Sunday, 27 September 2009


One character takes over a story and sends the intended protagonist reeling. Is there a name for this? I don't know, but I suspect it is happening in my latest wip.
My intention was a male protagonist but I find a female keeps taking up the pages in a most demanding way.

She needs to be kept in check. Or I need to bring them together, perhaps, in a more meaningful way.

I'm thinking my male lead looks something like Aidan Turner in the BBC's "Being Human." (I watched the first episode and the last and thoroughly enjoyed them, but chose not to watch the intervening ones.
Strange decision, but there you go. The ghost (female) was a bit of a drag, forever bemoaning her fate. The werewolf was a sweet character deeply troubled by his present predicament - well, changing into a werewolf every full moon could make anyone a tad hysterical. The vampire, our beautiful AT, swore off blood. They all wanted to be human. Now why didn't I watch the middle episodes?

Possibly because there wasn't a great deal of storyline in episode one. The situation was great, but the action didn't quite match the promise of the premise. Something I must watch out for in the new wip. The main character must lead, must be proactive, must have something to do, a goal to strive for from page one. Publishers and agents pass over heroines who simply react to situations forced upon them. So, with that in mind, I must go do some work on my wip...

Friday, 25 September 2009

Mark Knopfler and the Border Reivers

I've been listening to the sounds of Mark Knopfler and his new song The Border Reivers with some puzzlement. I'm a Knopfler fan, loved the music but could not make sense of the words. About seven hearings in, I mentioned this to my dh. He rolled over (we're still in bed at this point), listened and said "It's about Albion trucks called Border Reivers. Made in Glasgow. Nothing to do with your Border Reivers."
Aha. Various snatches of song became clear: "heading south from Glasgow...paperwork's all sleep times good...she's a 1969..." Yes, it all fit.

"If you want to know more about Albion trucks," dh says chirpily, "I'll introduce you to Jim Wilkinson. He knows everything there is to know about the Border Reivers. He's got one in his garage."
Groan. My Border Reivers were some of the toughest desperadoes ever to live through history. Living both sides of the border between Scotland and England 1400-1700 they reived (stole) cattle, horses, wives, money from their own nation and from the residents of the opposing one without fear or quarter. They feature in my book TILL THE DAY GO DOWN, about to be published in November.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Show Don't Tell

We all hear the phrase Show Don't Tell and grind our teeth a bit, don't we? Well, Nathan Bransford has some good advice on this old theme and I've taken the liberty of jotting some of it down here so I can find it again easily.
(And as a reward for doing my homework, I rewarded myself with a picture of Aidan Turner courtesy of the BBC's "Being Human." How about him for the hero of your next novel?)
Anyway, back to Nathan and his good advice: "in general: universal emotions should not be "told." "

Instead, he advises that we should show how the character is reacting to their feelings. Being told that a character is "angry" is not very interesting - we're reading the book, we know his dog just got kicked, of course he's angry! It's redundant to be told that the character is "angry." More interesting is how the character reacts to seeing his dog kicked. Does he hold it in and tap his foot slowly? Does he explode? Does he clench his fists? Even if it's a first person narrative and the character knows he's "angry," it's more interesting for the character to describe how he's feeling or what he's thinking rather than saying, "I was so angry!" This also applies to:- Descriptions - It's not interesting to merely hear that someone is "pretty" - what characteristics make them pretty? Characterizing relationships - Not interesting to only hear that two people are "close". How are they close? What do they do together?

Yes, I've read similar stuff before today, more than once. But it never hurts to recap and remind oneself that this is the way to go. Eventually, I hope it will become second nature.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Stirling Castle

My fictional heroes Harry and Matho are heading for Stirling and I'm wishing I could up sticks and mooch around the place myself. It isn't that far, well within a day's journey, but it isn't the best move in the world for me right now. I'm making do with a guide published by Historic Scotland bought for one penny via the internet. I love using maps and diagrams for this sort of thing, especially historical maps, and the web is just great as a research tool.

