Monday, 2 January 2017

Why you should write really bad scenes

Most writing guides focus on writing good scenes, getting the conflict and tension in there. A bit of detail to add colour and location, good dialogue. I'm going to put forward the argument for bad scenes - the stuff that gets cut.

The problem with focusing on good scenes and top copy is the moment you write a dull scene, you have a good idea that it should be cut, so you cut. And you start again, which leads to frustration and the feeling that you're getting nowhere. I certainly feel that way. And then I read an article by a YA author who said she had to write nearly half a million words to get one particular novel right. If an average YA novel is 70,000 words then that's 430,000 words not needed.

Does that mean they could be avoided?

Well, it got me thinking to how I wrote Clash and Arabesque. Clash actually started as a very different book, something called Get Even, Get Girl, Get Lost, and the story of Kyle and Alex was really just the opening of the book. It wasn't until I came to rewriting the entire novel that I realised Alex was really interesting and the rest of the book paled compared to those first few scenes. Two thirds were cut right there. About 40,000 words, and nothing of that was reused or reworked. It wasn't particularly bad, just nowhere near as strong.

So I began rewriting to develop those first scenes further. The majority of that first chunk was either rewritten or ditched. I think only two scenes of the original draft survived, and both were developed further and rewritten several times over. It was months before I had enough scenes to take a step back and be able to work on the plot.

I couldn't have planned Clash, and I couldn't have written it straight off. It was a mish-mash of good and bad scenes that were eventually hammered into shape.

Yesterday I wrote a scene for my current project (I'm going to call it Daniel's Daughter from now on, just as a working title so I can refer back to it), As a scene, it's okay. It was fun to write. It's got conflict and tension, it fires off questions for the reader and ends on a cliffhanger. But now that it's written I can't help thinking, 'What if...?' and approach the opening a different way. Over the past year or so, this has stumped me again and again and made me rethink, replan and start over. It's that fear of taking a wrong path that has held me back. It's that fear of writing bad scenes - or at least, unnecessary scenes - that holds back development of new ideas. The result of this is a book with lots of good scenes, but not a lot of development - no depth. I've written some clangers over the past few years!

So maybe writing those bad scenes has its place. I know that yesterday's scene probably won't make the final cut, and today's scene might not either. But I do think that writing them is the springboard to the good stuff.

So for now, the scenes stay, and Daniel's Daughter moves a step forward.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

ZERO by Matt Brolly

I don't read a lot of crime fiction, but the mild dystopian/sci-fi slant of ZERO grabbed my attention. And the cover... I just love the texture on that yellow text.

ZERO is set in the near future where authorities have adopted a zero tolerance policy towards crime. If found guilty, regardless of the crime, there is only one sentence: execution. And without giving any spoilers, it's the manner and delivery of execution that has more than shock value - it really resonates throughout the book. There are no flying cars, no robots or spaceships, but ZERO holds an unsettling atmosphere reminiscent of Bladerunner.

The story kicks off with the kidnap of a judge, which at first doesn't seem particularly surprising. The events and investigations that follow build up slowly, leading to a fairly complex, but convincing plot. Underpinning this is the conflicting turmoil within the main character as she digs deeper.

Again, no spoilers, but the result is a novel that avoids the quick fire twists and turns and cliches of pulp crime and instead, delivers a dark picture of social control and authoritarian hypocrisy.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Nano Day 6

Grinding to a halt... and here's why. In a nutshell, This isn't writing: this is typing.

There is a difference. At least, to me there is. In YA novels, every word counts. The moment you waffle, you lose the reader. You have a bit more leeway in adult fiction because adult readers have more patience and are more likely to stick along for the ride. But there has to be a promise to the reader, a hint that there is an end game, that we're on a journey. You can do it with a question or a hint, but there has to be something.

Here's the opening line from The Shining:

On the second day of December, in a year when a Georgia peanut farmer was doing business in the White House, one of Colorado's great resort hotels burned to the ground.  

