Snowflake So Far

You may remember me mentioning that I was going to try out the Snowflake method to see if it’s something I want to use in the future when plotting stories. So far, I’ve found it to be an incredibly useful tool. Already I’ve identified several major problem areas and managed to change them quickly, all before I’ve actually gotten to the point where I need to go back and alter other things. Let’s look at the list.

First, I found the character arcs really helpful. This is where a one paragraph synopsis is rewritten for each of the MCs. For one thing, I noticed that one of the MCs had basically no arc whatsoever. She was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl without being manic, pixish or a love interest, which was kinda impressive when you think about it. Noticing this now allowed me to really look at her and her story and make sure that she had goals and pursuits and a purpose other than holding up the other characters. I rewrote her paragraph and turned her into a fully-fledged story all herself. And I didn’t have to alter 70k words of prose to do it – a nice change from my usual method.

Next in Stage 4, the plot expansion step, I was able to combat another old nemesis of mine – the “things are too easy” problem. I make a bad habit of this one and it’s led to me having to insert entire arcs into already fully written manuscripts, and of course alter all the rest of the novel appropriately. Here I could tweak just a few sentences to make things more interesting and less predictable and it only took me an hour or so as opposed to a couple of months.

Stage 5 is very good for weaving all the characters’ stories together and finding ways to add depth and intrigue to use characters to their full potential. It made it easier to keep track of subplots as well, as it allows for slight tangents away from the overarching stories to look closely at each character. Doing half pages for minor characters is something I’ve never done before – I’ve never put much thought into them before the actual writing and always let them develop with the story. It feels very different and I’m interested in seeing how this effects the story and how my secondary characters feel.

I’m currently on Stage 8 – the outline stage. This feels like more familiar ground as it’s extremely rare for me to write without at least a rough scene-by-scene. Naturally, I like the idea of this stage but I found working in a spreadsheet pretty clunky. I’ve modified it a little and instead jumped into Scrivener, using the corkboard feature. This allows me to very easily move scenes around and also put notes and ideas into each document as I go. I’m just too addicted to being able to put extra info absolutely everywhere, and being able to rearrange with just a drag and drop is so convenient.

cofNeedless to say, this new project has become way more of a thing than I ever intended so whoops on that one. What can I say, I need something to distract me while TE1 is with the betas! That said, playing with this story is going to slow down considerably as TE2 has sat long enough. It’s time to work out those huge structural changes that I’m trying to prevent in future projects.

Wish me luck.

Comedy and the Happy Ending

An incredibly late post about the comedy writing workshop I went to for the Aye Write festival about a month and a half ago. Overall it was great fun, though there was this one point that I disagreed with. During the workshop endings were discussed and the author running the workshop said that comedies can only have happy endings, and almost everyone in the workshop agreed with her. For her specific genre, which was romantic comedies, what I’ve seen from publishers and readers shows this to be true but there’s a lot of scope for an “unhappy” ending in a comic story. Within context, the correct unhappy ending can either be a.) very fitting to a story or b.) hilarious in its own right.

The next contains spoilers for an old TV series and an old film so, uh, the 1980’s called and spoiler alert?

For my first point, perhaps the most memorable and most powerful example I can think of is the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. Set in the WW1 trenches, you can imagine the scope for happy endings. The series comes to a close with the main characters going “over the top” in a suicidal charge infamous for devastating loss of troops. While the episode makes liberal use of extremely dark humour (for example, as the troops wait to go over and Darling exclaims “Oh , we’ve survived it, the Great War, from 1914 to 1917!”), it ends an on especially bleak note. The entire atmosphere of the program seems to flip with three simple words from the overly optimistic, nothing-can-bring-me-down George. “I’m scared, sir.” That’s when it hits. All the characters are going to die. The jokes keep coming but they are the characters’ last words. It’s over. And finally, it ends with Blackadder’s famous “good luck everyone” and they go over the top. The series ends.

