Breaking The Rules

I’d like to start out this blog post by saying that I break the rules. A lot. (Not laws and work rules and such- I’m almost offensively straight-laced when it comes to following those. I am not a rebel.)

Nope, I’m talking about writing rules. The ones that say things like ‘Cut ALL adverbs and adjectives’ and ‘Never start a sentence with a preposition’ and ‘Never use any dialogue tags’. Stuff like ‘Always sit down and outline your book before you write the first word’ and ‘Never use semicolons’. No run-on sentences! Not to mention all the various grammar rules and regulations. Let’s face it, when it comes to writing, there are a lot of rules.

For the record, I use quite a reasonable amount of adverbs and adjectives, and although I don’t tag every bit of dialogue I write, I do tag some. There are some rules of grammar that I break for effect or in line with a particular character’s voice. I quite often, for stylistic purposes, start a sentence with a preposition. I may, in fact, have broken most of the rules of writing. There’s a time and a place for everything.

HOWEVER.

There is a huge, monumental, gaping great difference between breaking the rules for stylistic/characteristic/etc purposes, and breaking them because you don’t know what the heck you’re doing. A huge amount of my favourite authors break the rules constantly, in one way or another (reading Terry Pratchett last night just reinforced this) and I don’t think there are many people who would be daft enough to tell Terry Pratchett, Patricia Wrede, Steven Brust, etc, to pull their socks up and get their grammar right. This is because they know the rules. They simply choose to break them every now and then. But they do know them.

I’ve read a heck of a lot of bad books. Books with bad spelling, the wrong homonyms, atrocious grammar: errors that stick with you whether or not the actual stuff of the book is good. I’ve also heard a lot of authors, when their errors are pointed out, say something along the lines of: “Oh, I didn’t realise that. But it’s okay, insert famous author here does it all the time.”

It’s not okay. Breaking the rules is okay, but there needs to be a reason. And you need to know that reason. You need to know the rules before you break them. It makes all the difference between good and bad writing. You might get it right by accident, breaking the rules, but you’re far more likely to get it horribly wrong and find your book being mocked for the rest of its (probably short) life.

So pull your socks up. Learn the rules.

Then go ahead and feel free to break ’em.

Musings: On Hannibal The Cannibal

Okay, so first things first. When I talk about Hannibal I mean the TV and Movie Hannibal. I haven’t read the books. That said, proceed!

hannibal lecter

I’ve watched a few of the Hannibal movies (Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, and Hannibal) and I’m now in the process of watching the second season of TV Hannibal, which is slightly different again but just as compelling. (Also it’s fun to listen to hubby retching when he comes in sight of the tv screen for a particularly gruesome murder.)

The murders are one and all excessively gruesome and sometimes beautiful in that gruesomeness (for example, the guy with a tree wrapped around his legs, his arms in its cherry-blossom’d branches and glorious flowers blossoming from his split torso). They’re also almost completely unbelievable. I mean, seriously, what murderer has the uninterrupted time to set up a guy in a tree in a parking lot without being noticed? Or slice a girl into slides and arrange the slides so beautifully that it’s like looking at one of those books with the plastic slides of musculature? Not to mention the cops should have a field day with stuff as easy to find out as who purchased eight-odd MASSIVE FREAKING SLIDES OF GLASS.

That’s another story, though, and for the most part I suspend disbelief and just go along with it. The question that occurred to me the other night is, why do I go along with it? Why am I watching this show? Why am I even half cheering for this guy?

To recap:

  1. The bloke eats people. Yanno? He actually slices pieces of flesh and bone (though mostly, it seems, the soft organs like kidneys and brains and tongues) and cooks and eats them. That’s not okay. That’s gross and disturbing and completely alien to any right-thinking person.

  2. He murders on a whim. If he thinks someone is being rude, whether to himself or some other societal more he considers important, wham! That person is liable to end up dead, with missing body parts. That goes for any musician unlucky enough to disturb Hannibal’s enjoyment of a concert by playing a wrong note. I can only imagine what he’d do to someone whose mobile phone went off in the middle of said concert.

  3. He’s been known to wear people’s faces. Seriously. Like, tearing off a dude’s face and wearing it to escape (if you want to know how that happens, watch the movie yourself). And he tends to disemboweling and other gross stuff like that. He seems to prefer his victims alive, too. That is also not okay.

There’s more, but those are the main things. This guy is a predator; a terrifying, alien, other predator with no normal human morals or perceivable conscience.

