Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Getting to know a character

Last time I tried to work on my novel (how pretentious does that sound when you're unpublished?!) I hit quicksand and got bogged down.

I've been trying to understand why, and find a way through, and I think I might have. 

I started by deciding to spend some time with the secondary character who needed to join my heroine for a few paragraphs. I was going to write some scenes that were unnecessary to my story, and would never make it into my manuscript, but which I hoped would flesh out this woman. 

I'd not been writing for long when I decided I didn't like this two-dimensional being. I was so determined to have a mixture of characters in my book, and avoid too much autobiographical inspiration that this woman had nothing in common with me. I think I could have worked with that if she was an antagonist, but she wasn't. She was meant to have a fairly close relationship with my main character. 

Is it a bad thing that she was almost my polar opposite?

Of course not. It's realistic to have characters of different personality types in life.

Am I talented enough to pull it off? 

Maybe not - yet. I just couldn't warm to her. It was like when you walk into a room and instantly have a gut reaction against someone. And I knew she and I were never going to get on.

So I wrote anyway. I let her soften on the page, just a fraction. Then she began to move around a little herself. I discovered something I didn't know about her before. (Oh my! The pretentiousness is multiplying!) I imagined something about her that was completely at odds with something I had already planned for her, and somehow the juxtaposition of the two clicked. It works. It makes her intriguing in her own right. It increases the bond between this woman and my main character, and explains further this woman's interference at the end of the novel, which is, ultimately, why she'd made the cut in the first place.

Best of all, I felt that fizz returning; the itchy fingertips that can't wait to dance across the keyboard. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

An amazing opportunity

On an online forum today I heard about an incredible opportunity for aspiring writers. An amazing and generous group of women with experience in publishing (agents, writers, editors etc.) have set up a scheme (the WoMentoring Project) to offer free mentoring for other women who are just starting out. (If you're a man, I'm afraid you'll have to wait for an amazing and generous group of men to set up a similar scheme.)

They say it is their way of paying it forward. I say it's one of those heart-warming initiatives that makes you believe there is a point after all. 'Hope' has been on short rations lately, and one of the things that has kept me sane (no, really, I am!) is my writing.

It absorbs me, excites and enchants me, but my frustration is in how to improve, and this is exactly the kind of support I need. I will be applying, and I think you should, too! I'm sure there will be a huge response. Applications are open now until April 2015. But just hearing about it gave me a shot of that rare thing: hope. It gave me something to look forward to, and it also reminded me of how much the kindness of strangers has meant to me in the last twelve months. That this incredible group of talented women are offering their time, energy and interest to strangers for no greater reward than warm, fuzzy feelings  - well, it uplifts me. I'm in awe of them. (I would be anyway. They're real writers and everything! Yet they're not sitting in some ivory tower hoarding their resources and hard-won skills - instead they're sharing with lesser mortals.)

The website reminds me a little of an online dating site. There are profiles to read; each individual's offer of support is tailored to what they can give, so that there are lots of things to consider when choosing who to apply to. Applications can only be submitted to one mentor at at time, and so you browse, looking for someone who might have something in common with you - do they have to juggle writing and kids, too? Do they specialise in your chosen genre? And all the time there's a little flutter of nerves in your stomach - what if they don't choose you? What if none of them do?

Well, I'm getting used to the pang of rejection, so there's not much to lose. I'm going to be launching myself at this opportunity - and if you've got the right chromosomes, you should, too!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Year of Opportunity

My new year resolution this year was much woollier than last years' "Enter a comp every month" idea. So it's been much easier to ignore. Clever, that, for a procrastinator.

I promised myself that this year I would take opportunities that came up, and that I'd make opportunities for myself.

I suppose the fact that I'm working (regularly) on my novel deserves a reserved pat on the back. (It's a long way to The End...)

But I'm afraid to say that an email whooshing into my inbox suggesting that I enter a local short-story competition that I was unsuccessful in last year didn't get a response from me. Oh dear. I think I'll have to chalk that one up as a missed opportunity. My PR gremlin might say it was good that I was fully focused on the task in hand, and didn't like to get distracted...

Anyway, yesterday I received a message from a magazine editor who published a short article of mine last year. It was unpaid work, for a very small, very local parenting magazine, which disappeared from view immediately afterwards without so much as a poof. They are intending to publish another magazine and the editor asked me to write another article, on single-parenting issues. It is another instance of experience rather than cash incentives, and I'm happy to do that right now, as it is such a small magazine.

