Sunday, 30 May 2010

Planning and Writing a Novel: from Sticky Labels, How-To Books, and Computer Software

It's becoming increasingly difficult to keep this blog up to date. Not because I don't want to update it, but because free time is becoming a rarity! Inkspill Magazine is closing to submissions for Issue 2 tomorrow and I've got a lot of subs to read. Work has been hectic, with one of the editors I work for changing roles in the company. I'm off to Portugal next Sunday for a few days to attend a business conference. At the moment I'm still a little deaf from my trip into London to see The Frayed Laces. And on top of all that, I'm flat-hunting with my other half.

I've not managed to write another word of my novel over the past few weeks. BUT I have been making progress. I have been brainstorming and outlining like crazy. I've been trying to figure out how to weave all the history and past events of my novel's foundation into the present, without having to do lots of flashbacks. That's quite a challenge, but I'm getting there. It's hard to 'let go' of so much work, but I've realised that an awful lot of the foundations I've created are for my head only, and not necessarily for the readers' eyes.

I've been dipping in and out of a few books on novel writing, as I've never completed a novel before. An online friend, Bob Jacobs, recommended these books when he started writing his own novel. (I even won a signed copy of the third book through his blog!) The three I've been using are:

1. First Draft in 30 Days, by Karen S. Wiesner - This is a step-by-step walk through of how to build up a complete draft from scratch using worksheets in the back of the text. Interesting and relevant, but a bit too 'hand-holding' for me in parts. I feel like I can get lost in planning TOO much detail. Though the plot-building sections are the most useful.

2. Novel Writing, 16 Steps to Success by Evan Marshall - I've only skimmed about the first third of this, but it looks a bit too basic for me so far. It looks like it has a few interesting sections later on in the book, to do with submitting to publishers. Has some interesting ideas on 'sections', which brings me nicely to...

3. Make a Scene, Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, by Jordan E. Rosenfeld - This has been a very handy book. I'm still working my way through it, but it has helped me understand the foundations of a good plot is created through building a story scene by scene. It describes how different scenes work and how they fit together... This type of theory is what I've been finding most useful from the other two books, too.

Today I've been planning my plot further by thinking up scenes and writing them on sticky notes and sticking them on a big piece of cardboard. Very old-school. Then I remembered recently reading a blog post by Sandra Patterson about a piece of novel-writing software called Scrivener. It looked pretty damn cool, but I was gutted to learn it was just for Macs (I'm increasingly regretting buying another PC laptop instead of spending an extra £500 on a MacBook).

So I had a little hunt round the internet for alternatives. There are an awful lot. So many of them looked pretty crap, though. Then I stumbled across Liquid Story Binder XE by Black Obelisk Software, which looked pretty swanky. I've downloaded the 30-day free trial ($45 dollars for an access code if you want to keep it permanently) and I'm having a play around. Will let you know how I get on with it.

How do you go about planning and writing your novels? Have you ready any 'how-to' books that have really helped? What works best for you?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Inkspill Magazine Issue 1

Well, the first issue has been out for a little while now and has sold quite a few copies. Bob Jacobs, a writer I've know over the inter-web for a number of years now, has written a review of the issue here: Inkspill Magazine's Debut Issue.

Inkspill Magazine is A5 in size, with 64-jam-packed pages of fiction, poetry, art and articles. It has a glossy full-colour cover and a creative black and white internal design. The text is laid out in two columns which is interjected with quotes from the text and illustrative photographs in order to look more like a magazine and less like a book full of chunks of text.

Contributors are from across the globe, from the UK to the US, Denmark, Russia and Germany. Previously published or unpublished, Inkspill Magazine commissions work based on merit, not the reputation of the writer.

Articles include insights into performance poetry with tips for beginners, the analysis of a famous tale and the mediums it has been told in, and the editor of 100 Stories for Haiti tells us about the project's conception.

Short stories include tales of conjoined twins, blood-thirsty trees, invisible girls, imaginary friends, babies for sale and personal revelation.

Poetry ranges from the surreal to the humorous, from prose-poetry to visual poetry.

Art punctuates the text, with full pages dedicated to mixed media pieces, abstract paintings, and beautiful photographs.

All this for just £3.50 + P&P. PDF download will be available soon for just £1.50.


Currently open to submissions for Issue 2 until the end of May. Please read the submission guidelines before submitting.