So, the question remains: Why is he so compelling?

And I can’t deny that he is compelling, because despite the extreme violence in the movies/tv show, and the (for me) more than usually allowable bad language, I found it hard to stop watching. Why is that? Since the moment I watched The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal (my favourite of the movies, if ‘favourite’ is quite the word to use) I’ve puzzled to myself about why I find Hannibal so compelling. Watching the second season of the TV show Hannibal got me wondering again.

This morning, in the middle of my devotions, cuddling my cup of tea, I got it.

There’s a catechism/truth/principal that is used in the Presbyterian church I go to, and in some of the older protestant books that I read. It goes something like: ‘The value of a soul depends upon the object of its affections’. It’s used in relation to God and His loving of His own Self: ie, that His soul/person is of infinite value and worth because the object of His affections (Himself) is utterly beautiful, perfect, right, just, and unchanging. His affections are set on what is most right and beautiful. In that sense, God defines Himself. It’s also used with regards to Christians. We’re ultimately beautiful when we love that which is beautiful- in this case, God. Our worth is dependent upon appreciating and finding beautiful the things that are beautiful and ought to be appreciated. If we love wrong things and see them as beautiful instead, our soul is corrupted.

To tie this in, consider Hannibal’s main relationships. In the movies, it’s mainly Clarice Starling: an upright, righteous, and morally straight FBI Agent. There’s the sense that she’s a good copper, but the main idea that I personally got from their interactions on screen was her unwavering sense of right. She was morally upright.

In the TV series there is Will Graham. Now, as the series proceeds, he gets darker. But the thing about Will that I most appreciate is that he sees the darkness in the world and potentially in himself, and he hates it. Even the wrong things he does are motivated by a sense of right. He is terrified of the darkness, and yet he keeps fighting it in the world and in himself.

And these two people, in one way or another, Hannibal loves. He loves them fiercely, terrifyingly, and in some cases, almost entirely selflessly. It’s an alien and unfathomable emotion in him. He sees the uprightness in them and he loves them for it. He knows that if he gets too close he’ll be burned, but he can’t seem to help himself. He’s drawn to them.

And that, right there, is what makes Hannibal such a compelling character. In his otherness and alienness, he is terrifying. But in his love of these two people (and seemingly only these two people) with their uprightness and unwavering determination to do what is right at all times, there is something oddly good and worthwhile.

So while the violence turns my stomach at times, and I fully recognise that Hannibal needs to be shot quickly and efficiently, I can’t help but find him compelling still.

Mads Mikkelson as Hannibal Lecter

Mads Mikkelson as Hannibal Lecter

Laziness And Self-Publishing, And Stuff

I’m lazy.

That’s one of the first things I learned about myself as I was growing up. You know the kid that goes to the toilet before it’s supposed to do the washing up and just never comes out? Yeah, that was me. (It’s still me, except I’ve figured out better ways to skive off work than shutting myself in the loo with a book.)

So one of the things about self-publishing that’s hit me hard is the amount of work. To be honest, it wouldn’t be that bad if it wasn’t for the full-time (and by full-time I mean 40-55hrs a week) job. There’s just so much stuff to do. Yanno, stuff stuff. It’s not even real writing stuff. It’s stuff like hanging out on Twitter to connect with people (and getting carried away ‘cos suddenly you’ve met this awesome person who’s at the same place you are, and writes these really fantastic stories), or figuring how to promote your book/s, or trying to discover exactly how Goodreads works. (I mean, seriously, I JUST figured out how to Twitter!)

And that’s before you consider the hours of writing per day, sandwiched into my lunch break, or before work, or after work. Then when I get home, there’s the housework to do.

I’m lazy.

I don’t want to have to do all that. Only it’s so satisfying when it comes out right, and the book’s published, and you can get on with the next book. It’s satisfying to see the follower count for my blog go up. It’s satisfying to find out that having a Twitter Follow-Me! box is worth the time and effort to install. And it’s really satisfying when someone else downloads one of your books.

Still, I’m pretty pleased with my foray into self-publishing so far. I’m loving the level of control I have over my own book. I’m loving the fact that I can publish on my own schedule. And I’m loving all the fantastic people I’m meeting along the way.

I’m lazy, but there are some things that are worth working for.

Inferiority Complex

We’re writers. We’re meant to be at least slightly neurotic. But there’s that day, every so often, when we’ll be reading a good book. I mean a really good book: solid to fantastic plot, fascinating characters we fall in love with and weep for, and the absolute perfect pacing; all wrapped in a superbly crafted structure.

