How does a story start.

Thursday, 28 July 2011 10:34 am
staticsan: Portion of my FrogPad (typing)
I'm in the process of re-drafting a story. This is basically a balancing act between not enough planning and too much planning. Somewhere in there is a nice middle ground that lets me be creative in the actual words-on-the-page creating process without getting lost in some uncharted plotline.

Well, that's the idea. In the meantime, I have a growing To Be Read pile which is annoying me. And since writing takes more spool-up time than reading, I've given in and started putting novels back into my work bag. Several of those in the last fortnight have been recent novels by Sir Terry Pratchett. And if there's one thing Sir Terry does very well is tell a story. Ironically, this is my (current) biggest weakness. Sounds like a teachable moment.

So how does a Discworld novel begin? The classic description of a story beginning is 1) Setup and Exposition 2) An Inciting Incident. Or something like that. In the last three DW novels I've begun (The Wee Free Men, A Hatful of Sky and Going Postal), I've noticed that Sir Terry coalasces the start of his plot in the following ways:
  • Describe the protagonist's world but with it tilted so the protagonist is immediately off-balance.
  • Use this to take them through a scene that changes their view of their world
  • Now send them on a mission that they don't want to do but have to.
My task for Rain is to do that for my protagonist.


Monday, 11 July 2011 04:18 pm
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I  finished the first draft of 'Rain' weeks ago. Unfortunately, it is lacking a decent plotline. :-/ A rewrite redraft has begun, only I haven't been real inspired to actually write. There is 1000 words written on a new starting scene which creates an inciting incident. And I know what needs to happen next. I just haven't written it... 

Some impetus to sit down and write would be a helpful thing.

Teaser Tuesday

Tuesday, 21 June 2011 04:16 pm
staticsan: spectrum of the sky (colour)
My current read: "Dead Until Dark" by Charlaine Harris

pg 146.
Jason turned his head very slowly until his eyes met mine.
"Tell me".


How to to a Teaser Tuesday:

1. Grab your current read
2. Open to a random page
3. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too muchaway! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
4. Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
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What makes a writer a writer?

Is it that they have three dozen notebooks full of story ideas? Or thirteen unfinished novel drafts in the drawer? Or maybe it's the way they think about words so much of the time? Are they the ones with the extensive vocabulary? Or perhaps I'm on entirely the wrong track?

I have a counselor friend who has made it one of his missions getting me to loudly and boldly proclaim that "I Am A Writer!". I only noticed this a few days ago but as soon as I saw it I knew he'd been at it for weeks. We have deep, introspective conversations about my life journeys and writing has come up in the last few months as a significant passion of mine. But with a certain special group of friends I call myself a storyteller because that's what kind of writer I am aspiring to be.

We don't tell enough of the right kind of stories in this day and age. Story telling is how children know that monsters can be defeated. Story telling is how the handsome prince knows to go looking for his fortune. Story telling is how the princess knows the prince loves her. Story telling is how we shape our culture and the lives of those that come after us. Story telling is what I'm doing right now. 

My sister has picked up on it, too. I was fumbling through an introduction with one of her arty friends a few months ago and she overrode me with "You're a writer". She will probably not remember the accolade, but I do. I've helped my sister learn how to write university essays in the last few years and can see her getting better. She may not see that her art essays necessarily tell a story, but it is writing and like all essays, there is a narrative. 

But my counselor friend is on the money: I shouldn't need other people to categorise me as a writer for me to accept it. I should be able to identify as that by myself. And I'm a writer because I write.

So how do you know you're a writer?

Tuesday Teaser

Tuesday, 7 June 2011 03:31 pm
staticsan: (Default)
Currently reading "Rides a Dread Legion" by Raymond E Feist.

Page 131
"Pug had limited experience with demons, and all of it bad. He did not hesitate to follow his confinement spell with the most powerful assault he could muster."

Rides a Dread Legion

How to do a Tuesday Teaser:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers
staticsan: (Default)
I hadn't considered that this might be romantic when I wrote it. It was intended to be a fragment of a modern re-telling of a fairy-tale. You'll probably be able to guess which one.
He looked at her for a few minutes, lying in the hospital bed, eyes closed, breathing slowly. He was her prince, he just knew it. The quiet was punctuated by the regular chime of the heart monitor. He was sure it was faster since he'd arrived.