I did attend a dinner in Stirling Castle once, right after the Great Hall had been newly refurbished as it must have been when first built in the 1540's. It was part of the Dorothy Dunnett weekend conference and over 300 people turned up and filled the hall. On the way from Edinburgh to Stirling, our bus broke down. Wouldn't you know it? Other buses had arrived on time, and we were desperately late by the time a replacement bus turned up and completed the journey. We were met and whisked up and into the Great Hall with no time to look around. They handed us our champagne as we entered the door! I didn't reget the lack of time then, as everything was so exciting, and we had a wondeful evening, but I do now.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Plum pie and Wylam

I always find myself glazing over when I read something I know so well that I can almost quote it word for word, so editing my own work is not a joy of the first order. It takes a real effort of will power to focus on each word, note a full stop out of place or a double white space where there should be only one. Necessary, I know, and most worthwhile. But not my favourite occupation.
These last few days have proved good weatherwise, and we've been out walking. Not far from us an old branch line veers off across the Tyne and now it is a walk and cycle track. We walked to Wylam (see pic) had a coffee at the teashop and walked home. On the way back we passed several apple trees apparently growing wild, so we filled our pockets and had apple and blackberry crumble for dessert. Yum.
It has been a good season for fruits and berries of all kinds. The hazel trees are shedding nuts, blackberries are here in profusion and we know where there are some wild plum trees, but they're kind of inaccessible in among the bramble patches or on a steep slope and I'm not willing to risk my neck for free plum pie! No one but us seems interested in gathering blackberries, so our freezer is stuffed full. It seems such a waste to let it all go to waste. Last week we were gathering them while the farmer was harvesting his pea crop. The combine harvester must have frightened rabbits out into the open, and the farmer's son was walking up and down the field line with a rifle. Every now and then a shot would ring out. My feelings were divided between the farmer and the rabbit, because we can see the damage the rabbits are doing a) to the pea crop, and b) their burrows are so numerous they are wrecking his hedges. No doubt he will be having rabbit pie for supper this week, and no doubt the rabbit colonies will soon make up the numbers lost.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The perfect rose

Thirty pages left to do for the edits.
I wrote this story a year ago and
even that short space of time has made a difference to my writing.
I see the curious habits and cringe.
What is it that makes me use one word and use it again in the next sentence like an echo? Perhaps I should scan this blog and see if I do it here, too.
If I've taken one shot of the roses in my garden this summer I must have taken fifty, and I rarely get a shot that is sharp and clear. Too much wind, and defective eyesight has a part to play. With contacts in, I cannot see an object close to; with glasses I can, but I can see even better with my naked eye. At three feet, everything works the opposite way. Passing twenty-five is no fun as age starts to tell, at first in such tiny things as not being able to pass a thread through the suddenly fuzzy eye of the needle. With me it was buses - the wretched things were almost past by before I could read the direction or number. I got glasses and was amazed at the things I could see. Friends told me I'd regularly ignored them for ages unless they stood right in front of me. No wonder tennis players like Del Potro win the US Open Tennis at age twenty - everything is perfect. Strength is reaching its optimum, reaction time is superb, fitness and stamina at their best; the slowest part to mature is the brain, but after years of intense training, that knows what is expected on a tennis court. Eight years on and we're all wondering about Federer as he heads towards thirty. He is considered "old."
The US Open is going to change the APT rankings, I should think. I suspect Murray will slide down as suddenly as he rose. Will Nadal stick with number two again? And where will Del Potro find himself?

Friday, 11 September 2009

So that's why

Still with edits because there was some confusion and the doc file did not "hold" track changes. I now have an rtf document, and all is well except that I have to go through the whole story... again. Lesson learned - always check after first few edits...

