Tag Archives: writing

Would You Read This?

I’m nearly there I think, with my manuscript almost ready to pitch to agents. I’m just polishing the turds and flogging the dead horses. I’ve also been working on a synopsis and a query pitch. After about thirty iterations, I’ve boiled it down to the blurb below. Would you read this novel?

Rorick of Iverley, braggart, heretic and master thief, has been offered a job too good to be true — complete a series of simple cons for an elusive noble in the shivering wastes of the south. It sounds pretty bloody miserable actually, but then he’ll be paid enough money to retire and escape the dangerous life he leads. You see, Rorick is Gifted, able to manipulate the world around him through Song. However, those Gifted folk without noble blood are hunted down by the Choir of Justice and dealt with fatally.

He soon finds himself burdened with an elderly priest, a mute boy, and a beautiful but homicidal smuggler. Painful memories, long buried, are unearthed as he inadvertently helps rekindle an ancient family feud that will trample over the lives of everyone in the Twin Cities.

A prudent thief would drop this job like a hot rock. A prudent thief would run away, as far and as fast as possible. A prudent thief, Rorick is not.

Back to the Drawing Board

Just spent the last week furiously scrawling down notes for what I thought was an amazing idea for a sequel to a novel I have written. I threw together a rough plot and gathered a handful of likely supporting characters. Turns out, I just wrote a wonderful syopsis for someone else’s already written and famous novel. Bugger.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. I plotted out a really fun urban fantasy. Turns out I’d written Ghostbusters…

Time to do some surgery on this and start again.

Keeping Busy

Earlier this week I recruited some vict- er volunteers to beta read my draft novel A WINTER SONG. I was actually quite surprised with how many people seemed enthusiastic to do so. It was really lovely, I hope it doesn’t disappoint them.

I also mentioned that I was instantly really anxious about it. I still am. I’ve already thought of a billion things wrong with it, but I’m being strong and leaving it be until I’ve gathered me feedback. I think that’s sensible.

I’ve had one bit of feedback so far, just to say that they were really enjoying it, which has heartened me and allayed the tiniest fraction of my anxiety. ONly an iota though, you understand.

I’ve already started on my next project. I have a sequel in mind for A WINTER SONG, but I’m giving myself a rest from Eorva for a little while. I may have to revisit events in A WINTER SONG, so the vague plot will suffice. My next project has me kind of excited actually. It’s a bit of an urban fantasy thriller style of thing, set in the Midlands. I shan’t talk too much about it specifically but suffice it to say it’s full of abandoned urban exploration, mysterious Yoda-like crazy dudes, battles between light and dark, and commentary on bigotry and acceptance. It’s great fun!

My next task is to head into the arse end of Birmingham and take some photos, but I don’t know when I’m going to manage that. Need some more daylight first…

Ance in my Pance

I am temporarily freed of the self-imposed burden of A WINTER SONG. I have stopped fiddling with it and I have let it out into the pasture for real humans to read and dissect.

I’m terrified.

Well, that’s not true, I’m not terrified, but I am considerably more anxious than I thought I would be. Stupid little things like the fact that two of the people offering to beta read it are of Scandinavian origins, and I have bastardised huge amounts of Old Norse language for example. Will they be offended? Will they think I am a massive prick? Then my sensible gland (very small) says, don’t be ridiculous, all the English folk won’t get offended with the amount of bastardy I’ve performed on English… Will they? OH MY GOD THEY WILL!

Anyway, it’s gone. I have invited the criticism. I must now await its arrival and adjust my world view appropriately.

My next problem is one of choice. I can’t stop. I need to write. I have several nascent ideas, including a sequel or two to the novel that’s currently being eaten. But which do I choose?

My brain is broken you see. I can’t concentrate on one thing at a time, I never have been able to. I even deviated and wrote short stories whjile writing this novel. Hell, this novel was actually a spin-off of an epic fantasy novel I haven’t even written yet.

So, I must meditate on this. *jibber*

WANTED: Beta Readers – Please Help

ACHIEVENT UNLOCKED! COHERENT MANUSCRIPT COMPLETE!

I’ve finished my first draft, and refined it into what I’m calling the Second Draft. Catchy, I know. I am going blind from fiddling with it, as it were, and now I need YOU!

I’m after a few willing victi- er… volunteers to beta read this for me, while I take a break from this particular story. As my mother always said, if you keep picking at it, it’ll never get better.