The nurse looked on from the curtain. So did the doctor. He still didn't really know why they let him in. But he was glad they did. She'd been in there a long time.

He brushed her golden hair out of the way, leaned over and gently kissed her. Her blue eyes fluttered opened.

Tuesday Teaser

Tuesday, 31 May 2011 12:42 pm
staticsan: (Default)
My current read: The Science Of The Discworld II: The Globe. Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen.

Excerpt (pg248):
Science's models are not true, and that's exactly what makes them useful. They tell simple stories that our minds can grasp
The Science Of The Discworld: The Globe
How to do a Tuesday Teaser:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
staticsan: (Default)
Guided somewhat by A Guide To Ebooks in Australia,  I think I'm going to go find myself an Ebook reader. I've been tempted before, but now I'm about to start buying ebooks and the reader in Calibre is, well, pants.

The e-ink based readers are nifty, it must be said. I have a colleague who has a Kindle and it's quite nice. But the biggest problem with the Kindle is that it's run by Amazon. For all their other qualities, Amazon have taken a leaf out of Apple's playbook are trying to Rule The World Of Books which is why the Kindle doesn't support ePub, and why they have the ability to remotely delete books. Even if they've promised to Not Use It Unless Absolutely Necessary. We mean it this time. Really.

Which segues nicely to the iPad from Apple. I've been known to say that the best thing about all the iDevices is that they're made by Apple. Unfortunately (I subsequently say), the worst thing about all the iDevices is that they're made by Apple. This isn't the place to generally rant about Apple. But the iPad is rather overkill for just reading books, I believe. Plus it's too expensive.

The Sony Ereader is rather cheaper. That takes us back to e-ink land. :-/ My mother has one of the smaller ones. And whilst it's good, the thing that caught my attention with both this and the Kindle is that the e-ink refresh takes an appreciable amount of time. I'm not a slow reader and I don't like the idea of the technology being a speed-bump in my reading.

Partway in the middle is the Nook, particularly the colour one. This avoids the refresh problems of e-ink and also the general-entertainment puposes of the iPad. (I also like the fact it supports Ogg Vorbis music files, as that's what all my music is in.) But availability for Australia looks like it  means buying it from the US. Kinda hard to try it out first (that's how I know about the e-ink refresh lag). And the price might be a bit higher than I really wanted to spend.

So. What do people use? What do people recommend?

Teaser Tuesday

Tuesday, 10 May 2011 03:47 pm
staticsan: (Default)
Inspired by

Title: The Truth
Author: Terry Pratchett
Teaser: "Sacharissa was gasping for breath. William grabbed her as gently as he could, because this was the kind of laughter you died of."

P.S. Here's how you do it:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
staticsan: (Default)
Do you call yourself  a story-teller or a writer? How do you tell? And what would be the difference?

It's at once a subtle and an important difference. The art of telling stories predates civilisation. Stories have been told as part of religious and social instruction since the dawn of man. From such work we have myth and legends, rituals and memories. Story telling is a uniquely human activity and narrative structure is something we instinctly crave.

Writing, though, is much newer. Mankind has only been putting symbols into words for reading for a few thousand years. And for much of that time, most of the populace could not, in fact read. And it has only been the last few hundred years that writing has truly taken off as a wide-spread past-time. But writing doesn't always tell a story. And story-telling doesn't always need writing. Writing can and is used to describe how to use a television, but there's no story there. And story-telling with little or no writing has also been done for years: that's what happens in a theatre or cinema.

But say you're a "writer" and most people assume you're telling stories in writing. 

I put this question to my Twitter feed. It was pointed out that C. S. Lews was a story-teller. His Narnia books are unashamedly stories. The world-building is a bit of an after-thought. He is known to have said on several occasions that he began The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe with a simple image: it was the image that turned into Lucy meeting the faun, Mr Tumnus in the show-covered forest under the lamppost. My stories start with an image and things develop from there. This is story-telling.

