Archive for December, 2011

Highlights from 2011

Posted: December 30, 2011 in Friday Guest

It’s nearly the end of another year and I had a terrific guest blog on the subject of collaboration lined up for today. Then I decided it would be a great one to kick off the new year, so you’ll have to wait until next Friday to read it. In the meantime, here is a recap of the entertaining and informative blogs from my Friday Guests over the last few months. Many thanks to them all, and to you for reading.

Barbara Scott Emmett on writing erotica

Jo Reed on the craziness that is often a writer’s lot

Marc Nash predicts a riot

My rant about the importance of cover design

Harry Nicholson on the surprise birth of his novel

Roland Denning discusses the importance of ‘story’

Tim Ellis asks, ‘Writer, publisher or marketing guru?’

Simon Kewin says, ‘there are really only two sorts of fiction’

Starting and running a literary magazine by JD Smith

Jane Hicks on the joy of writing – and rewriting

Perry Iles doesn’t want your first drafts

Rebecca Emin explains platform-building

Mo Lovatt on making fiction out of fact

My rant about kindles. Lots of feedback on this one!

Nik Perring’s top editing tips

Laura Wilkinson’s journey to publication

Dan Holloway on performance writing

Sarah England’s writing comes of age

Mark Dark illuminates the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’

Annie Evett on the link between writing and special-needs teaching

It’s Danny Gillan. Or is it Mary Sue?

And that’s it for this year. I hope to have many more interesting writery-type guests in 2012, so please keep following!

Wishing you all health, happiness and writing success in 2012.

Sue

(ps I have no idea why Perry’s link is a different colour – I expect he’s just showing off)

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Mary Sue, Is That You?

Are you self-obsessed, vain, overly aware of the flaws of others yet almost pathologically unable to spot the negative aspects of your own personality? Congratulations, you’re fully qualified to be a writer!

‘Write what you know’ is, generally, good advice for writers, but how about ‘write who you know’? It’s a commonly held, and probably accurate, belief that most writers, certainly in their early work, base their main characters at least in part on themselves. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this approach – it can be a great way to make the character’s thoughts and actions feel natural and believable. After all, who do you know better than yourself? Well, lots of people, actually.

Most people, not just writers, don’t know themselves half as well as they might think. We think we’re aware of how the rest of the world sees us, but do we really? Given that pretty much everyone else on the planet regularly act like dicks, it’s likely, inevitable even, that we do, too. Except, in our own heads, we don’t, do we? We’re smart, self-aware and, above all else, good people who do the right thing all the time and are never to blame when the jobbies get lobbed at the Dyson Blade. Someone else is always at fault, not us. It’s just how our brains work. If we were all to acknowledge our dickishness suicide rates would be a lot higher. It’s a survival mechanism. Realistically, I can think of half a dozen instances where I’ve acted like an arse in the last 24 hours, and I’ve spent most of that time at home alone.  Having just been honest enough to say that, I shall now go back to convincing myself I haven’t been an arse at all and it was all someone else’s fault. See? Hardwired.

And it’s this species-wide character deficit/only-way-we-can-look-at-ourselves-in-the-mirror-of-a-morning that is dangerous territory for writers. If, deep down, we know were writing about ourselves, it’s very tempting to allow that never-a-dick-and-always-right instinct to infect our protagonist. Worse, it can infect all the supporting characters too, so that they never seem to notice when the lead character is being a twat, even when they are clearly being a twat. And this is when we enter Mary Sue land.

The term Mary Sue came from the world of Fan-Fiction, specifically Star Trek Fan-Fiction, and was used to describe a ‘new’ character who is a clearly idealised version of the author and who has a massive impact on the lives of the established ‘canon’ characters. They’re highly intelligent, attractive and resourceful and end up saving the day and getting the girl/guy/Wesley Crusher. Their magnificence makes all other characters pale into oblivion and they have no flaws. All the other characters come to love/worship them and every single thing that happens in the story only occurs to show this Mary Sue for the paragon of perfection she/he is. It’s wish-fulfilment posing as fiction.

Like all good sci-fi threats, the Mary Sue virus has escaped from its indigenous home and now casts its hideous shadow over the world of original fiction. It doesn’t take very long to spot numerous examples of Mary Sueness in unpublished works on writing sites all over the land of web. The hero or heroine who never deserves the bad luck thrown at them, who is a secret genius, star athlete, catwalk model in waiting or, worst of all, unrecognised but unnervingly talented writer –  they’re all out there, and they’re all rubbish.

If you’re going to base a character on yourself, you need to embrace your inner arsehole and let it shine! Don’t write them as you wish you were, write them as you actually are – as big a dick as everyone else.