You take a thought break to bask in the gloriousness of it, grinning foolishly to yourself. Then it hits you.

I’ll never be this good. This is the Van Gough of books. If I live until I’m fifty and keep writing better and better, I’m still never gonna be as good as this bloke.

And you know, that can be good. I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s damaging to the human psyche to admit to actual inferiority. You’re never gonna be as good as at least one girl or bloke out there, and sometimes that knowledge spurs you on to do better. Anything that gets us in front of that computer/notepad/whatever to write and grow, is a good thing.

But it’s also good to remember that writing is a growing thing. The first books of at least two of my favourite authors, had I read them first, would not have inspired me to read more of their work. I can literally see the growth as I read through those early books. You’re not going to be the best you can be right now. You’re going to have to work on it. Your first book is most likely not going to be your best. You’ve still got so much to learn. I’ve still got so much to learn- and practise, and put in to practise.

Who knows, one day we may be that good. But if we never had anything that spurred us on to be better, we’d probably never get there.

Embrace the inferiority. Just don’t let it stop you from being better.

Behold The Beauteous Cover Art!

I’ve been very busy these last few days, finishing final edits of my MS Masque. Likewise busy has been the very talented Joleene Naylor, finishing up the cover of Masque for me.

Happy mortals, feast your eyes on the beauteous cover art! Then go ahead and preorder Masque from Amazon or Kobo. Publication date is set for 1st February, 2015. Two months, guys!

MASQUE - 2500

And if you’re like me and need a blurb to read, scroll down. Adieu. I’m off to gloat a little more over my cover art.

 

    Beauty met the Beast, and there was . . . bloody murder?

            It’s the Annual Ambassadorial Ball in Glause, and Lady Isabella Farrah, the daughter of New Civet’s Ambassador, is feeling pleasantly scintillated. 

In the library is Lord Pecus, a charming gentleman whose double mask hides a beastly face, and who has decided that Isabella is the very person to break the Pecus curse. 

In the ball-room is young Lord Topher, who is rapidly falling in love with an older woman. 

And in the card-room, lying in a pool of his own blood, is the body of one of Isabella’s oldest friends: Raoul, Civet’s Head Guardsman.  The papers sewn into his sash seem to suggest espionage gone wrong, but Isabella is not so certain.

Lord Pecus, as Commander of the Watch, is of the opinion that Isabella should keep out of the investigation and out of danger.  Isabella is of the opinion that it is her murder to investigate, and that what a certain Beast-Lord doesn’t know won’t hurt him.  . . .    

Will Isabella find the murderer before Lord Pecus does, or will she end her investigation as a bloody spatter on the parlour floor?

 

Note: I’m currently sending Masque out for review, so if you’re interested in getting your hot little hands on a free review copy, email me at gingellwrites (AT) gmail.com. I’ll send a digital or physical copy of Masque to you for the purposes of a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads, etc. All honest reviews are welcomed, and I understand that not everyone is going to love me and my books. (Odd, but there it is . . .)

When Beta Reading Makes Your Writing *cough* Beta *cough*

I don’t do a whole lot of beta reading. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read. Also, when I read nowadays, it’s not without my back-brain saying things like ‘oooh, I like how they did that!’ and ‘yer, bet I could do it better’. But beta reading is different. If you enjoy it, that’s a plus; but you don’t want to be enjoying it so much that you let things slide because you liked the book as a whole. You get into the nitty-gritty and point out the tiny inconsistencies and mashed sentences. You argue with your writer friends about tenses, and old versus new spellings, not to mention Australian versus American spellings. You tend to be more ruthless, even to nit-pickyness. Something that you might glide over in a run-of-the-mill book you’ve picked up, you don’t glide over. And that’s how it should be. That’s what you want in return. But it is hard work.

Book pile

Besides the obvious benefits of beta reading (someone who reads your work in return, someone with whom to discuss the ins and outs of writing) is another, overlooked benefit. In my mind it’s probably the biggest benefit.

It’s the benefit of recognizing in your own work the very thing you picked at in your friends writing. Come on. You know what I mean. You’ve just highlighted that part of the MS you’re beta-reading: the niggle that keeps happening in their writing. You add a note to remind them that this is becoming a habit. You put aside the MS for the time being, exhausted with your efforts, and settle down to work on your own MS. And as you’re reading the last paragraph you wrote last night in order to refresh your memory, you realize that you’ve done that thing. That thing that you just highlighted a dozen times in the novel you’re beta-reading. You look at it in horror. Go over the last chapter. Find you’ve done it another half-dozen times. Shriek and pull out your hair. Go back to the start of the MS and find the time after time that you’ve done that thing that annoyed you so much in your friend’s book.