By contrast, J. R. R. Tolkien was pointed out as a writer. He was a professor of language and literature, after all, and spent many many years building the immense world of Middle-Earth. But I'm not entirely sure. He wrote so much more than the familiar work we know him for, and he built a vast history for Middle Earth out of what he read and learnt from Old English and Scandinavian mythology. And he made his histroy full of stories. Many people read The Lord Of The Rings and see a story struggling to stay afloat in an old world, richly described. But it's only like that because Tolkien filled it with stories. The popular work is, in fact, the final scene in the final act in a very long story. I think Tolkien was a story-teller, but a quite different one to Lewis.

It is not easy to pigeonhole an author and I wouldn't really want to. I have declared elsewhere that I am a story-teller and in that context, the writing is a means to an end. So, do you tell stories, or just write words?
staticsan: (Default)
Sir Terry Pratchett  took part in an interview on stage recently. It was at the Sydney Opera House and just about filled their largest venue, the Concert Hall. Obviously not a public speaker, as such, he was "interviewed" by Australian author Garth Nix for a little over an hour. I paid to be in the audience.

I would have been surprised if Terry was nervous. He didn't sound nervous; he sounded like someone getting on in years who had a lot of stories he could tell. Terry is on record as saying that he doesn't think anyone would be much interested in what he experienced as a journalist. However, I suspect he might have backed away from that stance. When he did venture into that history (with encouragement from Garth), it was clear the audience wanted to hear it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  After introductions, and to rapturous applause, Terry and Garth took their comfortable chairs on the stage. Garth then introduced Rob Wilkins who read a short excerpt from the upcoming Discworld novel Snuff. Terry himself introduced the section, describing Sir Samuel Vimes as basically on holiday from Ankh-Morpork. But he pointed out that once a policemen, always a policeman (a reference was made to Hercule Poirot's constant adventures), as they say, and left it at that. Rob then read the excerpt, which described Vimes encountering a now wheelchair bound Lord Rust. Terry is certainly a master at saying just as much as he needs to and no more.

Garth is an inexperienced interviewer, unfortunately, and his credentials as a fellow published author were not required. It took Terry at least twenty minutes to visibly relax, although he sounded congenial from the get-go. Garth had a few questions the audience had submitted, but only got to two of them. A more experienced interviewer, say Andrew Denton, may have gotten Terry relaxed faster and woven more audience questions into the dialogue. 

The topics were rich, and segued fairly well, as you would expect from two accomplished authors. Not necessarily being a comedian, Terry nevertheless had the audience laughing several times. Perhaps one of the most profound was when he opined that "awesome" was for the presence of Jesus, "everything else is just cool". As most would be aware, Sir Terry is not thiestic. He describes himself as a humanist, rather than an atheist, and did so in this interview, pointing out that this was hedging bets. He also pointed out that Brutha in Small Gods basically behaved in a very Christian way in his treatment of his enemies. This was met with an interestingly muted reaction from the audience. He also revealed that he treasures a small wooden crucifix solely because his mother treasured it.

As alluded to above, Garth got Terry to talk about his early life ("raised on the chalk", i.e. Wiltshire) and his time as a journalist. What had not been apparant to me was that Terry's oft-quoted line about seeing a dead body with hours of his first real job as a journalist was because said body was, in fact, a suicide. And it was far from the last. Terry had some remarkable anecdotes about the suicides he'd witnessed the aftermath of. There was one where a woman had stepped in front of a train: and how he'd found the six cigarette butts behind the signalman's hut where she had gathered the courage to do so. Another story was told that he had heard from a lady who had been a nurse in the 1920s. This was before antiobiotics were discovered, remember (a point Terry curiously left implied), and there was very little that could be done for, say, sufferers of advanced cancer. It was not unknown to euthanase such patients and Terry made a special point of saying the chaplains and priests knew it happened. And why. Nowadays, of course, medical professionals avoid this type of action, due to legal ramifactions. But Terry is clearly on the side of medically assisted suicide. 