That way, readers might just find something about them they like and, deep down, can identify with.

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Danny Gillan used to pretend to be a musician, but now having reached ‘a certain age’ finds fake-writer to be a more sedate fake-profession. Danny is a Contributing Deputy Editor for Words With JAM, the free online writing magazine. He has no idea what this job title means.

The Least Updated Blog in the History of Blogs

Check out Danny’s books on Amazon. Click on a cover to see it nice and big! Will You Love Me Tomorrow? Scratch. A Selection of Meats and Cheeses.


Annie Evett – A Class Act

Posted: December 16, 2011 in Friday Guest

Special Writing

Susan kindly asked me to write about the links between my special needs teaching to my writing and the ways my writing comes into play within the classroom. The answer seemed simple to me initially, but after rewriting and editing my response, its not as straightforward to explain as I’d first thought.

Looking back – I have always been a writer and always been a teacher – but never had given those labels much credence. On the surface, I have come to writing relatively recently. I left a comfortable HR role to seek – for a year – my fame and fortune as a writer. That was three years ago and whilst I have enjoyed some successes, I’m far from fame and alot further away from fortune than I’d like. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and  its such a pity you can only see things clearly from that vantage point! Looking back over my adult life, I’ve always written; in some form or another and its only now that I have given it a focus and have goals attached to it.

My first degree was in education and although I worked as a teacher sporadically in the first few years of graduating, travel and family life veered me into other career paths, opportunities and more study. Nestled amongst my checkered work history lays the theme of helping others to achieve. Within teaching, hospitality, Human Resources and writing, I’ve found a way to reach others at their level and find ways to enrich and boost their environment and perceptions. Within my first degree, I had taken a few electives in special needs teaching with the focus on how movement and drama assisted in students accessing he curriculum in other than mainstream ways. Something clicked for me within those electives and I found myself seeking roles which ultimately had me working with the disadvantaged sectors within society.

Having now come the full career circle, my current role is a teacher within Integrated Support Services; which in laymans terms means I am a special needs educator. I am also a mum of two busy junior school kids, a scouting leader, teach karate and attempt to write somewhere in the midst of the chaos.

Strong relationships built on mutual trust and the creation of safety are paramount to both special needs teaching and writing within a community. Editing skills coupled with positive reinforcement plays a crucial role within writing and teaching. A new piece of writing – be it from a student or a fellow author, is entrusted to the reviewer with anxiety and trepidation. The way it is handled and the development of feedback to the writer and student determines the level of trust, self confidence and future success of the relationship within this context. Both students and writers need to feel confident and safe to express themselves within a new genre/environment; to learn and build on the skills they have already mastered.

Some of the qualities of a special needs teacher which are relevant to writing include:

Being patient with the knowledge that small consistent steps builds lifelong knowledge, rather than huge leaps and bounds. (which runs the risk of injury and fear) to paraphrase a great quote – “write a little,but write often.”

Providing an environment which nurtures growth – as a teacher, students need to feel welcome, loved and safe.  Characters have the same needs; as does the writing spirit within you.

Creation Teachers of any type need to be able to create learning experiences and resources to support it out of thin air and at the drop of a hat. As a special needs teacher, I will need to extend a focus activity or theme with a specific student if it is something that has grasped their attention. Similarly, writers create plotlines, settings and whole worlds. I use my impromptu storytelling skills within reading time in the classroom, in order to connect with students and capture their imagination. Very often the story within the book being ‘read’ bears little resemblance to the story being elaborated on in the classroom – particularly if robots, aliens and dinosaurs are required to appear every second page.

Understanding motivation. A special needs teacher is required to understand the triggers for individual students and have strategies to build or refocus those reactions. A writer needs to understand the motivations for characters and how to focus those into the plot, strategically placing them in the best position to move the story along.

Maximise the strengths. Just as a special needs teacher sees their students individual strengths and looks for ways to maximise these, a writer needs to be aware of their own strengths and ways to maximise these.

Beware the Dark Hole.  Special needs teaching can be emotionally draining and challenging mentally and physically. Ask any writer on the 30th of November how their NANO went, and you can be assured you’ll get a similar reply. Depression is a steady partner for both special needs teachers and writers for similar reasons. Both can have a belief that what they are doing has not or will not change anything. It’s often difficult to see the small seeds which are sown along the way. Some of these bloom years afterwards or are deeply entrenched ; but sadly the writer or teacher are not aware of the impact they made. It is here that a liberal sprinkling of belief and trust is required.

Resilience. Both special needs teachers and writers need to be resilient. There are plenty of hard knocks along the pathway; coupled with the barriers society throws up, its not likely to be an easy wander through the literary or educational meadows.