It’s annoying. It’s exhausting. But in the end, beta reading is so very worth it. It makes you look at your writing like an outsider again, and if you don’t want your readers being constantly annoyed by that thing, it’s an essential habit to cultivate. Don’t be afraid of the irritation: it’s all part of the process. And if you’ll take my advice, do some beta reading.

The Joy of Last Edits

I started re-editing one of my books this week. It’s a fairytale rewrite of Beauty and the Beast as a murder mystery, regency/steampunk style. I’m working on it with the view to having it published in February next year, and so far the edits have been reasonably simple to do, which means my timeline is thus far intact.

That, of course, has made me think about my editing process. The first thing I notice when editing is generally clumsy words or phrases, and the occasional cough spelling mistake, which can range from a two second fix to a half hour session of mulling over the best way to rearrange a sentence. Lately I’ve even become able to delete whole sentences and paragraphs without so much as a pang (well, sometimes just a small pang), which makes the whole process significantly easier.

Next I start noticing the characters. This usually manifests as a general feeling of unease every time I read a piece of dialogue spoken by the character, or a section of action that just doesn’t sit right for some reason. That sense of unease is almost invariably because the character isn’t behaving in character. The dialogue is too much like another, stronger character, and needs to be made over to match this character.

The first MS that I finished had to be completely rewritten because of character problems. The problem being, my character had no character. She was a cardboard piece, angry because I said she was angry, happy because I decreed it, and was entirely lacking in any quirks or memorable features. The side characters were no better. Once I figured out what the problem was (thanks in great part to Frances Hardinge, whose characters stand up and determinedly claw their way out of the book and into my life), I could start fixing it.

It wasn’t easy, that first book. There was trial and error, a lot of research (me reading a lot of my favourite authors), and many, many discoveries along the way. First, I decided exactly what I wanted my character to be. I decided what quirks she had, what things she did with her hands and feet when she talked/walked/sat/spoke, and the ways in which she reacted to stimuli in general. Then I went over every single bit of dialogue with a fine-tooth comb, cut most of it, rewrote the rest, and thought I could finally see her emerging from the bones of it. I rewrote her actions. I rewrote her thoughts. In fact, there isn’t much in that book that remains of the original bar the basic storyline and the character names.

My second book, (the one I’m re-editing now) was by comparison, much easier. The characters were fully formed as I wrote, and I had all the tricks and methods I’d learned with the first. This time I knew just how to create an idea of a character in a few lines of dialogue, or a short paragraph of action. This has made the editing process a much smoother affair. There are still things I have to change, of course: I still occasionally come across a line of dialogue that sounds more like another character than the one it should, and I still occasionally come across a speech tag or reaction that doesn’t fit with the idea I’m trying to portray of a character. In fact, I rearranged a whole page of dialogue/action just yesterday. It’s a work in progress, this writing business.

The last read-through is generally the one where I catch all the plot/continuity issues that I’ve missed in the preceding read-throughs. Other than that, I try to leave it as it is. There’s always some little niggle that I catch every time I read one of my books again, and it’s hard to know when to let it go if I keep re-reading. So I stop. I let it go (let it gooooooooo- wait, no) and hand it over to my sister or my writing group.

And that’s when the fun really starts.

Milestones

Milestones are a big part of a writer’s life. From the first short story or novel that we finish to the first book signing or reading we give, life seems to be measured in tiny increments of success. I still remember the first novel I ever completed. It’s almost entirely rubbish and needs to be extensively rewritten, of course, but at the time it was a massive achievement for a fourteen-year-old writer who had never completed a manuscript.

Then there’s the first successful short story I ever wrote. The first time someone was excited to read something else I’d written because they enjoyed the first Thing. The first full ms request from a publisher. The first personalised rejection from a publisher (well, actually gutting rather than good, but it was no form rejection).

My first paperback sale felt amazing. Yes, it was someone I knew, but it was the first. And the other day, my first reply from a book reviewer, who said that A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend sounded interesting, and that she’d added it to her list.