Mention was made of when Sir Terry was knighted and there was a few minutes levity about the ancient ritual. That led to an audience question about the sword that Terry had made. The actual question was whether he was going to make armour. It took a while, but Terry's answer was no and he showed why the question quite missed the point. Terry has two neighbours who show up on Time Team as experts in iron-age technology. It was one of those neighbours who helped and showed him how to forge a sword, starting with "walking the fields", looking for suitable iron ore. The process itself is quite complex, and Terry cheerfully admitted he could not have made the pommel, but then, when ever someone says "sword", they almost always mean the actual blade, which Terry did make. He brought up the concept of "mana" at that point, which you would expect this audience to get (they did). His sword is imbued with his mana, including some genuine iron-age steel. And that's really why he doesn't need make armour. Apart from his daughter, which he amusingly said he could only claim half the work, his sword is his single best creation.

The evening could have gone on far longer as Terry got more voluble. But the venue would not have approved. Besides, it was a Sunday night. Terry had brought in a stock of plastic teeth as used in the live-action production of Hogfather and at this point, he and Garth scattered them throughout what audience they could reach. This was, of course, received well. Then Garth revealed that Terry's birthday was not far away and so he was treated to the Concert Hall full of people singing him "Happy Birthday". 

As we filed out, I diverted to the North Lobby, being one of the lucky hundred selected to have a book signed by Sir Terry himself. Terry was clearly enjoying himself here, but it was not a venue for long conversation, or even any conversation, with a hundred books to sign. Here, too, was Sir Terry comfortable being the most important cog in a well-oiled machine, but sadly, here, too, there were one or two signs of his condition. Still, it was very good of him to come all this way to his fans "Down Under".

It was a good night, overall, and I know I've forgotten details and perhaps whole topics. The fact that fantasy fiction is essentially mainstream, now, got aired briefly, for instance, but I would consider the most interesting points of that topic were not even discussed by Terry or Garth. But I'm glad I went. My only regret was that I didn't organise to meet with some friends who also went.

Picture of Sir Terry Pratchett and Garth Nix taken by Jacq aka Zja Zja obsidiantears83
staticsan: (Default)
I know it's been a while, but I got interrupted with a journey, of a sorts.  

Most good stories have a journey. Most? I would say all. It can be as simple as going from one place to another, like in a road-trip movie. Or it can be a quest, like in many fantasy novels.  Some go round and round, some go there and back again. Some never go home.

But just describing a physical journey is not much more than a travelogue. The real journey is how the characters discover and develop. They will learn things about those around them, and sometimes about themselves. They will achieve great things, as well as complete trivial tasks. They will try and fail and try again. Sometimes they never suceed. Sometimes they can only succeed further along their journey. Sometimes, especially in short stories, the journey is just a reframing of a scene. Sometimes such a journey is simply one of discovery for the reader.

Every story has a journey. Remember to watch out for it when writing.

Write what you like.

Monday, 4 April 2011 09:48 am
staticsan: (Default)
I came across an interesting link this morning, courtesy of Twitter. It was an article by an artist about how to go on being creative.  It coves a lot of ground, but there are two things I particularly took away from it this morning: Write What You Know Like and Read What You Want To Write (Like).

For a long time, novice writers looking for a genre are told to look at what they know, and then write about that. This works well for "how-to" books. After all, if you were reading to learn about cabinet making, you'd want the author to have actually done cabinet making. This can work in fiction, too. A police murder-mystery will probably benefit from the author having  been a police detective. So how does that work if you're describing a trek across a wilderness on horses yet you can't ride one yourself? That's where research comes in. Dig a bit deeper in most advice given to writers and you will always find the advice "research". But isn't that at odds with the mantra "write what you know"?

That's where Write What You Like comes in. What do I want to write? I want to write fantasy adventures with realistic characters. Often horse-riding. Usually with swords and magic. Basically, stuff I don't have direct experience with. But I like to read it. So that's what I write. And yes, I research things like combat details and how far a man can normally ride a horse in a day. I don't have to get it 100% right; just right enough. And whatever else, good characters will trump an unrealistic setting any day. 

Wait: how do I know that? Because I read what I want to write. My favourite authors are ones who do enough research to make the world coherent, and then craft realistic characters in it. Some of the world-building needs hand-waving -- which often happens in a fantasy setting and even that is sometimes lampshaded. But you know what? I don't care. Often the hand-waving becomes an essential part of the world, making it a richer place. And a richer setting makes for a better place to write a story.

