To heck with suspense!

This is an ‘article’ I wrote for the other blog I contribute to; I’m thinking about rules for writing (personally I like to break some rules, and kick against being told to do some things!)

I guess every one who writes regularly and with some conscious thought about what they are doing, why and how they are doing it (or hoping to do it) and what they hope to achieve at the end of the effort, has some sort of inner self-rules. We all make choices or have habitual ways of writing which amount to rules – for example, writing in the first or third person, being heavy on characterisation and light on description or vice versa, writing something mostly through dialogue or avoiding dialogue altogether… We may be very pleased with our results, but sometimes we are blinkered and could actually make our writing better (in our own eyes as well as any audience we hope for)

How could we improve our writing; one way is to look to other writers and authors who we admire or who have had success. We can look at these ‘rules’ or suggestions and maybe try to apply some of them – or at least think about some of them with regards to our own writing.

Kurt Vonnegut  was a most respected and renowned writer;  he was born in 1922 and published fourteen novels,  short story collections,  plays, and  non-fiction. He was a master of the craft. Here are his eight rules for writing fiction:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Maybe ask yourselves these questions and consider these points, based on Vonnegut’s rules:

  • what will  your reader have gained/achieved/learnt/enjoyed when they finish your story? (Count yourself as a reader if you like, but don’t confuse self-congratulation and pride in your achievement as a gain – that’s separate!!)
  • you love (or hate) your characters – but what about your readers? Will they be fed up to the back teeth with your amusing/tragic/wacky/romantic/serious/dedicated/ /beloved people?
  • do the characters engage – with your reader, with each other, with reality, – or are they just decorative/unrealistic/pointless?
  • this needs thinking about – if you are writing a description, then advancing the action may not be apparent. Maybe Vonnegut is thinking about a particular sort of novel… However description can put the characters and  action into a context!
  • rule number five – just think about it!!
  • rule number six – this should be pinned to the page/wall/computer screen/window of all writers! Don’t be indulgent! Don’t fall in love with your characters (like them, be proud of them, sympathetic to them, but DO NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH THEM!)
  • again – think about this! Don’t try to pander to every sensibility every reader might have; you end up pleasing no-one! It’s a difficult balance!
  • It might be easy to look at Vonnegut’s last rule and then throw it into the waste-bin – don’t! Read it again and consider what he actually means. Even in a mystery, everything should be there, even if it is very subtle, it should be there so when the story is finished the reader will know how they got to the end. Don’t have some mysterious Peruvian turn up at the end, who has never been referred to or even hinted at, to be revealed as the culprit… A silly example but you know what I mean!!

You might not agree with all of these – maybe it might be helpful to write your own rules of writing? (not that they can’t be broken, but just to give you some guidelines to follow!)

Here is a link to the other blog I share two friends, The Moving Dragon Writes:

https://somersetwriters.wordpress.com/

… and a link to my ebooks and paperbacks:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_2_11?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+elsden%2Caps%2C625&crid=BIBK7DZPT0FX

 

Day 12… NaNo update…

I was going to preface my update by saying it’s been such a busy time in my life… well, it seems these days all the time is a busy time! 2016 was the year of throwing things away – not into the rubbish (although some things did go there) but to charity shops, given to others, recycled… I cleared the decks of much clutter and our usually untidy home had some sort of order restored.  As with many families these days, children who fled the nest have, or are in the process of, returning – so suddenly all our lovely space is being filled up with … things! We are delighted to have them home but it just takes a little organising, to cram three households of stuff in together.

On the writing front I and my fellow bloggers on our Moving Dragons blog have been putting an anthology together, which is now published and available (and we would welcome your comments and reviews on Amazon), and I have at last made my reluctant readers books available on Etsy as actual books, and on Amazon as Kindle e-readers.

As well as my blog here, the Moving Dragons blog and the National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, which I shall tell you about in a minute, I am continuing to try to finish my next Radwinter book, in time to be published spring 2018… I am also hoping to produce my second Radwinter book as a paperback.

Oh, and there’s the rest of my life, including the creative writing classes I lead, the writing groups I go to, the French class and the Saxish class I attend… oh and meeting friends, going places… the usual stuff!

So… how has NaNo been going? I’ve mentioned that I intended to write about a long-standing character in search of a story… however he has wandered off, and instead I am writing about Milla who has come to my imaginary town of Easthope. She is a woman with a mystery past, which has not yet been revealed to the reader. Over the twelve days I have been writing about her, her character is gradually developing, especially as she is coming into contact with other people – the other people who live in the house where she’s renting a room, people in a café where she’s been working part-time, other people from around the town.

