Monthly Archives: April 2012
- Look to your verbs. If you read a page back and it seems lifeless and flabby, find every verb on the page and see if you can improve it. Make a point of collecting great verbs every time you read or watch a movie or have a conversation. Verbs like gasp, surge, quiver, and drench work so hard. Verbs are the muscle of a sentence, and can punch up dull writing in a moment.
- Chillax on chapter one. Easily the most common writing problem I see is the writer trying far too hard to impress in the first few pages of a story. Many stories warm up and get fantastic after page five, but by then the publisher has already put you on the “reject” pile. Often your first chapter is so overworked that it’s uncomfortable to read. My advice is to finish the book, then scrap the first chapter all together and write it again without looking at the original.
- Don’t write all your fun scenes first. Write in order. If you give a child her custard first, she’s probably not going to be all that interested in her Brussels sprouts.
- Be in a viewpoint, always. At the start of every scene make sure you know exactly whose viewpoint you are going to be in, and write the scene from inside their head. A story details a relationship between characters and events. The most impact is always achieved from describing that relationship from the inside.
- Plan your story in advance, even if it’s only loosely. It will save you so much time and heartache and, contrary to popular belief, it’s actually MORE fun to do it this way. When you know that an exciting turning point is approaching, the scene and the ones around it can play out in your mind over and over as you think them through, becoming richer the more you anticipate it.
- Most important of all: keep going. This is a tough craft, and it’s an even tougher business. Dream big if you want, but your dreams can’t sustain you on a day-to-day basis. The only thing that can sustain you is the work. Do it because you love it; because not to write hurts. Do it because you are mad about your story and obsessed with your characters. Don’t make it another chore to fit into your busy day: make it the special place you go when your day has been rubbish. Keep going and keep going, and then keep going some more.
It all started in university. As a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed graphic design student, twitching with too much coffee, I listened intently as our class was given instruction to re-jig an existing design. While other students set about choosing CD covers and magazine spreads, I re-designed the “From Dusk till Dawn” movie poster. Had a ball. Didn’t score well.
I’ve always loved the art of story-telling (who doesn’t?!) and thought there was nothing more groovy than creating a single composition to portray a fantastic tale. Of course, this especially goes for book covers. You have 5 seconds to impress a browser! What story are you trying to convey with your image? What font? What colour scheme will best convey the mood? Squee! I recently came second in a cover competition for the Romance Writers of Australia. This was most awesome-pants. It reminded me of the fun I had in uni, making that stripper-bikier-zombie movie poster. Best. Fun. Ever.
I also love watching trends. Anyone remember when chick-lit was huge? When the book shelves were cluttered with flouncy illustrations in pastels, all with women in high heels, searching for wo-ve and wo-mance in the big city? I admit, I wasn’t a fan of those covers, but some were kind of cool.
As a writer and reader of urban and contemporary fantasy, I’ve always followed this market, though I recall not being very impressed with the first urban fantasy I read, many, many years ago. That old classic, Guilty Pleasures.
Of course, with the boom in all things paranormal and just because it’s an awesome read, the Guilty Pleasures cover has been re-birthed several times since.
Those familiar with the genre, know the trend with paranormal covers mostly sticks to the convention of:
1. Book written in sassy female protagonist POV = Insert woman’s back, tight leather pants, gun in one hand. Tattoo optional.
2. Book written in third person POV, including sassy female protagonist and an alpha werewolf/vampire who is bought to his knees by LOOOOVE = Insert man-titty with mean tribal tattoos. Face optional.
Though I don’t read tons of YA (I love you Holly Black!!), I adore their covers in the paranormal field:
As for what goes into putting a cover together? Orbit put up an entertaining video
of what happens when a designer takes speed that condenses 6 hours of designing a book cover down to 2 minutes – I WISH IT COULD HAPPEN THAT FAST! Think of what you could do if you lived in fast forward with a naffy little ditty playing in the background.
As an interesting note: Gene Mollica is a talented digital artist who was part of the team that designed the US cover for Joe Abercrombie’s coming soon book, Red Country, and re-did his First Law Trilogy covers. Interestingly, I’ve read some comments that criticise the covers for looking too much like movie posters.
I would sort of agree….and I LOVE IT. Which is so wrong. But so RIGHT.
Well, I toyed with the idea of writing a blog about Stargate … but … listening to a radio program about suicide has changed my mind. Stargate fans, don’t worry, though, I’ll do my best to bring it in somewhere!
I’ve been spending the morning poaching plums in wine, baking a creme caramel and making pastry for a savoury tart to feed a friend of mine who is coming to dinner tonight. She’s a disability support worker at the same place I am about to start work, and I want to pick her brain about what I’m about to plunge into.
The radio has been playing most of the morning but nothing had engaged me terribly much until the program I just listened to – Encounter on Radio National – http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/encounter/suicide/3915540 – which dedicated an hour to a discussion of suicide. The numbers are still ringing in my head. Well, not the numbers exactly, I’m a word-girl and numbers don’t tend to stick. But this did: suicide is the highest cause of death for Australian men aged between 15 and 44 (I think it was 44. 40-something, anyway) and I’m a bit more vague on the women but I think it’s the highest cause of death for Australian women aged between 24 and 34. Isn’t that shocking? Higher than car accidents or cancer or any of those other causes of death that get so much attention in the media.