Today, my milestone is the 1000th visitor to my blog. 6 months, and 1000 visitors.

stats

Bloggers out there, you know what it’s like. Even if you’re a mastodon, you were once a pygmy like me, delighting in that 1000th visitor. It feels good, doesn’t it?

Milestones aren’t the be-all and end-all of a writer’s life, but they are a lovely reminder that life isn’t entirely always slog. Sometimes you actually get somewhere. And that keeps you slogging on until the next milestone.

Getting Back Into The Swing Of Things (Or, Post-Publishing Blues)

TimeTravellers (No subtitle)

So I’ve finished my first, (self)published ebook (gratuitous Kindle link and gratuitous Kobo link to same).

There was a big sort of scuffle toward the deadline, when I seemed to be writing during every lunch break at work, then rushing home to write feverishly every evening until bedtime. After the writing there was the editing, and after the editing came the formatting. Then there was the realisation that Kindle and Kobo take a little longer to upload books than I had fully grasped. All in all, it was a big rush, scramble, and heave to get over the finish line in time.

Then, the day after I uploaded A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend to Kindle, I was uploading it to Kobo. The same day, I was researching how to upload it to iBooks and making preparations for a CreateSpace paperback copy. That kept me busy for the next few days.

Came the weekend, and suddenly I was at a loss. Somebody should have warned me about this. There’s a gaping hole somewhere around my middle that isn’t because I need to eat (doesn’t mean I’ll say no to those doughnuts, though) and I don’t seem to be able to settle to anything. The other book is done, finished. But I can’t seem to get right into my old WIP again, despite the fact that I know where I want it to go, what I want it to do, and exactly who my characters are. And let’s not even get into the usual stresses of “Why isn’t my book selling more than a few copies? I’ll press the refresh button again: that’ll do it!” or the continual jumping back and forth between book pages in the vain hope that somebody has reviewed your precious ebook in the five minutes since you last checked.

I’ve decided I’m gonna take it easy. I actually got to read a couple new books over the weekend, and managed to do a bit more work on a book I’m critiquing for a friend. Sometimes it’s good to have a break. Also, there are a few more seasons of 24 to catch up on, so there’s that. Only now I’m kinda feeling like I could actually work on my WIP after all . . .

Oh well. Who needs a break, right?

Butt In Chair . . .

You know what you want to write. You know where the story goes. You’ve got a handle on the dialogue, and the ending is well within grasp. And yet, the thing just doesn’t get written. Why?

Well, if you’re me, it’s because you type a few words, or sentences, or paragraphs (if you’re really dedicated) and then get distracted. Or reward yourself with some internets, or a bit of tv. Or you have a blog that’s good for whiling away an hour or two because you’ve got to write that new blog post. In this day of distractions, there’s always something at your fingertips to take your mind off what you should be doing.

My problem is that I lack discipline. There are those days where everything seems to flow, and on those days I can sit and write for six or seven hours. Those days I mostly forget to eat, and only get up to go to the toilet when the need becomes so pressing that I can no longer ignore it. Then there are the days that, despite knowing where the story’s going, I can’t seem to settle and write. It’s just too hard. I’ll put something on the telly ‘for background’ and end up writing maybe 500 words after hours sitting in front of a tv show I wasn’t even really interested in. Worst (and kinda best) of all are the days where my brain is working furiously on Plot and Movement and Idea; and I can spend literally hours daydreaming the suddenly perfectly clear plot-line I want to outline. Character flaws become clear, tiny details and mistakes pop out at me, and I seem to know exactly how and where to build all the necessary little foreshadowing details. Of all my distractions, this is the one I love the most. Probably because it is, in a way, part of my process. It’s an allowable kind of daydreaming. It’s useful. It serves a purpose. But all the same, not much gets written on those days.

So how do you beat the malaise? How do you push past the disinclination and distraction and flat-out laziness? Really, it depends on who you are. When it comes right down to it, I’ve found that the best thing for me is to have a deadline. That’s why I announced the publication date of A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend before it was quite finished. It forces me to put my butt in the chair and just write. To sit there and type until it’s done. I’ve still got two short stories to write to finish up the collection, and a bit of formatting to do, but by and large, I’m on track.

Having a deadline is healthy for me. It may not be helpful to you, however. Every writer is different. But when it comes to writing, the one thing that is true for all of us is that distractions- well, distract. The most effective way to get your story written is to put your butt in the chair, and write. Turn off the tv. Avoid the internet. Write. Don’t worry if it’s rubbish. That’s how we learn and grow. Just write.

Write.