It is dark, and unfunny, and brings people to tears. It is also perfect.

The second point, where the unhappy end can actually be a joke by itself, has a few good examples – in fact my favourite film is one of them. Evil Dead II is a comedy horror film, your classic “terrible things happen to young adults in a cabin in the woods” story. Everyone’s favourite one-handed, chainsaw wielding, shotgun-toting white trash asshole Ash Williams spends the film freaking out and killing demons. Just as he finally succeeds, as he triumphs over the horrors and is given perhaps a chance to return to his normal and safe life, he is transported back to 13th century England (it makes a little more sense in the film, though admittedly not much) where there’s an army waiting, expecting him to lead them in a great war against the demons. The film ends with this army chanting that he’s their deliverer, and with Ash stood on a plinth screaming in despair.

Trust me, it’s much funnier than it sounds.  Ash doesn’t get what he wants, in the most ridiculous way possible, and fits with the “what other terrible things can we do to this guy” humour that the film employs liberally.

So while the advice that certain genres of comedy require a certain type of ending, I definitely don’t believe it’s true for all. Yeah, you probably don’t want your rom-com to end with a tragic double murder, but a war setting has much more flexibility. Blackadder nailed it. Irvine Welsh’s Filth could never be disregarded as a comedy but at the same time really couldn’t have ended well. Wars? Corrupt police? End of the world? A family reunion? All these things have the potential for both comedy or tragedy but the two aren’t mutually exclusive, if you ask me. Over running the world with nightmare horrors can actually be pretty funny, but isn’t necessarily going to end breezy. The possibilities for dark endings in funny stories are limitless, within reason.

Remember the magic words: Context and audience.

Anything can be funny if you’re smart about it. Then again, maybe I’m a little twisted.

Testing the Snowflake Method

While actually writing is vital to becoming an author, so is identifying one’s weak areas and working to improve them. I certainly know I’ve got a few but I think at present my biggest issue is with story. Not so much the larger, overarching story but all the little bits in-between that get us from A to B.

A while ago while I was procrastinating work things by looking up other work things, I stumbled across a few templates for writing using the Snowflake Method. This involves plotting your entire story starting from a single sentence and then slowly building up and up, expanding into increasingly longer synopses until you’ve got a story. It’s a technique I’ve wanted to try for a while because my own method of planning generally ends up a bit chaotic and my stories often feel very linear. I think this is because in general my mind works on a small scale when planning, moving from scene to scene and ending up with something that’s a bit too straight forward.

I’ve been tempted to try the Snowflake method as I think it might help me see the big events earlier and more easily see things that are too simple or boring. It’s a problem I’ve got in many of my manuscripts and leads to a LOT of work later when editing. While I’m still on schedule with The Fairy Godfather, I’ve made a lot of extra work for myself by having to entirely re-work huge sections of the novel. Plotting is clearly something that I need to work on.

I’ve decided that as a side project I’m going to try it out on a fun personal story I’ve had bouncing around in my head for a while. Not one that’s meant as a serious piece, more as just a workout to see if this method a) works for me and b) helps me with some of the issues that I know I have with plotting.

Also, as I have a love of templates and filling out boxes, I’m going to be using Caroline Norrington’s Scrivener Template. It’s got documents for all the steps of the snowflake method, scene planners, huge character templates – all the good stuff. As this is a basically a side side project, I most likely won’t be sticking to the schedule listed in the template even a little. It’ll be a while before I’m doing a first draft of a proper project as opposed to something just for fun for myself, so I won’t need results any time soon.

Hopefully by the end of it I’ll end up with another daft story for myself to enjoy and a bit more skill when it comes to creating compelling stories.

The Difference of Four Years

One of the problems with letting a draft sit on the shelf for four years is that a lot can change in that time. If you’re writing a novel set even partially in the real world, this can be an issue. A completely surreal twist of fate can mean that suddenly your fiction is a whole lot more relevant. Also a whole lot harder to write.

