Monthly Archives: March 2013

Description is the Killer

Last night I attended a murder mystery dinner party. This is one of those events where everyone is assigned a character, and you’re expected to arrive dressed as your character. The party takes place around several courses of food and the host dictates how much of the story is revealed. Each person knows more about their character than those around them and the idea is to work out who killed the dead person. It’s kinda like a live version of Cluedo (or Clue, as I believe it’s called in some parts of the world).

I’ve never been to one before and it was very interesting from several viewpoints. But what also struck me, as a writer, was how people interpreted the descriptions we were given of our own characters. Clearly, without spending more money than a one night dinner party is worth, outfits are going to be thrown together from whatever each person already owns. But, from a brief description that we’re all given, everybody will naturally have an instant image in their head of how they want to look.

For example, my character ‘Kitty Killer’ was provided with the following:
“You’re a celebrated journalist and biographer, but you’re also so glamorous that you’re often more famous than the people you’re writing about.
Costume Suggestion: Head-to-toe in black with a slash of scarlett lipstick and either a wig in foxy blond or jet black.”

I instanty saw myself in tight black jeans with heals and a black shirt. Mainly because I own all of this. I’m a natural blonde and whilst I could easily just straighten my hair, which I do most days anyway, I decided to make the effort and go and buy a black wig. Of course, easier said than done. In my head, my character has straight black shoulder length hair, with a fringe. My hair is half way down my back, which meant I’d need a longer wig than my mental image suggested. The wig I bought was a reaches-to-your-bum Halloween “witches” wig for £8, and was the tattiest thing I could’ve found. (They were clearly going for very badly failed Morticia Adams look.) It didn’t fit my mental image and thus I was unhappy about wearing it. (I took it off after about 15 minutes.)

When we write a story, we are painting mental images of our characters in our readers minds. Without sitting down and giving a full blow by blow description of their skin, face, hair, and wardrobe choices, you’re not going to provide each individual reader with the exact same image. No matter how hard you try, your mental image of your own character is unlikely to reflect that of the image in your readers’ minds. And if you do try hard enough, you’re likely to drive people away from your story as they struggle to match your way of thinking.

I believe there is such as thing as ‘over-description’. It’s like you’re forcing your readers to see things the way you see them, to think the way you think. You should be carefully guiding them, giving them room to make their own judgments, allowing them a little freedom to move about in your novel world and get to know it in their own way. And I think that’s a good thing. It allows everybody who comes into contact with the character to relate to them and to interpret them in their own way. It helps give them a link to the story, helps them to interact with the characters, and gives them a doorway to feeling what the characters feel and that’s what makes a story Good. If you think of your favourite story, it’s always one you’ve added your own personal touch to – whether it’s the way you see a character or the way you pronounce their name – it makes it special.

We’ve all seen the movie version of a book we like and instantly wrinkle our noses and go “well that’s not how he/she looked in the book!” but how would you know? After all, if everyone interprets a description differently, maybe they did look like the book to somebody. (Although specified eye colour or hair colour is very hard to mis-interpret.)

Like everything else in writing, there’s is a balance with description. Too little, and your reader may get lost, too much and they my feel dragged by the wrist. I feel lucky that I enjoy description and I feel that I handle it quite well. Dialogue, however, it’s an entirely different kettle of fish…

(And for anyone interested, I wasn’t the killer.)

Dried Mango, Writing the Unknown, and a Plan

Firstly, Tesco dried mango is very nice. My (Edit by Boyfriend: handsome) boyfriend gets it as part of his effort to eat one piece of fruit every day (I know the theory is five pieces a day but you have to start somewhere). I steal every other piece. It makes a very nice train journey snack. Sadly he only gets mini one-person sized packets.

It’s now been over one week since I started writing again. I’ve written over 4,000 words on a new story. The story is just me getting back into the game – there’s no plan for it to be anything but a entry-way. It’s very calming writing something you know hasn’t got a real end goal. I don’t imagine I’ll edit it, I don’t imagine it will really see the light of day again. It’s soul purpose is to get me back into the swing of things and I like it. I have no real target or word-count, no idea of what I’m doing with the story or where it’s going to go, I’m just Writing. Those of you familiar with pantsing are probably now thinking that this is pantsing, and you’re right. However, even when I pants, I still usually have a plot outline in my head, and a word count target, and a few characters lined up. But with this story I began writing it solely based on the fact it was raining outside. The second sentence is “The rain smashed against the window, turning the glass into streams of water.” I named a character with the first name that came to mind. I was initially going to have her sat in her room, but that quickly changed into a hospital room as the music I was listened to at the time was meloncholy so I wanted a more suited setting. By the end of the first paragraph I had my MC’s girlfriend in a coma in the room. It was only three paragraphs later I decided it was from being hit by a car. My MC was reading Stephen King’s ‘IT’, a book I’m almost done reading myself. I had no ideas about the story until I was writing it.