100 Stories for Haiti: The Editor Speaks - by Greg McQueen
Thoughts from a Performance Poet - by Ray Morgan
Book vs Film: Watership Down - by Lindsay Oberst

Short Stories:
The Art of Invisibility - by Angela Readman
Before Helping Others - by Kat Hausler
Kevin - Bernard Brachya Cohen
The Carver's Son - Django Gold
Jasper's Betrayal - Jessica Patient
The Pump Twin - K. R. Sands

A Woodchip Fell from the Sky - William Doreski
The Course of Empire - Gardner Mounce
Red Door - Neila Mezynski
Speaking of Mayer - Lee Minh Sloca
Any Dope Can Write a Ditty - Russell Bittner
Pedro - Ray Morgan

Swell - Gardner Mounce
Steps Leading Up to Lookout Hill - Russell Bittner
Attack of the Furies - Jim Fuess
A young Midwestern girl looking bored, lace curtains in window light and the silhouette of a flightless bird - Todd R. Behrendt

Cover Art:
Alexander Gordeev

Monday, 10 May 2010

The No-One Prince of Nowhere

Now... I could bang on about how excited I am that I finally received my batch of Inkspill Magazine from the printers today... and that it is available to buy from the website for merely a few quid...

OR, I could share with you my crummy poetry. No contest, really, is it?

The No-One Prince of Nowhere

The No-One Prince of Nowhere
sat on his throne and stared.
Hand on chin, elbow on knee
in his ancient royal chair

which was nowhere to be marked
on any map or any chart.
It’s where my kingdom used to be,
The No-One Prince remarked.

The field was empty, bare and dead,
The grass all shrivelled, the earth all red.
And though alone, the Prince would see
battles play inside his head.

Slash! Clash! Clank-Clank!
Sounds of war, the smells so rank,
lived on inside his memory,
though his face was always blank.

The men all fell, one by one,
And it was clear that none had won.
Now No-One lived and all were free,
because the Prince was dead and gone.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Coming Out of the Closet...

No, not like that. I found my old YA fantasy novel I was writing when I was about fifteen or sixteen. I thought I may have lost it after two computer transfers and throwing away all my hand-written notes. (Note to self: don't throw away writing notes, no matter how crap they seem at the time.)

I'm really happy I found it, along with some notes I'd typed up. I can't believe how much I had written (nearly 10,000 words - the longest piece of fiction I've ever written), and it wasn't half as bad as I expected it to be.

I spent about an hour cleaning up the first 4,000 words last night. I'm going to outline the rest of the story. I had a bit of a brain-wave in the pub at the weekend that fixed one of the problems I was facing with the plot.

I recon I could get at least 100,000-150,000 words out of this huge plot and history I'm making up in my head. I'm considering trying to plan a trilogy of 50,000 words each. Apparently 50,000 words is about 175-200 pages of a standard book. Does that sound right?

And I'm also going to try and illustrate it. I haven't done much art since A-Level, where I began developing my skills with pen and ink, finding it a comfortable and versatile medium to work with.

I adore John Tenniel's illustrations in Alice in Wonderland, and I think I'll aim for something similar (though I'm slightly more sketchy than Tenniel).

If anyone can recommend some good YA fantasy novels, please do. I think I need to read some more. I'm hoping that my story has some originality to it, but I think I should read more of what is out there already to get a better idea.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Cars, Books and Finding the Time

My old banger of a car has been slowly deteriorating. It is currently down my dad's workshop, and will probably need the clutch replacing. I only live a few miles from work. I walked home yesterday and it took me nearly an hour. I walked to the train station today, which took me about twenty-five minutes, and then got the train. In total, nearly an hour from door to door again.

It's made me realise that I'm terribly unfit (I knew that anyway). It's a bit of a pain having to walk, but perhaps if I do it all this week, I might start to feel a bit fitter. Nice to get a bit of air and exercise instead of driving to work, sitting at a desk all day, driving back and sitting in front of the TV/laptop all evening.

Which brings me onto my next point. I'm always complaining that I don't have time to write, or that I'm too tired after work to write. I'm going to try and change that.

A little while ago, I posted on here that I was going to try to write a novel. Well, after my idea had gone round my head a few times, I concluded that it was boring.

When I was about sixteen, a group of us wrote a short fantasy story for an English assignment. I tried to turn it into a novel, but didn't get very far. Recently, I've been thinking about that story again. I went to dig out my folder of notes for it... but I must have thrown them away when I 'sorted out' my room. I'm very annoyed at myself.

I think I have what I wrote on a disk somewhere. This week I'm going to dig it out and see how bad it is. I'm going to flesh out an outline, and start writing. I might have a go at writing in my lunch hour at work - though I usually like to get away from my desk for a bit. Might try writing in the evening, and... possibly... the morning. I'm incredibly lazy, though, and not a morning person. But I feel like I should try, and see what slots suit me best.

I know of lots of writers who have full time jobs and a family to look after. I don't have the family stuff, and I don't have a very long commute (usually - bar the car trouble), so I know that I don't really have an excuse.

Small, gradual changes are needed, I think.
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