She has created what amounts a set of runes, which she is ‘reading’ each day, by taking one at random and bearing it in mind as the day progresses. In order to do this I do have a made up set of images which I am randomly picking out – so in a way the writing of the story is guided by chance. I have got to a point now, where I feel as if something has to happen… there has to be some action and movement to keep the reader engaged because otherwise this will just seem like the diary of an uneventful life – and even if there is some strange secret in Milla’s past, by the time it is revealed the reader won’t be reading any more!

Another thing has struck me which I must have a good think about – if I have time to think as I pound away trying to reach my target… Milla’s character. To be sure she is mysterious, but she is gradually changing into a stock female character without an actual character – she has no personality!

So that’s my task for the next few days, to discover her character, and make sure she is interesting and different!

Here is a link to our anthology:

The Moving Dragons Write:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Moving-Dragons-Write-Dragon-Writes/dp/1549881809/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510513816&sr=8-1&keywords=Lois+elsden

And to my ‘Can read, won’t read series’:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/550200668/lois-elsden-reluctant-readers-collection

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Run-Blue-books-reluctant-readers-ebook/dp/B0771HH6HW/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&qid=1510513816&sr=8-16&keywords=Lois+elsden

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Screaming-Harry-books-reluctant-readers-ebook/dp/B0771G968M/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1510513816&sr=8-13&keywords=Lois+elsden

 

Three questions while planning a novel

I came across an article by someone who was discussing how to change a short story – or maybe I should say develop a shirt story into a novel. I haven’t really ever done that; it is such a long time since I wrote short stories, and I never saw them as being anything other than a stand alone shorter piece. I have written short pieces, on the other hand, which may develop into something but which can  in a way serve as a short story!

This excellent article I read by, Mary Lynn Bracht  was a background to how she came to write her first novel, ‘White Chrysanthemum’ which will be published in January 2018. In the article, Bracht outlined three questions she asked herself while planning her novel-from-a-short-story; it’s made me think about my writing, and I asked myself the questions:

Question 1: How does the story end? I very rarely know how my stories are going to end – I sometimes have a scene I know will come at then end but I’m not always sure who will be involved in it or what will be the outcome. Quite early on while writing ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’ I knew there would be two people fighting at the edge of a raging sea during a storm. They would both be swept into the sea but only one would emerge – and when the idea first came to me I didn’t know which one. This was supposed to be the climax of the story, and the actual conclusion would result from this fight.  In the event, two completely different people were engaged in the struggle and neither survived… did this mean there was no climax? Well, no, because the main character witnessed the scene, and what led up to it, and what happened after it was vital to the story.
This hasn’t actually answered the question so… for the two things I am writing at the moment – my latest Radwinter story – I have a couple of scenes in my mind which will complete certain story lines, but there are three other aspects which I don’t yet have an answer to and am wondering whether to eliminate one to save for a different story. In my NaNo story about the mystery woman, I think aspects of the mystery will be revealed, but the narrative isn’t sufficiently developed yet for me to have a clear view of where it’s going.

Question 2: What scenes/events must take place in order to reach the end? I have a variety of ideas when I am writing, but not all of the scenarios I have up my writing sleeve will be pulled out for these novels. So, in answer to the actual question – I don’t know. I don’t have a clear idea of the conclusion, and can only see a few steps in front of me, so to repeat, I have no idea.

Question 3: Am I telling the story from the right character’s perspective? In my Radwinter novel there can only be one perspective since it is a first person narrative; however, there are scenes which include someone else’s blog so I guess that is a different perspective. In my NaNo book, although much of the story is told from the point of view of the MW – the mystery woman, it is only her actions and some of her thoughts which are revealed; her past is concealed, and any thoughts she may have of what happened to bring her to the town are not revealed. However, she is beginning to do some writing herself, she is writing a sort of memoir, starting with her days at Uni, and it may be (I haven’t decided yet) her writing eventually reveals what happened to her (which I don’t yet know) which led her to living in a small anonymous bedsit in a place where she knows no-one and no-one knows her.
Because I have no proper plan for my stories, I can’t really answer whether it’s from the right perspective – as I said, in my Radwinter story, there is only the one point of view, that of Thomas Radwinter.

Here is a link to the article – it really is worth reading!

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/breaking-in-writers-digest/transforming-short-story-novel

…and here are links to my novels I’ve mentioned:

http://amzn.eu/7SNYKTk

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1509924449&sr=8-6&keywords=lois+elsden

I’ve no idea where she is going!

It’s been a long time since I started a completely new piece of writing; at the moment I’m aiming for 50,000 words – and that maybe all I write, but who knows, I don’t, where this story might lead.