Work has started on the editing of The Fairy Godfather, the original draft of which I started working on in 2012 and the political climate has changed quite a bit since then. It’s changed so much in fact that there are huge parts of The Fairy Godfather that are exceptionally difficult right now.

This novel has a lot of neo-Nazis in it.

That isn’t to say that neo-Nazis are ever fun or easy to write about. It’s just that in 2012 they weren’t undergoing their renaissance. They’ve stopped being a quiet undercurrent of western society that likes to keep swept under the carpet and are instead holding office. It’s pretty awkward considering that 2012 me thought “hey, imagine if all these people who are different appeared and the Nazis made a resurgence!” and 2016 just came and fly-kicked me in the gut.

Especially hard is reading many people’s real life accounts of how they are going about interacting with friends and family who either hold such views or have voted in favour of people who do. As you can imagine, many of these accounts are harrowing and upsetting and the worst part of it all is that they are real. In one scene of The Fairy Godfather a character actually has to explain to another, an elf who prides himself on helping bring an end to the Second World War, that certain elven ideals are scarily close to those of Nazi Germany. It was a very difficult scene to write four years ago. Re-reading it today is painful.

This was certainly an unexpected danger of writing and editing this novel is probably going to be a lot more emotionally exhausting than I had originally planned for. I won’t let it hold me back though. All I can do now is keep going, take extra care dealing with difficult issues and do my best not to harm those being hurt by the current climate.

That, and try to enjoy the little things. Like writing about lots of Nazis getting beat by a gang of fairies.

NaNo Reflections

winner

Another NaNo down! And I won (just) for my fifth consecutive year. This was the closest I’ve cut it that I recall but I made it in the end. And, as I was doing a rewrite of the very project that got me into writing again after my long, university induced hiatus, there was a lot of cringing along the way. Really.

On the positive side, it let me see that I’ve improved a huge amount at writing over the past five years. I already mentioned just how many words I was cutting in my progress post and that trend continued. At least six full scenes got completely binned, as well as others getting merged and whole paragraphs of absolutely nothing being skipped as well. There was so much superfluous, unnecessary and boring guff in there. There’s also the prose itself which is, in my opinion, miles better than the original even in its NaNo-form. If I ever get to the stage where I can edit this it might even become readable!

Practice really is the key to anything. I’m so much happier with my writing now than I ever have been – and I know there’s still massive space for improvement. I still don’t consider myself “good” (but will I ever?) but I’ve come leaps and bounds. It makes me so glad that I’ve stuck with it, even through the low moments. It’s like with art – I would love to improve at it but I always get disheartened when I try. Things never work out the way I’d like. I stumble and struggle and eventually end up taking long, substantial breaks from it and every time I do I end up back at square one. It needs a lot of time and a lot of practice. Unfortunately time isn’t something I have in abundance.

The only difference with writing is that I’ve stuck with it even through the hard times. From scenes I just couldn’t write, things that sounded awful, bad plots all the way to crushing beta feedback and rejections. Time and practice has brought me to where I am today. And I’m happy with where that is, even though I hope to keep improving as I go. If you love something and want to get good at it, stick with it. No matter the setbacks. Keep at it. Some people say you need to write every day but I don’t think that’s true. Just keep it regular and don’t let your skills slide.

Now if only I had more time for art too!

Expectations

One of the hardest things about writing is worrying about appeasing everyone. It’s an important and difficult lesson that needs to be learned – one I’m still struggling with. You can’t please them all. No matter how much you try.

When someone dislikes some aspect of your story, that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It could be that it’s just not for that person. No story is for everyone. We all have different hopes and expectations for things, and sometimes there are people who are just not going to like your thing. No reason. It’s just not for them. And that sucks but it’s important to remember that it’s because we’re all different.