But the simple act of someone asking me for something has ignited a flame of enthusiasm (must not lose focus from my novel....) and I've been jotting down ideas for articles all day and intending to make a list of possible markets for my ideas sometime soon when the kids finally go to bed.

Might not be such a bad resolution after all.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

An inspirational lady

It's much easier to write a comical or serious post than a personal one. But I'm going to have to take that risk today, because I've got to one of those points in life when priorities become startlingly obvious, and very little matters.

I've lost a lot of people, in one way or another, in the last eight months, and I hoped that rock bottom had passed. But on Thursday night a friend and colleague, who I knew for far too brief a time, lost a gutsy battle against leukaemia. She was around my age, and has had to leave behind three very small daughters.

And it turns out there's no limit to how much grief and loss you might have to handle in a period of time. Nothing makes you immune, even if you think you've already plumbed the depths.

It was devastatingly difficult to teach for an afternoon after hearing the news that none of us had believed we would hear and I still don't truly understand how such a vibrant person can be gone.

It is now the Easter holiday; a fortnight when sandwich-making and rushed mornings and work can be forgotten. It's a fortnight when 'me-time' is scarce. I'm going to take some time out to grieve, but mostly I want to appreciate life.

 I want to hold my children till they give me funny looks, and take them to places that make their faces glow. I want to be grateful for my good health every day - and take better care of it, too. I want to do the things that make me feel happiest and most alive  - like writing, even when there's a knotty scene to untangle.

May you make the most of every moment this week, too.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Plotting roadblock

No, I'm not talking about roadblocks you've planned yourself. I'm talking about when your plotting hits a roadblock.

So in my first novel, I didn't plan ahead much - I tried, but was spectacularly ineffective. I remember hitting a midway point when it all seemed to be going nowhere, and even now, after several drafts, there are multiple threads to unpick, and many, many things I wish I'd done differently from the start. In fact, that's why it's holidaying in a cupboard - because it has potential, but  I'm not clever enough yet to tackle the major rewrite it needs.

This time, older and wiser (well, older at least) I plotted carefully and I've been writing fast, editing a little as I've gone, and been blissful. Until today.

Today I arrived at a scene that I wasn't at all sure about. It involves my significant woman sharing a meal with her in-laws. Exactly - it doesn't sound riveting, does it? So with that in mind, I sat down before I began and tried to work out what this scene was for. Could I cut it completely? Would it work with other characters? I spent a precious half hour of my writing time thinking about what I needed to achieve in this scene, and why. It turns out that the crucial thing is that the mother in law is instrumental in the last chapter. So I can't just introduce her at the end. I don't think any other character could do the job, either.

On top of that, the in-laws have less important but significant influence  in a more general way. So this is definitely the right moment to introduce them. Reassured that I needed to write this scene, and focused on why, I set off. But it didn't flow. I spent my hour writing the start of the scene three times, and then ran out of time. Now, the shine has rubbed off my enthusiasm. This is something I need to fix, or it could be a real brake on my creativity.

I'm going to mull it over. Perhaps the characters aren't real enough yet. Perhaps the setting for this scene is too domestic. Perhaps my writing is the problem. Perhaps I'm rushing it all, because it doesn't interest me - but if it's not interesting me, something deeper is still wrong with this. I'm hitting a block because my subconscious knows something is Wrong . So I'm giving myself a day's grace (not that I have much choice as I'm at work tomorrow) and I'm going to see if I can figure it out.

And if that doesn't work, perhaps my plotting will allow me to skip over it and come back.

What do you do when things go wrong?

Saturday, 5 April 2014


I've watched a few films with the kids in the last few weeks. It's interesting to see what captivates them and what I enjoy most...and why.

Sometimes it's a case of taste - I'm not inclined to like things that are too fantastical, whereas the children don't mind so much. Sometimes it's how well written and paced they are, however, and how likable the characters are. There's a lot to learn for a wannabe writer about how to hook people and how to drag them along in the slip-stream of a story.

Our latest film night - tonight -was snuggled in front of Frozen, which was a lesson in how to crank up the pressure in the last third of a story. I wouldn't like over-analysing to spoil my time with the children, nor my enjoyment of films and novels, but who needs how-to books when there are lessons round every corner?