, the lousy jokes etc.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Last Minute Changes

Last night was our final dress rehearsal before the first performance on Thursday.

It wasn't as good as Monday's one, but we still managed to get through it without any major hiccups...except one. The scene has always been awkward, especially for the actor, so the director has cut it at the last moment. My scene will now come in a bit earlier than planned. (Did you think it was my scene that was cut? Shame on you.)

It had to be done and it isn't going to affect the story as it's a stand-alone monologue. Neither is it a bad scene and it does have some funny lines, but it wasn't working so it's gone.

In my stories, there are scenes and sentences that are well written and make me proud, but they don't fit. Often I leave them in as long as possible, sometimes in desperation to make them fit. Most of the time I have to cut them out.

Being brutal with my writing is how it has to be. If it doesn't fit, get rid of it, paste it onto a separate document, file it away and see if I can make something else out of it later.

It's never too late to make a cut.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Acting and Writing...Again

Dress Rehearsal last night: with make-up. I'd forgotten how good I look in make-up.

There was no one whipping ropes from under me, I remembered ALL my lines and I even got to dance with a beautiful woman on stage: pity she has two left feet.

There were also some changes made to my words and actions.

As I've gotten used to the role, no mean feat in three weeks of intermittent rehearsing, things have changed. The essence of the character, and the scripted words, haven't changed. But the way the play is being performed has caused some changes.

The script calls for Sid (that's me) to be on stage as the lights come up. We're not doing that and I'm walking onto the stage, grabbing a basket, placing in the centre/left of the stage, sitting down and beginning my spiel. It's a sequence that takes five or so seconds. Not very long, but an eternity for the actor and the audience. So we had to fill it somehow and the director asked me to ad-lib a bit.

I've also had to improvise the actions as there are no props on stage, and my dancing expertise was called upon as there was a spare woman on stage who needed a partner.

What does this have to do with writing? When we first conceive our novels, short stories or articles, we have a definite idea of where it should go and how. The reality of the writing process (the rehearsals), shows us that some of what we have conceived is impractical in the circumstances. We add things, remove things, but keep the essence of the story and the characters.

We find out what works, what doesn't and tailor things accordingly.

For the play, Soapsud Island, a different group of actors will keep the original instructions and 'Sid' would be in place on the stage when the lights come up and not need to ad lib a few moans about 'George' and his inadequate use of a spanner. In the same way, a different writer would add or subtract different things from us.

But however you write or perform, the essence stays the same. The story and the characters are what matter, the rest is down to personal style and circumstances.

Monday, May 11, 2009

This Is The Week

Tonight's the first dress rehearsal, tomorrow the second. Eeeeeeeekkkkk.

I got through yesterday's rehearsal without a problem and I'm now officially looking forward to the performance.

What has struck me, though, is the script.

There are parts of my solo speech that seem out of kilter with the rest of it, sentences that seem to have no relevance to the preceding ones. The first time I come across this is when my character is talking about Lady Hillingdon's silk knickers, then in the next sentence talks about women not being able to carry heavy loads. It feels as if he's gone off a slight tangent then brings himself back to his original thought.

The question is, what was in the author's mind? What did he 'see' when he wrote that speech? In prose, the speech would have several paragraphs of explanation added to make sure that the reader would 'get it', something that isn't possible in a script. It does, however, give latitude to the actor to interpret it.

It got me thinking about my own writing. I know what I intend and what I mean with every word, as did the scriptwriter of this play, but how well do I get that meaning over?

As a writer, I cannot use a picture to show the reader what a place looks like, or an actor to give form to a character, I have to use words. Do my words accurately portray what's in my head and does the reader get it?

Friday, May 08, 2009

Whip-Crack-Away

I survived last night's rehearsal...just.

My first appearance in the play is a two minute solo piece (nothing like the deep end eh), which I now know well, including the actions.

Last night I was all ready to go. I walked on with my basket and wellington boots, placed the basket in the right place, sat down, started with relish...and the scene man whipped the rope out from under the basket and nearly took my leg off. Between that and an overzealous prompter, it took me half the speech to get my rhythm again.

I've also been shoehorned into the dance sequence as they needed a partner for one of the 'laundry girls'. Here's hoping that I can remember how to waltz.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

One Week To Go

Another Thursday, another rehearsal.

With just one week to go before the big night, I know my lines. All I have to do is make sure I don't suffer from too many nerves in rehearsals or on the performance nights.

An absence of nerves is worse than too many nerves, as you can become complacent or egotistical. Too much nervousness and...well, you wouldn't be going on stage anyway.

The trick is to turn the nerves into something positive. One thing I keep in mind, whether it's public speaking or performing, is that no one in the audience knows what I'm going to say (unless they have a script in front of them), therefore, dropping the odd word won't matter too much.

As long as you make sure that your lines give the correct cues to the actors that speak after you, you're fine.

The adrenilin that runs through you can be used to add to your performance, in much the same way as you get a 'buzz' doing something you enjoy.

So all that remains is to go through my part, remember my cues, learn the song, throw myself into the role and enjoy myself.

Now, where's the Valium?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

What's On Your Shelf?

Taking a look at my bookshelves I realise that I have a lot of diversity amongst my collection.