When I write I usually have some particular idea which I work my characters round – a mystery they are trying to solve, a puzzle they are trying to work out, and I usually have the idea of the central character, a bereaved person, someone who is turning the tables on their unknown stalker, someone with a close friendship their partner is suspicious of… But this time…. the story is unravelling as I write… maybe unravelling isn’t the right word as it suggests falling apart, where as I mean unfolding, revealing…

A lone woman… her name not revealed until the second chapter – living in mysterious circumstances in a small what we used to call bed-sit now apparently also called a microapartment or microflat, reflecting on her past and guiding her life by a self-made set of runes…

I’m mystified and intrigued; I hope if it ever gets further than my 50,00 words for the National Novel Writing Month challenge then these puzzles will be satisfactorily resolved!

Here is an except when Milla (I found her name) is thinking back to her early life in an anonymous city:

She began to read what she had written; she had started with her memories of the city shrouded in fog so long ago, trying to recall the smell of it, the almost taste of it, the blanket silence it had shrouded the world with. It was exciting somehow to be so anonymous, to be so silent. She hadn’t felt afraid, not even  when later that day when she had come home on another creeping bus and somehow taken a wrong turn and ended up lost in a maze of streets. She hadn’t lived in the city for very long and didn’t know her neighbourhood very well.

She wondered where her flat-mate was… flat, it was called a flat but really it wasn’t that, just an attic  bedsit at the top of the old house. A single room with two beds one on either side of a manky carpet, a table and two chairs  in the space where the attic window jutted out of the roof…  There must have been a cupboard or wardrobe or somewhere they put their clothes but she couldn’t now remember it.

In the corner was a small unit with a Baby Belling on top… maybe there were shelves beneath, maybe there was a green curtain across he shelves on a wire, and maybe this was where they kept their food and their crockery and utensils.

The bathroom, shared with other unknown people was on the floor below; a toilet, a bath, a basin… or maybe the toilet had been separate. One good thing was the hot water, they had hot water which was better than some of the places  where friends lived.

So on that foggy morning, where was her flat mate? Why had she come out on her own and tried to catch the bus? Maybe the girl was skipping classes… that wouldn’t be a surprise… and looking back now across the years Milla saw how naïve she had been, how trusting…

Naïve and trusting… that in many ways summed up much of her life.

They had been so hard up when they moved to the flat. It was furnished but there was no bedding. Milla had gone into the city to a big store which was no longer there and now she couldn’t even remember the name of it. There had been a basement with cut price all-sorts, and she had bought a piece of blanket, no doubt a factory off-cut. It was not hemmed, just ragged edges and it was bright yellow and thick; she soon found that in fact it wasn’t as warm as she had hoped. The little flat directly beneath the roof was so cold, so cold that in winter the inside of the windows were iced over. Thinking of that made her wonder if there had also been a skylight… or maybe she had imagined it.

There was no-one she could now ask… some friends were long estranged, two were dead and one had never visited her then… When friends did come round, after the pub and often with a Party Four – a small keg of whatever beer was cheapest, they sat in rows on the beds apart from  whoever claimed the two chairs. There was a very small two-bar electric fire… did they have a meter to feed for the electricity? – another thing she couldn’t remember.

When their newly made friends had first come round and sat on the beds there was a crackling of newspaper… Milla and her flat-mate had read, maybe in George Orwell, that tramps put newspapers under their clothes at night to insulate themselves from the cold. So Milla and her flat mate had put newspapers between their sheets and the blankets which covered them. It hadn’t kept them any warmer, but everyone had laughed at the crackling as they sat down.

Students today would be horrified, outraged… but in this strange new world of the twenty-first century, in a land of so much plenty, so much excess, there was such poverty that it may well be there were people with a single blanket and newspapers to keep them warm at night.

© Lois Elsden 2017

You can find my books – some of which I started writing during previous National Novel Writing Month challenges:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

Observing and imagining

I read a lot of books; not many of them are classics old or modern, mostly are what people might rudely call ‘pot-boilers’ but in fact are often well-written, beautifully written even. However, I agree, some are not; some have a good plot, interesting characters, vivid settings, writing which keeps you on the edge of your metaphorical seat (I read in bed) and the sort of writing which makes you re-read bits just because they are so well-written – but some are less accomplished.

I read a lot of crime novels, police procedurals; with some writers, these who write a series, you can see how they improve as the series progress… With others you just give up getting any more of their books because you know that despite an interesting plot, the characters are unbelievable or stereotypical of that type of character. Every time there is an eccentric pathologist or forensic scientist with quirky habits I mentally groan; every time there is a superior officer who is unsupportive or described as ‘a dinosaur’ or antediluvian’, or the subordinate who is ‘a maverick’,  I sigh. I feel that these characters have been imagined from other novels and have not been based on observation or knowledge… it’s as if the writer wants to make memorable characters, but bases them on other writers memorable characters.