It sets a moment in time, a voice and lets us know where the book is going - a disaster, a great resort hotel is destroyed. The book is going to tell you why.

With my Nano project, I've got a good opening and three strong scenes, but I don't have an endgame in sight. There's no promise to the reader, no hint at the big picture. There's nothing wrong with the actual writing, but that feeling of not knowing where I'm going is very likely going to transfer to the reader, and frustration is the last emotion you want any reader to experience.

It's like I've set sail on a big wide ocean without a compass and a broken rudder. And there's a hole in the bottom of the boat. And a big bastard of a shark following me.

I think it's important to know what kind of writer you are, so in that respect, six short days of Nano has helped me out. I'm a plotter. I like to plan. So that's what I'm going to do.

That doesn't mean I'm giving up. It means I'm going to sit down and work out what I can do with this novel, what the goal is. If I can, I'll keep going. If not, I'll plan something else and see if I can catch up.

There's still 24 days left, so plenty of time. :)

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Nano Day 3

I've just passed the 5,000 word mark! Yesterday was a bit difficult because I got in late, had to build a fireplace to give the room a bit of atmosphere for the first of our Christmas Movie nights, and then watched Elf, so the only writing I got done was what I managed to cram into my lunch hour, which meant today I was playing catch up.

Didn't get the opportunity to do any lunchtime writing today, but I go to watch the kids diving on a Thursday so I took my laptop along and knocked out 1,000 words there. Came home and managed another 1,000 (the last 500 words flew out.)

So, over the first three days, I've got an average of 1,800 per day. No idea where this novel is going but really want to keep pushing and see what happens. And to be quite honest, if it wasn't for the need to keep up with NaNoWriMo, I certainly wouldn't have done that last 1,000 words. In fact, today would probably have ended up as a non-writing day.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Nano Day 1

Finding time to write is the key, and it really isn't that hard. By some smashing stroke of luck, my dog woke me up at 5:00am this morning, quickly followed by the cat. Unable to get back to sleep I started thinking of my Nano project and the scenes began to flow.

At 7, it was time to give up on any further chance of sleep and get out of bed. Quick packed lunch for my youngest, a bacon and egg sarnie for me, check Facebook (quickly, because I really wanted to write a few notes) and then managed about fifteen minutes writing. Doesn't sound like a lot but it was enough to get about 150 words down.

It's a start.

I work during the week, so I couldn't do anything more until my lunch break. I nuked leftover pasta in a the staff room microwave, found an empty class and began tapping away. I knocked out around 1000 very messy words.

This evening, I managed a bit more time behind the keyboard. This was easy enough - really just time I usually spend scrolling through Facebook and watching videos of cats falling off tables and such. Went over the stuff I'd written earlier and watched a documentary on Victorian bakers, wrote a little more, watched a bit of an old movie, the news and QI. Then an early night and a few pages of current book (Midnight by Dean Koontz).

Total words today - 2168. Not bad considering I haven't really felt like I've had to tie myself to the laptop.

Monday, 31 October 2016


NaNoWriMo - or, National Novel Writing Month is described as "A fun, seat of your pants approach to creative writing."

The idea is to knock out a novel as fast as possible to avoid getting bogged down in planning and plotting.

I've tried this technique a few times but never registered for Nano. Thought I'd give it a go this year as I'm just about to start writing what I hope is an adult thriller.

All I have at the moment is a title: Daniel's Daughter, and a one line synopsis. Nothing else.Going to start writing tomorrow. Let's see how far I get.I'll blog updates along the way.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Teenage Cancer Trust

Had a great night on Saturday night at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. 18 different acts performed on two stages - the main O2 stage and the upstairs acoustic room None of the acts took a fee to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Most of the photos I took came out a bit poor so I knocked a few video clips together to give a hint of the general atmos. Fantastic. Can't wait till next year.