Here's the link for the full article:


Realistic Fantasy

Wednesday, 30 March 2011 03:46 pm
staticsan: (Default)
Amongst the works of Science Fiction, there is a significant subset called Hard Science Fiction. This is where the science is less wishful thinking and more possible. Even in works with faster-than-light (FTL) drives, as sometimes the explanation can be more scientific and less hand-wavy. Larry Niven is often held up as a writer of fairly hard science fiction, and for good reason. He has stories where there is no FTL travel, and even when he does, such as in The Mote In God's Eye, he has pages of unpublished technical description in how it could work.

That's not to say hard scifi can't be interesting. The webcomic is rich in humour and absurdity, yet the science in it is actually pretty hard. The current storyline involves a neural pruning algorithm for their robots, for example. It's difficult to get much harder than that.

So what about fantasy? 

Fantasy is usually the sort of stories that have things you can't find science to explain. Magic is the red-hot #1, here, but it does include psychic powers (e.g. telepathy), non-human races (e.g. elves), created worlds, other planes of existence, whole pantheons of gods... the list goes on. That said, some authors come up with coherent magic systems. Lyndon Hardy's The Master of The Five Magics has a range of magics based on some quite firm logic, for instance, and the old Vancian magic system used in Dungeons and Dragons (particularly 2nd edition) was also very well thought out.

Fantasy setting also play a lot with what would be possible in time. Many many many fantasy works have locks from only last century, for instance, and long-distance travel is often not unheard of, either. A good example is The Belgariad. I sometimes wonder why they don't have steam engines. And then I remember: because the author didn't write them in.

But fantasy can be harder than that. This is where horses are only used by the very rich. Where most people walk around and work very hard just to stay alive. Where an arrow in the shoulder will kill you in a few weeks because it got infected. Katherine Kerr writes closer to this level, despite the important role magic plays in her stories. And my writing is heading that way, too. But it's kind of the opposite of what happens in Dungeons and Dragons novels: in those, magic is almost everywhere and not all that unusual. I'm finding I prefer a setting where magic is much much rarer.

It's kind of a more "realistic" fantasy.

Planning to plan

Monday, 28 March 2011 09:59 am
staticsan: (Default)
It can be argued that all works of fiction need some sort of planning. Otherwise you get novels without a coherent plot or any sort of ending. (Stopping is not the same as ending.) Very few authors can make that work. Douglas Adams is a noticeable exception that kind of proves the rule - but then, the disorganised way he wrote the original radio play is rather well known. So everyone else must plan to some extent. 

However, new writers find full-on planning to be understandably daunting. NaNoWriMo tackles this problem by encouraging people to "just write", explaining that you can do wholesale rearrangement of written scenes, re-assignment of characters or even re-writing of whole scenes afterwards. This has the advantage of breaking the block of "I can't write that many words!", but doesn't do away with the need to plan. It's just that the planning is somewhat retroactive.

But that works for some writers. I've written several short stories from start to finish with no more planning than an interesting idea and some light editing as I go. And I've read some notes from other authors who also write like that. It basically puts all the planning into your head. Non-writing time, like having a shower or taking a walk, is where the planning occurs. And some writers can do this for a novel.

However, I don't think I'm one of them. My '09 NaNoWriMo novel is languishing at 38,000 words. I think it's about halfway through. It started with a couple of vaguish ideas, some rough character outlines and a setting. But managing the plotline and hidden details has gotten too much and now I need to do some planning to make the second half work. So I've started a smaller work, again with an interesting but more well-formed idea, and a scene to start things off. At the moment, it is finding character interaction that makes my characters appear, and so I needed that scene written first. Using it, I now have a variety of characters and their goals are coming in to focus. I even have an idea of a climax. But then the really hard work begins: building a plot outline. It will be a learn-as-I-go exercise.


Thursday, 24 March 2011 09:50 am
staticsan: (Default)
I feel like a musician embarking on a tour and this is the third city before he forgets which one he's in tonight...

"Hellooooo Dreamwidth!"


Right, now that I've got that out of the way, I'm not sure I'll be blogging on this host. I'm here, as they say, for the ambience.
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