It’s beautifully soothing to just sit back and enjoy writing without that flicker at the back of the mind that I’m meant to be aiming for something with the writing. I have no intent on editing this so it doesn’t matter what direction the story wanders off in. I’m now about to introduce an actual monster into the story – big beast type thing with claws, salvating jaws, glowing eyes, scales, the whole nine yards. Why? Well, why not. I need a “bad guy” and I’ve never really made up a monster of my own creation so I’m going to go and play with some nice big descriptive paragraphs. It’s a lot of fun.

I decided last Monday to draw up a plan for writing. Not a plan about what I’m writing, but a plan for just sitting down and writing. I decided I have to sit down and write for at least 20 minutes four nights a week. It doesn’t sound like much but I’m often tired when I get in from work and if I was forcing myself to write for an hour I worry it would feel like a chore, but 20 minutes is a nice time allowance. And if I’m enjoying myself, which I often am, I can just continue until I feel ready to stop. I have a weekly chart with tick-boxes on my wall. If I get four boxes ticked, then I get to colour the week in green. If I don’t tick four boxes, it goes red. (Scary, I know.) Blog posts count as writing as long as I do at least some work on my fiction as well.

Overall getting back into writing is going well. I’ve also taken up running. I’m feeling very motivated with my life. It’s a good feeling to have.

A Day of Happiness

Happy International Happiness Day!

(sorry, what?)

That was the response in our office as well earlier on when we heard the announcement on the radio. International Happiness Day? Apparently, (according to The New York Times blog) “the initiative for Happiness Day came from the Kingdom of Bhutan, the small landlocked Himalayan state, which adopted a Gross National Happiness Index as a better measure of its people’s prosperity than its income.” And today is the first official Happiness Day as decided by the United Nations. There’s your random fact for the day. More importantly, today is the Spring Equinox! So, Happy Equinox and Happy Ostara for those celebrating! It may not feel anything like spring outside (unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case would you like to share some warmth with us poor souls in the north?) but from today the days are officially longer than the nights. What does that mean? Writing in the park, yay!

Last year I did actually take my netbook to work and go and sit in Hyde Park afterwards and write. It was warm, there were happy people everywhere, and it was much better than sitting in a stuffy coffee shop or my bedroom. Of course there’s the problem of sun glare on the screen, but at the end of the day there’s nothing wrong with good ol’ pen and paper. Sunbathing, some people watching, writing inspired by the people feeding the ducks and awkwardly learning to roller blade down the path, avoiding the people keenly out on the Boris Bikes… bring on summer! (Although, I would definitely settle for spring right now. On March 27th last year, I got quite nicely sunburnt after working outside for a morning. Can’t see that happening this year somehow.)

So International Happiness Day is all about well, being happy. So what makes you happy? Right now I’m sat with my newly aligned desk to my left, sitting sideways on my chair so my back is resting against the wall, my feet up on the bed in front of me, Top Gear’s new Africa Special playing on my laptop, and a cup of tea. This is happiness right here. I’ve done a bit of writing, I’m blogging, I’m chilling out, and tomorrow night I’m going home to Manchester for three days which is very much happiness in a little northern bubble.

Of course writing again makes me happy. I wrote on Monday but was feeling in a slum, and writing felt forced and I didn’t enjoy it too much. I was determined to push through, though, and managed 1,000 words for my new story. I didn’t write last night and I’ve done a couple of hundred words tonight already and that feeling of slipping back into the story is akin to slipping on a pair of warm fuzzy socks in the depth of winter after getting in from the cold and the dark. It’s soothing, and relaxing, and just plain nice. I have no idea where this story is going but it’s nothing serious, just something to get me back into the swing, and I like that I can just move back into the flow of it.