Little things which must have been observed in real life are often the key to describing someone – P.D.James once had a scene where a character had received some unexpected news. He received it calmly and seemed unperturbed, but then he took a cigarette, put it in his mouth,and lit the wrong end – this tiny event in a small episode, was, in a way, key to the rest of the novel.

Research and doing the background work to a story line is really important, but it’s trying to be true to the characters you have which seem to me to be the key to a book which other people enjoy. I look back at some of the things I wrote when I was much younger; I have always had a very vivid imagination, and had imagined all sorts of characters in all sorts of situations – but they were completely unrealistic because I had based the detail of who they were on other things I had read or seen in films, not on what I had observed about real people in real relationships (not just personal relationships, but work colleagues, employers/employees, etc.) I know I have a thing about names, but using stereotypical names, ‘Sharon and Tracy’ spring to mind , is just another aspect of the same complaint I have…

Well, that’s that off my chest… back to writing, and I must bear in mind all I have said here… no stereotypes, observe as well as imagine… don’t upset the fussy reader…

Here is a link to my ebooks and paperbacks:https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_6?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+e%2Caps%2C138&crid=20REK0LH7O9KQ

 

The lost brother

Looking back to when I first began my Radwinter stories I had forgotten how much I changed my plans and thoughts… This is what I wrote in 2012:

For quite a while I’ve had a character lurking in my busy writing brain .. now he has been joined by two brothers. I can see them so clearly the three of them, but as yet they have no story, and apart from being related to each other, they have no other connections like wives or parents.

They have no names but one of them, not necessarily the oldest, maybe the middle one, is about forty-five but as yet he doesn’t have a job or profession… although maybe he is a wine merchant… He is quite burly but not fat, quite tall but not a giant, he is always smartly – impeccably dressed but in a casual style… so designer jeans, expensive shirts definitely not off the peg, and shoes from a shoe shop not an outlet. Maybe he shops at Ede and Ravenscroft. He is quite controlled but seems amiable, has a twinkle in his eye and a dimple in his cheek, but people who meet him should beware, he is as hard as nails and quick in a fight. He is prematurely grey, has very blue eyes and is head-turningly handsome.

 

His brother who might actually be a few years older, around fifty, is very obviously his brother although smaller, and less grey and with friendly greenish eyes. He really is totally laid back, so laid back he is almost horizontal; but like his brother he has a core of steel and his enemies would be unwise to underestimate him. He is never short of girlfriends or lovers, but is secretly looking for ‘the one‘ to live with and love for the rest of his life. He’s not bothered about clothes, in fact he sometimes looks eccentrically scruffy. Maybe he’s a teacher, maybe he’s a writer, maybe he makes music… maybe he does all three.

The youngest brother is in his late thirties or about forty. He looks like his silver-haired brother did ten years previously but he is smaller, wiry and busy. His skin is always tanned even in winter, and he has the same cheek-dimpling grin, the same crinkling eyes which are definitely green. He wears jeans or dark trousers  t-shirts and jackets, as if he cares how he looks but can’t afford to dress as his silver-haired brother. He has a wild side to him though, and when he goes out with his oldest brother they can get into mischief even though they are way old enough to know better!

Well that certainly changed! The second brother vanished altogether! Well, he vanished but some aspects of him morphed into the youngest that I wrote about here.  Some time later I wrote about the brothers again:

… and now I not only have some possible names for them, but also a couple of other family members… probably cousins. My stories seem to be full of cousins, maybe because I love my own cousins so much. In fact it was while I was out and about in Essex with one of them that I saw a sign to the village of Radwinter and thought what a splendid name it would make. It then occurred to me that maybe Redwinter would be better… what do you think?

It was suggested by my cousin’s middle son that names beginning with J would go well with such a surname… I tried not to have my children with names beginning with the same name but it suddenly seemed that this family might well do that. So give me your thoughts:

  • oldest brother, wine merchant, prematurely silver-grey, blue eyes, sturdy but deceptively hard… Justin, Jerry (short for Jericho, his mother’s maiden name) or Jack
  • middle brother, greyish, very blue eyes, totally laid-back, slightly scruffy/hippy type… Jules (short for Julian, his father’s name) , Joe or Jimmy
  • youngest brother, teacher or wine-bar owner, brown hair, beard, tanned , green eyes… James, Johnny or Jasper

Cold… does Radwinter sound too cold, would Redwinter be better?