So I hand it over to you, the reader, to dissect it and find all the crap I missed.It’s ostensibly a fantasy novel, though very light, not Tolkien-esque high fantasy. It follows the story of Rorick of Iverley, the second best con artist in Eorva and his quest to defraud as many people as possible. At its roots it is a light-hearted heist story with lots of swashbuckling, swindling and swearing. (I need to work on my synopsis, I know).

I’m especially interested in the thoughts of those of you who perhaps aren’t fantasy nerds. My mission is to kind of create a fun and engaging story, with relatable themes that just happens to be set in a fantasy universe.

All I need you to do, is read it and give me your thoughts. If you find something you consider crap, a massive plot hole, a character that is just so two-dimensional you can’t see her from the side, write it down. When you’re done, if you can bear to make it through to the end, send me your brutal honesty and I will weep into my Old Fashioneds, and then revise it accordingly.

If you’re interested, reply in the comments, hit me up on Twatter (@crazygibbon), Farcebook (If you know, you know me), or email me (andy [dot] m [dot] cowley [at] gmail [dot] com)Thanks kids

Introducing Characters

If there’s one thing that I often find more cringeworthy than Dan Brown writing a Twilight sequel, it’s the introduction of characters at the start of a story. Look anywhere and you’ll find a slew of rhetoric and advice on writing decrying adverbs, demanding we show not tell, admonishing infodumps, avoiding clichés and so on. One thing that seems to slip the net is that of character introductions.
This is only a thing for me at the start of a story. Once the valves of the plot machine have warmed up and the cathode rays of dialogue are clear on the tube, introducing characters is easy. You can slip them in casual conversation, wedge them into short pieces of prose. It feels natural.
At the start of a tale though, there can often be a stutter. Take this made up section of prose for example:

Doctor Ken Harwood leaned nonchalantly against the marble-topped bar. He winked at the Laura Cowan the barmaid, easily twenty years his junior. She grimaced as she threw bile up into her mouth but continued to clean the glass she was holding. Ken reached for his martini, his eyes locked onto her arse. His hand brushed the edge of the glass and knocked the strong gin and vermouth mixture across the bar.

Now, ignore the fact that it sounded like a Mills and Boon parody, I introduced two characters there. Clumsily, but not uniquely.

I see this sort of thing a lot, and I’m probably being pernickety, but then the writing business is all about pernicketing, or so I’m told. Yes, yes, this is the only time this will happen and I’ll never need to introduce them again, it’s over in less than a minute, like those pointless ‘Intro’ tracks on albums, but I find it a really jarring start to a story.

This introducing characters by their full name thing is a bit weird if you think about real life. The only real way I think it makes sense is if you’re narrating from a second-person perspective or a third-person omnipotent perspective.

If we look at this as from the third-person restricted point of view, with Ken as our subject, it immediately sounds weird. Why the hell would Ken be referring to himself by his full name and title? It makes no sense. Equally, unless he’s some kind of weirdo, he wouldn’t be thinking about the barmaid by her full name either, even if he knew it. It’s all just a little odd.

Take this example:

My name is Ken Harwood. I’m a Doctor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Blahblahshuddup. I have a problem. Women cannot resist me.

I leaned nonchalantly against the marble-topped bar, watching the pert backside of the barmaid, Laura Cowan. I winked at her as she caught me staring. She grinned at me while she polished a glass with those perfect little hands. I knew what she was thinking.

Even from the first person perspective, we have a problem. It doesn’t sound entirely unnatural to introduce Ken like that. Imagine he’s telling you the tale in a pub somewhere. It almost make sense for him to introduce himself like that. To me though, and this may well be a preference thing, it’s a massive cliché.

I probably should obsess over something a little more important, but this really grinds my gears. From any perspective, this to me sounds like a forced and staid infodump.

I like it better when authors introduce characters in a natural, almost relaxed way. This is especially obvious in third-person restricted and first-person PoV. If I’m writing in the first-person, the way I look at it is, I already know the person I’m narrating to well enough recount my story to them, so I can assume they don’t need me to introduce myself formally again. I never refer to myself by my name in my own head, so why would I unless I explicitly needed to?

You may think this is all bollocks and disagree, but I think being a little more creative around this makes the story feel more natural from the off, rather than a sputtering start.

Here’s an excerpt from my novel highlighting what I have done. Bear in mind, this is probably on the second or third page:

A man entered the tavern, opening the door barely enough for him to pass through, and closing it quietly behind him. He was taller than most in these parts, his face obscured by a dark green hunter’s hood. An expensive looking blade hung from his hip that gave him a swagger as he approached my table. He lifted his boot and kicked my feet from the stool upon which they were resting, and sat down.