Take the example of me and one of my co-workers. He likes expensive things. He comes to his day job wearing a suit that is—and I know I’m fond of hyperbole, but this isn’t—worth more than everything I own put together. The other day he complimented me on my jacket and I yelled “TWELVE QUID FROM PRIMARK” and moonwalked out of the room like I’d just won the lottery. I get embarrassed if I think I’ve spent too much on something. My co-worker on the other hand wouldn’t be seen dead in a £12 coat. The things we brag about are polar opposites.

What’s my point? Just that everyone is different. The things people enjoy or respect or whatever can be completely inverse to yourself for no other reason than that’s who they are as a person. So it’s important to remember that while, if you’re trying to get published, we need to write stories that audiences will like, there is no way whatsoever to write a book that everyone will like.

All we can really strive for is to write something that we like, so long as it’s not hurting anyone*, and hope some other people out there like it too. Because really, if you’re too worried about making it for other people rather than for yourself, you won’t be enjoying it as much.

It’s hard, hard advice but we all need to remember that someone, somewhere, will hate my story no matter what I do. And that’s okay.

 

 

*There’s a different between writing that something that someone might not like and something that is misrepresenting and harming marginalized groups. There are loads of great articles out there about writing characters you might not have any first-hand experience of. As always, research is your friend!

World Building Notes, or Lack Thereof

World building is a hugely important part of any story. Whether you’re writing in the real world or creating somewhere completely new and fantastical, a writer needs to be able to paint a picture of the setting they are writing in. The places need to be deep, vibrant and—perhaps most importantly—consistent. Even subtle discrepancies can pull a reader out of the moment and detract their enjoyment from the world you have created and the story you are weaving.

When it comes to creating a new world some people like to create whole worlds and detail things that may not ever make it into a story, where as others create the world as they go, only constructing the pieces of the world necessary for the story being told. Personally, I use a combination of both. Certain parts of my worlds are fleshed out beyond all necessary detail where as other entire continents are just a single word scrawled in a notebook somewhere. Which brings me to my point.

Notes are important for continuity. Especially when writing several different stories all in the same world, as I plan to do with Twyned Earth. Up until I started packing to move, I thought I’d been pretty good at making my notes on the Twyned Earth. I. Was. Wrong.

I had notes. Quite a lot of them. All scattered throughout a multitude of different notebooks and in different states of completion. I had notes on elves on no less than seven books, in photographs of my whiteboard that had been mixed in with cat pictures and in piles of loose leaves of paper, all of varying sizes. There was unique information about them on pages that were scene plans. And that was just elves. The system was… less than ideal. I decided that this would be a good time to start collating everything properly and bringing all my information together. It was while doing this that I made an even more worrying discovery.

A lot of my meticulous world building had never even been written down. Ever.

That’s right. I’d apparently been trusting my years of crafting this world with nothing but my brain. The same brain that makes me walk into a room three times before I remember why I went in there. Needless to say, I was a little spooked. All those ideas that I’d thought about on those long, slow days at work, those great little details I’d come up with in the shower, all those things that I was certain that I’d written down somewhere, I hadn’t. Let me tell you, there’s nothing quite so inspirational as discovering you’re an absolute muppet.

Operation: Write Fricken Everything Down And Put It In This One Folder commenced immediately and shall be continuing for quite some time. My writing time now includes updating these notes as I go. So I guess this post is a bit of a reminder or a suggestion. Maybe go and check on your important notes. Some of them might not be as great as you remember them.

For the sake of continuity I’m going to be forcing myself to keep this folder up to date. I love fancy notebooks but it’s time I get all of this information organised and together. Also written down. At lot of the things about Twyned Earth I just know. Let’s face it, I probably spend more time thinking about TE than just E. However, my memory is far from perfect. Far, far from it. Which is why I seriously need a complete set of hard copy notes of my world building. From now on, nothing will be going into an MS without it going into the folder at the same time – or preferably before.

Have you experienced a similar scare? How do you organise your writing notes?