Meanwhile there are good things around. I met with my local writers group today and heard about Michelle's encounter with a Guardian writer - it is a must read piece, and I say this not because I know Michelle - more because I don't seem able to pass through the portals of M&B either.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Viewpoint woes

Mulling over viewpoint, I hauled Swain down from my high shelf.

Creating characters. I looked up viewpoint in the index and scanned all he had to say. Clear as day, here's where the rule originated, I suspect!

"Whatever your story, your readers will need some kind of orientation point, some place from which to watch the action. In other words, a point of view.

Ordinarily, that point is in a character - a viewpoint character. Or as I used to put it, "Whose skin are we in?" Through whose eyes are we seeing or experiencing the story?

In choosing this character, you limit yourself to presenting your story as he experiences it. That is to say, he can watch what other people do, but he can't see himself. (Jack watches others, but cannot see himself.)

He will, however, know anything you want your readers to know about his own state of mind." (Jack knows his own mind, though Janet might puzzle him)

Characters can only be observed from outside, by another character. (So Janet can see Jack and describe him to us) Swain goes on to say this limits emotional intensity. We need Jack's thoughts to go with Janet's observations to obtain that intensity (she may be inaccurate if she decides she knows what he is thinking)

To avoid this there are stories that jump around "like a frog on a hot griddle" as they leap into and out of the hearts and minds of assorted characters. This is known as author omniscient viewpoint. This is OK as long as it is done with skill but done badly can be confusing , irritating and lack the emotional intensity we're after.

There's also the objective approach - record the story entirly without going into anyone's head. He quotes Hammett and The Maltese Falcon as an example, but warns that it takes great skill and most of us don't have it.

Most fiction today is from the subjectively orientated central figure, ie it tells the story from inside the chief character's head. WE see what the character sees, hears, tastes, smells, touches, thinks, feels - we experience the story, live through it with the viewpoint character.

It grips the reader, but it limits your presentation of other characters to external only.

It means you can't lie about your central character, since you know his every thought.

Having two or three viewpoint characters is not unusual. Swain recommends a chapter for each - time enough to get used to your character - but don't let it run on so long the others are forgotten. And be sure to establish time, place circumstance and Viewpoint every time you change.

My thought is that all rules are there to be broken.

Monday, 7 September 2009

EDITS have arrived

I have the edits for TILL THE DAY GO DOWN
We were already programmed to running errands this morning, so we made the quick trip to the coast to buy dh's beer kit and a new barrel (so he can make more beer!) and came home. I got out of the car about a mile and a half from home and walked back so I got my exercise for the day (10,000 steps a day, remember), had lunch and began work.
It is a strange exercise, going over something you wrote several months ago. Already I have found two places where I use the same word in consecutive sentences, a sort of echo effect. I wonder how many more I'll find before I get to the end?
I love playing around with Adobe photoshop and late last night when I couldn't sleep I superimposed my painting of my heroine on a pic I took of Aydon castle. The result is not displeasing, but not very professional!
I have about another 150 pages to check over before I'm done. It won't take too long if I abandon my critiquing and writing till I'm through. I'm waiting for a book on Stirling Castle to arrive (paid 1 penny for it on Amazon!) before I can progress the current wip anyway, and I've been checking my favourite published writers to see how they handle POV and description of the hero.
In case you are wondering what I mean, here's the scene: My (male) hero and male friend open the story. Following the current trend for selecting one POV and sticking with it for a scene, I find it well nigh impossible to get any description of the POV hero on the page. He can describe his friend, but he can't describe himself. Well, he wouldn't would he? There are no mirrors in the border moors for him to glance into, and he doesn't think of his own looks/clothes as a heroine might do. Short of having him fall in a brook doing a Narcissus thing, I am going to have to break all the rules and retreat into omnisicent author to get him described on the page and please my critiquers - and later, my readers. A wide overview to open a scene, narrowing down when I need it, and opening out when I need it. Rules be damned. Far too restrictive.

