Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Give Away

Haven't read Sorceress' Blood, yet? Missed out on the new release sale? Oh well. No worries.

For the next week, Sorceress' Blood is FREE on the Amazon Kindle store. You get it free and keep it forever. Consider it a Christmas present from me to you. Just click below...

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A New Lesson

For everyone who is interested in the writing process and some ideas on getting better, there is a new Lesson In Being Better. This one is on developing concepts.

A Lesson In Being Better: What If...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Breadth of Human Experience

I live in a city with a beach. At the end of the week I will be going to another city that also has a beach. The majority of Australians live near the coast. The further towards the middle of Australia you go, the less fun it is to live there. So a lot of Australia's population is based in large coastal cities. When I was younger I lived in a city that did not have a beach but the beach was not far away because I was in Tasmania and nothing is far away in Tasmania.

I don't like the beach very much but I often take for granted the fact that it is right there and always has been. Meanwhile there are people living in in the US - a country only a little bigger than Australia - who not only live in a city with no beach but to go to the beach they need to travel interstate. Some of them can't go to the beach without going through many states.

Austria is a country with no beaches. For everybody living in Austria, a trip to the ocean means travelling i
nternationally. But for people in Austria an international trip also means a car ride. There are no international road trips in Australia unless your car is a boat and the road is the ocean in which case you need to start reading the dictionary more often.

It's easy to forget just how monumentally enormous the breadth of human experience is and the things that are around us every day, even little things like the coast line, that seem like a constant might be totally alien to somebody else. In fact, what we call normal is certainly very alien to a lot of somebodies.

I hope, one day, I get to live in a city where going to the beach is a lot of travel and effort so I can increase my understanding of what the human experience might be and not just what I think it is.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lies, all of it, lies!

People are always saying "If you want to write, you have to read a lot." This comment usually is followed by "If you don't read a lot, then you can't be a writer." Augh.

I hate statements like these.

But are they true? Is it a requirement of being a writer that you have to read a lot, all the time and never stop and do no more? Well, let me assure you, that the answer to that question is an resounding and undeniable... Kind of. I suppose. Sorta. Well it depends.

As you've probably come to expect if you've been paying attention since... Well, since you started to have a conscious stream of thought, things are very rarely universally true or solely on one side of an issue. You've all head this before: The world is not black and white but many shades of grey. Well that's true and the more you scrutinize that statement, the more you will see that its truth applies even to itself. Think about it... Later. We're on this topic now.

So let's assume you're a writer, and I just naturally assume you are because half of everybody I ever meet is a "writer" of some sort. What are you trying to write? Probably a novel. Everybody wants to write novels. It's the go-to form of writing for writers the world over. Well, I suggest you learn from the best and read novels. But not just any novel will do, I'm afraid. After all, what is there to be learned from bad writing? Well I guess one lesson to take from bad writing is "DON'T DO IT!" and that can be a valuable lesson. But this is tricky because good and bad are subjective. So let me clarify just what I mean by good and bad: 

The lessons that you will best learn from reading novels, as an aspiring novelist, will come from reading the kinds of novels that you want to write. If you want to write in first person, read books that are written in first person. Should you sights be set on writing period romance, then read period romance. If you want to write children's humour novelettes then that is what you should read. BUT it gets MORE specific than that. Everybody writes a certain way and you will find that other people write in a way strikingly similar to how you write. Find who it's working well for and read that. Be very discerning in what you read and what lessons you take. So good books, for you as a writer, are helpful books and the most helpful books are good books.

(Also, note, that there are some things you just shouldn't do as a writer. A lot of these you will learn for yourself the more you write second drafts. Other writing mistakes generally accepted to be bad are TYPING DIALOGUE IN ALL CAPS using... ellipses... Too often and having too many exclamation points at the end of your sentence!!!!!! Also, really, using the word really (I mean really!!!!!) too much is really bad. And ending a sentence with the phrase "Or something like that" is a no no.)

But what if you don't want to write novels? Should you still read novels? Well, you probably think you know the answer to that and the answer is yes.


Blew your mind, right? Watch me do it again.

People who want to write novels should watch a lot of movies.


Now you don't know what the angle is, do you? You see, this is where I take the biggest issue with this lie (Half lie) about writing. There's this subtext of the novel as being the last bastion of high art in fiction and good writing can only be learned from written literature. The truth is, fiction is fiction is fiction is fiction. If you want to learn, then there are a lot of places to learn. Whether or not you're writing screen plays, stage shows, comic books, novels, basically anything that forms a narrative, then you can learn a lot from how people form narratives across a whole range of mediums. The people who wrote Magnum Force know their fair share of telling a story, building characters, creating drama and EVERYTHING that you need to know as a writer. The best thing is, they put it all there on the screen for you to review and learn from. You'll learn a whole lot more from Magnum Force if you want to write for cinema and even more if you want to write crime drama and action films, but regardless, there's still a lesson to great deal for you to learn from watching a movie. If you want to learn then you WILL learn. Even if you're not writing for cinema, not writing action and not writing crime drama you should still watch Magnum Force because other than being a good movie, it's an excellent example of how you build tension by raising the stakes. That's important just about every kind of fiction. So you see there's a lot to learn from watching films.

Or going to the theatre. Or reading a comic book. Or even (yes I'm serious) playing a video game. If somebody is telling you a story, then it is in your best interest to listen and learn from them.