“Adelan,” I said cheerily. Only a friend would survive such an act of disrespect against me without a mark to remind him of his folly. “You’re late, as usual.”

“I see you are none the worse for it though,” Adelan replied gesturing to the three empty steins on the table. “How have you been Rorick?”

It’s not literary fiction but it feels considerably more natural than just detailing the names outright. I suppose, if you think about it, it’s just another example of show don’t tell.

First Draft: Complete

This lunchtime, sitting in my customary spot at the back of Caffe Nero in Solihull, I have put the last sentence together for the first draft of my novel. I stole the line, well half of it, in an homage, as the character that speaks it is loosely based on a popular rogue from science fiction. Though in my story, gender-swapped.
I started the novel with two lines in mind, the opening one and the closing one, and I’m ecstatic that this windy and rocky path I’ve stumbled along for the past six months has led me back to where I intended to go. Even if the middle went anywhere but.
The story is set in a fantasy world, but it’s really just a heist story. It tells the tale of Rorick, an eloquent thief and con-man from the bottom-most strata of a complicated religious despotism. It’s about him, having lived a pretty tragic and tumultuous life, having the stereotypes he’s built over the years torn down to an extent.
OK, so I need to come up with a better blurb, but it’s early days yet.
Every single session of writing has been a learning experience. I’m going to list a whole bunch of things I’ve learnt in a separate post but the thing I’ve found to be most important is to just keep bloody going. I started, about two or three years ago, to write a story. I had in my head a world, a couple of characters, a vague plot outline and a whole encyclopedia of nonsense about this universe. I’d never written anything longer than a short story before, and consequently fell victim to the eternal enemy of self-censorship. The first ten chapters of it are still sitting on my laptop now. They took me about eighteen months to write. The first chapter, I have five separate rewrites of. What I found while I was doing this though, is that one of the characters I had invented was really interesting and I wanted to tell a story about him. So I did. I’ll go back to my epic eventually, but this has been a great exercise if nothing else. However, I still have this problem of redrafting the same thing over and over…

One thing any artist will tell you, is that it’s all about layering. And they’re correct. I’ve been painting, drawing and writing music for my entire life, and it took me all this time to draw the parallel. When I’m painting a picture, I don’t go straight in and start adding all the detail with a fine brush. I make some sweeping thin pencil outlines. Ink the important bits, wash over with blocks of basic colour, build up shadow and texture, then add the highlights in last. The same with music, I’ll pull out a guitar, find some tasty chords, throw a beat on it, sort out a melody for the lyrics, and the rest is just embellishment.

So, in short, what I’ve done to get this far, and I know this sort of approach doesn’t work for everyone, is start with a vague outline. Some people go and do some stuff; throw in some beats, bad shit and good shit happen to them; whack in a few lyrics, or interactions between the characters; add a little embellishment, some plot twists and some tension. Then just plow through to the end.

At the moment, it’s far from the polished and sexatronic supertome I wanted to create, but I’ve realised that it doesn’t matter. It’s pencilled, it’s got the colour washed in and a bit of shadow for definition. The next pass is going to be some texture, hiding the mistakes, painting over the bad bits. Then I’ll had all the magical highlights, the sparkles in the eyes, and then it will be good. I hope.

One thing I have found however, is my voice, I think. I started out wanting to be Robin Hobb, then I wanted to be Scott Lynch, then I wanted to Mark Lawrence. However, it was uncomfortable, it was forced, it was vile. I was never going to be able to transport people into my world, like some kind of multi-sensory dreamscape like Robin Hobb, I was never going to be as witty and sharp as Scott Lynch, and I was never going to be as poetic as Mark Lawrence.

I’m sure, if I ever finish this, and by some amazing luck, you actually get to read this, you’ll probably see these influences as plain as day. I don’t think that’s usually a bad thing. I hope though that you’ll see me in there, my own voice and how much I felt myself thinking and feeling like Rorick. Not that I would ever want to actually BE him. He’s a massive wanker, and a liar, and a braggart, and also not as much a hard man as he thinks he is.

Anyway, I’m going to read other people’s fiction for a while now before I start to edit this. My longsuffering other half has also agreed to be my alpha-tester. She’s a hardcore fantasy fangrrl and can read a three-hundred page novel in about half an hour. She’s read all of everything ever, Jordan, Goodkind, Gemmel, Martin, Tolkien, Hobb, you name it, it’s in our dining room. She’s under strict instruction to be brutal, honest and even evil if needs be. Wish me luck, the easy bit is over!