Saturday, 5 September 2009


Ginger nominated my blog for an I must say thanks Ginger and hope you cannot see the fixed grin on my face because now I have to come up with names, information, and some interesting stuff without revealing all my dirty little secrets.
I must share with you SEVEN of my favorite things, SEVEN of my favorite activities, SEVEN things no one knows about me.

Seven of my favorite things: Easy. If you ask me next year, I doubt they will have changed. Dogs, holidays, watching Rafa Nadal play tennis, meeting my girlfriends for dinner, Merlin (the current BBC production), sleeping, reading.

Seven of my favorite activities: country walks, writing, downhill skiing, gardening, driving my Mini Cooper fast, meeting other writers, taking photographs

Seven things no one knows about me: I’m deaf in one ear because streptomycin destroyed the nerve when I had mumps, I was once School high jump champion, I’m tidy when it comes to desks, I cannot talk and cook at the same time, South America is the only continent I haven’t visited, once printed my own b&w pics in a dark room and I used to ride horses.

Sadly some of my friends don’t have blogs, so if anyone wants to include eight nominations instead of seven, feel free – use one of mine!

Michelle Styles
Anna Scamans
Linda Banche
Carla Nayland
Jennifer Hudson Taylor
Anne Gilbert
I picked these people because they are committed bloggers. I hope you'll visit their sites...that the purpose of this whole thing, after all.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Dreaded dialogue

Dialogue should bear information that moves the plot forward, and hopefully creates conflict, tension and suspense. It should be written with one character in mind and that character alone.
I'm sure I've said all this this before, but I need reminding every now and then.
Dialogue may explain what happened in the past; good dialogue conveys the emotions and thoughts of characters. Until a character speaks, their thoughts and emotions are portrayed either through the narrator’s eyes or those of another character. This allows a split to develop between a character's "perceived" personality and his "true" personality.

Realistic dialogue allows the reader to make up their own mind as to the kind of person they might be. Subconsciously we take note of how a character speaks, and when they speak. Are they terse and clipped, or verbose and boring? Do they push forward or hang back, preferring to be out of the limelight?
In real life, status usually shows in dialogue. We listen, and take a guess at someone's origins, education and how they view life. When reading we can make an educated guess at the appearance and expression of the speaker's words on the page. A person in authority, or someone used to subservience? Chief Executive of Shell, or Chairman of the Village Association?
The How To books tell us dialogue does not imitate real life – too uncomfortable since we are not prone to be articulate in everyday conversation. But they do insist that each character must have his or her own voice.
In short passages with only two speakers, dialogue does not need action tags or attributions. Action tags are rapidly becoming as irritating as attributions, and I have to curb myself from using too many. I especially hate - and I don't know if I'm alone in this - the modern habit of attributions such as - "she husked, he gritted, he bit out." Depending on my mood, they either make my blood pressure rise or they make me laugh.
I noticed these expressions first in books coming across the Atlantic but now they are appearing in books published here in the UK. "To husk" is to shred the outer covering from a nut or seed - it has nothing to do with husky and that word, oddly enough refers only to a breed of dog in my dictionary. But enough of my pet peeves...
A dialogue passage of any length requires some action to make it more interesting and keep track of the speakers. Action in this capacity can be made to serve as a descriptive element and is useful to both writer and reader. But limited the use, or they overrun the dialogue.
Dialect can be conveyed to the reader, but a long tract littered with apostrophes is unattractive and often unreadable. Accepted advice is to use the rhythm, turn the words around and throw in the odd colloquialism. Turning the words around works when doing a French accent, but it is impossible to get the intonation of a sentence down on paper, and many dialects use words that, translated, convey no dialect at all. It is difficult, but fun. Onward and upward. Perhaps my character will be upwardly mobile, and he will gradually lose that accent....

Taking a Risk

  Poised on the cliff edge about to take the leap! No thoughts of suicide - oh no! Or perhaps only in terms of covers for my e-books. I am a...