Randomly, the other thing making me happy is finally pushing somewhere towards the end of Stephen King’s ‘IT’. I read half of it in 6th form when I was 18, but had borrowed it from the library and I left the school before I finished it. I’ve recently started reading it again on my Kindle and am currently at 88% finished. It has taken me weeks! Reading a book doesn’t usually take me weeks but the thing is HUGE! And parts of it are a bit tough going, I feel. But, I very much like the book. As an avid old school King fan, it excites me to be able to really dig my teeth into his work. His newer stuff doesn’t really do much for me, so I like that there’s older books of his that I’ve yet to read. (Although, I will be reading the sequel to The Shining – ‘Doctor Sleep’ – when it’s released. No self-respecting King fan could resist, no matter what they thing of his recent writings.)

There’s a few little things in there, but altogether, a very enjoyable evening. Work was good, but the evening has definitely been the good part of International Happiness Day. I hope your days and evenings are being enjoyed as well.

Keep writing and be happy!

The Unfulfilled Desire to Write

First off, I owe many apologies for the large gaping four month hole in my fledgling blogging life. I realise that I didn’t even blog about finishing NaNoWriMo, which is a terrible cliffhanger way to leave a writing blog, well… hanging…

My excuse? Well, the excuse is a person. I got a new boyfriend and we have been in that cutsy, soft, stage of any new relationship when you spend most of your free time together and therefore other responsibilities, commitments, and general promises you make to yourself slide. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy. But at some point you reach a point when the cutsy softness isn’t quite enough anymore, and you need the other things back in your life.

However, as well as not blogging, I haven’t written. At all. Okay, so I handwrote half a page of a novella I intended on complete handwriting about a month ago. Seriously. I bought a new notepad and politely told the new boyfriend he wasn’t to use the notepad for anything else. (Did I mention he’s basically moved himself into my room? We’re looking for our own place now. He’s also taken over my desk with his stuff so the whole reason for buying a desk in the first place has kind of gone out of the window. I have minimal floorspace so it was the obvious place to start storing things.) But I haven’t really sat down and written for hours, or edited, or anything. And for a while it was okay. If you’ve ever done NaNoWriMo there’s that space around Christmas and New Year when your mind is full of other things to do and taking a break after the intense month is very nice.

But it’s now March and I still haven’t written.

The funny thing about not writing is that I’ve found that I crave it. And I know I crave it. This past week or so I’ve been a little short temper-wise, a little jittery. I put it down to stress at work but this wasn’t going away in the evenings and I eventually realised that my writing mind is feeling jailed.

If you are a writer, then You Are A Writer. Writing is part of who you are and if you’re ignoring part of who you are then your life isn’t fulfilled and you start feeling like something’s missing. You start finding things to try and fill the hole but ultimate, only the right shape can fit the hole. Ever try and fit a square block into the circle hole as a kid? It didn’t work did it? On the same level, I miss swimming dearly sometimes. I swam competitively between the ages of 9 and 16, training three times a week and galas at the weekends. It’s been 10 years since I stopped and yet every so often, I get the sudden urge to jump in a pool and swim until I ache. If you’ve trained part of your body, or part of your mind to do something regularly for long enough and then stop, that feeling of missing something will hang around.

Right now I’m sat in bed. It’s 3pm on a Sunday and after a six day working week, it’s a welcome relaxing day. I feel like I should do something with my day but I don’t have a lot of energy and it’s cold and wet outside. Then I had a sudden mental image. I want to turn my desk back the way it used to be (the boyfriend moved it after he nearly hit his head one too many times – it was also acting as a bedside table), put my chair back next to it and sit with a cup of tea and write something. Anything. As it happens, I instead picked up my netbook and began writing this blog post. But this act of writing is both like a soothing balm and a fan to the flames. I’m happy I’m writing something, but now I want to continue.

Next month is National Short Story Month (NaShoStoMo). The idea is that you write one short story of at least 200 words every day of the month. I haven’t written short stories in a long time but for someone wanting to throw themselves back into writing, it’s ideal. I’m not aiming to write 30 short stories as I have a busier month than November next month. But I’ve decided on a target of four days a week where I will write a short story.

April is also two weeks away and I’m not waiting that long. I make excuses about having chores, and sleep and work, but now I’ve had enough and I want to fill my desire to write. So this afternoon, I will be writing for the first time since November. I’m very excited and it feels good to be getting back into the metaphorical writing saddle (should that be a desk chair?)

Don’t let that what makes you you go unfulfilled. There’s somethings you just can’t ignore and your world is a lighter place when you embrace them.

Keep writing.

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