As I listened to this program, which featured the voices of people who have lost loved ones to suicide and people who have attempted or contemplated suicide, I found myself reflecting on a whole bunch of stuff. None of it very new. In fact, that was part of what was wonderful (I know – wonderful and suicide don’t really go together, but bear with me) about the program, it was like a continuation of an ongoing conversation that I feel I’ve been inside of for quite some time, maybe all my life, and maybe it has waxed and ebbed over the years, and maybe just now it’s a little more to the forefront than it has been in recent times. It’s a conversation about meaning, about spirituality, about true enjoyment of life and expression of true self. Big stuff. Sometimes – often vague or subtle, delicate stuff. But despite the vagueness, terribly important. Without meaning, without true enjoyment, without connection, without expression of deep self … I feel I might as well be dead. When I have felt lost and distant from any sense of these sometimes vague and subtle things, these have been the hardest times of being alive.
Not so very long ago at all, I felt myself on the brink of another of these times. Here and now is not the place to go into the triggers or reasons for that, and I loved what one of the men on the radio show said about ‘depression’ – that while it may have been triggered by a traumatic event, it was something that was always, already there, slumbering. And another man gave depression another name, he preferred the term ‘psyche-ache’ which I think is quite beautiful in that it expresses the experience in terms of pain rather than as illness (and hence, the often inferred ideas of weakness). The pain, this man said, is the pain of un-met needs of our psyche, what some people refer to as the soul.
What I love about this word, this idea of ‘psyche-ache’ is the way it makes room for the individual. We all experience pain differently, uniquely. We all make sense of it and deal with it, or not, in our own ways. We can each have our unique story of what makes our psyche ache, and what eases and heals that ache. This is beautiful to me. It opens things up, both ’causes’ and the means to heal.
Just another reason to love language, to respect semantics, the power of a particular word and the wondrous baggage of ideas each brings with it.
Anyway, where was I? Waffling on. Ah, that’s right … the means to heal.
I just finished reading a book called ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ by Muriel Barbery http://murielbarbery.com/, a French woman. My mum loaned it to me. A dear old friend of hers gave it to her, who has suffered from intense periods of depression throughout her life. I put off reading it. It wasn’t speculative fiction, for one thing! It reeked of the Literary, and of middle-class middle age. I was quite sure it would bore me. I was very wrong.
‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ is a quite lovely book, and a little bit odd. It’s a celebration of art and literature and ideas and the piquant pleasures to be found in these, and more than pleasures – the relief, the balm, the medicine that art and culture can be to the sensitive, inquiring soul. My own soul felt kinship with Renee, the grumpy old concierge with her hidden passions for philosophy and beauty and enquiry. And it felt amazed and warmed to learn that this odd book, full of gnarled thoughts and not always an excitement of plot, could be a bestseller.
The other main character in the book is Paloma, a precociously intelligent twelve-year old child of privileged parents who is contemplating suicide. There it is again – that word. That very real act.
The message that came so clearly (yet not at all preachingly) in both the Encounter radio program and this book, is that depression/psyche-ache and the act of suicide, are not merely medical conditions. They are conditions of the soul, or the psyche, or the innermost self.
Language, literature, story, art, craft, expression of ideas and emotions, these are ways that we can connect with each other and with our souls, our innermost selves and each other’s innermost selves. In a world where so much is ruled by the marketplace, by needing to sell in order to get by, where so much is shallow, meaningless and disposable, these heartfelt expressions of our humanity (which includes our animality) can literally be life saving. I know this.
What I also loved about ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ was the recognition that snobbery has no place at all in the realm of medicinal culture. Blockbuster movies and manga comics can be just as relief giving as a symphony or a classic Russian novel. Which is just as well, because I do count Stargate as one of the things that gives me balm, right alongside the sound of the creek that runs by my house and the comforting companionship of my dog, and the home-made Easter buns my Mum made me, and the wonderfully heady book of lectures on Ovid’s Metamorphoses I’m currently re-reading.
Things I love about Stargate:
- The women are strong and active and respected and complex
- Science and intelligent thought frequently saves the day when military fails or fucks up
- The Stargate team/world/universe/humanity is always threatened with non-survival but it always makes it through by the end of the episode (well, nearly)
- Science and intelligent thought, and even compassionate thought, doesn’t always work. Decisions have ramifications, sometimes morally fraught and complex.
- Friendship and a sense of camaraderie and family are central. No one gets left behind.
- Weird shit happens.
- It goes on for about a billion episodes.
What I am loving about my current writing project is that it somehow includes all of this disparate stuff that I find medicinal. I’m writing a suite of short stories that have the common theme of animal-human metamorphosis/blending. The one I just finished has pelicans in it, pelicans that are like angels, that are angels, in a way. It is a story about spirit, about loss of meaning and re-finding it in an unlikely place. It’s not particularly plot-heavy and is kind of ‘literary’ and ambiguous. Whereas the one I wrote prior is strong on plot and humour and action and is pretty direct. Both of them I found deeply enjoyable to explore and tell.
Anyway … I really could waffle on forever here, as you can probably tell, and i’m probably boring the shit out of you all. I guess all I really wanted to say was – stories, of all shapes and kinds, help us to stay alive, by entertaining us, and by connecting us up to the big stuff, the subtle stuff, the strong stuff. Hallelujah for stories and for all the souls that tell them and love them. That is all. 😉