A sample of my books (one per shelf) is:

The Vicar of Dibley (scripts)
A Word in Your Shell Like (Reference)
World Famous Books in Outline (Fiction/Non-Fiction)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Fiction)
Vile Bodies (Fiction)
The London Encyclopedia (History/Reference)
Bloody Foreigners (History)
Emotional Intelligence (Science/Psychology)
Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Religion)
Bomber's Moon (Songbook)

There is also a box of books packed and ready for a house move.

I also have books on science, philosophy, economics, entertainment, old books, new books and classic books.

The oldest books I have date back to the early twentieth century (modern reprints of classics, such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales aren't old for this purpose).

The last books I bought were 'The Uses and Abuses of History' by Margaret Macmillan, 'The Kingdom Beyond the Waves' by Stephen Hunt and 'Vote for Caesar' by Peter Jones.

What's on your bookshelves?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

I'm It

I've been tagged...kind of.

The rules are
1. Respond and rework: answer the following questions on your blog, replace one question that you dislike with a question of your own invention, add one more question of your own.
2. Tag other un-tagged people.

I wasn't exactly tagged, more requested...well, me end the other 9,323.5 people who read KLo's blog.

The Questions:

1. What is your current obsession?
I don't get obsessed, just REALLY interested in things.

2. Who was the last person you hugged?
My 13 year old son a few moments ago. He and the youngest (9) come up to me 3-10 times a day for a hug. They always get one and give one. I'm going to miss that when they move out with their mother today.

3. What’s my favorite dinner?
Curry...Medium Hot

4. What is the worst "classic" book you've ever read?
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. If I want to read long words I'll pick up a dictionary. If I want to be bored out of my mind about someones day and how their comfortable life is actually horrific I'll listen to politicians.

5. What are you listening to right now?
The Birdie Song by the Tweets.

6. What is your favourite weather?
Warm. Not hot, not cold, just warm...all year round preferably.

7. What is your least favorite season?
Spring. Grey clouds drive me nuts.

8. What’s in your purse?
I don't have a purse...I'M A MAN!

9. Say something to the person/s who tagged you.
Sometimes life sucks, sometimes it's great. The bad moments get us down, but the great moments live in our hearts forever.

10. What is your favorite dessert or cool treat?
Lemon cheesecake

11. What did you want to become as a child?
An actor

12. What do you miss?
Being on stage

13. What’s your favorite brand of jeans?
I'm a man, what do I care.

14. If you could go anywhere in the world for the next hour, where would you go?
Somewhere with clear blue skies, a warm sun and only the sound of nature.

15. Who do you want to meet in person?
Sam Neill.

16. What are your most challenging goals right now?
Getting back into acting; writing a novel; getting published; finding a new home; getting my business off the ground; staying in touch with the kids after they move out.

17. What’s your 5 year plan?
Being with the kids as much as possible; getting a novel published; more performing; building a successful business; finding a partner.

18. What would you change about yourself?
My fingers. I'd make them longer so I could play the guitar better.

19. What is my favorite sport to watch?
Cricket. It's not quite a sport, more of a social occasion. How else can fat blokes who smoke a pack a day and drink heavily play it at international level?

20. Describe your perfect day:
A quiet(ish) day in a home with my kids and a wife/partner. All of us pottering around, relaxing, hugging and sharing the time.

21. What TV show would you want to be a cast member on (reality included)?
Star Trek. If fact I have an idea for a new series...but I digress.

22. Are you a lover or a fighter?
I'm a lover.

23. Does the idea of being a Ghost Writer appeal to you?
Yes. I get to write, but don't have to do any publicity.

I won't tag anyone. Partly because I want to leave it up to you, partly because I'm awkward/lazy (delete as appropriate), but mostly because tag is a game that requires exercise and I'm allergic to it.

Have a great day.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Are You Inside Your Characters?

How much of yourself is in your characters?

As egotistical as it sounds, I put myself in every story: I am the main character. For example, in my latest story, the main character's moods can be easily discerned by how much facial hair he has. Huge beard = depressed, clean shaven = not depressed.

What personal traits do you put into your characters...that you are willing to admit to?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Coming Up 8s

Thanks to KLo for this idea.

8 things...

...I Look Forward To

1 - a hug from my kids
2 - roast dinner at mum's
3 - having a story published
4 - someone giving me a compliment
5 - performing on stage
6 - peace and quiet at night
7 - listening to music
8 - finding a partner to share my life with

...I Did Yesterday

1 - wrote more of my novel
2 - went to rehearsals for the play I'm appearing in
3 - finished 'Equal Rites' by Terry Pratchett
4 - finished issue 1 of 'First Edition'.
5 - hugged two of the boys (the 15 year old avoids them)
6 - bought myself a book
7 - watched a program about the weather on the BBC iplayer with the two eldest as part of their home-ed
8 - drank too much tea for my own good

...I Wish I Could Do

1 - make my fingers grow an inch longer so I can play B & F chords on the guitar
2 - sleep properly
3 - be firmer with myself
4 - enjoy nature
5 - keep to an exercise regime
6 - fly
7 - stand on the surface of the moon and watch an earthrise
8 - invent a new word that people can find useful

...Shows I Watch (on DVD...I don't have 'telly')

1 - Star Trek
2 - Babylon 5
3 - Red Dwarf
4 - Dr Who
5 - You've Been Framed
6 - Allo Allo
7 - Walking With...(dinosaurs, beast, monsters)
8 - Planet Earth

Have a great weekend.