On the path that you are carving to become the writer you want to be, it is in your best interest to explore, open doors and study everything available to you. Different forms of story telling will teach you different lessons that you need to know and the more that you absorb, the more you are going to learn. The key is to do everything thoughtfully and to actually stop and consider what is in front of you. So read lots of books, watch lots of movies, enjoy a whole range of fiction and media and learn from it. This is the choice you made when you sat down and said "I am going to be a writer." The rest of your life is one big text analysis assignment and it's due in with every book you write. So you'd better hope you pass.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sorceress' Blood

Rebecca Williams leaves a disastrous job interview thinking her life couldn't possibly get any worse. Then a close encounter with disaster, drags Rebecca and a quiet, mysterious young girl into the secret world of powerful sorcery, a dangerous cult and the knightly Order of The Witch-Hunter. Unable to trust or depend on anybody else, Rebecca and the girl must fight to stay alive and keep one step ahead of the obsessed, crazed cult of Thralls that would resurrect their ancient, power hungry queen. All they need is a single drop of the Sorceress' blood.

Sorceress' Blood is a modern fantasy, adventure novel. It's available as an e-book from Amazon.
Go here --->
To celebrate the release of Sorceress' Blood, it is for sale at $0.99 for a limited time. So if you have a kindle, a smart phone, a tablet or even a computer (Amazon's Cloud Reader lets you access Kindle Books on your PC and read them in your browser.) then now is the perfect time to read my debut novel.
For those with other ebook reading platforms or people who like to buy books in print, don't worry. I will be releasing Sorceress' Blood on other platforms and in print in time.

And now that I've done my self-promotion, I'll see you all next time for more blog posts on writing.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Themes: A Lesson in Being Better

Not too long ago I had a conversation with somebody about good literature. Not specifically what we thought was good literature but what makes good literature. One of the comments that came up - I don't remember who said it, but one of us - was to the effect that people will enjoy a well written book but people will remember a thematically strong book.

Leaving, just for now, whether or not good writing necessitates strong themes let's think about this for a little while. For starters, how do we know what the theme is? Well, that's easy. Because "What are the themes" is the same as asking "What is the book about?" We'll look at one of my favourite novels: "The Shining" by Stephen King.

What's 'The Shining' about?

Well it's about a family who go to stay in a hotel while it's closed for winter because the father needs a job. But the young son is a powerful psychic and the hotel is haunted and it feeds off the child's power to become stronger and terrorizes the family because more ghosts also make it stronger and the hotel, while alive, is not really sentient and just wants to feed and become bigger and stronger like some kind of ghostly psychic animal. But it can't do it on its own and so it manipulates the father who is a recovering alcoholic and has an extreme lack of self-confidence and a desperate need to prove he is still a man, even though he is weak and broken.

No. That's the plot, that's what happens in The Shining but it's not what The Shining is about... Unless you're talking about the 1980 film version in which case it really doesn't go deeper. What you see is what you get.

But what is 'The Shining' about? What is 'The Shining' saying?

'The Shining' is about addiction and recovery. It's about trust in family and how a family can break apart under pressure, especially if there's already a lack of trust. It's about being taken advantage of when you're weak and alone. It's about whether or not you can be strong on your own or if you need others with you. Trust, addiction, family break downs - these are the themes. All the horror, all the scares and the monsters and the ghosts just exist to talk about the themes and say something. And when you get to the end of a book and you look back on it, what stands out is how it felt when you were reading it and those themes came through the story.

I thought 'The Shining' really was a frightening and well written book. But there are plenty of frightening and well written books. 'Endurance' by Joe Konrath was frightening. 'Ring' by Koji Suzuki was pretty scary. 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth' had some creepy moments and all of them (we can debate how good Lovecraft's writing was later) were well written. But why aren't they one of my favourite books and 'The Shining' is? Because the themes in 'The Shining' resonated with me more than the others, I understood them, I related to them and one could argue that the themes were also stronger than in 'Endurance' or 'Ring'. And by stronger I mean more present or at least better said.

Alright, so now we know what a theme is and what they're for. So how do we use them? You're in luck because that's not too hard.

In my experience, themes happen without you noticing. The more you write - especially the more you write of one piece - the more themes are going to slip in unintentionally. So yes, novels will be thematically stronger than short stories as a general rule. Only because there is more time for these things to develop. The reason themes happen like this or that they can happen at all is because people believe things. People have opinions on the world and on society and on relationships. You can't help thinking things about stuff because that is just going to happen as long as you're breathing. A dog can walk past and sniff at your shoes and you will have an opinion about it. When you write, how you see the world and what you believe about the human experience is going to come through in your writing unintentionally. So yay for being human!

But that doesn't mean it's going to be strong or clear. If you think that maybe your writing isn't feeling themey enough, well then maybe that's a good thing to fix. And it's not hard to fix because, like I said, you already have beliefs and opinions and those are the basis for themes.

Look at what you're writing. Think about where the characters are at the beginning and think about where they're going to be at the end (Not sure where that is? You need to go back a few steps, then). Think about the cause of the central conflict. Think about the relationships between characters and how the events of the story impact or change those relationships. Even if your story is about a wizard and his pent monkey fighting space gorillas, you can still reduce the elements of your narrative to the human experience. Now try and reduce those ideas down to a short phrase and be specific. Don't say the theme is love, say the theme is "love in war". 

And now you've found your themes and you'll probably find that you've been writing them all along, even if you didn't know it. It's okay for writing to be organic. It should be a little organic and natural. In the same way the planting a grape vine next to a wooden pole lets it grown organically and naturally. Guide your writing.

Once you've found those themes and you know what you're trying to say about the human experience you can begin to alter your story to say more and say louder. Your story will almost certainly be better and more memorable because of it.