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.

The Resolutions Post, 2017

So I’m a few days late but here is the resolutions post to keep me accountable for the year. I’m expecting a lot more upheaval just over halfway through 2017 so I’m not going to try and set myself too much and just focus on dealing with life a little better than I did last year.

 

1.) Submit short stories – So, this was a resolution for last year that I managed to keep up with. This year I’m going to set myself a higher goal for submissions and try and hit that, to slowly work up to being consistent with submitting work. After all, the only way it’s going to get accepted is if it gets submitted!

2.) Get author logo and website banner – So last year I attended the fabulous Jill Marcotte’s author branding workshop, during which ideas for these two things were brainstormed. With Through the Black ready for its second round of betas it’s time to start getting things sorted out.

3.) Put writing samples on website – Another action coming direct from the workshop, we discussed the importance of having samples of one’s writing on one’s author website. Eeep! As a direct result of this I have this (tiny) page here with a couple of links but resolution number three is to flesh this section out a little more with some samples from novels and maybe some short stories!

4.) Put all relevant info from Through the Black into my Twyned Earth World Building encyclopedia – So some of you may remember this post where I realized I hadn’t written down half the things I thought I had and that the vast majority of my delicate world building was precariously stored in the worst of places – my head. That is rather like trying to ask my dear cat Pandy to protect that block of cheese. So while I’ve been working through things, most of my world building doesn’t actually appear in Through the Black. (Writers, right?) So what I want to do is make sure I’ve noted all things relevant to book one to ensure consistency as I work on book two.

5.) Art more – I’m constantly lamenting that I don’t have time among everything to keep up practicing art, because like writing it’s one of those things that you really have to work at. I used to not be too bad but I haven’t had time to practice consistently since I was in school so since then I’ve really gone downhill. I’d like to work slowly towards getting it back, even if I’m not doing more than a sketch a week just to get in the habit.

 

As for what I’m going to be working on, novel-wise, last year the main project was Through the Black (insert Nick Cage face here) with The Deconstructor as my ‘official’ side project. Well I got the first done, got Deconstructor to a couple of readers and even managed to finally finish the rough draft of One Dead Prince!

This year the main project will be Twyned Earth book 2 The Fairy Godfather with my official side project being The Fishperer. We’re already eleven days in so time to get cracking!

NaNo 2016 Week 1

NaNoWriMo is a go! This year I settled on my WIP War of the Heavens. Originally I had planned to pick up from where I left off but I decided that since it needed such extensive rewrites I would just start from scratch. This way I can just carry on and hopefully not have such a huge disjoint once I’ve got the draft finished. It’s quite funny, rather against the spirit of NaNoWriMo the overall word count relative to the point I’m at in the original version has been cut by 36.6 %. Which is quite mind boggling really. There was a lot of superfluous guff in there. It’s also quite the relief to be honest as the original version was on track to be another 200k plus manuscript if it continued along the trajectory it was on. Yikes!

After my last post I was umm-ing and ahh-ing as to whether or not I should even attempt NaNoWriMo this year but I decided that I didn’t want to let the negative in my life effect the things I love. It’s worked out well because I’ve started a new job which is far better for my health. I think I might actually get my 50k this year, despite insisting to myself that I will be super casual about it. (Which is still the case – if things start getting rough I’m not going to make myself sick worrying about it!) I’m living closer to the line than I think I ever have but I’m still on track!

nano2016week1

Through the Black is of course still top priority and going smoothly. If you’ll direct your eyes to the widget on the right, you’ll see things are getting excitingly close now. I’m twenty pages away from having all paper edits done, then it’ll just be plugging in the changes to Scrivener. That is, until I do my final read through and decide I hate everything all over again. Ahhh, the writer’s life!

How are you all doing?

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!