Somehow they have also acquired two cousins… the elder, who is probably the oldest in the family, has longish curly greying hair, piercing blue eyes and an unblinking deadly stare, he is severe and strict, but essentially kind, generous and protective of his younger brother. He is probably a priest or someone who is committed and driven, and has had to take on responsibility from an early age, losing him his young adulthood, and probably friends and girlfriends too.

His younger brother is the baby of the family, chubby, and sweet-faced, he has floppy brown hair in a long fringe, and a reddish short beard; he is always eating, or looking for something to eat. He may appear innocent, but he is probably the most intelligent of them all, and his Bambi eyes belie a shrewd and decisive nature. He is not to be underestimated, although he usually is, even by his family.

As for names for these two… I haven’t a clue!

I didn’t use any of the names i thought about – except Johnny did change to John for that character and there is a cousin Max. The cousin who seemed to be a priest, became a vicar and also joined the family as the eldest. Radwinter didn’t change to Redwinter, and the new youngest brother did not have the grazing habit I originally thought he might have! The oldest one is a wine merchant,…

Another post, and things have changed again…

…suddenly there was Peter Radwinter knocking on the door of his brother, Paul who had asked him over to meet his new fiancée, Ruthie.

I had been thinking about a family of brothers, I’d pondered over names and yet suddenly here they were on the page, with a fiancée and an as yet unseen wife, Rachel, and a cousin called Max. Paul it appears, has four sons, the youngest of which is twelve-year old Will. I have a feeling first names may change, they don’t quite fit what I have in mind…

On looking back at my previous post about the Radwinter family I find that then I had in mind two sets of cousins, Jerry, Jules and Johnny and two others. Somehow they have morphed into one family, and lost a brother in the transition…

Peter Radwinter! I had totally forgotten that my main character was Peter! Rachel became Rebecca but Ruthie remained Ruthie.

And finally…

Something which has happened while I have been writing this,  the narrator of the story has changed name; he was Peter, now he’s Thomas. Thomas has gone to visit a woman (the reason is concealed at the moment) He has arranged to visit her but when he arrives at her beautiful house, no-on answers the door so he wanders round to the back garden, and there she is on a lounger, sun-bathing. Suddenly a man appears and accuses Thomas of being a Peeping Tom and chases him off the property after hitting him in the face. Thomas drives quickly away, a mixture of outrage, embarrassment and humiliation churning within. But who was the woman? And who was the man who attacked Thomas?

So at last Thomas is Thomas… the incident with the sun-bathing woman was excised from ‘Radwinter’, but appeared much, much later, in the fourth novel in the series, ‘Beyond Hope’.

I am writing novel number six, provisionally entitled Saltpans, but already I have ideas for number seven – if that should ever happen!! One of these ideas might have been lurking in my subconscious for a very long time, because as I reread these original posts, there was one thing I wrote many years ago – Somehow they have morphed into one family, and lost a brother in the transition… wait a minute… a lost brother! Hey! How about that…. a lost brother… my mind is bubbling… 

Yes, you read it here first, a lost brother… and maybe he will be called Peter!

Here’s a link to my Radwinter books:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1507040972&sr=8-7&keywords=lois+elsden

 

Your readers…

Here is an excerpt from my little book ‘So You Want To Write‘… and here I’m thinking about audience – even if no-one but you reads what you have written, you are your own audience!!

You have an idea for your story; the next thing to think about is…. your audience!
For a start, who are your readers? Adults, children, teachers, friends…? Be aware of them and how they may read your story and what they may read into your story… or perhaps not understand!
Your audience is not watching a play, film or TV programme. They only have your words there on the page. You have to give them all the information that they will need to understand, enjoy and want to read your story. So use lots of descriptive language.
They do not want to be baffled, bored or bemused.
Don’t think to yourself “I’m never going to share this with anyone else, or even show it to anyone; I am definitely not going to enter it for a competition, send it to an agent or a publisher so there is no audience…”
There is always an audience… even if it is an audience of one, yourself!
If you are writing a story just for yourself, when you read it back you want to be moved and feel some emotion from what your eyes are reading and sending to your brain.
If it’s a long descriptive piece, you don’t want those same eyes to glaze over and skate across the words, you want to be entranced and delighted by what you’ve written.
You are your audience; you might want to be moved, entertained, excited, engaged…
Your story might be for children, even if you never share it with any, your inner child will read it!

© Lois Elsden 2017

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Want-Write-Telling-Tales-Book-ebook/dp/B074W19JK3/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1506620132&sr=8-4&keywords=lois+elsden