Celebrate Small Wins – Have Big Goals Writers and special needs teachers need to reach for the stars and celebrate every inch of progress as they are hard earnt.

The most prevalent link I can draw to my writing from my mad life would be my characters. Most people would describe me as an upbeat, positive person and are therefore quite shocked when they read some of my short stories. Although not pigeon holed, I tend to write darker themes within speculative fiction or mythical urban realism and unafraid to spill a little blood. I don’t go out to write about the disturbed, dangerous or sadistic. Certainly they are not drawn on real people I have met or worked with. Stories tend to weave themselves around my fingers at the keyboard, whilst characters whisper to me in my dreams. At first I resisted, but came to the realisation that these characters were not black and white, pure evil or pure good; but rather took on shades with their own motivations for their actions. After digging deeply, I often found my characters desperate to share their own pain from mistreatment and misunderstanding from society. Its probably through my positive attitude that I believe that every character has the capacity for redemption and that they seek something higher than their present existence.  A key belief for a special needs teacher is that every student has the capability to achieve.

Special needs teaching requires a patient, non judgemental position to listen, not to react; and to follow pre determined action plans based on the individual. I can draw strong links with this skill to that of fleshing out characters. I work with a variety of questions or situations when ‘meeting’ a new character as I write. Its often difficult to keep the writers ego off the page and allow the character to express themselves freely. Many writers see themselves as Gods of their own universes, dictating to characters and settings. Many teachers view their classes and students similarly. Though my experience, this approach has never worked for me – either in writing or within the classroom. Just as my pedagogy is based on the contstructivist and connectivist ideals, so too are my beliefs with characters.

As a special needs teacher, you are committed to being a life long learner and have the teaching virus raging in your blood. Any writer who intends to continue on their journey, needs to have a similar passion and commitment to their craft. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to use my storytelling skills within the classroom as it creates a warmer, more exciting environment for students to learn.

***

Annie is a prolific scribbler of characters, weaver of story lines, champion of the return of the short story and professional cat herder. She is addicted to her coffee machine, chases monkeys other people refer to as her children, attempts to ignore the voices in her head, is  a contributing editor on a number of sites and publications and sleeps occasionally.

Start your escape into her worlds at http://annieevett.com

Annie’s stories have been published in many anthologies including those pictured below. See her website for more details.

Writing a film or any story with a plot we hear a lot about ‘character arc’. But what is it exactly? How a character changes, you say. OK, sure, but how do we show that change?

Take my short story Man or Mouse. The main character, a young male, sees Big Jim – a violent ‘old boy’ gangster – as a hero, comparing him to The Krays, Scarface and Al Capone. We see the young character’s need as being for a father’s love, a positive role model and affirmation of his masculinity.

So, let’s say a character’s need is his inner, unconscious desire. But it’s not until the climax that this need becomes conscious, and in Man or Mouse you see the character make the split second decision, just in time, to rescue himself from the role of the weak to the role of the  powerful. Actually, in this short story, the boy’s need is to realize that the man he sees as a father figure, Big Jim, is not going to affirm his masculinity or give him the love he needs, but rather destroy him.

So how does ‘need’ differ from ‘want’? Well, ‘want’ is  a conscious desire, an outward goal, physically achievable. But we don’t state our character’s want openly at the outset of a story (unless perhaps we’re writing for children). We show want through action.

‘Need’ is a different beast, however. Maybe we don’t realize the character’s need until they do, at the climax, when the unconscious is made conscious. This is the character’s self-revelation and in a well-crafted story ‘need’ becoming conscious helps a character achieve his ‘want’ his outward goal. In Man or Mouse the boy’s want or outward goal is to prove he is tough to the big old gangster, to prove himself a ‘man’. But when his need is made conscious – that this is not the right man to be his father – he achieves his outward goal and his character growth (or ‘arc’) is complete. The reason people find the twist in Man or Mouse so shocking is that the way his outward goal is achieved is not how they expect it. His realization of his need drives him to achieve his want. The climax is not only a literal physical battle between the boy and the man, but a fierce emotional battle between the inner child and the inner man – between his need and his want.

If we have our main character’s need and want clear in our mind as we begin our story and if we know the self-revelation that will cause them to learn something new about themselves (and maybe teach us something new about ourselves) we’re on the right track for a powerful story.

To read about this on a deeper level I recommend Anatomy of Story by John Truby and Chris Soth’s brilliant podcasts Million-Dollar Screenwriting.

Read Man or Mouse here or download the story to your iphone or kindle 

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Nine Day Wonder?

Posted: December 9, 2011 in News


It’s my turn today on the Ether Books Advent Calendar! Apologies to all those disappointed people who were expecting chocolate.

