Saturday, 30 April 2011

Here goes nothing...

So there's just over an hour to go before the madness descends - 80,000 words in 80 days. I'm feeling scarily confident about the idea, but fear that the lack of time will make this an exercise in futility. But life's about challenges, giving it your best and learning from your mistakes when you cock it up. Worst case scenario, I'll have X thousand extra words by the end of it than I would have had if I'd not thrown my hat in the ring, though there's no guarantee those words will make any sense.

I'm considering a ritual, or superstition, for the duration of the challenge; lucky boxer shorts, refusing to trim nasal hair, only drinking tea from left-handed mugs, allowing myself two shots of absinthe (flaming, of course) every time I hit the 1,000-word-a-day target.

Seriously, though, best of luck to all those who are similarly delusional and attempting the challenge. It promises to be chaotic, stressful, frustrating and emotional. It should also prove to be inspirational and bloody great fun. Let's get this party started...

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Under starter's orders

One of the most important lessons any writer can learn (and it's something you keep refining, whatever level you're at) is the skill of starting a story at the correct point. It applies to chapter openings as much as the opening of the book, or short story. Indeed, it's probably even more appropriate to short stories, given the word count limitations. No point wasting a few hundred words with superfluous drivel at the start, when in all likelihood you'll be scratching around at the end looking to squeeze everything in.

I suffered at the start of chapter two of... oh, let's call it The Mountain. (That won't be the title, but it does feature a mountain, after a fashion. And it's a big one at that). The chapter opened with a mysterious drifter arriving at an inn (I know, that old cliche). There's a kid spying on him from above the bar, waiting for the drifter to leave in the morning so he can follow him. I liked the way it introduced both of these characters, particularly the drifter. He had some cool and intriguing dialogue with the barman, and it allowed me to drop hints of backstory and character into the opening of the chapter.

But the more I re-read it, the more I realised I was slowing everything down. The single most important aspect of the chapter is that the lad is about to do something stupidly dangerous - setting off into the wilds in pursuit of this drifter, who may as well have death and violence stamped across his forehead. So I hit the fast forward button and the chapter now opens with the drifter in the bar, preparing to leave in the dead of night. He's still talking to the barman, and I've still managed to throw in some tantalising snippets. The moment the drifter opens the door to leave, the young fella is out of his spy hole and in pursuit.

Maintaining the pace, and intrigue, is vital, especially when you're writing for a younger audience. Chapter one ends with such a bang, that the last thing I wanted to do was slam the brakes on and have the reader judder to a halt. Yes, the opening to chapter two does slow things down in terms of action, but the what-the-hell-is-going-on-now intrigue is there from the off. At least I hope it is.

I see a lot of writers falling prey to the wrong starting place syndrome while reading submissions for Nemesis. They focus on too much backstory too early on, instead of hitting the ground running. You need to start the story as late as you possibly can, engaging readers from the get-go. You can fill them in with background as and when they need it as the story unfolds.

Having said all this, I'm not convinced that chapter one opens at the correct point. I've opened it late, but I've a nagging feeling that, on this occasion, a little earlier would work better. I'll let that idea ferment for a little while longer. At least I know how chapter three opens, once I find my way there.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

80,000 words. 80 days. Game on.

I know what you're thinking. He's been gone for ages, and he said he'd be around here more often. Godammit, he said he'd write.

It's been a busy start to the year - I say start, but we're nearly a third of the way through already - and the vow I made of focusing on me, of making 2011 the year I cut all the bullshit and dedicated myself to fiction, is lying curled up in a corner, kicked and beaten into submission. There's been lots on, in particular meetings and planning for Manx Litfest, and much behind-the-scenes shenannigans over at Nemesis, where we're working on an anthology by members of the Litopia Writers' Colony, as well as working with a few writers to develop their manuscripts towards publication. We've also just launched the Debut Novel Competition 2011, so if you're a writer reading this, get yourself over there and check it out.

But a couple of weeks ago, something stirred. I've been eyeing up two potential projects for the last six months or so, and dabbled at starts for each. In my mind, they are both strong projects, so much so that I'd reached stalemate - every time I opted for one, the other would stick it's nose in.

After some friendly advice (read boot up the ass), I had one of those rare moments where the trees miraculously part and you can finally see the wood. Inspired, I took the plunge and started working up ideas for the chosen project and rewrote the opening. It's brewing nicely now.

Earlier today I got a steer via Facebook to a blog - http://80kwords80days.blogspot.com/ - which, if you click and read, you'll see does exactly what it says on the tin. The goal - from May 1, over 80 days, you bang out 80,000 words. Job done.

So, that's the target. I know what you're thinking (part two) - he's said this kind of thing before. You're right, I have. But this time I mean business. I know, I've also said that before. Oh, well. You'll just have to take my word for it. Again. Come on, God loves a trier, at least that's what the old dear tells me.

I will endeavour to blog about this little experiment. Honest. I might even post a teaser about the plot. Maybe.