Here’s a link to the interview I did with them in September. You can download the Ether App free for any i-device and read some of my stories free.

Three stories published

Posted: December 3, 2011 in News

It’s been a good week! Three of my flash stories have been published by Ether Books as part of their Christmas-themed compilation. They can be downloaded free for a while on the free Ether App. And you don’t have to buy a new phone package or change your energy provider to qualify!

Sarah England comes of age

Posted: December 2, 2011 in Friday Guest

When I turned 40 I changed. Not physically – although nothing improved – but something inside. There was a new urgency as I realised how unwell I was. I had headaches and neck pains and overwhelming tiredness. I couldn’t sit through another meeting or be bored by another manager. All my life I had wanted to write books – to be a paperback writer. I’d read copiously as a child and got my English O Level at 14. Was it too late?

As fate would have it, my husband was offered a job in the South West and I had the ideal opportunity to jack in my sales and marketing job with a major pharmaceutical company. Alas, I also had to jack in the hefty salary and the Beamer but – God it was wonderful! I came home on the train with no luggage – free!

The joy, however, was short lived. Convinced I was going to hit the world literary stage with a blockbuster I spent two years submitting dire tomes of utter tosh to long-suffering agents. It was then the realisation hit me – this wasn’t easy! So I did a brief correspondence course in creative writing and I started studying short stories in magazines in an effort to learn my craft. I even went to a writing conference with one of my sad tomes and had a one-to-one with an agent. She read the first few lines and said, “My God this is boring.” Crushed? I went home in tears.

Bear with me – there is a happy ending. About a year after I started writing and submitting short stories I finally got a yes! From a chap called Dan McDaid at My Weekly. I have since had over 100 short stories bought and published in magazines, newspapers and anthologies. Bridge House Publishing were the first publishing company to take my short stories into an anthology and the latest one, Mosaic, is now not only in paperback but has just gone onto Amazon Kindle at a fraction of the price. It’s a pretty classy collection with not only well known authors but some award-winning ones, too. My two stories are Adele – a glamour puss who has settled for life in a back terrace in Rotherham with a some what ordinary and quite bemused bloke. And Different Colours – a bit of a steamy piece – my first and only sex scene!

Then came a bit of a leap. After years of trying I finally made it into Woman’s Weekly fiction. My story Another Man, while causing a bit of family friction when it was published earlier this year, got there first. They have since bought seven more and the latest are now out in the current Christmas Special Issue and the Fiction Special (Issue 10) also out now. This is hugely exciting for me and I’ve really felt that I can push the boat out for them – in terms of humour and difficult subjects – ie there is no agenda except an entertaining read. I’m hoping to write a serial for them as my next major project.

The other leap forward this year was finishing my novel, Expected. This has been a mixed experience. On the one hand I decided, after being told by agent after agent that they really liked it but the women’s commercial fiction market was too difficult at the moment, to market it myself on Kindle ebooks. Good and bad news. I had to do all the editing, presentation and promotion myself  – and I knew nothing about Facebook, twitter, blogs and websites, so I had to learn the ropes – and fast. It took weeks and weeks and I’m still not doing well in terms of being known or selling the book. However, my learning curve has been extremely steep and I’m now pretty savvy when it comes to negotiating my way round the internet. I’ve also discovered Ether Books, which I wouldn’t have otherwise done, and have uploaded four short stories. One is horror – 3am and Wide Awake – which I have on good authority will scare the pants off you. The other three were published in the small press but didn’t see much daylight so Ether has offered a wider audience for Cold Melon Tart, Islands, and Rough Love. As far as I can see they seem to be doing quite well and through Ether I also have an author interview week commencing 5 December and a link to Expected.

Before I go, I would like to tell you a little about my girl, Sam Sweet, in Expected. She’s expected to do what other people want – to marry a man she doesn’t love and have his children. Sam is from a rough working class background and all she’s dreamed about is a career. But now she’s stuck. And said career is sliding away with jealous colleagues and a hateful boss. Miserable, she comfort eats and she shops – don’t we all? – thus making her situation even worse. She has to find some power – a voice! If she doesn’t she will not be free to make her own choices in life. I hope I’ve created a gutsy, funny heroine who finds her own way, and I hope it’s a fast and furious read that the reader will enjoy.

My next projects are the serial for Woman’s Weekly and a psychological thriller that’s been spinning around in my head for a while. With a background in nursing and pharmaceuticals, a lot of my stories inevitably revolve around illness or mental problems. If you aren’t well then the world is a whole different game and that fascinates me. I always want to write for ordinary people – for everyone. I just need to get my books out there along with my stories and hopefully that will happen. One day…

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Read Sarah’s blog here.